The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Redemption of Kenneth Galt

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Title: The Redemption of Kenneth Galt

Author: Will N. Harben

Release date: February 4, 2017 [eBook #54104]
Most recently updated: February 25, 2021

Language: English

Credits: Produced by David Widger from page images generously
provided by the Internet Archive



By Will N. Harben

Author of “Gilbert Neal” “Abner Daniel” “The Georgians” “Ann Boyd” etc.

New York and London: Harper Brothers Publishers























































YOUNG Doctor Dearing sat in the little church at an open window through which he had a partial view of that portion of old Stafford which stretched out desultorily toward the east. Immediately in front was a common fairly well covered with grass and weeds, except at the pawed and beaten spot where the public hitched its riding-horses, and beyond stood rows of old-fashioned residences of brick and stone, interspersed with a few modern frame cottages which, in gaudy paint, thrust themselves nearer the street than their more stately neighbors.

It was a Sunday morning, and the smile of a balmy spring day lay over every visible object, filling the ambient air with a translucent message that no human mind could interpret. It was as though an infinite God were speaking to eyes and ears too coarsely fashioned to fully see and hear.

The whole was conducive to the doctor's feeling of restfulness and content and good-will to every human being. He liked the young minister who was seated in the high-backed rosewood chair behind the white pulpit, holding a massive Bible on his slender knees, a look of consecration to a sacred cause in his brown eyes. There was an assuring augury that spoke well for the youth of the town in the spectacle of the choir—the young men in their best clothes, and the young women in their flower-like dresses and plumed and ribboned hats.

His gaze was drawn perforce to the face of the young organist, who sat staring listlessly over the top of her hymn-book. She had a face and form of rare beauty and grace. Her features were most regular; her skin clear; her eyes were large, long-lashed, dreamy, and of the color of violets. Her hair was a living mass of silken bronze.

“She looks tired and worried,” was Dearing's half-professional comment. “Perhaps her mother is worse, and she sat up last night. Poor Dora! she has certainly had a lot to contend with since her father died. I'll wait for her after church and ask about her mother.”

The service over, he made his way through the throng down the aisle toward the door. He was quite popular, and there was many a hand to shake and many a warm greeting to respond to, but he finally succeeded in reaching a point in the shaded church-yard which Dora Barry would pass on her way home, and there he waited.

For some unaccountable reason she was almost the last to leave the church, and the congregation had well-nigh dispersed when he saw her coming. He noticed that she kept her glance on the ground, and that her step was slow and languid; he was all but sure, too, that he heard her sigh, and he saw her firm round breast heave tremulously as she neared him.

“Good-morning, Dora,” he said, cheerily; and she started as, for the first time, she noticed his presence.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, a flush forcing itself into the pallor of her really exquisite face. “I thought—that is, I didn't expect to—to see you here, and, and—”

“I have been watching you this morning instead of the preacher,” he said, with a boyish laugh, “and I made up my mind that I'll have to take you in hand. You are burning the candle at both ends, and there is a fire-cracker in the middle. What is the use of being your family doctor if I let you get down sick, when I can prevent it by raking you over the coals? How is your mother? You had to be up last night—I can see it by the streaks under your eyes.”

“No, I wasn't up,” the girl answered. The color had receded from her cheeks, and the abstracted expression which he had noticed in the church began to repossess her wondrous eyes. “She is not quite well yet, but she did not call me at all through the night. Your last prescription did her good; it soothed her pain, and she rested better.”

“Well, I'm going to walk home with you and stop in and see her, to make sure,” he answered, still lightly. “If you don't look out you will be down yourself. Two sick persons in a family of two wouldn't be any fun.” She made no response; her eyes had a far-off look in their shadowy depths, and as he walked along beside her he eyed her profile curiously.

“Well, I declare, Dora,” he said, half jestingly, “you don't seem overjoyed to have a fellow's company. Of course, I'm not a ladies' man, and—”

“Forgive me, Wynn.” She looked up anxiously, and her lip trembled as she suppressed another sigh. “It wasn't that I didn't want you to come. You know better than to accuse me of such a thing. I have always considered you the best, kindest, and truest friend I have.”

“I was only joking,” he responded, touched by the undoubted sincerity of her tone and manner; “but, really, I don't like to see my little neighbor looking so glum, and I am going to stop in and see how your mother is. If she needs a trained nurse I'll get one, or come over and look after her myself.”

They had reached the cottage where Dora lived. It was small, and stood in a diminutive but rather pretty flower-garden on a short, little used street immediately behind Dearing's home. And when he had opened the sagging gate in the white paling fence, she preceded him into the low, vine-grown porch, and narrow, box-like hallway, from which she led him into the parlor, the room opposite to the chamber of the sick woman.

“Sit down, won't you?” Dora said, in a weary tone, as she began to unfasten her hat. “I'll tell her you are here.”

He took a seat in the bowed window of the plainly furnished room, and she brought a palm-leaf fan to him. “I'm sure my mother won't keep you waiting long.” And with the look of abstraction deepening on her mobile face, she turned away.

A neat matting made of green and brown straw covered the floor, on which were placed rugs made of scraps of silk of various colors artistically blended. A carved rosewood table with a white marble top stood in the centre of the room, and on it rested a plush-covered photograph-album, a glass lamp with a fluted and knotched paper shade on a frame of wire, and a vase of freshly cut flowers. Between the two front windows, which, like their fellows, were draped in white lace curtains of the cheapest quality, stood Dora's piano—a small, square instrument with sloping octagonal legs and lyre-shaped pedal-support. Against the wall near by leaned a time-worn easel, on which lay some torn and ragged sketches, a besmeared palette, and a handful of stubby, paint-filled brushes. The ceiling overhead was made of planks and painted light blue; the walls were plastered and whitewashed and ornamented by some really good family portraits in oil which had been done by Dora's deceased father, who had been the town's only artist. A Seth Thomas clock presided over a crude mantelpiece which was bare of any other ornament. The deep chimney was filled with pine-tops and cones, the uneven bricks of the hearth were whitewashed.

Dearing heard the girl's returning step in the hallway, and then she looked in on him.

“She is sitting up,” Dora announced. “She wants you to come to her.”

As he entered the room across the hall Dora turned toward the kitchen in the rear, and he found himself facing her mother, a thin, gaunt woman about fifty years of age, who sat in a low rocking-chair near her bed, the latter orderly arranged under a spotlessly white coverlet and great snowy pillows.

“This is not a professional visit, Mrs. Barry.” He smiled as he bent to take her thin, nervous hand, the fingers of which were aimlessly picking at the fringe on the arm of the chair. “Dora was headed for home, and so was I. The truth is, I am not half so much worried about you as I am about her. Your color is coming back fast enough, and you have no fever. You are all right, but she looks upset and nervous. It may be due to her highly artistic temperament, which is a thing medicine can't easily reach. Do you know if her appetite is good?”

“Really I haven't noticed about that particularly,” the woman answered, in a plaintive tone. “You see, since I got down I haven't been about the dining-room at all. She has waited on me instead of me on her.”

“Well, you'll be all right in a day or so,” Dearing said, his brows drawn thoughtfully, “and then you can take charge of her. She declares, though, that her health is tip-top.”

The old patient folded her thin, blue-veined hands tightly for a moment, and twisted them spasmodically together; then suddenly she fixed her sharp, gray eyes anxiously on the young man's face, and he saw that she was deeply moved, for her lower lip was twitching.

“I have always felt that you are the one young man whom I could trust—absolutely trust,” she said, falteringly. “Physicians are supposed to keep certain matters to themselves, anyway, but even aside from that, Wynn, it is hard to keep from speaking to you in a familiar way, having seen you grow up from babyhood right under my eyes, so I hope you will forgive me if—”

“Oh, I wouldn't have you quit calling me that for the world!” Dearing flushed deeply and laughed. “I haven't grown a full beard yet to make me look older and wiser than I am, as many young sawbones do. I hope I'll always be simply Wynn Dearing to you, Mrs. Barry.”

She looked as admiringly and as proudly as a mother might at the strong, smooth-shaved face, with its merry eyes of brown, firm chin and mouth, and shock of thick, dark hair, and at the tall, muscular frame and limbs in the neatly cut suit of brown.

“Yes, I can trust you,” she muttered, her voice growing husky, “and it seems to me if I don't confide in some one, I may as well give up.”

“Why, what is the matter, Mrs. Barry?” Dearing inquired, now quite grave.

“Oh, it is about Dora!” The old woman sighed. “Wynn, I may as well confess it. My sickness is partly due to worry over her. It is not because she is unwell either. It is something else. I am afraid she has some—some secret trouble. You must not show that you suspect anything—that would never do; but all is not as it should be with her. Naturally she has as happy a disposition as any girl I ever knew. Her art pupils adore her, and up to quite recently she used to laugh and joke with them constantly; but she has altered—strangely altered. I catch her sitting by herself at times with the saddest, most woebegone expression on her face. When I try to worm it out of her, she attempts to laugh it off; but she can't keep up the pretense, and it is not long before she begins to droop again. Her room is there, you see; and as the partition is thin, I often wake up in the dead of night and hear her cautiously tiptoeing over the floor—first to the window and then back to her bed, as though she were unable to sleep.”

“That is bad,” Dearing said, sympathetically, as Mrs. Barry paused and, covering her wrinkled face with her hands, remained silent for a moment.

“I would like to ask you something,” the old woman continued, hesitatingly—“something of a personal nature. I have no earthly right to do such a thing, but I thought, you see, that it might help me decide whether I am right in something I fear. Is it true that—that your uncle has forbidden Fred Walton to visit your sister Margaret?”

Dearing shrugged his broad shoulders and contracted his heavy brows. “I may as well tell you that he has, Mrs. Barry. I don't like to speak against another young man, and one who has never harmed me in any way; but I agree with my uncle that Fred is not exactly the kind of man I'd like to have Madge make an intimate friend of. His general character is not what it ought to be, and he seems to be going from bad to worse. He still has plenty of friends and even sympathizers, who think Fred would reform and settle down to business if his father were not quite so hard on him. Madge is one of them. She has a sort of girlish faith in the fellow, and the slightest word against him makes her mad.”

“Well, it is about Fred Walton that I want to speak to you,” Mrs. Barry resumed, tremulously. “He has been coming to see Dora a good deal for the last year. He passes by the gate often in the afternoon, and they take long walks over the hills to the river. Sometimes he accompanies her when she goes to sketch in the woods. And now and then she slips out after dark, and won't say where she has been. You see, I am speaking very frankly. I have to, Wynn, for I am in great trouble—greater than I ever thought could come to me at my time of life. My child is an orphan, and there is no one, you see, to—to protect her. It is hard to think that any man here at home could be so—so dishonorable, but they all say he is reckless, and—well, if I must say it—I am afraid she cares a great deal about him. I may be very wrong, and I hope I am, but I am deeply troubled, and need not try to hide it.”

“I see how you feel,” Dearing said, his face hardening as he bit his lip, and a fixed stare came into his eyes, “but I am sure you have nothing very—very serious to fear. Dora may think she cares for him. He seems to have a wonderful way with women, young and old. They all stand by him and make excuses for his daredevil ways.”

“Well, I do hope I am wrong,” Mrs. Barry said, brightening a little. “It has made me feel better to talk to you. We'll wait and see. As you say, it may be only a fancy on Dora's part, and it may all come out right. I have said more to you, Wynn, than I could have said to any one else in the world. That shows how much confidence I place in you.”

“You can trust me, Mrs. Barry,” Dearing said, as he looked at his watch and rose to go. “I know how to keep my mouth shut.”

As he was leaving, Dora stood motionless at the window of her room, hidden from his view by the curtains. She watched him as he passed out of the yard and crossed the narrow street to reach the rear gate to his own grounds.

“If he knew the truth he'd despise me!” she moaned, as she sank into a chair and tensely clasped her little hands in her lap. “How can I bear it? I'm so miserable—so very, very miserable!”

She rose, and went to her bureau, and took up a photograph of Fred Walton; as she gazed at it her eyes filled and her lip quivered.

“Dear, dear Fred!” she said, fervently, “in spite of all the faults they say you have, you are the best and truest friend a poor girl ever had. If I'd only listened to your advice I'd never have been like this. Oh, what will you think when you hear the truth—the awful, awful truth!”

She threw herself on her bed, and with her face covered she lay trying to sob, trying to shed tears, but the founts of her agony were dry.


DR. DEARING'S house was an old-fashioned structure built long before the Civil War. It fronted on the main residential street of the town, and was of red brick partly covered with clinging ivy. It had a colonial veranda with the usual tall, fluted columns, which were painted white and rested on square blocks of masonry. It had been the property of several generations of Dearings more or less distinguished in the history of the State, and since the death of the doctor's father, a prosperous merchant, slave-holder, and planter, it had been in the possession of the brother and sister, who, with an aged maternal uncle, General Sylvester, now occupied it.

As Dearing entered the lower gate of the grounds he saw Kenneth Galt, his next-door neighbor, crossing the lawn to reach his own house just beyond a low hedge of well-trimmed boxwood. And hearing the clicking of the iron gate-latch, Galt paused, turned, and advanced toward his friend. He was a handsome man, tall, dark, well-built, about thirty-five years of age, and with a strong, secretive face—the face of a man full of nervous force and the never-satisfied hunger of ambition.

“You've been to church like a good little boy,” he laughed, as he paused and stood cutting at the grass with his cane.

“Yes, and it is exactly where you ought to have been,” Dearing retorted, with a smile. “If you would only listen to a few good sermons on the right line you'd burn up that free-thought library of yours, and quit thinking you know more than your good old Godfearing ancestors.”

“I simply couldn't sit and listen to such stuff with a straight face,” Galt answered. “Goodness knows, I've tried it often enough. It really seems an insult to a fellow's intelligence. I can't agree with you that any man ought to try to think as his forefathers did. You don't in your profession, why should a man do it in more vital matters? You don't bleed your patients as doctors did fifty years ago, because you know better. I believe in evolution of mind as well as of matter. We are constantly advancing. Your old-time preacher, with all his good intentions, is a stumbling-block to intelligence. You may listen to a man who tells you your house is burning down over your head and urges you to save your life, but if you don't believe him you wouldn't care to have him pull you out by the heels on a cold night to convince you. But you don't hear what I am saying!” Galt finished, with a short laugh. “I am sowing my seed on stony ground. I've been in to see the General. I have some important letters about the railroad that he and I are going to get built one of these days. As a rule, he is more than eager to talk about it, but he was certainly out of sorts just now. I have never seen him so upset before. While I was talking to him he kept walking up and down the room, and not hearing half I was saying. He is not well, is he?”

“No, he really is not in the best of shape,” Dearing answered, with a thoughtful shadow on his face; “but I think he will pull through all right. I see him on the porch now. I'll walk on, and talk to him.”

As Dearing drew near the house General Sylvester, who was a tall, slightly bent old man with long gray beard and hair, came down the steps and walked across the grass to a rustic seat under a tree. He was about to sit down, but seeing his nephew approaching he remained standing, a gaunt hand held over his spectacled eyes to ward off the sunlight.

“I have been waiting for you,” he said, in a piping, irritable voice. “Kenneth was in to talk business, but it seems to me that I'll never be interested in such things any more. What's the use? I didn't want the money for myself, anyway. I saw the others coming back from church some time ago, and couldn't imagine what delayed you. I've had another row with Madge, and this time it is serious—very, very serious.”

“Oh, that's the trouble!” Dearing cried, and he attempted to laugh. “Uncle Tom, in your old age you are just like a school-boy with his first sweetheart. You are actually flirting with your own niece. You and she bill and coo like doves, and then get cold as ice or as mad as Tucker. What's wrong now?”

“Well, I think a young girl like she is ought to take the sound advice of a man as old and experienced as I am, and she won't do it. That's all—she won't do it, sir!”

“Of course she ought to,” Dearing said, still inclined to jest, “but you are wise enough to know that no woman ever took the advice of a man, young or old. See here, uncle, I'll bet you haven't had your medicine yet, and the dinner-bell will ring soon and you will have to wait fifteen minutes before you shall taste a bite. You and I 'll quarrel if you don't do as I tell you. Madge won't obey you, but you've got to get down on your marrow-bones and follow my orders.”

“Oh, I'll take the blasted stuff in time!” the General fumed. “I don't want to eat now, anyway. I tell you, I'm too mad to eat.”

“I suppose it is Fred Walton again,” Dearing said, resignedly.

“Who else could it be?” the old man burst out. “She tries to close my eyes as to her doings with him; but I got it straight that he was out driving with her last night while you were in the country.”

The face of the doctor clouded over. “You don't mean to say that—”

“I mean that he was afraid to drive up to the door like a gentleman, but met her down-town and took her from there, and when they got back, long after dark, he left her at Lizzie Sloan's, to keep us from getting on to it. You know, folks will talk about a thing like that.”

Dearing's eyes flashed, and a touch of whiteness crept into his face, but he said, pacifically: “Oh, there must be some mistake. I hardly think Madge would—”

“But there isn't any mistake, for she admitted it to me not ten minutes ago, and just as good as told me it was none of my business besides. Now, listen to me, my boy. I am an old man, but I am still in the possession of my faculties, and I know what I am talking about. I was in the bank yesterday, and had a talk with his father. He told me frankly that he intended to cut the scamp off without a penny. He gave the fellow a position of trust in the bank, but instead of behaving himself properly, he started into gambling, speculating in futures, and every reckless thing he could think of. He turned customers away, scared off depositors, who don't like to leave their money in such hands, and in many ways injured the business. Old Walton was so mad he could hardly talk to me, and when I told him right out how I felt about my niece going with him, he said he didn't blame me; that he wouldn't let such a rascal go with a servant of his, much less the acknowledged belle of the town, and a prospective heiress. Now, Wynn, this is what I have decided to do. You know that I have made my will, leaving all I have in the world to her.”

“And it is blamed bully of you, Uncle Tom,” Dearing said, laying his hand on the old man's shoulder, which he could feel quivering with a passion not good for even a younger man. “I am sure, neither of us is worthy of the great interest you have always taken in us.”

You are, my boy. I am proud of you. You are already a shining light in your profession, and will make all the money you'll ever need. But I always have worried about Madge. I want to provide well for her, and I haven't many years to live. Sometimes I think I may snuff out like a candle without a moment's notice, so I don't intend to leave my affairs in such a shape that Fred Walton will gloat over my demise and throw away my savings. No, sir. I tell you if your sister does not agree to give that scamp up inside of the next twenty-four hours, I will set my effects aside for another purpose.”

“I'll see her and talk to her, Uncle Tom,” Dearing promised, gravely. He had never seen the General so highly wrought up, nor heard such an exasperated ring in his voice. “Now, you go take your medicine. Madge will be sensible. She loves you, I know she does.”

“Well, remember what I've said,” the old soldier threw back as he turned away.

Dearing waited till he had disappeared through the side entrance of the house, and then he went up the front steps, crossed the wide veranda, with its smooth, rain-beaten floor of ancient heart pine, and stood in the great hall, straw hat in hand, looking about him.

“I'll see her at once,” he thought. “She must come to her senses. She is driving uncle to his grave with worry over her silly conduct.”

“Oh, Madge!” he called out. His voice rang and echoed in the great opening through which the walnut stairs and polished balustrade ascended to the corridor and sleeping-rooms above, but there was no response.

Still holding his hat, with which he fanned his heated face in an absent-minded, perturbed sort of way, Dearing went through all the lower rooms—the parlor and library and adjoining study, and even the dining-room and kitchen. The colored cook, old Aunt Diana, a former slave of the family, in white apron and turbaned head, informed him that his sister was in her room.

“I know she is, Marse Wynn, 'case she sent Lindy down fer some fresh col' water not mo'n ten minutes ago.”

Back to the front hall Dearing went, and thence up the stairs to his sister's room, adjoining his own. The door was ajar, but he stood on the threshold and rapped softly.

“Come!” It was a sweet young voice, and belonged to a pretty girl seventeen or eighteen years of age, who, as Dearing entered the room, sat at a quaint mahogany writing-desk between two lace-curtained windows through which a gentle breeze was blowing. She wore a becoming wrapper, and her small feet were shod in dainty embroidered slippers. Her abundant hair was quite dark, and her eyes very blue. She had been writing, for on the page of tinted note-paper before her he saw an unfinished sentence in the round, schoolgirl hand.

“I don't want to disturb you, Madge,” Dearing began, “but you will have to stop anyway soon, and get ready for dinner.”

“I am not going down,” she told him, her glance falling to the rug at her feet. “I had breakfast late, and I am not a bit hungry.”

“But that wouldn't be treating Uncle Tom quite right, you know,” Dearing gently protested, as he took a seat on the broad window-sill, swung his hat between his knees, and eyed her significantly. “You know how childish he is getting, Madge. It really upsets him not to have you at the table. He is old-fashioned, and was something of a beau when he was a young man. Making a fine lady of you and paying court to you seems to be about all the pleasure he gets in life. I know it must be tiresome, but there are many things we—”

“He is childish!” Margaret exclaimed, her eyes flashing angrily, “but I bore with it because I loved him, and because mother would have approved it; but he is getting worse and worse. He wants me at his beck and call every minute in the day, and even if I go out to see one of my girl friends he either comes or sends one of the servants to see if anything has happened. Then he—he—oh, there are a lot of things a girl can't put up with!”

“You mean his opposition to the visits of a certain friend of yours?” Dearing said, in a forced tone of indifference, as he glanced out at the window. Although his eyes were still ostentatiously averted, he saw her cautiously draw a blank sheet of paper over the lines she had written.

“Yes,” she said, “that is one thing. Fred Walton is a friend of mine, and for all I know his feelings may be hurt by what uncle has said and done. I know Fred is wild and reckless, but he has a good side to him—a side everybody can't see who doesn't know him intimately.”

Young as he was, Wynn Dearing was wise in the ways of the world, and he well knew that a temperament and will like his sister's would never be coerced. He decided to profit by the error in the method of his blustering uncle.

“You have never heard me abuse Fred,” he said, gently. “Many young men who have wealthy parents are inclined to 'sow wild oats,' as the old folks say; but really, Madge”—and he was smiling now—“for an honest, inoffensive cereal, the 'wild oat' has to bear the burden of many a tough young weed. Charity is said to cover a multitude of sins, but for genuine selfsacrifice give me the old-fashioned, long-bearded wild oat, in all its verdant and succulent—”

“Brother, I'm not in a mood for silliness!” the girl interrupted him, quickly, and with an impatient flush.

“I'm not either, Madge.” He took one of his knees between his hands, and drew it up toward him. “The fact is, I am worried—worried like everything! I may not show it, but this thing has taken a deep hold on me. Something has got to be done, and that right away. Young folks may love each other, or think they love each other, and if it does no harm to any one else, why, all well and good. But if their love business is causing suffering—yes, and positive bodily injury to another—then they ought to stop and ponder.”

“You mean that Uncle Tom—”

“I mean this, Madge, and now I am talking to you as a physician—his physician, too. The old man is actually so near the end of his natural life that irritation like this is apt to undermine what little constitution he has left. I've known old men to worry themselves into softening of the brain over smaller things than this. You may not think it would make much difference; but remember that if any act of yours and Fred Walton's were to cause his death, even indirectly, you could never outlive the reproach of your conscience. Uncle Tom is in a dangerous condition: his heart-action is bad, and so are his kidneys. You are too young a girl to take such a responsibility as that on your shoulders; besides, Madge, I must say that Fred—it is my duty as a brother to say—”

“You are going to abuse him; remember, you have not done it so far!” Margaret broke in. “You won't gain by it, brother. The whole town has talked of nothing lately but him and his faults, and I appreciated your silence, and so does he. We were speaking about it only yesterday, and he praised you for it. He said you were the truest, most perfect gentleman he had ever known, that you knew human nature too well to expect young men to be absolutely perfect, and that—”

“I wasn't going to say a word against his honor, Madge,” Dearing interrupted her, gently; “but I am going to say this: if I were in his place right now I'd feel that I could not conscientiously, or even quite honorably, continue to pay attention to a young lady situated—well, situated just as you are.”

“Why, what do you mean?” the girl asked, her lip quivering stubbornly.

“This, sister, and nothing else. We may say what we please about Fred's good qualities, his sincerity, his—his devotion to you; his plans, whatever they are; but a very disagreeable fact stands out like a black splotch on the whole business, and that is simply this: Fred really has failed to make good in the way a man ought to make good who aspires to the hand of a girl like yourself. His father gave him a splendid chance in the bank, but Fred's best friends admit that he hasn't profited by it. Instead of attending to business and helping his old daddy—who, harsh old skinflint though he is as to money matters, is a safe man in any community—instead of doing what was expected of him, Fred—well, he has turned his father against him, that's all. The old man swears he is going to cut him off without a penny, and everybody in town knows he means it; Fred doesn't dispute it himself. So, taking that along with the other thing, I honestly can't see how he can talk of love and marriage to a girl like you are.”

“What other thing do you mean?” Margaret demanded, pale with suppressed emotion.

“I mean the fact that his marriage to you would cause Uncle Tom to disinherit you outright. A man might sink low enough to want to marry a girl after he himself has been disinherited for his irregular conduct, but no creature with a spark of manhood in him would let his act impoverish the woman he loves. I have said nothing against him so far, but when he knows what uncle has determined to do—when he is told that if he persists—well”—Dealing's eyes were burning now with the fire of genuine anger—“he'll have me to reckon with, that's all—me, Madge!”

Margaret stared at him for a moment, and then, with a piteous little sob, she covered her face with her hands. “You are going to tell him!” she said, huskily. “Yes.” Dearing stood up and laid his hand on her head. “I'm going to tell him, Madge, but it will be only for his own good. In any case, he couldn't honorably ask you to marry him now, and the delay—if he is willing to wait—won't do either of you any harm. You are both young, and the world is before you. You can't realize it now, Madge, but this very thing may be the making of him. If he loves you as truly as he ought, this will be only a spur toward proving his worthiness.”

“Brother, must you really—? oh, I can't—can't—” The girl stood up, her cheeks wet with tears, and clasped her hands round his neck appealingly. “You really must not! He is already in trouble. Surely—surely—”

“There is no other way, Madge, but I'll not be rough; I pity the poor chap too much for that.”

“When do you intend to—to see him?” She was sobbing again, her face pressed against his shoulder.

“This evening, Madge, if I can find him at home. There is no other way. Uncle and I are the only protectors you have, and he is too angry and easily wrought up to be trusted with the matter. I'd better manage it; but you know I'll be fair.”

The girl gazed fixedly at him for a moment, and then, in a storm of tears, she threw herself oh her bed and hid her face in a pillow. Glancing at her pityingly, and with moisture in his own eyes, Dearing turned from the room.

“I am sorry for them both,” he muttered. “They are having hard luck, and yet Fred Walton isn't, from any point of view, worthy of her; there are no two ways about it. He has got himself into a terrible plight, and he has no right to involve my sister. No, and he sha'n't!”


THE greater part of the ensuing afternoon was spent by Dr. Dearing in his musty little office on the ground-floor of a building in the central square of the town which was devoted to lawyers' quarters, the rooms of the sheriff of the county, and the council-chamber where the mayor held his court. He received a few patients, made some examinations, wrote several prescriptions, and, considering that it was Sunday, he felt that he was fairly well occupied. His mind, however, was constantly on the topic of the morning and the disagreeable task confronting him. Finally he turned over the placard on the door till the word “out” was exposed to view, and went home to supper. Here, however, he met only General Sylvester, who, a dejected picture of offended loneliness, sat on the veranda, a dry cigar between his lips.

“Where is Madge?” Dearing asked, half standing, half sitting on the balustrade in front of the old gentleman, and assuming a casual tone which was far from natural.

“She hasn't been down at all to-day,” the General answered, pettishly. “I wouldn't send for her. She knew I wouldn't knuckle like that, but she knows I always expect to walk with her Sunday afternoons, and she stayed pouting in her room. She resents what has been said about that blackleg gambler, and wants to show it as plainly as possible, so there won't be any mistake between her view and mine. She knows I don't intend to leave any property to her if she keeps this up, but she doesn't care a rap. She's dead in love with the scamp, and, bad as he is, she glories in the opportunity to show her contempt for me and all that pertains to me. She can't toss me about like a ball, my boy! This thing has got to end right here and now, or I'll see my lawyer to-morrow and put something on paper that may never be wiped out while I am alive.”

“Well, give her till to-morrow, then,” Dearing said, with strange, suppressed calmness. “Her very sullenness now may be a sign that she is about to give him up. I've talked to her, and, while I am not certain what she'll do, I have an idea that she may respect your wishes and abide by your judgment.”

“I don't think so,” the old man said, with an anxious look into the face of his nephew; “that is, not so long as the rascal holds her to whatever understanding they may have between them. When I was a young man”—Sylvester clinched his fist and pounded his knee, as if to emphasize his words—“things like this did not hang fire. A man who could make no showing as to his being a proper suitor for a girl under age was given orders from her family to desist in his harmful attentions, and if he refused he was promptly dealt with—that's all: dealt with!”

“Nowadays it's different, Uncle Tom,” Dearing said, with the tone of an older man. “Shooting or threatening to shoot about a young woman is sure to cast a blight on her reputation, and there generally is some other method to—”

“You learned that up among those Yankees!” the General said, alluding to the period his nephew had spent in a New York medical college. “But I am miserable enough as it is without wanting you to stain your hands with blood and have us all brought into court to justify your course. He is a coward, I'm sure; no man has any pride or backbone who will cling on to a respectable family, under the pretext of being in love, when his own people have cut him off. His mother belonged to a good family, but he hasn't inherited any refinement of feeling from that side of the house.”

“I don't think, to do Fred full justice,” Dearing gently urged, “that he quite realizes the seriousness of your objections to him. I really believe, when he is told of the step you are about to take, that he will act sensibly. He has a good side to him when he is thoroughly himself, and I am going to look him up after supper and lay the whole thing fairly before him.”

“Does Margaret know you—” The General's voice failed to carry further.

“Yes; I've told her what I intend to do, and I think that is one reason she has remained in her room. She is hard hit, Uncle Tom. Girls never can understand things of this sort. Their sympathies always go with the unfortunate, and Madge knows Fred is down, and that most people are against him.”

“Well, I hope you will accomplish something,” General Sylvester said, hopefully. “You can straighten it out if any one can. I can trust you, Wynn, and I am proud of you—proud of you in every way. I never regret the loss of the old order of things when I think of what you are and what you are bound to become as a leader of young men of your period.”

“We are certainly sharp enough to pull the wool over kind old eyes like yours, Uncle Tom.” Dearing laughed as he leaned forward and laid his hand on the old man's shoulder. “In your day young blades boasted of what they did under cover of the night, but we thank the darkness for its shelter and don't talk of our acts. Why, you old-timers didn't know the first principles of devilment! If it were not giving away professional secrets, I'd tell you things that would make your hair stand on end. You've heard me say I believe in the good old-time, psalm-singing, God-fearing religion—well, I do. The longer I live the more I think we need it. Look what modern thought has done for Kenneth Galt. He has read so much on science and philosophy that he has reduced us all—good, bad, and indifferent—to mere cosmic dust. According to him, we are simply mud babies energized by planetary force, and living on the pap of graft. Ask him to account for good spiritual impulses, and he will—if he admits there are any—show you conclusively that good conduct is the mere evolutionary result of communal self-interest; men came to believe murder was wrong only because they didn't want their own throats cut.”

“I have always wondered what Kenneth does believe,” Sylvester said, with his first smile. “He certainly is an interesting man; and he's rich, and growing more so.”

“Yes; he was well provided for at the start,” responded Dearing, “and he has invested wisely.”

“I have seen him talking to Margaret several times of late,” Sylvester remarked. “That is one thing that irritates me. I don't care a red cent about his cranky religious views; they will take care of themselves, for he is a straight, safe, and honorable man; and if this harum-scarum Fred Walton had not been taking up so much of her time, why—”

“You old match-maker!” Dearing laughed. “I'm going to stir up Aunt Diana and get something to eat. I am as hungry as a bear.”

While he and his uncle sat together at the long table in the big dining-room, Dearing asked the cook if she had notified his sister that supper was served.

“Yesser, Marse Wynn,” the woman answered over the coffee-tray she was putting down, “I sent Lindy up dar to her room, and she say young miss didn't want er bite. I reckon she sho' is sick. She haint tetch er mouthful since 'er breakfast.”

“Well, let her alone,” Dearing said, as his eyes met the wavering glance of his uncle across the table. “She will be all right in the morning.”

The gloomy meal over, the General strode back to the veranda, and Wynn went up to his room. He did not light the gas, as he intended doing, for it occurred to him that there was really no need for it, and he sat down in the darkness. He could see one of the windows of Margaret's room in the ell of the building, across the open court. A dim light was burning there, and the curtains were drawn.

“Poor child!” he muttered; “that fellow has hit her hard. Women have a wonderful amount of sympathy for him. It may be that Mrs. Barry is correct in her fears, and that Dora may be in love with him, too. Beautiful, trusting Dora—even she is suffering on his account. Yes, I must see him. There is no other way.” Dearing stood up and went to his bureau to get a fresh handkerchief, and while his hand was fumbling collars, cuffs, and neckties, it touched the cool, smooth handle of a revolver. He picked it up and held it for a moment reflectively, and then laid it down.

“No, I'll not go to see him even with the thought that I may have to use force,” he said. “My mission in life is to cure men, not to spill their blood. They say he sometimes goes armed, and if we met on that sort of level there might be trouble.”

He closed the drawer, stood for a moment looking at the light in the window of Margaret's room, and then, shrugging his broad shoulders, he turned away. He met no one on the stairs, but as he passed out at the front door he saw the flare of his uncle's cigar and the wrinkled, brooding face and gray head and beard at the end of the veranda. Going down the wide brick walk, which was edged by rows of well-trimmed boxwood, he descried, near the gate, a willowy figure in white. It was Margaret. She looked up as he approached, and in the piteous lines of her face he read her final desperate appeal.

“I thought you were in your room,” he said, in an effort at gentle deception. “Madge, old girl, I'll have to take you in hand.” He passed his fingers playfully under her cold chin. “You are on a direct road to a thirty-day course of that very tonic you despised so much last spring. No dinner to-day and no supper to-night. I don't get any fee for doctoring you, but I'm going to keep you in good shape as an advertisement, if for nothing else. I don't intend to have my patients throwing it in my face that they won't believe in me until I cure my own family.”

She did not return his smile, and drew back from his caress as if she half resented it.

“Are you really going to see Fred?” she asked, falteringly, her eyes fixed coldly, half fearfully, on his through the dim, vague starlight.

“Yes, Madge,” he answered, simply. “I've thought it over deliberately and calmly, with no feeling of ill-will toward him, and I can't see my duty in any other way.”

“To-night?” She breathed hard, her hand on her breast.

“Right away, sister; that is, if he is in town.”

She moved a little nearer to him. He saw the hand which started toward his arm tremble, as it diverted its course to one of the palings of the fence, which it clutched in visible desperation.

“Do you realize,” she asked, “that to—to tell him what Uncle Tom intends to do in case he and I don't give each other up may insult him? He is not a man to care about a girl's fortune; he hasn't shown that he wants his father's money. He knows that I don't let such things weigh with me. What you are now starting out to do may be the immediate cause of—of our both defying you!

“Oh, I see,” Dearing said. “Well, in that case I shall have done all in my power to protect your interests. I'll tell you one thing, though, Madge, little girl: the matter looks black enough as it stands; but, really, if I felt that you were going absolutely penniless to a man who has shown himself as reckless of his own interests as Fred Walton has, I'd be blue in earnest, and—and I don't know that I'd be quite able to restrain my temper if such a reckless spendthrift were to thrust himself between you and your natural rights, boldly robbing you, blind as you now are, of what you ought to have, and which later in life you will sadly need. I am not a fighting man, but—well, he'd better not interfere with your material interests, that's all.”

She shrank back before the force and suppressed fury in his face and voice, and now, her last hope gone, she simply stared, speechless. He had put his hand upon the iron latch of the gate when she caught his arm and clung to it convulsively.

“Oh, brother, you don't know Fred as I do!” she wailed. “He has some faults, I'll admit; but he is true and noble at heart. You see, I've heard him talk in a confidential way and you haven't. The last time I met him he almost cried in telling me of his troubles. He does try very hard to please his father. You see, I am convinced that he has just reached a sort of turning-point, and I am afraid this very thing may make him more desperate.”

“If he is sincere,” Wynn retorted, “and is any sort of man, he will be glad of being warned against impoverishing the girl he professes to love. You leave it all to me, sister. I am not going to be harsh with him. I don't really dislike him, and he has nothing against me.” From the expression of utter despair in her eyes he knew that she intended to resist no longer. She lowered her head to the top of the fence, and without looking at him, she asked, in a smothered voice: “What time do you think you will—will be back?”

“I can't tell, Madge. I may not find him at once, you know.”

“I shall wait up for you,” she gulped. “I couldn't close my eyes until I see you and know what he says. Oh, brother, I am afraid—”

“Afraid of what?” he demanded, quickly.

“I hardly know how to express it.” She looked up, and on her cheeks lay the damp traces of the tears she had wiped away on her sleeve. “But he is desperate. I am actually afraid he may try to—to do himself harm. It looked, the other evening, as if he were constantly on the point of telling me something about some crisis or other in his affairs which has just come up. He would start out as if about to make a disclosure of some horrible kind, and then he would stop and say: 'But I can't worry you by telling you everything. It won't help matters to talk about my trouble.”

“Poor chap,” Dearing said. “I will not be hard on him, sister; I promise you that. I may find him at church; he sometimes goes to take Dora Barry.”

“Yes; they are good friends,” Margaret said. “That is one thing I admire in him. She is poor, and doesn't receive much attention. Fred takes her to places and goes to see her out of pure kindness of heart.”

“Well, I'm off,” Dearing said, as he turned to leave. “Now you go to bed, young lady, and forget about this disagreeable mess for to-night, anyway. It may be all for the best.”


LEAVING Madge mute and motionless at the gate, staring through the starlight after him, Dearing strode down the street past the fine old home of Kenneth Galt, which was set well back in spacious grounds on the left. Along the way were old-fashioned houses in bad condition, old buildings which had been modernized, and which stood on well-kept lawns, and others which had no touch of antiquity. After a few minutes he reached a plain two-story frame house which had once been white, but now showed little trace of its original paint. It was the home of Fred Walton's father, Stafford's well-to-do banker, money-lender, “note-shaver,” and all-round speculator in stocks, bonds, and real estate.

“Fred may be here,” Dearing reflected, as he paused at the ramshackle gate and viewed the forbidding old house as it loomed up among the trees, fifty yards from where he stood; “but he'd certainly be excusable for seeking a more cheerful place to spend an evening, considering that meddlesome stepmother of his.”

The parsimony of old Simon Walton could not have been better illustrated than by the fact that not a ray of light showed itself in all the rooms of the house. It was said of him that, fond of smoking though he was, he never lighted his pipe without getting a match and tobacco from some one else. At all events, he was at home. And as he went up the uneven brick walk, Wynn saw him seated on the front porch without his coat.

He was tall, lank, and raw-boned, and though nearly seventy years of age, his brown hair and short, scraggy whiskers were devoid of the slightest touch of gray. He was a man who, though outwardly sound of body, brain, and limb, was not without certain haunting fears of dissolution. He had had a slight stroke of paralysis which had left a numbness in his right side, and he was constantly trying to obey certain directions Dearing had laid down on the day his clerks had found him unable to rise from his desk in his bank. Dearing's skill had put him on his feet again, and the young doctor had tried diplomatically to show his patient that the cause of the trouble lay in an overworked brain too sharply centred on a none too worthy purpose. But in this he had failed. Old Simon would have believed in any lotion, any surgical operation, or any medicine prescribed by Dearing, no matter how costly, for that was in the young man's line; but he declined to listen to any hint—from such a source, at least—that his mental watchfulness ought to be curbed. He had won by his method, and that was ample proof of its correctness. He had risen from between the plough-handles, he told Wynn with a satirical laugh, and men who had advised him to think less of the almighty dollar and more of his God were in their mountain hovels giving away advice for others to live by. The wise fellows who had said in his youth that he was “as close as the bark on a tree” and “too mean to live” were now ready to beg at his feet for money to enable them to purchase food for their families.

“Well, here you are at last!” he thundered, as Wynn approached through the gloom. “And it's high time, I am here to say! It doesn't take a man two hours to go to that bank and bring back a simple statement like that. I want to know to a fraction of a cent, too, just how that thing stands, and—”

“Well, you don't owe me a penny, Mr. Walton.” Dearing laughed. “I only wish you did.”

“Oh, I thought it was Fred!” old Simon ejaculated, not a little chagrined by his lack of hospitality. “Me and him have had a little quarrel over his way of doing things, and I was looking for him to bring some papers from the bank. He went off with the key an hour ago, and hasn't showed up yet. Have you seen anything of him?”

“No; in fact, that's what I dropped in for. I wanted to speak to him.”

“Then I reckon he's not at your house calling on Miss Margaret. I thought he might be there, or gone to take that other girl, the daughter of that old picture-painter, to meeting. I picked up a note from her to him the other day, making some appointment or other. I might know he wasn't at your house, though, after the talk I had with the General. Huh! your uncle needn't be mealy-mouthed with me about what he thinks of the scamp! In my day and time a fellow of that stripe would be egged out of the community he lived in. But the blamed fools here in Stafford say Fred's pardonable to some extent because I've saved up a few cents. Huh! I'll show them and I'll show him a thing or two before I am through! I've given him a good education at a fine, high-priced college, and put him in the bank in a place of trust, and he is treating it as if it was a front seat at a circus. Huh! they all laugh and call him the 'Stafford Prince'; they say he is a high-roller; that he's invented a cocktail, and lets bank-notes go like leaves in a high wind. They needn't say it is due to the little I've made, either, for there's yourself, for instance. You had money and property left you, but it didn't make a stark, staring idiot out of you. By gum! I never see you or hear of your fine operations without wanting to cuff that fellow behind the ear and kick him out into the street. Came to breakfast this morning with his eyes all bunged up and swollen. There is one thing about him that is to his credit, I'll admit, and that is he won't lie when you are looking him smack dab in the face, and when I asked him if he had been playing poker he acknowledged it. Think of that! A boy of mine—of Simon Walton's—playing cards for whopping big stakes when I have toiled and stinted and saved as I have to gain the little headway I've got.”

“Well, I see he is not here,” Dearing said, awkwardly. “Perhaps I can find him up-town.”

“Don't hurry; set down,” and the gaunt man stood up and pointed to another chair. “I clean forgot to be polite, I'm so worked up. Take a chair—take a chair. I simply want to see what it feels like to sit and talk to a decent man under thirty.”

“No, I thank you, Mr. Walton, I really can't stay,” and Dearing laid his hand gently on the quivering shoulder of the old man. “But I want you to remember my warning about that little trouble of yours. You must not let things stir you up like this. You can't stand it, you know, as well as some other men can.”

“Show me how to help it—show me how to want to help it!” spluttered the banker. “I don't want to keep my temper! I don't want to hold my tongue! I wish the law of the land would let me take him, big as he is, and thrash him on the streets before the very folks that call him, as some have, an improvement on his stingy old daddy. Once I thought I had him. Once I thought I'd caught him dickering with bank funds, and I had started to have him put in limbo when he showed me I was wrong. That's the kind of man I am! I put honesty above everything else, and I won't hide dishonor, even in my own blood.”

“Well, I'm off,” Wynn Dearing said. “I see I only keep you going on the very topic I have warned you against. Good-night.”

As the young doctor was approaching the gate he saw a figure in gray, enveloped, as to head and shoulders, in an old cashmere shawl, emerge from a clump of plum-trees near the fence. It was Fred Walton's stepmother, a tall, thin woman of more than sixty years of age, and even dim as the starlight was he noticed the hardness of her features as she clutched the shawl under her chin and eagerly peered out from its folds.

“Oh, we have had a day of it, Dr. Dearing!” she said, familiarly, and with a dry, forced laugh. “When you came in at the gate just now I made the same mistake Simon did—I thought it was Fred, and hung back at the side of the house to hear the row. I reckon the boy has decided he's had enough tongue-lashing for one day, and don't intend to sleep here to-night. I don't blame his father one bit,” she ran on, volubly, “and I have the first one to meet who really does. Fred certainly keeps himself in the public eye. There is hardly a day that some fresh report don't crop out as to his scrapes. And the match-makers! Great goodness! They have enough to keep ten towns the size of this busy. They are eager to see now which Fred will tie to for life: your sister, with all her money and fine old name, or that strip of a girl who paints and teaches for a bare living. Some say she is daft about him, and that if your uncle kicks him out he will settle on her. That's what folks say, you know. The truth is, I live sort of out of the way, and don't hear all that is going the rounds.”

“That is a matter I am not posted on, Mrs. Walton,” Dearing said, as he opened the gate and politely raised his hat in parting. “I must hurry. I only wanted to see Fred a minute.”

As he neared the central square of the town the rays of light from the church where he had that morning attended service streamed across the green, and he approached the little edifice, ascended the steps to the vestibule, and cautiously peered in at the worshippers, wondering if by any chance Fred Walton might be there as Dora Barry's escort. But no one of the numerous backs turned toward him resembled Fred's, and his glance moved on to the pulpit. The choir was in full view, facing the door, and beside the keyboard of the organ sat the girl who played it. Was it the shadows from the gas above her, or was the tense expression in her eyes and the droop to the sweet young mouth due to some trouble even greater than any he had yet surmised? He shuddered as he turned away and pursued his walk toward the square. He would look for Walton at the bank, and try to divest his mind of the disagreeable duty he had to perform; but Dora's face continued to haunt him. The mute appeal of her white, shapely hands patiently folded in her lap, the suggestion of utter despair in her whole bearing, clung to him and wrung his manly heart. She had been his playmate when she was a tiny girl and he an awkward boy in his teens. He had loved her gentle old father, with his long hair and high, poetic brow, and had believed for years that Dora had inherited his genius. The artist had gone back to Paris to study, intending to send for his wife and child when fortune smiled, as he was sure it would. But he had died there, and was buried by his fellow-students of the Latin Quarter. They had written the fact to the wife and orphan, but that was all. It was his child who was in trouble, and Dearing's heart ached with a dull, insistent pain.

There was a light in the bank; he saw its gleam through the old-fashioned panes of glass in front, but it went out just as he drew near the door, which he saw was slightly ajar. As he stood wondering, he heard some one coming. It was Fred Walton; he was smoking, and the flare of his cigar lighted up his dark, handsome face for a bare instant. He was tall, well-built, and strong of physique.

“Hello! Is that you, Fred?” Dealing called out. There was a pause. Walton seemed to shrink back into the darkness for a moment; then he said:

“Yes. Who is it?”

“It is I, Fred—Wynn Dearing.”

“Oh, it is you!” Walton drew the heavy door to after him as he came out and locked it. Then they stood together on the sidewalk in the faint rays from a gaslight on the corner near by.

“Yes, I've been looking for you, Fred. I went to your house; your father told me you might be here. Can't we go in the bank?”

Fred Walton stared. His face was rigid; beads of sweat stood on his brow and cheeks; the cigar in his mouth shook.

“It is terribly hot in there,” he said, after a pause. “I was looking over the books, and—almost fainted. I didn't think it worth while to unscrew the rear windows, and not a breath of air is stirring in the beastly hole.”

“We might walk on to my office; it is always cool. I never bother to shut the windows, even before a rain.”

“Yes, if—if you wish it, Wynn; that is, if you wish to—to see me.”

“Yes, I want to talk to you, Fred.”

They walked side by side along the pavement. Walton had his hat off, and was wiping his face with his handkerchief. Once his foot struck against some object, and he almost fell. Something like an oath of impatience escaped his lips as he drew himself up and caught the slow, deliberate step of his companion.

Reaching the door of his office, Dearing unlocked it, pushed it open, and they entered the little reception-room in the dark. The doctor struck a match and lighted a lamp on a table, and pointed to a rocking-chair. “Take a seat, Fred.” A cold smile which gave his face almost a wry look lay on his firm mouth as he himself sat down near a table on which lay some books and magazines. He had not removed his eyes from his companion, who, hat in hand, was settling heavily into the big chair. “I've got an unpleasant duty before me, Fred—darned unpleasant, because we've been friends all our lives, and—”

“That's all right, Wynn, go ahead.”

“It is about you and my sister, Fred.”

“I was afraid it was that, Wynn,” the young man muttered. “The thought came to me when I heard your voice in the dark just now. Well, nothing you can say will surprise me. I am prepared for anything—for the very worst; in fact, I am prepared to have Marga—pardon me, your sister—send me word that she herself wishes to see no more of me.”

“I have no such message as that, Fred, but still it is my duty to lay the facts before you just as they are; and I am going to do it, with the hope, old man, that you'll be reasonable and—help me out.”

In a calm voice, full of sincerity and stern conviction, Dearing then recounted all that had taken place between him and his uncle, ending with: “I give you my word, Fred, and the opinion of a physician who knows the case, that my uncle is not only likely to worry himself into the grave over the matter, but that he will absolutely, and at once, cut my sister out of her rightful inheritance.”

“But she—surely she herself will tell General Sylvester that she is willing to—forget me, and—”

Dearing, without looking directly at the speaker, shook his head. “It is only fair to her to say that she is not made that way, Fred. She believes in you; nothing on earth will change her; she believes you are the soul of honor, and is ready to throw my uncle's money into his face. That's why I came to you—to you. I thought, and Uncle Tom did, too, that under the circumstances you might, you see, rather than stand between her and—”

Dearing went no further. He was interrupted by the look of agony which had clutched the lineaments of the listener like the throes of death. Walton's hands, outspread till the fingers looked like prongs of hard wood, rose to his face and covered it. Dearing saw a shudder of restrained emotion rise in the strong frame and quiver through it. A sound like a sob issued from the bent form. Neither spoke for more than a minute. The step of a passer-by rang sharply on the still night air. The tones from Dora Barry's organ swelled out in the distance and rolled toward them, followed by the singing of the choir. Suddenly Walton rose, and leaned on the back of his chair.

“It is all up with me, Wynn!” he groaned, deeply. “After to-night you'll never be troubled by me in any shape, form, or fashion. I wish I could be man enough to make a clean breast of it all to you, but what's the use? It wouldn't do any good or help the matter. You'll know to-morrow, as all Stafford will. I'll say this, though: I am wholly unworthy of your sister's confidence and respect. To have paid her such attentions, situated as I am situated, was an insult. I have committed an offence known so far to no one but myself, and which can never be pardoned. I am at the end of my rope, old chap. If I could undo my act by ending my wretched life, I'd do it to-night. I love your sister as sincerely as a man ever loved a woman, but I have no earthly right to think of her, much less to consider myself a suitor for her hand. When she knows the truth—the whole wretched truth—she herself will turn from me in disgust, and blush with shame at the thought of ever having encouraged me. You have the right, as a man and her brother, to kick me for my presumption. I can't go into details. I could not bear to see your face as you hear it, but it will be in every one's mouth tomorrow.”

“Oh, Fred, surely you—” Dearing started to say, but, raising his hand, Walton interrupted him.

“Never mind, Wynn. I have said enough. I have no right to send your sister even a farewell message, certainly not to tell her what my feeling for her is at this moment; but it will be best for the General to rest assured, so you may give him my word that I'll never cross her path again. I am going away to-night, never to be seen here any more. I am not man enough to face this town after my conduct becomes public. I was weak. I fell—that's all. I don't know what will become of me. I blame no one but myself, certainly not my poor old father. You will not see me again. Goodbye. I need not wish you well; you will do well. You were marked by Fate from the start as one of the lucky, uncursed ones.”

The doctor stood up and extended his hand to detain him, but Walton had turned hastily away. Dearing heard his dragging feet in the corridor and then on the sidewalk.

“Poor chap! It is something very, very serious,” he mused. “Nothing but terrible trouble would work a man up like that. I wonder if—” He started and shuddered. Mrs. Barry's pale, troubled face of the morning came before him, then Dora's downcast attitude as he had seen her in the choir only a few moments before. He started, and his blood ran cold through his veins. Could it be possible—could any man sink low enough to—? No; he would not even think of it, else he would regret not having killed the man as he sat bowed before him. No, it wasn't that—the human monster did not live who could pluck and stamp upon that beautiful and helpless flower of maidenhood. He extinguished the lamp, went out into the dark street, and closed his door. The congregation was leaving the church as he reached it. Among the last to go was Dora. He fell in behind her, but made no effort to catch her up. She had shown no willingness to talk to him that morning, and he would not disturb her now. Perhaps the girl was really in love with Walton, and had gleaned some inkling of the young man's trouble. Yes, that would explain her present depression. He walked behind her till she disappeared at the cottage gate; then he turned and went homeward past Kenneth Galt's grounds. He saw a spark of fire moving about under the trees to the right of the gloomy-looking residence which to-night seemed devoid of any light, and knew that Galt was there smoking alone, as was his habit at that hour. Dearing put his hand out to the gate-latch. Perhaps a chat with his philosophic friend would help clear his brain of the maddening thoughts which surged about him, but he paused.

“No; Madge will be up waiting for me,” he reflected. “I may as well meet her and let her know the worst. Poor girl, she'll have to be brave!”

He moved on to his own gate. There was no one on the veranda, as was often the case in warm weather, but in a little pagoda-shaped summer-house on the lawn he descried a white object. It stirred as the hinges of the gate creaked, and he entered, It was Margaret, and she came to him like a spirit across the grass.

“I told you I'd wait,” she reminded him, and her voice sounded strange and even harsh in its guttural tendency. “I thought you'd never come.”

Through all that had passed between him and Fred Walton that night Dealing's anger and resentment had been held in check by sympathy for the man in his desperate plight and despair; but now, as he saw the evidences of his sister's agony written all too plainly upon her young being, his indignation kindled. The scoundrel, the coward, was running away to keep from facing public opinion, yet was leaving this poor, crushed girl to suffer in consequence of his conduct!

“You ought not to have waited,” he reproached her, in a tone she had never heard him use. “Your being here now, looking like this, is an acknowledgment that you actually care for the cowardly cur—you, who ought to—”

“Brother, stop!” The girl clutched his arms. She breathed hard against his breast as she leaned close to him. “'The cowardly cur,' you say—you, who have never abused him before.”

“I wonder now that I let him go with a whole bone in his body,” Dearing retorted, raspingly. “I didn't realize what I was doing, or I—”

“Oh, what do you mean?” Margaret interrupted, giving him a quick, impatient shake. “You needn't come here trying to make me believe vile slander. It is easy enough for lies to get circulated in a town noted for its tattling busybodies.”

“I've had his own deliberate confession,” Dearing answered. “With his head hanging in shame and his face covered he told me he was forced by some dishonorable act to leave town, never to return. He didn't tell me what he had done; he said he'd rather not go into it, but that it would all be out to-morrow. Of his own accord he proposed to give you up, and said I might tell Uncle Tom that he'd never see or write to you again. Whatever it is, you ought to have sufficient pride to—”

Dealing stopped short. With a low moan Margaret was reeling toward him, and, as he caught her to keep her from falling, he saw that she had fainted. Lifting her up, Dearing bore her into the house and up the stairs to her room. He laid her on her bed, glad that his uncle and the servants had not noticed the accident. He sprinkled her face with water. She opened her eyes as he bent over her in the darkness, and recognized him.

“You are all right now, Madge, darling,” he said, huskily, as he fondly kissed her. “Be calm and go to sleep. You must not suffer on account of this man. He is absolutely unworthy of your regard, and that ought to settle it, so far as you are concerned.”

Margaret sat up, and put her arms about her brother's neck.

“I was afraid the other day that something was wrong—that something terrible was about to happen to him,” she sobbed. “He was awfully gloomy. He seemed to be on the point of confiding in me every minute, but couldn't get it out. You say you have no idea what it is?”

“No; but he says it will be public property to-morrow. Try to forget it. You must call your pride to your aid. Uncle was right in his objections to him, and you were wrong. I neglected my duty in not seeing him even sooner than I did. Now, good-night.”

Leaving her with a kiss on her cold cheek, Dearing, choking down a lump in his throat, went to his own room. The windows facing the south looked out on Kenneth Galt's grounds, and Dearing could still see his friend's cigar intermittently glowing as the student, philosopher, and successful financier strode back and forth.

“Who knows? Kenneth may be right, after all,” Dearing mused, bitterly. “At such moments as this one wonders if there really can be a God who is justly ruling the universe. What has poor little Madge done, in her gentle purity, to merit this crushing blow? It was her very trusting innocence that brought it upon her.”

It was one of Dealing's habits to say his prayers at night on retiring, and when he had disrobed he knelt by his bedside. But somehow the words failed to come as readily as had been their wont; he was trying to pray for the relief of his sister, but reason kept telling him that it was a futile appeal. God had not hindered the approach of the calamity; why should mere human appeal immediately lift it? So he said his “Amen” sooner than usual, and with a brain hot over the memory of Walton's looks and words, he rolled and tossed on a sleepless bed till far into the night.


WHEN Fred Walton left Dearing's office, he went along the street toward his father's home. He walked slowly, absolute despair showing itself in the droop of his powerful body, and in the helpless, animal glare of his eyes. He had reached a point from which, the street being on a slight elevation, he could see the old house in which he was born. He paused. All about him was peace, stillness, and incongruous content. The town clock, capping the brick stand-pipe of the waterworks, struck nine solemn strokes, and he could feel the after-vibrations of the mellow metal as the sound died away. He turned, leaving his home on the left, and walked on aimlessly till the houses which bordered the way became more scattered, and then he reached a bridge which spanned a little river. A full moon was rising. Through the foliage of the near-by trees it looked like a world of fire away off in space. Its red rays fell on the swiftly rushing water, throwing on its surface a path of flaming blood. He went out on the structure, and leaned against the iron railing. Just beyond the end of the bridge rose a green-clad hill. It had a high fence around it, and a wide gateway with a white, crescent-shaped sign above it. It was the Stafford cemetery.

“Yes, I ought to see it once more before I go,” he said. “It will be the last time—the very last; and surely, though I'll blush in her dead presence, thief as I am, I ought to go.”

He crossed to the other side, and went into the gate of the enclosure. Threading his way among the monuments, his brow reverently bared to the solemn moonlight, he came to a square plot surrounded by an ivy-coated brick wall with a granite coping. It contained several graves bearing his name, but only one engaged his attention. He sat down on its footstone, and, with his head still bare, he remained motionless for a long time.

“She didn't know the son she used to be so proud of would ever come to this,” he said, bitterly. “With all her hopes and prayers, she little knew that I'd be an outcast—actually forced to flee from the law; she little dreamed it would come to that when she used to talk of the great and good things I was to do. Poor, dear, little mother! You'd rather be dead than alive to-night. I wonder if it is absolutely too late? Perhaps, far away, under a new name and among strangers, I may be able to live differently. And if I could, she would know and be glad. Mother, listen, dear!” A sob rose in him, and shook him from head to foot. “The wrong I did was done when my brain was turned by liquor, and I did not realize my danger till it was too late; I swear here—right here—to you, dear little mother, that from this moment on I'll try to be better. I may fail, but I'll try. I swear, too, that from this moment on I'll bend every energy of my soul and body to the undoing of the thing of which I am guilty.”

He stood up. Ten solemn strokes of the town clock rang out on the profound stillness. The air was vibrant with a myriad insect voices from the marshes along the river. Rays of lamplight shot across the shrubbery between the shafts and the slabs of stone. They came from a window in the cottage of the sexton of the cemetery. The lone visitor saw a shaggy head of hair, a long, ragged beard the color of the clay beneath the soil, and a rugged face, gashed and seamed by time. The old man was smoking—placidly smoking. Even a humble digger of graves could be content, while this young, vigorous soul was steeped in the dregs of despair. Walton turned away, slowly retraced his steps to the outside, crossed the river, and, careful to avoid meeting any one, he finally came again to his father's house. It was dark.

“I might get in at a window and bring away a few things to wear,” he reflected. “But no, I must not risk it. He might meet me face to face and demand the truth. I'd have to tell him. Sharp of sight, and suspicious as he now is, he would read it in my face, and order my arrest. Yes, he would do it. He is my father, but he would do it.”

On he went, now headed for the square. Reaching the bank, the thought occurred to him that, having a key, he would go in and write a note to his father. A moment later he had locked himself within the stifling place, and under a flaring gas-jet, and seated on the high office-stool at a desk, he wrote as follows:

My Dear Father,—Surprised though you've never been at my numerous bad acts, you will be now at what I am about to confess. For more than a week I have been covering up a shortage in my account which amounts to more than you can afford to lose without warning. I am five thousand dollars behind, and am absolutely unable to replace it. I shall make no excuses. Being your son gave me no right to the money, but taking it at a time when I believed it would save me in a certain speculation in futures, I told myself that I had the right, as your son and heir, to borrow it. That I looked at it that way, and was half intoxicated at the time the deed was committed, is all that I can say by way of palliation of my offence.

You once said to me that if I ever did anything of this sort that you would turn me over to the law exactly as you would any stranger, and I understand you well enough to know that you will keep your word. You would do it in your anger, even if you regretted it afterward; so, father, I am leaving home to-night, never to return. Don't think I am taking any more of your money, either, for I am not. I am leaving without a penny. I don't know where I shall go, but I am starting out into the world to try to begin life anew. You have always contended that my hopes of inheriting your savings was the prime cause of my failure, and that had I been forced to struggle for myself, as you had to do as a young man, I should have known the true value of money. I believe you are right, and to-night, as I am leaving, a certain hope comes to me that maybe there is enough of your sterling energy in me to make a man of me eventually. Perhaps it won't count much with you for me to say that I am going to try to be straight and honorable from now on. You never have had faith in my promises, but you have never seen me tried as I shall be tried. I know how much I owe you to a cent, and as fast as I earn money—if I can earn any—it shall be sent back to you, and, if I live, I shall wipe out the debt which now stands against me. I wish I could put my arms round your neck to-night and beg your forgiveness before I go, but you'd not trust me. In your fury over your loss you'd not give me the chance I must have to redeem myself, and this is the only way. But, oh, father, do, do give me this last chance! For the sake of my mother's memory, and your name, which I have tarnished, don't try to hunt me down like a common thief! I want one more opportunity. Do, do, give it to me! Good-bye.


Folding the sheets on which he had written, Walton put them into an envelope and placed it on his father's desk. He was now ready to go, but paused again.

“I can't write to Margaret,” he said. “I have promised not to. Her brother will tell her enough, anyway, to make her ashamed that she ever knew me; but there is poor Dora—my dear, trusting friend. I must not go without a line to her.”

He seated himself again, and wrote as follows:

My Dear Little Friend,—You have said several times of late that you feared I had some burden on my mind because I was not as cheerful as I used to be. Well, your sharp, kindly eyes were reading a truth I was trying to conceal. I have got myself into most serious trouble. I haven't the heart to go into details over it; I need not, anyway, for my father will let it out soon enough. Every tongue in old Stafford will wag and clatter over the final finish of the town's daredevil to-morrow. And it will pain you, too, for of all my friends, young as you are, you were my soundest adviser. You used to say that I'd soon sow my wild oats, and settle down and make a man of myself. You used to say, too, that I'd finally win the girl who—but, disgraced as I am, I won't mention her name.

I have lost her forever, dear Dora. She may have cared a little for me, but she won't when she knows how low I've fallen. I am going far away to try to hew out some sort of a new road. I may fail, as I have always failed, but if I do, my failure will not be added to the list of my shortcomings here in Stafford.

Now, dear Dora, forgive me for speaking of something concerning you. For the last month, though I did not mention it, I have been afraid that all was not going quite well with you, either. You almost admitted it once when I caught you crying. You remember, it was the evening I met Kenneth Galt and you in the wood back of your house—the evening your mother, you remember, thought you had been out with me, and scolded us both. I saw plainly that you did not want her to know you had met him, and so I said nothing; but the thing has troubled me a great deal, I'll admit. I really know nothing seriously against the man, but he has queer, almost too modern, views in regard to love, and I think, dear Dora, that maybe you have imbibed some of them. Secret association like that cannot be best for a young girl, and so I feel that I can't go away without just this little warning. He is a wealthy man of the world, and his friendship with a sweet, pure girl like you are ought to be open and aboveboard. You are rarely beautiful, dear Dora. Your painting shows that you are a genius. You have a great future before you; don't spoil it all by becoming too much interested in this man. It may appeal to your romantic side to meet him like that, but it can't—simply can't be best. Now, you will forgive your “big brother,” won't you? I may never come back; I may never even write, but I shall often think lovingly of you, dear friend. Good-bye.

When he had signed, sealed, and directed the letter, he put a stamp on it and went out and closed the bank, pushing the key back into the room through a crack beneath the shutter. He then slowly crossed the deserted square to the post-office on the corner and deposited the letter. After this he stood with his strong arms folded, looking about irresolutely. In front of him lay the town's single line of horse-cars, which led to the railway station half a mile distant. One of the cars stood in front of him. It had made its last slow and jangling trip to meet the nine-o'clock north-bound train. The track stretched out before him, the worn bars gleaming like threads of silver in the moonlight. Casting one other look about him, and heaving a deep sigh, he lowered his head and started for the station.

“I think this is Jack Thomas' run,” he reflected. “If it is, he will take me aboard.”


REACHING the depot in the edge of the town where there were only three or four cottages, a hotel of the lowest class, and a negro dive masquerading as a restaurant, at which fried spring chicken, hot biscuits, and a cup of coffee were advertised on a crude placard for twenty-five cents, he met few signs of wakefulness. At a switch near a water-tank with a dripping spout a watchman stood with a dingy lantern. Walton moved over to him.

“South-bound freight on time?” he asked.

The man looked at him indifferently. “I heard her blow at the crossing,” he answered. “There! can't you hear her rumble?”

“Who's the conductor?”

“Jack Thomas, if he didn't lay over at Red Hill to spend Sunday with his folks.”

“I want to speak to him. Where will his cab stop?” The man had filled his short pipe, and he took the globe off his lantern to light it. “The engine will water here at the tank,” he said, gruffly. “The cab will stop down near the tool-house on account of the length of the train—a lot of empty fruit-cars going South.”

“All right; thank you.” Walton moved away, and leaned against a stack of cross-ties near the tool-house. He could now quite clearly hear the rumble of the coming train. There was a wide stretch of old cotton and corn fields, now barren and out of use, between him and the train, and across them presently shot the wavering gleam of the engine's headlight. On it came, growing larger and steadier till it had passed him, and with the harsh creaking of brakes on massive, groaning wheels the locomotive came to a stop. The side door of the caboose was open. A man holding a lantern lightly swung himself to the ground, and peered up at a brake-man on the roof of the car.

“Unwind her, and run to the other end!” he ordered. “You needn't hang around my cab all night. I haven't a drop to drink.”

“All right, Cap,” and, jumping from car to car on the foot-boards overhead, the brakeman disappeared in the cloud of steam and smoke which the locomotive was belching forth.

“Hello, Jack!” Walton came forward.

“Hello! Good Lord, Fred, what are you doing down here this time of night? I thought you fellows had a game on every Sunday. I was just wishing I had enough boodle ahead to lay over and walk away with some Stafford coin. I want to get even for the last hold-up you blacklegs gave me.”

“I'm dead broke, Jack, old man,” Walton said, avoiding the eyes of his friend. “I want to get to Atlanta before the morning train, and I wondered—”

“If I'd take you? Of course I will. I'm sorry to hear you are broke, though, for we might pass the time with a game. It's down-grade,” he laughed, impulsively; “we might turn old No. 12 over to the fireman, and get the engineer and brakeman to come in and try a round.”

“I wouldn't trust myself with three railroad men,” Walton tried to jest, “even if I hadn't sworn off.”

“What! again? Oh, that is a joke!” Thomas laughed. “You Stafford chaps say you swear off, then practice night and day, and stick it to the first galoot that comes along. Oh, I am on!” There was a sound of rushing water from the tank ahead. In the dim light in the locomotive they could see the fireman on the tender astride of the swinging pipe.

“I'm glad you will take me along, Jack,” Walton replied. “I want to get to Atlanta, and haven't a cent on earth. The truth is, I am in bad shape.”

“I've heard you sing that song before,” the conductor replied, with an incredulous smile. He raised his lantern till the yellow light fell on Walton's face, and he stared in astonishment. “Why, really, you do look kind o' bunged up. What's the matter, old chap?”

“I'm simply down and out, Jack, that's the sum and substance of it. I am down and out. When do you start?”

“In a minute. I've got to run clean round the train and examine my door-seals. Climb in. I'll swing on as we leave the yard. Make yourself comfortable. Huh! you are done for, eh? That is a joke!”

Climbing the iron step, Walton found himself in the caboose. It was dimly lighted by a lamp in a curved tin holder on the wall over a crude desk with pigeonholes. Here the conductor kept a pencil tied to a string, and some yellow blanks for reports and telegrams. There was a hard, smooth, backless bench near the door, and a narrow cot with wooden sides and ends. On an inverted box stood a tin pitcher, a wash-basin, and a cake of coarse yellow soap. On a hook hung a soiled towel; a pair of blue overalls, a white shirt, and a tattered raincoat were suspended at the sport of the wind and motion of the car on other hooks along the wall.

There was a harsh, snarling sound as the hinged water-pipe was drawn up on its chains; the clanging of a bell; the shriek of the locomotive's whistle; a quickening succession of jerks, communicated from bumper to bumper, and the train was off. Walton was glad to be alone with the desolate pain that clutched him now with renewed force. He wanted no human eye to witness his misery. Away off there, beyond the hills, in its shroud of mystic moonlight, lay the town he now loved with a yearning which all but tore his heart from his body. He was looking at the old place for the last time unless, unless—and his blood ran cold at the thought—unless he was brought back by the officers of the law to answer for his crime. Yes, that might be his fate, after all. A city so well policed as Atlanta would prove a poor hiding-place for a penniless fugitive. A telegram from Stafford would put the authorities on the alert, and escape would be impossible. And no sentimental reasons would check prompt action on the part of old Simon Walton. In his rage over the discovery of the unexpected loss of such a large amount of ever-needed cash, he would balk at nothing. Of family pride he had little—certainly not pride strong enough to make him a party to the concealment of crime, even in his own blood.

“If I have to be the daddy of a thief,” Fred imagined his saying, “I'd rather be the daddy of one under lock and key, where he could be controlled like any other sort of maniac.”

Yes, he must make good his escape, the young man reflected; there was no other way. Escape meant a chance, at least, for reformation and atonement, and he must reform—he must atone.

The train was rounding a curve. A sudden and deeper pain shot through him, for on a hill, in a grove not far off, he saw the roof, gables, windows, and walls of a country house he well knew. It was there, at a house-party, that he had been thrown for the first time with Margaret Dearing and had learned to love her. His eyes were blinded by tears he could not restrain as he tried to descry the exact spot among the trees where he and she had sat that glorious morning in early autumn.

“God have mercy!” He leaned against the side of the car and groaned. Even now she knew of his ruin. Her brother had already prepared her for the news, which would spread through the town like wild-fire. She knew, and her proud brow was burning under the shame of having trusted a coward and a knave to the extent of having had her name coupled with his. He stood in the centre of the car, swayed back and forth by its ruthless motion. Those merciless wheels, grinding so close beneath, would end it all. It would be an easy thing to swing himself under the car door till he was over the rail and then let go—let go! He shuddered, and turned cold from head to foot.

There was a thumping overhead as some one leaped from the roof of the car ahead to that of the caboose. There was a scraping of soles and heels on the tin covering, a step on the iron ladder by the door, and the conductor lunged into the car.

“Got on by the very skin of my teeth,” he said, with a merry oath. “We are on the down-grade, and we started quick. But why don't you take a seat?” He raised his lantern, and the rays fell full on Walton's pallid face. “Say, old man, are you as hard hit as all that?”

“It couldn't be harder, Jack,” Walton said. “I am at the end of my rope.”

“Well, I am sorry—I'm real sorry,” the conductor declared. “I'll tell you what to do. It's a tough ride to Atlanta, along with our stops and sidings and waits on through trains. There won't be a soul in the bunk to-night. Throw off your things and crawl in.”

“But that's your bed,” Walton protested, thoughtful, even in his misery, of his friend's comfort.

“Not for to-night it isn't,” Thomas affirmed, as he hung up his lantern and drew a stool to the desk. “I've got to be up till daybreak. Crawl in, I tell you!” Walton sat down on the edge of the cot, a trembling hand went to his necktie. In the rays of the yellow light he looked as though he were about to faint.

“Hold on, wait!” Thomas chuckled. “I'll physic you all right.” He raised the top of his desk and drew out a flask of whiskey. “It is actually the smoothest article that ever slid down a human throat,” he laughed, as he shook the flask and extended it to his guest. “Take a pull at it, and you will have dreams of Paradise.”

“I don't care for it right now, Jack,” Walton returned. “I may ask for it later. Whiskey always keeps me awake.”

“Well, I've got to sit up,” the conductor said, “so here's looking at you. I've got the dandiest thirst that mortal ever owned. You've heard about the feller who told the prohibitionist that he didn't want to get rid of his. Well, I'm that way about mine. If a man went round paying for thirsts, he couldn't buy mine for all the money in the State. I've got it trained till it walks a chalk-line. I go without a drink sometimes for days at a time, just so she will get good and ripe and have a sort of clinging rasp on her. But no joking, old man, I don't like your looks. I've seen you kind of blue before, but I never saw you plumb flabbergasted like this. You say you are broke. I don't happen to have anything in my pocket right now, but I reckon I could draw a little pay in advance from our agent in Atlanta, and—”

“I don't want to borrow any money, Jack, thank you just the same,” Walton said. “When I get to Atlanta I'll look around and see what will turn up.” And, stifling a groan of despair, he sank back on the cot.

“All right, old man,” the conductor responded. “Now, go to sleep. You need rest.” He turned the wick of the lamp down and pushed his lantern into a corner, so that its light would not fall on the face of his guest. Then he slid the bench to the open door, lighted his pipe, and fell into a revery.


THE cot was hard and narrow, and it had sides of unpadded boards. For hours Fred lay pretending to be asleep, that he might shirk the sheer torture of conversation with his friend. Through partly closed eyelids he watched the railroad man as he sat in the doorway looking out at the rapidly shifting night view. When a station was reached the conductor would spring up, and with his lantern swinging in his hand he would descend to the ground and wave his light or call out an order to a switchman or the man at the brakes. Then the creaking, mechanical reptile would crawl along and speed away again. Several times the miserable passenger dozed off into most delectable dreams. In them he was always with Margaret in some fragrant spot among flowers, by flowing streams, and in wondrous sunshine. Once he saw General Sylvester and his grim old father in congenial converse together, while he and Margaret stood hand in hand near by, and then his beautiful, haughty sweetheart put her arms about the grizzled neck of the man who had never known affection and kissed him. But she was fading away, as was the erect old soldier, and the dreamer found himself before his father at the old man's desk in the bank. And now Simon Walton's face was dark as night. A ledger lay open before him. “Five thousand dollars of my hard-earned money!” the old man shrieked. “And you deliberately stole it from my vault! Thief! Thief! Thief!” Simon's lips continued to move, but no sound save a dismal, mechanical rumbling issued. There was a long scream of the steam-whistle, a thunderous bumping of cars one against another, the rasping rattle of brake-chains, a glare of yellow light, and Fred saw Thomas standing over him, his lantern's rays thrown downward.

“In the yard at last, old chap,” the conductor said, as he took his lantern apart and blew out the flame, “but don't you get up. You haven't had enough sleep, and it is only five o'clock. You didn't rest well in that blamed bunk. You kept rolling and jabbering in your sleep. I've got to run up-town, but the cab will stand right here on the side-track all day, and you can leave it whenever you like. I'll be about the general freight-office till noon, and if you want me, look me up.”

“All right. You are mighty good, Jack,” the wanderer said, appalled and stupefied by his sudden awakening to the grim reality of his condition.

When the conductor had left, and unable, through sheer mental agony, to go back to sleep, Walton crawled out of the bunk and stood up. His legs, arms, and neck were stiff, and twinges of pain darted through his muscles as he moved. Standing in the open door, he looked out over the vast stretch of railway tracks. The gray light of dawn shrouded everything. Over the tops of cars, heaps of old scrap-iron, blinking vari-colored signal-lights, and bridges which spanned the tracks he saw the spectre-like outlines of the State Capitol's drab dome, and farther to the left the tall office-buildings in the centre of the city.

Just then a man came round the end of the car, and, with a start of surprise, recognized him. It was a railway mail-carrier who had once lived at Stafford. “Why, hello, Fred!” he cried, rubbing his eyes, for he had just risen from his bed. “What are you doing down this way at break of day?”

Walton hesitated; a tinge of color came into his pale face.

“Ran down for a trip with Jack Thomas,” he answered; “this is his cab.”

“Oh yes—I see. Where is Jack?”

“Had to go up-town.”

“You haven't had your breakfast yet, I'll bet. Come on and take a snack with me. There is a good all-night eating-house up by the Viaduct.”

“Thanks, I've got to hang around here for a while.”

“Well, so long!” the man said, with a backward look of perplexity, as he moved away. “I'll see you uptown, I reckon.”

Walton stood down on the ground and looked about him; then he saw something that drove him back into the car. It was a policeman in uniform a hundred yards away. He seemed to emerge from the cattle-yard on the left, and was walking along slowly, looking under cars and trying their sliding doors. He would stoop to the cross-ties and peer carefully at the trucks, and move on again to repeat the process at each car of the long train, the engine of which was fired for leaving. Walton sank to a seat on the cot; the man was searching for him. There would be no escape. Presently a feeling of relief came to him in the reflection that his fears were ungrounded, for his father, not having read the letter he had left on his desk, could not yet know of his flight. The old man never went to the bank earlier than eight in the morning, and it could not now be later than five. Yes, the officer was looking for some one else. The fugitive breathed more freely for a few minutes; then another shock quickly followed the first. It was now plain—horribly plain. His father, having sent him to the bank for a statement of his account the evening before, had waited up for him, his impatience and suspicion growing as the hours passed. Old Simon could not have slept while a matter of that nature remained unsettled. He had waited, pacing the floor of his room, till nine; till ten; till eleven; and then, full of gravest alarm as to the safety of his funds, he had gone down to the bank to ascertain the cause of the delay. In his mind's eye, Fred saw the grim old financier as he stalked muttering through the silent streets of the slumbering town. He saw him open the big door of the bank, and heard his disappointed growl as he faced the darkness. Old Simon, with fumbling hands, found and struck a match; then he groped his way back to his office and lighted the gas. Fred saw him as he stared round the room, and, with the gasp of an animal, pounced on the letter he had written; he saw, as if he had been on the spot, the distorted, terrified face of the bewildered old miser. Then what had he done? He had gone quaking and whimpering to the home of the sheriff near by; he had waked the officer by pounding on the door, and ordered the immediate pursuit of his son as an absconding thief. The telegram had left Stafford before midnight; it had passed the fugitive as he slept, and the policeman now looking under the cars was only one of scores who were bent upon hunting him down. Yes, it was all over. There was nothing left now but to be taken back to Stafford, handcuffed as a common felon. He crept to the car door and looked out. The policeman had paused in his search, and was coming directly across to him. A feeling of odd and almost soothing resignation came over the young man; at any rate, he would not hide like a coward. He was guilty, and he would take his punishment. So he sank upon the bench at the door and calmly eyed the officer as he crossed the tracks, playfully swinging the polished club which was strapped to his wrist.

“Good-morning!” the man said, looking up. “You are not the conductor of this train, are you?”

“No,” Fred answered, wonderingly; “he's just gone up-town.”

The policeman swung his club. “Got a match in your pocket? I want to smoke so bad I can taste it.”

Walton fumbled in his pocket and produced some matches, and, still wondering, he reached over and put them into the extended hand. The man in uniform was young, clear of skin and eye, and had a good face—a face which Walton no longer dreaded, which, indeed, he felt that he could like.

“Tough job I'm on now, you can bet your life,” the policeman said, as he struck the match on the iron ladder of the car and applied it to a half-smoked cigar.

“What sort of job is it?” Walton asked.

“Why, you see,” the man explained, “the railroads of the State have had no end of trouble with hoboes here lately. The dirty tramps are forever stealing rides. At this time of year they are as thick as flies on the trucks, brakes, and bumpers. They fall off when they get to sleep, and are killed; they break in the cars, and steal the freight; and a gang of them have been known to throw rocks at the train-crew, and raise hell generally. So, as a last resort, the roads determined to make cases against every one that could be caught, and they are sending them up by the hundreds, and for good long terms, too. They are never able to pay the fines, you see, and they have to work it out in the coal-mines or turpentine camps. Now and then a big mistake is made, of course; for many a good man has been sent up for only trying to reach a place where he could get honest employment. But the law is no respecter of persons. Let a man without money to pay his fine be caught stealing a ride through this town, and nothing in God's world will save him. The feathers of a jail-bird stick mighty tight, you know, and after one gets out he never makes any headway.”

“They are not well treated, either, I have heard,” Walton put in.

“You bet they are not,” the policeman said, looking across the tracks. “Gee! did you see that? I think I've got one now. I saw a fellow peep out right over there.”

He darted off, club in hand, and Walton saw him disappear between two cars, and heard his stern voice cry: “Come out of there, young man! Don't make me crawl under after you! Come on, the game is up!”

Walton descended to the ground and crossed over to the policeman just as a young man with a grimy face and tousled hair emerged from behind the heavy wheels. He did not appear to be more than twenty years of age, and his clothing, even to his hat and necktie, indicated that he was not an ordinary tramp. He stared in a bewildered way at the blue coat, brass buttons, and helmet-shaped hat.

“For God's sake, don't send me up, policeman!” he pleaded, in a piteous tone. “I am out of money, and want to get through by way of New Orleans to Oklahoma. I am out of work and trying to reach Gate City, where I can get a job.”

“I've got nothing to do with that,” the policeman said, curtly. “I'm put here to arrest you fellows—that's my duty, and I've caught you in the act.”

“O God, have mercy!” Walton heard the boy muttering to himself. “I can't stand it! I'd rather die, and be done with it!”

He looked at the officer again, and his lips seemed to be trying to frame some further appeal, but, as if realizing the utter futility of such a course, he simply hung his head and was silent.

Walton, who liked the boy's looks, suddenly felt a rebellious impulse rise and struggle within him. It was the quality which, in spite of his faults, had endeared him to his many friends.

“Look here, old man,” he said to the policeman, “law or no law, duty or no duty, you can't take the responsibility of this thing on your shoulders. I'm a fair judge of men, and I am sure it would be wrong to send this boy up. You know he is only doing what you or I would do if hard luck drove us to it. Say, old man, I'm dead broke myself, I haven't a dollar in my pocket, and I am out of a job besides; but I've got a good solid gold watch in my pocket, and if you will let him go I'll give it to you.”

The officer wavered; he stared, speechless, for a moment, colored high, then shrugged his shoulders.

“I reckon my duty does allow me to sorter discriminate,” he faltered. “I haven't seen the chap actually riding, either. But I won't take any bribes—I wouldn't take one from you, anyway. You are about as white a chap as I've run across in many a day, and I'm going to drop the dang thing. God knows, I don't want your watch! But, say, don't get me into trouble. I've got a family to support, and I must hold my job. Get the fellow out of the freight-yards before the town wakes up. There are cops on our force who would drag him in by the heels. Car-grease like he's got smeared all over him is a dead give-away. Say, young man, take a fool's advice: get out on the country roads. You'll make it all right among the farms.”

“You won't take the watch, then?” Fred held the timepiece toward him, its golden chain swinging.

“No, I don't want it. But hurry up! Get him out of the yards!”

“Come on, and I'll show you the way,” Walton said to the boy, when the officer had gone. And without a word, so overjoyed was he by the sudden turn in his favor, the begrimed youth dumbly followed his rescuer across the tracks to a quiet little street bordered by diminutive cottages.

On they trudged through street after street till, just as the first rays of sunlight were breaking through the clouds, they found the open country before them. For miles and miles it stretched away to blue hills in the vague, misty distance.

“I can make out all right now,” the boy said, with a grateful glance at his rescuer, as they paused. “I don't want to take you farther out of your way. God knows, I'll not forget your kindness till my dying day. You don't know what you've saved me from. I'd have killed myself rather than be sent up. I've heard what those places are like. If you will tell me your name and where your home is, I'll write back to you.”

Walton's eyes met those of his companion. “Huh!” he said, gloomily, “I'm as homeless as you are, my boy. The truth is, I don't know where to turn, myself, and really the thought of parting with you, for some reason or other, hurts me. I need a companion worse than I ever did in my life. Say, will you let me go with you?”

Will I?” and the grimy face filled with emotion, the big brown eyes glistened with unshed tears. “God knows, I'd rather have you than any one else, and I certainly am lonely enough!” The blackened hand went out and clasped Walton's, and, face to face, these new friends in adversity stood and silently vowed fidelity. “What is your name?” Fred asked.

“Dick Warren,” the younger said. “I am from Kentucky—Louisville. I've got no close kin, and no money. I was a telegraph operator in Memphis till a month ago, but lost my job. Long-distance telephone is killing my business. I heard of Gate City—they say it is booming. I want to go there.”

“I'll join you,” Walton said. “I've heard of it, too. Those, new towns are all right.”

“You didn't tell me your name,” Dick suggested.

“Oh, I forgot; why, it's Fred—it's Frederic Spencer.” He had given the seldom-used part of his Christian name, that of his maternal grandfather. “Some day I'll tell you all about myself, but not now—not now. Are you hungry, Dick?”

The boy nodded slowly. It looked as if he were afraid that an admission of the whole truth might further discommode his new friend. “A little bit,” he said, “but I can make out for a while.”

“We'll try a farm-house farther on,” Walton said, with an appreciative glance at the weary face before him. “I'll have to have a cup of coffee or I'll drop in my tracks.”

The sun, now above the tree-tops, was beginning to beat fiercely upon them, and threatening much in the way of heat and sultry temperature later in the day. The activity of his mind and sympathies in behalf of his companion had in a measure dulled Walton's sense of his own condition, but as he trudged along by his companion the whole circumstance of his flight and the far-reaching consequences of his act came upon him anew. The agony within him now seemed to ooze from his body like a material substance, clogging his utterance and shackling his feet.


THAT morning, about nine o'clock, old Simon Walton rode down to his bank in the one-horse buggy of antiquated type which had come into his possession years before in the foreclosure of a mortgage given by a poor farmer, and which, with its rusty springs and uncouth appearance, was quite in keeping with the character of its present owner.

The bookkeepers were busy at their special duties, and scarcely gave him a glance over their ponderous ledgers as he came in at the front and walked to his desk in the rear. Hanging up his old slouch hat, and seating himself in his big revolving chair, his eyes fell on a stack of letters addressed to him. Rapidly shifting them through his stiff fingers, his attention was drawn to the only one which bore no stamp or postmark. He recognized the writing, and as he held it frowningly before him, his confidential clerk, Toby Lassiter, a colorless and bald young man of medium height, sparse mutton-chop whiskers, and soft, shrinking gray eyes, entered with a slip of paper.

“The cotton quotations you wanted, Mr. Walton,” he said, in the discreet tone he used to the banker on all occasions, lest he might by accident expose to other ears matters his cautious master wished to be kept private.

“Oh yes.” Then, as Lassiter was softly slipping away: “But hold on, Toby! Have you seen Fred this morning?”

“No, sir, he hasn't been around yet. In fact, Mr. Walton, I wanted to ask you. Only three of us carry keys to the front door—you and me and Fred; and when I was opening up this morning I found that somebody had pushed one of them under the door.”

“Well, I've got mine,” old Simon said, with a slow, wondering stare. “Oh, wait! this note is from him; maybe he—” The banker, with fumbling fingers, tore open the envelope and began to read. The waiting clerk heard him utter a gasp. It was followed by a low, subdued groan, and looking like a corpse momentarily electrified into a semblance of life, the old man rose to his feet, the half-read confession clutched in his sinewy fingers.

“He's gone!” he gasped. “He's taken five thousand dollars of the bank's funds, and made off!”

“Oh, Mr. Walton, do, do be quiet!” Lassiter whispered, warningly, as he laid his hands on the arms of his employer, and gently urged him to sit down. The banker obeyed as an automaton might, his wrinkled face beneath his shaggy eyebrows wildly distorted, his lips parted, showing his yellow jagged teeth, his breath coming and going in spasmodic gasps. Every hair on his head seemed to stand dry and harsh by itself as he ran his prong-like fingers upward through the bushy mass.

“Five thousand—five thousand—five thousand!” he groaned; “the low, ungrateful thief; and at a time when he knew it would hamper us and maybe bring on a crash. Look y' here, Toby, and be quick about it! Run and get the sheriff—if you can't find him fetch the deputy! Then see if the telegraph office is open. I'll jail that scamp before night! I want my money! I want my money! He's no son of mine! I gave him fair warning, as you know, to let up in his damnable course, and he snapped his card-flipping fingers in my face. Hurry up! He can't be far off; we'll nab him before the day is over. Run!”

But the clerk lingered. “Mr. Walton,” he began, falteringly, “I never have refused to obey your orders, but Fred ain't quite as bad as—really, you oughtn't to handle the boy that way. He's been a good friend to me, and I'd hate to think I'd stand by and see you take a step like this, mad as you are, when if you'd only be calm a minute, surely you'd realize—”

“Am I the head of this bank or you?” old Walton broke in, as he rose and stood quivering and clinging with both hands to the back of his unsteady chair. “Go and do as I tell you, or, by the God over our heads, I'll send you about your business!”.

“All right, Mr. Walton,” the clerk yielded, “I'll do it!”

White as death could have made him, Lassiter passed out at a door on the side of the building and gained the street without being seen by the workers in the counting-room.

“Poor Fred!” he muttered. “He's too good at heart to be treated this way, and he's not a real thief, either. Folks have told him all his life that he had a right to more of the old man's money than he was getting, and he didn't think it was stealing.”

On a corner he saw Bill Johnston, the sheriff, a man about forty-five years of age, who wore great heavy top-boots, a broad-brimmed hat, and had sharp brown eyes and a waxed and twisted mustache. With considerable reluctance, Toby went up to him.

“Mr. Walton wants to see you, Bill,” he said. “He's in his office in the bank.”

“Well, I can't come for ten minutes yet, anyway,” the sheriff said, not removing his steady gaze from a group of men round a mountain wagon in a vacant lot across the street, where, on a high hoarding of planks, glaring new circus bills were posted. “The boys are about to smell out a keg of wild-cat whiskey in that gang of mossbacks. They may need me any minute. Tell the old man I'll be along as soon as I can.”

Lassiter went back to the bank and gained his employer's presence without attracting the attention of any of the clerks. He found the shaggy head prone on the desk, the long arms hanging down at either side. For a moment Toby thought the banker was a victim of heart-failure, and stood stricken with horror. But he was reassured by a low groan from the almost inert human mass.

“Good Lord,” he heard the banker praying, “scourge him! Don't heed his cries and promises! He has lied to me, he'll lie to you!” Therewith Simon raised his blearing eyes, now fixed and bloodshot in their sockets.

“Well?” he growled, impatiently.

“Johnston is coming right away,” Lassiter said, and he approached the old man and leaned over him. “Mr. Walton, once when you were very mad with the other bank, you remember, and was about to take action against them, I got your ear, and showed you that in a suit at court you'd have to make certain showings of a private nature that would injure our interests, and you admitted that I was right, and—and decided to let the matter blow over. You've said several times since then that I was right, and—”

“Well, what the devil has that got to do with this?” Walton thundered.

“I'll tell you, Mr. Walton—now wait one minute, just one minute,” Lassiter urged: “you know how excitable depositors are. Don't you see if the report goes out that you have actually turned Fred over to the law for a big defalcation that folks will get the impression that you are in a shaky condition? The other bank would make it appear ten times as bad as it is, and we might have a frightful run on us. We are all right, solid enough, the Lord knows, but money—ready money—is hard to get. There never has been a time when it would be as hard to stand under a run as right now. We are getting ahead of the other bank, and they are as mad as Tucker. They wouldn't want anything better than a chance like this to—”

“You mean?—great God, Toby, you are right! It would ruin us—absolutely wreck us! I see it—I see it as plain as day!”

There was a sound of heavy steps in the corridor outside.

“It is the sheriff,” Toby whispered, “but I didn't tell him what you wanted. Don't act now, Mr. Walton; for God's sake, don't!”

“Tell him to wait a minute,” the banker panted. But it was too late; the sheriff, with his usual lack of ceremony, was already pushing the door open.

“Hello, old man!” Johnston said, and he came in with a swinging stride. “I hope you are not scared about what I owe you; I'll get it up all right. Money is owing to me, and—”

“No, it wasn't that—it wasn't that.” Walton's rigid face was forced into a smile that fairly distorted it and set the observant officer wondering. “The truth is, Johnston, I thought I needed your services, but I find I'm mistaken. That's all, Johnston, I was mistaken. I've decided to let it pass—to let it pass, you know.”

“All right, old man,” the sheriff replied, as his puzzled glance swept the two disturbed faces before him. “I don't care just so you don't garnishee my salary for what I owe you.”

Outside, as he joined a group of idlers on the corner, he remarked, with a broad, knowing smile and a twinkle of the eye: “That old note-shaver in there thinks he can fool me. He sent Toby Lassiter out just now as white as a preacher's Sunday shirt to ask me to see him. I found him looking like a staring idiot, and was informed that it was a false alarm. False nothing! I'll give you boys a tip. I'll bet that gay and festive Fred is up to some fresh devilment. You watch out and you'll hear something drop, if I am any judge. I saw Fred last night headed for the railroad. He didn't see me. I was hiding behind a fence, watching him. I think he boarded a freight-train; I am not sure.”


AS was only natural in a town of the size of Stafford, the sudden departure of Fred Walton, under circumstances no one seemed able to explain, caused wide and growing comment. A railroad man who had returned from Atlanta informed an eager cluster of idlers in the big office of the main hotel of the place that Fred had been seen lurking about the freight-yards in the city at early daylight, evidently trying to avoid being seen. The report went out, too—and no less authority accompanied it than the word of Fred's stepmother, who, admitting the fact that she hated the young man, could not be charged with originating a direct lie—that Fred had gone without “a thread to wear,” except what he had on when leaving. The town did not need to be told that in that detail alone lay ample evidence of the gravity of the case, even if it were not said—on good authority, too—that old Simon Walton, immediately on discovering the flight, had called in Bill Johnston to consult with him. Had he taken away money? That was the question designedly put by Walton's business rivals, and that was the question which one and all declared the old man and Toby Lassiter had promptly denied. No, it was something else; that was quite plain.

Mrs. Barry heard the news at the fence the next afternoon from the voluble tongue of a poor washerwoman, a Mrs. Chumley, who, since the downfall of her only daughter, and the handsome girl's adoption of a life of prostitution in Augusta, had lived on alone in a cottage adjoining Mrs. Barry's, and who, as she cleansed the linen of her neighbors for a living, besmirched their characters as her only available solace. She was fond of hinting darkly that if disgrace had come to her family by discovery, it hovered—ready to drop at any minute—over the heads of people not a bit better, and who were far too stuck-up for their own safety.

“You certainly ought to be glad the scamp's gone,” she remarked to Mrs. Barry, as she leaned her bare, crinkled arms on the fence when she unctuously told the news. “I never liked to see him hanging round Dora. A body would see him one day over there at that big fine house with Miss Margaret, whose high-priced ruffles I've got in the tub right now, and the next bending his head to enter your lowly door. Things as wide apart as them two naturally are won't hitch, neighbor, that's all—they won't hitch.”

“Yes, I'm glad he's gone,” Mrs. Barry admitted, with the indiscretion most persons had under the plausible eye and guiding tone of the gossip. “Dora says he had a kind heart, and that she's sorry for him in all his ups and downs; but, as you say, no good could come of their being together so much, at least, and it is better to have it end.”

“The postman left a letter for you-all this morning, didn't he?” was a question Mrs. Chumley had evidently been holding in reserve.

“No, there wasn't anything. Dora went out to the fence to see if he had any mail, but he didn't.”

“Huh, that's strange!” Mrs. Chumley's purposely averted glance came back to the wrinkled face of her neighbor, and remained fixed there in a direct and probing stare. “That's queer, for I certainly saw him hand her a letter over the fence as plain as I see that tub of suds. I saw her reading it, too.”

“You must be mistaken.” Mrs. Barry's face had changed. There were splotches of pallor in her gaunt cheeks.

“No, I couldn't be. I don't make mistakes in things of that sort—not of that sort.”

Mrs. Barry was silent. She was forced to admit that if any pair of earthly eyes could detect a hidden thing those eyes were now eagerly blinking under the sinister brows before her. As she stared into the reddish, freckled face, certain long-subdued fears rose within her. She felt faint, and had a sensation as if all visible objects were whirling around her. Then she became anchored by something in the gossip's glance which, had she has been less afraid, she would have taken as direct insult. It was as if the washerwoman were saying: “Well, you know I can sympathize with you. I have been through it all.”

“She came back in the house after the postman had gone on,” Mrs. Barry faltered, “and told me there wasn't any letter.”

The poor woman felt that her defence, if defence it might be called, was falling on wilfully closed ears, and again she was conscious of that rocking, floating sensation. The round, red visage of the washerwoman seemed to recede from her; there was a sound as of roaring water in her ears. But through it all the insistent voice of her tormentor beat into her consciousness.

“If she didn't show it to you, she hid it; I'm dead sure of that. She hid it. I have been watching your girl, Mrs. Barry, for several weeks, and I'm free to say that something has gone wrong with her. A body can see it in the drooping way she has in moving about. The day you sent her over for the salt I thought, on my soul, she'd drop in her tracks before she left the kitchen. Maybe the letter was to tell her where the scamp was going, or—or—well, there could be lots a fellow like that might say at such a time. But I'll be bound, he was putting her off. They all do. It is man-nature.”

“I am sure she didn't get any letter,” Mrs. Barry said, and she now tore herself away, conscious of her overwhelming disadvantage in the adroit woman's hands.

“Well, you'll find out I'm right,” was the shot which struck her in the back as she turned the corner of the cottage. “If you don't believe me, you can ask the postman; there he is—coming down the street right now.”

But Mrs. Barry did not pause. She went into the house and closed her door. She stood in the middle of the room like a creature deprived of animation. Through the parted curtains of an open window she heard the washerwoman call out to the man in uniform:

“I just had a bet up with Mrs. Barry, Sim Carter! She must think I'm blind. I told her you left a letter at her house this morning, and she says she never saw hair nor hide of it.”

“It is there all right,” the man laughed. “I gave it to Miss Dora.”

“That's what I told her. I say, Sim Carter, have they heard anything more yet about—” But the postman was gone.

Through the window, by stooping and peering forth, Mrs. Barry could see him crossing the street to the next house. With a heart as heavy as lead she went into the parlor; Dora was not there. She passed on to the kitchen; no one was there, either. There was something incongruous in the contented aspect of the fat, gray cat lying and purring in the sunlight on the door-sill. Bliss like that under the coat of a mere dumb brute when she had this to bear—this lurking, insinuating, maddening thing, which had been creeping slowly upon her night and day until it had assumed the shape and size of a monster of mental and spiritual torture.

She went on to Dora's room, where she found the girl seated on her bed. The great, long-lashed, somnolent eyes, over the exquisite beauty of which men and women had marvelled, were red as from weeping. She gave her mother, as the old woman stood in the doorway, a weary, despondent glance, and then, half startled, looked down. Mrs. Barry saw the charred remains of a sheet of writing-paper in the open fireplace, and a fresh pang darted through her.

“Did you need me, mother?” Dora inquired, softly, in the musical voice so many had admired, and which to-day sounded sweeter, more appealing, than ever before.

“Mrs. Chumley says you got a letter from the postman this morning,” Mrs. Barry said, tremblingly.

The girl seemed to hesitate just an instant; then she nodded, mutely.

“Who was it from, daughter?”

“Mother, I don't want to say—even to you. I have reasons why—”

“It was from Fred Walton! You need not deny it.”

Dora made no protest; she simply dropped her eyes to her lap, and sat motionless.

“You knew he had left, didn't you?”

“Yes, mother. I knew he was gone.”

“And while the whole town is wondering why he went, you know, I suppose?”

“I don't feel that I have the right to talk about it, mother.”

“Well, I sha'n't urge you!” And the older woman shambled away, now bearing doubts which were heavier and more maddening than ever.

“Something's wrong—very, very wrong—or she wouldn't droop like that,” she said. “Oh, God have mercy, I'm actually afraid to question my own child! I am afraid to even do that!”

The sun went down, the night came on; workingmen, women, and children passed along on their homeward way from the cotton and woolen mills, carrying their dinner-pails. The very cheerfulness of their faces, lightness of step, and merry jesting with one another sent shafts of misery to the heart of the brooding woman. When she had put the supper on the table she went to the daughter's room and told her it was ready.

“Some of your art pupils came to the gate just now, didn't they?” she inquired.

“Yes,” the girl answered. “Sally and Mary Hill wanted to know if I'd go sketching with them to the swamp to-morrow afternoon.”

“And are you going?”

“I told them I'd let them know in the morning.” Dora was at her place at the side of the table, and she felt her mother's despondent gaze turned on her.

“You told them you'd let them know! Why, don't you know already? I thought you liked to go out that way. Some of your best studies were made at the swamp.”

“I was feeling so badly,” the girl sighed, “that I didn't have the heart to promise. I can never work to any advantage if I am not in the mood for it.”

“Oh! that is it!” They both sat down. “You ought to fight against languor at this time of the year. I never let an ache or pain keep me from work. Sometimes merely being busy seems to help one. Your father used to stick at his easel as long as the light would hold out. He used to say the time would come when the whole world would admire your painting, and you really are improving.”

Dora sighed, but said nothing.

Mrs. Barry passed her a cup of coffee. “Here, drink this down while it is hot,” she advised. “I made it strong. It will do you good.”

“Thank you, mother, you are very kind to me.” Dora drank some of the coffee, and daintily munched a piece of buttered toast. In the afternoon light, which fell through a western window, Mrs. Barry saw a deeply troubled look on the wan face—a certain nervous twitching of the tapering fingers.

Presently Dora pushed back her chair and rose.

“I don't care for anything else,” she said, avoiding her mother's eyes.

“But you haven't eaten anything at all,” Mrs. Barry protested, anxiously.

“I can't eat—I simply can't,” Dora said, with strange and desperate frankness. “I'm too miserable. Oh, mother, mother, pity me! pity me!”

Mrs. Barry sat motionless, her head, with its scant hair, now supported by her two sinewy hands. She saw her daughter turn away, and, with dragging feet, go on to her bedroom.

“God, have mercy!” she moaned. “She's as good as admitted it. What else could she have meant? Oh, God, what else—what else? She must know what I am afraid of. Oh, my baby!—my poor, poor baby!”

She rose from her untasted meal and followed her child, not noticing, in the gathering dusk, that Mrs. Chumley had entered the outer door, and was treading softly and with bated breath in her wake. She found the girl standing at a window, dumb and pale, looking out into the yard.

“You must tell me everything, daughter,” Mrs. Barry said. “I can't sleep to-night unless you do. I am afraid I am going mad. Tell me, tell me!”

“Oh, mother, mother, how can I?”

“You are ruined!” Mrs. Barry groaned. “Tell me I am right—you are ruined!”

With a cry, Dora turned and threw herself on the bed, and with her face hidden in a pillow she burst into dry sobs.

“Make her tell you the whole thing,” Mrs. Chumley spoke up, as she stood in the doorway. “Have it out of her, and be done with it; that's the course I took.”

Mrs. Barry turned upon her, but no anger or resentment over the intrusion stirred the dregs of her despair. A faint shock came to her with the thought that now all Stafford would know the truth, but it was followed by the realization that, after all, concealment would not lessen in any degree the horror of the disaster.

“Come away!” she heard herself imploring the gossip. “Let her alone! I won't have folks bothering her. She's got enough to bear as it is, without having people prying. Come away, come away!”

Mrs. Chumley suffered herself to be led to the outer door.

“All right. I came over to return the cup of sugar you lent me; I left it in the kitchen. I am much obliged, and I'm as sorry for you as one woman could be for another. Good-night.”

Mrs. Barry went to the supper-table, and, as it was growing dark, she lighted a lamp. She proceeded to wash and dry and put away the dishes. No one would have suspected that such a deadening blow had been dealt her to have looked in on her at this moment, as she moved dumbly about the room, her head and face hidden by the gingham sunbonnet she had put on. It was a badge of humility—a thing she vaguely fancied hid her maternal shame from eyes which she already felt prying.

Her task finished, she stood for a moment hesitatingly; then she blew out the lamp and crept softly to the door of her daughter's room. Bending her head, she listened at the keyhole. No sound came to her ears, and she softly lifted the latch and went in. Dora still lay on the bed, her arms clutching the pillow, her face out of view in the darkened room.

“Darling, I haven't come to scold you, don't think that,” the old woman said, most tenderly, as she sat down on the edge of the bed and took her daughter's tear-damp hand. “This calamity has fallen on both of us, just as the death of your dear father did so far away from home, and just as many other hard things have come to us. I shall stand by you through it all. It is not the first time a poor young girl has been misled. Nothing is left for us but to do our duty to the best of our ability in the sight of Heaven. I shall not press you to tell me a thing, either. My knowing particulars wouldn't better matters at all. It is done, and that is enough. Now, go to sleep, baby girl, and don't give way to despair. Good-night.”

Dora sat up, extended her arms, and for a moment the two remained locked in a tight, sobbing embrace. Neither spoke after that. Tenderly releasing her daughter's twining arms, Mrs. Barry went out and softly closed the door. In her own room, in utter darkness, she undressed. Before retiring, and with the sunbonnet still on her head, she knelt beside a chair in the room and started to pray, but somehow the needed words failed to come. Prayer is born in hope in some sort of faith, at least, but this lone widow, brave as her front appeared, had neither.

“Oh, Edwin!” she suddenly cried out, “she was your idol, your little pet; you used to say, as she sat on your knee in the firelight at night, that she was born to be lucky and happy. You said her beauty, genius, and gentleness would draw the world to her feet. You hoped all that for her, Edwin, and yet there she is bowed down in the greatest shame and sorrow that can fall to a young girl's lot. On the day you left never to return, you told me of the great Virginia family from which she was descended, and said that some day we'd be grandparents of children that would make us proud. Poor, dear Edwin!—that was only one of your pretty dreams—our grandchild, if God lets it come, won't even have a name of its own, and may bear this curse through a long life to its grave. Oh, Edwin!—my gentle, loving husband—you are here by my side to-night, aren't you? You are here putting your dear spirit arms about me, trying to comfort me, and you will help her, too, dear husband, as you are helping me. Hold up the sweet, stricken child. Fill her dark life with your own unrealized dreams. Give her something—anything to help her bear her burden! That's my prayer to you, Edwin—to you, and to God!”

She went to her bed and threw herself down. Tears welled up in her, but she forced them back, and, dry-eyed and still, she lay with her wrinkled face near to the wall.


ONE evening, two days later, General Sylvester and his niece and nephew sat on the front veranda to catch the cool breezes which swept across the town and stirred the foliage of the trees on the lawn. The old gentleman had been urging Margaret to go to the piano in the big parlor and sing for them, but she had persistently declined. Since Fred Walton's leaving, despite her evident efforts to appear unconcerned, she had not seemed to her watchful brother and uncle to be at all like herself, and they were constantly trying to divert her mind from the unpleasant matter.

At this juncture Kenneth Galt's carriage and pair of spirited blacks, driven by John Dilk, his faithful negro coachman, came briskly down the street, and turned into the adjoining grounds through the gateway to the gravelled drive, and drew up at the steps of the house, which was not very different from the Dearing home in size, period, and architecture.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you!” the General exclaimed, suddenly. “Galt is off to Atlanta, to see some more capitalists on our new railroad scheme. You may think lightly of it, my boy, but as sure as fate we are going to put that big trunk-line through—or, rather, Galt is. He thinks it is in good shape, and that is encouragement enough for me. He has handled my affairs ever since he hung out his shingle as a lawyer, and as he made money hand over hand for himself, he has for me too.”

“Yes, he has the keenest sense of values of any man in the State,” Wynn agreed. “He has the full confidence of his clients, and he is not afraid to back up his ideas with money; that is what makes a successful speculator. He will put the road through if any one can. Investors will listen to a man who has succeeded in everything he has attempted.”

The carriage was now leaving the house, and when it had regained the street and was about to pass, the General stood up and waved his handkerchief. The carriage paused at the gate, and the man under discussion sprang out, hat in hand, and hurried up the walk.

“I have only a minute to get to the 8.40 train,” he informed them, as he bowed to Margaret, and smiled cordially at Dearing.

Kenneth Galt was an interesting man from many points of view. His intimate friends liked him because, to them, he sometimes unbent and was himself; to strangers and mere acquaintances he was cold, formal, and almost painfully dignified. To his many clients he was seldom cordial or free, and never familiar. He had gleaned the idea somewhere, from his or some one else's experience, that no genuinely successful financier ever allowed himself to be taken lightly, so he never jested about his affairs nor encouraged it in others. He had set a high price upon himself and his chances of success in life, and he held to it the more tenaciously the higher he climbed. When approached for legal or financial advice his face was as immovable as granite, and when he gave an opinion it always had weight, for he was apt to be right. He was considered a man of wonderful ability and power among men. He couldn't have been a successful politician, for he could never have sufficiently lowered himself to the level of the common people, so it was fortunate for him that his ambition associated him with another and a more lucrative class. He was interesting as any human enigma could be which showed outward signs of hidden depth and strength. For an orthodox community like that of old Stafford, his iconoclastic views on some sacred subjects shocked many conservative individuals, but he was so firm in his philosophy and frank in his open expression of it, that he was forgiven where a weaker, less-important man would have been adversely criticized. He had convinced himself, or been convinced during the hours he had spent in his unique library, that there is no such thing as a soul or a soul's immortality, and he was proving, by his persistent effort to make the most of the present, that in the very renunciation of the dogma he had discovered the highest law of life.

“Well, you are off, I see,” the General said, “and I hope the parties will not only be there, but with their check-books wide open.”

“Yes, I'll see what can be done,” Galt answered, somewhat coldly, for it was against his policy to speak of business matters in any social group. “I happened to have the land deed you wanted in my pocket, General, and I thought I'd stop and hand it to you.”

“Oh yes, thank you,” Sylvester said. “I knew it was all right, but I want to keep all my papers which you don't have need for in my safe.”

“And how is Miss Margaret?” Galt now asked, as he turned the document over to its owner, and bent toward the wistful face of the young girl.

“Oh, I'm quite well, thank you,” she responded, forcing a smile. “You are a fortunate man, Mr. Galt. My uncle doesn't praise many people, but he can't say enough in your favor.”

“That's because he only knows the business side of me,” Galt said, ceasing to smile, and drawing himself up.

“Well, I must be off. I see John lashing the air with his whip; he is my time-table.”

“Yes, you'd better not lose your train,” the General put in. “I don't want to be the cause of your missing that appointment. Get a rosebud for his buttonhole, Madge. It may bring us good luck.”

“Yes, I will.” The girl rose languidly. “There are some pretty ones near the gate.”

Galt gallantly assisted her down the steps, and, side by side, they moved along the wide brick walk. Dearing heard his uncle chuckling as the old man peered through the twilight at the couple, who now stood facing each other over a bush of choice roses.

“Mark my words, my boy,” he said, “we may have to wait awhile for it, but as sure as you and I are alive, that pair will some day be more closely related to each other than they are now.”

Dearing shrugged his shoulders and remained silent. “You don't think so?” the General pursued, with the eagerness of a child who has discovered a new toy. “They can't help it. He is much older than she is, but it would be an ideal match. The fellow is actually a great man. There is no curbing his ambition. He has accomplished wonders so far, and there is no telling what his particular genius will ripen into.”

“It may be as you say—in time,” Dearing answered, after a pause; “but I'm afraid it will be years before Madge forgets Fred Walton, and if he should take a notion to come back, as such fellows always do, sooner or later, why, we'd only have our trouble over again.”

“But he told you he was going, never to come back?” the old man said, with a touch of resentment even at the thought.

“Yes; he said positively that his conduct, whatever it was, would keep him from ever showing his face in Stafford again.”

“I have been wondering what he could have done,” General Sylvester said, musingly. “I dropped in on his father the other day for no other reason than that he might let out some hint of the situation, but he never said a word. A big change has certainly come over him. His face was haggard and almost bloodless, and his eyes had a queer, shifting look. I am sure he knows all about the affair, whatever it is.”

“Yes; Fred said the old man knew, and would tell it, but it seems he has not,” Dearing answered.

“Ashamed to let it be known, I guess,” Sylvester said.

Margaret and Galt had parted, the carriage was disappearing down the street, and the girl was slowly strolling back. At a bed of flowers about ten yards from them she paused and stood looking down. Just then a loud, strident voice reached them from the side of the house. It was from Mrs. Chumley, who had brought the General's laundry home, and with her great empty basket was making her way across the grass toward the front gate, accompanied by old Diana, the colored cook.

“Oh, but I know it is true—every word of it!” The white woman had raised her voice exultantly. “I was right there at the girl's elbow, and heard Mrs. Barry accuse her of it. Dora admitted her ruin, and laid it to Fred Walton. Now, I reckon folks will know why he had to skip out by the light o' the moon without a bit of baggage.”

Instantly the two men were on their feet, Margaret's protection foremost in their minds. There was no doubt that she had heard, for she was standing facing the two women like a figure carved from stone.

“Excuse me, Miss Margaret, I didn't know you was there,” Mrs. Chumley said, as she walked on; “but it is the truth—the Lord knows it is the truth.”

“My God, the brutality of it!” the old man ejaculated. “To think it should come to her like that!”

“The scoundrel!” Dearing cried. “Now I understand fully, and if I had known the truth, I'd have—” But he went no further, for Margaret was slowly coming toward them. The grass she trod was wet with dew, and ordinarily she would have realized it, and lifted her skirt, but she now moved toward them like a somnambulist. At the bottom step her foot caught, and as they both sprang to her assistance she gave a forced, harsh laugh.

“How awkward I—I am!” she stammered. “I could never da—dance the minuet with you now, Uncle Tom. I gave Mr. Galt a pretty bud. He is such a flatterer—saying that I—saying that he—”

She suddenly pressed her hand to her head and reeled helplessly. The strong arm of her brother went round her, and her head sank upon his shoulder. His face was wrung and dark with blended fury and anxiety, his strong lip was quivering.

“No, she is not fainting!” He spoke to his uncle, but for her ears, with the intention of rousing her. “She is all right. Wake up, Madge! I'll slap your jaws, old girl, if you play 'possum with me. You may fool some folks, but not your family doctor.”

“No, I am not fainting. Who said I was?” and Margaret raised her head, and drew herself quite erect. “I—I am going in to sing for you.”

She was moving toward the door when her brother, with a catch in his voice and a firm step after her, said: “No, not to-night, dear. Uncle Tom wouldn't listen, anyway. He's simply daft about the new railroad, and couldn't hold his tongue even for a minute. Look at those damp shoes. You will catch pneumonia. Run up to your room and change them at once!”

“I did get them wet, didn't I?” the girl said, glancing down at her feet. The next moment they heard her ascending the stairs. Her brother stood at the door peering after her till she was out of sight; then he went back to his chair, and sank into it. The General was eager to take up the startling topic, now that they were alone, but Dearing's ears were closed to what he was saying.

“Poor child!” the young doctor said to himself. “To think that it should come to her—to beautiful, gentle Dora, with her wonderful ideals! And he could deliberately desert her! He could look another man in the face and confess that he was without the courage to lift a woman up after he had knocked her down.”

Leaving his uncle, he went up to his room and sat alone in the darkness before an open window. Across the lawn he saw a solitary light in Mrs. Barry's cottage. It was from the window of Dora's room, and for an hour he sat watching it. He kept his eyes on it till it went out; then he rose, and began to undress.


A FEW days after the report of Dora Barry's fall had permeated Stafford from the town's centre to its scattering outskirts, and the beautiful girl's disgrace had been duly recorded as the now certain explanation of Fred Walton's flight, it came to his father's ears in a rather indirect manner. Old Simon was erroneously supposed to have learned the truth, even before it became town-talk; for it was vaguely whispered that the banker had been so moved by Mrs. Barry's personal appeal to him in behalf of her daughter that he had called in the sheriff with the intention of having his son held to honor by sheer force, but for some reason had refrained from taking action.

There are individuals in every community, too, who are bold enough to mention a delicate topic even to those most sensitively concerned, and as old Walton was going to the bank on the morning in question Bailey Thornton, a man of great size, who kept a grocery where the banker bought his supplies, essayed a jest as he passed the old man's morning cigar to him over the showcase. The bystanders thoroughly understood what was meant, as was evinced by the hearty laugh which went round, but the old man didn't.

“Don't be hard on the boy, Mr. Walton,” Thornton added, and he smiled broadly enough to explain any ordinary innuendo. “Remember your own young days. I'll bet Fred came by it honestly. The whole town knows the truth; there is no good in trying to hide it. Tell him it is all right, and make him come back home.”

Old Simon grunted and walked on, flushing under the irritating chorus of laughter which followed him out of the store. “Come by it honestly!” he repeated. “What could the meddling fool mean? The whole town knows the truth!

He fell to quivering, and almost came to a dead halt in the street. Surely the circumstance of the bank's loss was not leaking out, after all his caution? He decided that he would at once sound Toby Lassiter. Perhaps Fred had confided in others. The bare chance of the shortage being known and used against him by the rival bank alarmed him. In fancy he saw the report growing and spreading through the town and country till an army of half-crazed depositors, egged on by his enemies, was clamoring at the door, and demanding funds which had been put out on collateral security, and could not be drawn in at a moment's notice.

As he was passing along the corridor by the counting-room, where, beyond the green wire grating, the bookkeepers were at work, he caught Lassiter's glance, and with a wild glare in his eyes he nodded peremptorily toward the rear. He had just hung up his old slouch hat and seated himself in his chair when the clerk joined him, a look of wonder in his mild eyes.

“Say, Toby, sit down—no, shut the door!” Simon ordered; and when the clerk had obeyed and taken a chair near the desk, the banker leaned toward him.

“I want to know,” he panted, “if the report is out about Fred's shortage?”

“Why, no, Mr. Walton,” the clerk said, astonished in his turn; “that is, not to my knowledge. I haven't heard a word that would indicate such a thing. In fact, they all seem so busy with—” But Lassiter colored deeply, and suddenly checked himself.

“Well, something is in the wind, I know,” Simon went on, his lip quivering. “It may be that Thornton only had reference to the boy's general extravagance, or he may have heard false reports about my own bringing-up; but I am not sure, Toby, but that the thing we are trying to hide is out.” Thereupon old Simon, his anxious eyes fixed on the face of his clerk, recounted in detail all that the grocer had said, and exactly how it had come up.

“Oh, I see!” Lassiter exclaimed, in a tone of relief. “He didn't refer to the money, Mr. Walton. He meant—” It was loyalty to his absent friend which again checked the conscientious Toby, who was trying to reconcile two adverse duties, and now sat twirling his thumbs in visible embarrassment.

“You see what?” old Simon demanded, fiercely. “Don't you begin shifting here and there, and keeping things from me. I want to know what's took place, and I will! You and I have always got on harmoniously, but I don't like your shillyshallying whenever that boy's name is mentioned. The other day, when I sent for the sheriff—well, you happened to be right in stopping me that time, I'll admit, but I want to know what you think Bailey Thornton meant by what he said. Do you know?”

The clerk looked down. His face was quite grave and rigid.

“Mr. Walton,” he faltered, “I don't like to carry tales about matters which don't concern me, and when a nasty report gets in the air I try to keep from having anything to do with it.”

“I'm talking to you about business now!” Old Simon raised his voice to a shrill cry, which, had it not stranded in his throat, would have reached the adjoining room.

“The report touches on my affairs here in this house, and if you don't tell me, if you don't aid me with whatever knowledge you may have run across, you can draw your pay and quit.”

Lassiter saw the utter futility of remaining silent longer, and with a desperate look on his face he answered: “I didn't want to make the poor boy's case any worse, Mr. Walton, and so I hoped it would turn out untrue before it got to you; but they say the girl admits the whole thing. The minister of the church where she plays the organ told me it was true.”

“Girl? What girl?” the banker gasped. “Why do you take all day to get at a thing?”

Then, as Lassiter told the story which was on every tongue, old Simon stared, his mouth falling open and his unlighted cigar seesawing between his jagged stumps of teeth.

“So you are plumb sure it wasn't the money that Thornton was talking about!” he exclaimed, with a deep breath of relief.

“Yes, I am sure of that, Mr. Walton. They have been so full of chatter about the girl that not a word has been said about money, although some think you actually furnished the ready cash for him to get away on.” The two sat silent for several minutes; then, shaking his tousled head and shrugging his gaunt shoulders in his faded black alpaca coat, the banker said, with grim finality of tone: “He's a bad egg, Toby. That fellow is rotten to the core. This last discovery really helps us hide the other matter, but the two of them put together will wipe his name off the slate of this town forever. He'll never dare to show his face here again. He might have tried to get around me and live down the shortage, but I reckon both things coming to a head at once kind o' broke his courage, and he decided to skedaddle. I have no pity for the girl neither—not a smidgin; a woman that would give in to a scamp like him don't deserve any man's pity. Say, Toby, I'm a peculiar in some ways: as long as I felt that I owed something to that boy as his father his doings kind o' lay on my mind, but he has plumb cancelled that obligation. I can get along without worry over him if he is put clean out of my calculations, so after this I don't want no human being to mention his name to me. I'll let 'em know that they can't joke with me about it on the street. I want you to go this minute to Bailey Thornton's store and ask him for my account up to date. Then I'll send him my check, and do my trading with Pete Longley. He will be trotting in to apologize, but keep him away from me. Huh! he can't sneer at me as I walk along the public highways of this town; his account with us isn't worth ten cents a month, and he's shaky, anyway. I wish I'd hit him in the mouth as he stood there gloating over his dirty joke!”


KENNETH GALT came back from Atlanta at the end of the week. John Dilk drove down, and brought him up from the station at dusk. Galt had just alighted at his front steps, and the carriage had gone round the house toward the stables in the rear, when he saw Margaret Dearing among the flowers on the lawn adjoining. Through an open window, in the glow of gas-light, he could see the supper-table waiting for him, and knew that his housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson, had all in readiness for his evening meal. He knew, too, that she was most particular about having his favorite dishes served while they were hot, and yet he could not resist the temptation to exchange greetings with this fair young girl whose genial friendship and interest in his affairs had always appealed to him. The prospects were very bright for success in his plan of building a railway from Stafford to the sea, and he was still young enough to want to warm himself in the smile of the girl's approval.

“Oh, you are back!” she said, cordially, as he strode across the grass, and lightly vaulted over the row of boxwood which divided the two properties. “Uncle Tom will be delighted.”

“Yes, and I am very tired,” he answered. He paused and shook her hand, experiencing a decided shock as he noticed the unexpected pallor of her face and the dark splotches beneath her eyes. “I was on my feet all morning in Atlanta. I made a speech to-day at a luncheon, and then had to ride up on a slow train.”

“And the railroad is almost a certainty?” she asked, forcing a wan smile. “You are about to have your dream realized?”

“Almost,” he answered, modestly. “I think we may count on most of the subscribers for the stock throughout the South, and the farmers who have agreed to donate the right of way through their lands still seem enthusiastic. The only thing we lack is the support of a certain group of New York capitalists who are to put up the bulk of the funds and are now considering our final proposition. If they should go in the road would be a certainty.”

“My uncle is sure they can be counted on,” the girl went on, sympathetically. “He declares no one but you could have won the confidence of all those prim, old-fashioned ladies and pious elders, who have never been willing to invest their savings before.”

Galt shrugged his shoulders and drew back somewhat into his habitual mantle of reserve. “If we do put it through,” he said, “they won't regret it. Thorough confidence in an enterprise like this is necessary, of course, and I am glad they trust me.”

“All Stafford was reading the articles in the Atlanta papers yesterday about it,” Margaret said. “Uncle says when it is settled beyond a doubt the town will give a torch-light procession in your honor.”

“There were many inaccuracies in the papers,” he informed her, as he stood wondering over her evident dejection. “Did you read the articles?”

“Did I? Twice—once for myself and again for Uncle. I am sure he had already been over them, but, like the child he is, he wanted to hear the glorious news coming from the lips of some one else. I didn't like the pictures of you, though—not a bit.”

“You didn't? Why?”

“Because they don't do you justice; they were so harsh and fierce. They made your mouth look—what shall I say?—cruel?—yes, cruel and utterly heartless. And we all know you are not so. Wynn says you have the greatest fondness for children of any man he knows, and surely that is a sign of a good heart.”

“There is one thing I am now showing an extravagant fondness for,” Galt said, with a cynical laugh, “and that is, hearing you sound praises that aren't deserved. So I am going to tear myself away from them and run in to supper.”

“Poor girl!” he mused, as he walked away. “She looks pale and troubled, and talks as if she were trying to hide something. She has altered, even in the last week. I wonder if she really cared for Fred Walton? Who knows? Women often like unworthy men. God knows, I ought to understand that.”

After supper Galt went up to his sumptuous quarters on the floor above, and, lighting a cigar, he threw himself into an easy-chair and began to smoke.

“Yes, I must see her to-night,” he said, almost aloud. “I can't wait longer. It has been more than a month now, and not a line from her. I am winning the fight of my life, and I want to see her glorious face light up as I tell her about it. She is the sweetest, dearest girl in the world. Her great dreamy eyes haunt me night and day. I love her, God knows I do. But it mustn't get out yet—not yet; not, at least, till my road is built. We have a right to our secret, the sweetest that ever a love-mad pair held between them. She trusts me, and for the present no one need dream of our intimacy. The last time I saw her the little darling had all sorts of fears in her dear little head, but such fancies are only natural. I'll kiss them away, once she is nestling in my arms. The dear little thing is jealous—actually jealous—of my success. She said once that she believed I would desert her if it would serve my ambition to do so. She doesn't know me. She has a wonderful brain, but she reads me wrongly.”

The hours went by. The old grandfather clock in the hall below struck nine and then ten, and he rose and slipped down the stairs into the grounds below. Stafford was a town which went early to bed as a rule, and Galt found a vast stillness all about him out under the mystically shimmering stars. Softly treading the grass and furtively looking about, he went down to a gate near his stables, passed through and closed it without sound. Again looking up the little street cautiously, he went on till he reached the rear gate of Mrs. Barry's cottage. Going in, he walked through the widow's vegetable garden till he stood behind the little coal-and-wood house not ten feet from the open window of Dora's room. Here he paused, holding his breath in suspense. There was a light in the room as from a low-burning gas-jet at the bureau in the corner, and against the white window-curtain he saw the shadow of some one bowed over a table. The outlines of the silhouette were familiar, and they, set his heart to beating rapidly. Picking up some small particles of coal, he shot them at the window from his closed hand with the nail of his thumb. Sometimes they would fall short of the mark, but now and then one would strike the glass and produce a faint clicking sound. The trick was successful, as it had been before. The crouching shadow straightened up, the distinct profile of Dora's face appeared for an instant, and then lost its exquisite outlines in a blur of black which elongated itself upward as the girl rose to her feet. The curtain was drawn, and Dora, fully dressed, peered out. Stepping into open view, Galt signalled with his hand for her to come out. He saw her shake her head excitedly and stand motionless.

He signalled again and again, showing his impatience by the growing rapidity of his gestures and the impassioned movement of his mute lips. He heard her sigh, and then she nodded resignedly and retreated into the room. Her light went out. She was coming; he knew she would join him if her mother was asleep. And yet that sigh! What could it mean from her who had always come so joyfully, so full of love and faith? Ah, he had it! The gentle girl, not having seen him for several weeks, was genuinely jealous of the weighty affairs which had recently absorbed so much of his attention. All the uproar over his prospective success in the papers, the graphic accounts of his high position, had made her fancy, in her artistic sensitiveness, that circumstances were separating them. Ah, yes, that was it! But he would set her right on that score, as he always had done. He would convince her that their sweet secret was their own, and assure her that it need not be long now before they could announce their love to the world. Where could he look for a better or a truer mate? The secret of their present, and perhaps imprudent, intimacy would never be known. But for the time being, of course, he could not think of marrying any one. Much depended, right now, on his remaining exactly as he was—the suave bachelor whom certain prim and accurate maiden ladies had intrusted with the management of their finances, and reserved a right to decide, as members of some churches do in the cases of their unmarried pastors, what manner of woman their paragon was to choose, if any, as his partner in life. They would be unanimous in their verdict against the artist's beautiful daughter, not being able to see her worth and charm as he could see them. And to announce at the present crisis that he had chosen such a wife would certainly be inadvisable. He had become their idol, and his judgment told him he must retain their good-will in all things—at least, till he was independent of their support.

There was a low, creaking sound from the rusty hinges of the rear door of the cottage, followed by profound stillness, and he knew she had paused on the steps to see if her mother would wake. Then he breathed in vast relief, for he saw her coming. She had thrown a light shawl over her head, and as she passed from under the intervening arbor of grape-vines and the moonlight fell upon her partly exposed face, he was struck by its pallor, and by the desperate gleam in the eyes so steadily fixed on him.

“Thank God, I see you at last, darling!” he exclaimed, passionately, as he held out his arms. But to his amazement she drew back, warding off his embrace with a hand that was firm, strong, and cold as ice.

“You must go—you must never come again!” she said, in a voice filled with suffering.

The little wood-house was between them and the cottage, and some tall trees bordering the little street threw a shadow over them.

“But, darling, what's the matter?” he cried. “What has changed you so remarkably? Why, little girl—”

“Do you mean, you haven't—haven't heard?” She clutched the shawl under her marble-like chin and stared at him, her pretty lips parted and quivering piteously.

“Heard what?” he asked. “I have heard nothing—certainly no bad news. I've been away for a week, and only came home this evening.”

She lowered her head, and stood silent and motionless. He put his hand on her shoulder and gently shook her.

“Tell me,” he urged, groping for an explanation of her agitation, “is your mother ill again? Is she worse?”

“No, it isn't that—God knows even that would be a blessing. Kenneth, I'm ruined!”

“You don't mean?—you can't mean?—” He stood aghast before her, quivering now from head to foot.

“Yes, there is no doubt of it. Mother suspected it, and was so miserable that I had to admit the truth. It almost drove her crazy. She was talking to me about it when that meddlesome woman, Mrs. Chumley, came in and overheard it. She lost no time in spreading the report broadcast over town. Everybody has known it for several days.”

“Oh, my God!” Galt pronounced the words in his throat. This thing, of all unexpected things, had burst upon him at the very crisis of his triumph, and it would ruin him—there was no denying that; it would ruin him! In his fancy he saw his hitherto irreproachable character torn to shreds by the men and women who, till now, had stood behind him. The dream of his life might be carried out some day, but not by a man of his stamp. He groaned aloud. For the moment it was impossible for him to show sympathy where sympathy most belonged. He stood as a man stands who loves life, and yet has been condemned to death. Love and the capacity for self-sacrifice in Kenneth Galt were best nourished by hope and happiness, and of these things he was now bereft.

“Well,” his quivering lips finally produced, “we must make the best of it. We've only done what millions before us have done for love of each other. And what do they say of me? I suppose they think I won't act the part of an honorable man; but, Dora darling—”

“Say of you?” she broke in, bitterly. “They have never mentioned your name. Not a soul—not even my mother—dreams that I ever met you in secret. You are the last human being on earth that would be—be accused. Oh, you are safe! And I'd die ten thousand lingering deaths rather than drag you into it! Oh no, you are absolutely safe. I know full well what such an exposure would mean to you.”

A sense of unaccountable lightness possessed him; a vague sort of relief seemed to hover over him; the blood packed in his heart by horror now began to flow warm and free. “They haven't mentioned—you say—You—didn't tell your mother—that I—?”

“No, I'd cut out my tongue rather than let her know. You told me when we last met that even a bare report of our engage—our love for each other right now would harm your plans. Do you think that I'd let a horror like this come up against you? Even if you declared it was true, I'd say it was a lie! I'd say I cared for some one else. They declare it was Fred Walton, anyway, because he left so suddenly. I've told them it wasn't—told them and told them, but they won't believe me. They may think what they please, but they sha'n't say it was you!

“Fred Walton!” Galt's mind galloped on. “They blamed it on that reckless, devil-may-care fellow, and it would be like Dora's magnanimity to deny the truth for all time. But should he let her?” A storm of incongruous tenderness now swept over him as he stood in the coign of immunity she had preserved for him and regarded the sweet, stricken creature before him. He laughed aloud in sheer derision of the escape she was offering him, and for one blind instant he actually believed in his own manhood.

“Leave you?” he said, warmly, and he took her hands into his, and, although she firmly resisted, he drew her into his arms and tenderly kissed her cold, flower-like lips. “Let another man, and a scamp like Fred Walton, have his name coupled in that way with yours? Never! I want you, Dora. I'd be a miserable dog, even if I succeeded with my paltry enterprise by leaving you! No, I'll come here to-morrow and we'll be married, as we ought to have been months and months ago. Now, go to bed, and let me see roses on your pretty cheeks in the morning.”

“You are speaking without thought—without knowledge of yourself.” The girl sighed as she drew away from his embrace and forcibly put down his detaining hands. “You see, I know you, Kenneth, better than you know yourself. You love me in a way, I am sure; but when it was all over, and you'd paid the debt you think you owe me, you'd blame me for being the blight to your prospects that I would be. Listen! What is done is done. Because I am disgraced is no reason you should be. You are a man whose ambition is his life. Married to me, and hampered by the name I now bear, you'd not only fail in your present enterprise, but you would be held down to the end of life. Oh, I know you so well—so very well! The praise and adulation of the prominent men and women whose friendship you have are the very life-blood of your being. I've known you had this weakness for a long time, but I had to bear with it as a natural shortcoming.”

“How absurdly you talk!” he cried out, in dull, crushed admiration for such logic in one so young and frail. “But I assure you, Dora, I'll not listen to such silly stuff for a minute. You are going to be my wife. Do you hear me?—my wife! We will let the blamed railroad go. I'll tell General Sylvester in the morning that we are off for our honeymoon. Of course he'll drop me like a hot potato, but he may do it for all I care. You are more to me, darling, than he and all the trunk-lines in the world. Yes, I am coming for you to-morrow—to-morrow afternoon at three o'clock! Remember that—at three, sharp, and I'll—I'll bring a—a preacher and—everything necessary.”

“You'll do nothing of the sort,” Dora said, firmly. “You think at this moment that you have the courage to do what you propose, but, Kenneth, you haven't—you simply haven't! I know you better than you know yourself. You will not come to-morrow nor any other day! I'll never see you again, nor do I want to. I had a kind of love for you that only a woman could understand; you have had quite another sort for me. You think yours is still alive, but it died of paltry fear, stifled by avarice; mine was a girlish dream. I am awake now. Leave me, and don't approach me again. I swear to you that your secret is safe.”

She moved away. He tried to stop her; but, with a warning finger on her lips, she eluded his grasp, and hurried into the house.


BRAVE, very brave, and sweet and noble!” he said to himself, as he walked back toward the gate of his grounds; “but she certainly sha'n't have her way. I'm not low enough for that, thank God! She is the only creature I ever loved or could love, and she is mine by all the laws of heaven and earth. She looked like a young goddess as she stood there with that fire in her suffering face, and calmly consigned herself to disgrace and oblivion that my sordid schemes might prosper. I am not poor. I can make a living somehow, somewhere, if not in this sleepy old town; and with her always by my side, why—” Across the lawn he saw a light in a window of the Dearing house. It was in General Sylvester's room. The old gentleman retired earlier than this as a rule, and Galt told himself that his being up now was due to the almost child-like joy over the encouraging condition of their joint enterprise. He saw the old soldier's shadow as it flitted across the window, and knew that he was walking about, as was his habit under stress of excitement.

“Poor old man!” Galt, now in his own grounds, leaned against the wall of a rustic summer-house. A thought had struck him like a blow from the dark. What would Sylvester say when he was told the truth? Galt saw the look of sheer, helpless incredulity on the high-bred, war-scarred face as the revelation was made, and watched it glow and flame into that of anger, contempt, and bitter disappointment. The mere confession of wrong-doing he might accept as frankly as it was offered, but that the young man should allow such a mishap to drag his own proud name into the mire and wreck the greatest enterprise that had ever blessed a down-trodden community—well, he couldn't have believed such a thing possible.

Heavily laden now with the fires of a purer passion burning low under the shadow of his impending ruin, Kenneth Galt dragged himself slowly along the walk toward his house. He was turning the corner to enter at the front when he saw a carriage and pair at the gate. The moon had gone under a thin cloud and the view was vague, but surely they were his own horses, and the man on the driver's seat certainly looked like John Dilk. Wonderingly, Galt went down to the gate. The negro was fast asleep; his massive head had fallen forward, and the hands which held the reins were inert. The gate rattled as Galt touched the iron latch, and the man woke and looked about him.

“Oh, is dat you, Marse Kenneth?” he asked, sleepily. “Yes,” Galt answered, rather sharply. “What are you doing with the horses out at this time of night?”

“Oh! oh! Le' me see, suh!” The negro's wits were evidently scattered. “I sw'ar I dunno, Marse Kenneth. Bless my soul, you jump on me so sudden dat I can't, ter save my life, tell you—Oh yes, now I know, suh! Why, ain't you seed de Gineral since you got home, Marse Kenneth?”

“Why, no. Does he want me?”

“Yasser, yasser, he sho' do,” the negro answered, now thoroughly himself. “He been searchin' fer you high and low, Marse Kenneth. He went all thoo yo' house. He got some'n 'portant ter tell you. He ordered me ter hurry an' get out de team, an' have it raidy fer you'n him. He just run in his house er minute ago. Dar he is comin' now. He's dat excited an' worried about not findin' you he can't hardly hold in.”

General Sylvester, as he stepped from the veranda, recognized Galt, and hurried toward him, pulling out his watch and looking at it in the doubtful light.

“Great heavens!” he cried, “we haven't a minute to lose. You've only got twenty minutes to catch the 11.10 North-bound train! Run up and get your bag! I saw it there, still unpacked, and you needn't waste a minute. I've glorious, glorious news from New York—a wire from Alberts, Wise & Co. They have got the right men for our deal, and with dead loads of money. They are ripe for the thing, and the brokers wire that if you can be there day after to-morrow morning you can close it. They say if you are not there then that the money may be diverted to other deals, and they advise all possible haste. So hurry. You must not miss the train. Everything depends on it. Run, get the bag! John, you get it! Quick!”

“No, I'll—I'll do it!” Galt gasped. “Wait, I'll be down in—in a minute!”

“Then hurry. We can talk on the way to the station. My boy, we are simply going to land it! The blessings of the widows and orphans, whose property is going to bound up in value, will be on your plucky young head. Hurry up!”

Galt moved away, as weak in action as a machine run by a spring of such delicacy that it could be broken by the breath of an insect or the fall of an atom. It struck him as ridiculous that he should be going for his bag if he did not intend to use it; and to confess even now that he couldn't make the trip would seem queer and cowardly, for he ought to have explained at once. Ascending the stairs, he reached his room. He turned up the gas, and his image in the big pier-glass between the two end windows looked like that of a dead man energized by electricity. There lay the bag by the bed, the black letters “K. G.,” on the end, blandly staring at him. Galt looked at it, and then back to his reflection in the mirror.

“My God!” he cried out, suddenly, “if I go to-night I'll be deserting her forever, and she will have read me rightly! She would keep the secret; no human power could wrench it from her. She would keep it; and I—I, who have led her to her ruin, would be deserting her as only a coward could! I am beneath contempt. And yet what am I to do? I am what I am—what the damnable forces within me and my ancestors have made me. Napoleon loved, and put aside and cast down for his ambition, and have I not the same right for mine? I am not an emperor, but my ambition, such as it is, is as sweet to me as his was to him. As she says—as the gentle wilting flower says—I'd be miserable, even with her, under the wreckage of all these hopes. She knows me; child though she is, she is my superior in many things. She knows that the loss of this thing—now that I've tasted the maddening cup of success, now that the poison of fame and public approval is rioting in my blood—would damn me forever! Accidents of this sort have ruined weak men. Strong men have lived to smile back upon such happenings as the inevitable consequence of the meeting of flame and powder, and have gone to their graves without remorse. I've known such men. I've heard them say that no matter how heavily nature may scourge the conscience of man for theft, for murder, for any other misdeed, it yet deals lightly with this particular offence. And why? Because there can be no charge of deliberation in an act to which passionate youth is led by the very sunshine and music of heaven. And yet I'll lose her. Great God, I'll actually lose her! I can never look into her sweet face again, or kiss the dear lips ever whispering their vows of undying faith until hell opened her eyes to—to my frailty. No, no, I can't desert her; I can't—I simply can't! I want her! I want her. With all my soul, I want her!” There was a step in the hall below, and General Sylvester's excited old voice rose and rang querulously through the still space below:

“In the name of Heaven, what's the matter?” he cried. “Come on! You may miss the train as it is! Come on!

“One second, General!” Galt cried out. “Wait!” He had not yet decided, he told himself, and yet his cold hand had clutched the handle of his bag. He lifted it up, swung it by his side, and, stepping out into the corridor, peered over the balustrade down the stairs.

“We can't wait, man!” the General shouted from the walk outside. “Hurry!”

“All right, I'm ready!” and Galt strode rapidly down the stairs, sliding his hand on the walnut railing.

“Why, what is the matter with you?” Sylvester peered at him anxiously in the moonlight as he emerged from the doorway. “You look white and worried. You've done too much in Atlanta, with all those receptions and banquets. Let's call a halt on the social end of the business till we have clinched the thing good and tight. Put this New York deal through, and we can dance and sing and cut the pigeon-wing as much as we please. But you will pull it through, my boy, my prince of promoters, with that wonderful say-little air you have. You are the man to make that crowd of Yankees think we are granting them favors instead of asking for them. If you don't miss connection and get there on time, you will win as sure as you are a foot high.”

The General was pushing him into the carriage, and John Dilk, with whip poised in the air, and a tight, wide-awake grip on the reins showed readiness for his best speed record.

“Now, John,” Sylvester cried, “miss that train, and I'll break every bone in your black hide!”

The negro laughed good-naturedly. It was exactly the sort of command he loved to get from the old man who had done him a hundred services.

“You watch me, Marse Gineral,” he said, with a chuckle; “but you better keep yo' mouf closed. Ef you don't, dis hoss in de lead will fill it wid clay. He's de beatenes' animal ter fling mud I ever driv.”

On they sped, cutting the warm, still air into a sharp, steady current against them. The General babbled on enthusiastically, but Galt failed to catch half he was saying. To all outward appearances, he was being hurtled on to triumph; in reality, he was leaving the just-filled grave of his manhood. Before his humiliated sight stood a wonderful face written full of knowledge of himself—a knowledge more penetrating than that of the world-wise men who bowed before his prowess; a face, the beauty and tenderness of which were ever to remain stamped on his memory; a face wrung by a storm of agony, contempt, and—martyrdom! And he was striking it! The pleading eyes, scornful nose, quivering, drooping mouth were receiving the brunt of all his physical force! He knew the cost, and was going to abide by it. A believer in the eternal existence of the human soul might have paused, but Galt had always contended that nothing lay beyond a man's short material life. And that being his view, how could he suffer material glories like these to slip through his fingers for the sake of a mere principle—a transient dream of the senses? Yes, yes; and yet the pain, the crushing agony, the maddened thing within him which all but tempted him to clutch the chattering old tempter at his side by the neck and hurl him to the earth!

And yet he nodded and said he was glad that the General had been so thoughtful as to telephone the station-agent to secure the drawing-room on the Pullman.

“We must not do things by halves,” the old soldier crowed. “The man who is to have his own private car as the president of the great S. R. and M. must not be seen, even by a negro porter, crawling into an upper berth. Your plan of living high in order to be on a high level is fine business policy. You haven't spared expense in Atlanta; you mustn't in New York, either. Dine 'em, wine 'em; throw wads of cash at the servants—do anything! They know who the Gaits of Charleston and Savannah were before the War: let 'em see that the old blood is still alive.”

They had been at the station only a minute when the train arrived. John Dilk brushed by the porter at the step of the long sleeper, and proudly bore his master's bag into the drawing-room. There was a hurried shaking of hands between Galt and the General, and the train smoothly rolled away.

Alone in the luxurious compartment, Galt sank down. The obsequious porter stood awaiting orders, but the passenger scarcely saw him or heard what he was saying. Galt was now fairly stupefied by the magnitude of his crime. It flashed upon him as actually an incredible thing—his leaving Dora with so much to bear!

He had taught her that their love, like that of their favorite English novelist, had lifted them above mere conventional rules and ceremonies, and rendered them a law unto themselves. But the awakening had come. She had seen him in the garish light with which Truth had pierced his outer crust and revealed his quaking, cringing soul. She would despise him, the very murmuring of the ponderous wheels beneath him told him that, and from now on he must avoid her. To offer her financial aid in her coming trial would only be adding insult to injury, knowing her as he knew her; so even that must be omitted—even that, while he was accepting the price of her misery.


THE morning sun beat fiercely down on Fred Walton and his new friend as they trudged along the dusty road. The pangs of hunger had seized them, and no way seemed open to obtain food short of begging it at one of the farmhouses which they were passing, and that Fred shrank from doing.

“If I could have stopped in Atlanta long enough to have sold my watch we could have paid our way for awhile,” he told his companion, “but I thought we ought to be on the move.”

“Yes, of course,” the younger agreed, with a slow, doubtful look into the other's face. “Will you tell me—I give you my word you can trust me,” he went on—“if you have any reason, except for my sake, in getting away from the city?”

“Yes, I have, Dick,” Walton replied. “I may as well admit it. I am in a pretty tight place. Things are done by telegraph these days, and I don't feel entirely safe, even here in the country.”

“Ah, I'm sorry, Fred!” the boy declared. “You have been so good to me that it doesn't look right for anybody to be running you down like a common—”

“Thief!” Walton supplied the word in a tone of bitterness. “That's exactly what some would call it. But you mustn't be afraid of me, Dick. I went wrong, and lost a good home and many friends by it. I've lost something else, too, Dick—some one else whom I once had as my own, but who is now out of my life forever.”

“You mean—you mean—a sweetheart?” ventured the boy, as he put out a sympathetic hand and touched the arm of his companion.

Walton nodded. He had averted his eyes, that his companion might not see the tears which blurred his sight, but no word escaped his lips.

“I'm sorry,” Dick Warren said, simply, and his hand tenderly clung to the dust-coated sleeve—“I'm sorry, Fred.”

“I wish you knew her, Dick,” Walton went on, reminiscently. “If you did, I reckon you'd pity your pal. Here I am, a tramp, an outcast in dirty clothing, and no money in my pocket. If you'd ever seen her, you'd never dream that such a girl could have actually cared for a man like me. I've got her photograph in my pocket. It is in an envelope. I have not looked at it once since I left her. I may never again on earth.”

“But why?” the boy asked, wonderingly. “It seems like it would be company for you, now that you and she are—parted.”

“She gave it to me in trust and confidence,” Walton answered, his dull gaze still averted. “She wouldn't want me to have it now. I shall keep it—I simply can't give it up; but I shall not insult her purity by looking at it. I must harden myself, and forget—forget thousands of things. You may see it if you wish.” Walton drew the envelope from his pocket and extended it to his companion. “I'll walk ahead, and when you've looked at it put it back in the envelope.”

“All right; thank you, Fred.” The boy fell back a few steps, and with his eyes straight in front of him Walton trudged on stolidly. The boy gazed at the picture steadily for several minutes, and then caught up with his companion and returned the envelope. He was silent for a moment then he said, with a slight huskiness in his young voice:

“Would you like for me to say anything about her, Fred?”

“Yes, I think I should,” Walton responded, slowly, as he thrust the envelope back into his pocket. “Yes, Dick, I'd like to hear what you think of her.”

“She is so sweet and gentle looking—so good—so very, very pretty! Oh, Fred, I understand now how you feel! I don't think I ever saw a face that I liked better. It may be because she is your—”

Was!” Walton broke in. “Don't forget that, Dick.”

“I think a girl like that, with a face like that, would forgive almost anything in the man she loved,” the boy went on, in a valiant effort at consolation.

“If she still loved him, perhaps; but she could no longer love him,” Walton sighed. “She belongs to a proud family, Dick, not one member of which was ever guilty of such conduct as mine. She would shudder at the sight of me, she would blush with shame for having cared for me. That's why I came away. If I had not loved her, I'd have stayed and faced my punishment.” After this talk the two trudged on through the garish sunshine without exchanging a word for several miles. It was noon. They had come to the gate of a farmhouse which bore the look of prosperity, and they paused in the shade of a tree.

“We can't go farther without eating,” the boy said. “You don't like to beg, but I don't care; I've done it hundreds of times, and don't feel ashamed of it. I'm going to put on a bold front and tackle the kitchen in the rear.”

“Don't ask for anything for me,” Walton said. “I'm not very hungry. I can get along for some time yet.”

“Wait till I find out how it smells around that kitchen,”

Dick laughed. “I'm nearly dead.” The boy had opened the gate, and was walking briskly toward the house, which stood back about a hundred yards from the road. Walton saw him meet a great lazy-looking dog near the steps and pat the animal on the head. Then the dog and boy went round the building toward the kitchen. A moment later Walton saw Dick returning, a flush on his face and empty handed. The dog paused near the front steps, wagging a cordial if not, indeed, a regretful tail.

“The dirty red-faced scamp ordered me to move on!” Dick cried, angrily. “He says the country is overrun with tramps, who won't work and who expect to live on the toil of honest men.”

“Did he say that?” and Walton's eyes flashed. “I'd like to prove to him that I'm no—But what's the use?”

“Look, he's coming!” the boy said, eagerly. “Maybe he's changed his mind. A woman was listening to what he said. Perhaps she's told him to call us back.” The fat, middle-aged farmer, bald, perspiring, and without hat or coat, strode down to them, and languidly opened the gate.

“Say, I just want to tell you fellows one more thing,” he panted, as he wiped his bearded chin with his pudgy hand, “and that is this: We may look like a lot of galoots just out of an asylum along this here road, but most of us have a grain of sense. Back here a piece a neighbor of mine sent two able-bodied men like you two about their business a month ago, and that night his barn was fired. Now, if you fellows try any game of that sort on me, I'll—”

“Dry up!” Walton cried, as he suddenly faced him. “I wasn't begging of you. I only let this boy go up to you because he is nearly starved. You can't insult me—I won't have it! I am not a tramp. As proof of it, I have a good solid gold watch here that I am willing to sell you or any one else at any fair price you may put on it.”

“Huh! let me see it.” The farmer's eyes gleamed avariciously as Walton took the watch from his pocket and extended it to him.

The man tested the weight of the timepiece by tossing it lightly in his palm, and then he pried the case open with the stiff nail of his thumb, and, with a critical eye, examined the works.

“Full-jewelled and good make,” he said; and then he gave it back. “I'm a trader,” he went on. “I make money buying and selling any old thing from a pickaxe to a piano, from a pet cat to a blooded horse; but I hain't in your market.”

“You say you 'hain't'?” Dick Warren mocked him, in fresh anger.

“No, I hain't,” the obtuse farmer repeated. “I did a fool thing like that when I was a boy. I bought a bay mare from a man who rid up to my daddy's barn without a saddle, blanket, or bridle—had just a heavy hemp rope round her neck. I bit, and chuckled all that day as I rid about, showing the gals how bright I'd been. Then the sheriff of the county hove in sight, and—well, my daddy had to pay out a hundred-dollar lawyer's fee to prove that I wasn't of age, never had had any sense, and couldn't have knowed the mare was stolen property. So, you see, when a fellow comes hiking along here without a nickel to buy a loaf of bread, and lookin' like he's been wading through swamps and sleeping in haystacks, and has a gold ticker that is good enough fer the vest-pocket of Jay Gould, why, I feel like pullin' down the left-hand corner of my right eye an' axin' him ef he hain't got a striped suit under his outside one, hot as the weather is.”

“You blamed old—” Dick Warren began, threateningly, as he bristled up to the farmer, his fists drawn; but Walton put out his hand and stopped him.

“He's right, Dick,” he said, and there was a pained look about his sensitive mouth. “The circumstances are dead against us.”

“Yes, I reckon they are, gents,” grinned the man at the gate. “Anyways, I don't think you will find a buyer fer that timepiece. Good-day. There ain't nothing in all this palaver fer me,” and his eye twinkled as he finished. “My wife's got dinner waitin' for me: a good fat hen, baked to a turn, with rich corn-meal stuffin', an' hot biscuits, coffee, string-beans, and fried ham—the country-cured sort that you've read about!”


I SWEAR, I'd enjoy firing his barn!” Dick fumed, as the two friends walked on through the beating sun. “I don't think I can stand much more of it, Fred. I'm all gone inside. The lining of my stomach has folded over.” They were passing the corner of a field where, in the distance, they could see two men at work digging ditches to drain the boggy land, and they paused again to rest under the shade of a tree.

“I guess they will stop soon and go home to a square meal,” Dick said, bitterly; and then his roving glance fixed itself on a spot in the corner of the snake-fence near by.

“By George!” he exclaimed, exultantly, “we are in luck! Gee, what a pick-up!”

“What is it, now?” Walton asked. But the boy was bounding away toward the fence. “You wait and see—gee, what luck!”

Walton stood and watched him as he climbed over the fence, dived into the thick underbrush, and reappeared with a covered tin pail in his hands. As he came back he unfastened the lid and laughed loud and long. “Full to the brim!” he chuckled. “Meat, bread, pie, and a bottle of fresh milk. We can leg it along the road a piece and sit down to it, or stow it away as we walk. My dinner-bell's rung, old man.”

“Put it back, Dick! Go put it back!” Fred said, firmly, his eyes averted.

The boy stared, a blended expression of surprise and keen disappointment capturing his features.

“Do you really mean it, Fred?” he asked, his lip falling, the pail hanging motionless at his side.

“Yes, it is not ours,” the other said. “Put it back before they see you, and then I'll—I'll try to explain what I mean.”

The boy swore under his breath, and for a moment he stood gloweringly sullen, but at the third command of his companion he retreated to the fence and dropped the pail into its place. Then he came back, his head hanging, his face still dark with disappointment.

“Huh!” he grunted, and started on without waiting to see if Fred was ready to go. Walton followed, and presently caught up with him.

“I'm not a preacher, Dick,” he began, with a forced laugh, which was intended as an opening wedge to the boy's displeasure, “I'm not one bit better than you are. I've stolen a farmer's watermelons by the light of the moon, and climbed his June apple-trees, and filled my pocket with his prize fruit, and heartily enjoyed it; but somehow I feel differently now. Dick. I'm older than you are, and reckless living has got me down and stamped all hope out of me. I'm fighting for my life. I'm swimming in a strange, swift stream, and my strength is almost gone, but I have grasped at a straw; it may hold me up, it may not; but I hope it will. That straw is the determination to live right—absolutely right—from now on, no matter what it costs. I've done great wrong, and I'm sick with the very thought of it. I want to try to do what is right, and if I could influence you to feel as I feel about these things, I'd like it mightily; it would strengthen me in my course. Two can succeed better, even at a thing like that, than one.”

“But I'm starving!” the boy whimpered. “The world wasn't made for anybody to starve in. The birds up there in the trees don't starve, and God gave them as good right to live as you or me. Huh! when that beefy chump back there sows his wheat they watch him with their keen eyes from their nests in the trees, and when his hulking back is turned they chirp with glee and pounce down on his seed and take it and flutter away with it in the sunshine.”

“Dick, you are a bloody anarchist!” Walton laughed gently as he placed his hand affectionately on the boy's shoulder.

“I don't know whether I am or not,” Warren retorted, still ruffled. “But the blamed bucket of grub may stay where it is. I wanted it for your sake as much as mine, but I sha'n't ask you to sit down to other men's dinner if you are going to ask the blessing over it. But you are too dang particular. At least, I've got as much right to the stuff as they have, for they can go home and get more, and I can't.”

“That is one way to look at it,” Walton said, quietly, “and I thought as you do once, but I don't now.” After this they trudged along for several minutes in silence. The boy did not raise his eyes from the dusty ground, but he put his hand on Walton's arm, and there was a catch in his young throat as he said:

“Fred, somehow you make me think of my mother, When she was alive she was always wanting me to be good. She used to talk to me when I was a little tiny fellow. It was always that one thing over and over: 'My little boy is not going to be a bad man when he grows up, is he?' That's what she said time after time, and in a thousand ways she tried to impress it on me. She worried a lot about me just before she died. You see, my father—well, he didn't care what became of me, or her, either. He drank like a fish, and went with idle men about the loafing-places—in fact, he was shot and killed in a bar-room. I've tried pretty hard to have faith in what my mother used to say about God's mercy and all that stuff, but, Fred, God never answered her prayers to look after me. If I haven't had to go it blind, I don't want a cent. Selling papers on the street at night till nearly morning, sometimes sleeping in a stairway, outhouse, or stable. Then I was a messenger boy, for a little better wages, in a dead boy's uniform, and finally became a tramp telegraph operator. But, Fred, you are true blue. I don't want a better pal. The way you yanked out that watch and offered it to keep me out of jail when it was the last thing you had in your pocket—well, you can count on me, that's all. I won't try to stuff another man's grub down your throat, either.”

A man was coming toward them on horseback, and as he drew near he reined in and leaned forward on the neck of his horse. “Gentleman,” he began, as he pulled at his scraggy beard and kicked his feet more firmly into his wooden stirrups, “I don't know whether you fellows are interested in the like or not, but I'm riding round here and yon trying to drum up hands to gather and crate and ship my crop of early peaches. There is such a demand for labor of that sort all through the peach section that we are powerful short on help.”

The two pedestrians exchanged eager glances.

“Where is your place?” Fred asked.

“Why, it's a few miles to the right, over them hills,” the rider said. “It's the Womack farm. That's my name. I've got a hundred acres of dandy Elbertas, and they are ripening as fast as chickens in a hatching-machine. They are a thing that has to be picked an' got off in cold-storage cars at exactly the right minute or they ain't worth the nails in the crates when they get to market. They say if all us early fellows can manage to hit New York just right this year, we'll get three dollars a crate, an' that will pay big, as times are now.”

“How far is it to your place?” Walton asked.

“Why, it's a little better than seven mile—on a beeline; but I reckon by the nighest road it's a matter of ten or thereabouts. You fellers look a little mite tired, but by stiff walking you could get there by sundown. You can make good wages in a pinch like this if you will buck down to it—I calculate three plunks a day for each of you.”

“And how long would the work last?” inquired Fred, as he and Warren looked at each other, their pulses quickening, their eyes beginning to glow.

“Well, I could hold you down for two weeks at least, for mine don't all ripen at once; but after you was through on my land you could go farther north and get more to do.”

“I think we'd better take you up,” Warren said. “I'd like that sort of work.” He winked at his friend and rubbed his stomach. “I see myself packing good, ripe, juicy peaches right now, but not in crates. The truth is, farmer, we are mighty hungry, and that is a long walk. Now, if you had fifty cents about you that you'd be willing to let go in an advance, why we'll buy a snack at some farm-house, and go right on to you.”

The horseman's shrewd face fell. He leaned forward and ran his gnarled fingers through the mane of his horse, and avoided the pair of anxious eyes fixed on his. “I don't want to be blunt and hurt your feelings, fellers,” he said. “But we never come together before—we are plumb strangers, I might say; and, well, to tell the truth, last year I started out on this same business, and to my certain knowledge not a man, woman, gal, boy, nor baby that I advanced money to ever got to my place, while all the others who wasn't paid was there bright and early.”

“But we are hungry and weak!” Dick Warren protested.

“Well, some o' them that I failed to get told the selfsame tale. One said if I'd pay off the mortgage on his land, he'd bring his entire family; but that wasn't business, and I refused. I'm making you fellows a fair open-and-shut proposition. You hit my place before dark to-night and tell my wife to give you a square meal—tell her I've hired you to pick and pack, and that I said to stow you away somewhere for the night. She will make room for you. Now, I hope I'll see you there. That's as good as I can offer, as I look at it.”

“All right, we'll be there,” Walton promised. “And we will do the best we can for your interests.”

“Very well, gentlemen, I'll expect to see you there when I get back. So long.” And with his legs jogging the flanks of his mount, the farmer rode away.

“We can make it, Dick,” Walton said, encouragingly. “Let's bend down to it.”

“The thought of that meal is enough to keep me going,” the boy replied. “What do you reckon she will give us? But stop! My mouth is watering at such a rate that I believe I'll try not to think of it.”

It was long after sundown when the wayfarers reached the farm in question. The house was a rambling, one-story, frame structure which originally had been painted, afterward whitewashed, and rain and storm beaten till not a trace of any sort of coating remained on the bare, fuzzy, gray boards. At the gate, or bars, of the snake-fence, in front, they paused, faint and exhausted, wondering if they would be bitten by watch-dogs if they entered unannounced. On the grass under the trees in the front yard a group of twenty or more young women and young men were singing plantation melodies, and here and there couples were sitting alone or strolling about, their heads close together.

“They are peach-gatherers,” Walton surmised. “Come on; there are no dogs that I can see.”

Crawling through the bars, they went to the house. There was no light in the front part, but a yellow glow shone from a window against the dark foliage of the trees in the rear, and thither the wanderers directed their lagging steps. Looking in at the open door of the kitchen, they saw the portly form of the farmer's wife at a table washing dishes in the light of a smoking brass lamp which had no chimney.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, as her kindly eyes fell on them. “Not more pickers, surely?”

“That's what we are, and as good as you ever laid eyes on,” Dick told her. “Mr. Womack said you'd give us something to eat. We haven't had a bite since yesterday.”

“Well!” The woman drew her hands from the big dish-pan and dried them on her apron as she looked them over doubtfully. “Pete Womack goes crazy every year at picking-time. He's filled the house, barn, and yard with hooting and singing gals and boys, and furnished nobody to wait on 'em but me. The gals all say they are too fagged out at night to lay their hands to cooking or dish-washing, and yet, if you'll just listen and watch, you'll see that they are all able to gallivant with the men about the yard. Six couples met here for the first time last summer and got married. They say there's some progress being made right now between three or four, an' picking's just set in. I tell Pete he ought to start a marrying-agency and take out a license to preach, so he can tie 'em on the spot and collect two fees. Some of 'em are respectable and mean all right, but Pete is so anxious to get his crop off on time that he's got women in that bunch that—to look at 'em—Well, it ain't any of my business! I ain't set up as a judge, and as the saying is, I won't throw no stones. But you say you are hungry, and I don't see how I could give you a thing hot at this time of night. My fires are out, and—”

“Hot!” Dick shouted. “Why, I've got such a big storage capacity that I'd be afraid to take it hot. It might generate steam and explode.”

The woman laughed. “Well, you must be hungry,” she said. “Come on in the dining-room and I'll lay it out in a minute. There is plenty of cold stuff. I cook a lot ahead. You have to feed pickers like kings or they won't stay. It won't take long to heat the coffee. But I reckon you want to wash and wipe. You'll find pans and water on the shelf in the entry, and a clean towel on the roller. I'll be ready when you are.”

“I'll see about that, old lady,” Dick challenged her, as he made a dash for the near-by water-shelf.

Two minutes later the two wanderers sat down at a long, improvised table, made of unplaned planks, in the dining-room. In the light of a guttering home-made tallow dip the farmer's wife spread before them the best meal that famished men ever feasted on. They saw roast chicken with dressing, fried chicken with cream gravy, country-smoked ham in a great platter of eggs; butter, hard and cold, from the spring-house; great, snow-capped pound-cakes, biscuits, apple-sauce, jellies, jams, cold buttermilk, and hot coffee.

“I don't know where I'm going to bunk you boys,” Mrs. Womack said, in a motherly tone, as she stood behind their chairs, and, with unsuppressed delight, watched them eat. “The women and gals have got every bed in the house; and every spot on the floor, even to the kitchen, has been staked off by the men.”

“What's the matter with the barn?” Dick mumbled, with his mouth full. “I wouldn't want a better place this time of year than a sweet-smelling bed of fresh hay or fodder.”

“There's plenty of room in the loft down there,” the woman replied; “but somehow I hate to see nice-looking young men like you put in a place like that.”

“It will do very well,” Fred assured her. “In fact, we would rather like it.”

“Well, a little later, if you decide to stay, I may fix you a place in the house,” the woman said; “but you got in too late to-night.”

“I'm dead tired and sleepy, Fred,” Dick said, when they had left the table. “Let's turn in.”

Directed by Mrs. Womack, they went down to the barn, and from the big cattle-room on the ground they climbed a ladder to the loft above. A startled hen flew from her nest with a loud cackling as they crawled through the hay and husks and leaves of corn to a square, shutterless door, through which the hay was loaded to wagons below. They threw off their coats and vests, and made pillows of them; then took off their shoes, and lay down and stretched out their tired limbs.

Through the doorway they saw the fathomless sky filled with mysterious stars. The chirping of some chickens, as they jostled one another on the roost below, came up to them; the champing of the teeth of a horse, as he gnawed his wooden trough; the snarling of a tree-frog; the far-off and dismal howling of a dog, and—they were asleep.


IT was not till early autumn that the two friends reached their far-off destination. Fred's watch had been sold; they had saved the greater part of their earnings from the various odd jobs at which they had worked, and had made of their journey by rail. It was Walton's idea that they must put their best foot to the front in Gate City, and start out with a good appearance in their new home, and so the most of their funds were promptly invested in new clothing. Notwithstanding their spick-and-span appearance, however, luck seemed against them, for every application they made for work—Dick as a telegraph operator and Fred as an accountant—was refused them.

The city was a bustling new place with prosperity and activity in its very air. There were great railway-shops, factories of several kinds, and various other enterprises. It was a typical Western “boom” town. Its buildings were modern, its streets regular and well-paved. Men and women, as they drove through the streets in their carriages, thought nothing of it if a mounted horde of yelling cow-boys galloped past with their revolvers playfully flourished, nor saw anything unusual in the gangs of blanket-draped Indians who hung about the bar-rooms, dance-halls, or gambling-houses. The new-comers liked the place; Dick believed they would eventually secure work, and Fred had the first sense of security which had come to him since leaving Stafford. Here, under his new name, in this remote place, he was sure he would meet with no familiar face, nor catch any discordant echoes of the life he had left behind him, and which he was trying to banish from his memory.

There was in the town a certain Stephen Whipple, a man about sixty-five years of age, who had come from one of the Southern States shortly after the Civil War. He had established himself, first, as a small grocer, but, having acquired considerable wealth, he was now the owner of the only wholesale grocery store in the place, an establishment which was known for miles around.

He was an earnest member of the Presbyterian church of the town, and its chief pride, owing to his influence in the community. It had been his money which had built the church to which he belonged, and it was said that he practically paid the salary of its eloquent young preacher.

In his great red-brick, four-story business-house on the main street Stephen Whipple had his private office. It was in the rear of the counting-room and was of unusual size, and by many deemed a curious place. Indeed, it was put to strange, unbusiness-like uses, for it was here that the owner of the establishment personally received all sorts of applications for aid. There were half a dozen plain chairs in the bare, uncarpeted room, and the Rev. Luke Matthews, who had the entrée to the office at any moment, often found a motley gathering of supplicants on hand, each patiently awaiting his turn to be beckoned to the seat close to the portly, shaggy-browed merchant. There were individuals who called the old man a deep-dyed hypocrite, for they held that no really self-sacrificing toiler in the Lord's vineyard could have amassed the great wealth old Whipple was known to possess. But this was disputed by all the men in his employment, at least, for they were ready to attest that Whipple had often held over important business matters till the case of some suffering applicant could be investigated and relief supplied. There were other uses to which this room was put. Old Whipple, in order to render his pet church more attractive to the public, selected and paid out of his own pocket the salaries of the best choir in town. He was no expert musician, but he had them meet in his office and practise on every Saturday afternoon, and he was always present, seeing to it that refreshments were served and the singers made comfortable.

It was one morning when Dick Warren and Fred Walton had been in the town for a month, and had reached the lowest ebb of their resources, that the minister dropped in to see the merchant. The Rev. Luke Matthews was of unusual height, measuring six feet four, very slender in build, and of markedly nervous temperament. He was under thirty, unmarried, wore his black hair long enough to touch his shoulders, and had the thin-lipped, unbearded face of an Edwin Booth. It was said of him that he couldn't keep a coin in his pocket—that it was promptly given to the first beggar he met.

“Well, brother, how are your bones?” was the halfjesting greeting he gave the old man, as he bustled in, buttoning and unbuttoning his long black coat and swinging his broad-brimmed hat at his side. “Not holding court this morning?” He laughed as he looked over the empty chairs.

“No; I sent the last prisoner up for life an hour ago,” the merchant responded, jovially. “Set down, set down!”

The long-legged man with the poetic face complied. “Well,” he said, “you'll have to be a judge in that sort of tribunal so long as you inhabit this globe.” He smiled, showing two fine rows of white teeth. “It looks like the Lord is pushing you on to unlimited prosperity, and your work for humanity will increase instead of letting up. Say, brother, I know the sort of thing you glory in, and I've had an experience—the sort of experience that makes a fellow feel like preaching is worth while. It was exactly the kind of thing you are interested in yourself.”

“What have you run across now?” Whipple asked, as he leaned his elbow on his desk and rested his florid face on his hand.

“The genuine thing, brother—a genuine reformation in a young chap hardly out of his teens. He's been coming to my special meetings for young men, and, as I'm a close observer, I was attracted by his face. It interested me more than that of any boy's I ever saw. Finally, I ventured to approach him. I never scare them off if I can help it, but I singled him out from the rest last Thursday evening and spoke to him. I saw that he was greatly moved, and I invited him into my study, and we had a good long heart-to-heart talk. Brother Whipple, I never felt the glory of God bearing down on me in my life as I did while that boy was talking—while he was telling me his past history. Crying like his heart would break, he confessed to having been almost everything a boy could be—a thief, a tramp, and an all-round, good-for-nothing idler, from his childhood up to his sudden awakening to what was right.”

“Good, good!” Stephen Whipple ejaculated, his features working, his kind old eyes twinkling.

“But now comes the climax to my experience,” the minister went on. “You and I meet a converted person now and then, but we don't often run across individuals in private life who are leading lives which convert. The boy went on to tell me, brother, how he was rescued from arrest by a young man who was a tramp like himself. They began searching for work side by side. The boy told me how his new friend—without ever saying a word that was preachy—gradually won him from his ingrained tendencies and taught him the difference between right and wrong. He gave me scores of touching and inspiring incidents that had happened between them during their wanderings here and there, trying to get work. Somehow I became even more deeply interested in the fellow I hadn't met than the one I had in tow, and so I asked the boy if he would introduce me to his friend. He hesitated for a while, and then finally agreed to take me to the room they had together. It was away over beyond the railroads, in the slums of our 'tenderloin' district. It seemed to be the only room whose price they could afford, and they were unwilling to contract for what they could not pay. It was an awful place, brother, up a narrow flight of shaky stairs, in the attic of a negro shoemaker's house, in the worst part of 'Dive-town.' The man, this Fred Spencer, when we came in, was seated at the little dingy window reading a newspaper. He seemed very much surprised, and flushed red as he stood up and shook hands. He was fine-looking—strong and tall, well-clad and neat from his feet to his carefully combed hair, but his great big sad eyes haunted me long after I left him, and when he spoke his voice seemed to come from a proud spirit that was crushed and broken. He began by saying that his friend had spoken to him of my meetings, and that he was exceedingly grateful for my interest and courtesy in calling. He tried to apologize for the appearance of the room, and insisted on my taking the only chair while he and his room-mate sat on the bed, which, by the way, was unfit for a convict to sleep on. They used it together, and yet it was barely wide enough for one. The straw in the mattress was crumbling to powder and falling to the floor.”

“Poor chaps,” the merchant sighed, “and they have evidently seen better days.”

“Spencer, the older one, has decidedly,” the minister answered. “He is evidently Southern, for he has the soft accent of Virginia, I should say, and the manner of the old aristocracy. I told him that I had heard of his good influence over the boy, and he got redder than ever, and tried to make light of what he had done, endeavored, in fact, to convince me that the boy had only spoken as he had out of personal friendship. Finally I offered my assistance toward finding employment for them both, and Spencer showed real embarrassment—as if he did not want to put me to any trouble in the matter.”

“He's tried to find work here, then?” Stephen Whipple mused, aloud.

“Yes, and been turned down on all sides. He has tried till he has lost hope. He likes Gate City, but is afraid they will be driven to the road again.”

“And to think that a fellow like that can't find work,” Whipple cried, indignantly, “when the world is full of grafters and panhandlers! Brother Matthews, I am interested in those fellows, especially the oldest one. My list is full, as you know, but I can manage to find places for the right sort. Couldn't you send him to me right away? I'll be here to-night after closing time. There won't be anybody else about, and me and him can talk undisturbed. I'd like to help a chap like that. You have got me interested. The world is too full of bad men who are prospering for his sort to go unrewarded.”

“Well, I'll send him, Brother Whipple. God bless you, old man, you can always be counted on!”

That evening the merchant sat in the light of his green-shaded gas-lamp at his desk waiting for the expected caller. The outer door of the great building, which opened on the main street, was ajar, and was plainly visible to the merchant from his seat. Now, as he heard his visitor coming, he rose to his feet, pushed his desk-chair back with his ponderous calves, and stood smiling cordially. As the young man entered, politely removing his hat, Whipple grasped Walton's hand and shook it warmly.

“I'm powerfully glad to know you, Mr. Spencer,” he said, “I am, indeed. I'm told you are a newcomer to our brag town, and as I'm one of the pioneers, so to speak, I take a personal pride in the place, and I want to see everybody that drifts this way anchored here for life. It certainly is the town for fresh young blood. Even old men can make money here, and I know the young can. Set down, set down! I'm glad you ran across my long-legged jumping-jack of a preacher. He is a wheel-horse, I am here to state. If all the churches in the world were led by men of his stamp, infidelity would die of the dry rot or burn up with shame.

“I built Matthews' meeting-house, and if I hadn't found a man like him to fill the pulpit I'd have turned the blamed thing into a warehouse to store groceries in. But I found him, and he's doing mighty well—mighty well! He isn't any of your ranting trance religionists; he's practical, and, in one way, the funniest cuss you ever laid eyes on. Me and him have big times in our way. He looks after the souls of men while I sometimes help a little in patching up their bodies. He tells me that you and a friend of yours haven't made any business connection yet. My house is pretty well supplied, but this is our best season of the year, and a good man always comes in handy. You look like you've got a good head on them broad shoulders, and I want to give you a start, so if you will show up here in the morning with your friend, I'll put you to work in the office and stow him away somewhere.”

“You are very, very kind, Mr. Whipple,” Fred said, a gratified flush on his face; “but you have had no recommendation of me, and—”

“I don't want none,” the merchant said, firmly. “You see, I've already heard about you. Long before me and you met you had cast your bread on the water, and it has already come back. I've heard about you. Anybody these days can bring a scrap of paper with indorsements scribbled on it, but the best recommendation is the sort that crawls along ahead of a fellow. Yes, I've heard about you, and, to be plain, that's why I sent for you. Even if I didn't have no opening right now, it would pay me to rub against men that—well, that believe like you do and act like you have acted.”

“I suppose you mean”—Walton was quite embarrassed now—“I suppose Mr. Matthews has been speaking of what my friend told him of our ups-and-downs together; but really I couldn't let that sort of thing stand as an indorsement of me, Mr. Whipple. Dick is young and enthusiastic. It seems that he has never had a close friend before, and he naturally exaggerates my—”

“Say, look here,” the merchant broke in, with a smile, “you really don't know how funny that sounds. In this day and time, when a man in my position has to set and listen to folks spout for the hour about how good and worthy they are, why—well, to see a chap actually denying the favorable things which have been said behind his back is a downright curiosity. Why, the very fact that you are talking this way shows plain enough what you are. Along with what I've picked up about you and the—the general look of you, now that you are at close range—why, if you was to lay down a whole batch of written recommendations I'd chuck 'em in that stove. I'm a judge of human faces and of men, and I know you mean well, and that is all I ask.”

“It is very good of you, Mr. Whipple,” Walton said, his glance on the floor. “I feel like we could get on together. I know I'd do my best to please you.”

“Well, then, there is nothing more to be said,” old Whipple answered. “Bring that boy in to-morrow morning, and we'll make some sort o' a start.”

Fred sat silent. He took a deep breath and raised his eyes to the genial face in the green light. “I must be frank and open with a man as generous as you are, Mr. Whipple. If I am to work here we ought to understand each other thoroughly. There are some things which you must know about me, or I cannot consent to enter your employment, for it would be deceiving you.”

“Oh, that's it!” Whipple said, awkwardly. “Still, you mustn't feel that I am requiring any explanations of—of a private nature, for I am not.”

“You ought to know more than you do know about me, at all events,” Walton went on. “I'd feel better if nothing at all was hidden from your knowledge. I haven't lived right, Mr. Whipple. I went wrong—frightfully wrong. I got in debt—it is worse than that. I misappropriated a considerable sum of money belonging to my father. He is a stern, hard man, and demanded as much of me as he would have done of a stranger. I left home to escape arrest. You may think I ought to have submitted to the law. I simply couldn't, for I felt that my father, when his passion cooled, would regret his step, and, moreover, I felt that, with my freedom, I could apply myself and eventually restore the loss.”

“Merciful Father!” Whipple exclaimed, fervently. “Lord have mercy! To think of a man blessed with a son holding the law over his repentant head and chasing him from spot to spot over God's green earth! The child he brought into the world and saw cooing in the cradle, a little, tiny sprout of his own flesh and blood, made in the image of the Lord God of Hosts! My boy,” the old man leaned forward, “shake hands with me. I've often wanted to help young men in my stormy life, but, God knows, I never felt the desire as strong as I do now. Just in this little talk I've been drawn more closely to you than I ever was to a human being before. You are the right sort, the genuine thing; if I was to turn you adrift, I'd never get over it. I had a boy once, and I doted on him. He died when he was a little toddling fellow, and since then I have never been consoled. But his loss, and the memory of him, has warmed my heart to young men wherever I meet them. You must come to me, my boy. I feel sure we'll pull together. In fact, I'd want you at hand, for I'd grieve to see you falter in your noble undertaking. God will bless your effort as sure as the stars are shining up there in the heavens to-night.”

“I haven't told you quite all yet,” Walton added, in a low tone. “To protect myself, I took another name. My real name is—”

“Stop! Don't tell me. That won't make one bit of difference to me,” Whipple answered, with a sigh, as if he were thinking more of the young man's former revelations than the one just made. “No doubt it is best. You say you have determined to make good the loss, and if bearing another name will help you out, then it can't be wrong. Go ahead, I'll be your friend; I'll stick to you. I'm glad we came together to-night. It makes me feel better. I've seen many sorts of human struggles, but I never saw one that touched me down deep like yours does. Wait, let me lock up, and I'll walk along a piece with you.”

Outside, after he had closed the heavy door, the merchant put his hand on the arm of his companion, and they moved on down the street together. Suddenly they paused. Whipple swept his fat hand in a slow gesture toward the skies.

“My boy,” he said, fervently, “this is a wonderful, wonderful old world. Life seems hard and harsh at times, but when the soul is right a man can conquer anything. I have my fight to make; you have yours—stick to it, and may the Lord be with you! Goodnight.”. .



OLD Stafford had changed wonderfully in the six years which passed after Fred Walton's flight. The building of President Galt's trunk-line to the sea had marked the turning-point in the town's career. The older portion of the place remained quite as it was, but new suburbs and new centres of commerce had sprung up beyond the old incorporated limits. Where farms, fields, and pastures had once been, now lay even, well-graded, and electric-lighted streets. No small city in the South had a better freight-rate to all points, and this had brought about the establishment of various manufacturing enterprises which had greatly increased the population. The clang and clatter of new growth was in the air; speculation in building-sites was rife. The modest price of one day was the jest of the next. Owning a great deal of the land along the new railway, General Sylvester was now more wealthy than ever, and the new interest in life had given him back his youth and health.

As for Kenneth Galt, he had scarcely spent a day in the town of his birth since his hurried journey to New York to meet the capitalists whose co-operation had made the road a certainty. His explanation to Sylvester was that other points on the long line constantly demanded his attention. His old home was still cared for by Mrs. Wilson as housekeeper and John Dilk as gardener, and now and then a false report had emanated from these proud and worshipful menials that the distinguished owner was coming back to reside there permanently. Indeed, he had promised General Sylvester to do so time after time, only to make more delays and more excuses.

“He's coming this time sure,” the old soldier said to his nephew on the veranda one day in the early part of the present summer. “I had a letter from him this morning, in which he promised to come and spend the hot weather here and take a good long rest. Mrs. Wilson said, also, that he had written her about renovating his rooms, so I reckon it is settled. And when he comes you will see that I was right about my prophecy concerning him and Madge. He's a woman-hater, they say—won't have a thing to do with society; and, quiet and reserved as your sister is, the two will naturally drift together. I'll be glad to have him back. That shady old place, with its early associations, will fairly make him over. When I spent that week with him in Savannah I naturally expected to find him at the top of the social heap, but he went nowhere at all, and even seemed to shun the men who extended courtesies to him. He's had too big a load on him; his face shows wrinkles, and his hair is turning at the temples.”

“Yes, he is a strange chap,” Dearing answered. “I have been thrown with him in Atlanta several times of late, and while he really seemed glad to see me, and was cordial enough, in a way, I couldn't exactly make him out. As usual, I found him moping over his favorite books, and every bit as anxious, as of old, to prove that the grave ends everything. That will ruin any man, Uncle Tom. When a fellow actually gets to fighting the belief that we are more than sticks and stones he can't rise very high in any spiritual sense. Why, Kenneth has even reached the point of defending some of the lowest things that men do. He and I were walking away out in the outskirts of the city one night. He had asked me to go, because he wanted to avoid some clubmen who were bent on having him preside at a banquet given by the Chamber of Commerce. We were all alone, and it was dark. He had asked me, I remember, if any news had come as to the whereabouts of Fred Walton, and I had told him that nothing at all had been heard except that his father had cut him off forever. To my astonishment, Kenneth actually sighed. Then I distinctly heard him muttering to himself: 'Poor fellow. Poor chap! He's been treated like a dog!”' “Huh, the idea!” Sylvester broke in. “Well, that's like Kenneth. He is always ready to take up for somebody or something that no one else believes in.”

“Well, feeling as I did, and knowing what I do of the case,” Dearing continued, warmly, “I couldn't hold my tongue. I didn't leave a grain of sand for Fred Walton to stand on, and it made me hot for Galt not to agree with me. He made some weak remark about men obeying natural laws, and being cursed with uncontrollable passions, and the like; but I flatter myself that I silenced him. I gave him a picture of that beautiful girl's isolated life with her son and old mother, wholly ostracized in the only community they had ever known or loved. I saw, then, that I had touched his sympathies in another direction.

“'You think,' he said, 'that Walton ought, even now, to go back and marry her—at this late date?

“I told him that I had grave doubts as to whether a woman who had suffered as she had at a man's hands would ever want to see her betrayer again, and he answered that he felt sure she wouldn't. Then he asked about the boy. You know, he was always fond of children—that is one redeeming quality he has, and it makes me hope that he isn't so heartless as he would have us believe. He listened attentively to all I said about Lionel, even asking me questions as to how the child looked and how he amused himself. When I told him that the little fellow was completely cut off from other children, and that his association only with his mother and grandmother had made him act and speak more like an older person than a child, he seemed actually shocked.”

“'You don't mean to tell me,' he said, 'that the people of old Stafford would turn against a helpless child because of any fault or mistake of its parents!'

“I explained to him that it was mostly due to the pride of his mother, and to the natural fear that such an intelligent boy, and one so sensitive and observant as he is, might learn of his misfortune and suffer from it. That conversation raised Kenneth Galt in my estimation, Uncle Tom. I know now that he has true feeling and sympathy for the unfortunate, and that his ambition is not all there is to him.”

“I must confess that the child has greatly interested me,” the General said. “From my window I can see him playing in that narrow yard, always dressed neatly, and as strong and straight as an Indian in his bearing. I have never seen him outside the fence. I have stopped to speak to him once or twice in passing, and have been actually charmed by his face and manner. I don't think I ever heard of a case exactly like his. Of course, there have been thousands of children born like that in straitlaced communities, but I never heard of one being brought up in that prison-like way. It surely is wrong, and it will make the truth all the harder to bear when it does come out, as it must sooner or later. She is a wonderful woman—I started to say girl, for she seems almost like a child to me with that sad, young face, and wistful, artistic beauty. I have met her mother on the street a few times, her old face thickly veiled, but I have not seen Dora or the child away from the cottage.”

“As their family doctor,” said Dearing, “I urged Dora to go out herself for exercise and to take the boy with her. At first she flatly refused. I frightened her, however, by saying that the constant confinement would injure Lionel's health. Since then she has taken him with her in fine weather when she goes sketching in the woods and swamp back of the cottage, but she is as shy as a fawn about it. I venture to say that no one has ever met her on those excursions. I've seen mother-love, Uncle Tom, in all its phases. I've met it at the death-beds of scores of children, but the love between that unfortunate mother and child is the prettiest thing on earth. No pair of lovers were ever more constant and affectionate. Lionel is really a sort of psychological oddity in his way. I have a theory that the mother's morbid suffering was in some prenatal way stamped on her offspring.' He is queerly supersensitive for one so young, and seems constantly afraid that he won't be liked. He is rather fond of me—perhaps it is because I'm the only visitor at the house; and when I take him in my lap to hold him, I can see that he enjoys it as if it were an unusual luxury. He closes his eyes sometimes and smiles, and says he wants to go to sleep that way. Then he will ask me over and over again if I love him. After being told that I do, he will detect some slight change in my face or voice and cry out, 'Now, you don't like me—do you?' I am not sentimental, Uncle Tom, but that little chap's condition has worried me a lot. I pity him as I've never pitied a human being before.”

“I have often wondered whether Madge has taken notice of him,” General Sylvester remarked, reflectively. “A woman is hard to read on the surface, and while Madge never mentions Fred Walton's name any more than if he were dead, I've been afraid that the mere sight of his child might keep the old memory alive. Do you know, my son, a woman will condone exactly that failing in a man more quickly than any other? I suppose they lay most of the blame on the woman in the case. A high-strung creature like your sister wouldn't for a moment consider herself a rival of a fallen woman, and it may be that the explanation of her never having shown interest in other men is that—”

“That she still cares for the rascal?” Dearing broke in, his face darkening.

“Yes, and that she still clings to some sort of faith in his constancy,” the General added. “You can't crush love in a woman's heart so long as she believes she is loved by a man who is longing for her and is kept away by adverse circumstances. You see, if our dear girl attributes Walton's predicament to a simple act of low, impulsive passion, and believes that he loved her, and her alone, in a pure way, why—”

“I see, I see, and I am afraid you may be right,” Dearing said, bitterly. “And instead of curing her, the scoundrel's absence is only making the thing worse. Did you tell her about Kenneth's coming?”

“Yes, only an hour ago, and it seemed to me that she was rather pleased. She remarked that she was glad John Dilk had kept up the place so well, and that the flowers would gratify him. I really fancied that she was more pleased by the news than she was willing to show, for she changed the subject by offering to play for me.”

At this juncture a woman came round the house hurriedly, wiping her red, bare arms, and trying to adjust the damp dress she wore. It was Mrs. Chumley, the washerwoman. Her tawny hair was disarranged, and her fat, freckled face flushed with an excitement that was almost pleasurable.

“Oh, here you are, Doctor Wynn!” she panted. “I hain't been told to come; in fact, them highfalutin' neighbors of mine never let a body know anything they can get out of. But Mrs. Barry is having another of her falling spells. She was on the side porch brushing little Lionel's head when I heard her cry out to Dora for help, and then she struck the floor of the kitchen with a thump you could have heard up here if you'd been listening.”

“Well, I'll run down,” Dearing said to his uncle. “It may not be very serious. She is subject to such attacks.”


HURRYING down through the grounds, and vaulting over the low boundary fence, Dearing approached the gate of the Barry cottage just as Dora came out. Pretty as she had been in girlhood, she was rarely beautiful as a fully developed woman. And to-day, as ever, Dearing stood before her in absolute awe of her rare, exquisite, and appealing personality.

“She's had another attack, Wynn!” Dora said, with a brave effort to steady her faltering voice. “I really thought she was dying, and I suppose I screamed. She looked so bad for a few moments! Her face turned purple, and she lost consciousness. She came to herself a moment ago, and is still awake. Will you see her?”

He went to the sick woman's room on tiptoe. Seated in a chair at the head of the bed, and waving a palm-leaf fan to and fro, to keep the flies from his grandmother's face, was Lionel, his great, serious eyes, so like his mother's, filled with anxiety. He rose as Dearing entered, and moved round to the other side of the bed, but he still waved the fan and stood staring anxiously.

“I thought I was gone that time, Doctor Wynn,” Mrs. Barry said, with a wan smile, as he took her hand to test her pulse.

“Well, you certainly are far from it now,” he laughed, reassuringly. “I believe it would take a regiment of soldiers to put you out of business. That was only a fainting spell brought on by too close confinement to the house. You must get out more; that's all you need. Now, take a good nap and you will be all right.” He nodded and smiled reassuringly at Dora, who stood at the foot of the bed. She followed him from the room, seeing that he wished to speak to her.

“She is all right now,” he told her. “She is doing very well. It is only a sluggish liver, due to lack of exercise. Let her sleep as long as she will now, and I'll send you a tonic which will brace her up. There is nothing really to fear. She has a splendid constitution in all other respects.”

Dora sank into a chair as if utterly overcome with relief, and he stood looking at her in blended admiration and sympathy.

Aside from her beauty of face and form, there was a ripeness of intellect and character in her face, which had come to her from the years of isolated suffering which she had undergone.

“You are so kind to me, Wynn,” she said, with a faint, sad smile. “You have always been the best friend we ever had.”

“Why, what are you talking about?” Dearing said, lightly and with a flush. “Any other jack-leg country doctor would have taken care of you fully as well.”

“You have done hundreds of thoughtful things,” she cried. “You have left nothing undone that could possibly help us. Oh, you are too good! You haven't allowed my poor mother to pay you one penny for your services in all these years. She has tried and tried to make you take it till she has almost given up in despair.”

“I haven't done anything really worth while, Dora,” he said, lightly. “You see, you live right at hand, too, and it is no trouble at all to jump over your fence and mine. I couldn't take money from a next-door neighbor under those circumstances. You just wait until you really need a doctor, and then I'll send in a bill as long as my arm.”

“You can't help being good,” Dora said, feelingly, her wonderful violet eyes filling. “Your great heart simply went out to us in our trouble, and you have determined to help us in every way possible. Mother thinks all the world of you, and Lionel actually believes you are some sort of god.”

“Well, he's badly fooled, I tell you!” Dearing laughed. “But speaking of him, I must lecture you good and hard. You are not treating the child at all right. He oughtn't to be cooped up here in this little yard like he is. It is too small. A growing boy like that needs room, and plenty of it.”

“Oh, you don't understand!” Dora sighed, while a look of deepest pain tortured her mobile face. “I couldn't bear to have him running around a neighborhood as—as heartless as this one is. He is so observant, and has such an inquiring mind, and people are so—so cruel, so utterly unforgiving. But you are trying to change the subject. You think I have no money with which to pay a doctor's bill.” She laughed suddenly and mysteriously as she went on: “I believe I'll let you into a secret. I'll show you something. Come into the parlor.”

She led him, with graceful step and bearing, through the little central passage of the cottage to the parlor door, and they entered together. She laughed like a merry child; it was the sweet, rippling laugh he remembered so well as belonging to his youth and hers, as she pointed to the easel before a window. On it was a good water-color picture of a child at play on the grass near a stream, with a pastoral scene sketched in the background.

“Oh,” he exclaimed, admiringly, “that's the best you've shown me! It is very, very good.”

“That's only one of many,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “I wanted something to occupy my mind after I gave up music, and I began these studies merely as an experiment. I worked for a year while Lionel was a baby just to—you know, Wynn—just to forget!” He was silent, being unable to formulate any reply that was appropriate to the delicate situation, and she went on simply, and still in the winsome tone which had always appealed to him so strongly.

“Then—now comes the best part—one day I happened to read the advertisement of an Atlanta dealer who was in need of such things, and I forwarded some sketches I had done. They were bad—oh, so bad—and he wrote that he would not offer them to his customers, but he encouraged me to keep on. Then I worked harder, and finally I sent him some pictures of children—little pickaninnies, brown as chestnuts, little white ragamuffins, babies in old-fashioned, crude, box-cradles like the mountain people have, and he sold them. Think of that! He actually sold them! I have not signed any of them. He has written me several times begging that I should do so, but I have always refused. He has agreed not to use my name at all, and I believe he has kept his word. The whole thing has made me—almost happy. Wynn, I saw your face after your first successful operation, and didn't understand then what it meant to you, but I do now. The day that dealer's letter came, and his money followed by express, in a big wax-sealed envelope—well, it was the happiest moment of my life-I sang; I talked to myself; I danced. I told Baby all about it as I hugged him in my arms. I had, as they say, discovered myself. Here I was, cut off from intercourse with everybody in my home town, but God hadn't wholly forsaken me. He had given me something to make up for what I'd lost—a way of speaking to the big outer world.”

“I see, and I congratulate you with all my heart,” Dearing said, as he stood watching the shifting tones in her expressive face. “I understand you better now. I got in the habit of listening for your piano at night, when everything was still, and I fancied I could read your various moods. A long time ago you played too sadly; really it used to get next to me, and make me worry about you; but of late there has been more hope and cheerfulness in your music, and it did me a lot of good. I understand you better now. I have always thought that creative work was the most satisfying and uplifting occupation possible, and now I am sure of it.”

“And I am getting better and better prices, too,” Dora said, modestly. “My agent sends my things everywhere, even to far-off New York and Boston. I don't do them so fast now, for I try harder and I think they are better. Now, you will send me your bill, won't you?”

“I shall certainly be hoping that somebody will get really sick under this roof,” he laughed, evasively, “for I'd like to get a whack at your roll of cash, but so far my dealings have been only with your mother, and she doesn't make it interesting. She was good to me when I was a boy. I used to crawl over the back fence when she was making jelly and jam in the kitchen, and I collected some fees then that did me more good than any I have since received. She performed the first surgical operation on me, too, that I ever had. I was barefoot, and while trying to hide from some other boys I stuck a rusty nail through my big toe. She heard me yelling and came to my assistance. She extracted the nail, washed out my wound, filled it with turpentine—the only household antiseptic used in that day—and bound it up for me. I have always believed that she saved me from lockjaw.”

“The opportunity to earn money means more to me than you might think, Wynn,” she said, her eyes lighting up. “Do you know what my dream of dreams is? It is to be able to go to Paris, and take Lionel and my mother. She has always wanted to go, because papa was buried there. Do you know, I feel that away off in a free, art-loving country like France I could rear my child to manhood without his ever knowing about his—his history. It seems to me that God has given me this talent for that particular purpose. The only trouble is the delay. You see, it may be years before I can save enough, and then it might be too late.”

“I see, I understand,” Dearing said, gravely; “and you'd never come back to old Stafford again, I suppose?”

“Oh no,” she answered; “all this would have to be laid aside forever.”

“I shouldn't like to see you go,” he said. “I have—you see, I have become attached to Lionel—he and I are great chums. But if you have decided, and wish it so very much, why not? Look here, Dora, I have money lying idle in the bank. I have absolutely no need for it, and—”

“Oh no!” she cried. “It is lovely of you to offer it, but I couldn't think of taking it. I couldn't—I really-couldn't!”

“Not from your big brother?” he asked, his pleading eyes on her.

“No, not even from you, you dear boy. It is my problem, Wynn, and I must work it out alone—all alone.”

They had gone back to the porch, and the sight of the extensive grounds around his house prompted him to say:

“I know now why you don't realize Lionel's need for more fresh air. You have that absorbing occupation, and it keeps you from putting yourself in the boy's place, as you might otherwise do.”

“Do you think so?” she asked, quite gravely. “It may be true, Wynn, and yet what am I to do? I really can't bear to have him running about, meeting other children. I could never answer his questions—never, never! Some one would have to watch him, and mother and I both shrink from going out in—in public.”

“I was thinking of that, too,” Dearing replied, “and that is why a certain plan occurred to me. There is that big lot of mine right over the fence. Nothing could possibly happen to him there. It is quiet, and there are many things he could amuse himself with. It is really like a little farm, you know. We have chickens, ducks, turkeys, puppies, kittens, pigs, and horses, and even a cow and a calf about the barn, to say nothing of the pigeons that nest in the hay-loft. To a child, judging by my own memory of boyhood, it would be a regular paradise.”

“You don't mean that you would allow—that you would—” There was a catch in the young mother's voice; a tinge of anxious pallor crept into her appealing face. “Oh, Wynn, you are too kind! You are thinking only of helping me. There is your uncle and your sister—I could not bear to trust my darling where he might not be—wanted.”

“I know my uncle and sister better than you do,” Dearing said. “Margaret has never seen Lionel that I know of, but she would love to make him happy. As for my uncle, he greatly admires the little fellow, and would be delighted to have him come and romp over the place to his heart's content.”

“Oh, how you tempt me!” Dora cried, covering her face with her shapely hands. “Of all things, I can think of nothing right now that I'd like better than that. I have been trying to forget Lionel's confinement in this little yard and house—trying to convince myself that he is wholly happy only with mother and me, but it is no use. It is really pitiful to think of. He has a wonderful imagination, and he sometimes sits here on the porch and tries to picture to himself what the inside of a big house like yours is. He thinks you all must be kings and princes like those in the fairy-tales we read to him. He asked me one day if we'd ever have a home like yours, and when I told him I didn't think so, he answered, 'Then God isn't so very good, after all, is He?' I tried to get him to explain what he meant, but he only shook his head and went to play in the yard.”

At this moment the boy himself came from his grandmother's room, along the passage, and out to them.

“She is still asleep,” he announced, gravely. “I drew the netting over her face, so that the flies won't wake her.”

“That's right—that's a good boy.” Dearing rested his strong hand on the golden head and looked down into the child's face, and then he laughed as he caught the boy's arm and taught him how to contract his muscles.

“You'll be able to protect yourself, young man,” he said. “You have a splendid arm and fist already. I'd hate to have those knuckles try to knock a fly off my nose and miss the fly. Say, kid, do you see that big lot of mine beyond the fence? Well, you are going to play over there from morning to night: climb the trees, build houses out of that pile of old bricks. I'm going to have a swing put up for you to the highest limb of that big oak, and I'll make you a see-saw and a flying-jinny, and you may feed my puppies and cats.”

The boy's eyes danced as he stared eagerly. Dora was looking away, her handkerchief pressed to her face.

Dearing saw a wave of emotion pass through her, but she remained silent.

“But I couldn't go over there!” Lionel sighed. “You are very kind, but my mother always wants me to stay at home.”

“She is going to let you come, because I asked it as a special favor to me,” Dearing answered. “I'm the doctor, you know, and my orders go on this ranch.”

Wonderingly, the boy leaned across his mother's lap, and put his arm around her neck.

“Is he joking, mother dear?” he inquired, and he held his breath in visible suspense. “Does he really mean that I may play over there?”

“Would you like it, darling boy?” Dora asked. There was a tremolo in her voice, and she kept her handkerchief to her eyes. The child started, looked suspiciously at Dearing, and then, leaning toward his mother, he firmly uncovered her face. He saw traces of tears, and stood erect. There was a fierce, angry flare in his eyes, his lower lip quivered, as he turned upon Dearing and blurted out:

“She is crying! What did you say to her?”

“Oh, I see!” Dearing jested. “You want to have it out with me, do you? Well, you pick your weapons, old chap, and I'll be your man. I won't take a dare from you or anybody else.”

Dora's arms enfolded her child and pressed his hot cheek passionately to hers. “Yes, I was crying, my baby,” she gulped, “but it is because I am so happy. It is very good of Doctor Wynn to ask you to go. Would you like it?”

“If you wished me to,” the boy replied, slowly, as he still uneasily studied her face.

“I should like it very much,” Dora said—“very, very much! You could have such a splendid time over there.”

“Would you love me just the same—just exactly the same—if I went?” the boy asked, anxiously.

“Just exactly the same.” Dora laughed as she caught Dearing's glance, and remarked to him, in an undertone: “He is such a strange child! Mother says she has never seen one so peculiarly sensitive and concerned over trifles. He often comes in from his play for nothing else than to ask me if I still love him. The slightest change in my manner or tone of voice always brings out that one question. It is the last thing at night and the first thing in the morning. If I am at all impatient with him, when I am absorbed in my work, he will come and sit on the floor at my feet, and nothing will satisfy him till I have taken him in my arms and said over and over again that I love him.”

“It is his nature,” Dearing said, as he was turning to leave. “Well, remember, my boy, that my gate is not locked, and if you don't come over in my big lot, I'll come and ride you there on my back, like a two-legged horse; and I might get scared and kick up my heels and dump you over on your head.”


ONE warm, fair afternoon in May, Kenneth Galt, at the earnest solicitation of General Sylvester, came home. Under big captions the Stafford papers had proudly given the particulars to the public. The great man was slightly run down from the enormous duties which had pressed upon him since the very beginning of his giant enterprise, and was to take a long and much-needed rest in the town of his birth and in the quiet old house where he had spent his boyhood. The mayor and aldermen and a brass-band had met him as he stepped from his private car at the station, and he was welcomed with spirited music and a short but ponderous speech on the part of the mayor. Then John Dilk, in a new suit of clothes and a much-worn silk top-hat, haughtily drove his master and the doting General through the streets, across the square, and on to the old Galt mansion.

The crowd which had followed the carriage from the station to the square gradually dispersed, and the two friends were alone when they alighted at the gate.

“Do you see those chairs and that table under the oaks on our lawn?” Sylvester asked, with the bubbling pride of a boy in a victorious ball game, as they were strolling up the wide moss-grown brick walk.

Galt nodded, and smiled tentatively.

“Madge is going to give us a cup of tea outdoors,” Sylvester explained. “It was her own idea. It is warm inside, and that is the shadiest, coolest spot in Stafford. The tea will refresh us. Shall we go now, or do you want to nose over the old house first?”

“I see Mrs. Wilson looking out from a window,” Galt answered. “I think I'd better go in for a moment, anyway. The good old soul is in her best bib and tucker, and might feel hurt.”

“Right you are!” the General said, approvingly. “You haven't risen too high, my boy, to think of those dependent on you. Run in and take possession, and I'll stir Madge up. A cup of tea of my particular blend will do you good after your dusty ride.”

His niece was coming across the grass as the old gentleman reached the tea-table. Her arms were full of fresh-cut roses, which she proceeded to arrange in an old-fashioned silver punch-bowl in the centre of the table.

“I suppose you heard the band and cheering?” the old man said, as he stood watching her and rubbing his thin hands together in suppressed delight.

“Oh yes,” Margaret laughed; “and from my window I saw you and your conquering hero drive up in state. Well, did he accept our invitation or shirk it, as they say he usually does with everything of the sort?”

“On the contrary, he seemed glad to be asked,” returned the General. “In fact, it looks to me like he's happy to be home again, though one can never tell. The active life of great success in any line estranges men from the simpler things. Just think of it! The fellow has lived in hotels, clubs, and that private car of his for the last six years. He has not, if I remember correctly, been once inside his old home since the night I sent him whizzing like a shot to New York. I do hope it won't become irksome to him. He needs rest and quiet badly, as you will see when he comes over. His face has a few new lines, and his eyes have a shifting, restless look which they didn't use to show. Where are you going to have him sit?” The old man was looking over the cluster of chairs and cushioned stools.

“Oh, his lordship may take his high and mighty choice!” Margaret laughed, teasingly. “Perhaps he'll unbend and sit on the grass like a school-boy. He is, after all, only flesh and blood, dear uncle, odd as the fact may seem to you.”

“Well, don't hurl that sort of thing at him,” Sylvester retorted, rather testily. “After all, a man not much over forty, who succeeds in an enterprise which belongs to the history of the land, and at the same time puts money into your pocket and mine in big lumps and rolls, does deserve consideration. Why, he has made you rich, Madge! He could have located his terminal shops and round-house at the other end of town just as well, but he put them on our land and asked no questions about the price. By George, why shouldn't we pet him a little when he has been away all these years, and has come back broken down this way?”

“Oh, well, I don't think he needs it, that's all,” the young lady said, pacifically. “A man like that is neither sugar nor salt. Only weak men want to be pampered and cajoled. Your railway magnate will take care of himself.” Her eyes were resting on the figure of a child in a big swing which Doctor Dearing had hung from the lower branch of a tall oak a few yards away. It was Dora Barry's son. He was standing on the board seat clasping the stout hemp ropes with his little hands and “pumping” himself into motion by alternately bending and straightening his lithe body. His beautiful golden hair swung loose in the breeze, there was a glow of health in his pink cheeks, and he was neatly dressed in white duck, a flowing necktie, and tan slippers and short stockings which exposed his perfect calves and trim ankles.

“Oh,” Margaret suddenly exclaimed, “I'm afraid he will fall! Wynn is always doing such absurd things; the child is not old enough to take such risks as that with no one to watch him.”

“I agree with you,” the General said, and he went to the swing and persuaded Lionel to sit down. Then he pushed him forward, and left him swinging gently.

“Just think of it!” Sylvester said, as he came back to his niece, who sat now with her glance on the grass. “Time certainly flies. That specimen of humanity has come into existence and grown to that size since Kenneth was here. I don't think he ever knew the poor girl very well before her misfortune, but he is sorry for her. I remember speaking to him of her in New York one day, and I could see that he was quite interested.”

“I think I see him coming now,” Margaret said, biting her lip. It was the way she had always avoided any conversation which touched upon the one sore spot of her life, and her uncle refrained, as he had always done, from carrying the topic further.

“Yes, he is coming,” and Sylvester stood up and waved his handkerchief. “Come and take the place of honor,” he said, picking up a downy pillow and laying it in the big chair next to Margaret's. “I am glad there never was a fence between your place and ours, for we can mix and mingle as we did when your father and I were young bloods. I've made a mistake many a night in having my horse put up in his stable after the dumb brute had brought me home from a dance in the country with more intelligence than I possessed.”

Galt laughed appreciatively as he bent over the fair hand of his hostess and received her simple and yet cordial greeting. He had admired her as a girl, and now in her ripened beauty, added grace, and dignified bearing he found nothing lacking. As he watched her deftly lighting the spirit-lamp under the swinging teakettle he recalled, with a certain sense of delectation, a hint her uncle had given him in a jesting tone and yet with a serious look.

“I may have you in my family one day, young man,” the General had said, in some talk over their common business interests, “and in that case I'll rule you with a rod of iron.”

After all, it would be nice, Galt reflected to-day, and a step of that sort might ultimately quiet the dull aching of heart which had been his for so many years. Few men had ever had to such a marked degree the pronounced yearning toward paternity as had come to the lonely bachelor since the chief mistake of his life. His love for children was more like that of a woman who has tasted and lost the joys of motherhood than that of a man of the world. He never saw a pretty child without looking at its father with a sort of envious curiosity. Was the remainder of his life to be passed without his possessing that for which he yearned more than for any other earthly thing? He had heard, of course, of the birth of Dora's child, but he had so persistently fought off the thought of it and its attendant remorse that, like many another man so situated, his sense of responsibility in the matter had become somewhat dulled.

He now ventured, during the General's jovial chatter, to glance across the lawn toward the cottage below. It was there in the starlight that he had seen the brave young girl for the last time. It was there. And he shuddered under the scourging lash of the words with which she had prophesied that he would fail to stand by her—fail to rescue her from the abyss into which he had plunged her. He shuddered again. Hero as he was in the sight of many, in Dora's eyes, at least, he could never be aught but despicable. She had gauged his weakness better than he could have done it himself. He had made a choice between honor and ambition, and he had abided by it. Other men had cast such memories to the winds of oblivion. Why had his clung to him with such damning tenacity? There was never any satisfactory answer to the question, and now and then a thought as from infinite space was hurled upon him with the force of a catapult—it was the conviction that, girl though she had been, Dora Barry's equal, in the intellectual and womanly things he admired, was not to be found among all the women he had known. What was she like now? What havoc had the tragedy and succeeding time wrought in the fair being whom he had left stranded and storm-swept on that eventful night? Under the low roof and in the tiny yard of the cottage just across the way she and his child, according to Wynn Dearing's report, had been imprisoned all those years. What a rebuke to his boundless egotism! He might remain there for years, and neither of the two would intrude themselves upon him. Oh yes, he told himself, he was safe enough on that score. She had kept her vow of secrecy so far, and would do so to the end.

At this juncture there was a rippling scream of childish delight behind him, and, turning, he saw Lionel, his face flushed, his great eyes full of excitement, as he eagerly chased a black kitten round and round a bed of rose-bushes.

“What a beautiful boy!” Galt exclaimed, beside himself in admiration. “What a perfect figure! Whose child is it?”

The question was addressed to Margaret; but she hesitated, tightened her lips, and looked down.

“Oh, it is one of our neighbor's,” the General skilfully interjected, as he leaned forward and tried ineffectually to give his guest a warning glance. “Wynn is a great hand at amusing the little ones. He thought this child needed more exercise and fresh air, and he asked his mother to let it play here.”

Galt was now watching the boy, and so intently that he only half heard what the General said and quite failed to notice that his question had embarrassed his hostess. “Catch it! Run round the other way, little man!” he cried out, leaning forward with his cup in his hand. “There! there it goes!” The child paused just an instant, and raised his appealing, long-lashed eyes to the speaker; as he did so the kitten bounded like a rabbit across the grass and up a tree a few yards away.

“Now, see what you did!” Lionel cried, disappointedly, as he stood panting, his silken tresses tossed about his face. “You let him get away. I'd have had him if you hadn't spoken. But I don't care, I can get him!” And he was off like the wind toward the tree, on a lower bough of which the kitten was perched, blandly eying his pursuer.

“You are as fond of children as ever,” the General remarked, “and it proves that your heart is in the right spot. Show me a man who has no use for little tots, and I'll show you a man who will cheat you in a transaction.”

“It certainly is a good quality,” Margaret said, as she proffered sugar for his tea. “We naturally expect it of women, but it always seems exceptional in men, especially men who have their time fully occupied.”

Sylvester laughed reminiscently.

“I've seen Kenneth stop on the street to chat with a dirty-faced newsboy when the general superintendent of his road was waving an important telegram at him; and I've seen the boy walk off with a quarter for a penny paper, too.”

“I seem to be getting my share of compliments, at any rate,” Galt laughed. “I'd call it flattery if I could accuse your hospitality of anything not wholly genuine.”

“Uncle Tom certainly means what he says,” Margaret affirmed. Her glance drifted in the direction the sporting child had taken, and she uttered a sharp, startled scream.

“Oh, he'll fall!” she cried.

Following her eyes, the others saw that Lionel, still chasing the kitten, had climbed the tree to its lower boughs ten or twelve feet from the ground, and, with the prize still above him, sat in a decidedly perilous position on a bending branch so intent on reaching the animal that he was oblivious of his danger.

“Don't be frightened, I'll get him down,” Galt assured her, with an easy laugh, and he sprang up and ran across the grass, saying, under his breath: “Plucky little scamp! He'll break his neck!”

“Come down from there!” he called out, a queer recurrence of his own childhood on him as he viewed the muscular boy and the plump, bare calves above his short stockings. He was breathing freely now, for he felt that in case of a fall he could catch the youngster in his arms.

“Oh, do let me get him!” Lionel cried, looking down appealingly, and speaking with the accent which had always impressed hearers as so quaint and odd in a child.

“No, you mustn't go a bit higher!” Galt said, assuming a youthful tone of comradery that his words might not have any semblance of command. “You are a dandy climber—almost as good as the cat, but he is lighter than you are. You'll break that limb in a minute, and down you will tumble!”

The boy looked at the bending bough and shrugged his square shoulders. “I don't know but what you are right,” he said, with a wry face. “I declare, I wasn't looking where I was going. I'm almost afraid to move now.” Then he burst into a merry laugh as he glanced first at his would-be rescuer and then up at the cat.

“Why, what is so amusing about it?” Galt questioned, fairly transported by the boy's beauty, fearlessness, and vivacity.

“Oh, I don't know, but it seems funny—you down there, me up here, and the cat above us both.”

Galt laughed till tears came into his eyes.

“You are certainly a marvel,” he said. “But you must come down. Slide carefully toward the trunk of the tree and catch hold of it firmly. You'll tear your clothes, but it is better that than—”

“I know an easier way!” the child cried. “I'll jump, and you catch me.”

“But I can't!” Galt answered. “You'd crush me to the ground, small as you are!”

“No, I wouldn't!” Lionel laughed, with thorough confidence. “Doctor Wynn caught me the other day when I jumped from the roof of the wagon-shed, and you are stronger than he is. You are taller, anyway. Look, I am coming!”

Fascinated by the child's voice and manner, and unable to protest quickly enough, Galt braced himself, fearing that the swaying child would fall. “One, two, three! Lionel counted, and the little white-clothed figure left the bough, shot through the sunlight, and alighted in Galt's outstretched arms. There was a scream from Margaret, the General stood up, a startled look on his gashed and seamed face. The child's arms went round Galt's neck; his soft, warm cheek was pressed against his, and, scarcely knowing why he did it, Galt embraced him in a veritable qualm of relief. He put the boy down, but took his hands in his and held them. He admired and loved children, but he had never been so drawn to one before.

“He's all right!” he called out, reassuringly, to the others. “He didn't get a scratch, but it's a wonder he wasn't lamed for life. He jumped before I could stop him.”

Looking into the child's sensitive face, Galt noted, with surprise and concern, that it was clouded over. “What's the matter?” he asked, anxiously. “Did you hurt yourself? Did it jar you too much?”

“No, but I'm afraid you are angry with me,” the boy answered. “Are you?”

“Well, not exactly, but, you see, my boy—” Galt checked himself, for the corners of the little fellow's mouth were drawn down and his eyes were filling.

“You are angry, and you don't like me a bit.” A sob rose in the breast of the child and struggled outward. He drew his little hands from Galt's detaining clasp and looked down. “I am very sorry; I'll never, never do it again. I was bad. You told me not to jump, but I did. I am always disobeying somebody. When Doctor Wynn told me a great, smart, rich man was coming who had built a railroad, miles and miles through the woods and under mountains and over rivers, I told him I'd be good and make you think I was a nice boy, so that you'd like me; but now, you see, I went and made you angry at the very start.”

“Well, what if I tell you this, you dear little chap,” and Galt paused and took him into his arms again; “what if I tell you that it was because I liked you very, very much that I tried to stop you? You see, I was afraid you'd get hurt, and I liked you so much that I wanted to prevent it. Will that satisfy you?”

“Oh!” Galt felt the little, warm arm steal round his neck confidently. “Then you really do like me, after all.” Galt laughed; he could hardly understand the emotion that welled up in him—he laughed that he might hide it even from himself. “I'll tell you this much,” he said: “I like nearly all little boys, but on my honor I never liked a boy, on a short acquaintance, in my life, so much as I do you. There, now, come on and get a cup of tea!”

With Lionel in his arms, he went back to the table and sat down, keeping him in his lap. There was a sensitive shadow on Margaret's features and a certain awkward look of sympathy for her on her uncle's strong face, but Galt failed to remark them.

“Does your mamma let you drink tea?” Margaret asked, gently. .

“No, I thank you,” the child answered. “She says it's too strong a stim—stim—”

“Stimulant.” Galt supplied the word with a hearty laugh of amusement. “I declare, for a child, you have the largest vocabulary—if you know what that is—that I ever ran across. By-the-way”—and he drew the boy's head down against his breast and ran his hand through the soft, scented tresses—“you haven't told me your name yet. What is it?”

“Lionel,” replied the boy.

“Well, that is pretty enough so far as it goes, but what else?”

“What do you mean by 'what else'?” The child had hold of Galt's disengaged hand, and was toying with it as if admiring its strength and size, and he paused to look up into the dark face bending over him.

“Why, I mean, what is your full name?” Galt said, smiling into the rather grave faces about him.

“Lionel—just Lionel, that's all,” the child said, and he raised Galt's hand in both of his own and pressed it. “Most people have two names, but I've never had but one. I don't know why. Do you? I asked my mother about it one day when Mrs. Chumley was talking mean to her about me, and mamma went off to her room and cried. Grandmother told me never to speak of it to her again. My mother has two names—Dora Barry.”

Kenneth Galt felt as though his soul had suddenly died within him. The bonny head of his own child lay on his breast, its throbbing warmth striking through to his pulseless heart. Margaret sat rigid and speechless, and General Sylvester, in his desire to shield her, began chattering irrelevantly.

The long shadows of the descending sun crawled across the grass toward the hill in the east. The golden head remained where it lay, the tiny and yet vigorous fingers twined themselves about the larger inanimate ones. The eyelids over the boy's big, dreamy orbs wavered and drooped. He was tired and sleepy. He heaved a long, fragrant sigh and nestled more snugly into the arms that held him. A great, voiceless yearning born of the long-buried paternal instinct fired the dry tinder—the driftwood of years of misguided loneliness—in the man's being. A great light seemed to burst and blaze above him. He sat with his gaze on the old man's face, but in fancy he felt himself kissing the parted lips of that marvel of creation—Dora's child and his.


SIX years had wrought a wonderful change in Gate City. It had increased in size and importance. Stephen Whipple was still the only wholesale grocer of the place, and Fred Walton had become his chief assistant. He was known to be the old man's special favorite, and was living on the footing of a son in the Whipple household.

On the day that Kenneth Galt had returned to Stafford, Fred and his employer were seated in the old man's private office. Whipple had opened his heart to him in regard to a certain financial development which had gone against his interests. The old grocer's pride had been wounded as it had never been wounded before. Since the starting of the business he had been specially proud of the fact that he had been able to supply the retail dealers of Gate City with the groceries consumed by their customers as cheaply as any of the far-off markets could do, even with the freight cost added.

But in competing with his rivals for the patronage of the town, an ambitious retail dealer—a certain J. B. Thorp—to cut at Whipple, who had refused him further credit, owing to Thorp's unwillingness to meet his bills when due, began to advertise that the reason he could undersell his rivals was that he didn't stop at home to buy his supplies. This had evoked a sharp retort in “a card” in the town papers from the offended Whipple, and it had brought out further and more sarcastic allusions from Thorp. He said that it was as plain as the nose on anybody's face that a man could not have waxed so rich as the money king of Gate City had done except at the expense of the public, and he scored a commercial triumph by giving therewith a list of his retail prices for that day, which, on staple wares at least, were really as low as Whipple's salesmen could give their customers at wholesale.

The publicity of the whole thing had a bad effect on the old man's clientèle. The shrewd retailer chuckled with gratified revenge as he saw the public fairly streaming his way. The stores which were being supplied by Whipple were absolutely inactive. The clerks stood on the sidewalk ruefully regarding the human current, and, by way of amusement, laying wagers on the outgoings of Thorp's loaded delivery wagons, each of which now bore an American flag, with a motto in big black letters: “Live and Let Live! Down with the Money God of Gate City!”

Whipple's salesmen made their usual rounds among his patrons, only to meet with utter stagnation on every hand, and returned with long faces to report few if any sales. Consumers, quick to secure even an ephemeral advantage, were easily convinced that Thorp was working for their interests, and they stood by him.

“Oh, I reckon we can make shift some way, my boy,” the old man sighed; “for our business out of town is widening and growing; but in all my life I never was hit under the belt as bad as this, for I did want to hold my own here at home. And to think that I am done, and done good, by that measly Thorp, simply because we pinned down on him and forced him to pay up. It hurts like salt rubbed in a sore to be treated this way, after all I've done for the town. The boys say our best customers are paying more money than we ask right now in the Eastern markets in the effort to counteract Thorp's trickery. Do you know, I'd draw my check this minute for ten thousand round dollars and pay it to anybody who will show me a way to crush that sneaking scamp. Put the boys on their mettle, Fred; tell 'em I said fresh ideas are better than stale ones, and the man that helps me out of this tight hole will be well paid for his trouble.”

“I was hoping that it would die out in a few days,” said Walton, “but it has only grown worse. Thorp has got the upper hand, and the more we fight him the bigger advertisement he gets out of it. Johnston and Wells say they can't possibly make the payment they promised this month, owing to the big slump in their sales.”

“Well, I didn't expect it!” Whipple groaned, his head resting on his fat hand. “And the trouble is, the thing may drive many of our customers clean to the wall. Thorp would sell groceries for no profit at all for twelve months to swamp the others. The public are getting low prices, the Lord knows, but it means the ruin of regular trade and the desperation of good, energetic business men. Look here, Fred, we must down that rascal, I tell you. Start the boys to thinking. Surely among us we can turn up some plan or other.”

“I'll do what I can, Mr. Whipple,” Walton promised, as he stood up and opened the door for the old man, who had desperately snatched his hat from its hook on the wall and was ponderously striding out.

When he had left the store, Fred called Dick Warren to him from his high stool in the counting-room. With his increased years and regular life Dick had vastly improved in appearance. He hadn't risen so rapidly as his friend, but he was a capable bookkeeper, a fine salesman, and a steady, accurate worker, who earned a good salary.

“This thing has hit the old man hard, Dick,” Walton said.

“Anybody can see it by the way he walks with his head down like that,” Dick returned. “The house can stand it, of course, with all its out-of-town support, but Gate City trade was the old man's pet, and I'll be blamed if it doesn't look like he'll never get any more of it. It actually gives a store a black eye to have any of our brands on sale. Jim Wilson said just now that he'd take a keg of our soda if we'd scrape our name off of it. I gave him a piece of my mind, but he said we were looking to our interests and he was looking to his. I had no idea the people of this town could be such blasted fools!” and, considerably disgruntled, Dick went back to his post.

Several days passed. The situation was no better. Thorp had induced one of the railroads to build a sidetrack from the main line to a platform in the rear of his store, and Eastern goods were being unloaded in wholesale quantities right on the premises. He was also advertising for a vacant house in which to accommodate the overflow of his business. The only available one on the street belonged to Whipple, and that, of course, he couldn't rent at any price.

Among those most concerned, though rather indirectly, was the Rev. Luke Matthews. He was seeing his rich patron in a new light, for, now that he was in trouble, old Whipple had less time to devote to the uplifting of humanity, either spiritually or materially, and he often denied himself to the minister's frequent calls.

“Just wait till I get my head above water,” Whipple said once, when Matthews clutched his arm and essayed to speak of a matter concerning the church. “I reckon I'm worldly minded, Brother Matthews, but a man has to be tainted that way to fight worldly matters. Right now I am as full of Old Nick as I ever was in my worst days. I know it; I feel it; but, by gum! I am not ashamed. Day and night prayers wouldn't move a rascally skunk like Thorp. He was my friend as long as he could suck my blood, and now he is my worst enemy because I wouldn't let him.”

As the weeks passed, matters only grew worse for the wholesale store. Its town customers dropped off till local business amounted to nothing at all. One morning the merchant walked the full length of the main street. He went up one side to the court-house at the far end, and then slowly returned on the other side. On the way he met Matthews, who told him something he had not heard, and he walked on, now more slowly than ever. As he was passing through the counting-room on his way to his private office he paused between the stools on which Fred and Dick were seated. His face was ashen in color, his lower lip was quivering like that of a weeping child.

“What do you think is in the wind now, boys?” he gulped, as he placed an unsteady hand on Fred's shoulder.

“I have no idea,” Fred answered.

“All the balance have combined,” Whipple groaned.

“Who?—what?—how combined?” Fred asked, wondering if his old friend was not actually losing his reason.

“Why, all the other retailers have formed a pool to beat Thorp, and in doing it they have knifed me. They have formed a combine to buy their stuff in St. Louis and New York in order to get car-load rates. They had a caucus last night in the rear end of Thompson & White's shebang, and the last one signed up. They don't buy a thing from us—the man who spends a nickel at this house loses his membership. They are a lot of sneaking curs, to pull me down and stamp on me just because that scamp's upset business, but they done it. The thing will spread all over the State, and I'll be laughed at as a doddering old idiot. Folks like nothing better than to see a successful man get it in the neck.

“As I passed along the street just now they slunk away from their doors, so I couldn't see 'em laugh. They call themselves 'wholesale men' now, and say they are going to oust me and Thorp both—make us count cross-ties out of town. I've had insults in my time, but being yoked with that skunk is a dose I can't swallow. I'm beat, and beat bad. If there was a loophole to crawl out at—if I could take one single step to defend myself—I'd give away half I've accumulated to be able to do it. My money paid for two-thirds of the Belgian-block pavement around the park; I gave more than half that was subscribed to the girls' school-building, and paid, entire, for the wall round the graveyard, to say nothing of what I put in the fire company, and new engines at the gas-works. I done those things, boys, for the town they live in, and yet they can drag my name in the mire and throw mud and slime on me.”

He turned suddenly and left them, striding on to his desk in the adjoining room.

“Poor old fellow!” Dick said. “Nothing on earth could have cut his pride more.”

“If he could only hit back in some substantial way,” Walton reflected, aloud. “Think of some plan, Dick.”

“Think of nothing!” the younger man said, gloomily. “Of all things on earth, I never could have dreamt of those fellows combining that way.”

A moment later a postman came in with a bundle of letters and handed them to Fred.

“Looks like they are getting you fellows in the nine hole at last,” he said, with a laugh. “Every grocer on the street is putting out a big sign. One of them has got a picture of the old man with a handkerchief to his eyes standing in a store without a single customer, while all the crowd is headed for another place.”

“Oh, we'll have to wait and see,” Fred retorted, angrily. “I must give these letters to Mr. Whipple.”

As he went in the old man's office, he found the grocer pacing up and down, his hat in his hand, his brow dark with passion. He waved the letters from him.

“Open 'em yourself,” he said. “I'm going home. I feel like a candidate on election night who didn't get a vote in his own precinct. I don't intend to stay down here where everybody can pick at me. I heard what that whelp said to you and Dick. They are all gloating over me like buzzards over a dead ox. When you come up to supper, bring the night mail with you.”

He strode from the room, and Fred heard his despondent step on the resounding floor all the way to the rear door of the long house.

Fred worked over his books and out-of-town orders till near sunset; then he took down his coat and hat.

“It might work,” he mused. “At any rate, there can be no harm in asking him about it.” He went out, and, turning into a quiet side-street, he walked up to the comfortable home of his employer, which stood on a slight elevation among the best houses of the place.

It occupied a small lot, as did its neighbors, and there were no grass or flowers about it. It was built of yellow bricks, and had a porch in front, against which, on a lattice, some vines were growing.

As he entered the gate an elderly woman approached the front door and stood waiting for him. It was Stephen Whipple's wife, a gaunt woman in a simple black dress without ornament, and wearing her iron-gray hair brushed smoothly over her brow.

“You are earlier than usual,” she said. “I hope you have good news. I don't think he can stand it much longer. I have never seen him so much troubled in my life. His pride is cut to the quick. He has always thought he could cope with trickery in any form, and being helpless this way under the taunts of those men is fairly killing him. If he was thoroughly at himself he might hold his own, but he is getting old, and being mad this way really keeps him from using his best judgment.”

“No, nothing has turned up yet,” Fred told her; “but I thought I'd speak to him before supper.”

“Well, he'll be glad to see you, anyway,” the woman said, plaintively. “He thinks a lot of you, Fred—in fact, we both do. He has often said he blesses the day you came to him. He is lying down on the lounge in your room. Some of the neighbors were in just now chattering about the thing, and he slipped up there to keep from hearing what was said.”

Fred found his employer stretched out at full length on a lounge in the big, light room which he had occupied for over two years.

“Oh,” Whipple said, “it's you! Well, has anything turned up—I mean—but I know nothing has. Nothing can succeed against a gang of plotting, ungrateful dogs like they are. I've boosted 'em up through every panic and hard spell that come, keeping some of 'em afloat when they didn't have a dollar in their pockets, and now they not only knife me, but they make a public joke of it.”

“Mr. Whipple, I've been trying to think of some way to—”

“Oh, you have? Well, spit it out!—spit it out!” And the merchant suddenly threw his feet around and sat up, clutching the edge of the lounge with his big hands, while he stared anxiously from dilating eyes that were all but bloodshot.

“Of course, I hesitate to—” Fred began modestly, but was interrupted by Whipple.

“Hesitate!—hesitate the devil! It is always that way with you, although you've got the safest, soundest judgment of any young man in the West. You hesitated to tell me you thought San Antonio would be a good place to put an agent, and it has proved the biggest opening we ever had. You hesitated before advising me against that Eastern salt company that had been sucking my blood for years before you came and smelt out their thievery. You hesitated to—but, darn it, quit hesitating! This is no time to hesitate; we are in a dirty fight, and twenty yellow dogs are on top of us gnawing the meat from our bones.”

“Well, I've been thinking over it all, Mr. Whipple—” Fred was slightly flushed—“and there is only one way I can see to make any move at all; but that really does seem to me to offer some chance of—”

“Move? What is it? For God's sake, what is it?”

“Why, you know you own the large retail store building which was vacated when Stimpson Brothers gave up, and you have not found a suitable tenant, there being no one but Thorp who wants it. It is in the very heart of the retail section, and the best-furnished building in town, with the best show-windows, and—”

“Yes, yes; but what of that?” Whipple burst out, impatiently. “I don't care a snap for the rent of a mere house when I am being literally choked to death by a mob of devils.”

“It wasn't that,” Walton said; “but there are hundreds of your personal friends in town who would gladly buy their home supplies from you if you would only accommodate them. There are many first-class wholesale houses which conduct retail stores in the towns they are in, and, you know, none of them ever had a better reason for doing it than you now have. It wouldn't hurt your trade out of town a bit, for your customers are not concerned in this fight; and a big, first-class, up-to-date retail store in the centre of town, supplied from our stock, would—”

Whipple sprang up. His eyes were dancing with delight. He leaned over Walton and put his hands on his shoulders.

“Great God, why didn't I think of that?” he chuckled. “My boy, you are a dandy!—you are a wheel-horse! It will work like a charm. The thing advertises itself. We'll make 'em quake in their socks. They will laugh on the other sides of their faces now. And the beauty of it is, we can flaunt the thing on the public ten days before they can receive their first shipment; we'll bill the town in the morning, and cover the front of the new store with black letters. Whoopee! whoopee!” And in his heavy boots old Whipple actually executed a clumsy clog-dance. “And we'll let Dick manage it,” he went on, as he paused panting. “That sort of promotion would be a feather in his cap. As for you, you've got to pilot the big ship, my boy. A head like yours needs big things to deal with. Lord, I see Thorp's face now, and, as for that other gang of cutthroats, they will actually die of dry rot!”

Whipple gave another whoop, and shuffled his feet thunderously.

“What is the matter up there?” It was Mrs. Whipple's astonished voice from below.

“Matter nothing!” her husband replied, as he leaned over the balustrade in the corridor and looked down. “Put the best supper you can rake up on the table. Kill the fatted calf, and don the royal purple! Me and this boy is going to celebrate. He has saved the ship! Get out a bottle of that grape wine, and let joy be unconfined. We're in the fight to stay now, and we're going to have a feast—a regular war-feast!”


ABOUT ten days after the happenings recorded in the foregoing chapter old Simon Walton sat alone in his office. A typewriter was clicking in the counting-room adjoining, its sound deadened by the closed door and thin partition through which it passed. With noiseless tread Toby Lassiter, now older, more careworn, more machine-like than ever, entered and laid a bulky express envelope before his employer.

“What is this?” the banker asked, as he examined the heavy wax seals and reached for his paper-knife.

“I don't know, sir; it came just now,” and Toby silently withdrew.

Walton clipped the twine, pried under the seals, and tore open the thick paper. It contained money. Six five-hundred-dollar bills were drawn out and laid on the desk. Wondering what it meant, the old man looked into the envelope. There was a letter, and it covered several pages of paper. A glance at the writing caused him a dull thrill of surprise. There was no address from which it was written, and it bore no date. It ran as follows:

My dear Father,—I am sure you will be surprised to hear from me. I would have written before this if it could have done either of us any good. As I wrote you when I left, I had determined to turn over a new leaf, if such a thing were possible. It was an awful fight against big odds.

Finally, however, I happened to meet—and it was when I had almost given up—a rich man with a good heart who befriended me, and offered me a position in his big wholesale store. I had a struggle with myself as to what I ought to do in regard to revealing my past life, but I finally decided to tell him the truth, and I am glad to say he overlooked it all and became my friend and benefactor. I never knew it, when I was a wild, headstrong boy, bent on ruining myself and you, but I now realize that every growing soul needs some sort of incentive to endeavor, and I have found two which have helped me a lot. The first was to refund by honest earnings what I took from you, the next to prove my worthiness of the trust my employer placed in me when all hope was lost. I see now that I never could have overcome my bad habits if I had stayed on in Stafford. It was getting out into the world and learning what it means to fight adversity, with no one to lean on, that helped me. When I think over what you, yourself, had to go through with to get your start in life, and remember that I was deliberately throwing away the hard-won rewards of your efforts, the blood of shame fairly boils in my veins.

I am sending herewith three thousand dollars, which are my savings up to date. I had got together only twenty-five hundred, but when my employer, at my suggestion, succeeded in putting a certain deal through the other day which he considered advantageous to his interests, he insisted on adding five hundred dollars to the amount which I had told him was going to you. I am sending the money by express instead of by draft on any bank, for I would still prefer for you not to know where I am at present. When I have made the last payment on my debt (if you will let me call it that), I may feel differently, but until I am able to clear it all up I shall still hide from you and everybody who knew me in the past. I do hope you will read these lines kindly. I have wronged you (terribly wronged you), dear father, but I am trying now to live right, and surely you will be glad to know that, even at this late day. Concealing my whereabouts may anger you, I am well aware of that; but the good man for whom I am working thinks it is best—for a while, at any rate. Of course, if I could have a talk with you, I'd know better how you look at the matter, but being so far away leaves me no alternative than to let things remain as they are. Good-bye, dear father. It has taken six years to get together the money I am sending, but if I live and keep my health I feel reasonably sure that I can send the balance, including the interest, within the next two years, for I am doing much better than I was.

When he had finished reading the letter, Simon Walton laid it on the desk before him and sat in deep thought for several minutes. Then, with no visible trace of emotion on his wrinkled face, he took the money in his hands, laid it on the letter, and rose and went to the door opening into the counting-room. He stood looking at the workers for several minutes, and then, happening to catch the glance of Toby, who was dictating to a stenographer, he signalled him to approach. Handing him the letter and the bills, he said, curtly:

“Credit the money on my private account, then read that letter carefully and bring it back to me. Don't let anybody see it. It's private.”

“Very well, sir,” said the clerk. “I was just dictating a note to Morton & Co., telling them that we can't possibly extend—”

“Never mind about that now,” Walton ordered, sharply. “Do as I tell you!” And he turned back into his office, where he sat slowly nodding his great, shaggy head, as was his habit when making up his mind over any matter of importance.

“Huh!” he said, suddenly and with a sneer, “that's it! I can see through a millstone if it has a big enough hole in it. Huh, yes, that's it! I'd bet a yearling calf to a pound of butter that I am onto the game, and it is one, too, that would take in nine men out of ten.” He tapped his brow with his pencil and smiled craftily. “Deep scheme; good scheme; bang-up idea! Might have pulled the wool over my eyes once. But a burnt child dreads the fire, and I've certainly been burnt.”

The door creaked. Toby Lassiter, with the letter quivering in his excited hand, approached. His lethargic face was filled with emotion; his mild eyes were glowing ecstatically.

“I always thought—I mean I always hoped, Mr. Walton—that it would turn out this way.” He started to say more, but checked himself as his glance fell on the parchment-like face craftily upturned to his.

“Yes, I know, Toby!” Simon snarled, as he took the letter and put it into his desk drawer. “You always thought the scamp had sprouting wings, and now you are sure they are full size. That is why you have never risen higher in life, Toby. Your eyes are too easily closed. Leave it to you, and we'd never foreclose a mortgage on a widow with a full stocking hid away under her hearth. Believing in heaven on earth has held many a man back from prosperity.”

“Then you don't think—you don't actually believe that Fred—”

“Set down in that chair, Toby. Me and you are the only folks in Stafford that know how that boy buncoed me, and I reckon it's only natural for me to be willing to talk about it when there is anything to say. I endured several years of that fellow's devilment, and I'm not calculated to be fooled as easily as others might who never had him on their hands. You see,” the banker went on, as his clerk lowered his thin person timidly into a chair and leaned forward—“you will note that he writes that he's got a good, substantial job with a rich man, who, while he knows all about the boy's devilment here at Stafford, has completely overlooked it. Huh! we all know the world is full of men of capital who are ready to take in a runaway thief and hand over three thousand cool plunks to him just to show good-will and the like! To begin with, Toby, that is an underhanded slap at me; it is saying, in a roundabout way, that a plumb stranger is giving a son of mine a chance that he never had at home. But the tale, from start to finish, is a lie out of whole cloth, as I have good and private reason to know.”

“Do you think so, Mr. Walton?” Lassiter's fallen countenance sank even lower.

“Of course I think so, or I wouldn't be sitting here telling you about it. I haven't been idle on this thing, Toby, though I never let anybody know what I was up to. You see, I am an old man now, and in law I never had but one heir to my effects, outside of my present wife, and it struck me as pretty queer for that heir, disinherited on paper or not, to keep absolutely out of sight and sound all these years when as big a plum as I am supposed to be is still aboveground. You see, the scamp has got what some folks would call a 'natural expectancy,' even on the chance of breaking any will I might make, and you can bet there are plenty of men slick enough to speculate on such chances, slim as they might look to me or you. So you see, Toby, knowing all that, I kept a sharp lookout for developments. I decided first of all to keep a watch on the young woman he left high and dry and in such a miserable plight. I used to sort o' saunter by her mammy's house once in a while. Sometimes I'd catch a glimpse of the girl by accident, but she kept as well hid as any mole that ever burrowed in the ground. Sometimes I'd see her—when she was to be seen at all—daubing away at some picture or other on a peaked frame, and I must say that every time I'd see her looking so neat and pretty, with her fine head of hair flowing over her brow in that easy, fluffy sort of way, and them big, deep, babyish eyes of hers—well, to come to the point, I began to think that it wasn't quite natural for any fellow to go clean off and leave such a creature behind for good and all. You see, she's too good-looking, too attractive, for any man to drop once he was favored, and—well, it made me suspicious, to say the least. Then I begun to notice the child, who was always hemmed up in that little pen of a yard, and never allowed to stick his head out or have any playmates. I saw that he was always rigged up as fine as a fiddle, looking as if he'd just come out of a bandbox; and as I knew, from personal knowledge, that the old lady had no income to speak of, except the rent on her barren little farm, I used to wonder where the cash was coming from. Now and then I'd see Watts & Co.'s delivery wagon leaving groceries at the back door, and I found out through them, on the sly, that the grub bills was always paid. Then what do you think I did? I did some bang-up, fine detective work, if I do say it. I nosed around until I found out, through a clerk in the express office here, that packages of money were coming pretty regularly to the sly little lassie from somebody in Atlanta who called himself 'F. B. Jenkins.' Whoever it was, was using the express to hide his tracks, instead of sending bank-checks, which might come to my attention, as Fred well knew.”

“So you think, Mr. Walton—you think—”

“I think Fred's letter is a lie out of whole cloth,” old Simon blurted out. “I don't think he is at work; I don't think it was ever in him to work in any capacity; but I do believe he has set out to make good that shortage for a deep-laid reason. Some sharper or money-shark may be backing him, or he may have had a temporary streak of luck at poker or cotton futures, and has decided to invest something in me, as too big a fish to remain unhooked. I don't swallow one word of his mealymouthed tale. I'd bet my last dollar he's this F. B. Jenkins, and that he has been hanging around Atlanta all these years, keeping himself out of sight, and, like as not, coming here now and then under cover of night to see that woman. That's why she has kept so close at home. They have guarded the child, too, so that he wouldn't let the cat out of the bag. Toby, if I wanted to—if I just wanted to—I could put a watch on that cottage and nab our man in less than a month. I say, if I just wanted to.”

“Then you wouldn't arrest him, Mr. Walton?” Lassiter breathed, in relief.

“Well, not now, at any rate,” Walton said, grimly. “We are too solid in every way now for such a thing to do us any great financial damage, but I don't fancy the idea of stirring up the stench again. He has put in a pretty big amount to start with, and he won't lie idle after that. Mark my words, we'll hear from Atlanta, and it will be apt to come through the fellow that calls himself F. B. Jenkins.”


OH, here you are, you old agnostic!” Wynn Dearing called out jovially to Galt, one afternoon when he found the railroad president walking to and fro on the veranda of the latter's home. “If you say so, we'll go in the house, and I'll make that examination here and save you the trouble of coming down to my pigpen of an office.”

“You could do it here, then?” said Galt, a weary look on his pale face.

“Easy enough; I've got my stethoscope in this satchel. I've just been across the street to see a negro with a whiskey liver. He is a goner, I guess, but I have more hopes of you. Your trouble may be found in those cigar boxes your railroad friends are sending you. If it is that, I'll cut you down to one a day, and smoke the rest myself.”

They had gone into the big library, the walls of which were hung with family portraits in oil, and lined with long, low cases filled with Galt's favorite books.

“Take the big chair,” Dearing said, “and open your shirt in front.”

Galt tossed his half-smoked cigar through an open window and complied. The examination was made, and questions in regard to diet and habits were asked and answered. Dearing said nothing as he put his instrument into the satchel and closed it. He stood over his patient, eying him critically.

“It looks to me like you are fundamentally as sound as a dollar,” he said, his fine brow furrowed, “but your case puzzles me a lot. To be frank, you are entirely too thin, your cheeks are sunken, your skin is dry, and your eye dull. You are very nervous, and are growing gray hairs as fast as crab-grass. Somehow, I don't think you need any sort of medicine. Now, if you were not absolutely the luckiest man in Georgia, I'd think you had something to worry about. Worry has killed more men than all the plagues on earth; but that can't be your trouble, for every good thing in life has come your way. You had a great ambition a few years ago, but you gratified it; surely you don't want to own any more railroads.”

“No, one is enough,” Galt answered, with a faint, forced smile. “I can't say that I am worrying over that.”

“Well, the condition of the minds of patients,” said Dearing, “is the biggest thing doctors have to tackle. We can hold our own with a disease of the body, because we can see it and, at least, experiment with it for good or bad; but when the seat of the thing is in a man's soul, and he won't uncover it, but keeps fooling himself and his doctor by looking for it under his hide or in his blood or bones, why, we are at a standstill. I had a patient once who certainly had me at my wit's end. He was sound as you are physically, but he was restless, dissatisfied, morbid, lonely, and utterly miserable. I exhausted every resource on him. I sent him to specialists all over America, but they were as helpless as I was. Finally, in sheer desperation, I took the bull by the horns and asked him if he had anything on his mind of a disagreeable nature. He hung his head, and I knew then that something was wrong. I pumped him adroitly, assuring him that all private matters were held in confidence by a physician, and he finally made a clean breast of it. He was a rich man, but every dollar he owned had been accumulated from money stolen from another man, and a man who had failed in life and died in abject poverty.”

“Ah, I see!” Galt sat more erect, his eyes fixed on Dearing's face. “That was his trouble; and what did he do about it?”

“Died hugging the rotten thing to his breast,” the doctor said; “and that is the way with most of them. He couldn't face the music—he couldn't confess to the puny little world around him that he wasn't what it had always thought him. Perhaps he had gone too far to believe in the cure that God has made possible for every poor devil in toils of that sort. That's the trouble. Spirituality has to be practised to be a reality. Faith cures of all sorts have their place in the world, for a sick soul will certainly make a sick body.”

“So you believe in rubbish of that sort,” Galt said, contemptuously.

“To the extent I have indicated, yes,” Dearing replied. “I think I could demonstrate scientifically that health of body and faith in something higher than mere matter go hand in hand. Tell a weak man that his body is sound, and he will gain strength; convince a man that he is hopelessly old, and he will no longer be buoyed up by the hope of life. Show him his grave, and he will begin to measure himself for it. Therefore—and here is where I am going to hit you, you old atheist,” Dearing continued, half jestingly—“let a man constantly argue to himself that life ends here on earth, and he will wither away physically, as he already has spiritually; for what would be the incentive to live if death ends all? I meet all sorts of men and women, and the healthiest old codgers I run across are the old chaps who believe they are sanctified. They may be as close as the bark of a tree, absolutely proof against any sort of charitable impulse, but the belief of their immortality keeps them pink and rosy to their graves; half of them die only because they want a change of residence, and expect to own a corner lot on the golden streets of the New Jerusalem. The preachers teach us that we've got to go through a lot of red-tape to be saved, but I believe the time will come when immortality will be demonstrated as plainly as the fact that decayed matter will reproduce life in a plant.”

“Oh, life is too short to argue on these things,” Galt said, wearily. “You have always seen the thing one way, and I another. I am in good company. The greatest minds of the world have believed as I do. I can't say that I want to live forever.”

“Well, I do—I do,” returned Dearing. “There was a time, thanks to my early association with you, by-the-way, when I doubted; but I always had a frightful pang at the thought that the wonderful mystery of life must continue to be a closed book to me. I fought it, Kenneth, old man—I fought that thought day and night, because my soul was so enamoured with the great secret that I could not give it up; and now—well, on my honor, the faith in it has become my very existence. Without that prospect I'd stop right here. I'd not care to move an inch. I'd as soon cut your throat as to treat you as a friend. But I didn't come to preach. What is that you've got stacked up on the table—drawings for another trunk-line?”

“No.” Galt rose languidly and smiled. “I'll show you something very pretty. You know I am fond of good pictures, and I flatter myself that I have discovered a genius. There is an art dealer, F. B. Jenkins, in Atlanta, whom I know pretty well, and he called me in the other day to show me some water-color pictures by a young girl, who, it seems, is too modest to allow her name to be used. Then, too, I think he regards her as his find, and doesn't want other dealers to know about her. I bought these.”

Galt opened a big portfolio, and began taking out the pictures one by one. “Where has any one ever seen a child more lifelike than that one? Why, it is actually walking away from the paper; and look at that one on the fence, and this boy with the top and string!”

“Why, good gracious!” Dearing cried out, impulsively, as he stood transfixed by surprise, “I know who did that work—I—” But he checked himself suddenly.

You know who did it?” Galt said, facing him in surprise. “What do you mean, Wynn. Do you really know anything about it?”

“I spoke without thinking,” Dearing said, awkwardly. “You know, a physician sometimes runs across matters which he is obliged to regard as confidential, and, since the—the lady doesn't want to be known, I could not feel free to mention her name; besides, you know, I might be mistaken.”

Dearing turned from the pictures and moved toward the door.

“I am satisfied that you could tell more about it if you would,” Galt said. “I really would like to know, for I have never run across pictures I liked so well. And to think they are done by some young woman who may not know how good her work really is!”

“I know nothing—absolutely nothing,” Wynn said, with a non-committal smile. “But, if I did, I wouldn't trust it to you or any other man, so there you are. Why haven't you been over? Uncle Tom and Madge look for you every afternoon to join them at tea. You'd better come soon; they are off for New York in a few days.”

“New York!” Galt exclaimed, in surprise.

“Yes; you know they go up there every summer for a ten days' stay, visiting the Marstons. Old Marston was a colonel under my uncle in the war. He went to New York after peace was declared and invested all he had left. He is now a big tea-and-coffee importer, and worth a lot of money. Mrs. Marston likes Madge, and gives her a big time once a year. It is always a picnic for uncle and her. They start off like jolly school-children. They have the time of their lives from the moment they leave till they get back all tired out and coated with dust. Now, you look after your health, Kenneth. Lie around this quiet old house and take a good rest. Keep those bookcases with their lying contents closed, and read sound, hopeful literature, and I'll see that you stay above ground for a good many years to come.”

“If I could only get you to read those books, instead of the namby-pamby stuff issued by the Sunday-schools for the edification of children who still believe in Santa Claus, you'd be a wiser man,” Galt said, good-naturedly, as he accompanied Dearing to the door. “But, then, I'd not have the fun of arguing with you.”

“I could put up as good an argument, even on your own side, as you can,” Dearing said, half seriously. “I could give one illustration which would prove to men like you, at least, that the whole world is topsy-turvy, and the Creator, if there is such a thing, more heartless than any man alive.”

“You could? Well, that's interesting—coming from you, at least.”

“It was this,” Dearing went on, now quite serious, as he stood facing Galt, swinging his satchel in his hand: “As I came in just now I saw about thirty children—little boys and girls—over on Lewis Weston's lawn. They were all rigged out in their Sunday clothes and playing games, just as you and I did on the same spot when we were kids. It was little Grover Weston's birthday, and his daddy, being our Congressman, the undersized 'four hundred' were doing honors to the occasion. Even from where I stood I could see the toys, wagons, tricycles, and hobby-horses which had been presented to the little Georgia lord, and he was strutting about thoroughly enjoying the limelight that was on him. That was one side of the picture. The other side was this: Down at the lower end of our place stood a solitary little figure. Not one among them all could hold a candle to him in looks or brightness of mind. You know who I mean; it was the little chap you took a fancy to the other day when he jumped into your arms from that tree. There he stood, his bat and ball idle at his feet, watching every movement of the gay little crowd across the way. I couldn't know what his thoughts were, but, as I stood looking at him, I wondered what I should have thought at his age. Was his growing and supersensitive mind already struggling with the question of inequality? I remember that I, at his age, felt a slight keenly, and if I did, with my many advantages as a child, what must he feel? There is an argument for you, Kenneth. The next time you want to prove the utter heartlessness and aimlessness of God and His universe, just paint that picture.”

Galt made no response. His blood seemed to turn cold in his veins as the grimly accusing words fell from his friend's lips.

“But that is not the way I'm going to let the story end, in my fancy, at least,” Dearing continued, after a pause. “Kenneth, old chap, I see a silver lining peeping out from beneath even that poor child's cloud. I see the hidden hand of God following the father who deserted his duty to flee to some far-off hiding-place. I see that man hungering for spiritual rest; I see his very crime humbling and sweetening his soul and causing him to long for what he has left behind him. I see the fortune that avarice is piling up in his father's coffers being turned to good account. In short, I see that boy and his beautiful child-mother, who never had a fault but that of blindly trusting, taken away somewhere to ultimate happiness.”

“You think—you think—” Galt stammered, unable to formulate an adequate reply.

“I think the man does not live who could have been loved and trusted by Dora Barry and ever forget her. The man does not live who could be the father of such a child by such a mother—such as she has grown to be since her great misfortune—and not fight for her and her child with his last breath.”


WHEN Dearing had gone blithely down the street, Galt strode up and down the veranda, hot and cold, by turns, with fury and remorse.

“To think that any man could lecture me like that, while I have had to stand and take it like a sneaking coward!” he fumed. “I am not a jot worse than thousands of others who were led astray by passion. I had to do as I did. I couldn't give up what I had sought so long, and fought for so fiercely. She knew it; she admitted there was nothing else to do. All these years she has not once reproached me, and she has kept her word—the secret is ours. Wynn says she has advanced, that her solitary life has only ripened her beauty of mind and body, and she is the mother of my child—the little fellow I held in my arms the other day, the outcome of a marriage as sacred under high heaven as any ever solemnized at an altar.” He groaned as he remembered how he and Dora used to boast that their superior mental attitude, and the height and glory of their troth, as compared to the dull code of the vulgar herd, had made them a law unto themselves. He had sown the seeds of such logic in the rich soil of her trusting, girlish inexperience. He had led her, as a candle leads a moth, on to the yawning brink of the abyss; he had closed her gentle mouth, even as it uttered words of love and fidelity, and then, by sheer brute force, he had flung her down to darkness and despair. That was the truth he had not fully allowed himself to face in those years of gratified ambition which had followed, and it was the truth that Wynn Dearing, with his maddening manliness, had hurled into his face to-day. And Dearing had argued that the end was not yet—that the earthly struggle wasn't all there was to man—that to eat, procreate, and live a certain span of years was not the solution of the problem of existence. How utterly absurd! And yet what was his present ailment? It was not of the body, as he had well known when Dearing was speaking of his condition; and since it was not so, what was it? What force known to science had kindled the raging fires within him, made him desire to shim his own kind, and hate the success which, like a hellish will-o'-the-wisp, had once blazed over him. There was nothing to do, of course, but to continue the fight on his own lines, by the light of the reason born in him. Of course, a man could be sad and gloomy over an old love affair if he continued to brood over it—if he continued to allow it to dominate him. Dora had accepted the inevitable, as any sensible woman would have done, and it was left for him to go on his way unmolested—free! General Sylvester wanted him to marry his niece; she was his social equal, and in time would be as well off in point of fortune. She was a beautiful, imposing, gracious woman, and would make a wife any man would be proud of. Yes, his duty to himself was clear, and dreams like young Dearing indulged in would have to be banished for ever and ever. Yes, he would marry Margaret Dearing, and he and she would travel the world over. He was ready to resign the active management of the big enterprise he had created, and he would be free in every sense. Yes, he would be free—just as other men were free.

He had stepped down on the grass of the lawn and strolled round the house. Shouts and peals of childish laughter came from the yard adjoining his on the left, and on the grass, engaged in a joyous game of hide-and-seek, twoscore boys and girls ran merrily about. Galt walked farther down toward the lower boundary of his premises, seeking with his eyes an object he would not have confessed to himself that he desired to see—the child Dearing had mentioned. Now he saw the boy, but he was not within the Dearing grounds; Lionel had crossed over to Galt's land, and stood shielded from the view of the merrymakers by a hedge of boxwood. Galt saw him peering cautiously over the hedge, now stealthily lowering his head, now eagerly raising it. He was neatly dressed in white, as when his father had first seen him; there was a jaunty grace about the flowing necktie and low, broad collar which could have been accounted for only by the taste of an artistic mother. He held his broad-brimmed straw hat in his hand, and the breeze swept his tresses back from his fine brow.

Why he did it Galt could not have explained, especially on top of the resolutions just formed, but he went down to him. Lionel's face was averted, and he was not aware of his father's approach till his attention was attracted by Galt's step on the grass. Then he started, flushed, and with alarm written in his face he made a movement as if to run away.

“Surely you are not afraid of me?” Galt said, reassuringly, and in a tone which, for its unwonted gentleness, was a surprise to himself.

“I have no right to be on your land,” the boy faltered, his great, startled eyes downcast. “Doctor Wynn said I must never leave his place. But there wasn't any fence, and I—I saw the children playing over there, and I wanted to get a little closer.”

“Well, you needn't be afraid; you have done no wrong,” Galt heard himself saying, as undefined pangs and twinges shot through him. “You may come here whenever you wish.”

“Oh, may I? Thank you. You are very good, and I thought you'd be angry.”

“Angry? How absurd! What in the world could cause you to think I could be angry with a harmless little chap like you?”

“I don't know; but I did. I was sure at first that you liked me. You know the day I almost went to sleep in your lap, when the pretty lady and the old gentleman were at the tea-table? Well, I did think you liked me then, at first, you know, but when the doctor came and said it was late for children to be out, you put me down quick, and got red in the face, and never looked at me again.”

There was a rustic bench near by, and Galt sat down on it. He found himself unable to formulate a satisfactory reply, and he was going to let the remark pass unnoticed, but Lionel came forward now more confidently, and sat on the end of the bench. A thrill akin to that which he had felt when he discovered the identity of the child passed over Galt. There was an indescribable something in the boy's great eyes so like his mother's, in the artistic slenderness of his hands, in his exquisite profile, that dug deep into the soul of the man who sat there self-convicted of the crime of wilful desertion.

“Yes, I'm sure something was wrong that day,” Lionel said, tentatively. “I can always 'tell when mamma is angry at me, and I knew you were, for you didn't say good-bye. The others didn't, either, but I didn't care for them. I like Doctor Wynn, and I like you, but that is all, except Granny and my mother.”

“You like me, and why?” Galt questioned, almost under his breath.

“Oh, I don't know, but I do. I did when I first saw you looking up at me in that tree, and then when you held me in your lap. I wanted to go to sleep there, it felt so good—your arms are so fine and strong. Doctor Wynn says your father was a great soldier, and that you have his sword and a picture of him. Oh, I should love to see them! I'd like to be a soldier. Some day, if I am a good boy, will you let me see the sword?”

“Why, yes, you may come—now, if you wish.”

“You are joking, aren't you?” Lionel asked, in surprise.

“No, I'm in earnest. Come on!”

“Really, do you mean it?”

“Why, of course. Come on!”

They started toward the house side by side. Suddenly Lionel remarked, timidly, “You haven't said you like me yet, but I suppose you do, or you wouldn't let me go with you in your house.”

“Yes, I like you—of course I do,” Galt answered, lamely and abashed.

“Very, very much, or just a little—which is it?”

“As much as any boy I ever met; there, will that do you, little man?”

“Have you met many? That's the question,” the boy laughed out, impulsively, and then his face settled into gravity as he eagerly waited.

“Yes, a great many,” Galt answered, as he wondered over the child's peculiar persistency. Dearing had said he was supersensitive. Could the trait be an unremovable birth-mark of the mother's unhappiness when overwhelmed with the sense of utter desertion? If so, then there was physical proof of the Biblical statement that the sins of fathers were visited on their children. Galt shuddered and avoided the appealing face upturned to his. Again he heard the musical voice, so like an echo out of the dreamy, accusing past, rising to him.

“If you did like me, it looks like you would take my hand. I wish you would.”

“There!” Galt forced a laugh as he took the soft, pulsating little fingers into his. As flesh touched flesh a thrill as of new life throbbed and bounded through him, and again he had the yearning to clasp his son to his breast as a woman would have done. As it was, no lover could have felt the touch of the hand of his mistress with keener, more awed delight. At one time, in a talk with Bearing, Galt had argued that even parental love was merely a physical function, like hunger for food, but that had been before this perplexing awakening. They had reached the front steps of the great house. An impulse he could not have analyzed led Galt to think of lifting the boy from the ground to the floor of the veranda, and he held out his arms. The child Sprang into them; his little arm went round the man's neck, and thus the steps were ascended. Was it a lingering pressure of affection in Lionel's arm that kept Galt from lowering him to the carpet when they had entered the great hall? He was sure he would put him down as they entered the library, but again he refrained, for the magnitude and splendor of the room had actually startled the child.

“Oh!” Lionel exclaimed, his eyes first on the great crystal chandelier, then on the gilt-framed pier-glass reaching from the floor to the ceiling.

“Why, what is the matter?” Galt asked, holding him tighter.

“I did not know it was so beautiful, so grand!” Lionel cried. “This room alone is as large as our whole house. Ah! is that the sword your father killed men with? And will you please let me see it? Could I hold it, just once?”

“I am afraid it is too heavy for you,” Galt said, as he reached for the heavy sabre in its carved brass scabbard and took it down from a hook under his father's portrait. “It wasn't made for little hands like yours. You'd have to grow a lot before you could use it.”

Lionel stood down on the floor as the sword was put into his hands. He made a valiant effort to flourish the unwieldy blade as he thrust and lunged at an imaginary enemy. “Boom! Boom!” he cried, his eyes flashing, “Boom! t-r-r-r boom!”

“Oh, you've killed them—they are as dead as doornails!” Galt laughed, impulsively. “Now your men will have a pretty time picking all those corpses up in an ambulance.”

“Is that your father?” the boy leaned on the sabre to ask, as he looked up at the portrait of the elder Galt.

“Yes. Does he look like me?” Galt answered.

“A little bit, maybe”—the child had his wise-looking head tilted to one side as he had seen his mother stand in criticising one of her pictures—“but I don't like it much. It is full of cracks, and so—dauby.”

“'Dauby'? Where in the world could you have heard that word?”

“Oh, my mother says it often when she doesn't like one of her pictures.”

The child was now absorbed in the bronze dragon head supporting the ivory handle of the sword.

“I see; perhaps you'd like pictures of children better,” Galt said, and he took up one of the water-color sketches he had shown to Dearing. “Here, look at this little boy.”

“Oh yes, that's me! Mamma says it is hard to keep them from all looking alike. Sometimes I'm a boy—then I'm a girl, and even a baby—but they are all me. Mamma says I'm her bread and butter. But I don't like to sit for them; it is too tiresome to stay still so long. Sometimes she lets me play in the yard, and watches me through the window; then I don't mind it.”

“Do you mean to say”—Galt was grave, and his hands trembled as he picked up another picture, this time the sketch of a boy riding on a spring-board supported in the middle by a saw-horse, and fastened at the end to a crude rail-fence—“do you mean that your mother really painted this?” And as he spoke Galt recalled Dearing's evident recognition of the work, and his prompt reservation in regard to it.

“Yes, and stacks and stacks of others,” the child said, abstractedly, his little fingers toying with the handle of the sword again. “Is it sharp enough to cut a man's head off?”

“Yes, yes.” Galt sat down in a chair, his mind now full of startled memories—Dora's wonderful artistic taste, her early love of music, books on art, and the drawings which she had spoken of timidly, but never shown him. And this was her work—the pictures he had seen groups of people admiring, as they hung in the shop-window in Atlanta—and which he knew was the work of actual creative genius. And it had come from the spirit he had crushed, exiled from humanity, and left destitute! His ambition had won its sordid goal through the darkness of damnation, while hers—unconscious of its own deity—was growing toward the outer light, like a flower in a dungeon. And this was his child and hers! Compounded in the winsome personality of the boy was all that was good and noble of her, all that was bad and despicable of him, and Dearing would say that it was not going to end with the temporary breath which had been blown into the little form. The child was to live on and perpetuate the qualities he had inherited. He was like a little God now, in the likeness of the child-mother who had borne him, but 'the time might come when he would take on to himself the cringing, soul-lashed features of his father—be guilty of the same crimes against virtue and eternal justice, and fight the same cruel battle between spirit and flesh, between the forces of light and darkness. God forbid! “God!”—had he actually used the word? Was there such a Being? He had sneered at the thought all his life, but now the bare possibility cowed him.

Lionel, astride the sheathed sword, now half boy, half prancing steed, came to him. “Whoa! Can't you stand still, sir? Watch him kick up! Look out!” as he pirouetted about, “he'll get you with his hind heels! He wants to run; something has scared him! Look how he's trembling!”

Galt laid his hand on the sunny curls, and drew the excited little horseman to him, gazing into the dreamy, fathomless eyes so accusingly like Dora's.

“I think I'd better hold you both,” he said, in an attempt at playfulness. He had heard sordid business men who had children say that there was no love like that of a man for an eldest son. This was his eldest son, if not by the writs of man, by the mandates of something infinitely higher.

“I wish I had a really-really horse,” Lionel ran on, plaintively. “Grover Weston has a pony, but mamma says he can have everything because his father is rich. I don't like him. He threw my ball back over the fence the other day and called me names. I don't know what he meant by them, but my mother said they were not nice, and told me not to remember them. I've already forgot what he said. It was bas—bast—How funny! I knew it once.”

Galt's inner being seemed to shrink and wither. Already the world's persecution of the innocent had begun, and the sensitive, poetic, imaginative child would grow up to a full realization of his social shame. Nurtured in gentleness and refinement, he was yet to have the scales which hid his humiliation from from his sight, and then he would see; he would understand; he would know who to blame. And he would blame, poignantly and justly. The time might come when this tender sprig of himself, grown strong, and yet galled by his burden, might face his father as the cowardly churl who had stamped the unbearable stigma upon him and her. This child might live to curse him and spit upon him. The world might forgive in the glow of his power and gold, but the one he yearned for now, as he had yearned for nothing before, would go over his infamous past as minutely as an ant over the bark of a rotten tree.

The child had put down the weapon of his honored ancestor, and now stood with his little hands on the knee of his father, another side of his personality uppermost.

“I don't care,” he said, in his charmingly premature way, “if Grover Weston doesn't like me, because you say you do. He's nothing but a mean, horrid boy, while you are—”

“I am what, Lionel?” Galt's voice was stayed by huskiness in his throat, and he put an unsteady arm round the little form, resisting the yearning to clasp him tightly.

“Oh, you are everything—everything in the world. Doctor Wynn says you are very, very rich, and that you love all little boys—that's why I jumped that day. I wouldn't be afraid to jump from a higher tree than that if you were there to catch me. Oh, I like to have people love me! I like it better than anything.”

“And yet you do want other things?” Galt said, tentatively.

“Oh yes.” The child, guided by the gentle pressure round him, slid between his father's knees, and, putting his arm confidingly about Galt's neck, he drew himself to a seat in the man's lap, and laughed. “Mamma says I want the whole earth. I want a bicycle; and a gun; and a pony; and roller-skates; and—”

“You certainly do want a few things!” Galt tried to jest. “But we can't have everything, you know, in this life.”

“Not unless we are rich; and we are very poor at our house; but when the expressman brings the money for the pictures we are very glad. Then we have a good dinner. Last time Granny got a dress, and I got several suits like this one. Mother says some day we may go away off to another country where I'll have children to play with. I think that would be nicer than having toys.”

“Yes, yes,” Galt responded, from the depths of a new and rasping remorse, as the boy reclined on his arm and stretched out with a delicious sigh.

“You said you liked me,” the child said, quite seriously, “but you never have kissed me—not once.”

“But men don't kiss little boys,” Galt answered, with a start.

“Oh, yes they do; Doctor Wynn has often kissed me, and hugged me, so!” Lionel put his arms round Galt's neck, pressed his soft, warm cheek against the cold, rough one, and kissed it, once, twice, three times.

“And I've seen Mr. Weston kiss Grover when he runs to meet him at the gate.”

“We've known each other such a short time,” Galt apologized, lamely, as the hot blood coursed through his veins, and the child released him and lay staring at him from his great, reproachful eyes.

“I don't care, you'd kiss me if you loved me as—as much as I do you. Won't you, just one time? Then I'll go.”

“Yes, I'll kiss you—there!” Galt said, as he folded the child in his arms and pressed his lips to the warm, pink brow.

“I had to make you!” Lionel said, as he stood down on the floor. “That is the way I do when my mother is angry. I keep begging her to kiss me till she does; then she laughs and hugs me tighter than ever. Granny says I know how to manage a woman. Good-bye. I thank you for bringing me to your house. Now I am sure you like little boys.”

After the child had gone, Galt walked up and down the veranda, his mind upon problems he had never faced before. He was interrupted by General Sylvester, who hurried across the lawn to speak to him on his way down-town.

“I've only a bare minute,” the old gentleman said. “I suppose you know we are off for New York. You'd better come along and help us have a good time.”

“I am afraid Wynn would hardly prescribe a remedy so strenuous as that in my case,” Galt returned. “You see, I was tied down there recently, and got enough of it for a man who is said to need quiet and a change of scene.”

“That's true,” Sylvester admitted. “It was only because we'd like to have you so much that I mentioned it. But we'll take you in hand when we get back. So you be ready, young man.”

When the old gentleman had walked away, with his springy, boyish step, and the gate-latch had clicked behind him, Galt went back into the library. He gathered up Dora's pictures with reverent hands, and took them up to his bedroom. He arranged them in good positions, and stood looking at them steadily.

“Yes, she's in them all,” he said. “Her weeping soul speaks out from every one. She has done those things in spite of the disgrace and misery that my cowardice has heaped upon her. What must she think of me—of me, whom she once placed upon such a pinnacle? Her own purity created the place for me in her heart which I once held, and from which her contempt has long since banished me. I've lost her. I owe her the world, and can pay her nothing—absolutely nothing!”

His attention was attracted to the children on Weston's lawn. They were loudly laughing, shouting, and singing. He went to the window and looked out.

“'King William was King James's son,'” they sang, as hand in hand they circled round on the grass. Galt's eyes rested only momentarily on the players. He was searching for some one else. Finally he espied the object of his quest. Lionel—his son, a full-blooded Galt, and, for aught he knew, the flower of the race—was hidden behind a tree peering out like a half-starved urchin at a window filled with sweets. He stood erect and motionless, as if hardly daring to breathe lest he be seen by his social superiors.

“He is waking!” Galt exclaimed. “He is wondering and pondering. The time will come when he will understand and remember, perhaps, that I kissed him with the lips of Judas—I, who should have been his mainstay and supporter—kissed him as he lay in my arms, conscious of my love and ignorant of my weakness. No, I can't help him. Drawn to him as I am by every fibre of my being, still I must deny him. The man does not live who, in the same circumstances, could act otherwise. I haven't the moral backbone. I simply haven't.”

Leaving the window, and sinking into a chair, Galt bent forward, locked his cold hands together, and wrung them as a man might in the agony of death.


EVERYTHING is as merry as a marriage bell, and the goose hangs high!” Stephen Whipple quoted, with a hearty laugh, as he and Fred Walton sat on the old man's veranda after breakfast one Sunday morning. “And I'm a-thinking, my boy, that the suspended fowl is none other than our fellow citizen, J. B. Thorp. He is as mad as a wet hen. He had us plumb down, and, like the bully he is, was pounding the blood out of us with no thought of letting up. Then the rest of the hungry pack of wolves piled on top, and began to get in their work. I was so crazy I didn't know my hat from a hole in the ground. Then your keen young brain turned the trick, and here we are. Dick has got the dandiest retail store that ever saw the light in a Western town, and it is literally packed and jammed with customers.”

“I am certainly glad it turned out as it did,” Fred replied. “It has been a great thing for Dick.”

The merchant was silent for a moment, and Fred saw him twirling his heavy thumbs as he often did when embarrassed. Finally, after clearing his throat and rather awkwardly crossing his legs, he said:

“I've got a silly sort of confession to make, Fred. I reckon nobody is, on the outside, exactly what they are within, and I've got my faults like other fellows. On the outside I'm as strait-laced as a hard-shell Baptist, but I've always hankered after a periodical lark of some sort. Once in a great while I've taken trips just for the pure fun' of the thing. During the Centennial at Philadelphia I laid down everything and went. I stayed a week, put up at a fine hotel, and lived as high as I knew how. I saw all that there was to see. Then I struck work at one time and went to the Mardi-gras at New Orleans, and then another time I hiked off to the Cotton Exposition in Atlanta. I don't know why I'm that way, but I am. It is my periodical spree, I reckon. You remember I told you about my boy—the little fellow that passed away?”

“Yes, I remember,” Walton returned, sympathetically.

“Well, as he was growing up, I used to love, above all things, for just me and him—just me and him, you know—to go to places together. Sometimes it was a ride in the country, or fishing, or to do something a little boy would like, but I always sort o' kept the thought before me that when he'd reached man's estate, me and him would do some sure-enough 'bumming,' as I used to call it—bumming to New York City, where we could take in all the sights like two boys. It may sound silly, but that was one thing I always had to look forward to; but then he took sick and died, and it was out of the question. Since then I've never counted on the New York trip.”

“It was sad,” Walton said, gently. “It is a pity he couldn't have been spared to you.”

“Yes, but he wasn't,” the merchant sighed. “He wasn't, and this is what I started out to say: Of all folks I have ever known since my boy's death, you come nearer filling his place than any one else. No”—and Whipple held up his broad hand—“don't stop me! I don't know how it was, but in our first talk that night you kind o' got hold of my heart-strings. I pitied you as I had never pitied a young fellow before because of the fight you were making. I got interested in it, and determined to help you win. I prayed for you. You were on my mind the last thing at night and the first thing in the morning. You'd said you wanted the money just to pay off the debt you owed your father, and I would have planked the cash right down many and many a time if I hadn't been afraid I'd spoil a thing that seemed to be of God's own making. I used to sneak and look at your bank-account. That was mean, but I couldn't help it. I saw your savings piling up week after week until I forced that five hundred on you, and knew you had three thousand in hand. Then, all at once, it sunk to nothing. Fred, my boy, I went home that night, hugged the old lady, and cried. You needn't tell me what became of that money. It went to your old daddy as fast as the trains could take it.”

“Yes, I paid him, Mr. Whipple. I am still behind two thousand, with the interest at the rate he charges his customers.”

“He's a money-lender then?” Whipple said, lifting his brows.

“Yes, he—” Fred hesitated a moment, and then finished, “He is a banker, in a small town in—”

“Don't—don't tell me!” Whipple broke in. “Don't tell me a thing about him! I'm human to the core. I don't know why it is, but for a long time I have been jealous of his blood claim on you. He throwed you off, and I want to think that I have some sort of right to you. He never loved you as a natural father should, or he couldn't have driven you to the wall like he did, forcing you to live off among strangers, away from home-ties and all the associations of your young days. Oh, I know I have your good-will, my boy! I heard about the way you stood up for me during the strike my men tried to get up. One of the clerks told me of the nightmeeting that was held, and how you sprang into their midst like an infuriated tiger, and of the ringing speech you made about me and my fair treatment of them, and how they finally begged you not to report the matter and slunk away like egg-sucking dogs. You never would have mentioned it, but it got to me—it got to me.”

“Oh, I only did my duty, Mr. Whipple.” Fred's face was dyed red. “I thought they were unreasonable, and could not help putting in a word of protest.”

“You were the only one in the entire bunch that did it, all the same,” Whipple said, huskily. “Oh, I know they poke fun at me and laugh at my peculiarities, but I don't believe you ever did. I am coarse and awkward—I don't have to be told that; but I try to be genuine and fair to all mankind. But I've got away off from what I started to say. Fred, there never was a time when I felt more like one of my periodical sprees than right now. I have never been to New York, and I can't get over wanting to take it in. My wife don't care to go. She says such trips tire the very life out of her. She is younger than I am in years, but she ain't in spirit. I want you to lay off work for a week and go bumming with me. Somehow, I feel like if you'll go, it will be as if my own boy had lived and grown up and was taking the trip with me. I want to go by New Orleans and spend a day there, and then on to the East, through Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. What do you say, Fred? The expense is nothing. I want to celebrate. For a week I want to be a new man, and have a high old time.”

“I should like it very much,” Walton said, “if you really want me to go.”

“Well, pack your grip, and we'll be off day after tomorrow. We'll tell the boys that we have to see our New York importers and our sugar men in New Orleans, and they can guess the rest. Now, I'm going up to tell the old lady that it is settled, and she can sleep or do any other old thing she likes till, we come back. We'll have a rip-roaring time, Fred. We'll go all the gaits, even if we get put in the lock-up.”


FRED and his jovial employer spent a ===day and night at New Orleans, and early the following morning took a fast train for New York. Ensconced in the luxurious Pullman, which contained few other passengers, Fred felt that by remaining close in the car as it passed through Georgia he would run little risk of being recognized by any acquaintance or friend of the past. Nevertheless, as the train was leaving Atlanta and speeding toward Stafford, he was literally besieged with gloomy memories. Every station or familiar landmark along the way brought back with crushing force occurrences he had completely forgotten. Once or twice he fancied that Whipple was watching him with an unusually sympathetic eye, but he put the thought from him. Never having been told of the fact, how could the old man even suspect that he was nearing the home of his childhood—the spot of his dreams? He had a yearning to confide more fully to his kindly companion, but the thought came to him that such a disclosure just now might throw a damper upon a journey which he had determined should contain nothing but joy to his benefactor.

It was six o'clock when Cherry Hill was reached. Only seven rapidly shortening miles lay between him and his old home. Fred sat at a window, pretending to read a newspaper. It struck him as highly incongruous that Whipple should think no more of that particular town than of any of the others through which they had passed when it means so much—so very much—to him. The time-table told him that the train stopped only a few minutes at Stafford, and he was both glad and disappointed—glad that the short stop would render his detection the more remote, and sad that he was not to see with his actual eyes the spot dearer to him than any other. There was a prolonged scream from the locomotive's whistle at the extreme end of the train. Could it be that the station was reached? No, for through the gathering dusk Fred could see that the suburbs of the town, as indicated by the electric lights in the distance, were still half a mile away. Perhaps it was to take on water, he thought; but that couldn't be the explanation, for the porter of the car had thrown up a window and was looking out inquiringly.

“What is it?” he inquired of the porter, who had drawn his head back into the car.

“I don't know, sir,” the negro answered. “Something must be wrong ahead. We never slow up till we get to the crossing.” He hurriedly left the car, and Fred followed. Outside there was a rushing to and fro of trainmen with flags and lanterns, a jumble of calls in stentorian tones, the slow clanging of the locomotive's bell, the exhausting of steam. The porter ran to the porter of the car ahead, and came back to where Walton stood waiting on the step.

“Freight-train knocked all to smash in the edge of town,” he explained. “Nobody hurt, but it is sure to hold us here awhile.”

“We'll have to stop, then!” Fred exclaimed, fearing a vague something which seemed to hover, like a threat, in the air about him. At that moment he gave way to the superstitious feeling that it was the direct hand of Providence which had delayed him there, of all spots on the long journey.

“It looks like it now, sir,” the porter answered; and as he left, Walton turned and saw Whipple close beside him.

“Why, it won't make any difference to us,” the old man said, in evident wonder over his protégé's disappointment. “We'll be sound asleep in our berths. I don't know but what I'd kind o' like one night's rest without so much jostle and motion. We can get a good breakfast in the dining-car in the morning, and go on our way as smooth as goose-grease.”

“Yes, yes,” Fred said. But the thought had come to him that they might be delayed till the next morning, and the idea of passing through his old home in the broad light of day was far from pleasant. What if he should actually meet his father or some officer of the law whose duty it would be to arrest him, right when he had begun to hope that he might ultimately earn his freedom?

Fred went back into the car, followed by the drowsy Whipple, and took a seat by a window. It was open, and by leaning out he could see the lights of Stafford. Under the skies he had known as a child, on the same hillsides, they blazed and beckoned. Suppressing a groan, he told himself that he would go to bed and try to sleep; but he delayed, held in his place by some weird charm. At ten o'clock, when Whipple was stowed away, Fred went out of the car once more. On the sidetrack he met the conductor.

“How long shall we be here?” Walton inquired.

“Till three o'clock, sir,” the conductor said, as they walked along toward the locomotive.

“I wonder if I'd have time to walk to town and look around,” Fred said. “I don't feel like turning in right now.”

“Plenty, plenty,” the conductor answered. “It is only a mile or so to the square.”

“Then I'll go,” Walton said, and he walked away, thankful that the night was cloudy. On he went down the railway, in the streaming glare of the locomotive's headlight, till he reached the first street leading into Stafford. Ahead, in the light of many lanterns, a throng of trackmen were at work on the wreck.

How changed was the landscape he had once known so well! Spots which had been old barren fields, dismantled brick-yards, and stretches of forest, were now, thanks to the enterprise of Kenneth Galt, filled with cottages, cotton factories, iron-foundries, and other industries. To the right, on a common, which used to be the ball-ground where the team, of which Fred had been the popular captain, had played in his schooldays, the round-house and machine-shops of the S. R. & M. had risen. New thoroughfares had been opened, natural elevations graded away, and uncouth gullies filled.

Taking the darker and quieter streets by choice, Walton strode onward, headed toward the old part of town, his heart wrung with a pain more poignant than any he had ever felt. Once, as he was passing through a cluster of small houses which seemed inhabited by negroes, he saw a few dusky faces he had known, and recognized some familiar voices coming from the unlighted porches and open windows. On trudged the wayfarer, his step slow, his feet heavy. Presently he came to a stone and iron bridge which spanned a small arm of the river, and, crossing to the other side, he ascended a slight elevation from which he had a view of the entire town. It was a lonely, unimproved spot, where a few scrubby pines grew and some gray primitive bowlders lay half embedded in the ground. Farther along the brow of the narrow hill stood the old brick school, which, as a boy, he had attended. A thousand memories flogged his quickened brain—memories of those lost days, when his gentle mother had dressed him and sent him off with a kiss and the admonition to be a good boy. She was dead, she was gone forever, and her prayers in his behalf had fallen on the deaf ear of Infinite Providence. He had not been a good boy, and she had prayed in vain. Her grave was there beyond the town's lights on another hill, and he who had been the sole hope of her motherhood was an alien. He stifled a cry of sheer agony. In his active life in the West he had, in a measure, dulled his senses to much of the past, but here, in view of all he had lost, it was upon him like a monster as long and broad as the universe, with a million sinister claws sunken into his being. There below was the home which might have been his; there, veiled from his sight by the kindly pall of night, lived the men and women who might still have been his friends; there, too, lived the girl, the one girl in all the earth, who—He groaned, and, throwing himself on the ground, he folded his arms and sobbed. How long he remained there he hardly knew, but it was late, for the lights in the houses below were blinking and going out one by one. He was tempted to steal down the hillside, now that deeper darkness offered shelter, and wander through the streets he had loved so well—to wander on till he could see his father's house. Perhaps he might even pass Margaret's home without detection. It would be a risk, an awful risk, he told himself, for he might be recognized, pursued, and even arrested. His hungry heart told him to take the chance, his inbred caution warned him strongly to return to the car without delay, and yet he lingered. He fancied he could see, as his blurred eyes strove to probe the curtain of darkness, the very spot his old home stood upon. Yes, he would risk it. He had been away for years, and he might never return to the old town again. Providence itself had caused the accident to which he owed the opportunity.

Down the incline he went, into the quiet street below, and along it to another which led toward his father's house. Once he saw a man and woman approaching, and he stepped behind a high fence in the grounds of an old mill. He crouched down, and heard their voices as they went by, but they sounded strange to him. He followed now in their wake, and saw them turn in another direction. Then he saw a man approaching, but he walked from side to side of the pavement, as if he were intoxicated, and Walton avoided him by crossing the street and pursuing his way on the other side.

At last he was at his old home. The grounds were the same in size, but the old house had been repainted, and trees which had been small and slender were now large and dense. There was a heartless alteration in the appearance of it all. The white paint on the house somehow made it seem a veritable ghost of its former self; its whole aspect was cold and forbidding. He opened the gate and entered. He was not afraid, for as a boy he had gone into the grounds at any hour he liked; he had even raised an unfastened window in the old dining-room, when he had mislaid his key, and climbed in long after midnight.

There was a light in his father's room on the ground floor, but the blind was drawn down. Fred could not look in from where he stood, so he crept up close to the wall, and moved noiselessly along against it till he could peer through the crack between the window-sill and the blind. He started back, for in the light of the green-shaded lamp he saw his father seated at a table reading a paper. How strange it seemed to see him after all those years! And yet the banker had changed very little. It was the same harsh, imperturbable face. In it lay no sign of concern over the absence of the son who now loved him with a woman's tenderness.

“Poor, poor father!” the young man said, in his heart. “I never understood you. I didn't know what life meant then as I do now. You are living according to your lights. It was I who was wrong—wofully wrong. God help me!”

With a low groan he crept away. Out into the street he went. He must hurry now, for his time was limited. There must be no mistake about the train. He must not let his employer suspect this stolen excursion of his, for it would mar the pleasure of the old man's journey.

Fred now met and had to avoid few passers-by, and he hurried on to Margaret's home, thankful that it lay in the direction of the waiting train. The great structure was wholly dark, and there was no sign of life about it. That was her window; he could plainly see it as he stood at the fence. But what, after all, could it matter to him? Perhaps she had not occupied the room for years. His heart seemed turned to stone as the new fear sank into him that she might have married and moved away. She had loved him once; he was as sure of that as he was of her honesty. Yes, she had loved him! She had told him so with her arms tightly clasped about his neck. His shameful conduct had separated them—that and nothing else. With his head lowered he turned away, wholly indifferent now as to whether he was seen or not.

Almost before he realized it the wrecked freight-cars were before him; the track was being rapidly cleared; the headlight of the train that was to bear him away was streaming on him with insistent fierceness.

“How long will you keep us waiting?” he asked the foreman of the gang, who, in greased and blackened overalls, stood near an overturned truck.

“Only an hour or so longer. It is past one now,” was the reply.

The Pullman was dimly lighted from the overhead lamps which were turned low, but the outer door was open, and, passing the porter half asleep in the smoking-room, Fred went to his berth, drew the curtains aside, and began to undress.

“Is that you, Fred?” a low, anxious voice inquired, and Whipple thrust his shaggy head out from his berth.

“Yes, sir. Is there anything I can do for you, Mr. Whipple?”

“No; that is—” The curtains slowly parted, and the old man came out, completely dressed, save for the absence of his coat, collar, and cravat. He looked around cautiously, and seemed relieved to find that they were the only passengers awake. He sank into a seat opposite Fred's berth and sighed. “I've been awfully worried,” he said. “You see, my boy, I missed you. I waited and waited and couldn't sleep a wink, and the longer you stayed away the worse I got. You see, I have my clothes on. I got up, and went out to the wreck, and tried to find you. I don't know what got into me. I was worried—worried like rips.”

“I felt restless and—went for a walk,” Walton explained, lamely. “I didn't know it was so late; besides, I thought you'd be sound asleep and not miss me.”

“I reckon I'm old and childish,” Whipple said, with a forced laugh. “The fact is, Fred, if the truth must be told, I reckon I feel powerful close to you. I didn't know the thing had taken such a deep hold on me. I reckon it is this trip with just you and me off together like two boys. I've got so I think I can detect when you are happy and when you ain't over your old trouble, and ever since morning I sort o' fancied you looked uneasy and downhearted. Then when you went off, leaving me away out here all by myself, why, somehow, I was afraid—actually afraid that—”

“You were afraid that in my despondency I might injure myself,” Fred broke in; “but you needn't ever—”

“I wasn't afraid of any such thing!” Whipple threw in, almost indignantly. “I knew there was no such danger when you had fought the fight you have for six years hand-running, and got as high up as you have; but I was a little afraid—well, to be honest—I was afraid you might have seen somebody on the train who you wanted to avoid on account of matters long past and buried, and that you thought it might be advisable to—to keep out of sight, that's all.”

“It wasn't that, Mr. Whipple, I assure you,” Walton answered, in a husky voice, and he sat down opposite his friend and laid his hands firmly on the old man's knees. “The time has come, Mr. Whipple, when I must tell you more about my past life. After I have done so, you will fully understand how I—”

“No, no, I won't listen!” Whipple raised his hands in protest. “I don't want to hear a word. It wrings my silly old heart, anyway, to think of what may lie away back there before you come to me. You seem to be a son of my own, born to me in your terrible trouble, and I want to think of you that way. I thought, at first, that it would be a pretty thing to let you pay back the debt hanging over you with just your own earnings; but I don't think so now. That amount of money would be nothing to me, and you know it. You've seen me donate more than that to causes that didn't interest me one-hundredth part as much as this does. My boy, when we get to New York I'll draw the money, and you must take it and clear yourself. I'll never rest till you do.”

“I can't do that, Mr. Whipple,” Walton said, in a grateful tone. “When I left home I told my father the money should be replaced by my own earnings, and it must be that way.”

“You can't keep me from raising your salary if I see fit and proper,” Whipple argued. “You are the best man I ever employed from any standpoint, and you don't draw pay enough—not half enough.”

“I can't let you do it,” Walton said, with a grateful smile. “I am already paid more than any other man in my position. To give me more would be charity, and I don't want that. I want to pay my way out, Mr. Whipple.”

“Well, you'll do it,” the old man gave in, fervently.

“If you was to be hampered now, my brave boy, I'd actually lose faith in God and the hereafter. I honestly believe you'll get your reward, and be reinstated in all you ever wanted. Now, good-night. Sleep sound, and let's not allow this to spoil our good time. I reckon this trip has sort o' turned your thoughts onto bygone days, but we'll have other things to think of in New York. Good-night, my son, good-night.”

“Good-night, sir.”

The heavy curtains hid the portly old man, and Walton proceeded to undress and lie down. But he could not sleep. What human being with a normal heart could have done so under like circumstances? An hour later the dull, rumbling movement of the car told him that they were off. There was no stop at the station, but Walton propped himself upon his elbow and raised the little window-shade and peered out as they passed through the switch-yard of the town. On the platform a night-watchman stood swinging a lantern. In the rapidly shifting glare of light Fred recognized him. It was Dan Smith, a faithful negro who used to work about the bank and whom Fred had known from childhood up.

“Poor old Uncle Dan!” the outcast said, bitterly, as the kindly features were spirited away in the distance.' “You know why 'Marse Freddie' had to leave, don't you? It was because he was a thief, Uncle Dan. The little fellow you used to carry on your shoulders and be so proud of grew up to be a thief—a thief, and he is hiding now from you and all the rest!”


THE two friends had been in New York five days, and in the continual round of theatres, and in sight-seeing, with occasional call at some establishment with which Whipple had dealings, they spent the time very pleasantly. The pain caused by Fred's secret visit to his old home was, in a measure, assuaged by his constant effort to be cheerful for the sake of his benefactor's enjoyment. He felt that he was succeeding, and the realization of the fact buoyed him up to further activity in self-obliteration. On occasion, Whipple acted like a college boy off on a lark. He passed funny criticisms on the persons they saw on the streets and in the cars, and at the table of the café where they got their meals he purposely blundered over the French words on the menu, to the great mystification of the polite waiter, who found it impossible to reconcile actual ignorance with the costly clothing Whipple wore and his extravagant tips and liberal orders.

On the sixth morning of their stay in the metropolis they went down to pay a promised visit to Lewis Marston, the importer of teas and coffees from whom Whipple had received many a shipment and had met once or twice in New Orleans.

“So this is the Mr. Spencer you've written me about so often?” Marston smiled cordially as he was introduced to Fred, and begged them to take seats in the spacious office of which he was the only occupant. “Young man, as we used to say in the South, your ears ought to burn, for your boss has written me lots of good things about you. I remember he wrote last winter that his business was growing out of all bounds, owing to the fresh blood and modern ideas you had put into it.”

Fred flushed modestly as he released the hand of the portly, pink-faced, side-whiskered old merchant.

“Mr. Whipple is noted for his generosity,” he said, lamely.

“Well, you are the only one of his force he has mentioned to me, at any rate,” the importer said, persistently, “and I know he means it, for a man who has ability and can be thoroughly trusted is hard to find these days.”

The three sat and chatted for an hour, Marston being interrupted now and then by a telegram or a question asked by some clerk who came from an adjoining room, where there was a din of clicking typewriting machines.

“Now we'll have to go,” Whipple said, as he arose. “Fred has got some letters of instructions to write home, and I'm due in Wall Street at this very minute.”

“To write letters!” Marston cried. “Well, he needn't go away to do that. Do you see that desk at the window? It is for the sole use of our customers. There is plenty of stationery. Sit down, Mr. Spencer. I'll have to leave soon myself. My wife is coming to get me to help her select some Persian rugs, and you'll have the whole office to yourself.”

“A good plan, Fred,” Whipple exclaimed; “then we could meet at the Astor House and take lunch together at one o'clock. I want to see what the old place is like. My daddy stopped there once before the war.”

“That's the idea!” the importer chimed in. “Make yourself thoroughly at home, Mr. Spencer. If you need anything, just tap that bell and the boy will attend to you.”

When his employer had left, Fred sat down at the desk and began to write.

“Oh, I forgot,” Marston said, apologetically, as he looked up from the letter he was writing. “I will call a stenographer, if you'd like to dictate your correspondence.”

“Oh, thank you,” Fred answered, “it won't be necessary; I have only a few lines to write.”

He had completed the task before him, and was waiting for an opportunity to leave without interrupting the merchant, who was busily writing at his desk, when an office-boy came and spoke to Marston in an undertone.

“Oh, she's not alone, then!” the merchant said aloud, as he pushed back his chair. “Send them up. I am not quite ready yet, and they will have to wait.”

A moment later a cheery feminine voice—evidently Mrs. Marston's—sounded in the corridor outside, where her husband stood waiting for her.

“Well, I'm glad you came along, too, Miss Margaret,” Fred heard the old man saying. “You must sit down in my dusty office for a moment.” He made an effort at lowering his voice, but it was still audible. “There is only one man there, but he is young and decidedly good-looking. By-the-way, he is that Mr. Spencer, the phenomenal young business man I told you about. Come in, and I'll let you entertain him till I can get away. I've got to run down to the main salesroom.”

“And I've got to telephone the cook.” It was evidently Mrs. Marston's voice again. “We are going back to lunch. The General has promised to meet us there. Where is the booth?”

“At the end of the corridor,” Marston was heard directing her. “Now, come on, young lady. By George, that is a stunning gown! The new railroad helped pay for that, eh?”

The thin canvas door was pushed open. Fred stood up; his eyes dilated; his blood ran cold. It was Margaret Dearing to whom the voluble merchant was casually introducing him.

Margaret started and paled.

“Mr. Spencer!” she echoed, then quickly averted her face from the inattentive glance of her host.

Walton's eyes went down as he bowed, white and quivering. He could say nothing.

“Now, I'll leave you two to get acquainted,” Marston said, quite unconscious that anything unusual had happened, and, gathering up some sheets of paper from his desk, he hastened away.

“Margaret!” Walton gasped, when they were alone in the awful silence of the room.

“Mr. Spencer?—Spencer?” the young lady groped, as she gazed on him in helpless wonder.

“God forgive me, I had to change my name!” he panted, as he stood white as death could have made him under her timid, almost frightened stare. “I had no other reason than that I wanted to live down my disgrace, and it looked like it would be impossible otherwise. I was a drowning man, Margaret, grasping at a straw; a new life opened out to me, and I entered it with the hope that—”

“I understand!” the girl gasped, and she drew herself up in pained haughtiness and twisted her gloved hands tightly in front of her. “But need we—talk about it?”

“No, I haven't even that right,” Walton declared, as he looked at the woman, grown infinitely more beautiful and graceful than even her girlhood had foreshadowed. “I promised Wynn the night I left that I'd never insult you by coming in contact with you again, or even addressing a line to you. I knew we had to part—that I could best serve you by going away never to return. Your brother was right. He acted only as any honorable man should in talking to me as he did. I was insane to aspire to your friendship with that thing hanging over me; but it was the insanity of love, Margaret—a love that never can die. I ought not to say it now, but what does it matter? I am not fit for you to wipe your feet on. I am still a fugitive from justice—a criminal living under an assumed name.”

He paused, for she had collapsed limply into Marston's chair, and was resting her white brow on her bloodless hand.

“Oh, don't—it is—is killing me!” she cried. “I had thought we might never meet again. I was beginning to hope that, in time, the memory of—of it all would be less painful, but it is revived again. Oh, it is unbearable!” He took a deep, trembling breath, and moved a step nearer to her.

“But even you will grant that, by continued effort, I may purge my soul of it—at least, in the eyes of God,” he said. “I don't mean that I could ever ask you to receive me openly as an equal after what has happened, but you will, at least, be glad that I am honestly striving to lead a better life.”

“Yes, yes,” she said—“oh yes!”

“And I am not wholly living under false colors,” he went on, anxiously. “I have confessed the worst to my employer, and he is doing all he can to help me. He trusts me. I don't like to say these things in my own behalf, and yet surely you will forgive me for saying that I am, at least, not living as I used to live.”

“You intend to make—make reparation?” she said, raising an awful glance to his face.

“Of course. I have sent back all my savings so far—every dollar I could get together; and before another year is past I hope to send enough, at least, to—”

“Money!” she cried, almost in a tone of disgust—and as she spoke she had a picture of a golden-haired child with a sunny face playing on the lawn at her home—“money! As if that would count in a matter like—like that!

“It is all I can do now, Margaret!” he exclaimed, as he shrank under the unexpected severity of her words.

“I presume so,” she answered, coldly, even sternly, and she fixed an unreadable stare on his blighted face; “and yet if you could be back at home, and see what I have seen, perhaps you'd realize that there are things mere money cannot restore. I can't blame you wholly—to save my life, I can't! The temptation was deliberately put in your track; you were not born with the power to resist, and so you fell like many another man has fallen, but you ought to have stayed on at Stafford and done your duty—your full duty!”

“I couldn't! I assure you, I couldn't, Margaret!” he went on, almost piteously, his lips quivering under stress of the vast emotion let loose within him. “My father would have punished me by law—would have deprived me of every chance to atone in the way that I am now trying to atone. But I have no right to talk to you this way. I am breaking my promise to Wynn. By my own act, I have banished myself from you forever.”

“Yes, forever!” she admitted, as her proud head went down. “There is nothing either of us can do. We must try not to meet again, even by accident. I must join Mrs. Marston now. I hear her in the corridor. You are very pale, and she might wonder and imagine all sorts of things. I'd have to introduce you, and I can't even remember your—your new name. I will tell no one at home that I have seen you. You may trust that to me. Your secret is safe. I can't recall the name of the place you live in. I sha'n't try. I never have believed it was all your fault—that is, not all. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye,” he repeated, huskily; and he saw her rise, and, without extending her hand, or giving him another glance, she moved unsteadily toward the door.

When she was gone he sat down at the desk and took up his pen, and with an inanimate hand began to address one of his letters, wondering dumbly that such mere details as a street and number and a man's initials could rise to his memory at such a moment.

That evening, in the big drawing-room at the Marstons', General Sylvester sat down by his niece.

“You look tired,” he said. “I think you show it more than usual; being on one's feet all day is no little tax on the energy. By-the-way, we are invited to a big reception for next Wednesday evening at the Langleys'. It is given to some foreign statesman or other. I have the card somewhere. You must look your prettiest and wear the dandy gown I selected.”

“Why, it isn't for evening wear.” Margaret smiled faintly. “Besides, do you think we ought to stay as—long as that?”

“As long as that?” he exclaimed. “Are you really thinking of going home? Of course, it lies with you, dear. As far as I am personally concerned, it doesn't matter one way or the other. Say, little girl, are you really homesick?”

“I think I am, Uncle Tom.” She avoided his eyes, which were so solicitously bearing down on her from beneath their heavy brows. “I presume the novelty of this sort of thing soon wears off, and our home is so soothing and restful.”

“Ah, I smell a rat!” the General said, teasingly. “I forgot about that lonely bachelor neighbor of ours. We were to look after him, weren't we? Well, we'll go back, and you'll encourage him a little more, won't you?”

The girl shuddered, an irrepressible sob struggled up within her, and her head sank to her tightly clasped hands.

“Oh, how can you say such a thing?” she asked, under her breath. “I don't love him. I know I can never do so now, and to think of what you want is—horrible!” To the old man's utter bewilderment she rose, placed her handkerchief to her lips, and left the room.


KENNETH GALT was now living the life of a recluse in his old home. The tendency to this sort of existence belongs to rare and exceptional temperaments. He kept assuring himself that it was to be only for a time, that when Sylvester returned with his stately niece he would crawl out of his morbid husk and bask in their genial hospitality. Of course, he told himself, this gloomy period of solitary self-accusation simply must not continue. He had taken steps which no living man could retrace in his decision in regard to Dora's fate and the fate of her child, and there was nothing left for him to do but to try to forget his part in the tragedy. If he now feared that he might never again have complete peace of mind in regard to the girl's condition, it was due to his present unwise proximity to her, and to his queer, almost ecstatic, pride in his son. Some men are coarse enough to have a contempt for the rights, social and otherwise, of their own children of illegitimate birth; but Kenneth Galt, in despising many of the laws of man, gave little Lionel the credit of being the product of a law he himself had made, and which, therefore, was worthy of consideration. In some States the declaration by a pair that they intend to live together constitutes a legal marriage, and it was with that broad view that Dora, blinded by faith in the superior knowledge of her lover, had unquestioningly delivered herself. He shuddered as the conviction struck into him that, under the same temptation that had swerved him from fidelity to their pact, she would have remained firm. She was scarcely more than a child when he deserted her. What, he asked himself, had she developed into? Dearing said she was more beautiful than ever, and as for her advance in strength of mind and soul, there were her pictures to witness. And as he looked at them day after day their subtle, creative depth grew upon him. He had made a fair financial success; but what he had done, he now told himself, was only what butchers and cobblers had accomplished. What she was doing, in her exile from her kind, was the work of deathless inspiration. Dearing had once aptly said that God used Evil as the fertilizer to the soil of Good, and if so, to carry the analogy further, Galt, in his craving for the praise of the world, and in his cowardly shrinking from Right, was the impure soil in which the flower of Dora's genius was being nurtured. Yes, there was no denying it. Fate was playing a sardonic game with him. Dora, cloaked in suffering frailty, and championed by Truth and Spirit, was pitted against him, the carping, sourfaced apostle of man's puny material rights; she would go on, and he would go on. What would be the goal, and which the ultimate winner? He had argued that the grave and nothingness comprised the pot of dross at the end of every life's rainbow; but was he right? Could that mysterious, compelling sense of fatherhood; the thrill of boundless ecstasy, when he held Lionel in his arms; the awful brooding over the boy's future; the infinite rebuke of the child's fathomless eyes—could such things be mere functions of matter?

He was in his library when these reflections were passing through his brain, and his attention was attracted by children's voices somewhere outside raised to a high pitch of anger. Stepping to a window, he looked out toward the house of his neighbor, Congressman Weston. He was just in time to see Weston's son, Grover, climb over the low paling fence, and, with a loud and abusive threat, approach Lionel, who was shorter by a head.

“You said I shouldn't say it again,” he cried, “but I do! She is not fit for anybody to go with. My mother wouldn't notice her, and no other nice lady would. People don't—they don't go near her!”

Galt's blood was shocked to stillness in his veins, and then, as if by reactionary process, it began to boil. He saw the erect figure of his son stand as if stunned for an instant, and then, like a young tiger, Lionel sprang at the other boy, his little hands balled. Galt heard the blows as they fell on young Weston's fat cheeks, and he chuckled and ground his teeth in blended satisfaction and rage. He sprang through the open window to the grass, and hurriedly skirted a clump of boxwood just in time to see Grover Weston recovering from the unexpected onslaught and beginning to rain blow after blow upon Lionel's white face. The contest was close, despite the inequality in ages and sizes; but the nameless scion of the Gaits, unconscious of his heritage of bravery, was unconquerable. He was there to fight, justly roused as he was, to his last breath. For one instant Grover tore himself from Lionel's bear-like clutch, and stood glowering in sheer astonishment from his battered and bruised face.

“You little bastard, I'll—” And he suddenly hurled his fist into Lionel's face with all his force. It was a staggering blow, but Lionel met it without a whimper or the loss of a breath. He sprang again at his assailant, and, catching him around the neck with his strong left arm, he battered the other boy's face with blow after blow.

“Hit him—that's right, hit him, Lionel!” Galt cried out, in utter forgetfulness of his own incongruous position. “Beat his nasty face to a pulp while you've got him! If you don't do it now, he'll down you when he gets free. Give him his medicine, and give him a full dose. That's the thing—trip him up!”

Without sparing an instant to look, but having recognized Galt's voice, Lionel bent his wiry body toward accomplishing the trick advised. The two combatants swung back and forth, still bound together by Lionel's clutch, till finally they went down side by side. And then ensued another struggle as to which should get on top.

“Throw your leg over!” Galt cried out. “Ah, that's a beauty! Now, beat him till he takes it back!” Lionel needed no such advice. His little fists moved like the spokes of a turning wheel. A shrill howl of defeat rose from the conquered bully, and he uttered a prolonged scream of genuine alarm. Then emerged from a side door of the Weston house no less a personage than the Congressman himself, and he ran across the grass, taking flower-pots and beds of roses at long leaps.

Reaching the fighters, he grasped Lionel by the collar of his blouse and drew him off of his cowering son. And as he held him, squirming like a cat, he turned on Galt. “Damn it, man!” he cried, in breathless fury, “what do you mean by standing here and encouraging this brat to fight my boy?”

“Why, I only wanted to see fair play, that's all,” Galt replied, a dangerous gleam in his eyes. “I happened to hear your big bully of a son dare the little one to fight him, and he brought it on by insulting the little fellow's mother. God bless him, he didn't need my advice. He could whip two such whelps as yours, and never half try! He hasn't a cowardly bone in his body! He was all there!”

“Well, it seems to me, you are in a pretty business!” Weston retorted, white with rage.

“I might be even more active than I am, Weston,” Galt said, with cold significance, “and if you are not satisfied with the part I have taken, you only have to say the word. You know that well enough.”

The Congressman was taken aback. There was something in the unruffled tone and meaning stare of his neighbor's eyes that perplexed and quelled him. He now turned upon his sniffling offspring.

“You go in the house!” he said, angrily. “You are always picking at some child under your size. I have noticed it.” Weston was a politician before anything else, and the thought of turning against him a man who controlled as many votes as did the president of the greatest railway in the State was not particularly inviting.

“I didn't mean to offend you, Galt,” he said, as his boy limped away, still mopping his eyes with his fists. “I reckon I got hot because it was my own flesh and blood. Of course, it was natural for you to sympathize with the smaller of the two.”

“That's the way I felt about it, Weston,” Galt said, staring coldly at the speaker. “I have nothing at all to apologize for.”

“Well, I'll see that Grover behaves himself better in future,” the Congressman said, still with his political eye open to advantages. “Of course, it would be natural for a child like mine to pick up remarks floating about among older people in regard to the mother of—”

“We'll let that drop, too, Weston!” Galt snarled. His lip quivered ominously as he glanced significantly at Lionel, who was listening attentively, the blood from a bruised nose trickling down to his chin and neck.

“All right, I understand,” the Congressman said; and he moved awkwardly away, wondering what manner of man the frigid and reticent Galt was, after all.

“I suppose I've got myself in a pretty mess,” Lionel remarked, ruefully, when Weston had left him and his father together. “My mother has made me promise time after time not to fight; but, you see, I did.”

“Yes, I see you did,” Galt responded, a lump of queer approval in his throat.

“I couldn't help it—I really couldn't,” Lionel said, with a rueful look at his hands, which were covered with the blood of his antagonist. “I must be a bad boy; but oh, I couldn't let him say my beautiful mother—my sweet mo—” He choked up. “I couldn't—I simply couldn't! She is so sweet and good! I couldn't help it!”

“Of course not, but don't worry about it,” Galt said, sunken to depths of shame he had never reached before. “You must try to forget it—forget the whole thing.”

“I am afraid my mother will find out about it, and, you know, she mustn't,” the child said, his great eyes filled with concern. “She would ask what the boy said, and Granny says she must never be told nasty things children say to me. Such things make her sad and keep her from painting. She must not find out about this—this fight.”

“Well, she really need not know,” Galt said, as the heat of his shame mantled his face and brow.

“But she will,” Lionel insisted, gloomily, “for she is sure to see this blood on me. It is on my neck, and running down under my collar. Do you suppose I could get it off without soiling my waist?”

Galt unbuttoned the broad white collar, and drew it away from the child's neck.

“It hasn't touched it yet,” he said. “Wait a moment!” And he adroitly, and yet with oddly quivering fingers, inserted his own handkerchief between the collar and the trickling blood. “Now come into the house, and I'll fix you up. Your clothes are a little rumpled, but when I have washed the blood off no one need know about your fight.”

“Oh, that would be a fine idea!” Lionel exclaimed, joyfully. He put his little hand into his father's, and together they went into the house. “She won't know, will she?”

“No, she need not know,” Galt said aloud; but in his thought he added: “Lionel, you are a little gentleman. You are a living proof that blood will tell.”

The lonely man's heart was warmed by an inward glow of pride which was quickly succeeded by an icy breath of despair that seemed to blow over him. This, he reflected, was only the introductory part of the vast soul tragedy he himself had put on the stage of existence. The trials he had encountered through young manhood were naught to those foreshadowed in the unsuspecting and trusting face at his side.

“Here is the bath,” he said, as they reached the white-tiled room on the second floor. “Now go in, and be careful to take off your blouse without getting it bloody. If we are going to work this thing we must work it right. Perhaps you'd better strip and bathe all over. It will make you feel good anyway, after that fierce round of yours. Let me fill the tub.”

“I think I'd better, maybe,” acquiesced Lionel. “Well, be careful,” Galt warned him, as he turned on the two streams of water and tested the blending temperature.

“I really can't unbutton this collar behind,” Lionel said, with a touch of manly shame over the confession. “My mother always does it. She has never let me learn. I am big enough, gracious knows!”

“Wait, let me undress you!” the father said, as he hastily dried his hands.

“I wish you would, if you'll be so kind,” Lionel said, in a tone of reliance, which somehow reached an hitherto untouched fount of feeling in the breast of his companion.

As the child stood before him, Galt, with throbbing pulse and reverent fingers, found himself doing the duties of a mother to his offspring. The flowing necktie and collar were removed; next the blouse and underbody. Then a vision of inexplicable and awe-inspiring beauty greeted the senses of the beholder, as the symetrical form, a veritable poem in flesh and blood, stood bared to his sight. He laid the still unsoiled garments on a chair, and lifted the boy in his arms to put him into the water. The warm, smooth cheek touched his own; a tingling throb of paternity—of starving, yearning fatherhood—shot through him as he held the boy across his arms like a baby and lowered him slowly to the water.

“Look out, I'll duck you!” he said, jestingly, and the boy replied with a ringing laugh which held no hint of fear.

In the water the child lay with his face smilingly upturned.

“Ugh!” he exclaimed, “it feels good. This tub is big enough to swim in—a little bit, anyway. Will you show me how to swim some day?”

“Yes, my son—yes, Lionel, some day, perhaps.”

“In deep water—in a really-really stream that fish swim in?”

“Yes, Lionel.”

“Oh, that would be so nice! Couldn't we catch fish, too?”

“I think so—yes, of course, some day, perhaps.”

But would those delights, conceived for the first time to-day, ever be realized? Galt asked himself, as keen pangs from some unknown source darted through him. Sick unto death of the vapid adulation of narrow men and women, would he ever experience the transcendental joy of intimate and daily companionship with this human wonder, such as other fathers enjoyed with their sons?

No, the question was already answered. The bliss—the queer, Heaven-tending bliss of the present moment—was merely stolen. Was it likely that any son at all would ever come to him—a son which he could father in the broadest, holiest sense? No; and he started and fell to quivering superstitiously. Even if he were married and another son was given to him in lawful wedlock, could he dare—in the face of Infinite Justice—dare to put that child forward, acknowledge that child as his own, while deserting, ignoring, denying Lionel?

“Great God!” his quaking soul cried out in sheer anguish. “Lionel, my son; my boy, made in the image of her and me, he who trusts and so innocently loves me! And yet it must be. Fate has ordained it. I have his faith and love now, but later he may turn on me like an avenging angel.”

“My mother soaps me all over before I get out. Must I do it?” the child asked, as his merry, haunting eyes smiled up through their long, wet lashes.

“It won't be necessary this time,” Galt said. “The blood is entirely washed off. Get out and let me dry you with this big towel.”

“Ugh! it is cold.” The boy shuddered, as he stood out on the rug and allowed himself to be enveloped from head to foot in the big Turkish towel. He was soon dry, and as he stood, his soft skin flushed as delicately pink as the inside of a sea-shell, Galt, making many an awkward mistake, proceeded to dress him.

“Now let me brush your hair; at least, I know how to do that, young man,” the father said, “but I think it ought to be wet more.”

“Oh no; it is too wet now!” the child declared, as he shook his locks, the ends of which had been under water. “My mother combs it dry.”

“There, how will that do, Miss Particular?” Galt asked as he led the child to a large mirror.

“I don't know; it looks funny, somehow”—Lionel made a grimace at his image in the glass—“but it will have to do. I'd better hurry home. They might miss me, and find out about the fight. I like you for that.”

“For what?” Galt followed him to the door, and as they started across the grass toward the cottage he felt Lionel timidly reaching out for his hand. He had evidently not heard Galt's half-whispered question.

“What was it you said you liked me for?” his father repeated, taking the little hand and holding it tenderly.

“Oh, because you wanted me to whip him. He's rich and has everything, and Granny says his father is a great man. I suppose if you liked Grover the best you would have told him how to fight.”

“You are smaller than he,” Galt said, lamely.

“Then it wasn't because you like me?” Galt felt the little hand stiffen, as if some impulse of dormant confidence in the tiny palm had forsaken it.

“Yes, it was because I like you,” Galt said, warmly, and, obeying a desire he refused to combat, he raised the boy in his arms and held him tight against his breast. “If he had hurt you, Lionel, I don't know what I should have done.”

“Then I'm glad I made him bellow,” the boy said, with a little laugh, as he got down to the ground. “Something had to be done, you know, after he said that about my mother.”

Yes, something had to be done, Kenneth Galt told his tortured inner self, as he stood and watched the boy trip lightly homeward—some one had to fight and struggle and smart as a consequence of the wrong that had been done, and the duty had fallen on a little child. Through the slow, weary years of perhaps a long life the fight just beginning would go on, and the chief cause of it must shirk it all. Galt groaned, and clinched his hands, and turned back to his desolate home. He had contended that there was no such thing as spirit, and yet this remorse raging like a tempest within him certainly had naught to do with matter. He had argued that man, born of the flesh, could gratify all animal desires and suffer no ill effects except those excited by physical fear; but there was nothing to fear in this case. Dora's lips were sealed; no one else knew the truth, or ever would know, and yet the very skies above seemed turning to adamant and closing in around him.


DORA BARRY sat at her easel absorbed in the painting of a picture, though the afternoon light was fading from her canvas in a way that made the work difficult, when her mother came to the door and glanced in.

“I have kept a lookout for fully an hour,” she announced, “but I haven't once seen Lionel. I am getting old and silly, I suppose, but I can't keep from worrying.”

Dora got up quickly, her face full of alarm, and the two went to the window of the dining-room and stood looking out for a moment.

“There! Isn't that—I see him!” Mrs. Barry cried out in relief. “Why, he is with Kenneth Galt! He has him in his arms. There!—don't you see?—just beyond the row of cedars. Thank Heaven! we had our scare for nothing.”

But Dora, wide-eyed and astonished, was silent; her face was very grave. Her mother ran eagerly to the door to meet the child, but Dora remained as if rooted to the spot, her gaze fixed on the receding form of Galt.

“Why did he have him?” she whispered to herself. “What can it mean? He was treating him kindly, and gently, too. I could see it in his face. It was glowing as it used to glow when he was true to himself and to me. It looked like Lionel's arm was round his neck. What can it mean?”

When the child had come in, Dora sat down and drew him into her lap and held him fondly to her breast. “Mother was frightened,” she said, cooingly, her lips on his brow. “She missed her little boy, and was afraid something had happened to him.”

“Oh, I'm all right, mother,” Lionel said. “I can take care of myself; you must never be afraid.”

“But how did you happen to be with Mr. Galt?” Mrs. Barry asked. “I didn't know you knew him.”

“Why, why—” but Lionel went no further. He had never lied, and the plan his sense of honor had laid for him was difficult to execute. His grandmother repeated her question in more positive tones, but, with eyes downcast, he refused to answer.

“Let him alone, mother,” Dora said, her face rigid. “It doesn't make any difference.”

“It doesn't, eh?” the old woman exclaimed, in surprise. “Well, I think you both are acting queerly. There is no reason why Lionel should not tell us when and how he met Mr. Galt. I can see by his face that he is keeping something back.”

But Dora was holding the child's head against her throbbing breast, and she threw an almost commanding glance at her mother.

“Let him alone now,” she said, firmly, and with such a sharp tone of finality that her mother stared at her in surprise and left the room.

That evening Dora prepared the child for bed. As she undressed him she scanned each piece of his clothing most carefully. She found a green smudge made from strong pressure against the turf in a most unexpected place, high up on the child's back; she discovered the imprint of soiled fingers on the broad white collar, and remarked the inconsistency of this with Lionel's immaculately clean hands; the necktie had been loose and awkwardly retied; and, most conspicuous of all, was the uncouth way the golden hair was dressed. She noted all these things without comment; but when the white bed-covers were turned down, and Lionel had said his prayers and crawled in, Dora lowered the lamp and reclined beside him. Outwardly she was calm. To the child's observation, no new thing had happened in her even life, and yet her whole being was aflame, her soul panting in suspense.

“Mother's little boy never has told her a story in all his life,” she began, as soothingly as if she were crooning him to sleep. “Isn't that nice? Some little boys tell fibs to their mothers, but my boy has always told the truth, and mother is so glad.”

Lionel lay still. She kissed him softly and waited. At any other time his little arms and lips would have responded, and she marked well the change to-night. Lionel did not move or speak, but simply lay with his old-young gaze gravely fixed on the ceiling where the lamp-chimney had focussed a ring of light.

“You would tell your mother everything that ever happened to you, wouldn't you, darling?” she said, shyly pressing her cheek against his. She felt him nod impulsively, but second thought seemed to seal his lips. His was a tender age at which to begin the defence of a wronged parent by pretext and concealment, but the burden was on his shoulders, and little Lionel was manfully doing his best.

“There are two kinds of stories, and they are both bad,” Dora went on, desperate over the delay of the divulgence which she thought could mean so little to the child and yet so very much to her. “It is bad to tell a lie, and it is bad to keep back anything at all from your mother, because she is more to you than all the rest of the world. She is your mother; she works for you; she loves you; she would die for you; and if anybody—no matter who it is—were to want you to keep a secret from her, it would be wrong—very, very wrong. It would make your mother very unhappy; it would make her cry long after you were asleep to know that her little son was keeping anything from her.”

She felt the little white-robed figure quiver. He raised himself on his elbow and slowly sat up; his young face, in the dim light, was full of struggle.

“Is that so, mother?” he asked.

“Yes, darling,” she answered. “There can be no secrets at all between a mother and her boy. She must tell him everything, and he must not keep a thing back from her. How did you happen to meet—Mr. Galt this afternoon?”

That's what you want to know?”

“Yes, dear—that's all. Surely, there can be no reason why your own dear mother should not know a little thing like that. Surely he—Mr. Galt—couldn't have told you not to tell me?”

The child was still for a moment. He folded his little arms over his knee, clinched his hands, and sat avoiding her insistent eyes.

“Wait!” he said, finally. “I want to go to Granny.”

“You want to go to Granny, and leave your mother?” she asked, deeply perplexed. .

“Just a minute,” he said, as he crawled over her and got down on the floor. “I'll be back. I'll be right back, mother, dear.”

“It is something you will tell her, but can't tell me!” Dora cried out, in half-assumed reproach. “Why, Lionel?

“I'll be back,” he said, evasively. “There is no hurry.” And she heard the patter of his bare feet along the corridor to his grandmother's room.

Mrs. Barry always retired early, and she was now in her bed, but very wide awake. Something in the incident had set her to thinking on new lines. “Can it be? Can it be?” she kept asking herself, in great excitement. “Why didn't I think of it?”

“Granny!” she heard Lionel call out from the dark, doorway.

“Yes, dear, what is it?” she asked.

“I want to come to your bed a minute—just a minute.”

“All right, come on, darling; don't stumble over anything.”

She heard him groping through the dark, and then felt his little hands on her wrinkled face.

“Granny,” he said, a tremor in his voice, “you told me if anybody ever said anything mean about my mother, that I must not let her know about it—never at all.”

“Yes, darling, that would be a nice, brave little man, for you wouldn't want to make her sad, would you?”

“Well, I had a terrible fight with Grover Weston over in Mr. Galt's yard. Grover said a nasty, mean thing about her. You told me not to let her know anything like that, and so did Mr. Galt, but mamma is begging me so hard.”

“Oh!” The old woman lifted the boy over her into the bed, and put her arms about him tenderly. “You can tell Granny about it, and then if she thinks best perhaps you may tell your mother.”

He complied, and the wondering old woman, as she lay with the child in her arms, heard the whole beautiful story in every detail, even to Galt's display of affection, and as she listened cold tears welled up in her old eyes and trickled down the furrows of her cheeks to her pillow. When it was over, she led the child back to his mother.

“Don't ask him any more about it. Wait,” she said, in an undertone, and with a significant gesture in the direction of her room. “Don't spoil a beautiful thing. God bless him! he is right—young as he is, he is right! The very angels of heaven are closing his sweet lips to-night. Don't bother him.”

When Lionel was asleep Dora anxiously crept into her mother's room. A lamp was now burning on a table, but Dora blew it out, and went and sat on the edge of her mother's bed.

“I know your secret now,” Mrs. Barry faltered, with a suppressed sob in her pillow. “All these years I have wondered over your great trouble, and why you were not more open with me about it, but Lionel has made it clear. I understand now.”

“Did Kenneth Galt tell my child that—” Dora cried out, in a rasping undertone. “Did he dare to—”

“No, no, not that!” the old woman corrected. “He simply betrayed himself in his conduct toward the boy. Listen! Lionel need never suspect that you know what he did, but you must be told the truth. It is too beautiful for you to miss.”

She told the whole story as it had come from the child's lips, together with other things she had culled as to happenings between him and his father on former occasions.

“Let them both alone,” she added, fervently, as she concluded. “The little fellow, nameless and cast out as he is, has of himself won the love God gave him the right to. It is his. Let him keep it, and I pray Heaven that it may drag that haughty spirit down into the mire of repentance. I've thought it all over. I remember the date well. I know now why he deserted you; he couldn't face public exposure just at that particular time. His temptation was great, and he fell. I believe he loved you then, and that he does yet.”

Does yet!” Dora sneered, and she put a protesting hand out to her mother's as it lay on the coverlet. “Don't say that. He couldn't now—after all this time.”

“But he does, he does—a thousand times more than he did, too,” the old woman insisted. “He hasn't married; he is leading a lonely, morbid life. He-is longing for you—though he may still dread public opinion—and is adoring the child. He may resist longer, but in the end he will succumb and crawl to your feet and beg for forgiveness. Watch my prophecy. He'll do it!—he'll do it!”

“You don't know, mother,” Dora sighed, and she stood up and moved away in the darkness. “You don't know.”

Dora went back to her room and stood looking down at her sleeping child. Suddenly her eyes filled and her breast heaved high.

“Mother's little champion!” she cried, and she knelt down by the bed, covered her face, and wept.


THE July sun beat fiercely on the tin slate roofs of the houses forming square of Stafford. It was noon, business was at a standstill. The clerks and typewriters in Walton's bank yawning and fanning themselves heat. The only occupied individual in the building was the banker himself, who was crouched over his desk in his little office making calculations on a pad of paper with a pencil. Toby Lassiter was at the window of the receiving-teller when an old man came in at the folding-screen door and asked if he might see Mr. Walton personally. It was Stephen Whipple, and he carried a travelling-bag in his hand; he was covered with dust, and marked in the creases of his face by drifts of fine cinders.

“I'll see, sir, if you'll wait a minute,” Toby answered, with his best window-manners; then he went to his employer, and returned to pilot the caller back to the office.

“Stranded on a trip and wants a check cashed without identification,” was Toby's mental comment as he led the way. “Well, he's come to the wrong man, as he will mighty soon find out.”

Whipple gave a searching glance at the man who was rising from the desk with impatiently lifted brows. He put his bag down at his feet, but failed to extend his hand, as Walton evidently expected him to do.

“Take a seat, sir, take a seat,” and the banker motioned to a chair near the desk.

“Thanks.” The Westerner kicked his bag along toward the chair, and sat down rather clumsily. He took out an enormous handkerchief, also considerably begrimed, and mopped his perspiring face.

“You've got a hot town, sir,” Whipple said, introductively.

“Some say so, and some say not,” Walton replied, succinctly. “Well, sir,” he continued, “is there anything I can do for you? The reason I make so bold as to ask is because my clerk said you wanted to see me personally.”

“Yes, it is of a sort of personal nature; at least, I reckon, you might call it that,” and the merchant reached down and caught the handle of his bag for no obvious reason than that he wanted to move it to a point equidistant between his two splaying feet. Then he looked up, and there was a decided flush of embarrassment in his face, which extended down to the soiled collar on his pudgy neck. The banker, ever quick at the reading of countenances, came to the conclusion that some sort of unbusiness-like request in regard to needed funds was forthcoming, and he was already framing his refusal.

“Well, sir—well, sir?” he said.

“The truth of the matter is that it is of such a personal nature that it is purty hard to know how to get started at it,” Whipple finally got out. “Of course, I am a stranger to you, and I've come, too, without any letters of introduction or papers of identification, and—is there any danger of anybody listening?”

“None whatever—none on earth!” Walton sniffed, impatiently. “You can talk at the top of your voice if you want to; the walls are thick; besides, I don't have secrets, and I don't know as I am in the market for any.”

“No, of course not, Mr. Walton.” The flush in the visitor's face was dying out and giving place to an expression of rather anxious rigidity. “Well, I am glad we won't be overheard, at any rate, for I want to talk to you in behalf of your son.”

“Oh, that's it, huh? I see! I see!” And Walton swept the form before him with eyes in which the lights of anger were slowly but positively kindling. “It is about him, is it? Well, wait till I send this letter to the mail. I'll be back, sir. I'll be back.”

“All right, Mr. Walton. There's no hurry.”

With the letter in his hand the banker rose as if from the sheer heat of the growing anger within him and went out. Standing in the door of the main counting-room he caught Lassiter's eye and signalled him to approach. Giving him the letter, Walton said: “Mail that, and then come back and keep a peeled eye on that fat chap at my desk. Do you remember what I said when that three thousand dollars came from nowhere in particular by express awhile back, along with the mealy-mouthed yarn from Fred about changing his ways, and all that gush?”

“Yes, sir, I think so,” answered the startled Toby. “You said you thought—”

“That it was a deep-laid plan amongst him and some other sharpers to hoodwink me; and I told you, Toby, that I'd be willing to bet money that it wouldn't be many days before somebody would hike along this way to talk it over—some go-between, you understand. Well, he's in there now, setting humped over his satchel like a spider watching a fly. He thinks I'm the fly. I want to know what he's got to say. I want to see his hand, you know, and I come out here to take a whiff of air and steady myself so I wouldn't blurt out what I thought too quick and drive him away. Keep your eye on him after he leaves me, Toby, and see which way he goes. He looks to me like some shyster lawyer who has taken up the matter and thinks he is smart enough to fool me. Somebody has invested three thousand in this scheme, and the deal is to be clinched this morning. Huh! I'll sorter tote 'im along, Toby, and see if I can get onto his game,” and, with a sly and yet nervous wink, Walton turned away.

“Yes, sir; all right now, sir,” he said, breezily, as he returned to his desk and lowered himself into his chair. “We've got this room all to ourselves, and are as snug as a bug in a rug, as the fellow said. Now, fire ahead.”

“Of course, it must be a sort o' disagreeable subject for you to talk about,” Whipple began, awkwardly, “and I'll admit to you, Mr. Walton, that I thought over it a powerful long time before I finally made up my mind to come.”

“Oh yes, of course,” Walton said, pulling his whiskers with his long hand—“of course, you naturally would.”

“Especially as Fred had no idea of what I had in view,” the Westerner said. “You see, I had to act wholly on my own responsibility.”

“Yes, I see—I see, sir.” It was only by an effort that Walton kept a sarcastic ring of irritation out of his voice, and he stroked into the roots of his beard a smile of contempt at such puerile attempts to deceive.

“And that's what makes the whole thing so hard on me,” the merchant went on. “You see, I took it on myself to act for Fred in, I might say, actual opposition to his wishes and judgment.”

Whipple then proceeded to give a full and accurate account of his first introduction to Fred and all that had happened to him since, withholding only his own name and the name of the town he was from. And while he talked, pausing to wipe his wet brow at times, or to clear his shaky voice, the banker watched him as a cat might a mouse. He held a pencil in his long, steady fingers, and kept the point of it on a pad of paper, raising his shrewd glance and lowering it as suited his fancy. Had he been an artist, old Simon might have sketched what to his understanding was the most subtly designing face he had ever seen. Here was a man, he told himself, who resorted even to the emotional methods of a ranting revivalist to gain his nefarious aims. It was a wonderful conception, but it wofully missed its mark, for it was being applied to a man who had no emotions. It was being applied to a man, too, who was as eagerly on the lookout for new tricks as a biologist for a new species of insect. What a weakling the fellow was, for a man of that age, and what fun it would be to suddenly undeceive him—let him know the manner of man he was attempting, in such a shallow way, to bunco!

“Yes, I decided not to wait longer,” Whipple concluded, with a sigh. “I didn't intend to act till the remaining three thousand was paid; but, as I say, I—”

“It is only two, according to my calculations.” Walton thought he had tripped him up, and smiled knowingly.

“Fred said he felt that another thousand, at least, was due as interest at the rate you usually get.”

“Oh, I see; he's certainly liberal.” Walton smiled at his joke, and bent his head over his pad to hide it.

“As I say,” the merchant resumed, “I intended to wait till the debt was entirely paid, but things took a sudden turn that I didn't expect. I offered to advance the money to Fred, but he wouldn't take it.”

“Oh, he wouldn't take it!” Walton said, with a hurried regret that Toby was not present to enjoy the feast of stupidity being spread before him. “I see; he didn't want it. That's a little bit like him.” Simon's amusement showed itself now in his voice rather than in the visage which he managed to keep unruffled. “But you say things had sorter taken a twist around?”

“Yes; he was brave enough, and bearing up mighty well till me and him took a trip, as much for pleasure as anything else, to New York, and we passed through this very town, and—”

“So you passed through here?” Walton interrupted, and then to himself he added: “I knew it. I knew Fred was hanging about Atlanta and sending money to that woman. Huh, his fat agent is certainly giving the snap away!”

“Yes, we passed through here one night, and, as our train was delayed below town by a wreck ahead of us, Fred got out and walked around. He was gone till after midnight, and when he came back to the Pullman where I was I noticed that he was powerfully upset, and begun to suspect that maybe this was his old home. He started to tell me about it then, but I stopped him, and it was not till we had been to New York and got back home that he finally told me your name and where you lived. As I said, he has not been the same since then, and, to be honest with you, Mr. Walton, I don't know of anything in the world that will restore his peace of mind, except—”

“Except having me send for him,” Simon suddenly let himself go, “and kill the fatted bull-yearling, and put a dinky-dinky cap on his brow, and give him a key to the vault, and start in, hit or miss, exactly where me and him left off!”

“You are hard on him, Mr. Walton,” Whipple gasped, fairly staggered by the unexpected retort—“much harder, I must say, than I had hoped to find you. He declared that you wasn't the sort that would forgive easily, but, having been a father once myself, I didn't believe you would, after hearing about your boy's life since he left you, refuse to—”

“See here!” Walton interrupted, laying down his pencil and staring at the visitor from eyes which fairly snapped with blended triumph and rage, “you've held the floor long enough; now step aside and let me take it. I don't know as I ever had the luck to run across just such a specimen as you are. You've evidently had very little to do with business men. You seem to have as little common sense as a mountain school-teacher or a young preacher on his first circuit. Here you come with a long, roundabout, hatched-up tale that is so thin and full of holes that a body could throw a straw hat through it. I'd have you understand that this here house is a bank. My own granddaddy would have to be identified, if he was alive, before he could cash a check at that front window, and yet here you come—pitapat, pitapat, as unconcerned as a house-cat looking for a place to lie down—back into my private quarters, and propose something that may, or may not, involve every dollar I own on the top-side of the earth. You do all that without even taking the trouble to hint at who you are or where you hail from, and—”

“I'm not afraid to give you my name!” the merchant gasped, taken wholly off his guard by the withering attack. “It is Stephen Whipple, sir—W-h-i-double p-l-e, Whipple!” he spelled, and he leaned forward and pointed a stiff finger at Walton's pad. “Write it down. It might get away from you.”

“Are you plumb sure it ain't Jenkins?” the banker grinned, significantly.

“No; nor Jones, nor Smith, nor Brown. It's Whipple—Stephen Whipple. Put it down on your paper. Huh, I'm not ashamed of it!”

“All right, there you are, in big letters.” Walton laughed, still victoriously, as he pencilled the name on the pad. “Now, one other formality, please—your postoffice address?”

“My post-office—” Whipple hesitated. His astounded gaze went down; he was all of a quiver, even to his bushy eyebrows.

“Why, it's this way—this way—” he stammered, and, raising his helpless eyes to the banker's taunting ones, he came to a dead halt.

“I think it must be,” Walton chuckled. “In fact, it mighty nigh always is that way when a feller gits in a corner. But surely, out of all the places in the United States, you could think of some town, railroad station, or cross-roads store. A word as uncommon as Whipple would be hard for me to think of in a pinch. It seemed to come handy to you. Maybe you've used it before, or had some dead friend by that name.”

“You are not fair, sir!” The merchant was becoming exasperated by the human riddle before him. “I told you I had come against your son's knowledge or wish. He has kept his whereabouts from you up to now, and I have no moral right to let it out. I reckon he is afraid you will hound him down before he has a chance to pay back what he owes you. The Lord knows, he has plenty of reason for being cautious, for, if I am any judge, you are as hard and unforgiving as a stone wall.”

“I haven't seen any reason to forgive him, or bother one way or another about it,” old Simon hurled into the flushed face before him. “I don't see any difference between the way me and him stand now and six years ago. I reckon he thinks I'm on my last legs, and that the three thousand he got by some hook or crook—or from some crook—would be well invested as a gum-stickum plaster to put over my eyes before I am put under ground. After he had staked that much, he thought some oily-tongued friend of his might come and reconnoitre and report favorable. Well, you've reconnoitred, Mr.—Mr. Whipstock, and you can go back to Atlanta and tell him it is no go. You may tell him I am much obliged to you all—whoever your gang is—for the three thousand on account. I may be making a mistake now by shooting off my mouth so quick, for if I had worked my cards right I might have secured another payment by dropping a tear or two; but it is worth something to say what I've said in the way I've said it.”

“So you don't believe what I have told you?” Whipple gasped, in astonishment.

“Not a blessed word—not a syllable,” Walton laughed, and he threw himself back in his chair in sheer enjoyment of his visitor's discomfiture.

“You don't believe he is in my employment—you don't believe he earned the money by faithful work which he sent you—you don't believe—” Whipple paused, at the end of his resources.

“No, I don't believe even that,” Walton jested. “But I'll tell you one thing, and I mean it. I don't intend to have you coming around bothering me with this matter any more at all. It is strictly my affair, anyway. That boy was a bad egg when he was here, and from the looks of you and your game I can't see that he has improved a dang bit. I don't say I'd arrest him, neither; half the debt has been paid, if it was paid for a sneaking reason, and he can rove where he will. He is a good riddance. I used to bother about what might become of him, but I don't now.”

“Say, look me in the eye!” Whipple suddenly demanded, and with a fierceness that almost sent a shock of surprise through the banker. “You've not believed what I have told you, it seems, because you thought I was after your dirty money. Hard cash is the only thing you can believe in, I see, and so I am going to use some of it to convince you. You have no faith in your son—the only child God gave you, and who is now honoring your gray hairs as they don't deserve to be honored, but, thank Heaven! I believe in him from head to foot. Before I left Atlanta, this morning, I prepared myself for some sort of emergency like this.”

Whipple took out a long envelope and threw it on the desk under the banker's eyes. “That contains three thousand dollars—six bills of five hundred each. Take them! Your boy's debt is paid in full. I may have spoiled his chances with you by coming here against his knowledge, but he shall not lose by it. If I live to get back home I shall provide for him in my will. I may look like a faker, but I flatter myself—from all I have heard of you—that I am worth more to-day in the financial world than you could be if you could live another twenty-five years. Good-day, sir.”


TAKING up his satchel, the merchant strode heavily from the room. Doubting if he had heard aright, Walton tore open the envelope and took out the bills. He spread them on the desk; he fumbled them with quivering fingers; he took out a big magnifying glass and essayed to examine them one by one, but his excitement and perturbation rendered it impossible. Dropping his hand on his call-bell, he gave a sharp ring, and Toby Lassiter came in quickly. Brushing the money toward his clerk, Walton said:

“See if they are counterfeit. By gum!”

The clerk examined them with the glass while Walton watched him with staring eyes.

“They seem to me to be all right, Mr. Walton,” Toby said, wonderingly, as he laid the bills down.

“I reckon they are—my Lord, I reckon they are!” the banker said, in his throat. “Credit it on my private account, Toby. Credit me with three—my Lord, I didn't think—I had no idea that the dang fellow—no, I'll attend to the money. Toby, you run out and see where he goes. He may make for a hotel, or he may—but hurry!”

Twenty minutes later Toby came back and found Walton still at his desk, the money before him; his face had taken on an ashen tinge, the eye he raised had a lacklustre expression.

“Well?” he said, eagerly.

“I missed him for the first few minutes,” the clerk said. “He was on the way to the train. I took the belt-line down. He was on the car ahead. I was just in time to see him board the Atlanta special.”

“So he's gone?”

“Yes, he's gone, Mr. Walton.”

The old man stared helplessly for a minute into the puzzled face of his clerk, and then he drew the pad to him on which he had written the name of his caller.

“Me 'n' him had a tiff,” he said. “We had a sort o' tiff—I reckon you might call it that—after he had told me a long cock-and-bull tale about Fred reforming, and I laughed at him. I reckon I was rough. Then he threw this money at me all in a chunk to settle off the boy's account, and said it might talk plainer than he had. Toby, it don't look exactly like a fake. Fakes ain't worked that way. You see, it was all up between me and him, and there wasn't a thing he could gain by it, and yet he yanked out this wad and threw it at me like so much waste paper. He refused to say where he lives, but here's his name. Fred wrote that the fellow he was with was a merchant, and a big one at that. I wonder if there is any way of finding out just who and what the dang fool is?”

“You say you didn't get his address?” Toby inquired, as he helplessly stroked his colorless face and sparse mustache.

“No.” The banker uttered something like a moan of self-disgust. “He intimated that he kept it back to keep me from running the boy down. I reckon I made a big fool of myself in the presence of a man that may have unlimited capital for all I know. That's where my judgment slipped a cog for once, I reckon. I set in to believe he was out after my money, and went a little mite over the limit. He didn't look rich, covered with dust like he was, but he may be—he may be all Fred has claimed. Can you think of any way, Toby, to get a report on him?”

“I might take Bradstreet's by States,” the clerk suggested, “and run through all the towns and cities far and near.”

“It would take a month to go through that big book,” Walton said, dejectedly, “and I want to know to-day, right off. If—if I've made a break as big as that, and—and gone and insulted a man who has befriended my boy, and one who, in fact, says he intends to provide for him liberally, why, it would be nothing but good business to make what amend lies in my power. If the boy really has built himself up, and made good connections, and the like, why, you see, Toby, I ought not to be the first—the very first—to—to damage his interests. What I said, in my rough way, you see, might have a tendency to sort o' make this Whipple—if he is all right—think twice before helping out the son of a man who rode as high a horse as I was astride of just now. I must have a report on him, I tell you.”

“I'll go through the book, Mr. Walton,” the clerk said. “It wouldn't take so awful long. I would only have to run through the W's, you know, and needn't look in the little places. If he is in the wholesale line, he must be in a town of over ten thousand.”

“That's a fact, that's a fact,” Walton agreed. “I reckon he didn't think of that when he gave me his name, though I acknowledge I kinder gouged it out of him when he was good and hot. Go bring the book here and set at my desk. I'll not let the rest bother you. My Lord! my Lord! What a mess!”

All that afternoon the clerk bent over the huge volume with its closely printed columns on very thin paper. The closing hour came. The typewriters and clerks went home and the front door was shut, but still Toby read, patiently running the point of his pencil down column after column. Night came on, and less than half of the book still remained to be scanned.

“Go home to supper and come back,” Walton said, a strange light burning in his shrewd eyes. “I'll meet you here. I want this thing settled. I don't believe I could sleep with the doubt on my mind as to whether that man was fooling me or not. It is a big thing—a powerful big thing. If Fred has made himself of enough importance to have a man like that come a long distance in his behalf, why, you see, I ought to know about it, that's all—I ought to know about it.”

“Yes, you ought to know, Mr. Walton,” Lassiter said, as he laid a blotter between the pages and reached for his hat. They went out together and walked side by side to the corner, where the clerk had to turn off.

“You sort o' believed in Fred all along, Toby,” the banker said, tentatively—“that is, you used to talk him up to some extent.”

“I thought he was in earnest about what he wrote in that last good-bye letter, Mr. Walton. It made a deep impression on me. It sounded perfectly straight. And awhile back, when his other letter came, bringing all that cash, I was more sure than ever. Even when you said you believed it was a trick, somehow I couldn't exactly look at it that way.”

“Well, see if you can locate this Whipple,” Walton said, and, turning off, he trudged heavily homeward through the gathering shadows.

He was on his way back to the bank about nine o'clock when he saw Toby coming toward him. The clerk was walking rapidly, swinging his long arms to and fro like pendulums.

“Well, well?” Walton exclaimed, as they met face to face on the sidewalk in the flare of a gas-light.

“I have found him!” Toby chuckled. “There is no mistake. Stephen Whipple is a whopping big wholesale grocer at Gate City, Oklahoma. He's rated at over a million, with credit at the top notch.”

“You don't say!” A negro laborer with a bag of flour on his shoulder was passing close by, and Walton laid his hand warmingly on the arm of his clerk and drew him slowly along.

“You don't say!” he repeated, under his breath, as he clutched Toby's thin arm, “and I talked to him like a dog—like a hound-dog. I did that, when he could buy and sell me over and over. I sneered at him, and just as good as called him a thief, when he was right then befriending the son I'd cast off. Say, Toby, you've got a sight more sense than I have; what do you think I ought to do about it?”

“I really don't know, Mr. Walton,” Toby replied, awkwardly. “Maybe it would be a good idea for you to go out there. From the way Fred wrote, it stands to reason he'd be glad to see you, anyway, and—”

“I couldn't do that, Toby,” Walton said, under his breath. “After the stand I took and have held all these years, I couldn't go running after him. I could do some things, but I couldn't do that. Besides, you see, Whipple would know we'd looked up his standing, and think I'd come because he was rich. But, say, I have an idea, Toby. Don't you think you could get on the train and go out there and take a look around?”

“Why, yes, if you advise it, Mr. Walton.”

“And you could go and hang about, in a quiet, know-nothing way, without letting Fred see you, I reckon?”

“Easy enough, Mr. Walton, in a bustling place like that.”

“Well, then, I'll tell you what you do. Pack your grip to-night, and take the eight-thirty train in the morning. Put up at some out-of-the-way hotel, and lie low and pick up what information you can. Don't go about Whipple's place of business; if Fred saw you, it would spoil it all. I'll defray your expenses. You deserve a trip, anyway. Of course, even if the boy has made such a good, comfortable nest for himself out there, that woman business is still hanging over him, and he wouldn't feel exactly like facing Stafford folks right now. But I reckon he's been doing an honest man's part by her along with his rise. He's been providing for her and the child pretty well, I'll be bound. And in case he does come back, even on a visit, we'll help him smooth over the matter as far as is in our power. He ain't the first young chap that's let his blood get the upper hand. Some of the great men of history have made like slips along at the start. Yes, we'll try to manage that some way. We might even get her and her mother to move off somewhere. I don't know—I only say it might be done. Folks in a plight of that sort will do most anything when they are paid, and it looks like Fred won't go a-begging. Now, good-bye, Toby. You've got a job of detective work before you, but I believe you'll be smart enough to put it through.”

“I'll do my best, Mr. Walton,” the clerk said. “Goodbye.”


IT was a delightfully cool and crisp morning for midsummer, and Doctor Dearing was on the lawn between his house and Galt's, when he noticed that the railroad president had come out into his own grounds for a smoke. The two exchanged greetings through cordial signals, and Galt crossed over and joined his friend.

“What news from New York?” he asked, as he flicked the ashes from his cigar.

“They will be here to-morrow,” Dearing replied. “Madge has been homesick for fully two weeks; but Uncle Tom made her stay longer, hoping that she would become more interested in what was going on. They have had all sorts of attentions paid them, but he writes me that he has never been worried so much in his life over her. He says she enjoyed the first two weeks thoroughly, but lately she has been actually depressed. He tried everything imaginable, but home was what she wanted and would have.”

“And so they are coming?” Galt said, reflectively.

“Yes, they are on the way now. After all, what better could one ask for than a snug retreat like this in hot weather? Madge is fond of home. She doesn't care for giddy social things among a lot of money-spending Yankees, and I admire her taste.”

“Yes, so do I,” Galt answered, and he smoked steadily, his eyes bent on the ground. .

“I have an unpleasant job on hand,” Dearing remarked. “I have delayed it several times, but I have decided to do it to-day and have it over with.”

“What is it?” Galt asked.

“It is a slight operation I have to perform on little Lionel.”

“Operation? Lionel?” Galt started, and then checked himself and stared blankly. “I didn't know there was anything at all wrong with him.”

“Oh, it is only a slight and common thing with children,” Dearing explained. “Enlarged tonsils and adenoidal growth which must be removed. Outwardly the little chap is as sound as a dollar, and, so far, his wonderful strength has fought the thing off; but for a child so nervous as he is, and high strung and imaginative, it might, later on affect him seriously. Neglected cases have brought on permanent deafness and lung trouble. It is inherited, as a rule; you, yourself, had something of that sort, I think you told me.”

“Yes, yes,” Galt replied. Deep down within him something seemed to clutch his vitals. In the ear of his naked soul an accusing voice was sounding: “Inherited! Inherited!” The word rang out like a threat from the Infinite—from the vast mystery of life which had of late been so tenaciously closing around him. Even the pain Lionel was to undergo was the outcome of another's sin.

“Oh, it is a very simple operation,” Dearing went on, “and in any ordinary case I shouldn't give it a second thought; but, by George, I have become attached to that little chap. He is the pluckiest little man I ever knew. I had an exhibition of his grit one day that was ahead of anything I ever saw in a child. He had fallen, and his upper teeth had cut a deep gash in his tongue. They sent for me, and I saw that I'd have to take a stitch in it to close the ugly gap. It was a ticklish job, and I hardly saw how I could do it, for I didn't want to use an anaesthetic. But I talked to him just as I would to a man, and he promised me he wouldn't cry. He didn't. I give you my word, old man, he didn't whimper as the needle went through, and even while I was tying the thread; but I could see from his big, strained eyes that it hurt him like rips. A child with grit like that, Kenneth, is bound to make a stir in the world. I have noticed that you like him too, and I am glad you do. The truth is, darn you, you are taking my place! I'm jealous; he thinks you are a regular king. He is always talking about you.”

“When do you think you will do the—the operation?” Galt faltered, as he averted his shrinking glance from Dearing's face.

“Why, I want to do it right off. It is like this: his mother knows it has to be done, and has agreed to leave it entirely to me; but she is very nervous over it. She has a vein of morbid superstition running through her. She fancies that some disaster is bound, sooner or later, to happen to him—in fact, as she has often put it to me, she hardly believes that a just God would allow such a sensitive and ambitious child to grow up to a full comprehension of his humiliation.

“I see—I see what you mean,” Galt managed to say, and his soul seemed to writhe anew as he stood trying to make his words sound casual.

“So I thought,” the doctor went on, “that I'd like, if possible, to get it over without her knowledge, or without her mother knowing of it. Nervous people standing around, half frightened out of their wits, at such a time, unsteady my hand and upset me generally. Now, as I have everything in readiness up-stairs, I think, when Lionel comes over this morning, as I've asked him to do, I'll talk him into it. Young Doctor Beaman, my new assistant, is up-stairs sterilizing my instruments, and he will give the chloroform. You see, it would be a pleasant surprise and a relief to those doting women to suddenly find out that the thing they have made such a fuss about is over and no harm done.” Galt made no reply. He had seen a trim little figure darting across the lower end of the lawn, and saw a flash of golden tresses in the sunlight, and knew that Lionel was coming—and to what? Galt suppressed an inward groan. The unsuspecting child was bounding along, joyous and full of life, to the grim, inexplicable snare which had been set for him. Young as he was, he was to be asked to be firm and brave, that his little form might take on the semblance of death and submit to the knife, a thing at the thought of which even strong men had quailed. And what might, after all, be the as yet unrevealed outcome? One case in every ten thousand, at least, failed to survive the artificial sleep, owing to this or that overlooked internal defect. Would this child of malignant misfortune be that one?

Lionel drew near, sweeping the two men with merry eyes of welcome. There was an instant's hesitation as to which to greet first, and then instinct seemed to swerve him toward Galt, his hand outstretched. With a queer throb of appreciation, the father took it and felt it pulsate in his clasp.

“Come here, Lionel, my boy,” Dearing said, with affected lightness of manner. “You remember what I said one day about those ugly lumps down there in your little throat which are going to get bigger and bigger, till after a while you can't eat any jam and cake? You wouldn't like that, would you?”

“I remember.” Lionel passed his tapering hand over his white throat. “I can feel them when I swallow.”

“And that is why you have those bad dreams, and jump in your sleep, and think you are falling,” Dearing added, adroitly. “You know you promised to let me get them out.”

“Oh, not to-day!” the boy protested, throwing a wistful glance up at the unclouded sky. “I was going to build a really-really house out of the bricks at the barn. I have a stove-pipe for a smoke-stack. I'll show you both. Come with me! Oh, it's great!”

“Not to-day. Lionel, listen.” Dearing drew the boy close to him, and tenderly stroked back his hair from his fine brow. “Mamma, you know, is terribly nervous about it. Women are that way, aren't they? Men and boys, like us, know better. She can hardly sleep at night for thinking about it—even a little thing like that. We can do it now, and I can run over and tell her you are sleeping like a kitten in my big bed up-stairs, and she and Granny will be so glad. It won't hurt a bit, you know, for the medicine will make you sleep through it all.” A shadow of deep disappointment came into Lionel's expressive eyes. The warm color of life in his face faded into tense gravity, and they saw him clasp his little hands and wring them undecidedly.

“And you think to-day is the best time?” he faltered, on the edge of refusal.

“The very best of all, Lionel,” Dearing said, gently. “You wouldn't be afraid of me, would you?”

The child stared dumbly. To Galt's accusing sense the world had never held a more desolate sentient being than this incipient repetition of himself. The child had proved that he knew no physical fear. To what, then, did he owe this evident clutch of horror? Could it be due to some psychic warning of approaching danger, or was the sensitive child telepathically governed by the morbid fears which, at that moment, were raging in the heart of his father?

“Come, that's a good, nice boy!” Dearing urged. “I see you are going to be a brave little man.”

“I'm not afraid it will hurt,” Lionel faltered, “but I don't like to be put to—to sleep.”

“But it must be so, my boy,” the doctor said. “Come on. Mamma will see us in a minute and smell a mouse.” For a moment yet the child stood undecided, his gaze alternately on the two faces before him. Suddenly, while they waited and his eyes were resting in strange appeal on Galt, he asked:

“Will you come, too?”

A shock as if from some unknown force went through the man addressed, but, seeing no alternative, he answered:

“If you wish it, yes, of course.”

“And you think I ought to—to do it?”

“Yes,” Galt nodded, his head rocking like that of an automaton. “The doctor knows best.”

“Well, then, I'll go,” the boy sighed, with another wistful look over the lawn. “I'll go.”

As they were entering the house, by some strange mandate of fate or instinct the boy again took his father's hand, and Galt held it as they began to ascend the broad, walnut stairs. Argue as he would that the operation was only a most ordinary thing, to Galt's morbid state of mind it assumed the shape of a tragedy staged and enacted by the very imps of darkness.

On the way up the boy tripped on the stair-carpeting and slipped and fell face downward. He was unhurt, but Galt raised him in his arms and bore him up the remainder of the steps into a big, light room off the corridor.

“Here we are, Doctor Beaman!” Dearing cheerily called out to a slender, beardless young man, who, with a towel in hand, was bending over some polished instruments on the bureau. “This is the little chap who never cries when he is hurt. He is a regular soldier, I tell you!”

“No, I'm not afraid,” the boy said, as he stood alone in the centre of the room; but still, as his father noted, there was a certain contradictory rigidity of his features which he had never remarked before.

Galt told himself that the child's evident dread, vague as it was, was also an inheritance; for he recalled how he himself had once taken ether to have a slight operation performed. He had been a man in years at the time, and yet the effect on his mind as to what might be the outcome had been most depressing. That day, as he was doing now, he had looked upon the drug-induced sleep as a dangerous approach to death; and now, as then, he gravely feared that the tiny thread of reduced vitality might be torn asunder. He stood dumb with accusing horror as the two doctors hastily made their grewsome arrangements, such as securing warm water, fresh towels and sheets, which, in their very whiteness, suggested a shroud.

The noise made as they drew a narrow table across the resounding floor into the best light between the two windows jarred harshly on his tense nerves. These things were grim enough, but the wan isolation of the waiting child, as he stood with that war against fear and shame of fear going on in his great, fathomless eyes, so like those of his artist-mother—that appealing little figure, nameless, disowned among men, was stamped on the retina of Galt's eye for the remainder of his life.

“Now, take off your waist and collar and necktie,” Dearing said to Lionel—“that will be enough. We'll have you all right in a jiffy. You are not afraid now, are you?”

Galt's heart sank like a plummet, for the child's lips moved, but no sound issued. The little fellow turned his face away as he began to undress. He removed the flowing necktie, but his little fingers could not unfasten the stiff linen collar.

“Help him, Kenneth,” Dearing said. “My hands are full.”

Galt obeyed, his fingers coming into contact with the cold chin of the child and the soft flesh of his neck. He felt like snatching the boy from the damnable spot, as a mother might her young from the claws of a wild beast. Yet, outwardly calm, he drew the sleeves of the child's blouse off and laid it on a chair.

“Now we are ready for you, young man,” Dearing said, lightly. “I see you are not afraid I'll hurt you.”

“No, I know it won't hurt,” Lionel said, “but—”

“Don't you begin butting me,” Dearing laughed. “You are not a goat like the one that butted Grover Weston heels over head the other day.”

“If I shouldn't wake up—I mean if I really shouldn't, you know,” Lionel finished, with a faint effort to smile at the doctor's jest, “won't you please not tell my mother too quick? She gets frightened so easily, and, you see, if I didn't wake up—if I never woke again—”

“Ah, come off!” Dearing laughed, as he turned to his assistant. “Doctor, this kid hints that we don't know our business.”

“But if I didn't wake, if I didn't!” Lionel insisted, “you'd not scare her, would you? And—and”—his lower lip quivered—“wouldn't you tell her that I wasn't a bit afraid, and that I didn't cry, and—wait! wait! Won't you tell her that it didn't hurt a single bit, not even a little teensy bit?

“Yes, yes,” Dearing said, and, considerably taken aback, he stared at Galt rather than at the insistent speaker. “I'll tell her you are the best boy in the world—the best, the bravest, and the sweetest. And God knows I'll mean it,” he finished, in a lower tone to Galt. “I've seen thousands of kids, Kenneth, but this one gets nearer me than all the rest put together. I swear I am almost tempted to throw the darn job up. But, you see, it has to be done. Doctor,” turning to his assistant, “put him on the table, and I'll tickle his nose and make him laugh. We'll make him have the funniest dreams he ever had.”

Doctor Beaman went to the boy and held out his arms, and Lionel was lifted to the table and stretched out on the crisp sheet which had been spread over it. Just then, happening to look round, Dearing saw Galt's face, and hastily stepped to his side. “My Lord!” he whispered, “I see this thing is going against you, old man. You are nauseated; you look faint. Many men are that way—young students sometimes have to give up surgery for that reason. It is nothing to be ashamed of. You like the little chap, and your sympathies are worked up, that's all. But, really, I don't think you ought to stay. I become nervous if others are, and I must have a free hand. Besides, if you were to keel over in a faint at an important moment I couldn't look after you. You'd better run down-stairs and take a whiff of air. I'll call you when it is over.”

“Is he going?—must he go?” Lionel asked, as he turned his head and saw Galt moving to the door. “Yes,” Dearing said, “but only down-stairs.”

“Oh,” the child exclaimed, regretfully, and averted his face, “I thought he could stay!”

Down into the still silence of the great hall Galt went. There was something heartlessly maddening in the calm, yellow sunlight on the grass, which he could see through the doorway. The birds in the trees, as they flitted about with twigs in their mouths and chirped in glee, seemed mocking voices of despair from the deliberate tyranny of the universe.

“God have mercy and spare him!” the man cried out from the depths of his agony. “Spare him, O God, spare him!”

Unconscious of the incongruous prayer which had fallen from his lips, he turned into the drawing-room, on the left of the hall, and sank into an easy-chair, covering his face with his stiff hands. Suddenly he heard a light step on the veranda, and, raising his eyes, he saw Dora standing in the hall, glancing wildly and excitedly about her. Possessed by the fear that she might call out, and thus make her presence known at that most crucial moment, he rose and hastened to her. She did not see him till he was close at her side, and then she turned and their eyes met.

“Where is Lionel—where is my child?” she panted.

He stood staring at her, unable to formulate a reply, and, brushing past him with an air of contempt, which he read all too clearly, she turned to the stairs, and started to ascend.

“Oh, you mustn't—you really mustn't!” he called out in protest, and he put a detaining hand on her arm.

Shrinking from his touch, she stared at him piteously.

“Then they really are doing it!” she cried. “They are up there operating on my child! I knew it when Doctor Beaman drove up, and Doctor Wynn came and asked Lionel to play over here.”

Galt made no denial. He stood beside her, swept out of himself by the sheer power of her astounding beauty, as he now beheld it for the first time since their parting. In his wildest stretch of fancy as to what the years might have brought her, he had not dreamed that she had become such a flower among women. There was a seductive maturity of intellect in her faultless face. The strange, appealing, and yet unreadable lights of genius were burning in her dark, mystic eyes. He stood before her with the smitten humility, the cringing shame, of a subject rebuked by his queen.

“Yes, I am sure of it!” she moaned, and she lowered her glorious head to the newel of the stairs and shuddered. “They are cutting my darling, and I can't go to him. Doctor Wynn thought he'd spare my feelings—as if that counted.”

She suddenly looked him squarely in the face, and he shrank before the calm penetration of her stare. “We'll never see him alive again,” she said, in a low, husky voice—“never again on earth!”

“Oh no, don't say that!” he cried, finding his submerged voice in the agony produced by her suggestion. “God wouldn't be so unmerciful—the child has harmed no one!”

“You speak of God,” she suddenly retorted, standing farther from him and drawing herself erect. “The word was a joke with you once,” she added, with a bitter sneer. “And I believed your puny theories, and blindly followed out the deductions you made with your nose in the earth during our vain dream of intellectual supremacy. But a change was wrought in me. Into my wretched darkness Lionel came, and I saw and was convinced. He was my living, pulsating, immortal link to the Infinite. But he is not for the earth. He is above it. God allowed Christ to suffer the pangs of a material existence for the salvation of the world, but He is too merciful to let my sensitive darling face what he would have to face. Lionel was sent to lift me, with his tiny hands, from the slough into which I had fallen, but his mission is over—oh, God, it is over! How can I bear it—how can I live without him? He is my life, my soul!” She covered her tortured face with her bloodless hands and remained still, save for the emotion which quivered through her hysterical frame.

Galt stood gazing at her for a moment, an almost uncontrollable yearning on him to clasp her in his arms and beg her forgiveness. He might have done so but for the fear of offending her. He glanced up the stairs. How still it was above! How like death! In his alarmed fancy he saw the two doctors standing aghast over the still, senseless form of his child. They had miscalculated! The physical examination had misled them; ether should have been the drug employed rather than chloroform!

Uncovering her face, Dora read his thoughts. She uttered a low, despairing wail, and they stood looking into each other's eyes. There was a sound of sudden movement on the floor above. Some one was raising a window-sash at the top of the stairs.

“I am sweating like an ox!” they heard Dearing say; and—could they believe their ears?—he was actually laughing, and calling out to Lionel: “I told you you'd not know when it was done. Now, lie down and go to sleep. You are as sound as a silver dollar. It may sting just a little tiny bit when you swallow, but that will be gone by to-morrow. Go to sleep, and when you wake I'll have that tricycle ready.”

“Thank God—thank God,” Dora exclaimed, “he is saved!”

She started up the stairs, and in desperation Galt caught her arm. “Wait one moment, Dora,” he implored, “I have something to say. You must hear me. I am—”

“Don't stop me!” She shook his hand loose from her sleeve, and the haughty look of contempt he had noticed before rose into her fathomless eyes as she glanced back at him. “I am going up to him. I won't waken him. I'll be very quiet, but I must be near him.”

Standing at the foot of the stairs, he saw her ascend and disappear above. How beautiful she was! How rare and exquisite—how infinitely removed from her kind. And that was Dora—the Dora of all that was good and pure of his past, the guileless victim of all that was low, sordid, and unworthy within him!


TOBY LASSITER returned from the West one sultry evening at dusk, and went straight to the house of his employer. He found the banker seated on the front porch without his coat, and cooling himself with a big palm-leaf fan. “So you are back?” he said, casting a furtive glance over his shoulder into the unlighted hall. “Get that chair and pull it up close. If my wife happens to come out while you are talking, sort o' switch off to something else—the market reports—anything under high heavens except what you went off for. She never took to Fred noway, and anything in his favor or otherwise sets her tongue going. She thinks he is plumb out of my present calculations, and any hint that he was getting on his feet would give her tantrums. She is back in the kitchen, seeing to the supper things. She is as close as the bark of a tree, and is afraid that nigger woman will lug off supplies. I took her because she was stingy. I sort o' admired it at first, but it ain't as becoming in a woman as it is in a man. I don't know why, but it ain't. Well, fire away. What did you do?”

“I went straight out to Gate City, Mr. Walton,” the clerk began, in the tone of a man full of an experience. “I would have written home, but I didn't get on to much of importance the first three days, and then I knew I could get back about as quick as a letter could.”

“Yes, of course,” Walton said. “Well?”

“I found it about the most hustling town I ever struck, Mr. Walton. It is wide open, I tell you. Of course, it isn't anything like as big, but it was as busylooking on the main streets as Atlanta or Nashville. I thought best not to be seen about the very centre, you know, so I took board in a little hotel in what they call 'Railroad Town,' on the east side, among the machine-shops. I pretended to be looking for a job.”

“You did, eh? You say you did?”

“Yes, sir; and I found that it was a pretty good trick, for it set folks to chatting about the different enterprises in town. You may think it is funny,” Toby laughed, impulsively—“I know I did when I finally got the key to it—but I could hardly start any sort of talk with anybody who didn't sooner or later ring in the wonderful rise of a certain fellow by the name of 'Spencer,' who was in this same Whipple's employ. They all said he'd come there without a cent—a ragged tramp, in fact; but that he had taken hold in Whipple's big store, and forged ahead till he was the old man's mainstay and chief manager. They told about all sorts of deals that this 'Spencer' had helped Whipple put through. I got kind o' tired of it all, and would every now and then ask if there wasn't a young fellow by the name of 'Walton' working there; but they said if there was they had never heard of him, and went on about Spencer. I was beginning to think there might be something crooked in that fat man's tale to you, and at one time I laid awake all night troubled powerfully. You see, the fellow who called here and paid the three thousand might have been just using Whipple's name and reputation to help him work some scheme.”

“Oh, you thought that!” and Walton drew his brows together and bit his lip.

“Yes; but not for long, Mr. Walton. The next day I ventured closer in to the centre of the town, and was looking about on the main street at the up-to-date improvements on all sides, when I saw a fellow thumping along the sidewalk that looked so much like our man that I dodged into the front part of a bar-room and waited till he went by. Then I pointed him out to a policeman, and asked him who it was.

“'Why, that,' said the cop—'that is our big grocery king, Stephen Whipple. He is a self-made man, and as rich as goose-grease. He built us a fine church, a library out of white marble, and donated the land for a city park, and done a lot of other things.'”

“Oh, he was all right, then!”

“Yes, sir, as I substantiated later,” Toby ran on, enthusiastically. “But the best thing is to be told, Mr. Walton. A few minutes after that who should I see but Fred himself rushing along the street with some account-books under his arm, as if he was in a great hurry. He was dressed as fine as a fiddle, and folks all along the street was bowing to him as if he owned the town. I dodged back into the bar and let him pass, and when I slipped out a minute later the same policeman nabbed me and pointed Fred out as he was walking on. 'That,' said the policeman, 'is Mr. Spencer, the old man's adopted son—the young man he has just taken into partnership. They are hanging a new sign down at the store now.'”

“Adopted son!” fell from the-banker's lips. “Spencer was Fred's middle name. Great Lord, Toby, do you reckon it's true?”

“True as gospel, Mr. Walton. I heard a lot about it on all sides, but I saw enough with my own eyes to convince me that there was no mistake. I went out to where the Whipples live one dark, cloudy night, and walked clean round the house. I could see into the sitting-room, for it was lighted up bright. Whipple was there, and a gray-haired, kind-looking old lady that was his wife, I reckon, and Fred. They were all sitting round a green lamp on a table. From where I stood, of course, I couldn't hear a word that was said, but it seemed like Fred was telling some funny yarn or other, like he used to do here at home, you know, and both the old folks were laughing. I don't know when anything ever has affected me as much as that sight did. I reckon I was homesick myself, away out there playing the sneak, like I was, and it made me awful blue. You know, sir, I always did like Fred, and I don't believe many folks ever knew how much he missed his mother. And somehow, when I saw him in an entirely new home like that, away off from old ties, why—well—it sort o' got the best of me. Maybe, as I say, it was because I was homesick, but I never wanted to speak to anybody in all my life as much as I did to him at that minute.”

The head of the banker went down, his chin rested on his breast, and he was silent for a few minutes. Then he looked up, threw a cautious, half-fearful glance back into the house, and rose to his feet.

“Let's walk down to the gate,” he said, in a low, unsteady voice. “I want to talk, Toby, and yet I don't hardly know what a body could say. I have faced lots of criticism and slurs in my day and time, and never cared much what was said; but, between me and you, this thing strikes me down deep. You see, it is pretty tough the way it turned out—this having other folks give a body's son a home, and all that, and I hate to think that folks here in Stafford will get onto it and chatter. I understand 'em well enough to know, in advance, what they will say. I don't care what they think about me losing money, and the like, for that's just business. But the other thing cuts—it cuts deep. I reckon the boy didn't get any too much attention at home after I married the last time, and I reckon, if the truth was known, I was influenced against him some by his stepmother's constant nagging about his ways. I say I reckon I was influenced, for I hardly think I'd have been quite as tight on the boy if there had been just me and him left at home after his mother died. My first wife was a good woman, Toby. I never knew how good and loving she was till she was put away forever. But the town will talk now good fashion. They will say Fred served me' right to go off and get appreciated and loved by folks that was no blood kin, but who simply took him on merits I was too mean to see. They will have the laugh on me. They will call me an old hog, and I reckon I deserve it. You know, yourself, that I come within an inch of clapping handcuffs on him. I'd actually have done it if you hadn't shown me that it would go against my pocket.”

“I think you look at it too seriously, Mr. Walton,” Toby ventured to say, as the two leaned on the gate and looked down the gas-lighted street. “You mustn't forget that Fred has been longing for your forgiveness all these years. What he did was wrong, it is true, and at present it may be the chief bar to his content. Besides, me and you are the only persons who know about his shortage. You have never been a man to talk of your private affairs, and, for all this town knows or ever need know, you may have been in touch with Fred all these years. In fact, they may not know but what the—the other matter was the only cause of Fred's leaving.”

“Toby, you are a good un! You'll do, you'll do! Of course, the woman business is bad, but the world somehow don't condemn it as heavy as some other things. No, you are right; this blasted town needn't know about the trouble between me and him. He won't want to come back here nohow till the other matter is arranged some way, and, between me and you, we can sort o' spring his big success on the town—kind o' off-hand, you know, as if it ain't nothing to wonder at.”

“A good idea, Mr. Walton!” Toby declared, enthusiastically. “It will set 'em wild.”

“But we'll leave the adopted-son part out, Toby.”

“Of course, sir; oh yes, sir; that needn't go in!”

“We might just tell about his being a partner in the business, or something along that line.”

“Of course, sir.”

“And I'll go out there, Toby. It will be like pulling eye-teeth, but I'll go. I'll knuckle, too, I reckon, to that fat chump. I'll make my will in the boy's favor and show it to Whipple, with an itemized list of my holdings, here and there. He won't sneer then, I reckon. Besides, Fred won't go back on me. Blood's thicker than water, and if I have been harsh—well, even if I have, my money will be as acceptable as that old skunk's. Yes, I'll run out in a day or so. And, Toby, I'll not even touch on the woman-and-child affair. He may think it never got out; he may believe she's kept it quiet. In the letters he wrote me, he never once alluded to it, and that shows he is not ready to admit it, anyway. No, we won't push that on him at such a time; he never would want to come home if he knew there had been such an uproar.”


SIMON WALTON had been away a week, and the force at the bank had not heard from him, when one morning Toby received a telegram from him dated that day in Atlanta. The carefully chosen ten words ran as follows:

Meet me with horse and buggy at afternoon up train.”

So Toby went down to the old man's house, and, unassisted, got out the gaunt animal and the time-worn vehicle with the dilapidated leather hood, and drove to the station. He was in a fine glow of appreciation of the compliment implied by the telegram's being addressed solely to him, and by the additional fact that on returning from former journeys Walton had either walked home or taken the cars. Toby told himself, with no little unction, that it meant that his employer had something of a confidential nature to impart.

The train had scarcely come to a standstill when Simon, who was on the front platform of the first passenger-coach, sprang down, valise in hand, and, looking much the worse for the dust and fine cinders that lay on him like frost of the infernal regions, walked stiffly toward Toby and the buggy.

“Well, I see you got my wire,” was his greeting, as he relinquished the valise and allowed Toby to put it behind the seat in the buggy.

“Yes, I got it all right,” the clerk responded. “Shall we drive home or to the bank?”

Walton waited till Toby was in the seat beside him; then he replied: “Well, we may as well head for home, though I reckon we could take a sort o' roundabout direction through the edge of town. I want to tell you what I did out there, and we might not have as good a chance later. My wife will be nagging the life out of me for particulars, and while there are no particulars in this thing that she has any concern in, if I was to be cornered somewhere with you right at the start she'd think it strange. Then, on the other hand, if me and you slid off together the very minute I got to the bank, the rest might think I was partial, and so I thought this slow ride was the very idea.”

“Yes, of course, Mr. Walton. I suppose you saw Fred?”

“Oh yes, but not the first shot out of the box.” Walton took off his hat and wiped the perspiration from his brow, upon which lay the red imprint of his hatband, and smiled sheepishly. “The truth is, Toby, the nigher I got to that blamed town the sillier I felt, till by the time I was there and duly quartered at what they told me was their best hotel I hardly knew my hat from a hole in the ground. You see, my predicament was peculiar, and would have been odd to any man in the plight I was in. I didn't know but two souls in the town. One of 'em was not only the great high mucky-muck of the place, but a man I'd called a thief and a liar and kicked plumb out of my sanctum when he had called to do me a favor; and the other was—well, he was my only son, who I had treated like a yellow dog. You see, I knew that downright apologies was what I owed both of 'em; but, Toby, let me tell you something odd—I don't know how to account for it: but, as just and upright as I've always been in my dealings in a general way, I never, in so many plain words, ever told a human being I was sorry. I have been that way, and was willing to try to sort o' look it, in cases where I was dead wrong; but I'd rather take a thousand lashes on my bare back any day than come right out and beg a fellow's pardon.”

“I understand,” Toby said, sympathetically. “A great many folks are that way.”

“Well, I don't think I'm like a great many folks,” Walton replied, as his eyes rested on the back of his horse, “but I couldn't swallow that pill. So there I was, registered at that fine joint, with a front room all to myself, overlooking the street, and the clerks and nigger porters looking at me, same as to say, 'Well, what is your game? Are you a whiskey drummer, bank-examiner, detective, stock-drover, or escaped convict?' I was like a fish out of water. I didn't know what to do or how to make any sort of start. I sat round the office half the time, and the rest I was flopping about in my room. The first day passed that way, and the next night, in which I had hardly got a wink of sleep. There was a bar-room and gambling-hell right under me, and I could hear some whizzing thing and balls rolling, and a deep voice calling out in some game or other. It was a gay town, and I was in the middle of it. The next morning I determined I'd write Fred a note and let him know where I was at, but I'd no sooner got it ready and backed and sealed than I recalled that Fred wasn't using his own name, and that a note addressed to him in the old style might cause talk, and so I tore it up. Then I ventured out and, half-scared to death, actually walked by the big store—on the opposite side of the street, though—and peeped in through the windows. It was as busy as a beehive during a swarm, but I couldn't see head nor tail of Fred. All at once I took the bit in my mouth and started across the street to go in, but was stopped short. And what do you reckon done it, Toby?”

“I can't imagine, Mr. Walton,” said the clerk, deeply interested.

“Toby, it was that new sign you spoke about—'Stephen Whipple & Son.' It was on the front of the big red building, and seemed to me to be just so many long, black letters stalking clean across the sky. 'Stephen Whipple & Son,' and the last word, small as it was, overtopped all the rest. The thing simply knocked me silly. Wasn't it Saint Paul (it was one of them fellows in the good Book) that fell down in some great light that blazed out over him? Mine wasn't a light; it wasn't wind; it wasn't a kick in the jaw from an army mule, but it hit me like all three combined. I was mad; I was sorry; I was ashamed; but I couldn't walk under that dad-blasted sign. It hung over them doors like a long white sword of an enemy ready to chop me into halves.

“I whirled about and went back to my room and actually hid the rest of the day, wondering how on earth I was going to do the job. Once I packed up my valise and started down to pay my bill, with the intention of shirking the whole thing; but I saw that wouldn't do. So I passed another day. I read my Bible a little, and I reckon I prayed some. I don't know, Toby, but I would have bowed down before a heathen idol to have got help out of my predicament. I remembered what you said about seeing Fred at Whipple's house, and the next night I went out and inquired the way to his place. I found it, and, having nothing better to do, I walked clean around it like you did. Nobody was in sight, but I could see lights inside, and then the thought came to me that Fred, my son, maybe, was at that very minute in there keeping company with that old man and woman, and that made me feel as bad as the sign had. I tried to argue that I'd been right in pinning down on the boy for what he had done; but I knew there was no stability to my point, for that fat chap had secured better results through a different method, and he wasn't no blood kin. So I went back to the hotel, and made another night of it. I wasn't like you. I couldn't talk to strangers in an off-hand way about it. I tried once to the clerk behind the counter, but I couldn't make it go. He looked at me mighty curious, and I changed the subject. I think I asked him if that State wa'n't heavy on hog-raising.”

“You were in an embarrassing position,” Toby remarked, as he shook the drooping lines over the plodding horse's back.

“I never would have got out of it if it hadn't been by pure accident,” Walton said. “The office of the hotel was a sort of meeting-place for the young men of the town of an evening, and there was a little smoking and writing room off of it. I was sitting there on the third evening, and the office was thronged with young chaps. Some sort of entertainment was on hand at the opera-house across the street, for a band was playing outside, and the young men in their best outfits were smoking and chatting in the office, when who should I see come in but Fred. He came in at the front door in a swallowtail suit with a light overcoat on his arm, and I tell you the crowd all made way for him. Toby, I am an old man; I've been through the rubs; I've seen near and dear comrades shot down at my side on the field of battle; I have had all sorts of experiences; but the sight of my boy there looking so much older and more dignified than when I last saw him—a sort of king among his kind—with this one and that one giving him the glad hand, and hailing him right and left with words and smiles of welcome while I was slinking off there—well, Toby, I don't want to live that over again; I don't; as God is my Creator, I don't! I sat there watching him through the door like—well, you'll have to imagine it, and draw your own conclusions; I can't tell you how I felt. I was dumb; I was speechless. It was like a double nightmare. I haven't shed enough tears in my life to drown a gnat, but I wanted to cry good and hearty then.”

“And you met him—I know you did,” Toby broke in. “I see it in your face.”

“Yes, as luck would have it, by accident; he left the others and come right into the room, and I saw that he'd recognized me, for he turned pale as death, and stopped in front of me. Then I saw him steady himself, and a pitiful, resigned look come over him. If I live through eternity, I'll never forget his first words. What do you think he said?”

“I can't imagine, Mr. Walton.”

“Toby, he said this—he said this, and the words will haunt me to my grave. They will go with me into the very depths of my last abode. He said: 'Oh, father, you have caught me! You have come to take me back! Well, I am ready!'

“Toby Lassiter, talk about your—your hells on earth; talk about your flames of despair, the worm that dieth not, and the like. I had 'em all. I couldn't speak. I didn't even have the sense or power to shake hands, and the poor boy misunderstood even that. He pulled up a chair, shaking like a leaf. Nobody was in the room but us two. Then somehow I managed to say that he was mistaken, and that I hadn't come there for that reason. I wanted to talk to the point and justify myself, but I was worse than a stuttering idiot at a spelling-bee. Like a fool, I started in to say that I had heard a lot about the progress of the town, and he thought I had some speculation on foot and had run on him by accident. I no sooner saw that he thought that than I got tangled up worse than ever. Nothing short of begging his forgiveness would set things straight, and I couldn't have got that out to have saved my soul from perdition.”

“That certainly was awkward,” Toby burst out, like an enthusiast at a play. “It was bad.”

“I reckon we never would have understood each other, Toby, but we started to walk out together, and went along to a side street that run into a park where it wasn't so light. Somehow we went inside, and before I knew it I had laid my hand on his arm. I never had done a thing like that in all my life, and all of a sudden we stopped and he looked right in my face. It was too much for me, Toby. I couldn't hold in any longer. But it didn't do any harm, for I saw he understood me, and that was enough. He was the happiest creature I ever laid eyes on; he laughed and cried and petted me, and said that he loved me a hundred times more than he did old Whipple and his wife. Then we sat down on a bench under the trees and talked it all over. He talked to me more openly than he ever did before. He wanted to come home above all things, but he wanted to put it off awhile. He told me about him and Margaret Dearing. She was the only real sweetheart he'd ever had, he said, and he could never care for anybody else. It seems that they met by accident awhile back in New York, and she gave him to understand that she didn't care any more for him. He said it was because she knew of his shortage at the bank. But I told him how you and me had kept that quiet, and not to let that bother him. But he told me something that we didn't know: he said he had confessed it to her brother the night he left. He said a woman as high and proud as she was never could overlook anything bordering on dishonesty, no matter how much it was atoned for.”

“She wouldn't be so hard on him if that was all, Mr. Walton,” Toby said. “But, of course, she heard about the other thing; in fact, the girl and the child are right there under her eyes.”

“That occurred to me while me and him was talking,” Walton said; “but I simply couldn't bring up a nasty thing like that at such a time. I thought that might as well rest; in fact, it looked to me like he thought his name had never been mixed up with it. You see, Toby, maybe the woman promised that it shouldn't get out, and has kept him from knowing of the report in order to bleed his pocket. At any rate, he don't seem to suspect what folks are saying here at home. I know he wants to keep me in the dark, for he boldly asked me about Dora Barry, among other inquiries. I was astonished at it, but he wanted to know if she'd ever got married, and when I told him no, he went on to say that she was the best friend he'd ever had among the home girls, and that she had a beautiful character, and the like. He went on to say that she was the finest painter of pictures he had ever seen, and that when he left he was sure she would make a great artist out of her turn that way. He asked me if she had put her talent to any use, and I told him if she had I hadn't heard about it. Then he said—he did—that he was going to sit down and write her a friendly letter, and tell her where he was at, now that me and him had made up. I thought he was piling it on pretty heavy, you know, but I never let on.”

“That was best, of course,” Toby opined, reflectively. “Folks are not apt to throw up a thing like that to a man who has turned over a new leaf, and it may be many a year before he discovers how much has really been talked on that line. But you didn't tell me, Mr. Walton. Did you see Fred's—did you see Mr. Whipple?”

“It went powerfully against the grain, but I had to,” the banker said, gruffly. “I was in for making a beeline back home without having to swallow that dose, but Fred wouldn't hear to it. He said the old skunk would feel hurt. I didn't care a dad-dratted cent whether he felt hurt or not; in fact, I felt hurt to have him dragged in at all. I'm glad the boy has landed in such a pile of clover, but I don't like Whipple any too much, and I reckon that dang sign of his was my Belshazzar's warning on the wall. But it is this way—well, you know what I mean. I reckon a body can look at it from any direction—level, sink, or angle—and the fact will still stick out that the boy is divided, and will have to remain divided from now on. That ain't usual, Toby; it is crooked. It sort o' gives the lie to my success as a father. I won't go into it any further. The whole thing out there, though, would have gone off smooth enough if that old cuss hadn't been in it. He had a slobbery way of talking to Fred, and put his hands on him every chance he got. They asked me out to dinner at Whipple's house to meet the old woman, but I drew the line at that. I was sure she'd act the fool as bad, or worse, than Whipple had, and so I wouldn't go. I never was mushy in that way myself, and I can't stomach them that are. Whipple is going to leave him all he's got, and I want Fred to get all he can of the good things in life, but I'll be dad-blamed if I wanted 'em to come exactly that way.

“Whipple set there in his office and made out a list of his possessions, and it looked to me like he was making everything look as big as he could out of pure spite. Not once did he say—Toby, he didn't say a single time that I had any sort of justification in pinning down on the boy like I did. He might have done it, but he didn't. He always cocked himself up and talked in a roundabout, sneaking fashion, like he was giving underhanded digs. Toby, I want the boy back here, that's all. I want him back here in the bank to take my place after I'm gone. I don't think I could stand it to be beat to a cold, dead finish by that old chump in a fight of exactly this kind. Whipple said Fred could sort o' play between the two places—stay awhile here and awhile there, but I want to tie him down good and tight to old Stafford. I've got an idea how to do it, Toby, and it ain't a bad one.”

“What is it, Mr. Walton?” the clerk asked, eagerly.

“Why, Toby, I ain't much at match-making, but I am going to try my hand at the game. Now, if I could only persuade Margaret Dearing to be sensible, like most women always have been in regard to the early slips of the men they marry—if I could persuade her to overlook the only thing that now remains against the boy—”

“They would get married, and both would prefer to live here!” Toby broke in, eagerly.

“That's the point, Toby,” Walton said. “You've hit it. Now drive me home.”


ONE afternoon, three days after this, Simon Walton drove down the street to Dearing's, and, alighting at the front gate, he carefully haltered his horse to the hitching-post with a rope he always carried under the buggy-seat. Then he opened the gate and trudged up the walk to the door.

Margaret saw him from the window of her room upstairs, and, thinking that he had called to see her uncle or her brother, she hurried down-stairs.

“Did you want to see my uncle?” she asked, sweetly.

“No, I didn't, Miss Margaret.” Walton had taken off his broad-brimmed felt hat, and stood shifting it awkwardly from one hand to the other, a look at once grave and agitated on his gaunt face.

“Well, my brother is at his office,” the girl threw tentatively into the pause that had ensued; “at least, he said he was going there when he left here about two o'clock.”

“I didn't want to see him, either,” and the old man tried to smile, but the effort was a grim failure. “The truth is, Miss Margaret, if I may make so bold, I wanted to see you. There is a little matter I sort o' thought you and me might talk over maybe to mutual gain and profit.”

“You want to see me, really?” Margaret started. “Well, won't you come in?”

Walton glanced into the wide hall doubtfully and fanned himself with his hat. “I don't know; it must be kind o' stuffy inside on a sweltering day like this, ain't it?” he said, awkwardly. “Ain't there a place out under the trees somewhere where we could set a minute? I was here one day with the General, and round that way—” Walton nodded his shaggy head to the right and broke off helplessly.

“Oh yes, and there are some chairs there, too,” Margaret answered. She was now quite grave, and she led the way with a certain erectness of carriage and with an air of restraint that was visible even to the crude sensibilities of her caller.

The chairs under the trees were reached. Walton seized the most comfortable-looking one, and for no obvious reason settled it firmly on the sod. “Now,” he said, and with bended body he waited for her to take it. When she had complied, he took a seat himself, dropping his hat on the grass beside him, only to recover it without delay, that it might rest on his sharp, unsteady knee. He looked up at the unclouded sky, at the overhanging boughs of the big oaks under which they sat. He cleared his throat, looked at Margaret, and then glanced over his shoulder at the roof and gables of the old house.

“You said, I think, that you came to see me,” Margaret reminded him, with as much voice as she could command, for all sorts of bewildering possibilities were flitting through her brain.

“Yes, I did, Miss Margaret,” he said, with a slight start. “If you was a man, now, I think we could get this thing over with in a short time; but I never had much dealings with women—that is, except in a purely business way. I can tell a woman she is over-checking, or offering me bad security, or needs better identification than a pair of bright eyes and rosy cheeks will furnish; but this thing that's riz between me and you is plumb different. In the bank they come to me, but in this case, you see, I'm the supplicant. Miss Margaret, I've come to see you about my boy—about Fred.”

“Oh, you want to find him, and you think that perhaps I—” She went no further. Her first impulsive thought was that Walton had in some way heard of her meeting with Fred in New York and had come to obtain information as to his address.

“Oh no; I know where he is well enough.” The way seemed easier to the old man now, and he went on rapidly. “He is at Gate City, Oklahoma, Miss Margaret. He has been there all this time, and is doing mighty well; in fact, he has gone and got rich. You know the West is a powerful field for fresh, young blood to forge ahead in, and Fred struck it just right. He is a partner in a whopping big wholesale business there. He has been writing to me—that is, off and on. There was a little cash difference between his account and mine, and he finally made it good out of his earnings. I—I never was much of a hand to talk my business, you know, so I've never let on here at Stafford exactly how he was making out, but a time has come when I want to set him as nigh straight as possible before the community he was born and raised in; in fact, I want him to come home.”

“Yes, of course.” Margaret's cold, pale lips formally dropped the words as her visitor paused and wiped his perspiring brow and fanned himself with his hat..

“Yes, I've just been out there to sort o' settle up a little deal betwixt me and the man—twixt me and Fred's business partner, and I must say the whole outlook was good. You know I reckon that everybody in this town sort o' thought before Fred went off that he never would amount to much in a business way, but he is all right now. So, having nothing much to do at the bank this hot day, why, I thought I'd drive up here and see you about it.”

“See me about it? I really don't understand,” the young lady faltered.

“Well, to come right to the point, Miss Margaret”—Walton avoided her wavering glance for a moment as he kicked the toe of his boot into an unoffending tuft of grass and fairly uprooted it—“out there in Gate City one night me and Fred had a sort o' confidential talk about old times, and one thing or other, and finally he broke down and told me how much attached he had always been to you—never had cared for no other woman, nor never would as long as the sun shone on the earth, and other things to that effect.”

“Oh, Mr. Walton, please don't!” Margaret cried out; but there was a glow of irrepressible delight rising in her face, and her beautiful eyes were sparkling. “I don't think I want to talk about it.”

“I have to,” the banker insisted, firmly. “I want him back here, Miss Margaret; and, as it stands now, I'm afraid he never will come unless you yield a point or two. He said his one and only spur to making a man of himself had been the hope that—seeing that you hadn't yet chosen a partner—that you might some day or other consider his proposal. He says, though, that he met you in New York, awhile back, and that you deliberately turned him down. He said he couldn't blame you, after all that had happened, but he couldn't help thinking that maybe it would be as well for him never to come nigh you again. That was the way, I say, that he looked at it, blue and down-in-the-mouth, as the poor fellow was during our confab; but I threw out a straw to him, so I did, Miss Margaret. I cited numbers and numbers of cases where young men had eventually lived down early mistakes, and finally been reinstated, to become, in the end, an honor to the land of their birth. He didn't think, after the way you acted in New York, that there was any chance for him at all, but, being anxious to make headway, I told him I was sure you was too much of a Christian at heart to refuse a request like his, offered in the spirit it is offered in. He's sorry for many things that's he done, and wants to wipe 'em out.”

Old Walton's eyes shifted almost significantly from her face to the low roof of Mrs. Barry's cottage, and instinctively Margaret's glance followed; then, becoming conscious of the fact, she quickly looked down, and a tinge of color climbed into her pale cheeks.

“I think we'd better not say any more about that, Mr. Walton,” she said, more firmly than she had spoken since his arrival. “I am sure your son understands how I feel.”

“That means a flat no, then,” the banker said, and with a heavy sigh he slowly stood up. “Well, I've plead his case as well as I know how, but I hain't yet touched on mine. Miss Margaret, you could do me a big, lasting favor if you'd let this thing go through. I'm a plain man. Folks hain't never said I was much of a hand to show affection, and they are right, I reckon; but the way matters stand now is getting me down, and if you don't extend a helping hand I'm afraid I'll feel bad the rest of my life. It ain't just Fred that's concerned—it's me—me! As long as a father can make himself believe he is treating his son justly, he can hold his head up and meet the eye of the world; but, if the truth must be told, I reckon I didn't give Fred a good enough show. I driv' him off, with threats of the law, and away off in a strange land, under a new name, he forged ahead. He made friends by the stack, and the old man—his partner that I told you about—loves him like he was his own; in fact, he calls him his 'adopted son.' Think of that! The only child the Lord ever give me is now claimed by a blamed old cuss that understood him better than I ever did! He has willed him all he's got, and he's got plenty, too—a sight more than I'll ever have if I keep on till the end of the chapter. I want to hold my own, Miss Margaret. I hain't never been clean beat yet, and this, somehow, would be the worst fall I ever had. I just can't stomach the idea! I want my boy to love me, and lean on me, and not on a fat, pudgy old idiot that never had a thing to do with his baby days. I want that worse than I ever wanted anything, and I don't see how I'm going to get it if you don't help a little. If your pride won't let you do it for him, maybe it will for an old chap like me, that is begging for one more throw of the dice. I simply want him back, and he won't come unless you will let bygones be bygones.” He paused. Something very much like strong emotion was in his whole dejected attitude as he stood bowed before her. She started to speak, but stopped, clasping her delicate hands undecidedly in front of her. She stood silent for a moment, and then she said, softly:

“I see; it is hard on you. It is a pity you have to suffer on account of it.”

“Promise me this, Miss Margaret.” Old Walton leaned forward eagerly. “Promise that you will think it over for a day or so. It ain't a thing, anyway, to be decided in a second, like buying a hat or a pair of gloves of such and such a color or material. If you have to go plumb against the boy, do it after mature deliberation. Won't you study over it a day or two?”

“Yes, I can promise that,” Margaret consented. “I'll stop in at the bank and see you soon.”

“Well, that's all a body could ask,” Walton said, gratefully; and, bowing low, he trudged across the grass to his horse and buggy.


WHEN he had disappeared down the street, Margaret sat staring at the ground, her color still high, her eyes holding a delicate, spiritual effulgence, her breast rising and falling under stress of fiercely contending impulses, my Christian duty to forgive,” she argued. “I know he has repented, and he couldn't have been wholly to blame. His grosser nature was tempted. He fell, but he loved me in a different way. He loves me still, or he wouldn't want me now. He showed it in New York. He has suffered enough, and I ought to take him back. But can I? Can I? How could I forget, with her and his child right under my eyes? Perhaps, if I went to see her, that might help me decide. I ought to have gone, anyway. She really has had a hard life.”

With her hand on her breast, as though the thought had given her actual physical pain, she bowed for a few minutes; then she calmly rose, fastened the strings of her graceful hat under her pretty chin, and walked deliberately down to Mrs. Barry's. Lionel was playing with some colored building-blocks on the porch, and looked up in vast surprise.

“Where is your mother?” Margaret asked, timidly. “May I see her?”

“She is in the studio,” the child said. “She is making a picture.”

At this moment Dora stepped out into the hall from a room on the right, and with a look of undisguised and almost perturbed surprise she came forward.

“Oh, she is beautiful—beautiful!” ran like a dart through the visitor's brain. “She is a thousand times more now than she used to be; she has grown, developed. Such hair, such eyes, such color, such a perfect figure!”

“I think I heard you asking for me,” Dora said, calmly, something—perhaps it was the sheer immunity of genius and conscious purity of purpose—lifting her above the embarrassment of the situation.

“Yes, I came to see you,” Margaret said, bewildered by Dora's appearance and the growing sense of her wonderful and forceful personality. “I ought to have come before, I am well aware; but I hope you won't turn me away.”

“Why should I, Margaret?” Even in the unruffled voice of the recluse there was a mellow hint of oblivion to the social degradation the outside world had draped her with. “Would you mind coming into my workroom? It is about as cheerful as our stuffy little parlor.”

“Oh, you still paint?” Margaret cried, as she stood in the doorway and saw the pictures leaning here and there and tacked to the wooden partition.

“Yes, I had to have some occupation,” Dora responded, quite frankly, “and I took it up. I think I should have died but for my art.”

“And did you really do all these?” Margaret stared in admiration. “Oh, they are lovely, lovely!”

“I'm glad you like them,” Dora said, appreciatively. “I am sorry I happen to have only these. Just last week I sent a box of the best away. I may as well tell you that I sell them—or, rather, have them sold for me.”

“Oh, you do, really? How nice!—how very nice!” Margaret sat down almost in utter bewilderment. The whole thing was like a dream—the wonderful intellectual poise of the girl-like artist; her beauty; her charm; the far-away look of almost conscious superiority in the long-lashed, indescribable eyes. “And you intend to go on with your art?”

“Oh yes, to the end—to the very end of life, and beyond, too, perhaps,” answered Dora, with a merry, philosophical laugh. “I am working toward a glorious goal. Far-off Paris beckons me, Margaret, even in my sleep. Mother and I read of nothing else now, and think of nothing else. We study French in our poor way, and speak it together. Even Lionel lisps a word of it now and then. Yes, Paris and my boy mean all to me now. This has been a prison for our little family, but there the breath of art animates all life. The people are not narrow; they rank essential purity above the sordid hypocrisy of mere convention. There my boy might grow up unconscious of—but you know what I mean.”

“Yes, yes,” Margaret said, a vast womanly sympathy springing up within her that fairly swept her from the condemnatory position she had so long held.

“And we hope to manage it very soon now,” the artist continued. “We are hoarding up my earnings for that, and nothing else. Lionel has the soul of a poet, artist, or musician, and in Paris he can grow and expand, and there—there he will not have to face what would inevitably be his portion if he remained here. His misfortune, if it can be called that, was not of his making, and God will help me to wipe it out of his consciousness—to blot it from his fair young soul.”

“Yes, yes,” Margaret said, helplessly, and she rose to go. There was nothing she could say. Dora, in some unaccountable way, seemed beyond her mental reach, a glorious, sublimated creature more of spirit than of matter. The things she had striven for in her solitude had raised her higher than her surroundings. From a narrow point of view she had lost, from a higher and broader she had gained; she was the youthful forerunner of a future army of women who would be judged by the radiance of their souls rather than by the shadows of their bodies.

Dora seemed to feel her sudden nearness in spirit to her old friend. For a moment she was silent. There was a clatter of blocks on the floor of the porch, followed by the soft click-click of the pieces of wood as the child put them together again from the heap into which they had fallen.

“I have always wanted to have a good, long talk with you about Fred,” Dora suddenly began, “but I hardly knew how to propose it to you after—at least, after he went away so suddenly. I felt that I ought to see you personally, and yet my pride would not let me. He had his faults, Margaret, but there were many beautiful things in his character.”

“I know, I know.” Margaret's heart fairly froze, and she stared coldly and held herself quite erect. Was it possible that the woman would dare to intimate that she cared to hear about that shameful intimacy? Had her ideas of art, her dreams of France and bohemian freedom from conventional laws, led her into the error of thinking that she, Margaret Dearing, would for a moment listen to such a confidence?

“Only to-day I received a long letter from him,” Dora went on, unobservant of the change that had come over her visitor. “Let me get it. I am sure you will think more kindly of him when you have read what he writes. His father has been out to see him, and they are quite reconciled now. It has made Fred very happy. You see, there is no reason now why he may not come home. I want you to see the letter, for he mentions you in it, and I am sure, seeing how sweet and kind you are to me, that—”

“I don't care to see it!” Margaret broke in, frigidly. “Please don't ask me. I am just going. I only had a few moments. I thank you very much for showing me your pictures.”

Dora dropped her eyes in surprise, for the gaze of her haughty visitor was full of undisguised anger.

“I didn't mean to offend you,” she said, humbly, “and I hope you will pardon me. I was only trying to do Fred a good turn, and I suppose I did it awkwardly. It is very good of you to come. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye.” And Margaret swept from the room. As she crossed the porch and passed the little architect of a church of no mean design, he raised his eyes and said:

“Look, lady; that is the tower for the big bell (ding-dong!), and this is the door—” But she paid no heed to him, as, with a shrug, almost of disdain, she passed on to the gate.

“He is writing to her; he has been writing to her all these years,” she said within herself. “Perhaps he has even met her—she may have been to see him in other places. That is why she's lived so quietly—it gave her the chance to go and come as she liked. Perhaps he has put those ideas of Paris and free-love into her head. When he talked to me in New York he didn't mean that—that he cared for me deeply. He meant only that he wanted me and the rest of us here to overlook what he had done. When he told his silly old father that he would not come back unless I forgave him, he meant—he thought—he was trying to apologize—actually apologize—for having made love to me. I have lowered myself by going to her. It gave her that sly chance to stab me. She thinks I care. She thinks that I have been crying my eyes out about him. They have talked me over time after time. Oh, the shame of it—the utter shame of it!”


MARGARET DEARING passed a restless, tumultuous night following the disturbing visit to Dora. In the evening she had joined her uncle at a game of whist in a nervous, abstracted way; she had played the piano in a spiritless fashion for her brother, who had come in tired from a long drive into the country, where he had performed a successful surgical operation; and then she had gone up to her bedchamber and thrown off the mask. She kept it off, for there was only the starlight to witness her white, blank face and piteously staring eyes as she sat at her window looking out. From the stretch of darkness below only one salient feature presented itself: it was the steadily burning light in Dora Barry's window. In her fancy Margaret saw the beautiful young mother bending over a table writing—writing to Fred Walton in answer to the last letter he had written. She rose suddenly, exasperated beyond endurance, and threw herself on her bed.

She rose late the next morning and breakfasted in the big, sombre dining-room after the General and Wynn had gone to town. The servant said something she hardly heard, to the effect that Wynn had received a letter which called him to Augusta, and that he might be absent for several days. Breakfast over, Margaret strolled down to a favorite seat of hers on the lawn. Why was it, she asked herself, with poignant chagrin, that she welcomed the position as putting her into the full view of any one chancing to look from Dora Barry's cottage? Had she been very subtle in self-analysis and very frank touching her own desires, she would have admitted the subtle suggestion of her attitude, her apparent absorption in the magazine that she held in hand; must it not convey to her watching neighbor a conviction that the conversation of the afternoon just passed had been of no possible moment to her—that it had, in fact, caused no ripple in the even current of her satisfied existence.

Indeed, the pages of the magazine were held so firmly before her unshifting eyes that she failed to notice that Lionel had crossed over the fence and was coming toward her holding an envelope in his little hand. He was dressed in a becoming gray suit, and his yellow, carefully brushed tresses caught the morning sunlight till they seemed a mass of delicate golden flames. The grass he daintily trod was wet with dew, and opalescent jewels seemed to blaze and fall at his feet. Margaret saw him from the corner of her eye as he timidly paused near her, and yet she did not at first deign to look up. The grim thought fastened itself on her distorted imagination that Dora was now watching, if at no other moment, so she lowered the magazine to her lap, taking studied care to turn down a leaf before glancing at the child.

“My mother sent this note,” Lionel said, when he caught her eye.

She took the envelope and opened it. It contained two separate communications. The first was to her from Dora. The other was in Fred Walton's well-remembered hand. Dora's note ran:

Dear Margaret,—I want you to do poor Fred the simple justice of reading his letter to me. I saw yesterday that you were angered by my mentioning him, and I don't believe you could have been so if you had the faith in him which he deserves. You may doubt him, for some reason or other, but I am sure you could do so no longer if you would only read the tender things he has written about you. Sincerely, Dora Barry.

Margaret read and reread the note. Her prejudice was still playing riot with her better judgment, and, feeling sure that Dora's eyes were on her, she scornfully swept both the communications from her lap to the grass at her feet and turned to her magazine.

Lionel stared, a pained expression slowly capturing his mobile features as he stood in rigid indecision for a moment; then, with a sigh, he stooped down and picked up the sheets of paper which were being blown about on the grass. The first page of Fred Walton's letter to Dora was the last he secured, and, just as he was picking it up, Margaret, almost against her will, dropped her glance upon it, reading the introductory line at the top of the sheet.

“My dear old friend,” she saw quite plainly, in Fred's bold writing, “You will be surprised to hear from me for the first time after all these years—”

Old friend—after all these years!” Those words, so contradictory to what she expected, remained before Margaret's sight even after the child had gathered the sheets in his offended arms and was turning away. What could they mean? Surely that was not the way a man would begin a letter to the woman he had betrayed and deserted. There must be some mystery, and the child was bearing its solution away. Her desire to know more was too strong to be resisted. Impulsively she cried out:

“Little boy! Lionel! Wait! Bring them back! I dropped them!” He turned, a look of mystification on his face, and came back doubtfully.

“I haven't read them yet,” she explained, humbly enough, and she extended her hand. “Let me have them.”

“I thought you were angry,” he said, staring at her. “I thought you didn't want my mother's letter.”

“I'll read them,” she promised, tremblingly. “Wait, won't you? That's a good boy.”

He stood beside her, studiously observant of the phenomenon of her changeableness, while she literally devoured Fred Walton's letter. It ran:

My dear old friend,—You will be surprised to hear from me for the first time after all these years, and I have no valid excuse to offer. You may or may not have received the letter I wrote you telling you that I was leaving old Stafford forever. My bad conduct had driven my father to desperation, and I had grave reasons to believe that he would actually enforce the law against me. I had made up my mind to turn over a new leaf and fight it out on new lines at home, when the last straw came to break my purpose. Dear Dora, her brother Wynn approached me that very night and told me that her uncle intended positively to disinherit her if she kept faith in me. What was there for me to do? God knows I was unworthy of her, and the next morning was to bring things to light which would make her despise me; so I promised him then and there to go away and never communicate with her again. No human being ever suffered more keenly than I did at losing her, but I determined to fight my way to reformation, and by my own toil to restore to my father the funds I had misappropriated. After years of strife and hardship I have done it, and he has fully forgiven me. He has forgiven me and wants me to come home. Home! Just think of it! To me old Stafford would be a heaven on earth. I think I could fall face downward in the dear old streets and kiss the very pavement. But I may not come yet. Somehow I can't, Dora. I believe most of the old town will forgive me, but she won't. I know she won't. Her ideas of honor are too high for that. The reason I am so sure is that I met her by chance in New York not long ago, and she gave me clearly to understand that I need never expect to regain her respect. I made my own case out pretty black to her brother, and I suppose he gave me my full dues in telling her about it. To my astonishment, my father told me that he had not spoken of my shortage at the bank, and that nothing had been said about it at home, but her brother told her. She got the confession straight from me, and there could be no better authority. I love her still, dear Dora, and more than ever. The very gulf between her and me has only made her the dearer.

But I mustn't write so much about myself. My father says you are still unmarried. He couldn't tell me whether you had carried your painting further. I was sure it would do great things for you, and it is not too late, even yet.

Another thing—I have always felt that I may have hurt your feelings past forgiveness by advising you as I did in that last letter not to trust too fully the man whom I mentioned. I now see that I had no right to go so far. You were hardly more than a child then, but you knew how to take care of yourself even with a man of the world like him, and I had no right to warn you. But I was going away, dear Dora, and I was so miserable about myself that I exaggerated your danger. I have seen by the papers that he has made a great success in life, and that old Stafford is very proud of him—

Margaret folded the letter in her lap and sat aflame with joy, staring with glowing eyes at the vacant air.

“Do you like it? Is it nice, lady?” the child asked.

“Yes, very nice, and I thank you,” she answered. The child said something, but she did not hear it. The pent-up ecstasy within her was like physical pain; she could have screamed to give it an outlet. She felt a womanly yearning to embrace the boy, and would have opened her arms to him had she not heard steps behind her. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Kenneth Galt approaching.

“I dropped in at the front to see you,” he said, with a bow. “They told me you were out here.” His eyes fell on the child, and a strange flare of inexpressible tenderness lighted his lack-lustre eyes as he drew a chair forward and sat down.

“Yes, I like it here,” she intoned, and her voice, in her own ears, sounded far off, and as if it had taken on the timbre of a new and exalted existence. She half feared that Galt would note it.

“You seem happy,” he said, thoughtfully, “and that is a condition that is most rare with humankind. I certainly envy a happy individual.”

“Yes, I am very happy,” she said—“more so than I ever was in my life before.”

“I certainly envy you,” he repeated, gloomily. “I have given up all hope of even touching the hem of the good dame's garment.” The boy had gone to him, and stood with his little hand on his father's knee, looking with trustful adoration into the dark, saturnine face above him. Something in the child's profile, now that Margaret held the glass of revelation to her eyes, showed kinship to its paternal prototype, and a dazzling dart of conviction flashed through her. At that instant she had a motherly instinct to draw the child from the contaminating touch of the man who had disowned it. His attitude of denial was a desecration to the holiness of parenthood, and in her soul she resented it.

“Come to me, Lionel,” she said, gently. “I want you to kiss me. Won't you, just once?”

The child stared as if scarcely believing that he had heard aright.

“What did you say, lady?” he asked, as he lingered hesitatingly.

She repeated her words more tenderly than before, and there was a mist before her sight as he came toward her.

“Do you like me now?” he asked, wonderingly. “Yes, and love you very, very much,” she answered, huskily.

“But you didn't ever so long at first; you didn't yesterday, when I asked you to see my church. You didn't just this minute, when I brought my mother's letter.”

“But I do now, ever and ever so much,” she said, adopting his tone, and, taking him into her arms, she pressed him passionately to her breast and kissed him on his brow, on his cheeks, and on his red lips. Then, holding him in her arms, and with no word of explanation to Galt, she rose. “Put your arms close around my neck,” she said, “and hug me tight. I am going to run over and see your mother.”

The child complied, timidly, a delicate flush of appreciation on his mobile face. Then she put him down, and, still not looking at Galt, she said:

“No, you needn't come, Lionel; I'll only be there a minute to return the letter. You may stay here and entertain your—your good friend.”

Galt, who had risen, stood looking after her for a moment, his countenance dark with the ever-constant despair within him. He felt the tiny, confident hands of his child as they pressed against his legs, and looked down into the sweetly smiling, upturned face.

“They all like me now,” Lionel said. “She was the only one that didn't, but she says she does now. She kissed me. Did you see her? Oh, she's so pretty! She is—no, she isn't, but she is nearly as pretty as my mother.”

Galt sat down and drew the boy first to a seat on his knee and then into his arms.

“She knows the truth,” he said to himself, in a tone of desperate indifference to fate. “Something in that letter told her.”


AS she passed through the gate at the end of the lawn, Margaret looked back and saw the child and its father seated together.

“Yes, he is the one,” she mused. “He of all men! And yet I might have known it; he has adored the child since the moment he first saw it there on the lawn.”

Dora saw her coming from her easel near the window of her studio, and stood in the hall awaiting her. Her face was aglow with expectation.

Without any word of greeting Margaret simply ran to her and threw her arms about her neck. “Oh, you are so good, so noble!” she cried. “I see it all now, and I have been wofully wrong. Oh, Dora, I could not have treated you as I have all these miserable years if I had not thought—I actually thought—”

“I know now what you thought,” Dora broke in, a pained expression clutching her lips, as she drew Margaret into the studio. “I don't know why I did not think of it sooner, but I didn't. Away back when my trouble was blackest I heard that Fred's name had been coupled with mine. I denied it then, and thought that was the end of it. After that, you see,” she went on, with a shudder of repugnance to the topic, “I buried myself here so completely that no outside gossip reached my ears. I had to guard my own secret, and I was afraid that even the slightest agitation of the matter might disclose the truth. I—I would have died rather than have had it known—all of it, I mean.”

“And yet you sent me this letter?” Margaret laid it on a table and stood staring gratefully into the beautiful face. “You sent it, although you knew that it might—at least—lead me to—to wonder who—”

“Yes, I had to do it,” the young artist interrupted, her glance averted. “I could not bear to have you think Fred was anything but noble and true and good. Margaret, I cried for joy over the fine news in his letter. I couldn't believe you had snubbed the poor boy in New York for nothing. I was puzzled for a while, and then the horrible truth dawned on me. I hope he will never learn that he was so terribly misjudged. It would hurt him more than all else that has happened to him. They said he was bad, Margaret—wild, and a gambler, and all that; but to me he was like a sweet, thoughtful brother. If I'd only listened to his advice, I'd never have been situated like this; but I didn't. I thought I was very wise then. I have Lionel now, of course. He seemed to come to me like an angel of light out of a black sky of infinite pain. But if God will only show me a way to save him from future trouble, I—I—”

“There, I have made you cry!” Margaret exclaimed, regretfully. “I am so sorry!”

“I don't give way often.” Dora brushed the tears from her eyes. “It is only when I think of what may come to my little darling. Perhaps we shall get to Paris before he is old enough to understand, and then all this will fade from his childish memory.”

“Yes, yes, you must go to Paris,” Margaret said. “I have more money than I need. Dora, surely you would not refuse to let me—”

“Oh, no, no, no!” Dora cried out. “I couldn't think of it. What is done must be done by me, by my brain, and by my hands. God will surely let me atone in that way for my mistake. It is what I have prayed for night and day all these years, and the reward surely can't be far off.” She forced a wan smile to her rigid face, and added: “Then, like the Arabs, some night we'll fold our tents and silently steal away from old Stafford. Only the grocer-boy and the postman will know, at first, and then the last chapter of our life here will be written. It seems sad, doesn't it?—but it is sweet, so very, very sweet and soothing.”

Margaret was crying. Without a word, she kissed Dora and went out. But she did not return home at once. She kept on down the little street on which the cottage stood till she came to another which led to the square.

She passed the stores, bowing to an acquaintance in a doorway or in a passing carriage, and went on to Walton's bank.

“Is Mr. Walton in?” she asked Toby Lassiter, at the cashier's window in the green wire grating.

“He has just this minute stepped out,” Toby answered. “He will be right in. Won't you go to his office and wait?”

“Thank you, yes,” she answered, and went back to the musty little room, taking a chair near the old man's desk.

Without a moment's delay, Toby grabbed his hat and went out in the street. He found the banker lounging around Pete Longley's grocery store, where he had an attentive audience. Toby knew better than to interrupt the old man when he was talking, so he waited for Walton to finish his remarks, which, judging by the steady gleam of the banker's eye, had some underlying motive; and, considering the fact that Pete was a noted gossip, Toby decided that his employer was simply and deliberately setting afloat certain reports that would be on every lip before nightfall.

“Oh yes,” Toby heard him saying, “I never was a man to let my right hand know what my left was doing in any deal whatsoever, and so, all this time, I have kept my own counsel in regard to where Fred was at, and why—why I sent him out there. He invested some of the scads that is coming to him in that big boom town and turned his money over as fast as a dog can trot. Boys, I'm actually ashamed to tell you fellows how rich he really is. I reckon you'd get an idea of how he's fixed if I was to say he has made more since he left here than I've raked and scraped together all my life.”

“You don't say!” Pete Longley exclaimed. “Well, that certainly is fine. I reckon he did it through his popularity. I never knew a chap that had as many friends.”

“Well, he'll be back to shake hands with you all very soon now,” Walton said, gratified at the way his fuse had ignited. “I've been out to see him a time or two, but he has always been too busy to come this way; but he'll get here—he'll lay everything down and head this way some day before long.”

Just then Walton caught sight of the breathless Toby at his elbow; he stepped out to the edge of the sidewalk, and bent down to hear what his clerk had to say.

“She's waiting for you in your office, Mr. Walton,” Toby panted.


“Yes, sir; I told her to sit down and I'd fetch you in.”

“Oh, Lord, I reckon I'll get it in the neck, Toby!” Walton's face was a veritable mask of gravity and concern. “I reckon she's come to give the boy his walking-papers. I have thought it over till my head swims. No woman of her station and pride would ever let a man come back to her while a thing like that is hanging over him. If the woman and the child was dead and under ground, it might be different. She's come too quick to bear good news—a woman would tussle over a thing like that for a good month, and then ask for more time. No, the jig is up! I deserve it for the string of lies I was wrapping round that gang to make my case as good as possible.”

He moved slowly into the bank, hung up his hat in the little hallway deliberately, and quite after the manner in which he went to meet business proposals, with his rough face grimly set against rejections and compromises. She was going to cast him down, but he'd show her that he was game. She had practically closed the matter during his interview with her, and had only delayed longer at his earnest request. No, she shouldn't chuckle over his defeat. He didn't know but what he'd throw out a hint that Fred wasn't really so very “rampageous” in the matter, after all.

“Oh, how do you do?” he said, as he went in. She started to hold out her hand, but, not looking for such a movement, he failed to see it, and lunged toward his desk, where he sat and took up a pen.

“Well, I reckon,” he began, awkwardly, “you've' come to see me about—to say whether or not—that is, you remember, I said if you finally decided—”

“I have decided, Mr. Walton.” She rose and came and stood over him. Her voice was quivering; there was a blaze of burning joy in her face and eyes, but he did not see it.

“Oh, you have! Well, it's for you to say whether you thought best or not. I reckon I went just a little mite beyond my authority up there, in my effort to conduct Fred's affairs for him, without, you understand—without his free consent. I only thought, maybe, if you would signify your willingness to overlook certain rather shady things, Fred might take it as a sort o'—sort o' all-round sign from this end—a sort of index of public opinion bearing on his particular case, and—”

“Yes, I have decided, Mr. Walton,” Margaret broke in. “I have come to ask you to write to him. Tell him, please, that I'd like to see him. I feel sure that when he gets home he and I will fully understand each other.”

“Good gracious, Miss Margaret, you don't mean—” Simon stood up to his full height, his old eyes blinking in astonishment.

“Yes, I do, Mr. Walton. I want to see him and talk to him. I don't know how to say it to you, but I am sure Fred will understand. Tell him that I—that I kissed you for his sake, there!”

And before Simon could avoid it she had thrown her arms around his neck and actually pressed her lips to his grizzled cheek. To add to his confusion, Toby hastily entered the room just as she was releasing her dumfounded captive.

“Oh!” Toby gasped, his face ablaze with embarrassment, “I didn't mean to; but the General is at the door in his carriage, and asked if you were in here. Of course, Miss Margaret, I hadn't the least idea but—”

“Well, don't let it get out, for all you do, Toby,” Margaret laughed, merrily. “Don't forget, Mr. Walton; by to-night's mail, sure!”

And the next instant she had floated out of the room, leaving the red-face banker under the perplexed stare of his apologetic clerk.

“She oughtn't to have done that!” Walton growled, as he brushed the shoulders of his coat where her gloved hands had rested and stroked his tingling cheek. “She had no business going as far as that. Women are such dad-dratted galoots when they get wound up in any matter. She seems willing for him to come. I'm not able to understand it, and I don't intend to try. They won't be long getting hitched if she goes at him in a whirlwind like that. Good Lord, I wouldn't have my wife know what she done just now for any man's pile! She'd make a scandal out of it, or break her neck trying.”

“Well, it's safe in my hands, Mr. Walton,” Toby said, with unconscious humor. “I'll never tell it.”

You'll never tell it? Who the devil asked you to hide it?” Walton stormed. “But I reckon she meant it to sort o' seal what she'd made up her mind to agree to, and she really is swallowing a pill, Toby, from any point of view. But it will make the boy powerful happy, and he will be on the wing as soon as he gets my report. Huh! I see his old stepdaddy's face now. He may try to keep him; but, shucks! I've got the old duck where the feathers are short. I've started a bang-up report in the boy's favor, Toby, and you can sort o' kick the ball along whenever it comes your way. We needn't mention that nasty business to him, neither; if Margaret can let bygones be bygones, surely the rest of us can.”


UNDER a growing weight of uneasiness, combined with a sense of utter discontent with himself, Galt put Lionel down when he had half listened to his accusing prattle for an hour, and sought the shadowy solitude of his great house.

Yes, Margaret Dealing knew, he told himself. That was plain from her change of manner. She knew the truth at last, and was now heaping upon him the silent, womanly contempt which he so eminently deserved.

He sat at his open window and watched the shadows fall and sullenly creep across the lawn as the sunbeams receded, and the twilight of a close, sultry evening came on. He went down to supper when he was called, but he ate little and his loneliness seemed more oppressive there in the open gas-light, under the gaze of the observant and solicitous attendants. Taking a cigar, he went outside and began to walk up and down on the grass, now grimly fighting against the fate which, like some grim sea-monster, was clutching him with a million penetrating tentacles, and coiling round him as might some insidious reptile bent upon retributive torture. How had he dared to question the predominance of spirit over matter when this piteous appeal for the peace of his soul was oozing from the very fibre of his being?

Presently he saw Wynn Dearing emerge from the front door of his home, carrying a traveller's bag. Dearing rested the bag on the walk at his feet and stood looking down the street. Then, with his arms folded, he began to walk nervously to and fro.

“He is going away,” Galt speculated. “He looks excited. I wonder if Margaret could have told him of her discovery?”

Galt stood still, held to the ground by the sheer horror of the thought. Of all possible happenings, he had most dreaded his best friend's discovery of that particular thing. The young doctor had turned toward him and was approaching. He now held his head down and had clasped his hands tensely behind him. Suddenly, when quite near, he raised his eyes and recognized Galt.

“Hello, Kenneth!” he said. “I didn't know you were at home. Otherwise, I should have run in and said good-bye.”

“You are going somewhere, then?” Galt said.

“To Augusta for a few days,” Dearing replied. “I got a letter offering me a chance to do an important operation. I shall be glad to get away, even for so short a time as that. I almost wish, old man, that I could stay away forever. I used to love this town, but I hate it now. I hate anything that is heartless and totally blinded by money and power to all sense of justice and common decency.”

“Why, what's gone wrong?” Galt inquired.

“Wrong? The place is rotten to the core!” Dearing burst out. “Kenneth, a thing is going to be countenanced by the citizens of this town that would stain the character of the Dark Ages. Haven't you heard the news that has set every tongue to wagging like a thousand bell-clappers?”

“No, I haven't heard anything out of the ordinary. You see, I am keeping so close here at home that—”

“Well, old man, the lowest, poorest excuse for a man that old Stafford ever produced is coming back,” Dearing broke it, furiously. “Fred Walton, I mean. I didn't think he'd have the effrontery to show his face here again, but he has decided to do it.”

“Oh!” Galt exclaimed. But that was all he said, for Dearing went on, angrily:

“Yes, and the dastardly thing—the most outrageous fact about it all—is that every soul in the place is ready to receive him with open arms. He has made lots of money; he is rich; he has reformed, they say, and, idiots that they are, they have forgiven him. I have heard his return spoken of by a score of our very best citizens, and not one of them has even mentioned the crime that lies at his door—the crime that stands out to-day in a more damning light than it ever did. The brave, patient, suffering little woman—who is as high above him intellectually, morally, and every other way as the stars are above the earth—and that glorious child are to have another slap from his dirty, egotistical paw. He put her into prison and made her an exile with his nameless offspring, and yet he comes back like a royal prince. 'Wild oats,' they call his vile conduct, and they are ready to wipe it off his record. That is modern mankind for you, and, Kenneth, this one circumstance has come nearer to shaking my faith than anything that ever happened to me. If God can allow an insult like that to come to Dora Barry now, after all she has borne so sweetly, silently, and bravely, He can be no God of mine. I'll be through with the creeds, I tell you. I'll join your gang of scoffers and trot along wherever your black philosophy leads. Even my uncle has no protest to make, nor my sister, who I thought had given the scamp up in disgust. By George, she even looks happy over it! I don't want to meet him face to face. I don't know that I could control myself. She has given me no right to act as her defender; if she had, Kenneth, I'd take up her cause if it ended my career here forever!”

“You? You?” Galt gasped.

“Yes, I. Listen, old man. You are my best friend, and I feel like telling some one. I feel that it would be a sort of tribute of respect to her worthiness. I presume you, like all the rest, think that I never have had any preference for any particular woman, but I have had, and I am not ashamed of it.

“When I was a boy of thirteen or so, and Dora was about eight, we used to play together. Even at that age I had an eye for beauty, and she was the prettiest child that ever lived. We called ourselves sweethearts. Her old father used to get us to sit for him in his studio, and he would talk to us as only such a beautiful soul could to children. He used to sigh and say that she would be a pauper, and that I would grow up a prince, for an artist could not leave his daughter money, and my father was said to be well-to-do. Even at that early age I denied the possibility of such a thing making any difference between her and me, and when she grew up into such beautiful girlhood, and was studying art under her father, I determined to make something of myself, aside from the inheritance which was to come to me. So I went in for medicine and surgery, and she kept to art, saying that she would earn a living for her parents when they became old. But he died away off in Paris, whither his dreams led him, while I was at college, and when I came home I found that she had grown away from me. It was a great blow, for I had been constantly thinking of her. To me she was the very glory of her sex, and it was mostly her influence that made me what I am. I have seen many women since then, but never her equal from any point of view. I went with her occasionally after that, but it was more to become accustomed to her loss than in the hope of winning her regard. Then the awful, unmentionable thing came out. You know what I mean. That man had won her confidence, won her heart—how, God only knows, but he had—and dealt her a back-handed blow, and left her helpless, miserable. I tried then, harder than ever, to tear her image out of my heart, but I couldn't. My professional duties called me into the saddened home to which no other soul was admitted. I saw that even in her blighted womanhood she was fulfilling every promise given by her youth. Instead of sinking lower, she was blooming like a flower under snow. I suppose I shall go through the rest of my life with her personality woven into the very warp and woof of my being. But knowing her has strengthened and broadened me. She is beautiful, pure, and spiritual—God's denial of the social law held over her. Only shallow men judge women by physical mistakes made in the unselfish purity of over-confidence. She will never call on me for the aid I'd gladly give, and I can't insult her strange widowhood by offering it. She has her heart set on going to Paris to live and study, as her father did. She thinks she can bury herself there before Lionel is old enough to realize his condition, and that he may never know the truth. It is a beautiful dream, but it can never be realized.”

A horse and buggy stopped at the gate, and Doctor Beaman, who was driving, leaned over and called out, excitedly: “I'm fifteen minutes late, Wynn; you may miss the train. Hurry! hurry!”

“That's a fact; I must go. Good-bye, old man.” Galt held on to Dearing's hand firmly, almost desperately.

“Wait, I have something to say,” he began—“something that simply must be said.”

“Good gracious, Wynn, hurry, hurry!” Doctor Beaman was heard calling out, impatiently. “You don't want to lie over in Atlanta. I'll have to go in a gallop, and then may miss your train! Hurry!”

“Wait, just a moment,” Galt implored.

“Oh, I know you are sympathetic.” Dealing, misunderstanding, ran for his bag, with the wordless Galt shambling along at his side. “I couldn't have told you all that if you hadn't taken such a liking for the poor little kid. Good-bye, good-bye, only don't join the gang of fools that will laud that scamp to the skies when he comes—that is all I ask.”

“But you must listen!” Galt cried out. “I must tell you now that—” But Dearing had darted away. The gate closed after him, and Galt saw him climbing into the buggy even while it was in motion.

“Well, he'll know it soon enough,” the lonely man thought. “The facts will come out now. Walton will hear the report when he gets back, and Dora will declare him innocent.”

Galt went into the dimly lighted hallway of his house and ascended the stairs. There was nothing to do now, he told himself. The world that had admired him, the men and women who had entrusted him with the investment of their savings in his various schemes, would stare and doubt their senses. They would shun him—one and all they would shun him as they would some loathsome thing; he had used their money well, but their profit had been made by a man who had known no honor.

He entered his room, turned up the light, and critically examined his ghastly image in the mirror on his bureau. What a gashed and blearing mask to all that lay behind it! How could it go on? How could he bear with it another day? Even if he could lay it aside in sleep to-night, the heartless dawn would reveal it all the more relentlessly. Suddenly out of the turmoil of his emotions a grim resolve rose and fastened itself on him. His suicide would be his confession—his belated exoneration of the man who so long had borne the stigma in his stead. In a small drawer in the bureau lay a revolver. It was loaded in all of its six chambers, and as he took the weapon out he almost fondled it in his clammy hand. In the morning his servants would find his body, and the truth would be out. He would close the door and windows that the revolver's report might be smothered. But he started; there was the child, his helpless child, to whom he had given life—and such a life!

“Lionel, Lionel!” he said, aloud. “My son, my son, my beautiful brave boy, who loves me in spite of what I have done against him! Will he grow up and understand? Will he pardon his misguided father, or blush for shame at the thought of him?”

With the revolver still in his hand, he sank into a chair near a window and gazed out into the star-filled sky. Suddenly he started. Whence had come the thought? He could not tell, but a new and dazzling conviction was on him like light streaming through the gates of Paradise. Kill himself? How absurd the thought! He might dash his bleeding, lifeless body to the earth, but he, himself, would remain a deathless witness to the act. Nothing in the shape of matter, no force known to science, could possibly put out of existence the yearning for atonement within him. Nothing so divine as that could die. Such a thing was from the Eternity that had created Eternity. He threw the revolver on his bed, and drew a deep, delectable breath. His now entranced vision seemed to extend further out into the world-filled void above him. He stood up, panting from the sheer ravage his new hope had wrought upon him.

“Eternity! Eternity!” he whispered, in reverential awe. “Now I see—the scales have fallen from my sight. I see! Thank God, I see! I understand!”


WHEN Kenneth Galt waked the next morning it was with the new sense of having slept long and restfully for the first time in years. The sun was streaming into his windows from the golden east; the cool air seemed crisp and invigorating; in the boughs of the trees close by birds were flitting about and singing merrily. The dew-wet sward, bespangled with a myriad of sun-born gems, stretched away into the gauzy mist which hung over the town.

“It is glorious—glorious!” he cried, in ecstasy. “She may refuse, but I shall never desist till I have won her forgiveness.”

After he had breakfasted in the big dining-room, now no longer solitary, sombre, or accusing, he went directly down to Mrs. Barry's cottage. With a strange, buoyant lightness of step he entered the little gate, fastened the latch with a calm hand, and went up the steps and rapped on the closed door, seeing, as he stood waiting, the face of Mrs. Chumley, as the washerwoman peered curiously over the fence at him from her wood-pile, where she was wielding a gapped and dull-edged axe. The door was opened by Mrs. Barry, who could not disguise her surprise.

“I have come to see your daughter, Mrs. Barry,” he said, humbly, as he stood uncovered before her. “I hope she will receive me; I have something important to say.”

“She's not here. But don't stand there,” the old woman said; “somebody might see you and wonder. Come into the parlor.”

She led the way, and he followed.

“No, she is not here,” she repeated, when they were in the simply furnished room. “She and Lionel went very early to the swamp over the hill near the river. She had some sketching to do, and he wished to go along. You say you want to see her. Of course, you understand that such a request is unexpected, to say the least, and, as I am her mother—” The speaker seemed at a loss for words to express her meaning, and paused helplessly.

“I am glad of this opportunity to see you first,” Galt said, humbly. “Mrs. Barry, I've come to beg her, on my knees if need be, to be my wife. Perhaps you may understand; I hope you do.”

“Oh!” And the old woman sank into a rocking-chair and stared up at him. “Oh!” she exclaimed again, her wrinkled hand pressed against her thin breast. “You mean that, do you, Kenneth Galt? Well, I have never mentioned it to her, but I thought it might come. I read faces fairly well, and I saw, even at a distance, the spiritual despair in yours. Knowing what you were responsible for, I felt that your solitary life in your lonely house would bring results, for good or bad. At first I thought you might resume—might make dishonorable proposals; but when I saw you and Lionel together so often I began to count on other things—I began to pray for other things. You don't look like a mean man, Kenneth Galt; and I can't find it in my heart to reproach you. Besides, it is pitiful to think about, considering the child's future; but she may have you now right where you had her once.”

“You mean—you mean!” he exclaimed, aghast, as he bent over her chair and stared into her calm face. “You mean that—”

“I mean that it may be too late,” she interrupted him.

“Too late?” He sank into a chair in front of her, and, pale and quivering in every limb, swung his hat between his knees.

“Yes; she is my daughter, but she is above me in a thousand ways. She suffered untold agonies after you desert—after you left Stafford, and all through her trouble; but when the baby came, and we were all shut up here away from human sight, the choicest blessings from on high seemed to fall on her. With her close work in her studio, and her devotion to the child, she grew into something more of heaven than of earth. I suppose there is such a thing as rising too high to love, in a human sort of way, and I tremble when I think of how she may now take your proposal. I want her to be sensible and think of the boy's interests, but the idea of helping him in just that way may be—be repulsive to her. She's done without your aid all these years, you see, Kenneth Galt. She has leaned on a Higher Power than any earthly one, and has already received her reward. You knew her as she was once, but not as she is now. She was hardly more than a child then. Her father used to say she would be a great genius, and I think she really is. Her isolation from mankind has done her more good in one way than harm. It has put something into her work that couldn't have got there any other way. Only yesterday a letter came from a high authority on art—But I have no right to speak of her private affairs. If she sees fit to tell you about it she may. That's another matter. She has never been ashamed, as this town, no doubt, thinks she is. She looked on what passed between you and her before the trouble as a true marriage in the sight of God. It wasn't the way persons generally look at such matters, but she wasn't a common, ordinary person, and she didn't think the man she loved was—that is, I mean she thought you looked at it exactly as she did. She took you at your word. If what I say pains you, I'm sorry. I must be blunt to express what is in me, for I have long ago justified her. If she had been worldly minded, back there when she was glorying in the secret between you and her, she would have had worldly caution and forethought. You may get forgiveness even from her, Kenneth Galt, in time, but there can be nothing quite as unforgivable in the sight of God, it seems to me, as taking advantage of just that sort of faith.”

The light of hope had died out of Galt's parchment-like face. He dropped his horrified gaze to the floor.

“I see,” he groaned. “I am too late!” and sat as if stunned. “I was never up to her level. It was only her girlish fancy that told her I was.”

“Oh, I don't know!” Mrs. Barry said, almost sympathetically. “Now that you feel as you do, her old trust might come back. There is one thing that has touched her, I'll tell you that much, for certain, and that has been your love for Lionel. One day I caught her shedding tears over it as she stood concealed by the window-curtain watching you play with him in the swing. If anything ever brings her back to you, it will be that one thing. He loves you, too; he is always talking of you, and, if I am any judge, she rather likes to hear it. It may be that—it may not; I never can be sure I am reading her right.”

He rose. “I am going to find her now,” he said. “At any rate, she shall know how I feel. She may spurn me, but from this day on I shall devote my life to her interests and those of our child.”


INTO the wood, a wild, unbrageous tract of land lying back of the cottage, he strode, full of ponderous fears as to the outcome of his undertaking, and yet vaguely buoyed up by the natural beauty on all sides. Soon the town lay behind him; only the low hum of its traffic, the occasional clanging of a locomotive's bell, the whistle of an engine at a factory, the clatter of a dray followed him. The reverent, almost peaceful thought was borne in upon him that the meandering, little-used path he was pursuing had been traversed many times by Dora. In that secluded and picturesque spot she had breathed in the inspiration which had lifted her far above those by whom she had been misunderstood and traduced. Along that path she and his child, perchance, had plucked flowers through the years in which he had shunned them—denied them before the world, whose good opinion he had coveted to his moral undoing.

Half a mile from the cottage the path began to descend to the river valley, a vast swampy tangle of dense undergrowth. Here in the marshes, impassable during the overflow of winter and spring, but now dank, cool, and seductive, were many nooks of indescribable beauty. Here moss-grown willows bowed over seeping, crystal pools and silently trickling water. There were the armies of cattails, the solitary clumps of broom-sedge, the banks of delicate ferns, and the pond-lilies which had formed the background of her pictures. There she had found the wild rose-bushes, the papaw, the sumac, and the mazes of grape and muscadine vines into the reproduction of which she had poured her crushed and yet awakening soul.

Presently he came upon her seated on a mossy bank, her closed sketch-book on her knee. She was not working, but, with the end of her pencil at her parted lips, she sat watching Lionel, whom he could see plucking flowers and colored leaves not far away.

“Now, don't go any farther, darling boy!” he heard her call out, in tones the mellow sweetness of which shot through him like a delectable pain. “You might wander away, and then mother's boy would be lost.”

Sheltered from her view by hanging vines and the lowering branches of a beech-tree, Galt peered out at her. How could he have been so blinded?—so densely unappreciative of her? Where in all his experience had he known a creature so beautiful in soul, mind, and body? And yet he had thrown her down and trampled on her and left her covered with the mire and slime of his own making. He smothered a groan of blended self-contempt and despair. Her mother had doubted his ever regaining her regard, and Mrs. Barry knew her best. The girl had been at his mercy once, and he had not hesitated to strike; now she had the upper hand. What would she do? How would she receive his proposal?—what would she say? Would her soulful eyes blaze under the fires of just retaliation? Would her magnetic voice ring with the contempt she must so long have felt?


Noiselessly treading the dank, green moss which lay between him and her, he was close to her before she was aware of his presence. Then she glanced up and saw him; there was a fluttering, shrinking look in her long-lashed eyes, in which he read the hurried hope that the meeting was purely accidental; to his horror, he also read in the simple act of reaching for her hat, which lay by her side, that she intended to avoid any sort of intercourse with him.

With the agony of this fear sounding in his voice, he cried, imploringly: “Please don't run away! I have been to your house to see you; your mother told me you were here.”

“But she wouldn't,” Dora said, pale and surprised. “She knows that I don't want to—to meet any one here. It isn't fair, Kenneth—you know it isn't! It is taking a mean, low advantage of me, after all that has happened. It is cowardly, and I won't stand it. You will leave me instantly, or I shall go!”

“God forgive me, you are right, Dora!” he cried, in dismay. “But there is something I must say, and even your mother thought I might venture to see you.”

“If it is to offer me money for my boy, as you did in the contemptible letter I burned unanswered, soon after his birth, you will be wasting time,” she said, wrathful, in her cold, unrelenting beauty. “I can't accept money, even for him, which was earned as the price of his mother's public disgrace. He is mine, and he shall be mine to the end. I can work for him till he is old enough to work for me. We don't need you—neither of us do, Kenneth.”

“I have made you angry,” he said, quivering from head to foot, his anguished eyes fixed on hers. “Listen, Dora. Last night I planned to kill myself to get out of the agony into which my awakened love for you and my new love for Lionel has drawn me. I was ready to do it, for to that moment I had no fear of God or eternity; but a change came over me. Hope dawned; I don't know why, but it did, and I made a determination to spend the remainder of my life in your service, and in that of my child, for he is mine as much as he is yours.

“Then my new hope seemed to fairly set the world on fire. It was showered down from heaven like the forgiveness of God upon a blinded creature buried in the mire of sin. Ever since I sold my honor the night my ambition conquered me, I have been a cursed, isolated soul. It must have been the hand of God that led me back here to Stafford. I love Lionel with all my heart, and I know now, in spite of my contradictory conduct, that I have loved you all this time. Last night Wynn Dearing told me that it is your wish to go to Paris—you, your mother, and the child—and the thought came to me that if you would be my wife we could go and remain there a few years, and return here to spend the rest of our lives, and thus regain the happiness we've lost. Oh, don't turn from me, Dora! You must, oh, you must give me a chance! God knows it is my duty, and you must not stand between me and that. I can wait for the return of your respect, even if it is for years. But give me a chance!”

She had turned her face from him, and he could not tell what effect his appeal had had upon her; but he saw that her soft, white fingers were clinched tightly on her knee. Suddenly she looked him squarely in the face.

“Oh, you make it so hard for me!” she said, gently. “I knew you were not a happy man. I saw the shadow of spiritual death in your countenance the day I met you at Dearing's. Yes, the child is yours, as well as he is mine. God has made him a part of you, as he is a part of me. And he loves you, Kenneth, he loves you—and admires you above all men. Young as he is, it would actually pain him to be separated from you. And you are asking me to be your wife!” She shrugged her shoulders, her proud lip quivered, and she looked away. “You are asking me, and now!

“Yes, Dora, to be my wife before the world, as you have been in God's sight all these years. I am willing to crawl in the dust at your feet. You are far above me. You were that when I blindly deserted you, and I can never be worthy of your forgiveness, but I would die for a chance to serve you.”

“How sad it all is!” she sighed, her glance on the ground. “What a mere blown-about straw I have been! What a grim thing for a proud woman to decide! You deserted me once to save a paltry sum of money—a worldly ambition; you want me back to save your soul—that expresses it, Kenneth. But I can't consent. I am simply human—and a woman. My pride won't let me—the pride that every woman has who holds herself erect. You sold yourself once, and you are now asking me to do the same. Your price was a successful railroad and the plaudits of a few people—the price paid to me would be the future welfare of my child. I am expected to salve the wounds of a torn and mangled womanhood with the realization that I am providing for my boy. There is no pain keener than the fear that one's offspring may suffer what we ourselves have been through, and I'd give my soul to see Lionel happy in the time to come, but I can't bring it about in the way you ask. I simply can't! I loved you, Kenneth, before that unspeakable cloud fell between us, but I was only a girl then, and during all the years that have passed since I have given you no place at all in my heart. We are, in fact, meeting to-day as strangers.”

“I know. I know it is true so far as it touches you,” he said, with a deep sigh, “for your love died with your respect for me, but my love has never died, Dora. I smothered it for a time, in my mad ambition, but there was no act of yours to weaken it, and so it lived and grew till it has overpowered me. I love you now, strange as it may sound to you, ten thousand times more than I ever did. You may turn from me with a shudder and as a thing to be loathed; but I shall never cease to watch over you and strive to protect you.”

“I can't say any more,” she said, as she tied the tape round her portfolio and gathered up her pencils. “I don't want to pain you; but I can't do what you ask, even—even for Lionel's sake. He and I and his granny may go to Paris some day, but we don't want you with us, Kenneth. I want to leave absolutely everything behind. You must be dead to us; there is no other way—no other possible way.”

He turned his fixed gaze away, that she might not see the look of agony which had overspread his face. She sat still and silent for several minutes; then he saw her draw herself up excitedly, look about anxiously, and rise to her feet.

“Oh, where is Lionel?” she cried. “He was there in the bushes when you came. Oh, he may have wandered off and be lost! There are some very dangerous places along the river-bank!”

“I see him! Don't be alarmed!” Galt said, indicating a spot beyond a clump of bushes. “He's all right; I'll bring him to you.”

“Thank you,” she said, coldly, and she sank back rigidly on the grass.

He returned a moment later with Lionel in his arms. She could see, as she swept them with a hurried glance, that Galt was pressing the child close against his breast with a look of despair in his white face. Reaching Dora, Galt was lowering the child to the ground when Lionel clung tightly round his neck, pressing his little hand against his cheek.

“What is the matter?” Lionel asked, anxiously. “Mamma, he can't talk. He tries, but he can't; he is trembling all over; he is about to cry. What is the matter with him?”

Reaching up, and without a word, Dora took the child into her arms, and, holding him across her lap as if he had been an infant, she bent over his face to kiss him. Presently she looked up at Galt, and her proud lip trembled as she said:

“Oh, Kenneth, fate is handling us strangely. I spoke harshly just now, for I can see that you are suffering. I wish I could be less human. After all my dreams, I am of the earth, earthy. I am no higher than a worm of this soil, after all the heights I thought I had climbed. But I can't help myself. I could never forget. I might try throughout eternity, but I'd never, never forget—forget that I offered myself wholly, body and soul, and that you refused to—to take me when I was in trouble. It may be sinful to look at it so, but I simply can't see it otherwise. You must really go now. Good-bye!”

“Good-bye,” he echoed, in his throat. “I am going away to-morrow, and I promise never to intrude myself upon either of you again.”

“'Good-bye?'—you said 'good-bye!'” Lionel suddenly sat up in his mother's lap and stared from his great, startled eyes, his beautiful mouth puckered up and quivering.

“Yes, I have to go away,” Galt faltered, his glance averted. “I only came to spend a short time at Stafford.”

“But you told me you never would go away from me,” the child persisted. “Don't you remember the day I fell and hurt my knee, and you washed it and put the medicine on it? Don't you remember you kissed me, and hugged me, and wanted me to kiss you, and said if I'd promise to be your little boy you would always stay with me? How can I be your little boy if—if you go off?”

The eyes of the mother and father met in the strangest stare that ever passed between two mortal creatures.

“I can always love you if I can't be with you,” Galt faltered, conscious of the emptiness of his words. “I can always love you and think what a plucky little boy you are, and—and—” His voice trailed away into nothingness. A sob rose in his throat and choked him.

“But I want you to stay!” The child was crying now, with his chubby hands to his eyes. Suddenly Dora, with a desperate movement, pressed him to her breast.

“You must not play on his feelings that way!” she cried, fiercely, casting a significant glance toward the town. “Go, please!”

He bowed low, a look of death on his face. She pressed the head of the sobbing child to her breast, and firmly held it there with her beautiful white hand. “Good-bye,” she said, with the dignity and calmness of an offended queen. “Good-bye—forever!”

He turned and moved away. A few paces from her, before the trees had obscured her from his sight, he looked back and saw her with Lionel in her arms. Her exquisite face was pressed consolingly against the golden head. She was whispering to the child and rocking back and forth, as if he were a babe on her breast.


ON his left, farther away from the town, and about a mile distant, stood a small mountain. Dark-red as to soil, bristling with sandstone bowlders, sparcely grown with pines and thorny locust-trees, and gashed by rain-washed gullies, it rose majestically against the cloud-flecked blue of infinite space beyond.

Hardly knowing why he did so, Galt turned his face toward it and strode on, vaguely conscious that he was battling against the soul-calamity which had beset him as a dumb beast might fight for its physical life. Around the sloping base of the mountain lay old worn-out fields, now given over to the riotous possession of anything which would take root upon its soil. There was no path leading to the seldom visited elevation, but with his eyes constantly on the solitary finger of earth he climbed over the old rail-fence encompassing the land, and forged his way through the dense undergrowth, now ploughing his feet through a matting of heather and dewberry-vines, or plunging unexpectedly into some weed-hidden spring or fresh-water stream. Between him and the mountain ran a creek, and he suddenly found himself at a spot on the banks of it, where, as a boy, home on his vacations, he used to fish. But it had changed, he told himself, as everything else had changed—he was a man now, but such a man!

Crossing the creek on a foot-log formed from the fallen corpse of a giant oak he had once known, he walked onward. The land was now sloping sharply upward, and his way was less impeded. The air was becoming more rarefied, the view on either side and behind him was unfolding more rapidly in the hazy distance. The sun, which had been beating on him mercilessly, was now behind a drifting cloud, and the cool breezes of a higher altitude fanned his flushed face.

Finally he reached a flat, jutting bowlder near the top, and, exhausted from the inconsiderate tax on his muscles, he sank down panting. There lay old Stafford nearest at hand, and beyond stretched out the new town under its web of smoke, the besmudged handwriting of mercantile progress. His brain had fostered the idea, and made it practicable. Reaching out southward, in the sunlight, like two threads of silver, lay the great steel highway which his foresight and ambition had brought into existence. His fancy pictured with lightning flashes the growing villages and towns, as he had seen them on the opening day when he, like an emperor of a conquered territory, had been escorted over it. The moment had given him the thrill of gratified avarice and the empty glory of conquest, but the eyes of the eager throngs which had gazed upon him in wonder and envy that day saw nothing of the cancer which even then was eating into the vitals of his higher nature. Then—But why contemplate it? The juggernaut of relentless Right had ground him under its wheels.

He locked his arms over his knees, lowered his head, and groaned in sheer despair. If Dora had only given him a bare chance! But she hadn't, and now, loved as woman never was loved before, desired in spirit and body as woman never was desired by man, she had coldly, firmly put him from her. The sight of her as she sat holding his child in her arms, and spurning him as was her right to spurn him, would haunt him into and through the Eternity which had now become such a hopeless reality.

Suddenly raising his eyes to the relentless blue above, he tried to frame a prayer.

“O God, have mercy!” he cried. “Show me, a sinner, a way out of the darkness of my damnation. Give them to me, that I may atone by my conduct to them throughout my life. Soften her heart, O God, and open her eyes to the depths of my woe! I have suffered, I will suffer on to the end, but give me my wife and child!”

Noon came and passed, but he had no thought of thirst or of hunger. He remained there on the rock and watched the sun go down, and saw the soft veil of coming darkness thicken over the earth. Now old Stafford lay in darkness, save for the dazzling circles of light where the arc-lamps swung across the streets and were grouped like a constellation in the square. He waited till the town clock had struck nine; then, still without sense of fatigue or hunger, he went down, now with considerable difficulty, owing to the darkness of the incline.

He managed to reach his front gate without meeting any one, and was entering when he saw the figure of a woman emerge from the veranda and come slowly down the walk. Could it be one of the servants? he asked himself. But his answer was the recognition of the woman herself. It was Mrs. Barry. She paused, unable, it seemed, to formulate what she had to say, so sudden was the meeting, and his heart sank lower, as the thought came to him that something might have happened to Dora or the child.

“I came to see you,” she began, pushing back the bonnet which had partially obscured her face. “Your servants told me they didn't know where you were.”

“You wanted to see me?” he gasped. “Has anything gone wrong?”

“No, it is not that,” the woman said, leading the way toward a clump of cedars on the grass, as if from the sensitive fear of meeting some one on the walk. “My daughter and the child came home at noon. I saw from her looks that she was troubled over something, and that Lionel had been crying, from the marks on his face; but I did not question either of them. All this afternoon she did not speak of you, but to-night, after she had put the boy to sleep, she came into my room and sat down near me. I knew she was in awful struggle over something. She began telling me, in a slow, halting voice, of all that you had said. She is my only child, Kenneth Galt, but I don't understand her any better than if she were not of my flesh and blood. I never fully understood her father. I suppose no practical-minded person can comprehend those who live in the imagination, surrounded by ideals which become real to them. She began to go over the whole history of her trouble from the very first, and she never left out a single detail. She summed it all up in the most marvellous manner. My heart ached for her as it never had before. She wants to do right, she says, and she knows what would be right and self-sacrificing on her part, but she says she simply can't conquer the offended pride within her. She has had trouble and we are poor, but there never was born a queen with more pride of womanhood.”

“Yes, yes,” Galt gasped, as he stared at her. “I know; I know.”

“Then I tried to advise her,” Mrs. Barry went on. “At first it was like talking to a person born deaf, but finally she began to listen, for, as a last resort, I was holding up the child's interests. I spoke of what a glorious thing a trip to Paris would be—to stay there as long as we liked, and to be able to come home again, for we do love it here, and I am sure the people would be kind in their view of it. I reminded her that once, when we asked Lionel what he had rather have than anything on earth, he had said that, first, he wanted a father like other children, and, next, that he wanted to be where he could have playmates.”

“Oh, I can't bear it, Mrs. Barry!” Galt groaned. “If there is anything under high heaven I could do to rectify my mistake, I'd give my life to do it.”

“I know it, Kenneth, and I am going to say something that may surprise you. I don't harbor any ill-feeling toward you. I simply can't. Living so close with Dora has lifted me up in spiritual things. I can't have anything but pity for the consequences of sin and temptation. What you did wasn't a proof that you didn't love my child. It only proved that the temptation you had, at the moment of your fall, kept you from realizing what you would lose. That's all. I believe you loved her then, that you did even after you left her, and I am sure that you do now more than ever; in fact, I made that plain to her. I think she sees it, too, in her way; but it doesn't help her overcome her pride. I am sorry for her—more so than I ever imagined I could be for a woman under any trial. She is pulled many ways by duty, and she is fairly in an agony, undecided as to—”

Undecided? Did you say that?” Galt leaned forward eagerly, his lips quivering, as he waited breathlessly.

“Yes, she is undecided. You see, things have come to such a focus that we must leave here. She has just learned that Fred Walton has been falsely accused by many persons, and she always liked him. He is coming back home, and she wants to clear his name, and yet she shrinks from having her private affairs brought in public view again. She said, herself, that if she could get her own consent to become your wife, then everybody would understand the truth, and not blame him. Then there is the child—”

“Yes, Lionel!” Galt panted. “We must save him, and we can—we can, if Dora could only—”

“She knows that full well,” the woman said, passing her gaunt hand over her withered mouth and swallowing the rising lump in her throat. “If you only could have—have heard what I did to-night it would have wrung tears from your eyes. Lionel had waked up, and she had to go to him. He couldn't sleep for what was on his mind. Kenneth Galt, that little angel was simply begging his mother not to let you go away—think of it, actually pleading for you! He had heard you say you were going, and, in some way, he fancied Dora could persuade you to stay. He cried till his little pillow was wet. He told her he loved you, that you had said he was your little boy, and that he wanted to be with you always. I heard her pleading with him and arguing, but through it all his little voice would continue to cry out that it should not be so—that he wanted you, and that you wanted him.”

“God bless him!” burst from the lips of the bowed man.

“Finally he dropped to sleep,” Mrs. Barry went on, “and slept, still sobbing, as children do when wrought up high, and she left him and came again to me. Poor thing! She was simply undone—conquered! She put her head in my lap and burst out crying. She sobbed and sobbed a long time, and then I asked her if she would let me manage it. She knew what I meant—exactly what I meant, for she became like a lump of clay in my lap. For a long time she lay like that, hardly breathing. Then I told her of what a wonderful influence she had been to me in opening my eyes, old as I am, to the beauty of a higher, spiritual life, and that in holding back, as she was now doing, and refusing to pardon a repentant man, even when the happiness of her own child was at stake, she was going backward instead of forward. She seemed to realize it. She sat up straight, and the old light of sweetness and gentleness seemed to dawn in her face. 'I'll simply put myself in your hands, mother,' she said—'in your hands!'

“I broke down and cried in pure joy, Kenneth Galt. Then what do you think? I heard her go back to her room, and knew that the child had waked. I am not sure; but I think she waked him purposely, for she never could bear to have him go to sleep unhappy. I heard her telling him about the beauty of Paris—about its streets, its boulevards, and its parks; its buildings; its statuary and pictures, and of the pretty children who were to be his friends. She laughed like a happy child—they were always like two children, anyway—when she told him about crossing the ocean in a great ship, and of the high waves, deep water, and big fish. But he stopped her with a question. What do you think it was, Kenneth? He wanted to know if you were going? I knew she hesitated, her pride closing her lips, even there alone with her child. She wouldn't answer his question. Then I heard Lionel say plainly, and there was a strange sort of stubborness in his little voice: 'Well, I don't want to go; he would not want me to leave him; he said so once; he said he would never leave me, and I wasn't to leave him. Is he going, mother?' he kept asking.

“Then I heard her say, 'Yes, darling, he is going—now you can sleep!'”

“She said that? Did she say that?” Galt cried, his whole despondent being aflame.

“Yes; it is settled, Kenneth. Perhaps, in time, you and she will be thoroughly happy together. I don't know, but I hope so.”

“Thank God!” Galt said, fervently, and, taking the old woman's hand, he wrung it in an ecstasy of delight. “I only wanted a chance, Mrs. Barry. I shall devote my life to all of you, and we can be happy—gloriously happy over there. She shall be our queen, and Lionel our little prince. I'll have this old house kept in order, and some day we'll come back to it.”

“Then here is my plan,” Mrs. Barry said. “Meet us in Atlanta the day after to-morrow, and we shall be ready to sail. I'll let you know what hotel we go to. The news will come back from there, but we sha'n't be here during the reception of it. Now, I'm glad, for your sake as well as ours, that it is all going to turn out well. I want to see you happy. You have suffered enough, and so has she. As for me, I never was so happy in my life. I want to go to Paris for a while. My husband is buried there, you know.”


ON the morning of the fourth day after the meeting of Dora and Kenneth Galt, old Stafford was stirred to its outskirts by the return of the most popular young man who had ever lived in the town. Fred Walton got in an hour or so before noon.

He had sent a telegram to his father announcing his coming, but had failed to mention the hour of his arrival, and so there was no special conveyance at the station to meet him, though old Simon, in his Sunday frock-suit and a fresh collar, with a five-cent shoe-shine and a ten-cent shave at the barber-shop adjoining the bank, sat in the counting-room waiting, not sure whether his son would get in during the morning or by the afternoon train.

He was not long kept in doubt, for the electric trolley-car that whizzed up from the station was fairly packed with individuals of both sexes and all classes, who, it seemed, had ridden up chiefly that they might be among the first to pay tribute to their old favorite and hear him talk.

It was all joyous and reassuring enough to Fred at first, and might have continued so had the car not stopped at a crossing half-way between the station and the square, and taken on Wynn Dearing, who, having returned home, had been visiting a patient near by. The eyes of the two met. Fred colored high; but with a hard, grave countenance Dearing simply turned to the conductor, paid his fare, and sat down near a window, through which he stared stonily all the way to the square.

The heart of the returning exile sank into a veritable slough of despair. His admirers, packed about him, were stilled for a moment by the “cut” he had received, and then, not being able to interpret it, they valiantly passed it over, and showed by their excessive cordiality that if one of his old companions had been coarse enough to snub him on that day of all days, they remained true.

But the light and joy of it all was blotted out for the one most concerned. He sat trying to answer the innumerable questions, trying to return humorous sallies and references to the gay old days with smiles that would reflect their good-will, but it was a poor effort at best. He endeavored, in a miserable maze, to recall the exact words of his father's hurried letter ordering him home, and his spirits sank lower and lower as he made the effort. After all, he told himself, he had misunderstood Margaret's message—the message which had raised him to the very skies of delight. The letter, which he had read hundreds of times, was in the pocket of his coat, and he could feel its now grim and satirical pressure against his breast.

“She told me she wanted to see you,” old Simon had written, “and for me to write you so. She said she was sure when you and her got together you and her would understand each other perfectly. She was powerful flushed and excited, and I could hardly make out just what she did or did not mean. It was the way she acted more than what she actually said in so many plain words that made me believe she had concluded to let bygones be bygones. So, if I was you, Fred, and still thought she would be a proper mate, why, I should lay business aside and make hay for a while. The sun seems shining up this way for you right now, and so, as I say, I would come right on before some other cloud rises. Women are changeable, and she may be no exception to the rule. I can't quite understand why she shut off my proposition in your behalf when I went up to see her, and then come down all in a tilt and hustle the next day, and did what she did, and talked like she did. I am too much of a business man by habit, I reckon, to encourage anybody in a deal that ain't fully closed, signed, sealed; and delivered; so, you see, all I can say is to come on and work out your own salvation.”

Now, sure that he had made a grave mistake, and with the heaviest of hearts, Fred left the car at the postoffice, noting that Wynn Dearing, with a hard, set face, was striding across the street to his office with never another look in his direction.

“He is furious because I have come back,” Fred said to himself. “I promised him I'd stay away, and I have broken my word. General Sylvester is as much against me as ever, and so is Wynn. It is all up. I'll never live it down. These persons who seem glad to see me have nothing at stake, or they would snub me too. My father has forgiven me, but that has nothing to do with Margaret. After he wrote as he did, I hoped—hoped—well, I was a fool! I hoped too much. I'll go back West and stay there. I'll see Wynn Dearing and tell him of my mistake. Surely that will justify me if my—my presumption ends there.”

As he neared the bank he saw his father standing in the door, backed up by all his clerks. The gaunt, grizzled visage of the old man, under its half-sheepish look, was lighted up as it had never been in his son's memory, and the faces around him were wreathed in welcoming smiles, but it was a hand of lead that Fred extended, a smile that was dead lay on his handsome face.

Dearing, to his surprise, on reaching his office after leaving the car, found Margaret waiting for him. He stared at her almost fiercely for a moment; then, as she avoided his eyes and was silent, he broke out:

“You have come down here to see him?”

“Yes, brother,” she answered, simply. “I want to be among the first to welcome him home. He has suffered enough, and has proved his genuine nobility. I can't explain everything just now, for I have no right to; but you will know all that I know very, very soon.”

“I know this, Madge,” he said, and he sat down before her, looking like a figure carved in stone, so ghastly pale and rigid was he. “I know this: if you pardon that man for what he has done, I'll never speak to you again. I can stand some things, but I can't stand that. No man can marry my sister who has stamped the very heart out of my life, as this one has! Now, perhaps you understand.”

“Oh, brother, you mean that you love—”

He nodded, and his head sank to his chest.

“Then you must listen to me!” Margaret began. “But, no, you will have to wait—I can't tell you even now—I can't explain.”

At this juncture there was a step on the floor of the front room. Some one was approaching. It was a messenger boy with a telegram.

Dearing took it and tore it open. The letters on the yellow sheet swam before his eyes, but he read the words:

Kenneth and I are married; now you will understand everything. We are all going to New York, then to Paris for a while. With love from mamma, Lionel, and myself, good-bye. Dora.

Margaret had read the telegram over her brother's shoulder, and with a woman's tact she signed the boy's book and led him to the outer door. She stood there alone for several minutes, looking out into the street. There was no sound in the office. She waited ten minutes, and then, with a tear of sympathy in her eye, she went back to her brother and put her arms about his bowed form.

As soon as was practicable, Fred led his father away from the clerks back to the old man's office.

“Wynn Dearing refused to speak to me on the car as we came up,” he said. “Father, I am afraid I misunderstood your letter, and have made an awful fool of myself by coming. He will think, and his sister will think—” But Fred could go no further. He sank into a seat near the desk, and the banker slowly lowered himself into his revolving chair.

“You say Wynn—you say her brother wouldn't speak to you,” he faltered. “Now, I wonder if—I—I wonder—You see, I hardly knew what to think when she popped in here like she did that day. What she said was all so jumbled and roundabout that, as I wrote you, it was more the way she acted that made me draw my conclusions than her exact words on any direct line.”

“Well, how did she act?” Fred inquired, despondently.

“Why, if you will know—” old Simon was growing red in the face. “I had no idea of telling it even to you, but the truth is she up and kissed me—so she did! She gave me a smack right on the cheek!”

“She kissed you?”

“That's what she did, by gum! And Toby come in just in time to make her let go of my neck. So, you see, after I thought it all over, why, I thought that maybe she regarded me as being a kin to her in some shape or other, and meant that as a sort o' hint of what she was willing to do.”

At this moment a voice was heard in the corridor. It was Wynn Dearing's, and he was asking for Fred.

“I wonder if he's come here to pick a row,” old Simon asked, as his startled eyes bore down on the face of his son. “If he has, I reckon we can accommodate him. I ain't no fighter, but you are my own flesh and blood, and considering the time you've been away, and what you have accomplished, he hain't treated you right. Toby”—raising his voice and going to the door and looking out—“show that fellow back here. Nobody ain't hiding in this shebang, I am here to say, and if folks ain't satisfied all round—clean all round—why—”

But Wynn Dearing was brushing past the old man through the narrow doorway, his face pale, his hand extended to Fred.

“I have done you a great wrong, old man,” he said, in a shaking voice, “and I have come to beg your pardon.”

“Oh, that's all right, Wynn,” Fred gasped, in surprise. “I am sure you have treated me no worse than I deserve.”

“Oh yes, I have, Fred. I have worked against you ever since you left, and I now find that you are wholly innocent of what I accused you of. Let me talk it over with your father. Margaret is waiting at my office to see you. I promised I'd send you to her.”

As if in a dream, Fred hastened out of the bank and went down to Dearing's office. No one was in the front, but he found Margaret in the back room standing at a window, looking out. She turned as he entered and gave him both her hands.

“Oh, I'm so glad—so glad!” she cried, and he saw tears on her lashes, and the handkerchief she held in one of her hands was damp. “Oh, Fred, we have all treated you so badly, so cruelly, so unjustly, when you were striving so hard! A great mistake was made. If I had known what I now know when we met in New York, I would never have treated you as I did. You were thinking of one thing and I of another.”

“I don't understand,” he said, groping for her meaning, his big, honest eyes dilating.

“And I can't explain,” she said. “It really doesn't matter, anyway. I don't want even to think about it—at least to-day, when I am so happy. But I want you to know one thing: you see, Dora Barry showed me the letter you wrote her, and I want you to know that I love you. I have loved you every day, every minute, since you left.”

“You love me—you really care for me?” he said, deep in his throat.

“Yes; but come walk home with me, dear,” she said. “I want you all to myself. I shall never get my own forgiveness for allowing myself to misjudge you as I did. Let's not talk about it, but come on. Wynn may be back in a moment, and I don't want any explanations now, anyway. I want you wholly to myself.”

As they walked down the quiet street side by side he tried to speak, but the happiness within him had risen to a storm, and he could only stare at her in silent wonder, as if doubting his own good-fortune.


ONE of the great ocean bound steamships was ready for sailing from the New York harbor. On the deck, near the stern, somewhat removed from the others and leaning against the railing, stood a man and a child and a young woman so beautiful and so richly clad that the eyes of many of the passengers and their friends, who had massed themselves on the pier below, were fixed upon her admiringly.

“It is going to be a glorious voyage, darling,” Kenneth Galt said, as he stroked the golden hair of the child. “The bay is as smooth as glass. Look how the people are staring at you! You cannot dream how beautiful you are. Are you happy, Dora?”

She looked down at the water, put her hand against the cheek of the child, and smiled, a far-off look in her eyes. “Think, oh, think of what it means to him!” Just then Mrs. Barry came from the luxurious suite of state-rooms Galt had secured.

“Some one has sent a great bunch of flowers,” she said to her daughter. “They were addressed to you. I asked the florist's man who sent them. He said he didn't know, but that it was a telegraphic order from somewhere. Go see them; they are simply beautiful. They perfume the whole place.”

Leaving the three together, Dora went to the suite of rooms. In the one reserved for her, on a table, she found a great mass of damp, fresh roses. The card accompanying the gift had slipped down between the stems. She drew it out and read:

“Bon voyage!”

That was all. She sat down at the table, gathered a bunch of the flowers in her hands, and buried her flushed face in them.

“Oh!” she cried, and then she burst into tears. “Bon voyage! bon voyage! From you—dear, dear, dear Wynn! I know. I understand. I have known and understood for years. I shall know and understand—always!”

The signal for leaving had sounded. She felt the ponderous throb of the ship under her. She dried her eyes and walked out on the deck. Her husband came to meet her. He took her arm, and they leaned over the railing and looked down into the multitude of waving hats and handkerchiefs.

“Who sent the flowers, darling?” Galt asked.

“There was no name attached,” she answered. “Look, Kenneth! Lionel is trying to climb the railing—don't let him!”

Galt hurried away to do her bidding, and she gazed down into the water, which was being churned into white foam.

“Bon voyage!” she said, bitterly. “Bon voyage!”