Part 6 out of 6
"Your father has had a shock. I think I can
soon bring him to."
A few minutes later Dr. Crawford opened his eyes.
"Are you feeling better, Paul?" asked Ashcroft, anxiously.
"Didn't I hear something about Carl--something terrible?"
"Carl is alive and well," said he, soothingly;
"Are you sure of that?" asked Dr. Crawford, in excitement.
"Yes, I have the best evidence of it. Here is Carl himself."
Carl came forward and was clasped in his father's arms.
"Thank Heaven, you are alive," he said.
"Why should I not be?" asked Carl, bewildered, turning to Ashcroft.
"Your stepmother had the--let me say imprudence,
to tell your father that you had been killed on the railroad."
"Where could she have heard such a report?"
"I am not sure that she heard it at all," said Ashcroft,
in a low voice. "She knew that your father had heart disease."
At this moment Mrs. Crawford re-entered the room.
"What brings you here?" she demanded, coolly, of Carl.
"I came here because this is my father's house, madam."
"You have behaved badly to me," said Mrs. Crawford.
"You have defied my authority, and brought sorrow
and distress to your good father. I thought you
would have the good sense to stay away."
"Do you indorse this, father?" asked Carl,
turning to Dr. Crawford.
"No!" answered his father, with unwonted energy.
"My house will always be your home."
"You seem to have changed your mind, Dr. Crawford,"
sneered his wife.
"Where did you pick up the report of Carl's being killed
on the railroad?" asked the doctor, sternly.
"Peter heard it in the village," said Mrs. Crawford, carelessly.
"Did it occur to you that the sudden news
might injure your husband?" asked Ashcroft.
"I spoke too impulsively. I realize too late my imprudence,"
said Mrs. Crawford, coolly. "Have you lost your place?" she asked,
"No. I have just returned from Chicago."
His stepmother looked surprised.
"We have had a quiet time since you left us," she said.
"If you value your father's health and peace of mind,
you will not remain here."
"Is my presence also unwelcome?" asked Ashcroft.
"You have not treated me with respect," replied
Mrs. Crawford. "If you are a gentleman,
you will understand that under the circumstances
it will be wise for you to take your, departure."
"Leaving my old friend to your care?"
"Yes, that will be best."
"Mr. Ashcroft, can I have a few minutes'
conversation with you?" asked Carl.
They left the room together, followed by an
uneasy and suspicious glance from Mrs. Crawford.
Carl hurriedly communicated to his father's
friend what he had learned about his stepmother.
"Mr. Cook, Peter's father, is just outside," he said.
"Shall I call him in?"
"I think we had better do so, but arrange
that the interview shall take place without
your father's knowledge. He must not be excited.
Call him in, and then summon your stepmother."
"Mrs. Crawford," said Carl, re-entering his
father's room, "Mr. Ashcroft would like to
have a few words with you. Can you come out?"
She followed Carl uneasily.
"What is it you want with me, sir?" she asked, frigidly.
"Let me introduce an old acquaintance of yours."
Mr. Cook, whom Mrs. Crawford had not at first observed,
came forward. She drew back in dismay.
"It is some time since we met, Lucy," said Cook, quietly.
"Do you come here to make trouble?" she muttered, hoarsely.
"I come to ask for the property you took during my absence
in California," he said. "I don't care to have you return to me----"
"I obtained a divorce."
"Precisely; I don't care to annul it. I am
thankful that you are no longer my wife."
"I--I will see what I can do for you. Don't
go near my present husband. He is in poor
health, and cannot bear a shock."
"Mrs. Crawford," said Ashcroft, gravely, "if you
have any idea of remaining here, in this house,
give it up. I shall see that your husband's
eyes are opened to your real character."
"Sir, you heard this man say that he has no
claim upon me."
"That may be, but I cannot permit my friend
to harbor a woman whose record is as bad as yours."
"What do you mean?" she demanded, defiantly.
"I mean that you have served a term in
prison for larceny."
"It is false," she said, with trembling lips.
"It is true. I visited the prison during your
term of confinement, and saw you there."
"I, too, can certify to it," said Cook.
"I learned it two years after my marriage.
You will understand why I am glad of the divorce."
Mrs. Crawford was silent for a moment. She realized
that the battle was lost.
"Well," she said, after a pause, "I am defeated.
I thought my secret was safe, but I was mistaken.
What do you propose to do with me?"
"I will tell you this evening," said Ashcroft.
"One thing I can say now--you must not expect
to remain in this house."
"I no longer care to do so."
A conference was held during the afternoon,
Dr Crawford being told as much as was
essential. It was arranged that Mrs. Crawford
should have an allowance of four hundred
dollars for herself and Peter if she would leave
the house quietly, and never again annoy her
husband. Mr. Cook offered to take Peter, but
the latter preferred to remain with his mother.
A private arrangement was made by which Dr.
Crawford made up to Mr. Cook one-half of the
sum stolen from him by his wife, and through
the influence of Ashcroft, employment was
found for him. He is no longer a tramp, but
a man held in respect, and moderately prosperous.
Carl is still in the employ of Mr. Jennings,
and his father has removed to Milford, where
he and his son can live together. Next
September, on his twenty-first birthday, Carl will
be admitted to a junior partnership in the
business, his father furnishing the necessary
capital. Carl's stepmother is in Chicago, and
her allowance is paid to her quarterly through
a Chicago bank. She has considerable trouble
with Peter, who has become less submissive
as he grows older, and is unwilling to settle
down to steady work. His prospects do not
look very bright.
Mr. Jennings and Hannah are as much
attached as ever to Carl, and it is quite likely the
manufacturer will make him his heir. Happy
in the society of his son, Dr. Crawford is likely
to live to a good old age, in spite of his weakness
and tendency to heart disease, for happiness
is a great aid to longevity.