Part 4 out of 7
chair at his table for a man in every way beneath him. Hospitality of
that kind was understandable in men like Kennedy and Latrobe--one the
leading literary light of his State, whose civic duties brought him in
contact with all classes--the other a distinguished man of letters as
well as being a poet, artist, and engineer, who naturally touched the
sides of many personalities. So, too, might Richard Horn be excused for
stretching the point--he being a scientist whose duty it was to welcome
to his home many kinds of people--this man Morse among them, with his
farcical telegraph; a man in the public eye who seemed to be more or
less talked about in the press, but of whom he himself knew nothing, but
why St. George Temple, who in all probability had never read a line of
Poe's or anybody else's poetry in his life, should give this sot a
dinner, and why such sane gentlemen as Seymour, Clayton, and Pancoast
should consider it an honor to touch elbows with him, was as
unaccountable as it was incredible.
Furthermore--and this is what rankled deepest in his heart--St. George
was subjecting his only son, Harry, to corrupting influences, and at a
time, too, when the boy needed the uplifting examples of all that was
highest in men and manners.
"And you tell me, Alec," he blazed out on hearing the details, "that the
fellow never appeared until the dinner was all over and then came in
"Well, sah, I ain't yered nothin' 'bout de roarin', but he suttinly was
'how-come-ye-so'--fer dey couldn't git 'im upstairs 'less dey toted him
on dere backs. Marse George Temple gin him his own baid an' sot up mos'
ob de night, an' dar he stayed fur fo' days till he come to. Dat's what
Todd done tol' me, an' I reckon Todd knows."
The colonel was in his den when this conversation took place. He was
generally to be found there since the duel. Often his wife, or Alec, or
some of his neighbors would surprise him buried in his easy-chair, an
unopened book in his hand, his eyes staring straight ahead as if trying
to grasp some problem which repeatedly eluded him. After the episode at
the club he became more absorbed than ever. It was that episode, indeed,
which had vexed him most. Not that St. George's tongue-lashing worried
him--nor did Harry's blank look of amazement linger in his thoughts. St.
George, he had to confess to himself as he battled with the questions,
was the soul of honor and had not meant to insult him. It was Temple's
love for Harry which had incited the quixotic onslaught, for, as he
knew, St. George dearly loved the boy, and this in itself wiped all
resentment from the autocrat's heart. As to Harry's attitude toward
himself, this he continued to reason was only a question of time. That
young upstart had not learned his lesson yet--a harsh lesson, it was
true, and one not understood by the world at large--but then the world
was not responsible for his son's bringing up. When the boy had learned
it, and was willing to acknowledge the error of his ways, then, perhaps,
he might kill the fatted calf--that is, of course, if the prodigal
should return on all fours and with no stilted and untenable ideas about
his rights--ideas that St. George, of course, was instilling into him
every chance he got.
So far, however, he had had to admit to himself that while he had kept
steady watch of the line of hills skirting his mental horizon, up to the
present moment no young gentleman in a dilapidated suit of clothes,
inverted waist measure, and lean legs had shown himself above the sky
line. On the contrary, if all reports were true--and Alec omitted no
opportunity to keep him advised of Marse Harry's every movement--the
young Lord of Moorlands was having the time of his life, even if his
sweetheart had renounced him and his father forced him into exile. Not
only had he found a home and many comforts at Temple's--being treated as
an honored guest alongside of such men as Kennedy and Latrobe, Pancoast,
and the others, but now that St. George had publicly declared him to be
his heir, these distinctive marks of his approbation were likely to
continue. Nor could he interfere, even if he wished to--which, of
course, he did not, and never could so long as he lived. ... "Damn him!"
etc., etc. And with this the book would drop from his lap and he begin
pacing the floor, his eyes on the carpet, his broad shoulders bent in
his anxiety to solve the problem which haunted him night and day:--how
to get Harry back under his roof and not yield a jot or tittle of his
pride or will--or, to be more explicit, now that the mountain would not
come to Mahomet, how could Mahomet get over to the mountain?
His friend and nearest neighbor, John Gorsuch, who was also his man of
business, opened the way. The financier's clerk had brought him a
letter, just in by the afternoon coach, and with a glance at its
contents the shrewd old fellow had at once ordered his horse and set out
for Moorlands, some two miles distant. Nor did he draw rein or break
gallop until he threw the lines to a servant beside the lower step of
the colonel's porch.
"It's the Patapsco again! It will close its doors before the week is
out!" he cried, striding into the library, where the colonel, who had
just come in from inspecting a distant field on his estate, sat dusting
his riding-boots with his handkerchief.
"Going to stop payment! Failed! What the devil do you mean, John?"
"I mean just what I say! Everything has gone to bally-hack in the city.
Here's a letter I have just received from Harding--he's on the inside,
and knows. He thinks there's some crooked business about it; they have
been loaning money on all sorts of brick-bats, he says, and the end has
come, or will to-morrow. He wanted to post me in time."
The colonel tossed his handkerchief on his writing-table: "Who will be
hurt?" he asked hurriedly, ignoring the reference to the dishonesty of
"Oh!--a lot of people. Temple, I know, keeps his account there. He was
short of cash a little while ago, for young Pawson, who has his law
office in the basement of his house, offered me a mortgage on his
Kennedy Square property, but I hadn't the money at the time and didn't
take it. If he got it at last--and he paid heavily for it if he did--the
way things have been going--and if he put that money in the Patapsco, it
will be a bad blow to him. Harry, I hear, is with him--so I thought you
ought to know."
Rutter had given a slight start at the mention of Temple's name among
the crippled, and a strange glitter still lingered in his eyes.
"Then I presume my son is dependent on a beggar," he exclaimed, rising
from his seat, stripping off his brown velveteen riding-jacket and
hanging it in a closet behind his chair.
"Yes, it looks that way."
Gorsuch was watching the colonel closely. He had another purpose in
making his breakneck ride. He didn't have a dollar in the Patapsco, and
he knew the colonel had not; he, like himself, was too shrewd a man to
be bitten twice by the same dog; but he had a large interest in Harry
and would leave no stone unturned to bring father and son together.
The colonel again threw himself into his chair, stretched out his
slender, well-turned legs, crooked one of his russet-leather
riding-boots to be sure the spurs were still in place, and said
slowly--rather absently, as if the subject did not greatly interest him:
"Patapsco failed and St. George a beggar, eh?--Too bad!--too bad!" Then
some disturbing suspicions must have entered his head, for he roused
himself, looked at Gorsuch keenly, and asked in a searching tone: "And
you came over full tilt, John, to tell me this?"
"I thought you might help. St. George needs all the friends he's got if
this is true--and it looks to me as if it was," answered Gorsuch in a
Rutter relaxed his gaze and resumed his position. Had his suspicions
been correct that Gorsuch's interest in Harry was greater than his
interest in the bank's failure, he would have resented it even from John
Disarmed by the cool, unflinching gaze of his man of business, his mind
again took up in review all the incidents connected with St. George and
his son, and what part each had played in them.
That Temple--good friend as he had always been--had thwarted him in
every attempt to bring about a reconciliation between himself and Harry,
had been apparent from the very beginning of the difficulty. Even the
affair at the club showed it. This would have ended quite
differently--and he had fully intended it should--had not St. George,
with his cursed officiousness, interfered with his plans. For what he
had really proposed to himself to do, on that spring morning when he had
rolled up to the club in his coach, was to mount the steps, ignore his
son at first, if he should run up against him--(and he had selected the
very hour when he hoped he would run up against him)--and then, when the
boy broke down, as he surely must, to forgive him like a gentleman and a
Rutter, and this, too, before everybody. Seymour would see it--Kate
would hear of it, and the honor of the Rutters remain unblemished.
Moreover, this would silence once and for all those gabblers who had
undertaken to criticise him for what they called his inhumanity in
banishing this only son when he was only trying to bring up that child
in the way he should go. Matters seemed to be coming his way. The
failure of the Patapsco might be his opportunity. St. George would be at
his wits' end; Harry would be forced to choose between the sidewalk and
Moorlands, and the old life would go on as before.
All these thoughts coursed through his mind as he leaned back in his
chair, his lips tight set, the jaw firm and determined--only the lids
quivering as he mastered the tears that crept to their edges. Now and
then, in his mental absorption, he would absently cross his legs only to
straighten them out again, his state of mind an open book to Gorsuch,
who had followed the same line of reasoning and who had brought the news
himself that he might the better watch its effect.
"I'm surprised that Temple should select the Patapsco. It has never got
over its last smash of four years ago," Gorsuch at last remarked. He did
not intend to let the topic drift away from Harry if he could help it.
"I am not surprised, John. St. George is the best fellow in the world,
but he never lets anything work but his heart. When you get at the
bottom of it you will find that he's backed up the bank because some
poor devil of a teller or clerk, or may be some director, is his friend.
That's enough for St. George, and further than that he never goes. He's
thrown away two fortunes now--his grandmother's, which was small but
sound--and his father's, which if he had attended to it would have kept
him comfortable all his life."
"You had some words at the club, I heard," interjected Gorsuch.
"No, he had some words, I had a julep," and the colonel smiled grimly.
"But you are still on good terms, are you not?"
"I am, but he isn't. But that is of no consequence. No man in his senses
would ever get angry with St. George, no matter what he might say or do.
He hasn't a friend in the world who could be so ill bred. And as to
calling him out--you would as soon think of challenging your wife. St.
George talks from his heart, never his head. I have loved him for thirty
years and know exactly what I am talking about--and yet let me tell you,
Gorsuch, that with all his qualities--and he is the finest-bred
gentleman I know--he can come closer to being a natural born fool than
any man of his years and position in Kennedy Square. This treatment of
my son--whom I am trying to bring up a gentleman--is one proof of it,
and this putting all his eggs into one basket--and that a rotten
"Well, then--if that is your feeling about it, colonel, why not go and
see him? As I have said, he needs all the friends he's got at a time
like this." If he could bring the two men together the boy might come
home. Not to be able to wave back to Harry as he dashed past on
Spitfire, had been a privation which the whole settlement had felt.
"That is, of course," he continued, "if St. George Temple would be
willing to receive you. He would be--wouldn't he?"
"I don't know, John--and I don't care. If I should make up my mind to
go--remember, I said 'IF'--I'd go whether he liked it or not."
He HAD made up his mind--had made it up at the precise moment the
announcement of the bank's failure and St. George's probable ruin had
dropped from Gorsuch's lips--but none of this must Gorsuch suspect. He
would still be the doge and Virginius; he alone must be the judge of
when and how and where he would show leniency. Generations of Rutters
were behind him--this boy was in the direct line--connecting the past
with the present--and on Colonel Talbot Rutter of Moorlands, and on no
other, rested the responsibility of keeping the glorious name
Todd, with one of the dogs at his heels, opened the door for him,
smothering a "Gor-a-Mighty!--sumpin's up fo' sho'!" when his hand turned
the knob. He had heard the clatter of two horses and their sudden
pull-up outside, and looking out, had read the situation at a glance.
Old Matthew was holding the reins of both mounts at the moment, for the
colonel always rode in state. No tying to hitching-posts or tree-boxes,
or picking up of a loose negro to watch his restless steed when he had a
stable full of thoroughbreds and quarters packed with grooms.
"Yes, Marse Colonel--yes, sah--Marse George is inside--yes, sah--but
Marse Harry's out." He had not asked for Harry, but Todd wanted him to
get all the facts in case there was to be another such scene as black
John described had taken place at the club on the occasion of the
colonel's last visit to the Chesapeake.
"Then I'll go in unannounced, and you need not wait, Todd."
St. George was in his arm-chair by the mantel looking over one of his
heavy ducking-guns when the Lord of Moorlands entered. He was the last
man in the world he expected to see, but he did not lose his self-
control or show in any way his surprise. He was host, and Rutter was his
guest; nothing else counted now.
St. George rose to his feet, laid the gun carefully on the table, and
with a cold smile on his face--one of extreme courtesy--advanced to
"Ah, Talbot--it has been some time since I had this pleasure. Let me
draw up a chair for you--I'll ring for Todd and--"
"No, St. George. I prefer to talk to you alone."
"Todd is never an interruption."
"He may be to-day. I have something to say to you--and I don't want
either to be interrupted or misunderstood. You and I have known each
other too many years to keep up this quarrel; I am getting rather sick
of it myself."
St. George shrugged his shoulders, placed the gun carefully in the rack
by the door, and maintained an attentive attitude. He would either fight
or make peace, but he must first learn the conditions. In the meantime
he would hold his peace.
Rutter strode past him to the fireplace, opened his riding-jacket, laid
his whip on the mantel, and with his hands deep in his breeches pockets
faced the room and his host, who had again taken his place by the table.
"The fact is, St. George, I have been greatly disturbed of late by
reports which have reached me about my son. He is with you, I presume?"
St. George nodded.
Rutter waited for a verbal reply, and receiving none, forged on: "Very
greatly disturbed; so much so that I have made an especial trip from
Moorlands to call upon you and ascertain their truth."
Again St. George nodded, the smile--one of extreme civility now--still
on his face. Then he added, flicking some stray grains of tobacco from
his sleeve with his fingers: "That was very good of you, Talbot--but go
The colonel's eyes kindled. Temple's perfect repose--something he had
not expected--was beginning to get on his nerves, He cleared his throat
impressively and continued, his voice rising in intensity:
"Instead of leading the life of a young man brought up as a gentleman, I
hear he is consorting with the lowest class of people here in your
"--Are my guests," interrupted St. George calmly--loosening the buttons
of his coat in search of his handkerchief--there being more tobacco on
his clothes than he had supposed.
"Yes, you have hit it exactly--your guests--and that is another thing I
have come to tell you, for neither I nor your friends can understand how
a man of your breeding should want to surround himself with--"
--"Is it necessary that you should understand, Talbot?"--same low,
incisive but extremely civil voice, almost monotonous in its cadences.
The cambric was in full play now.
"Of course it is necessary when it affects my own flesh and blood. You
know as well as I do that this sot, Poe, is not a fit companion for a
boy raised as my Harry has been--a man picked out of the gutter--his
family a lot of play-actors--even worse, I hear. A fellow who staggers
into your house dead drunk and doesn't sober up for a week! It's
Again St. George shrugged his shoulders, but one hand was tight shut
this time, the steel claws protruding, the handkerchief alone saving
their points from pressing into the palms.
"And is that what you came from Moorlands to tell me, Talbot?" remarked
St. George casually, adjusting the lapels of his coat.
"Yes!" retorted Rutter--he was fast losing what was left of his
self-control--"that and some other things! But we will attend to Harry
first. You gave that boy shelter when--"
"Please state it correctly, Talbot. We can get on better if you stick to
the facts." The words came slowly, but the enunciation was as perfect as
if each syllable had been parted with a knife. "I didn't give him
shelter--I gave him a home--one you denied him. But go on--I prefer to
hear you out."
The colonel's eyes blazed. He had never seen St. George like this: it
was Temple's hot outbursts that had made him so easy an adversary in
their recent disputes.
"And you will please do the same, St. George," he demanded in his most
top-lofty tone, ignoring his opponent's denial. "You know perfectly well
I turned him out of Moorlands because he had disgraced his blood, and
yet you--my life-long friend--have had the bad taste to interfere and
drag him down still lower, so that now, instead of coming to his senses
and asking my pardon, he parades himself at the club and at your
dinners, putting on the airs of an injured man."
St. George drew himself up to his full height.
"Let us change the subject, Talbot, or we will both forget ourselves. If
you have anything to say to me that will benefit Harry and settle the
difficulty between him and you, I will meet you more than half-way, but
I give you fair warning that the apology must come from you. You
have--if you will permit me to say it in my own house--behaved more like
a brute than a father. I told you so the night you turned him out in the
rain for me to take care of, and I told you so again at the club when
you tried to make a laughing-stock of him before your friends--and now
I tell you so once more! Come!--let us drop the subject--what may I
offer you to drink?--you must be rather chilled with your ride in."
Rutter was about to flare out a denial when his better judgment got the
best of him; some other tactics than the ones he had used must be
brought into play. So far he had made but little headway against
Temple's astounding coolness.
"And I am to understand, then, that you are going to keep him here?" he
demanded, ignoring both his host's criticisms and his proffered
"I certainly am"--he was abreast of him now, his eyes boring into
his--"just as long as he wishes to stay, which I hope will be all his
life, or until you have learned to be decent to him. And by decency, I
mean companionship, and love, and tenderness--three things which your
damned, high-toned notions have always deprived him of!" His voice was
still under control, although the emphasis was unmistakable.
Rutter made a step forward, his eyes flashing, his teeth set:
"You have the impertinence, sir, to charge me with----"
"--Yes!--and it's true and you know it's true!"--the glance, steady as
a rifle, had not wavered. "No, you needn't work yourself up into a
passion--and as for your lordly, dictatorial airs, I am past the age
when they affect me--keep them for your servants. By God!--what a farce
it all is! Let us talk of something else--I am tired of it!"
The words cut like a whip, but the Lord of Moorlands had come to get his
son, not to fight St. George. Their sting, however, had completely
changed his plans. Only the club which Gorsuch had put into his hands
would count now.
"Yes--a damnable farce!" he thundered, "and one played by a man with
beggary staring him straight in the face, and yet to hear you talk one
would think you were a Croesus! You mortgaged this house to get ready
money, did you not?" He was not sure, but this was no time in which to
St. George turned quickly: "Who told you that?"
"Is it true?"
"Yes! Do you suppose I would let Harry sneak around corners to avoid his
The colonel gave an involuntary start, the blood mounting to the roots
of his hair, and as suddenly paled:
"You tell me that--you dared to--pay Harry's debts?" he stammered in
"Dared!" retorted St. George, lifting his chin contemptuously. "Really,
Talbot, you amuse me. When you set that dirty hound Gadgem on his trail,
what did you expect me to do?--invite the dog to dinner?--or have him
sleep in the house until I sold furniture enough to get rid of him?"
The colonel leaned back against the mantel's edge as if for support. All
the fight was out of him. Not only was the situation greatly
complicated, but he himself was his host's debtor. The seriousness of
the whole affair confronted him. For a brief instant he gazed at the
floor, his eyes on the hearthrug, "Have you any money left, St. George?"
he asked. His voice was subdued enough now. Had he been his solicitor he
could not have been more concerned.
"Yes, a few thousand," returned St. George. He saw that some unexpected
shot had hit the colonel, but he did not know he had fired it.
"Left over from the mortgage, I suppose?--less what you paid out for
"Yes, left over from the mortgage, less what I paid Gadgem," he bridled.
"If you have brought any more of Harry's bills hand them out. Why the
devil you ask, Talbot, is beyond my ken, but I have no objection to your
Rutter waved his hand impatiently, with a deprecating gesture; such
trifles were no longer important.
"You bank with the Patapsco, do you not?" he asked calmly. "Answer me,
please, and don't think I'm trying to pry into your affairs. The matter
is much more serious than you seem to think." The tone was so
sympathetic that St. George looked closer into his antagonist's face,
trying to read the cause.
"Always with the Patapsco. I have kept my account there for years," he
rejoined simply. "Why do you want to know?"
"Because it has closed its doors--or will in a few hours. It is
There was no malice in his tone, nor any note of triumph. That St.
George had beggared himself to pay his son's debts had wiped that clear.
He was simply announcing a fact that caused him the deepest concern.
St. George's face paled, and for a moment a peculiar choking movement
started in his throat.
"Bankrupt!--the Patapsco! How do you know?" He had heard some ugly
rumors at the club a few days before, but had dismissed them as part of
"John Gorsuch received a letter last night from one of the directors;
there is no doubt of its truth. I have suspected its condition for some
time, so has Gorsuch. This brought me here. You see now how impossible
it is for my son to be any longer a burden on you."
St. George walked slowly across the room and drawing out a chair settled
himself to collect his thoughts the better;--he had remained standing as
the better way to terminate the interview should he be compelled to
exercise that right. The two announcements had come like successive
blows in the face. If the news of the bank's failure was true he was
badly, if not hopelessly, crippled--this, however, would wait, as
nothing he might do could prevent the catastrophe. The other--Harry's
being a burden to him--must be met at once.
He looked up and caught the colonel's eye scrutinizing his face.
"As to Harry's being a burden," St. George said slowly, his lip curling
slightly--"that is my affair. As to his remaining here, all I have to
say is that if a boy is old enough to be compelled to pay his debts he
is old enough to decide where he will live. You have yourself
established that rule and it will be carried out to the letter."
Rutter's face hardened: "But you haven't got a dollar in the world to
"That may be, but it doesn't altar the situation; it rather strengthens
it." He rose from his chair: "I think we are about through now, Talbot,
and if you will excuse me I'll go down to the bank and see what is the
matter. I will ring for Todd to bring your hat and coat." He did not
intend to continue the talk. There had just been uncovered to him a side
of Talbot Rutter's nature which had shocked him as much as had the
threatened loss of his money. To use his poverty as a club to force him
into a position which would be dishonorable was inconceivable in a man
as well born as his antagonist, but it was true: he could hardly refrain
from telling him so. He had missed, it may be said, seeing another
side--his visitor's sympathy for him in his misfortune. That,
unfortunately, he did not see: fate often plays such tricks with us all.
The colonel stepped in front of him: his eyes had an ugly look in
them--the note of sympathy was gone.
"One moment, St. George! How long you are going to keep up this fool
game, I don't know; but my son stays here on one condition, and on one
condition only, and you might as well understand it now. From this time
on I pay his board. Do you for one instant suppose I am going to let you
support him, and you a beggar?"
St. George made a lunge toward the speaker as if to strike him. Had
Rutter fired point-blank at him he could not have been more astounded.
For an instant he stood looking into his face, then whirled suddenly and
swung wide the door.
"May I ask you, Talbot, to leave the room, or shall I? You certainly
cannot be in your senses to make me a proposition like that. This thing
has got to come to an end, and NOW! I wish you good-morning."
The colonel lifted his hands in a deprecatory way.
"As you will, St. George."
And without another word the baffled autocrat strode from the room.
There was no one at home when Harry returned except Todd, who, having
kept his position outside the dining-room door during the heated
encounter, had missed nothing of the interview. What had puzzled the
darky--astounded him really--was that no pistol-shot had followed his
master's denouncement and defiance of the Lord of Moorlands. What had
puzzled him still more was hearing these same antagonists ten minutes
later passing the time o' day, St. George bowing low and the colonel
touching his hat as he passed out and down to where Matthew and his
horses were waiting.
It was not surprising, therefore, that Todd's recital to Harry came in a
more or less disjointed and disconnected form.
"You say, Todd," he exclaimed in astonishment, "that my father was
here!" Our young hero was convinced that the visit did not concern
himself, as he was no longer an object of interest to any one at home
except his mother and Alec.
"Dat he was, sah, an' b'ilin' mad. Dey bofe was, on'y Marse George lay
low an' de colonel purty nigh rid ober de top ob de fence. Fust Marse
George sass him an' den de colonel sass him back. Purty soon Marse
George say he gwinter speak his min'--and he call de colonel a brute an'
den de colonel riz up an' say Marse George was a beggar and a puttin' on
airs when he didn't hab 'nough money to buy hisse'f a 'tater; an' den
Marse George r'ared and pitched--Oh I tell ye he ken be mighty sof' and
persimmony when he's tame--and he's mos' allers dat way--but when his
dander's up, and it suttinly riz to-day, he kin make de fur fly. Dat's
de time you wanter git outer de way or you'll git hurted."
"Who did you say was the beggar?" It was all Greek to Harry.
"Why, Marse George was--he was de one what was gwine hongry. De colonel
'lowed dat de bank was busted an'--"
"Why de 'Tapsco--whar Marse George keep his money. Ain't you see me
comin' from dar mos' ebery day?"
"But it hasn't failed, has it?" He was still wondering what the quarrel
"Wall, I dunno, but I reckon sumpin's de matter, for no sooner did de
colonel git on his horse and ride away dan Marse George go git his hat
and coat hisse'f and make tracks th'ou' de park by de short cut--and you
know he neber do dat 'cept when he's in a hurry, and den in 'bout a ha'f
hour he come back ag'in lookin' like he'd seed de yahoo, only he was mad
plump th'ou'; den he hollered for me quick like, and sont me down
underneaf yere to Mr. Pawson to know was he in, and he was, and I done
tol' him, and he's dar now. He ain't neber done sont me down dar 'cept
once sence I been yere, and dat was de day dat Gadgem man come snuffin'
roun'. Trouble comin'."
Harry had now begun to take in the situation. It was evidently a matter
of some moment or Pawson would not have been consulted.
"I'll go down myself, Todd," he said with sudden resolve.
"Better lem'me tell him you're yere, Marse Harry."
"No, I'll go now," and he turned on his heel and descended the front
On the street side of the house, level with the bricks, was a door
opening into a low-ceiled, shabbily furnished room, where in the old
days General Dorsey Temple, as has been said, shared his toddies with
his cronies. There he found St. George seated at a long table piled high
with law books and papers--the top covered with a green baize cloth
embroidered with mice holes and decorated with ink stains. Beside him
was a thin, light-haired, young man, with a long, flexible neck and
abnormally high forehead, over-doming a shrewd but not unkindly face.
The two were poring over a collection of papers.
The young lawyer rose to his feet, a sickly, deferential smile playing
along his straight lips. Young aristocrats of Harry's blood and breeding
did not often darken Pawson's door, and he was extremely anxious that
his guest should in some way be made aware of his appreciation of that
fact. St. George did not move, nor did he take any other notice of the
boy's appearance than to fasten his eyes upon him for a moment in
recognition of his presence.
But Harry could not wait.
"Todd has just told me, Uncle George, that"--he caught the grave
expression on Temple's face--"Why!--Uncle George--there isn't anything
the matter, is there? It isn't true that the--"
St. George raised his head: "What isn't true, Harry?"
"That the Patapsco Bank is in trouble?"
"No, I don't think so. The bank, so far as I know, is all right; it's
the depositors who are in trouble," and one of his quaint smiles lighted
up his face.
"Broken!--failed!" cried Harry, still in doubt as to the extent of the
catastrophe, but wishing to be sympathetic and proportionably astounded
as any well-bred young man should be when his best friend was unhappy.
"I'm afraid it is, Harry--in fact I know it is--bankrupt in character
as well as in balances--a bad-smelling, nasty mess, to tell you the
truth. That's not only my own opinion, but the opinion of every man whom
I have seen, and there was quite an angry mob when I reached the
teller's window this morning. That is your own opinion also, is it not,
Mr. Pawson?--your legal summing up, I mean."
The young attorney stretched out his spare colorless hands; opened wide
his long, double-jointed fingers; pressed their ten little cushions
together, and see-sawing the bunch in front of his concave waistcoat,
answered in his best professional voice:
"As to being bankrupt of funds I should say there was no doubt of that
being their condition; as to any criminal intent or practices--that, of
course, gentlemen"--and he shrugged his shoulders in a non-committal,
non-actionable way--"is not for me to decide."
"But you think it will be months, and perhaps years, before the
depositors get a penny of their money--do you not?" persisted St.
Again Pawson performed the sleight-of-hand trick, and again he was
non-committal--a second shrug alone expressing his views, the
performance ending by his pushing a wooden chair in the direction of
Harry, who was still on his feet.
Harry settled himself on its edge and fixed his eyes on his uncle. St.
George again became absorbed in the several papers, Pawson once more
assisting him, the visitor having now been duly provided for.
This raking of ashes in the hope of finding something of value
unscorched was not a pleasant task for the young lawyer. He had, years
before, conceived the greatest admiration for his landlord and was never
tired of telling his associates of how kind and considerate St. George
had always been, and of his patience in the earlier days of his lease,
Mr. Temple often refusing the rent until he was quite ready to pay it.
He took a certain pride, too, in living under the same roof, so to
speak, with one universally known as a gentleman of the old school,
whose birth, education, and habits made him the standard among his
fellows--a man without pretence or sham, living a simple and wholesome
life; with dogs, guns, priceless Madeira and Port, as well as unlimited
clothes of various patterns adapted to every conceivable service and
function--to say nothing of his being part of the best society that
Kennedy Square could afford.
Even to bow to his distinguished landlord as he was descending his front
steps was in itself one of his greatest pleasures. That he might not
miss it, he would peer from behind his office shutters until the shapely
legs of his patron could be seen between the twisted iron railing. Then
appearing suddenly and with assumed surprise, he would lift his hat with
so great a flourish that his long, thin arms and body were jerked into
semaphore angles, his face meanwhile beaming with ill-concealed delight.
Should any one of St. George's personal friends accompany him--men like
Kennedy, or General Hardisty, or some well-known man from the Eastern
Shore--one of the Dennises, or Joyneses, or Irvings--the pleasure was
intensified, the incident being of great professional advantage. "I have
just met old General Hardisty," he would say--"he was at our house," the
knowing ones passing a wink around, and the uninitiated having all the
greater respect and, therefore, all the greater confidence in that
rising young firm of "Pawson & Pawson, Attorneys and Counsellors at
Law--Wills drawn and Estates looked after."
That this rarest of gentlemen, of all men in the world, should be made
the victim of a group of schemers who had really tricked him of almost
all that was left of his patrimony, and he a member of his own
profession, was to Pawson one of the great sorrows of his life. That he
himself had unwittingly helped in its culmination made it all the
keener. Only a few weeks had passed since that eventful day when St.
George had sent Todd down to arrange for an interview, an event which
was followed almost immediately by that gentleman in person. He
remembered his delight at the honor conferred upon him; he recalled how
he had spent the whole of that and the next day in the attempt to
negotiate the mortgage on the old home at a reasonable rate of interest;
he recalled, too, how he could have lowered the rate had St. George
allowed him more time. "No, pay it and get rid of them!" St. George had
said, the "them" being part of the very accounts over which the two were
poring. And his patron had showed the same impatience when it came to
placing the money in the bank. Although his own lips were sealed
professionally by reason of the interests of another client, he had
begged St. George, almost to the verge of interference, not to give it
to the Patapsco, until he had been silenced with: "Have them put it to
my credit, sir. I have known every member of that bank for years."
All these things were, of course, unknown to Harry, the ultimate
beneficiary. Who had filled the bucket, and how and why, were
unimportant facts to him. That it was full, and ready for his use,
brought with it the same sense of pleasure he would have felt on a hot
day at Moorlands when he had gone to the old well, drawn up the ice-cold
water, and, plunging in the sweet-smelling gourd, had drank to his
This was what wells were made for; and so were fathers, and big,
generous men like his Uncle George, who had dozens of friends ready to
cram money into his pocket for him to hand over to whoever wanted it and
without a moment's hesitation--just as Slater had handed him the money
he needed when Gilbert wanted it in a hurry.
Nor could it be expected that Harry, even with the examination of St.
George's accounts with the Patapsco and other institutions going on
under his very eyes, understood fully just what a bank failure really
meant. Half a dozen banks, he remembered, had gone to smash some few
years before, sending his father to town one morning at daylight, where
he stayed for a week, but no change, so far as he could recall, had
happened because of it at Moorlands. Indeed, his father had bought a new
coach for his mother the very next week, out of what he had "saved from
the wreck," so he had told her.
It was not until the hurried overhauling of a mass of papers beneath his
uncle's hand, and the subsequent finding of a certain stray sheet by
Pawson, that the boy was aroused to a sense of the gravity of the
situation. And even then his interest did not become acute until, the
missing document identified, St. George had turned to Pawson and,
pointing to an item halfway down the column, had said in a lowered tone,
as if fearing to be overheard:
"You have the receipts, have you not, for everything on this
list?--Slater's account too, and Hampson's?"
"They are in the file beside you, sir."
"Well, that's a comfort, anyhow."
"And the balance"--here he examined a small book which lay open beside
him--"amounting to"--he paused--"is of course locked up in their
Harry had craned his head in instant attention. His quickened ears had
caught two familiar names. It was Slater who had loaned him the five
hundred dollars which he gave to Gilbert, which his father had commended
him for borrowing; and it was Hampson who had sold him the wretched
horse that had stumbled and broken his leg and had afterwards to be
"Slater, did you say, Uncle George--and Hampson? Aren't they my old
"Quite right, Mr. Rutter--quite right, sir." St. George tried to stop
him with a frown, but Pawson's face was turned towards Harry and he
failed to get the signal. "Quite right, and quite lucky; they were both
important items in Mr. Gadgem's list, and both checks passed through the
bank and were paid before the smash came."
The tones of Pawson's voice, the twisting together of his bony hands in
a sort of satisfied contentment, and the weary look on his uncle's face
were the opening of so many windows in the boy's brain. At the same
instant one of those creepy chills common to a man when some hitherto
undiscovered vista of impending disaster widens out before him, started
at the base of Harry's spine, crept up his shoulder-blades, shivered
along his arms, and lost itself in his benumbed fingers. This was
followed by a lump in his throat that nearly strangled him. He left his
chair and touched Pawson on the shoulder.
"Does this mean, Mr. Pawson--this money being locked up in the bank
vaults and not coming out for months--and may be never--does it mean
that Mr. Temple--well, that Uncle George--won't have enough money to
live on?" There was an anxious, vibrant tone in Harry's voice that
aroused St. George to a sense of the boy's share in the calamity and the
privations he must suffer because of it. Pawson hesitated and was about
to belittle the gravity of the situation when St. George stopped him.
"Yes--tell him--tell him everything, I have no secrets from Mr. Rutter.
Stop!--I'll tell him. It means, Harry"--and a brave smile played about
his lips--"that we will have to live on hog and hominy, may be, or
pretty nigh it--certainly for a while--not bad, old fellow, when you get
accustomed to it. Aunt Jemima makes very good hominy and--"
He stopped; the brave smile had faded from his face.
"By Jove!--that's something I didn't think of!--What will I do with the
dear old woman--It would break her heart--and Todd?"
Here was indeed something on which he had not counted! For him to forego
the luxuries that enriched his daily life was easy--he had often in his
hunting trips lived for weeks on sweet potato and a handful of cornmeal,
and slept on the bare ground with only a blanket over him, but that his
servants should be reduced to similar privations suggested possibilities
which appalled him. For the first time since the cruel announcement fell
from Rutter's lips the real situation, with all that it meant to his own
future and those dependent upon him, stared him in the face.
He looked up and caught Harry's anxious eyes scanning his own. His
old-time, unruffled spirit came to his assistance.
"No, son!" he cried in his cheeriest voice, springing to his feet--"no,
we won't worry. It will all come out right--we'll buckle down to it
together, you and I. Don't take it too much to heart--we'll get on
But the boy was not reassured; in fact, he had become more anxious than
ever. Not only did the chill continue, but the lump in his throat grew
larger every minute.
"But, Uncle George--you told me you borrowed the money to pay those
bills my father sent me. And will you now have to pay that back as
well?" He did not ask of whom he had borrowed it, nor on what security,
nor would either Pawson or his uncle have told him, that being a
"Well, that depends, Harry; but we won't have to pay it right away,
which is one comfort. And then again, I can go back to the law. I have
yet to make my maiden speech before a jury, but I can do it. Think of
it!--everybody in tears, the judge mopping his eyes--court-room
breathless. Oh, you just wait until your old uncle gets on his feet
before a bench and jury. Come along, old fellow--let us go up into the
house." Then in a serious tone--his back to Harry--"Pawson, please bring
the full accounts with you in the morning, and now let me thank you for
your courtesy. You have been extremely civil, sir, and I appreciate it
When they had reached the front walk and were about to climb the
immaculate steps, St. George, still determined to divert the boy's
thoughts from his own financial straits, said with a laugh:
"Todd told you, of course, about your father paying me a visit this
morning, did he not?"
"Oh, yes!--a most extraordinary account. You must have enjoyed it,"
replied Harry, trying to fall into his uncle's mood, his heart growing
heavier every moment. "What did he want?"
One of St. George's heat-lightning smiles played over his face: "He
wanted two things. He first wanted you, and then he wanted a receipt for
a month's board--YOUR board, remember! He went away without either."
A new perspective suddenly opened up in Harry's mind; one that had a
gleam of sunshine athwart it.
"But, Uncle George!" he burst out--"don't forget that my father owes you
all the money you paid for me! That, of course, will eventually come
back to you." This came in a tone of great relief, as if the money was
already in his hand.
St. George's face hardened: "None of it will come back to me," he
rejoined in a positive tone. "He doesn't owe me one single penny and he
never will. That money he owes to you. Whatever you may happen to owe me
can wait until you are able to pay it. And now while I am talking about
it, there is another thing your father owes you, and that is an humble
apology, and that he will pay one of these days in tears and agony. You
are neither a beggar nor a cringing dog, and you never will be so long
as I can help it!" He stopped, rested his hand on the boy's shoulder,
and with a quiver in his voice added:
"Your hand, my son. Short commons after this, may be, but we will make
the fight together."
When the two passed through the front door and stepped into the
dining-room they found it filled with gentlemen--friends who had heard
of the crash and who had come either to extend their sympathy or offer
their bank accounts. They had heard of the catastrophe at the club and
had instantly left their seats and walked across the park in a body.
To one and all St. George gave a warm pressure of the hand and a bright
smile. Had he been the master of ceremonies at a state reception he
could not have been more self-possessed or more gallant; his troubles
were for himself, never for his guests.
"All in a lifetime--but I am not worrying. The Patapsco pulled out once
before and it may again. My only regret is that I cannot, at least for a
time, have as many of you as I would wish under my mahogany. But don't
let us borrow any trouble; certainly not to-day. Todd, get some glasses
and bring me that bottle of Madeira--the one there on the sideboard!"
Here he took the precious fluid from Todd's hand and holding high the
crusted bottle said with a dry smile--one his friends knew when his
irony was aroused: "That wine, gentlemen, saw the light at a time when a
man locked his money in an iron box to keep outside thieves from
stealing it; to-day he locks his money in a bank's vault and locks the
thieves in with it. Extraordinary, is it not, how we gentlemen trust
each other? Here, Todd, draw the cork! ... Slowly. ... Now hand me the
bottle--yes--Clayton, that's the same wine that you and Kennedy liked
so much the night we had Mr. Poe with us. It is really about all there
is left of my father's Black Warrior of 1810. I thought it was all gone,
but Todd found two more the other day, one of which I sent to Kennedy.
This is the other. Kennedy writes me he is keeping his until we can
drink it together. Is everybody's glass full? Then my old toast if you
will permit me: 'Here's to love and laughter, and every true friend of
my true friend my own!'"
Before the groups had dispersed Harry had the facts in his
possession--principally from Judge Pancoast, who gave him a full account
of the bank's collapse, some papers having been handed up to him on the
bench that morning. Summed up, his uncle was practically ruined--and he,
Harry, was the cause of it--the innocent cause, perhaps, but the cause
all the same: but for his father's cruelty and his own debts St. George
would never have mortgaged his home. That an additional sum--his uncle's
entire deposit--had been swallowed up in the crash was but part of the
same misfortune. Poe's lines were true, then--never so true as now:
"Some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster Followed fast and followed
This, then, was ever after to be his place in life--to bring misery
wherever he went.
He caught up his hat and walked through the park beside the judge,
hoping for some further details of his uncle's present plight and future
condition, but the only thing his Honor added to what he already knew
was his wonderment over the fact that St. George, having no immediate
use for the money except to pay his bills, should have raised so large a
sum on a mortgage instead of borrowing it from his friends. It was here
that Harry's heart gave a bound:--no one, then, but his uncle, Pawson,
and himself knew that he alone was responsible for the catastrophe! That
his father should have learned of his share in it did not enter the
Todd answered his knock on his return, and in reply to his inquiry
informed him that he must not sit up, as "Marse George" had left word
that he would be detained until late at a meeting of the creditors of
And so the unhappy lad, his supper over, sought his bed and, as had
occurred more than once before, spent the earlier hours of the night
gazing at the ceiling and wondering what would become of him.
With the breaking of the dawn Harry's mind was made up. Before the sun
was an hour high he had dressed hurriedly, stolen downstairs so as to
wake no one, and closing the front door softly behind him had taken the
long path through the park in the direction of the wharves. Once there,
he made the rounds of the shipping offices from Light Street wharf to
the Falls--and by the time St. George had finished dressing--certainly
before he was through his coffee--had entered the name of Henry Rutter
on two sets of books--one for a position as supercargo and the other,
should nothing better be open, as common seaman. All he insisted upon
was that the ship should sail at once. As to the destination, that was
of no consequence, nor did the length of the voyage make any difference.
He remembered that his intimate friend, Gilbert, had some months before
gone as supercargo to China, his father wanting him to see something of
the world; and if a similar position were open he could, of course, give
references as to his character--a question the agent asked him--but,
then, Gilbert had a father to help him. Should no such position be
available, he would ship before the mast, or serve as cook or cabin-boy,
or even scullion--but he would not live another day or hour dependent on
his dear Uncle George, who had impoverished himself in his behalf.
He selected the sea instead of going into the army as a common soldier
because the sea had always appealed to him. He loved its freedom and its
dangers. Then again, he was young and strong--could climb like a
cat--sail a boat--swim--Yes!--the sea was the place! He could get far
enough away behind its horizons to hide the struggle he must make to
accomplish the one purpose of his life--the earning of his debt.
Filled with this idea he began to perfect his plans, determining to take
no one into his confidence until the day before the ship was ready to
sail. He would then send for his mother and Alec--bring them all down to
St. George's house and announce his intention. That was the best and
wisest way. As for Kate--who had now been at home some weeks--he would
pour out his heart to her in a letter. This was better than an
interview, which she would doubtless refuse:--a letter she would be
obliged to read and, perhaps, answer. As for his dear Uncle George--it
would be like tearing his heart out to leave him, but this wrench had to
be met and it was best to do it quickly and have done with it.
When this last thought took possession a sudden faintness crept over
him. How could he leave his uncle? What St. George was to him no one but
himself knew--father, friend, comrade, adviser--standard of men and
morals--all and more was his beloved uncle. No thought of his heart but
he had given him, and never once had he been misunderstood. He could put
his arm about his uncle's neck as he would about his mother's and not be
thought effeminate or childish. And the courtesy and dignity and
fairness with which he had been treated; and the respect St. George
showed him--and he only a boy: compelling his older men friends to do
the same. Never letting him feel that any foolish act of his young life
had been criticised, or that any one had ever thought the less of him
because of them.
Breakfast over, during which no allusion was made either to what St.
George had accomplished at the conference of creditors the night before,
or to Harry's early rising--the boy made his way into the park and took
the path he loved. It was autumn, and the mild morning air bespoke an
Indian summer day. Passing beneath the lusty magnolias, which flaunted
here and there their glossy leaves, he paused under one of the big oaks,
whose branches, stripped of most of their foliage, still sheltered a
small, vine-covered arbor where he and Kate had often sat--indeed, it
was within its cool shade that he had first told her of his love. Here
he settled himself on a small wooden bench outside the retreat and gave
his thoughts full rein--not to repine, nor to revive his troubles,
which he meant to put behind him--but to plan out the letter he was to
write Kate. This must be clear and convincing and tell the whole story
of his heart. That he might empty it the better he had chosen this place
made sacred by her presence. Then again, the park was generally deserted
at this hour--the hour between the passing of the men of business and
the coming of the children and nurses--and he would not be interrupted
--certainly not before this arbor--one off by itself and away from
He seated himself on the bench, his eyes overlooking the park. All the
hours he had passed with Kate beneath the wide-spreading trees rose in
his mind; the day they had read aloud to each other, her pretty feet
tucked under her so that the dreadful ants couldn't touch her dainty
stockings; the morning when she was late and he had waited and fumed
stretching minutes into hours in his impatience; that summer night when
the two had hidden behind the big oak so that he could kiss her
good-night and none of the others see.
With these memories stirring, his letter was forgotten, and his head
dropped upon his breast, as if the weight of all he had lost was greater
than he could bear. Grasping his walking-stick the tighter he began
tracing figures in the gravel, his thoughts following each line.
Suddenly his ears caught the sound of a quick step--one he thought
He raised his eyes.
Kate had passed him and had given no sign of her presence!
He sprang from his seat:
"Kate!--KATE!--Are you going to treat me as my father treated me!
Don't, please!--You'll never see me again--but don't cut me like that:
I have never done anything but love you!"
The girl came to a halt, but she did not turn her head, nor did she
"Please, Kate--won't you speak to me? It may be the last time I shall
ever see you. I am going away from Kennedy Square. I was going to write
you a letter; I came out here to think of what I ought to say--"
She raised her head and half turned her trembling body so that she could
see his face, her eyes reading his.
"I didn't think you wanted me to speak to you or you would have looked
"I didn't see you until you had passed. Can't we sit down here?--no one
will see us."
She suffered him to take her hand and lead her to the bench. There she
sat, her eyes still searching his face--a wondering, eager look,
discovering every moment some old remembered spot--an eyebrow, or the
line at the corner of the mouth, or the round of the cheek--each and
every one bringing back to her the days that were past and gone never to
"You are going away?" she said at last--"why? Aren't you happy with
Uncle George? He would miss you, I am sure." She had let the scarf fall
from her shoulders as she spoke, bringing into view the full round of
her exquisite throat. He had caught its flash, but he could not trust
himself to look the closer.
"Not any more than I shall miss him," he rejoined sadly; "but he has
lost almost everything he had in the bank failure and I cannot have him
support me any longer--so I am going to sea."
Kate started forward and laid her hand on his wrist: "To sea!--in a
ship! Where?" The inquiry came with such suddenness and with so keen a
note of pain in her voice that Harry's heart gave a bound. It was not
St. George's losses then she was thinking of--she was thinking of him!
He raised his eyes quickly and studied her face the closer; then his
heart sank again. No!--he was wrong--there was only wonder in her gaze;
only her usual curiosity to know every detail of what was going on
With a sigh he resumed his bent position, talking to the end of his
walking-stick tracing figures in the gravel: "I shall go to Rio,
probably," he continued in the same despondent tone--"or China. That's
why I called after you. I sail day after to-morrow--Saturday at the
latest--and it may be a good many years before I get back again, and so
I didn't want to go, Kate, without telling you that--that--I forgive you
for everything you have done to me--and whether you forgive me or not, I
have kept my promises to you, and I will always keep them as long as I
"What does dear Uncle George think of it?" She too was addressing the
end of the stick; gaining time to make up her mind what to do and say.
The old wound, of course, could not be opened, but she might save him
and herself from fresh ones.
"He doesn't know I am going; nobody knows but you. I have been a curse
to every one who has been kind to me, and I am going now where there
will be nobody but strangers about me. To leave Uncle George breaks my
heart, but so does it break my heart to leave my precious mother and
dear old Alec, who cries all the time and has now taken to his bed, I
She waited, but her name was not added to the list, nor did he raise his
"I deserve it all, I suspect," he went on, "or it wouldn't be sent to
me; but it's over now. If I ever come back it will be when I am
satisfied with myself; if I never come back, why then my former hard
luck has followed me--that's all. And now may I talk to you, Kate, as I
used to do sometimes?" He straightened up, threw down his cane, and
turned his shoulders so he could look her squarely in the eyes. "If I
say anything that offends you you can get up and walk away and I won't
follow you, nor will I add another word. You may never see me again, and
if it is not what I ought to say, you can forget it all when I am gone.
Kate!"--he paused, and for a moment it was all he could do to control
himself. "What I want to tell you first is this--that I haven't had a
happy day or hour since that night on the stairs in my father's house.
Whether I was right or wrong I don't know; what followed is what I
couldn't help, but that part I don't regret, and if any one should
behave to you as Willits did I would do it over again. What I do regret
is the pain it has caused you. And now here comes this awful sorrow to
Uncle George, and I am the cause of that too."
She turned her face quickly, the color leaving her cheeks as if alarmed.
Had he been behaving badly again? But he swept it away with his next
"You see, my father refused to pay any of the bills I owed and Uncle
George paid them for me--and I can't have that go on a day
longer--certainly not now."
Kate's shoulders relaxed. A sigh of relief spent itself; Harry was still
an honest gentleman, whatever else he might have done!
"And now comes the worst of it, Kate." His voice sank almost to a
whisper, as if even the birds should not hear this part of his
confession: "Yes--the worst of it--that I have had all this to
suffer--all this misery to endure--all these insults of my father to
bear without you! Always, before, we have talked things out together;
then you were shut away and I could only look up at your windows and
rack my brain wondering where you were and what you were doing. It's all
over now--you love somebody else--but I shall never love anybody else: I
can't! I don't want to! You are the last thing I kiss before I close my
eyes; I shut them and kiss only the air--but it is your lips I feel; and
you are the first thing I open them upon when I wake. It will always be
so, Kate--you are my body, my soul, and my life. I shall never have you
again, I know, but I shall have your memory, and that is sweeter and
more precious to me than all else in the world!"
"Harry!" There was a strange cadence in her voice--not of
self-defence--not of recrimination--only of overwhelming pity: "Don't
you think that I too have had my troubles? Do you think it was nothing
to me to love you as I did and have--" She stopped, drew in her breath
as if to bolster up some inward resolution, and then with a brave lift
of the head added: "No, I won't go into that--not to-day."
"Yes--tell me all of it--you can't hurt me more than you have done. But
you may be right--no, we won't talk of that part of it. And now, Kate, I
won't ask you to stay any longer; I am glad I saw you--it was better
than writing." He leaned forward: "Let me look into your face once more,
won't you?--so I can remember the better. ... Yes--the same dear eyes--
and the hair growing low on the temples, and the beautiful mouth
and--No--I sha'n't forget--I never have." He rose from his seat and held
out his hand: "You'll take it, won't you?--just once--Good-by!"
She had not moved, nor had she grasped his hand; her face was still
towards him, her whole frame tense, the tears crowding to the lids.
"Sit down, Harry. I can't let you go like this. Tell me something more
of where you are going. Why must you go to sea? Can't you support
yourself here?--isn't there something you can get to do? I will see my
father and find out if--"
"No, you won't." There was a note almost of defiance in his voice--one
she had never heard before. "I am through with accepting favors from any
living man. Hereafter I stand in my own shoes, independent of everybody.
My father is the only person who has a right to give me help, and as he
refuses absolutely to do anything more than pay my board, I must fall
back on myself. I didn't see these things in this same way when Uncle
George paid my debts, or even when he took me into his home as his
guest, but I do now."
Something gave a little bound in Kate's heart. This manly independence
was one of the things she had in the old days hoped was in him. What had
come over her former lover, she wondered.
"And another thing, Kate"--she was listening eagerly--she could not
believe it was Harry who was speaking--"if you were to tell me this
moment that you loved me again and would marry me, and I still be as I
am to-day--outlawed by my father and dependent on charity--I would not
do it. I can't live on your money, and I have none of my own.
Furthermore, I owe dear Uncle George his money in such a way that I can
never pay it back except I earn it, and that I can't do here. To borrow
it of somebody else to pay him would be more disgraceful still."
Again her heart gave a bound. Her father had followed the opposite
course, and she knew for a certainty just what some men thought of him,
and she could as easily recall half a dozen younger men who had that
very summer been willing to play the same game with herself. Something
warm and sympathetic struggled up through her reserve.
"Would you stay, Harry, if I asked you to?" she said in almost a
whisper. She had not meant to put the question quite in that way, but
somehow it had asked itself.
He looked at her with his soft brown eyes, the long lashes shading their
tender brilliancy. He had guessed nothing of the newly awakened throb in
her heart; only his situation stared him in the face, and in this she
had no controlling interest; nor could she now that she loved somebody
"No, Kate, it wouldn't alter anything. It would be putting off the day
when it would all have to be done over again; and then it would be still
worse because of the hopes it had raised."
"Do you really mean, Harry, that you would not stay if I asked you?" It
was not her heart which was speaking, but the pride of the woman who had
always had her own way.
"I certainly do," he answered emphatically, his voice ringing clear.
"Every day I lose is just so much taken from a decent, independent
A sudden revulsion of feeling swept through her. This was the last thing
she had expected from Harry. What had come over him that he should deny
her anything?--he who had always obeyed her slightest wish. Then a new
thought entered her head--why should she humble herself to ask any more
questions? With a quick movement she gained her feet and stood toying
with her dress, arranging the lace scarf about her throat, tightening
the wide strings that held her teacup of a bonnet close to her face. She
raised her eyes and stole a glance at him. The lips were still firmly
set with the resolve that had tightened them, but his eyes were brimming
As suddenly as her pride had risen did it die out. All the tenderness of
her nature welled up. She made one step in his direction. She was about
to speak, but he had not moved, nor did his face relax. She saw that
nothing could shake his resolve; they were as far apart as if the seas
already rolled between them. She held out her hand, and with that same
note of infinite pathos which he knew so well when she spoke straight
from her heart, said as she laid her fingers in his:
"Good-by, and God bless you, Harry."
"Good-by, Kate," he murmured in barely audible tones. "May I--may
I--kiss you on the forehead, as I always used to do when I left you--"
She bent her head: he leaned over and touched the spot with his lips as
reverently as a sinner kisses the garment of a saint, then, choking down
her tears, all her body unstrung, her mind in a whirl, she turned and
passed out of the park.
That same afternoon Kate called her father into her little sitting-room
at the top of the stairs and shut the door.
"Harry Rutter is going to sea as a common sailor on one of the ships
leaving here in a couple of days. Can you find out which one?--it may be
one of your own." He was still perfunctory agent of the line.
"Young Rutter going to sea!"--the nomenclature of "my dear Harry" had
ended since the colonel had disinherited him. "Well--that is news! I
suspect that will be the best place for him; then if he plays any of his
pranks there will be somebody around with a cat-o'-nine-tails to take it
out of him. Going to sea, is he?"
Kate looked at him with lowered lids, her lips curling slightly, but she
did not defend the culprit. It was only one of what Prim called his
"jokes:" he was the last man in the world to wish any such punishment.
Moreover, she knew her father much better than the Honorable Prim knew
his daughter, and whenever she had a favor to ask was invariably careful
not to let his little tea-kettle boil over.
"Only a short time ago, father, you got a berth as supercargo on one of
my grandfather's ships for Mark Gilbert. Can't you do it for Harry?"
"But, Kate, that was quite a different thing. Mark's father came to me
and asked it as a special favor." His assumed authority at the shipping
office rarely extended to the appointing of officers--not when the
younger partners objected.
"Well, Harry's father won't come to you, nor will Harry; and it isn't a
different thing. It's exactly the same thing so far as you are
concerned, and there is a greater reason for Harry, for he is alone in
the world and he is not used to hard work of any kind, and it is cruel
to make a common sailor of him."
"Why, I thought Temple was fathering him."
"So Uncle George has, and would always look after him, but Harry is too
brave and manly to live upon him any longer, now that Uncle George has
lost most of his money. Will you see Mr. Pendergast, or shall I go down
to the office?"
Prim mused for a moment. "There may not be a vacancy," he ventured, "but
I will inquire. The Ranger sails on Friday for the River Plate, and I
will have Mr. Pendergast come and see me. Supercargoes are of very
little use, my dear, unless they have had some business training, and
this young man, of course, has had none at all."
"This young man, indeed!" thought Kate with a sigh, stifling her
indignation. "Poor Harry!--no one need treat him any longer with even
common courtesy, now that St. George, his last hold, had been swept
"I think on the whole I had better attend to it myself," she added with
some impatience. "I don't want anything to go wrong about it."
"No, I'll see him, Kate; just leave it all to me."
He had already decided what to do--or what he would try to do--when he
first heard the boy wanted to leave the country. What troubled him was
what the managing partner of the line might think of the proposition. As
long as Harry remained at home and within reach any number of things
might happen--even a return of the old love. With the scapegrace
half-way around the world some other man might have a chance--Willits,
especially, who had proved himself in every way worthy of his daughter,
and who would soon be one of the leading lawyers of the State if he kept
With the closing of the door upon her father, Kate threw herself upon
her lounge. One by one the salient features of her interview with Harry
passed in review: his pleading for some word of comfort; some note of
forgiveness with which to cheer the hours of his exile.--"You are the
last thing I kiss before I close my eyes." Then his open defiance of her
expressed wishes when they conflicted with his own set purpose of going
away and staying away until he made up his mind to return. While the
first brought with it a certain contented satisfaction--something she
had expected and was glad of--the last aroused only indignation and
revolt. Her brow tightened, and the determination of the old seadog--her
grandfather Barkeley--played over her countenance. She no longer, then,
filled Harry's life, controlling all his actions; she no longer inspired
his hopes. Rather than marry her he would work as a common sailor.
Yes--he had said so, and with his head up and his voice ringing brave
and clear. She was proud of him for it--she had never been so proud of
him--but why no trace of herself in his resolve; except in his allusion
to the duel, when he said he would do it again should any one insult
her? It was courteous, of course, for him to feel that way, however much
she abhorred the system of settling such disputes. But, then, he would
do that for any other woman--would, no doubt, for some woman he had not
yet seen. In this he was the son of his father and the same Harry--but
in everything else he was a changed man--and never more changed than in
his attitude toward her.
With these thoughts racking her brain she rose from the lounge and began
pacing the floor, peering out between the curtains of her room, her eyes
wandering over the park as if she could still see him between the
branches. Then her mind cleared and the true situation developed
itself:--for months she had hugged to herself the comforting thought
that she had only to stretch out her hand and bring him to her feet. He
had now looked her full in the face and proclaimed his freedom. It was
as if she had caged a bird and found the door open and the prisoner
singing in a tree overhead.
That same night she sat by her wood fire in her chamber, her old black
mammy--Mammy Henny--bending close, combing out her marvellous hair. She
had been studying the coals, watching the little castles pile and fall;
the quick smothering of slowly fading sparks under a blanket of gray
ashes, and the wavering, flickering light that died on the curling
smoke. She had not spoken for a long time, when the old woman roused
"Whar was you dis mawnin', honey chile? Mister Willits done wait mo'n
ha'f a hour, den he say he come back an' fetch his sorrel horse wid him
dis arternoon an' take ye ridin'. But he ain't come--dat is, Ben done
tol' me so."
"No, mammy," she answered wearily--"I sent him word not to--I didn't
feel like riding to-day."
Over two years have passed away since that mournful night when Harry
with his hand in St. George's, his voice choking, had declared his
determination to leave him the next day and seek his fortunes across the
It was a cruel blow to Temple, coming as it did on the heels of his own
disaster, but when the first shock had passed he could but admire the
lad for his pluck and love him the better for his independence.
"All right, my son," he had said, concealing as best he could his
intense suffering over the loss of his companion. "I'll try and get
along. But remember I am here--and the door is always open. I don't
blame you--I would do the same thing were I in your place. And now about
Kate--what shall I say to her?"
"Nothing. I said it all this morning. She doesn't love me any more--she
would have passed me by without speaking had I not called to her. She'll
be married to Willits before I come back--if I ever do come back. But
leaving Kate is easier than leaving you. You have stuck to me all the
way through, and Kate--well--perhaps she hasn't understood--perhaps her
father has been talking to her--I don't know. Anyhow, it's all over. If
I had had any doubts about it before, this morning's talk settled it.
The sea is the best place for me. I can support myself anyway for a
while until I can help you."
Yes! the boy was right, St. George had said to himself. It was all over
between them. Kate's reason had triumphed at last. She, perhaps, was not
to blame. Her experiences had been trying and she was still confronted
by influences bitterly opposed to Harry, and largely in favor of
Willits, for, weak specimen as Prim was, he was still her father, and in
so important a step as her marriage, must naturally exercise authority.
As for his own influence, that, he realized, had come to an end at their
last interview: the whole thing, he must admit, was disappointing--
cruelly so--the keenest disappointment of his life.
Many a night since he bid Harry good-by had he sat alone by that same
fire, his dogs his only companions, the boy's words ringing in his ears:
"Leaving Kate is easier than leaving you!" Had it been the other way and
he the exile, it would have been nearer the truth, he often thought, for
nothing in his whole life had left so great a void in his heart as the
loss of the boy he loved. Not that he was ever completely disheartened;
that was not his nature; there was always daylight ahead--the day when
Harry would come back and their old life begin again. With this in store
for him he had led his life as best he could, visiting his friends in
the country, entertaining in a simple, inexpensive way, hunting at
Wesley, where he and Peggy Coston would exchange confidences and funny
stories; dining out; fishing in the early spring; getting poorer and
poorer in pocket, and yet never complaining, his philosophy being that
it would be brighter in the morning, and it always was--to him.
And yet if the truth be told his own situation had not improved--in
fact, it had grown steadily worse. Only one payment of interest had been
made on the mortgage and the owner was already threatening foreclosure
proceedings. Pawson's intervention alone had staved off the fatal climax
by promising the holder to keep the loan alive by the collection of some
old debts--borrowed money and the like--due St. George for years and
which his good nature had allowed to run on indefinitely until some of
them were practically outlawed. Indeed it was only through resources
like this, in all of which Pawson helped, and with the collecting of
some small ground rents, that kept Todd and Jemima in their places and
the larder comfortably filled. As to the bank--there was still hope that
some small percentage would be paid the depositors, it being the general
opinion that the directors were personally liable because of the
irregularities which the smash had uncovered--but this would take
months, if not years, to work out.
His greatest comfort was in the wanderer's letters. These he would watch
for with the eagerness of a girl hungry for news of her distant lover.
For the first few months these came by every possible mail, most of them
directed to himself; others to his mother, Mrs. Rutter driving in from
Moorlands to compare notes with St. George. Then, as the boy made his
way further into the interior the intervals were greater--sometimes a
month passed without news of him.
"We are short-handed," he wrote St. George, "owing to fever on the
voyage out on the Ranger, and though I am supercargo and sit at the
captain's table, I have to turn to and work like any of the others--fine
exercise, but my hands are cracked and blistered and full of tar. I'll
have to wear gloves the next time I dine with you."
Not a word of this to his mother--no such hardships for her tender ears:
"Tell me about Kate, mother"--this from Rio--"how she looks; what she
says; does she ever mention my name? My love to Alec. Is Matthew still
caring for Spitfire, or has my father sold her?" Then followed the line:
"Give my father my respectful regards; I would send my love, but he no
longer cares for it."
The dear lady did not deliver the message. Indeed Harry's departure had
so widened the breach between the colonel and herself that they
practically occupied different parts of the house as far removed from
each other as possible. She had denounced him first to his face for the
boy's self-imposed exile, and again behind his back to her intimates.
Nor did her resolve waver even when the colonel was thrown from his
horse and so badly hurt that his eyesight was greatly impaired. "It is a
judgment on you," she had said, drawing her frail body up to its full
height. "You will now learn what other people suffer," and would have
kept on upstairs to her own room had not her heart softened at his
helplessness--a new role for the colonel.
He had made no answer at the time: he never answered her back. She was
too frail to be angry with, and then she was right about his being the
cause of her suffering--the first cause of it, at least. He had not yet
arrived at the point where he censured himself for all that had
happened. In fact since Harry's sudden exit, made without a word to
anybody at Moorlands except his mother and Alec, who went to town on a
hurry message,--a slight which cut him to the quick--he had steadily
laid the blame on everybody else connected with the affair;--generally
on St. George for his interference in his peace-making programme at the
club and his refusal, when ruined financially, to send the boy back to
him in an humble and contrite spirit. Neither had he recovered from the
wrath he had felt when, having sent John Gorsuch to ascertain from St.
George the amount of money he had paid out for his son, Temple had
politely sent Gorsuch, in charge of Todd, downstairs to Pawson, who in
turn, after listening to Todd's whispered message, had with equal
politeness shown Gorsuch the door, the colonel's signed check--the
amount unfilled--still in Gorsuch's pocket.
It was only when the Lord of Moorlands went into town to spend an hour
or so with Kate--and he was a frequent visitor prior to his
accident--that his old manner returned. He loved the girl dearly and was
never tired of talking to her. She was the only woman who would listen
when he poured out his heart.
And Kate always welcomed him gladly. She liked strong, decided men even
if they sometimes erred in their conclusions. Her grandfather, old
Captain Barkeley, had had the same masterfulness. He had been in
absolute command in his earlier years, and he had kept in command all
his life. His word was law, and he was generally right. She was twelve
years old when he died, and had, therefore, ample opportunity to know.
It was her grandfather's strong personality, in fact, which had given
her so clear an idea of her father's many weaknesses. Rutter, she felt,
was a combination of both Barkeley and Prim--forceful and yet warped by
prejudices; dominating yet intolerant; able to do big things and
contented with little ones. It was forcefulness, despite his many
shortcomings, which most appealed to her.
Moreover, she saw much of Harry in him. It was that which made her so
willing to listen--she continually comparing the father to the son.
These comparisons were invariably made in a circle, beginning at
Rutter's brown eyes, taking in his features and peculiarities--many of
them reproduced in his son's--such as the firm set of the lips and the
square line of the chin--and ending, quite naturally, with the brown
orbs again. While Harry's matched the color and shape, and often the
fierce glare of the father's, they could also, she said to herself,
shine with the soft light of the mother's. It was from the mother's
side, then, that there came the willingness to yield to whatever tempted
him--it may be to drink--to a false sense of honor--to herself: Harry
being her slave instead of her master. And the other men around her--so
far as yielding was concerned (here her brow would tighten and her lips
straighten)--were no better. Even Uncle George must take her own "No"
for an answer and believe it when she meant quite a different thing. And
once more would her soul break out in revolt over the web in which she
had become entangled, and once more would she cry herself to sleep.
Nobody but her old black mammy knew how tragic had been her sufferings,
how many bitter hours she had passed, nor how many bitter tears she had
shed. Yet even old Henny could not comfort her, nor was there any one
else to whom the girl could pour out her heart. She had, it is true,
kept up her intimacy with her Uncle George--hardly a week passed that
she was not a visitor at his house or he at hers--but they had long
since refrained from discussing Harry. Not because he did not want to
talk about him, but because she would not let him--Of course not!
To Richard Horn, however, strange to say, she often turned--not so much
for confidences as for a broader understanding of life. The thoughtful
inventor was not so hedged about by social restrictions, and would break
out in spontaneous admiration of Harry, saying with a decisive nod of
his head, "A fine, splendid young fellow, my dear Kate; I recognized it
first at St. George's dinner to Mr. Poe, and if I may say so, a
much-abused young man whose only sin is that he, like many another about
us, has been born under a waning star in a sky full of murky clouds; one
that the fresh breeze of a new civilization will some day clear away"--a
deduction which Kate could not quite grasp, but which comforted her
It delighted her, too, to hear him talk of the notable occurrences
taking place about them. "You are wonderfully intelligent, my dear," he
had said to her on one occasion, "and should miss nothing of the
developments that are going on about us;" and in proof of it had the
very next day taken her to an exhibition of Mr. Morse's new telegraph,
given at the Institute, at which two operators, each with an instrument,
the men in sight of each other, but too far apart to be in collusion,
were sending and answering the messages through wires stretched around
the hall. She, at Richard's suggestion, had written a message herself,
which she handed to the nearest operator who had ticked it to his
fellow, and who at once read it to the audience. Even then many doubting
Thomases had cried out "Collusion," until Richard, rising in his seat,
had not only endorsed the truth of the reading, but explained the
invention, his statement silencing all opposition because of his
well-known standing and knowledge of kindred sciences.
Richard's readings also, from which Kate was never absent, and which had
now been resumed at his own house, greatly interested her. These of late
had been devoted to many of Poe's earlier poems and later tales, for
despite the scene at St. George's the inventor had never ceased to
believe in the poet.
And so with these occupations, studies, investigations, and social
pleasures--she never missing a ball or party (Willits always managing to
be with her)--and the spending of the summer months at the Red Sulphur,
where she had been pursued by half a dozen admirers--one a titled
Englishman--had the days and hours of the years of Harry's absence
passed slowly away.
At the end of the second winter a slight change occurred in the monotony
of her life. Her constant, unwavering devotee, Langdon Willits, fell ill
and had to be taken to the Eastern Shore, where the same old lot of
bandages--that is of the same pattern--and the same loyal sister were
impressed into service to nurse him back to health. The furrow Harry's
bullet had ploughed in his head still troubled him at times, especially
in the hot weather, and a horseback ride beside Kate one August day,
with the heat in the nineties, had started the subsoil of his cranium to
aching with such vehemence that Teackle had promptly packed it in ice
and ten days later its owner in blankets and had put them both aboard
the bay boat bound for the Eastern Shore.
Whether this new irritant--and everything seemed to annoy her now--had
begun to tell on our beautiful Kate, or whether the gayety of the winter
both at home and in Washington, where she had spent some weeks during
the season, had tired her out, certain it was that when the spring came
the life had gone out of her step and the color from her cheeks. Mammy
Henny had noticed it and had coddled her the more, crooning and petting
her; and her father had noticed it and had begun to be anxious, and at
last St. George had stalked in and cried out in that breezy, joyous way
of his that nothing daunted:
"Here, you sweetheart!--what have you been doing to your cheeks--all the
roses out of them and pale as two lilies--and you never out of bed until
twelve o'clock in the day and looking then as if you hadn't had a wink
of sleep all night. Not a word out of you, Seymour, until I've finished.
I'm going to take Kate down to Tom Coston's and keep her there till she
gets well. Too many stuffy balls--too many late suppers--oyster roasts
and high doings. None of that at Tom's. Up at six and to bed at ten.
I've just had a letter from him and dear Peggy is crazy to have us come.
Take your mare along, Kate, and you won't lack fresh air. Now what do
you say, Seymour?"
Of course the Honorable Prim bobbed his honorable head and said he had
been worried himself over Kate's loss of appetite, and that if Temple
would, etc., etc.--he would--etc., etc.--and so Mammy Henny began to
get pink and white and other fluffy things together, and Ben, with Todd
to help, led Joan, her own beloved saddle horse, down to the dock and
saw that she was safely lodged between decks, and then up came a coach
(all this was two days later) and my lady drove off with two hair trunks
in front and a French bonnet box behind--St. George beside her, and fat
Mammy Henny in white kerchief and red bandanna, opposite, and Todd in
one of St. George's old shooting-jackets on the box next the driver,
with his feet on two of the dogs, the others having been loaned to a
And it was a great leave-taking when the party reached the wharf. Not
only were three or four of her girl friends present, but a dozen or more
of the old merchants forsook their desks, when the coach unlimbered,
most of them crossing the cobbles--some bare-headed, and all of them in
high stocks and swallow-tail coats--pens behind their ears, spectacles
on their pates--to bid the young princess good-by.
For Kate was still "our Kate," in the widest and broadest sense and the
pride and joy of all who knew her, and many who didn't. That she had a
dozen beaux--and that some of them had tried to bore holes in each other
for love of her; and that one of them was now a wanderer and another in
a state of collapse, if report were true--was quite as it should be. Men
had died for women a hundred times less worthy and a thousand times less
beautiful, and men would die of love again. When at last she made up her
mind she would choose the right man, and in the meantime God bless her
for just being alive.
And she was never more alive or more charming than to-day.
"Oh, how delightful of you, Mr. Murdoch, and you too, Mr. Bowdoin--and
Max--and all of you, to cross those wretched stones. No, wait, I'll come
to you--" she had called out, when with a stamp of her little feet she
had shaken the pleats from her skirt--adding when they had all kissed
her hand in turn--"Yes--I am going down to be dairy-maid at Peggy
Coston's," at which the bald-headed old fellows, with their hands
upraised in protest at so great a sacrilege, bowed to the ground, their
fingers on their ruffled shirt-fronts, and the younger ones lifted their
furry hats and kept them in the air until she had crossed the gang-plank
and Todd and Mammy Henny, and Ben who had come to help, lost their
several breaths getting the impatient dogs and baggage aboard--and so
she sailed away with Uncle George as chaperon, the whole party throwing
kisses back and forth.
Their reception at Wesley, the ancestral home of the Costons, although
it was late at night when they arrived, was none the less joyous. Peggy
was the first to welcome the invalid, and Tom was not far behind.
"Give her to me, St. George," bubbled Peggy, enfolding the girl in her
arms. "You blessed thing! Oh, how glad I am to get hold of you! They
told me you were ill, child--not a word of truth in it! No, Mr. Coston,
you sha'n't even have one of her little fingers until I get through
loving her. What's your mammy's name--Henny? Well, Henny, you take Miss
Kate's things into her room--that one at the top of the stairs."
And then the Honorable Tom Coston said he'd be doggoned if he was going
to wait another minute, and he didn't--for Kate kissed him on both
cheeks and gave him her father's message, congratulating him on his
appointment as judge, and thanking him in advance for all the kindness
he would show his daughter.
But it was not until she awoke next morning and looked out between the
posts of her high bedstead through the small, wide-open window
overlooking the bay that her heart gave the first bound of real
gladness. She loved the sky and the dash of salt air, laden now with the
perfume of budding fruit trees, that blew straight in from the sea. She
loved, too, the stir and sough of the creaking pines and the cheery
calls from the barnyard. Here she could get her mind settled; here, too,
she could forget all the little things that had bothered her--there
would be no more invitations to accept or decline; no promises she must
keep. She and her Uncle George could have one long holiday--she needed
it and, goodness knows, he needed it after all his troubles--and they
would begin as soon as breakfast was over. And they did--the dogs
plunging ahead, the two hand in hand, St. George, guide and philosopher,
pointing out this and that characteristic feature of the once famous
estate and dilating on its past glory.
"Even in my father's day," he continued, his face lighting up, "it was
one of the great show places of the county. The stables held twenty
horses and a coach, besides no end of gigs and carryalls. This broad
road on which we walk was lined with flower-beds and shaded by
live-oaks. Over there, near that little grove, were three great barns
and lesser out-buildings, besides the negro quarters, smoke-houses, and
hay-ricks. Really a wonderful place in its day, Kate."
Then he went on to tell of how the verandas were shaded with
honeysuckles, and the halls, drawing-rooms, and dining-room crowded
with furniture; how there were yellow damask curtains, and screens, and
hair-cloth sofas and a harmonicon of musical glasses which was played by
wetting one's fingers in a bowl of water and passing them over the
rims--he had played on it himself when a boy; and slaves galore--nearly
one hundred of them, not to mention a thousand acres of tillable land to
plough and harrow, as well as sheep, oxen, pigs, chickens,
ducks--everything that a man of wealth and position might have had in
the old days, and about every one of which St. George had a memory.
Then when Tom's father, who was the sole heir, took charge (here his
voice dropped to a whisper) dissolution proceedings set in--and Tom
finished them! and St. George sighed heavily as he pointed out the
changes:--the quarters in ruins, the stables falling to pieces, the
gates tied up with strings or swinging loose; and the flocks, herds, and
live-stock things of the past. Nor had a negro been left--none Tom
really owned: one by one they had been sold or hired out, or gone off
nobody knew where, he being too lazy, or too indifferent, or too
good-natured, to hunt them up. The house, as Kate had seen, was equally
neglected. Even what remained of the old furniture was on its last
legs--the curtains patched, or in shreds--the carpets worn into holes.
Kate listened eagerly, but she did not sigh. It was all charming to her
in the soft spring sunshine, the air a perfume, the birds singing, the
blossoms bursting, the peach-trees anthems of praise--and best of all
her dear Uncle George strolling at her side. And then everything was so
clean and fresh and sweet in every nook and corner of the tumble-down
house. Peggy, as she soon discovered, looked after that--in fact Peggy
looked after everything that required looking after--and everything
did--including the judge. Mr. Coston was tired, Peggy would say, or Mr.
Coston had not been very well, so she just did it herself instead of
bothering him. Since his promotion it was generally "the judge" who was
too tired, being absorbed in his court duties, etc., etc. But it always
came with a laugh, and it was always genuine, for to wait upon him and
look after him and minister to him was her highest happiness.
Good for nothing as he would have been to some women--unpractical,
lazy--a man few sensible wives would have put up with--Peggy adored him;
and so did his children adore him, and so, for that matter, did his
neighbors, many of whom, although they ridiculed him behind his back,
could never escape the charm of his personality whenever they sat beside
This chair--the only comfortable chair in the house, by the way--had, in
his less distinguished days, been his throne. In it he would sit all day
long, cutting and whittling, filing and polishing curious trinkets of
tortoise-shell for watch-guards and tiny baskets made of cherry-stones,
cunningly wrought and finished. He was an expert, too, in corn-cob
pipes, which he carved for all his friends; and pin-wheels for
everybody's children. When it came, however, to such matters as a
missing hinge to the front door, a brick under a tottering chimney, the
straightening of a falling fence, the repairing of a loose lock on the
smoke-house--or even the care of the family carryall, which despite its
great age and infirmities was often left out in the rain to rust and
ruin--these things must, of course, wait until the overworked father of
the house found time to look after them.
The children loved him the most. They asked for nothing better than to
fix him in his big chair by the fender, throw upon the fire a basket of
bark chips from the wood-yard, and enough pitch-pine knots to wake them
up, and after filling his pipe and lighting it, snuggle close--every
bend and curve of the wide-armed splint-bottomed comfort packed full,
all waiting to hear him tell one of his stories. Sometimes it was the
tale of the fish and the cuff-button--how he once dropped his
sleeve-link overboard, and how a year afterward he was in a shallop on
the Broadwater fishing for rockflsh when he caught a splendid fellow,
which when Aunt Patience cleaned--(here his voice would drop to a
whisper)--"What do you think!--why out popped the sleeve-link that was
in his cuff this minute!" And for the hundredth time the bit of gold
would be examined by each child in turn. Or it was the witch
story--about the Yahoo wild man with great horns and a lashing tail, who
lived in the swamp and went howling and prowling about for plunder and
prey. (This was always given with a low, prolonged growl, like a dog in
pain--all the children shuddering.) And then followed the oft-told tale
of how this same terrible Yahoo once came up with Hagar, who was riding
a witch pony to get to the witches' dance in the cane-brake, and how he
made off with her to the swamp, where she had had to cook for
him--ever--ever--ever since. (Long-drawn breath, showing that all was
over for that day at least.)
Todd got the true inwardness of the situation before he had been many
days at Wesley: for the scene with the children was often repeated when
court was not in session.
"Fo' Gawd, Marse George, hab you had time to watch dat gemman, de jedge?
Dey do say he's sumpin' great, but I tell ye he's dat lazy a fly stuck
in 'lasses 'd pass him on de road."
St. George laughed heartily in reply, but he did not reprimand him.
"What makes you think so, Todd?"
"Can't help thinkin' so. I wuz standin' by de po'ch yisterday holdin'
Miss Kate's mare, when I yere de mistis ask de jedge ter go out an' git
'er some kindlin' f'om de wood-pile. He sot a-rockin' hisse'f in dat big
cheer ob his'n an' I yered him say--'Yes, in a minute,' but he didn't
move. Den she holler ag'in at him an' still he rock hisse'f, sayin' he's
comin'. Den, fust thing I knowed out she come to de woodpile an' git it
herse'f, an' den when she pass him wid 'er arms full o' wood he look up
an' say--'Peggy, come yere an' kiss me--I dunno what we'd do widout
ye--you'se de Lawd's anointed, sho'.'"
Kate got no end of amusement out of him, and would often walk with him
to court that she might listen to his drolleries--especially his queer
views of life--the simplest and most unaffected to which she had ever
bent her ears. Now and then, as time went on, despite her good-natured
toleration of his want of independence--he being always dominated by his
wife--she chanced, to her great surprise, upon some nuggets of hard
common-sense of so high an assay that they might really be graded as
wisdom--his analysis of men and women being particularly surprising.
Those little twinkling, and sometimes sleepy, eyes of his, now that she
began to study him the closer, reminded her of the unreadable eyes of an
elephant she had once seen--eyes that presaged nothing but inertia,
until whack went the trunk and over toppled the boy who had teased him.
And with this new discovery there developed at last a certain respect
for the lazy, good-natured, droll old man. Opinions which she had
heretofore laughed at suddenly became of value; criticisms which she had
passed over in silence seemed worthy of further consideration.
Peggy, however, fitted into all the tender places of her heart. She had
never known her own mother; all she remembered was a face bending close
and a soft hand that tucked in the coverlet one night when she couldn't
sleep. The memory had haunted her from the days of her childhood--clear
and distinct, with every detail in place. Had there been light enough in
her mother's bed-room, she was sure she could have added the dear face
itself to her recollection. Plump, full-bosomed, rosy-cheeked Peggy
(fifteen years younger than Tom) supplied the touch and voice, and all
the tenderness as well, that these sad memories recalled, and all that
the motherless girl had yearned for.
And the simple, uneventful life--one without restraints of any kind,
greatly satisfied her: so different from her own at home with Prim as
Chief Regulator. Everybody, to her delight, did as they pleased, each
one following the bent of his or her inclination. St. George was out at
daybreak in the duck-blinds, or, breakfast over, roaming the fields with
his dogs, Todd a close attendant. The judge would stroll over to court
an hour or more late, only to find an equally careless and contented
group blocking up the door--"po' white trash" most of them, each one
with a grievance. Whenever St. George accompanied him, and he often did,
his Honor would spend even less time on the bench--cutting short both
ends of the session, Temple laughing himself sore over the judge's
"And he stole yo' shoat and never paid for him?" he heard his honor say
one day in a hog case, where two farmers who had been waiting hours for
Tom's coming were plaintiff and defendant. "How did you know it was yo'
shoat--did you mark him?"
"Tie a tag around his neck?"
"Well, you just keep yo' hogs inside yo' lot. Too many loose hogs
runnin' 'round. Case is dismissed and co't is adjourned for the day,"
which, while very poor law, was good common-sense, stray hogs on the
public highway having become a nuisance.
With these kindly examples before her, Kate soon fell into the ways of
the house. If she did not wish to get up she lay abed and Peggy brought
her breakfast with her own hands. If, when she did leave her bed, she
went about in pussy-slippers and a loose gown of lace and frills without
her stays, Peggy's only protest was against her wearing anything
else--so adorable was she. When this happy, dreamy indolence began to
pall upon her--and she could not stand it for long--she would be up at
sunrise helping Peggy wash and dress her frolicsome children or get them
off to school, and this done, would assist in the housework--even
rolling the pastry with her own delicate palms, or sitting beside the
bubbling, spontaneous woman, needle in hand, aiding with the family
mending--while Peggy, glad of the companionship, would sit with ears
open, her mind alert, probing--probing--trying to read the heart of the
girl whom she loved the better every day. And so there had crept into
Kate's heart a new peace that was as fresh sap to a dying plant,
bringing the blossoms to her cheeks and the spring of wind-blown
branches to her step.
Then one fine morning, to the astonishment of every one, and greatly to
Todd's disgust, no less a person than Mr. Langdon Willits of "Oak Hill"
(distant three miles away) dismounted at Coston's front porch, and
throwing the reins to the waiting darky, stretched his convalescent, but
still shaky, legs in the direction of the living-room, there to await
the arrival of "Miss Seymour of Kennedy Square," who, so he informed
Todd, "expected him."
Todd scraped a foot respectfully in answer, touched his cocoanut of a
head with his monkey claw of a finger, waited until the broad back of
the red-headed gentleman had been swallowed up by the open door, and
then indulged in this soliloquy:
"Funny de way dem bullets hab o' missin' folks. Des a leetle furder down
an' dere wouldn't 'a' been none o' dis yere foolishness. Pity Marse
Harry hadn't practised some mo'. Ef he had ter do it ag'in I reckon he'd
pink him so he neber be cavortin' 'roun' like he is now."
Willits's sudden appearance filled St. George with ill-concealed
anxiety. He did not believe in this parade of invalidism, nor did he
like Kate's encouraging smile when she met him--and there was no
question that she did smile--and, more portentous still, that she
enjoyed it. Other things, too, she grew to enjoy, especially the long
rides in the woods and over to the broad water. For Willits's health
after a few days of the sunshine of Kate's companionship had undergone
so renovating a process that the sorrel horse now arrived at the porch
almost every day, whereupon Kate's Joan would be led out, and the
smiled-upon gentleman in English riding-boots and brown velvet jacket
and our gracious lady in Lincoln green habit with wide hat and sweeping
plume would mount their steeds and be lost among the pines.
Indeed, to be exact, half of Kate's time was now spent in the saddle,
Willits riding beside her. And with each day's outing a new and, to St.
George, a more disturbing intimacy appeared to be growing between them.
Now it was Willits's sister who had to be considered and especially
invited to Wesley--a thin wisp of a woman with tortoise-shell sidecombs
and bunches of dry curls, who always dressed in shiny black silk and
whose only ornament was her mother's hair set in a breastpin; or it was
his father by whom she must sit when he came over in his gig--a bluff,
hearty man who generally wore a red waistcoat with big bone buttons and
high boots with tassels in front.
This last confidential relation, when the manners and bearing of the
elder man came under his notice, seemed to St. George the most
unaccountable of all. Departures from the established code always jarred
upon him, and the gentleman in the red waistcoat and tasselled boots
often wandered so far afield that he invariably set St. George's teeth
on edge. Although he had never met Kate before, he called her by her
first name after the first ten minutes of their acquaintance--his son,
he explained, having done nothing but sound her praises for the past two
years, an excuse which carried no weight in gentleman George's mind
because of its additional familiarity. He had never dared, he knew, to
extend that familiarity to Peggy--it had always been "Mrs. Coston" to
her and it had always been "Mr. Coston" to Tom, and it was now "your
Honor" or "judge" to the dispenser of justice. For though the owner of
Oak Hill lived within a few miles of the tumble-down remnant that
sheltered the Costons; and though he had fifty servants to their one, or
half a one--and broad acres in proportion, to say nothing of flocks and
herds--St. George had always been aware that he seldom crossed their
porch steps or they his. That little affair of some fifty or more years
ago was still remembered, and the children of people who did that sort
of thing must, of course, pay the penalty. Even Peggy never failed to
draw the line. "Very nice people, my dear," he had heard her say to Kate
one day when the subject of the younger man's family had come up. "Mr.
Willits senior is a fine, open-hearted man, and does a great deal of
good in the county with his money--quite a politician, and they do say
has a fair chance of some time being governor of the State. But very few
of us about here would want to marry into the family, all the same. Oh
no, my dear Kate, of course there was nothing against his grandmother.
She was a very nice woman, I believe, and I've often heard my own mother
speak of her. Her father came from Albemarle Sound, if I am right, and
was old John Willits's overseer. The girl was his daughter."
Kate had made no answer. Who Langdon Willits's grandmother was, or
whether he had any grandmother at all, did not concern her in the least.
She rather admired the young Albemarle Sound girl for walking boldly
into the Willits family--low born as she was--and making them respect
But none of Peggy's outspoken warnings nor any of St. George's silent
acceptances of the several situations--always a mark of his
disapproval--checked the game of love-making which was going on--the
give-and-take stage of it, with the odds varying with each new shifting
of the cards, both Peggy and St. George growing the more nervous.
"She's going to accept him, St. George," Peggy had said to him one
morning as he stood behind her chair while she was shelling the peas for
dinner. "I didn't think so when he first came, but I believe it now. I
have said all I could to her. She has cuddled up in my arms and cried
herself sick over it, but she won't hold out much longer. Young Rutter
left her heart all torn and bleeding and this man has bound up the sore
places. She will never love anybody that way again--and may be it is
just as well. He'd have kept her guessing all her life as to what he'd
do next. I wish Willits's blood was better, for she's a dear, sweet
child and proud as she can be, only she's proud over different things
from what I would be. But you can make up your mind to it--she'll keep
him dangling for a while yet, as she did last summer at the Red Sulphur,
but she'll be his wife in a year or less--you mark my words. You haven't
yet heard from the first one, have you?--as to when he's coming home?"
St. George hadn't heard--he sighed in return--a habit of his lately: