The one problem that gave him serious trouble was the selection of the precise moment when he should make a strategic move on Kate's heart; lesser problems were his manner of approaching her and the excuses he would offer for Harry's behavior. These not only kept him awake at night, but pursued him like an avenging spirit when he sought the quiet paths of the old square, the dogs at his heels. The greatest of all barriers, he felt assured, would be Kate herself. He had seen enough of her in that last interview, when his tender pleading had restored the harmonies between herself and Harry, to know that she was no longer the child whose sweetness he loved, or the girl whose beauty he was proud of—but the woman whose judgment he must satisfy. Nor could he see that any immediate change in her mental attitude was likely to occur. Some time had now passed since Harry's arrival at his house, and every day the boy had begged for admission at Kate's door, only to be denied by Ben, the old butler. His mother, who had visited her exiled son almost daily, had then called on her, bearing two important pieces of news—one being that after hours of pleading Harry had consented to return to Moorlands and beg his father's pardon, provided that irate gentleman should send for him, and the other the recounting of a message of condolence and sympathy which Willits had sent Harry from his sick-bed, in which he admitted that he had been greatly to blame. (An admission which fairly bubbled out of him when he learned that Harry had assisted Teackle in dressing his wound.)
And yet with all this pressure the young girl had held her own. To every one outside the Rutter clan she had insisted that she was sorry for Harry, but that she could never marry a man whose temper she could not trust. She never put this into words in answering the well-meant inquiries of such girl friends as Nellie Murdoch, Sue Dorsey, and the others; then her eyes would only fill with tears as she begged them not to question her further. Nor had she said as much to her father, who on one occasion had asked her the plump question—"Do you still intend to marry that hot-head?"—to which she had returned the equally positive answer—"No, I never shall!" She reserved her full meaning for St. George when he should again entreat her—as she knew he would at the first opportunity—to forget the past and begin the old life once more.
At the end of the second week St. George had made up his mind as to his course; and at the end of the third the old diplomat, who had dared defeat before, boldly mounted the Seymour steps. He would appeal to Harry's love for her, and all would be well. He had done so before, picturing the misery the boy was suffering, and he would try it again. If he could only reach her heart through the armor of her reserve she would yield.
She answered his cheery call up the stairway in person, greeting him silently, but with arms extended, leading him to a seat beside her, where she buried her face in her hands and burst into tears.
"Harry has tried to see you every day, Kate," he began, patting her shoulders lovingly in the effort to calm her. "I found him under your window the other night; he walks the streets by the hour, then he comes home exhausted, throws himself on his bed, and lies awake till daylight."
The girl raised her head and looked at him for a moment. She knew what he had come for—she knew, too, how sorry he felt for her—for Harry—for everybody who had suffered because of this horror.
"Uncle George," she answered, choking back her tears, speaking slowly, weighing each word—"you've known me from a little girl—ever since my dear mother died. You have been a big brother to me many, many times and I love you for it. If I were determined to do anything that would hurt me, and you found it out in time, you would come and tell me so, wouldn't you?"
St. George nodded his head in answer, but he did not interrupt. Her heart was being slowly unrolled before him, and he would wait until it was all bare.
"Now," she continued, "the case is reversed, and you want me to do something which I know will hurt me."
"But you love him, Kate?"
"Yes—that is the worst part of it all," she answered with a stifled sob—"yes, I love him." She lifted herself higher on the cushions and put her beautiful arms above her head, her eyes looking into space as if she was trying to solve the problem of what her present resolve would mean to both herself and Harry.
St. George began again: "And you remember how—"
She turned impatiently and dropped one hand until it rested on his own. He thought he had never seen her look so lovely and never so unhappy. Then she said in pleading tones—her eyes blinded by half-restrained tears:
"Don't ask me to REMEMBER, dear Uncle George—help me to forget! You can do no kinder thing for both of us."
"But think of your whole future happiness, Kate—think how important it is to you—to Harry—to everybody—that you should not shut him out of your life."
"I have thought! God knows I have thought until sometimes I think I shall go mad. He first breaks his promise about drinking and I forgive him; then he yields to a sudden impulse and behaves like a mad-man and you ask me to forgive him again. He never once thinks of me, nor of my humiliation!" Her lips were quivering, but her voice rang clear.
"He thinks of nothing else BUT you," he pleaded. "Let your heart work—don't throw him into the street as his father has done. He loves you so."
"I—throw HIM in the street! He has thrown ME—mortified me before everybody—behaved like a—No,—I can't—I won't discuss it!"
"No—not another word. I love you too much to let this come between us. Let us talk of something else—anything—ANYTHING."
The whole chart of her heart had been unrolled. Her head and not her heart was dominant. He felt, moreover, that no argument of his would be of any use. Time might work out the solution, but this he could not hasten. Nor, if the truth be told, did he blame her. It was, from the girl's point of view, most unfortunate, of course, that the two calamities of Harry's drunkenness and the duel had come so close together. Perhaps—and for the first time in his life he weakened before her tears—perhaps if he had thrown the case of pistols out of the window, sent one man to his father and the other back to Kennedy Square, it might all have been different—but then again, could this have been done, and if it had been, would not all have to be done over again the next day? At last he asked hopelessly:
"Have you no message for Harry?"
"None," she answered resolutely.
"And you will not see him?"
"No—we can never heal wounds by keeping them open." This came calmly, and as if she had made up her mind, and in so determined a tone that he saw it meant an end to the interview.
He rose from his seat and without another word turned toward the door. She gained her feet slowly, as if the very movement caused her pain; put her arms around his neck, kissed him on the cheek, followed him to the door, waved her hand to him as she watched him pick his way across the square, and threw herself on her lounge in an agony of tears.
That night St. George and Harry sat by the smouldering wood fire; the early spring days were warm and joyous, but the nights were still cool. The boy sat hunched up in his chair, his face drawn into lines from the anxiety of the past week; his mind absorbed in the story that St. George had brought from the Seymour house. As in all ardent temperaments, these differences with Kate, which had started as a spark, had now developed into a conflagration which was burning out his heart. His love for Kate was not a part of his life—it was ALL of his life. He was ready now for any sacrifice, no matter how humiliating. He would go down on his knees to his father if she wished it. He would beg Willits's pardon—he would abase himself in any way St. George should suggest. He had done what he thought was right, and he would do it over again under like circumstances, but he would grovel at Kate's feet and kiss the ground she stepped on if she required it of him.
St. George, who had sat quiet, examining closely the backs of his finely modelled hands as if to find some solution of the difficulty written in their delicate articulated curves, heard his outburst in silence. Now and then he would call to Todd, who was never out of reach of his voice—no matter what the hour—to replenish the fire or snuff the candles, but he answered only in nods and monosyllables to Harry. One suggestion only of the heart-broken lover seemed to promise any result, and that was his making it up with his father as his mother had suggested. This wall being broken down, and Willits no longer an invalid, perhaps Kate would see matters in a different and more favorable light.
"But suppose father doesn't send for me, Uncle George, what will I do then?"
"Well, he is your father, Harry."
"And you think then I had better go home and have it out with him?"
St. George hesitated. He himself would have seen Rutter in Hades before he would have apologized to him. In fact his anger choked him so every time he thought of the brutal and disgraceful scene he had witnessed when the boy had been ordered from his home, that he could hardly get his breath. But then Kate was not his sweetheart, much as he loved her.
"I don't know, Harry. I am not his son," he answered in an undecided way. Then something the boy's mother had said rose in his mind: "Didn't your mother say that your father's loneliness without you was having its effect?—and wasn't her advice to wait until he should send for you?"
"Yes—that was about it."
"Well, your mother would know best. Put that question to her next time she comes in—I'm not competent to answer it. And now let us go to bed—you are tired out, and so am I."
Mysterious things are happening in Kennedy Square. Only the very wisest men know what it is all about—black Moses for one, who tramps the brick walks and makes short cuts through the dirt paths, carrying his tin buckets and shouting: "Po' ole Moses—po' ole fellah! O-Y-S-T-E-R-S! O-Y-STERS!" And Bobbins, the gardener, who raked up last year's autumn leaves and either burned them in piles or spread them on the flower-beds as winter blankets. And, of course, Mockburn, the night watchman: nothing ever happens in and around Kennedy Square that Mockburn doesn't know of. Many a time has he helped various unsteady gentlemen up the steps of their houses and stowed them carefully and noiselessly away inside, only to begin his rounds again, stopping at every corner to drone out his "All's we-l-l!" a welcome cry, no doubt, to the stowaways, but a totally unnecessary piece of information to the inhabitants, nothing worse than a tippler's tumble having happened in the forty years of the old watchman's service.
I, of course, am in the secret of the mysterious happenings and have been for more years than I care to admit, but then I go ten better than Mockburn. And so would you be in the secret had you watched the process as closely as I have done.
It is always the same!
First the crocuses peep out—dozens of crocuses. Then a spread of tulips makes a crazy-quilt of a flowerbed; next the baby buds, their delicate green toes tickled by the south wind, break into laughter. Then the stately magnolias step free of their pods, their satin leaves falling from their alabaster shoulders—grandes dames these magnolias! And then there is no stopping it: everything is let loose; blossoms of peach, cherry, and pear; flowers of syringa—bloom of jasmine, honeysuckle, and Virginia creeper; bridal wreath in flowers of white and wistaria in festoons of purple.
Then come the roses—millions of roses; on single stalks; in clusters, in mobs; rushing over summer-houses, scaling fences, swarming up trellises—a riotous, unruly, irresistible, and altogether lovable lot these roses when they break loose!
And the birds! What a time they are having—thrush, bobolinks, blackbirds, nightingales, woodpeckers, little pee-wees, all fluttering, skimming, chirping; bursting their tiny throats for the very joy of living. And they are all welcome—and it wouldn't make any difference to them if they hadn't been; they would have risked it anyway, so tempting are the shady paths and tangled arbors and wide-spreading elms and butternuts of Kennedy Square.
Soon the skies get over weeping for the lost winter and dry their eyes, and the big, warm, happy sun sails over the tree-tops or drops to sleep, tired out, behind the old Seymour house, and the girls come out in their white dresses and silk sashes and the gallants in their nankeens and pumps and the old life of out-of-doors begins once more.
And these are not the only changes that the coming of spring has wrought. What has been going on deep down in the tender, expectant hearts of root and bulb, eager for expression, had been at work in Harry's own temperament. The sunshine of St. George's companionship has already had its effect; the boy is thawing out; his shrinking shyness, born of his recent trouble, is disappearing like a morning frost. He is again seen at the club, going first under St. George's lee and then on his own personal footing.
The Chesapeake, so St. George had urged upon him, was the centre of news—the headquarters, really, of the town, where not only the current happenings and gossip of Kennedy Square were discussed, but that of the country at large. While the bald-heads, of course, would be canvassing the news from Mexico, which was just beginning to have an ugly look, or having it out, hammer and tongs, over the defeat of Henry Clay, to which some rabid politicians had never become reconciled, the younger gentry—men of Harry's own tastes—would be deploring the poor showing the ducks were making, owing to the up-river freshets which had spoiled the wild celery; or recounting the doings at Mrs. Cheston's last ball; or the terrapin supper at Mr. Kennedy's, the famous writer; or perhaps bemoaning the calamity which had befallen some fellow member who had just found seven bottles out of ten of his most precious port corked and worthless. But whatever the topics, or whoever took sides in their discussion, none of it, so St. George argued, could fail to interest a young fellow just entering upon the wider life of a man of the world, and one, of all others, who needed constant companionship. Then again, by showing himself frequently within its walls, Harry would become better known and better liked.
That he was ineligible for membership, being years too young, and that his continued presence, even as a guest, was against the rules, did not count in his case, or if it did count, no member, in view of what the lad had suffered, was willing to raise the question. Indeed, St. George, in first introducing him, had referred to "my friend, Mr. Rutter," as an "out of town guest," laughing as he did so, everybody laughing in return, and so it had gone at that.
At first Harry had dreaded meeting his father's and his uncle's friends, most of whom, he fancied, might be disposed to judge him too harshly. But St. George had shut his ears to every objection, insisting that the club was a place where a man could be as independent as he pleased, and that as his guest he would be entitled to every consideration.
The boy need not have been worried. Almost every member, young and old, showed by his manner or some little act of attention that their sympathies were with the exile. While a few strait-laced old Quakers maintained that it was criminal to blaze away at your fellow-man with the firm intention of blowing the top of his head off, and that Harry should have been hung had Willits died, there were others more discerning—and they were largely in the majority—who stood up for the lad however much they deplored the cause of his banishment. Harry, they argued, had in his brief career been an unbroken colt, and more or less dissipated, but he at least had not shown the white feather. Boy as he was, he had faced his antagonist with the coolness of a duellist of a score of encounters, letting Willits fire straight at him without so much as the wink of an eyelid; and, when it was all over, had been man enough to nurse his victim back to consciousness. Moreover—and this counted much in his favor—he had refused to quarrel with his irate father, or even answer him. "Behaved himself like a thoroughbred, as he is," Dorsey Sullivan, a famous duellist, had remarked in recounting the occurrence to a non-witness. "And I must say, sir, that Talbot served him a scurvy trick, and I don't care who hears me say it." Furthermore—and this made a great impression—that rather than humiliate himself, the boy had abandoned the comforts of his palatial home at Moorlands and was at the moment occupying a small, second-story back room (all, it is true, Gentleman George could give him), where he was to be found any hour of the day or night that his uncle needed him in attendance upon that prince of good fellows.
One other thing that counted in his favor, and this was conclusive with the Quakers—and the club held not a few—was that no drop of liquor of any kind had passed the boy's lips since the eventful night when St. George prepared the way for their first reconciliation.
Summed up, then, whatever Harry had been in the past, the verdict at the present speaking was that he was a brave, tender-hearted, truthful fellow who, in the face of every temptation, had kept his word. Moreover, it was never forgotten that he was Colonel Talbot Rutter's only son and heir, so that no matter what the boy did, or how angry the old autocrat might be, it could only be a question of time before his father must send for him and everything at Moorlands go on as before.
It was on one of these glorious never-to-be-forgotten spring days, then, a week or more after St. George had given up the fight with Kate—a day which Harry remembered all the rest of his life—that he and his uncle left the house to spend the afternoon, as was now their custom, at the Chesapeake. The two had passed the early hours of the day at the Relay House fishing for gudgeons, the dogs scampering the hills, and having changed their clothes for something cooler, had entered the park by the gate opposite the Temple Mansion, as being nearest to the club; a path Harry loved, for he and Kate had often stepped it together—and then again, it was the shortest cut to her house.
As the beauty and quiet of the place with its mottling of light and shade took possession of him he slackened his pace, lagging a little behind his uncle, and began to look about him, drinking in the loveliness of the season. The very air breathed tenderness, peace, and comfort. Certainly his father's heart must be softening toward him; surely his bitterness could not last. No word, it is true, had yet come to him from Moorlands, though only the week before his mother had been in to see him, bringing him news of his father and what her son's absence had meant to every one, old Alec especially. She had not, she said, revived the subject of the boy's apology; she had thought it better to wait for the proper opportunity, which might come any day, but certain it was that his father was most unhappy, for he would shut himself up hours at a time in his library, locking the door and refusing to open it, no matter who knocked, except to old John Gorsuch, his man of business. She had also heard him tossing on his bed at night, or walking about his room muttering to himself.
Did these things, he wondered on this bright spring morning, mean a final reconciliation, or was he, after all, to be doomed to further disappointment? Days had passed since his mother had assured him of this change in his father, and still no word had come from him. Had he at last altered his mind, or, worse still, had his old obstinacy again taken possession of him, hardening his heart so that he would never relent? And so, with his mind as checkered as the shadow-flecked path on which they stepped, he pursued his way beneath the wide-spreading trees.
When the two had crossed the street St. George's eye rested upon a group on the sidewalk of the club. The summer weather generally emptied the coffee-room of most of its habitues, sending many of them to the easy-chairs on the sprinkled pavement, one or two tipped back against the trees, or to the balconies and front steps. With his arm in Harry's he passed from one coterie to another in the hope that he might catch some word which would be interesting enough to induce him to fill one of the chairs, even for a brief half-hour, but nothing reached his ears except politics and crops, and he cared for neither. Harding—the pessimist of the club—a man who always had a grievance (and this time with reason, for the money stringency was becoming more acute every day), tried to beguile him into a seat beside him, but he shook his head. He knew all about Harding, and wanted none of his kind of talk—certainly not to-day.
"Think of it!" he had heard the growler say to Judge Pancoast as he was about to pass his chair—"the Patapsco won't give me a cent to move my crops, and I hear all the others are in the same fix. You can't get a dollar on a house and lot except at a frightful rate of interest. I tell you everything is going to ruin. How the devil do you get on without money, Temple?" He was spread out in his seat, his legs apart, his fat face turned up, his small fox eyes fixed on St. George.
"I don't get on," remarked St. George with a dry smile. He was still standing. "Why do you ask?" Money rarely troubled St. George; such small sums as he possessed were hived in this same Patapsco Bank, but the cashier had never refused to honor one of his checks as long as he had any money in their vaults, and he didn't think they would begin now. "Queer question for you to ask, Harding" (and a trifle underbred, he thought, one's private affairs not being generally discussed at a club). "Why does it interest you?"
"Well, you always say you despise money and yet you seem happy and contented, well dressed, well groomed"—here he wheeled St. George around to look at his back—"yes, got on one of your London coats—Hello, Harry!—glad to see you," and he held out his hand to the boy. "But really, St. George, aren't you a little worried over the financial outlook? John Gorsuch says we are going to have trouble, and John knows."
"No"—drawled St. George—"I'm not worried."
"And you don't think we're going to have another smash-up?" puffed Harding.
"No," said St. George, edging his way toward the steps of the club as he spoke. He was now entirely through with Harding; his financial forebodings were as distasteful to him as his comments on his clothes and bank account.
"But you'll have a julep, won't you? I've just sent John for them. Don't go—sit down. Here, John, take Mr. Temple's order for—"
"No, Harding, thank you." The crushed ice in the glass was no cooler nor crisper than St. George's tone. "Harry and I have been broiling in the sun all the morning and we are going to go where it is cool."
"But it's cool here," Harding called after him, struggling to his feet in the effort to detain him. There was really no one in the club he liked better than St. George.
"No—we'll try it inside," and with a courteous wave of his hand and a feeling of relief in his heart, he and Harry kept on their way.
He turned to mount the steps when the sudden pushing back of all the chairs on the sidewalk attracted his attention. Two ladies were picking their way across the street in the direction of the club. These, on closer inspection, proved to be Miss Lavinia Clendenning and her niece, Sue Dorsey, who had been descried in the offing a few minutes before by the gallants on the curbstone, and who at first had been supposed to be heading for Mrs. Pancoast's front steps some distance away, until the pair, turning sharply, had borne down upon the outside chairs with all sails set—(Miss Clendenning's skirts were of the widest)—a shift of canvas which sent every man to his feet with a spring.
Before St. George could reach the group, which he did in advance of Harry, who held back—both ladies being intimate friends of Kate's—old Captain Warfield, the first man to gain his feet—very round and fat was the captain and very red in the face (1812 Port)—was saying with his most courteous bow:
"But, my dear Miss Lavinia, you have not as yet told us to what we are indebted for this mark of your graciousness; and Sue, my dear, you grow more like your dear mother every day. Why are you two angels abroad at this hour, and what can we do for you?"
"To the simple fact, my dear captain," retorted the irresistible spinster, spreading her skirts the wider, both arms akimbo—her thin fingers acting as clothespins, "that Sue is to take her dancing lesson next door, and as I can't fly in the second-story window, having mislaid my wings, I must use my feet and disturb everybody. No, gentlemen—don't move—I can pass."
The captain made so profound a salaam in reply that his hat grazed the bricks of the sidewalk.
"Let me hunt for them, Miss Lavinia. I know where they are!" he exclaimed, with his hand on his heart.
"Where?" she asked roguishly, twisting her head on one side with the movement of a listening bird.
"In heaven, my lady, where they are waiting your arrival," he answered, with another profound sweep of his hand and dip of his back, his bald head glistening in the sunlight as he stooped before her.
"Then you will never get near them," she returned with an equally low curtsy and a laugh that nearly shook her side curls loose.
St. George was about to step the closer to take a hand in the badinage—he and the little old maid were forever crossing swords—when her eyes fell upon him. Instantly her expression changed. She was one of the women who had blamed him for not stopping the duel, and had been on the lookout for him for days to air her views in person.
"So you are still in town, are you?" she remarked frigidly in lowered tones. "I thought you had taken that young firebrand down to the Eastern Shore to cool off."
St. George frowned meaningly in the effort to apprise her ladyship that Harry was within hearing distance, but Miss Lavinia either did not, or would not, understand.
"Two young boobies, that's what they are, breaking their hearts over each other," she rattled on, gathering the ends of her cape the closer. "Both of them ought to be spanked and put to bed. Get them into each other's arms just as quick as you can. As for Talbot Rutter, he's the biggest fool of the three, or was until Annie Rutter got hold of him. Now I hear he is willing to let Harry come back, as if that would do any good. It's Kate who must be looked after; that Scotch blood in her veins makes her as pig-headed as her father. No—I don't want your arm, sir—get out of my way."
If the courtiers heard—and half of them did—they neither by word or expression conveyed that fact to Harry or St. George. It was not intended for their ears, and, therefore, was not their property. With still more profound salutations from everybody, the three bareheaded men escorted them to the next stoop, the fourth going ahead to see that the door was properly opened, and so the ladies passed on, up and inside the house. This over, the group resumed its normal condition on the sidewalk, the men regaining their seats and relighting their cigars (no gentleman ever held one in evidence when ladies were present)—fresh orders being given to the servants for the several interrupted mixtures with which the coterie were wont to regale themselves.
Harry, who had stood with shoulders braced against a great tree on the sidewalk, had heard every word of the old maid's outburst, and an unrestrained burst of joy had surged up in his heart. His father was coming round! Yes—the tide was turning—it would not be long before Kate would be in his arms!
St. George held no such sanguine view, although he made no comment. In fact the outbreak had rather depressed him. He knew something of Talbot's stubbornness and did not hope for much in that direction, nor, if the truth be told, did he hope much in Kate's. Time alone could heal her wounds, and time in the case of a young girl, mistress of herself, beautiful, independent, and rich, might contain many surprises.
It was with a certain sense of relief, therefore, that he again sought the inside of the club. Its restful quiet would at least take his mind from the one subject which seemed to pursue him and which Miss Clendenning's positive and, as he thought, inconsiderate remarks had so suddenly revived.
Before he had reached the top step his face broke out into a broad smile. Instantly his spirits rose. Standing in the open front door, with outstretched hand, was the man of all others he would rather have seen—Richard Horn, the inventor.
"Ah, St. George, but I'm glad to see you!", cried Richard. "I have been looking for you all the afternoon and only just a moment ago got sight of you on the sidewalk. I should certainly have stepped over to your house and looked you up if you hadn't come. I've got the most extraordinary thing to read to you that you have ever listened to in the whole course of your life. How well you look, and what a fine color you have, and you too, Harry. You are in luck, my boy. I'd like to stay a month with Temple myself."
"Make it a year, Richard," cried St. George, resting his hand affectionately on the inventor's shoulder. "There isn't a chair in my house that isn't happier when you sit in it. What have you discovered?—some new whirligig?"
"No, a poem. Eighteen to twenty stanzas of glorious melody imprisoned in type."
"One of your own?" laughed St. George—one of his merry vibrating laughs that made everybody happier about him. The sight of Richard had swept all the cobwebs out of his brain.
"No, you trifler!—one of Edgar Allan Poe's. None of your scoffing, sir! You may go home in tears before I am through with you. This way, both of you."
The three had entered the coffee-room now, Richard's arm through St. George's, Harry following close. The inventor drew out the chairs one after another, and when they were all three seated took a missive from his pocket and spread it out on his knee, St. George and Harry keeping their eyes on his every movement.
"Here's a letter, St. George"—Richard's voice now fell to a serious key—"which I have just received from your friend and mine, Mr. N. P. Willis. In it he sends me this most wonderful poem cut from his paper—the Mirror—and published, I discover to my astonishment, some months back. I am going to read it to you if you will permit me. It certainly is a most remarkable production. The wonder to me is that I haven't seen it before. It is by that Mr. Poe you met at my house some years ago—you remember him?—a rather sad-looking man with big head and deep eyes?" Temple nodded in answer, and Harry's eyes glistened: Poe was one of his university's gods. "Just let me read to you what Willis says"—here he glanced down the letter sheet: "'Nothing, I assure you, my dear Horn, has made so great a stir in literary circles as this "Raven" of Poe's. I am sending it to you knowing that you are interested in the man. If I do not mistake I first met Poe one night at your house.' And a very extraordinary night it was, St. George," said Richard, lifting his eyes from the sheet. "Poe, if you remember, read one of his stories for us, and both Latrobe and Kennedy were so charmed that they talked of nothing else for days."
St. George remembered so clearly that he could still recall the tones of Poe's voice, and the peculiar lambent light that flashed from out the poet's dark eyes—the light of a black opal. He settled himself back in his chair to enjoy the treat the better. This was the kind of talk he wanted to-day, and Richard Horn, of all others, was the man to conduct it.
The inventor's earnestness and the absorbed look on St. George's and Harry's faces, and the fact that Horn was about to read aloud, had attracted the attention of several near-by members, who were already straining their ears, for no one had Richard's gift for reading.
In low, clear tones, his voice rising in intensity as the weird pathos of the several stanzas gripped his heart, he unfolded the marvellous drama until the very room seemed filled with the spirit of both the man and the demon. Every stanza in his clear enunciation seemed a separate string of sombre pearls, each syllable aglow with its own inherent beauty. When he ceased it was as if the soul of some great 'cello had stopped vibrating, leaving only the memory of its melody. For a few seconds no one moved nor spoke. No one had ever heard Richard in finer voice nor had they ever listened to more perfect rhythmic beauty. So great was the effect on the audience that one old habitue, in speaking of it afterward, insisted that Richard must have seen the bird roosting over the door, so realistic was his rendering.
Harry had listened with bated breath, absorbing every tone and inflection of Richard's voice. He and Poe had been members of the same university, and the poet had always been one of his idols—the man of all others he wanted most to know. Poe's former room opening into the corridor had invariably attracted him. He had frequently looked about its bare walls wondering how so great an inspiration could have started from such meagre surroundings. He had, too, with the romantic imagination of a boy, pictured to himself the kind of man he was, his looks, voice, and manner, and though he had never seen the poet in the flesh, somehow the tones of Richard's voice recalled to him the very picture he had conjured up in his mind in his boyhood days.
St. George had also listened intently, but the impression was quite different from the one made on the younger man. Temple thought only of Poe's despondency, of his striving for a better and happier life; of his poverty—more than once had he gone down into his own pockets to relieve the poor fellow's urgent necessities, and he was still ready to do it again—a readiness in which he was almost alone, for many of the writer's earlier friends had of late avoided meeting him whenever he passed through Kennedy Square. Even Kennedy, his life-long friend, had begun to look upon him as a hopeless case.
This antipathy was also to be found in the club. Even with the memory of Richard's voice in their ears one of the listeners had shrugged his shoulders, remarking with a bitter laugh that musical as was the poem, especially as rendered by Richard, it was, after all, like most of Poe's other manuscripts, found in a bottle, or more likely "a bottle found in a manuscript," as that crazy lunatic couldn't write anything worth reading unless he was half drunk. At which St. George had blazed out:
"Hush, Bowdoin! You ought to be willing to be blind drunk half your time if you could write one stanza of it! Please let me have it, Richard," and he took the sheet from his friend's hand, that he and Harry might read it at their leisure when they reached home.
Harry's blood had also boiled at the rude thrust. While under the spell of Richard's voice a cord in his own soul had vibrated as does a glass globe when it responds in perfect harmony to a note from a violin. He too had a Lenore whose loss had wellnigh broken his heart. This in itself was an indissoluble bond between them. Besides, he could understand the poet as Alec and his mother and his Uncle George understood himself. He had begun now to love the man in his heart.
With his mind filled with these thoughts, his hunger for Kate aroused tenfold by the pathos and weird beauty of what he had just heard, he left the group of men who were still discussing the man and his verses, and joined his uncle outside on the top step of the club's high stoop, from which could be seen the full length of the sun-flecked street on which the clubhouse stood, as well as the park in all its spring loveliness.
Unconsciously his eyes wandered across the path where Kate's house stood. He could see the tall chimneys and the slope of the quaint roof, and but that the foliage hid the lower part, could have seen Kate's own windows. She was still at home, he had heard, although she was expected to leave for the Red Sulphur any day.
Suddenly, from away up the street, past the corner of the park, there reached his ears a low winding note, which grew louder as it turned the corner, followed by the rattle of wheels and the clatter of horses' feet. He leaned forward and craned his head in the direction of the sound, his heart in his throat, the blood mounting to his cheeks. If that was not his father's horn it was wonderfully like it. At the same moment a coach-and-four swept in sight, driven by a man in a whitey-brown coat and stiff furry hat, with two grooms behind and a coachman next to him on the box. It was heading straight for the club.
Every man was on his feet.
"By Jove!—it's Rutter. Bowdoin!—Clayton!—here comes the colonel!"
Again the horn gave out a long withering, wiry note ringing through the leaves and along the brick pavement, and the next instant the leaders were gathered up, the wheel-horses hauled taut, the hub of the front wheel of the coach halting within an inch of the horse-block of the club.
"Bravo, Rutter! Best whip in the county! Not a man in England could have done it better. Let me help you down!"
The colonel shook his head good-humoredly, rose in his seat, shifted a bunch of violets to his inner lapel, slipped off his driving-coat, threw it across the rail, dropped his whip in the socket, handed his heavy gloves to his groom, and slid gracefully to the sidewalk. There he shook hands cordially with the men nearest him, excused himself for a moment until he had inspected his off leader's forefoot—she had picked up a stone on the way in from Moorlands—patted the nigh wheel-horse, stamped his own feet lustily as if to be sure he was all there, and, with a lordly bow to those about him, slowly mounted the steps of the club.
Harry had already risen to his feet and stood trembling, one hand clutching the iron railing that guarded the marble steps. A great throb of joy welled up in his throat. His mother was right—the loneliness had overpowered his father; he still loved him, and Miss Clendenning's prediction was coming true! Not only was he willing to forgive him, but he had come himself to take him home. He could hardly wait until his father reached his side, so eager was he to open his arms and hands and his lips in apology—and Kate!—what joy would be hers!
St. George had also gained his feet. What had brought the colonel into town, he said to himself, and in such state—and at this hour of the day, too? Could it be that Harry was the cause?
"How were the roads, Talbot?" he called out in his customary cheery tones. He would start fair, anyway.
The colonel, who, head down, had been mounting the marble steps one at a time, inspecting each slab as he climbed, after the manner of men thoroughly satisfied with themselves, and who at the same time are conscious of the effect of their presence on those about them, raised his head and gazed in astonishment at the speaker. Then his body straightened up and he came to a stand-still. He looked first into St. George's face, then into Harry's, with a cold, rigid stare; his lips shut tight, his head thrown back, his whole frame stiff as an iron bar—and without a word of recognition of any kind, passed through the open door and into the wide hall. He had cut both of them dead.
Harry gave a half-smothered cry of anguish and turned to follow his father into the club.
St. George, purple with rage, laid his hand on the boy's arm, so tight that the fingers sank into the flesh: there were steel clamps inside these delicate palms when occasion required.
"Keep still," he hissed—"not a word, no outburst. Stay here until I come for you. Stop, Rutter: stand where you are!" The two were abreast of each other now. "You dare treat your son in that way? Horn—Murdoch—Warfield—all of you come out here! What I've got to say to Talbot Rutter I want you to hear, and I intend that not only you but every decent man and woman in Kennedy Square shall hear!"
The colonel's lips quivered and his face paled, but he did not flinch, nor did his eyes drop.
"You are not a father, Talbot—you are a brute! There is not a dog in your kennels that would not treat his litter better than you have treated Harry! You turned him out in the night without a penny to his name; you break his mother's heart; you refuse to hear a word he has to say, and then you have the audacity to pass him on the steps of this club where he is my guest—my guest, remember—look him squarely in the face and ignore him. That, gentlemen, is what Talbot Rutter did one minute ago. You have disgraced your blood and your name and you have laid up for your old age untold misery and suffering. Never, as long as I live, will I speak to you again, nor shall Harry, whom you have humiliated! Hereafter I am his father! Do you hear?"
During the whole outburst the colonel had not moved a muscle of his face nor had he shifted his body a quarter of an inch. He stood with his back to the door through which could be seen the amazed faces of his fellow-members—one hand tight shut behind his back, the other loose by his side, his eyes fixed on his antagonist. Then slowly, one word at a time, as if he had purposely measured the intervals of speech, he said, in a voice hardly heard beyond the door, so low was it:
"Yes, by God!—I am, and forever!"
"Then, gentlemen"—and he waved his hand courteously to the astounded listeners—"may I ask you all to join me? John, bring the juleps!"
All the way back to his house St. George's wrath kept him silent. He had rarely been so stirred. He was not a brawler—his whole life had been one of peace; his whole ambition to be the healer of differences, and yet there were some things he could not stand. One of these was cruelty to a human being, and Rutter's public disowning of Harry was cruelty of the most contemptible kind. But one explanation of such an outrage was possible—the man's intolerable egoism, added to his insufferable conceit. Only once did Temple address Harry, walking silently by his side under the magnolias, and then only to remark, more to himself than to his companion—"It's his damned, dirty pride, Harry—that's what it is!"
Harry also held his peace. He had no theories regarding his father's conduct: only facts confronted him, one being that he had purposely humiliated him before the men who had known him from a boy, and with whom his future life must be cast. The end had come now. He was adrift without a home. Even Kate was lost. This last attack of his father's would widen the breach between them, for she would never overlook this last stigma when she heard of it, as she certainly must. Nobody would then be left on his side except his dear mother, the old house servants, and St. George, and of these St. George alone could be of any service to him.
It had all been so horrible too, and so undeserved—worse than anything he had ever dreamed of; infinitely worse than the night he had been driven from Moorlands. Never in all his life had he shown his father anything but obedience and respect; furthermore, he had loved and admired him; loved his dash and vigor; his superb physique for a man of his years—some fifty odd—loved too his sportsmanlike qualities—not a man in the county was his equal in the saddle, and not a man in his own or any other county could handle the ribbons so well. If his father had not agreed with him as to when and where he should teach a vulgarian manners, that had been a question about which gentlemen might differ, but to have treated him with contempt, to insult him in public, leaving him no chance to defend himself—force him, really, into a position which made it impossible for him to strike back—was altogether a different thing, and for that he would never, never forgive him.
Then a strange thing happened in the boy's mind. It may have been the shifting of a grain of gray matter never called into use before; or it may have been due to some stranded red corpuscle which, dislodged by the pressure he had lately been called upon to endure, had rushed headlong through his veins scouring out everything in its way until it reached his thinking apparatus. Whatever the cause, certain it was that the change in the boy's view of life was as instantaneous as it was radical.
And this was quite possible when his blood is considered. There had been, it is true, dominating tyrants way back in his ancestry, as well as spend-thrifts, drunkards, roysterers, and gamesters, but so far as the records showed there had never been a coward. That old fellow De Ruyter, whose portrait hung at Moorlands and who might have been his father, so great was the resemblance, had, so to speak, held a shovel in one hand and a sword in the other in the days when he helped drown out his own and his neighbors' estates to keep the haughty don from gobbling up his country. One had but to look into Harry's face to be convinced that he too would have followed in his footsteps had he lived in that ancestor's time.
It was when the boy, smarting under his father's insult, was passing under the blossoms of a wide-spreading magnolia, trying to get a glimpse of Kate's face, if by any chance she should be at her window, that this grain of gray matter, or lively red corpuscle—or whatever it might have been—forced itself through. The breaking away was slow—little by little—as an underground tunnel seeks an opening—but the light increased with every thought-stroke, its blinding intensity becoming so fierce at last that he came to a halt, his eyes on the ground, his whole body tense, his mind in a whirl.
Suddenly his brain acted.
To sit down and snivel would do no good; to curse his father would be useless and wicked; to force himself on Kate sheer madness. But—BUT—BUT—he was twenty-two!—in perfect health and not ashamed to look any man in the face. St. George loved him—so did his precious mother, and Alec, and a host of others. Should he continue to sit in ashes, swaddled in sackcloth—or should he meet the situation like a man? Then as his mental vision became accustomed to the glare, two things stood out clear in his mind—to win Kate back, no matter at what cost—and to compel his father's respect.
His mother was the first to hear the music of this new note of resolve, and she had not long to wait. She had come to town with the colonel—indeed it was at her request that he had ordered the coach instead of coming in on horseback, as was his custom—and was at the moment quietly resting on St. George's big sofa.
"It is all over, mother," Harry cried in a voice so firm and determined that his mother knew at once something unusual had happened—"and you might as well make up your mind to it—I have. Father walked into the club five minutes ago, looked me square in the face, and cut me dead; and he insulted Uncle George too, who gave him the greatest dressing down you ever heard in your life." He had learned another side of his uncle's character—one he should never cease to be grateful for—his outspoken defence of him before his equals.
Mrs. Rutter half rose from her seat in blank astonishment. She was a frail little woman with pale-blue eyes and a figure like a curl of smoke.
"Your—father—did not—speak—to—you!" she exclaimed excitedly. "You say—your father—But how dare he!"
"But he did!" replied Harry in a voice that showed the incident still rankled in his mind—"and right in the club, before everybody."
"And the other gentlemen saw it?" She stood erect, her delicate body tightening up. There was a strain of some old-time warrior in her blood that would brook no insult to her son.
"Yes, half a dozen gentlemen saw it. He did it purposely—so they COULD see. I'll never forgive him for it as long as I live. He had no business to treat me so!" His voice choked as he spoke, but there was no note of surrender or of fear.
She looked at him in a helpless sort of way. "But you didn't answer back, did you, my son?" This came in a tone as if she feared to hear the details, knowing the boy's temperament, and his father's.
"I didn't say a word; Uncle George wouldn't let me. I'm glad now he stopped me, for I was pretty mad, and I might have said something I would have been sorry for." The mother gave a sigh of relief, but she did not interrupt, nor did she relax the tautness of her body. "You ought to have heard Uncle George, though!" Harry rushed on. "He told him there was not a dog at Moorlands who would not have treated his puppy better than he had me—and another thing he told him—and that was that after to-day I was HIS son forever!"
St. George had been standing at the front window with his back to them, looking out upon the blossoms. At this last outburst he turned, and said over his shoulder:
"Yes—that's true, Annie—that's what I said and what I mean. There is no use wasting any more time over Talbot, and I don't intend to."
"But Mr. Rutter will get over his temper." (She never called him by any other name.)
"Then he will have to come here and say so. I shall never step foot in his house until he does, nor will Harry. As to his forgiving Harry—the boot is on the other leg; it is Talbot, not the boy he outraged, who must straighten out to-day's work. There was not a man who heard him who was not ashamed of him. Oh!—I have no patience with this sort of thing! The only son he's got—his only child! Abominable—unforgivable! And it will haunt him to his dying day! Poor as I am, alone in the world and without a member of my family above ground, I would not change places with him. No—Annie—I know how you feel, and God knows I have felt for you all these years, but I tell you the end has come! It's finished—over—I told him so to his face, and I mean it!"
The slight body sank back into her chair and her eyes filled with tears. Harry knelt beside her and put his arms about her. This mother, frail as she was, had always been his refuge and comfort: now he must do the comforting! (Keep moving, old red corpuscle, there is a lot of work ahead of you!)
"Don't worry, you dear little mother," he said tenderly. "I don't know how it's coming out, but it will come out somehow. Let father go: Kate is the only thing that counts now. I don't blame her for anything she has done, and I don't blame myself either. All I know is that everything has gone wrong. But, wrong or right, I'm going to stay here just as long as Uncle George will let me. He's been more of a father to me than my own. It's you I can't get along without, you precious little mother," and he patted her pale cheeks. "Won't you come in every day—and bring Alec too?" then, as if he had not yet asked her consent—"You don't mind my being here, do you?"
She drew his head close to her lips and kissed his cheek. "No, my son, I don't mind—I'm glad. Every night of my life I thank my Maker that you are here." She raised her eyes to St. George, who stood looking down upon them both, and in a voice barely audible, an unbidden sob choking her utterance, faltered—"It's only one more proof of your goodness, St. George."
He raised his hand in protest and a faint smile crossed his face. "Don't talk that way. Annie."
"I will—it's true. It is a proof of your goodness. I have never deserved it. I don't now—but you never fail me." Her voice was clearer now—her cheeks, too, had regained some of their color. Harry listened wonderingly, his arm still around her.
"I couldn't do anything else, Annie—nobody could under the circumstances." His voice had dropped almost to a whisper.
"But it was for me you did it, St. George. I would rather think of it that way; it makes it easier. Say you did it for me."
St. George stooped down, raised her thin white hand to his lips, kissed it reverently, and without a word of any kind walked to the door of his bedroom and shut it behind him.
Mrs. Rutter's hand dropped to her lap and a smile of intense relief passed over her face. She neither looked after St. George, nor did she offer any explanation to Harry; she merely bent forward and continued her caresses, stroking the boy's glossy hair, patting the white temples with her delicate fingers, smoothing the small, well-set ears and the full brown throat, kissing his forehead, her eyes reading his face, wondering if she had spoken too freely and yet regretting nothing: what she had said had come straight from her heart and she was not ashamed of it.
The boy lay still, his head against her breast. That his mother had been stirred even in a greater degree over what St. George had said to her than she had been by his father's treatment of him was evident in the trembling movement of the soft hands caressing his hair and in the way her breath came and went. Under her soothing touch his thoughts went back to the events of the morning:—his uncle's defiant tones as he denounced his father; his soft answer to his mother; her pleading words in reply, and then the reverent kiss.
Suddenly, clear as the tones of a far-off convent bell sifting down from some cloud-swept crag, there stole into his mind a memory of his childhood—a legend of long ago, vague and intangible—one he could not put into words—one Alec had once hinted at. He held his breath trying to gather up the loose ends—to make a connected whole; to fit the parts together. Then, as one blows out a candle, leaving total darkness, he banished it all from his mind.
"Mother dear!—mother dear!" he cried tenderly, and wound his arms the closer about her neck.
She gathered him up as she had done in the old days when he was a child at her breast; all the intervening years seemed blotted out. He was her baby boy once more—her constant companion and unending comfort: the one and only thing in her whole life that understood her.
Soon the warmth and strength of the full man began to reach her heart. She drew him still closer, this strong son who loved her, and in the embrace there grew a new and strange tenderness—one born of confidence. It was this arm which must defend her now; this head and heart which must guide her. She was no longer adrift.
The two had not moved when St. George re-entered the room some moments later. Harry's head still lay on her breast, the thin, transparent hands tight about his neck.
The colonel's treatment of Harry at the club had cleared the air of any doubt that either the boy or St. George might have had concerning Rutter's frame of mind. Henceforth the boy and the man would conduct their lives as if the Lord of Moorlands did not exist.
So the boy unpacked the things which Alec had brought in, and with his mother's assistance—who came in once a week—hung up his hunting-clothes in the closet, racked up his guns and fishing-rods over the mantel, and suspended his favorite saddle by a stirrup on a hook in the hall. Then the two had set out his books and miniatures; one of his mother, which he kissed tenderly, with the remark that it wasn't half as pretty as the original, and then propped up in the place of honor in the middle of his desk, and another of his father, which he placed on an adjoining table—as well as his few belongings and knickknacks. And so the outcast settled down determined not only to adapt himself to the comforts—or want of them—to be found under St. George's roof, but to do it cheerfully, gratefully, and like a man and a gentleman.
To none of all this did his father offer a single objection. "Make a clean sweep of Mr. Harry Rutter's things," he had said to Alec, "so that I may be relieved from the annoyance of a second delivery."
Alec had repeated the order to Harry word for word, adding: "Don't you sass back, Marse Harry—let him blow hisse'f out—he don't mean nothin'. He's dat mad he's crazy—gits dat way sometimes—den purty soon he's fit to bust hisse'f wide open a-cryin'! I see him do dat once when you warn't mo'n so high, and de doctor said you was daid fo' sho'."
Harry made no reply, but it did not ruffle his temper. His duty was no longer to be found at Moorlands; his Uncle George claimed him. All his hours would now be devoted to showing him how grateful he was for his protection and guidance. Time enough for his father, and time enough for Kate, for that matter, should the clouds ever lift—as lift they would—but his Uncle George first, last, and all the time.
And St. George appreciated it to the full. Never had he been so happy. Even the men at the club saw the change, and declared he looked ten years younger—fifteen really, when Harry was with him, which was almost always the case—for out of consideration for St. George and the peculiar circumstances surrounding the boy's condition, his birth and station, and the pride they took in his pluck, the committee had at last stretched the rule and had sent Mr. Henry Gilmor Rutter of Moorlands—with special reference to "Moorlands," a perennial invitation entitling him to the club's privileges—a card which never expired because it was systematically renewed.
And it was not only at the club that the two men were inseparable. In their morning walks, the four dogs in full cry; at the races; in the hunts, when some one loaned both Harry and his uncle a mount—at night, when Todd passed silently out, leaving all the bottled comforts behind him—followed by—"Ah, Harry!—and you won't join me? That's right, my son—and I won't ask you," the two passed almost every hour of the day and night together. It was host one minute and father the next.
And this life, if the truth be told, did not greatly vary from the one the boy had always led, except that there was more of town and less of country in it than he had heretofore been accustomed to. The freedom from all care—for the colonel had trained Harry to neither business nor profession—was the same, and so was the right to employ his time as he pleased. At Moorlands he was busy over his horses and dogs, his sporting outfits, riding to hounds, cock-fights—common in those days—and, of course, assisting his father and mother in dispensing the hospitality of the house. In Kennedy Square St. George was his chief occupation, and of the two he liked the last the best. What he had hungered for all his life was sympathy and companionship, and this his father had never given him; nor had he known what it was since his college days. Advice, money, horses, clothes, guns—anything and everything which might, could, or would redound to the glory of the Rutters had been his for the asking, but the touch of a warm hand, the thrill in the voice when he had done something to please and had waited for an acknowledgment—that had never come his way. Nothing of this kind was needed between men, his father would say to Harry's mother—and his son was a man now. Had their child been a daughter, it would have been quite another thing, but a son was to be handled differently—especially an only son who was sole heir to one's entire estate.
And yet it must not be thought that the outcast spent his time in sheer idleness. St. George would often find him tucked away in one of his big chairs devouring some book he had culled from the old general's library in the basement—a room adjoining the one occupied by a firm of young lawyers—Pawson & Pawson (only one brother was alive)—with an entrance on the side street, it being of "no use to me" St. George had said—"and the rent will come in handy." Tales of the sea especially delighted the young fellow—the old admiral's blood being again in evidence—and so might have been the mother's fine imagination. It was Defoe and Mungo Park and Cooke who enchained the boy's attention, as well as many of the chronicles of the later navigators. But of the current literature of the day—Longfellow, Margaret Fuller, Hawthorne, and Emerson—no one appealed to him as did the man Poe. He and St. George had passed many an hour discussing him. Somehow the bond of sympathy between himself and the poet had become the stronger. Both had wept bitter tears over the calamities that had followed an unrequited love.
It was during one of these talks—and the poet was often under discussion—that St. George had suddenly risen from his chair, lighted a candle, and had betaken himself to the basement—a place he seldom visited—from which he brought back a thin, crudely bound, and badly printed, dust-covered volume bearing the title "Tamerlane:—by a Bostonian." This, with a smile he handed to Harry. Some friend had given him the little book when it was first published and he had forgotten it was in the house until he noted Harry's interest in the author. Then again, he wanted to see whether it was the boy's literary taste, never much in evidence, or his romantic conception of the much-talked-of poet, which had prompted his intense interest in the man.
"Read these poems, Harry, and tell me who wrote them," said St. George, dusting the book with a thrash of his handkerchief and tossing it to the young fellow.
The boy caught it, skimmed through the thin volume, lingered over one or two pages, absorbing each line, and replied in a decided and delighted voice: "The same man who wrote 'The Raven,' of course—there can't be any doubt of it. I can hear Mr. Horn's voice in every line. Why didn't you let me have it before?"
"Are you sure?" asked St. George, watching him closely.
"Am I sure?—of course I am! Listen to this:
"'We grew in age—and—love—together, Roaming the forest and the wild—'
"That's Kate and me, Uncle George," and he smiled sadly. "And then this line:
"'I saw no heaven but in her eyes.'
"And then these lines in 'The Raven'—wait—I will read them." He had the sheet of paper in his pocket which Richard Horn had read from at the club, and knew the poem now by heart:
"'Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if, within the distant Aidenn, It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels call Lenore'—
"That's me again. I wish I could read it like Mr. Horn. What a voice—so deep—so musical—like a great organ, or, rather, like one of the big strings on his violin."
"And what a mind, too, Harry," rejoined St. George. "Richard is a long way ahead of his time. His head is full of things that few around here understand. They hear him play the violin or read, and some go away calling him a genius, but when he talks to them about the way the railroads are opening up, and the new telegraph this man Morse is at work on, and what is going to come of it—or hear him discuss the development of the country along scientific lines, they shrug their shoulders and tap their foreheads. You want to talk to him every chance you get. That is one reason I am glad they let you permanently into the club, for he is too busy in his work-shop at home to speak to anybody. Nobody will do you so much good—and he likes you, Harry. He said to me only the other night when I was dining with him—the night you were at Mrs. Cheston's—that he felt sorry for you; that it was not your fault, or the fault of your father—but that you both had been caught in the ebb-tide of a period."
Harry laughed: "What did he mean by that?"
"I'll be hanged if I know. You made so good a guess on the Tamerlane, that it's just occurred to me to try you on this," and St. George laughed heartily. (St. George was adrift on the ebb-tide himself did he but know it.)
Harry thought earnestly for a moment, pondering upon what the inventor could have had in his mind. It couldn't have been politics that Mr. Horn meant; nor failure of the crops; nor the way the slaves were treated. None of these things affected him. Indeed none of them did he know anything of. Nor was he an expert on duelling. It must have been Kate. Yes—of course—it was Kate and her treatment of him. The "tide" was what had swept them apart.
"Oh, I know," he cried in an animated tone. "He meant Kate. Tell me—what did he say about her?" He had searched his books for some parallel from which to draw a conclusion, but none of them had given him any relief. May be Mr. Horn had solved the problem.
"He said she was the first of the flood, though he was mighty sorry for you both; and he said, too, that, as she was the first to strike out for the shore, Kennedy Square ought to build a triumphal arch for her," and St. George looked quizzically at Harry.
"Well, do you think there is any common sense in that?" blurted out the boy, twisting himself in his chair so he could get a better look at his uncle's face.
"No—it doesn't sound like it, but it may be profound wisdom all the same, if you can only see it from Richard's point of view. Try it. There's a heap of brains under his cranium."
Harry fell to tapping the arm of his chair. Queer reasoning this of Mr. Horn's, he said to himself. He had always thought that he and his father were on the tip-top of any kind of tide, flood or ebb—and as for Kate, she was the white gull that skimmed its crest!
Again Harry dropped into deep thought, shifting his legs now and then in his restless, impatient way. If there was any comfort to be gotten out of this new doctrine he wanted to probe it to the bottom.
"And what does he say of Mr. Poe? Does he think he's a drunken lunatic, like some of the men at the club?"
"No, he thinks he is one of the greatest literary geniuses the country has yet produced. He has said so for years—ever since he began to write. Willis first became acquainted with Mr. Poe through a letter Richard gave him, and now that the papers are full of him, and everybody is talking about him, these backbiters like Bowdoin want to get into line and say they always thought so. But Richard has never wavered. Of course Poe loses his balance and topples backward once in a while—but he's getting over it. That is his mistake and it is unfortunate, but it isn't a crime. I can forgive him anything he does so he keeps to his ideals. If he had had a better bringing up and knew the difference between good rain-water Madeira and bad pump water and worse whiskey he would keep as straight as a church deacon. Too bad he doesn't."
"Well," Harry answered at last, rising from his chair and brushing the ashes of his pipe from his clothes—"I don't know anything about Mr. Horn's tides, but he's right about Mr. Poe—that is, I hope he is. We've both, got a 'Lost Lenore,'" and his voice quivered. All Harry's roads ended at Kate's door.
And so with these and other talks, heart-burnings, outings, sports, and long tramps in the country, the dogs scampering ahead, the summer days slipped by.
Such were the soft, balmy conditions in and around the Temple Mansion—conditions bringing only peace and comfort—(heart-aches were kept in check)—when one August morning there came so decided a change of weather that everybody began at once to get in out of the wet. The storm had been brewing for some days up Moorlands way, where all Harry's storms started, but up to the present moment there had been no indications in and about Kennedy Square of its near approach, or even of its existence.
It was quite early in the day when the big drops began to patter down on Todd's highly polished knocker. Breakfast had been served and the mail but half opened—containing among other missives a letter from Poe acknowledging one from St. George, in which he wrote that he might soon be in Kennedy Square on his way to Richmond—a piece of news which greatly delighted Harry—and another from Tom Coston, inviting them both to Wesley for the fall shooting, with a postscript to the effect that Willits was "still at the Red Sulphur with the Seymours"—(a piece of news which greatly depressed him)—when Todd answered a thunderous rat-a-tat and immediately thereafter recrossed the hall and opened the dining-room door just wide enough to thrust in first his scared face—then his head—shoulder—arm—and last his hand, on the palm of which lay a small, greasy card bearing the inscription:
John Gadgem, Agent.
The darky, evidently, was not in a normal condition, for after a moment's nervous hesitation, his eyes over his shoulder as if fearing he was being followed, he squeezed in the rest of his body, closed the door softly behind him, and said in a hoarse whisper to the room at large:
"Dat's de same man been here three times yisterday. He asked fust fer Marse Harry, an' when I done tol' him he warn't home—you was 'sleep upstairs, Marse Harry, but I warn't gwineter 'sturb ye—he say he come back dis mawnin'."
"Well, but what does he want?" asked Harry, dropping a lump of sugar in his cup. He had been accumstomed to be annoyed by agents of all kinds who wanted to sell him one thing or another—and so he never allowed any one to get at him unless his business was stated beforehand. He had learned this from his father.
"I dun'no, sah."
"What does he look like, Todd?" cried St. George, breaking the seal of another letter.
"Wall, he ain't no gemman—he's jus' a pusson I reckon. I done tol' him you warn't out o' bed yit, but he said he'd wait. I got him shet outside, but I can't fool him no mo'. What'll I do now?"
"Well, what do you think he wants, then?" Harry burst out impatiently.
"Well," said Todd—"ef I was to tell ye God's truf', I reckon he wants money. He says he's been to de big house—way out to de colonel's, and dey th'owed him out—and now he's gwineter sit down yere till somebody listens to him. It won't do to fool wid him, Marse Harry—I see dat de fus' time he come. He's a he-one—and he's got horns on him for sho'. What'll I do?"
Both Harry and St. George roared.
"Why bring him in, of course—a 'pusson' with horns on him will be worth seeing."
A shabby, wizened-faced man; bent-in-the-back, gimlet-eyed, wearing a musty brown coat, soiled black stock, unspeakable linen, and skin-tight trousers held to his rusty shoes by wide straps—showing not only the knuckles of his knees but the streaked thinness of his upper shanks—(Cruikshank could have drawn him to the life)—sidled into the room, mopping his head with a red cotton handkerchief which he took from his hat.
"My name is GADgem, gentleman—Mr. John GADgem of GADgem & Combes.
"I am looking for Mr. Harry Rutter, whom I am informed—I would not say POSitively—but I am inFORMED is stopping with you, Mr. Temple. You forget me, Mr. Temple, but I do not forget you, sir. That little foreclosure matter of Bucks vs. Temple—you remember when—"
"Sit down," said St. George curtly, laying down his knife and fork. "Todd, hand Mr. Gadgem a chair."
The gimlet-eyed man—and it was very active—waved his hand deprecatingly.
"No, I don't think that is necessary. I can stand. I preFER to stand. I am acCUStomed to stand—I have been standing outside this gentleman's father's door now, off and on, for some weeks, and—"
"Will you tell me what you want?" interrupted Harry, curtly. References to Moorlands invariably roused his ire.
"I am coming to that, sir, slowly, but surely. Now that I have found somebody that will listen to me—that is, if you are Mr. Harry Rutter—" The deferential air with which he said this was admirable.
"Oh, yes—I'm the man," answered Harry in a resigned voice.
"Yes, sir—so I supposed. And now I look at you, sir"—here the gimlet was in full twist—"I would make an affidavit to that effect before any notary." He began loosening his coat with his skinny fingers, fumbling in his inside pocket, thrusting deep his hand, as if searching for an elusive insect in the vicinity of his arm-pit, his talk continuing: "Yes, sir, before any notary, you are so exactly like your father. Not that I've seen your father, sir, VERY MANY TIMES"—the elusive had evidently escaped, for his hand went deeper. "I've only seen him once—ONCE—and it was enough. It was not a pleasant visit, sir—in fact, it was a most UNpleasant visit. I came very near having cause for action—for assault, really. A very polite colored man was all that prevented it, and—Ah—here it is!" He had the minute pest now. "Permit me to separate the list from the exhibits."
At this Gadgem's hand, clutching a bundle of papers, came out with a jerk—so much of a jerk that St. George, who was about to end the comedy by ordering the man from the room, stopped short in his protest, his curiosity getting the better of him to know what the fellow had found.
"There, sir." Here he drew a long slip from the package, held it between his thumb and forefinger, and was about to continue, when St. George burst out with:
"Look here, Gadgem—if you have any business with Mr. Rutter you will please state it at once. We have hardly finished breakfast."
"I beg, sir, that you will not lose your temper. It is unBUSinesslike to lose one's temper. Gadgem & Combes, sir, NEVER lose their temper. They are men of peace, sir—ALways men of peace. Mr. Combes sometimes resorts to extreme measures, but NEVER Mr. Gadgem. I am Mr. Gadgem, sir," and he tapped his soiled shirt-front with his soiled finger-nail. "PEACE is my watchword, that is why this matter has been placed in my hands. Permit me, sir, to ask you to cast your eye over this."
Harry, who was getting interested, scanned the long slip and handed it to St. George, who studied it for a moment and returned it to Harry.
"You will note, I beg of you, sir, the first item." There was a tone of triumph now in Gadgem's voice. "One saddle horse sixteen hands high, bought of Hampson & Co. on the"—then he craned his neck so as to see the list over Harry's shoulder—"yes—on the SECOND of LAST September. Rather overdue, is it not, sir, if I may be permitted to remark?" This came with a lift of the eyebrows, as if Harry's oversight had been too naughty for words.
"But what the devil have I got to do with this?" The boy was thoroughly angry now. The lift of Gadgem's eyebrows did it.
"You rode the horse, sir." This came with a certain air of "Oh! I have you now."
"Yes, and he broke his leg and had to be shot," burst out Harry in a tone that showed how worthless had been the bargain.
"EXactly, sir. So your father told me, sir. You don't remember having PAID Mr. Hampson for him beFORE he broke his leg, do you, sir?" He had him pinned fast now—all he had to do was to watch his victim's struggles.
"Me? No, of course not!" Harry exploded.
"EXactly so, sir—so your father told me. FORcibly, sir—and as if he was quite sure of it."
Again he looked over Harry's shoulder, following the list with his skinny finger. At the same time he lowered his voice—became even humble. "Ah, there it is—the English racing saddle and the pair of blankets, and the—might I ask you, sir, whether you have among your papers any receipt for—?"
"But I don't pay these bills—I never pay any bills." Harry's tone had now reached a higher pitch.
"EXactly so, sir—just what your father said, sir, and with such vehemence that I moved toward the door." Out went the finger again, the insinuating voice keeping up. "And then the five hundred dollars from Mr. Slater—you see, sir, we had all these accounts placed in our hands with the expectation that your father would liquidate at one fell swoop—these were Mr. Combes's very words, sir: 'ONE FELL SWOOP.'" This came with an inward rake of his hand, his fingers grasping an imaginary sickle, Harry's accumulated debts being so many weeds in his way.
"And didn't he? He always has," demanded the culprit.
"EXactly so, sir—exactly what your father said."
"That he had heretofore always paid them."
"Well, then, take them to him!" roared Harry, breaking loose again. "I haven't got anything to do with them, and won't."
"Your father's PREcise words, sir," purred Gadgem. "And by the time he had uttered them, sir, I was out of the room. It was here, sir, that the very polite colored man, Alec by name, so I am informed, and of whom I made mention a few moments ago, became of inVALuable assistance—of very GREAT assistance, sir."
"You mean to tell me that you have seen my father—handed him these bills, and that he has refused to pay them?" Harry roared on.
"I DO, sir." Gadgem had straightened his withered body now and was boring into Harry's eyes with all his might.
"Will you tell me just what he said?" The boy was still roaring, but the indignant tone was missing.
"He said—you will not be offended, sir—you mean, of course, sir, that you would like me to state exACTly what your father said, proceeding as if I was under oath." It is indescribable how soft and mellifluous his voice had now become.
"He said, sir, that he'd be DAMNED if he'd pay another cent for a hot-headed fool who had disgraced his family. He said, sir, that you were of AGE—and were of age when you contracted these bills. He said, sir, that he had already sent you these accounts two days after he had ordered you from his house. And FInally, sir—I say, finally, sir, because it appeared to me at the time to be conclusive—he said, sir, that he would set the dogs on me if I ever crossed his lot again. HENCE, sir, my appearing three times at your door yesterday. HENCE, sir, my breaking in upon you at this unseemly hour in the morning. I am particular myself, sir, about having my morning meal disturbed; cold coffee is never agreeable, gentlemen—but in this case you must admit that my intrusion is pardonable."
The boy understood now.
"Come to think of it I have a bundle of papers upstairs tied with a red string which came with my boxes from Moorlands. I threw them in the drawer without opening them." This last remark was addressed to St. George, who had listened at first with a broad smile on his face, which had deepened to one of intense seriousness as the interview continued, and which had now changed to one of ill-concealed rage.
"Mr. Gadgem," gritted St. George between his teeth—he had risen from the table during the colloquy and was standing with his back to the mantel, the blood up to the roots of his hair.
"Lay the packages of bills with the memoranda on my desk, and I will look them over during the day."
"But, Mr. Temple," and his lip curled contemptuously—he had had that same trick played on him by dozens of men.
"Not another word, Mr. Gadgem. I said—I—would look—them—over—during—the—day. You've had some dealings with me and know exactly what kind of a man I am. When I want you I will send for you. If I don't send for you, come here to-morrow morning at ten o'clock and Mr. Rutter will give you his answer. Todd, show Mr. Gadgem out."
"But, Mr. Temple—you forGET that my duty is to—"
"I forget nothing. Todd, show Mr. Gadgem out."
With the closing of the door behind the agent, St. George turned to Harry. His eyes were snapping fire and his big frame tense with anger. This phase of the affair had not occurred to him—nothing in which money formed an important part ever did occur to him.
"A cowardly piece of business, Harry, and on a par with everything he has done since you left his house. Talbot must be crazy to act as he does. He can't break you down in any other way, so he insults you before his friends and now throws these in your face"—and he pointed to the package of bills where Gadgem had laid it—"a most extraordinary proceeding. Please hand me that list. Thank you.... Now this third item ... this five hundred dollars—did you get that money?"
"Yes—and another hundred the next day, which isn't down," rejoined the young man, running his eye over the list.
"Yes, of course—for Gilbert. He got into a card scrape at the tavern and I helped him out. I told my father all about it and he said I had done just right; that I must always help a friend out in a case like that, and that he'd pay it. All he objected to was my borrowing it of a tradesman instead of my coming to him." It was an age of borrowing and a bootmaker was often better than a banker.
"Well—but why didn't you go to him?" He wanted to get at all the facts.
"There wasn't time. Gilbert had to have the money in an hour, and it was the only place where I could get it."
"Of course there wasn't time—never is when the stakes are running like that." St. George folded up the memorandum. He knew something of Talbot's iron will, but he never supposed that he would lose his sense of what was right and wrong in exercising it. Again he opened the list—rather hurriedly this time, as if some new phase had struck him—studied it for a moment, and then asked with an increased interest in his tones:
"Did Gilbert give you back the money you loaned him?"
"Yes—certainly; about a month afterward." Here at least was an asset.
St. George's face lighted up. "And what did you do with it?"
"Took it to my father and he told me to use it; that he would settle with Mr. Slater when he paid his account;—when, too, he would thank him for helping me out."
"And when he didn't pay it back and these buzzards learned you had quit your father's house they employed Gadgem to pick your bones."
"Yes—it seems so; but, Uncle George, it's due them!" exclaimed Harry—"they ought to have their money. I would never have taken a dollar—or bought a thing if I had not supposed my father would pay for them." There was no question as to the boy's sense of justice—every intonation showed it.
"Of course it's due—due by you, too—not your father; that's the worst of it. And if he refuses to assume it—and he has—it is still to be paid—every cent of it. The question is how the devil is it to be paid—and paid quickly. I can't have you pointed out as a spendthrift and a dodger. No, this has got to be settled at once."
He threw himself into a chair, his mind absorbed in the effort to find some way out of the difficulty. The state of his own bank account precluded all relief in that direction. To borrow a dollar from the Patapsco on any note of hand he could offer was out of the question, the money stringency having become still more acute. Yet help must be had, and at once. Again he unfolded the slip and ran his eyes over the items, his mind in deep thought, then he added in an anxious tone:
"Are you aware, Harry, that this list amounts to several thousand dollars?"
"Yes—I saw it did. I had no idea it was so much. I never thought anything about it in fact. My father always paid—paid for anything I wanted." Neither did the young fellow ever concern himself about the supply of water in the old well at Moorlands. His experience had been altogether with the bucket and the gourd: all he had had to do was to dip in.
Again St. George ruminated. It had been many years since he had been so disturbed about any matter involving money.
"And have you any money left, Harry?"
"Not much. What I have is in my drawer upstairs."
"Then I'll lend you the money." This came with a certain spontaneity—quite as if he had said to a companion who had lost his umbrella—"Take mine!"
"But have you got it, Uncle George?" asked Harry in an anxious tone.
"No—not that I know of," he replied simply, but with no weakening of his determination to see the boy through, no matter at what cost.
"Well—then—how will you lend it?" laughed Harry. Money crises had not formed part of his troubles.
"Egad, my boy, I don't know!—but somehow."
He rang the bell and Todd put in his head. "Todd, go around outside,—see if young Mr. Pawson is in his office below us, present my compliments and say that it will give me great pleasure to call upon him regarding a matter of business."
"—And, Todd—say also that if agreeable to him, I will be there in ten minutes."
Punctually at ten o'clock on the following morning the shrivelled body and anxious face of the agent was ushered by Todd into St. George's presence—Dandy close behind sniffing at his thin knees, convinced that he was a suspicious person. This hour had been fixed by Temple in case he was not sent for earlier, and as no messenger had so far reached the bill collector he was naturally in doubt as to the nature of his reception. He had the same hat in his hand and the same handkerchief—a weekly, or probably a monthly comfort—its dingy red color defrauding the laundry.
"I have waited, sir," Gadgem began in an unctuous tone, his eyes on the dog, who had now resumed his place on the hearth rug—"waited IMpatiently, relying upon the word and honor of—"
"There—that will do, Gadgem," laughed St. George good-naturedly. Somehow he seemed more than usually happy this morning—bubbling over, indeed, ever since Todd had brought him a message from the young lawyer in the basement but half an hour before. "Keep that sort of talk for those who like it. No, Todd, you needn't bring Mr. Gadgem a chair, for he won't be here long enough to enjoy it. Now listen," and he took the memorandum from his pocket. "These bills are correct. Mr. Rutter has had the money and the goods. Take this list which I have signed to my attorney in the office underneath and be prepared to give a receipt in full for each account at twelve o'clock to-morrow. I have arranged to have them paid in full. Good-morning."
Gadgem stared. He did not believe a word about finding the money downstairs. He was accustomed to being put off that way and had already formulated his next tactical move. In fact he was about to name it with some positiveness, recounting the sort of papers which would follow and the celerity of their serving, when he suddenly became aware that St. George's eyes were fixed upon him and instantly stopped breathing.
"I said good-morning, Mr. Gadgem," repeated St. George sententiously. There was no mistaking his meaning.
"I heard you, sir," hesitated the collector—"I heard you diSTINCTly, but in cases of this kind there is—"
St. George swung back the door and stood waiting. No man living or dead had ever doubted the word of St. George Wilmot Temple, not even by a tone of the voice, and Gadgem's was certainly suggestive of a well-defined and most offensive doubt. Todd moved up closer; Dandy rose to his feet, thinking he might be of use. The little man looked from one to the other. He might add an action for assault and battery to the claim, but that would delay its collection.
"Then at TWELVE o'clock, to-morrow, Mr. Temple," he purred blandly.
"At twelve o'clock!" repeated St. George coldly, wondering which end of the intruder he would grapple when he threw him through the front door and down the front steps.
"I will be here on the stroke of the clock, sir—on the STROKE," and Gadgem slunk out.
For some minutes St. George continued to walk up and down the room, stooping once in a while to caress the setter; dry-washing his hands; tapping his well-cut waistcoat with his shapely fingers, his thumbs in the arm-holes; halting now and then to stretch himself to the full height of his body. He had outwitted the colonel—taught him a lesson—let him see that he was not the only "hound in the pack," and, best of all, he had saved the boy from annoyance and possibly from disgrace.
He was still striding up and down the room, when Harry, who had overslept himself as usual, came down to breakfast. Had some friend of his uncle found a gold mine in the back yard—or, better still, had Todd just discovered a forgotten row of old "Brahmin Madeira" in some dark corner of his cellar—St. George could not have been more buoyant.
"Glad you didn't get up any earlier, you good-for-nothing sleepy-head!" he cried in welcoming, joyous tones. "You have just missed that ill-smelling buzzard."
"What buzzard?" asked Harry, glancing over the letters on the mantel in the forlorn hope of finding one from Kate.
"Why, Gadgem—and that is the last you will ever see of him."
"Why?—has father paid him?" he asked in a listless way, squeezing Dandy's nose thrust affectionately into his hand—his mind still on Kate. Now that Willits was with her, as every one said, she would never write him again. He was a fool to expect it, he thought, and he sighed heavily.
"Of course he hasn't paid him—but I have. That is, a friend of mine has—or will."
"You have!" cried Harry with a start. He was interested now—not for himself, but for St. George: no penny of his uncle's should ever go to pay his debts. "Where did the money come from?"
"Never you mind where the money came from. You found it for Gilbert—did he ask you where you got it? Why should you ask me?"
"Well, I won't; but you are mighty good to me, Uncle George, and I am very grateful to you." The relief was not overwhelming, for the burden of the debt had not been heavy. It was only the sting of his father's refusal that had hurt. He had always believed that the financial tangle would be straightened out somehow.
"No!—damn it!—you are not grateful. You sha'n't be grateful!" cried St. George with a boyish laugh, seating himself that he might fill his pipe the better from a saucer of tobacco on the table. "If you were grateful it would spoil it all. What you can do, however, is to thank your lucky stars that that greasy red pocket-handkerchief will never be aired in your presence again. And there's another thing you can be thankful for now that you are in a thankful mood, and that is that Mr. Poe will be at Guy's to-morrow, and wants to see me." He had finished filling the pipe bowl, and had struck a match.
The boy's eyes danced. Gadgem, his father, his debts, everything—was forgotten.
"Oh, I'm so glad! How do you know?"
"Here's a letter from him." (Puff-puff.)
"And can I see him?"
"Of course you can see him! We will have him to dinner, my boy! Here comes Todd with your coffee. Take my seat so I can talk to you while I smoke."
Although St. George dispensed his hospitality without form or pretence, never referring to his intended functions except in a casual way, the news of so unusual a dinner to so notorious a man as Edgar Allan Poe could not long be kept quiet.
While a few habitues occupying the arm-chairs on the sidewalk of the club were disappointed at not being invited,—although they knew that ten guests had always been St. George's limit,—others expressed their disapproval of the entire performance with more than a shrug of the shoulders. Captain Warfleld was most outspoken. "Temple," he said, "like his father, is a law unto himself, and always entertains the queerest kind of people; and if he wants to do honor to a man of that stamp, why that, of course, is his business, not mine." At which old Tom Purviance had blurted out—"And a shiftless vagabond too, Warfield, if what I hear is true. Fine subject for St. George to waste his Madeira on!" Purviance had never read a dozen lines of anybody's poetry in his life, and looked upon all literary men as no better than play actors.
It was then that Richard Horn, his eyes flashing, had retorted:
"If I did not know how kind-hearted you were, Purviance, and how thoughtless you can sometimes be in your criticisms, I might ask you to apologize to both Mr. Poe and myself. Would it surprise you to know that there is no more truth in what you say than there is in the reports of that gentleman's habitual drunkenness? It was but a year ago that I met him at his cousin's house and I shall never forget him. Would it also surprise you to learn that he has the appearance of a man of very great distinction?—that he was faultlessly attired in a full suit of black and had the finest pair of eyes in his head I have ever looked into? Mr. Poe is not of your world, or of mine—he is above it. There is too much of this sort of ill-considered judgment abroad in the land. No—my dear Purviance—I don't want to be rude and I am sure you will not think I am personal. I am only trying to be just to one of the master spirits of our time so that I won't be humiliated when his real worth becomes a household word."