"Well, this is your port, so I 'ear. Some o' them high-flyers up 'round the park might lend a hand, may be, if you'd tip 'em a wink, or some o' their women folks might take a shine to 'em."
"Looked hungry, did you say?" Harry asked, lighting the dip at an oil lamp that swung near the bar.
"Yes—holler's a drum—see straight through him; tired too—beat out. You'd think so if you see him. My play—clubs."
Harry turned to the landlord: "If this man comes in again give him food and lodging," and he handed him a bank bill. "If he is here in the morning let me see him. I'm going to bed now. Good-night, men!"
Should I lapse into the easy-flowing style of the chroniclers of the period of which I write—(and how often has the scribe wished he could)—this chapter would open with the announcement that on this particularly bleak, wintry afternoon a gentleman in the equestrian costume of the day, and mounted upon a well-groomed, high-spirited white horse, might have been seen galloping rapidly up a country lane leading to an old-fashioned manor house.
Such, however, would not cover the facts. While the afternoon was certainly wintry, and while the rider was unquestionably a gentleman, he was by no manner of means attired in velveteen coat and russet-leather boots with silver spurs, his saddle-bags strapped on behind, but in a rough and badly worn sailor's suit, his free hand grasping a bundle carried loose on his pommel. As to the horse neither the immortal James or any of his school could truthfully picture this animal as either white or high-spirited. He might, it is true, have been born white and would in all probability have stayed white but for the many omissions and commissions of his earlier livery stable training—traces of which could still be found in his scraped sides and gnawed mane and tail; he might also have once had a certain commendable spirit had not the ups and downs of road life—and they were pretty steep outside Kennedy Square—taken it out of him.
It is, however, when I come to the combination of horse and rider that I can with entire safety lapse into the flow of the old chroniclers. For whatever Harry had forgotten in his many experiences since he last threw his leg over Spitfire, horsemanship was not one of them. He still rode like a Cherokee and still sat his mount like a prince.
He had had an anxious and busy morning. With the first streak of dawn he had written a long letter to his Uncle George, in which he told him of his arrival; of his heart-felt sorrow at what Pawson had imparted and of his leaving immediately, first for Wesley and then Craddock, as soon as he found out how the land lay at Moorlands. This epistle he was careful to enclose in another envelope, which he directed to Justice Coston, with instructions to forward it with "the least possible delay" to Mr. Temple, who was doubtless at Craddock, "and who was imperatively needed at home in connection with some matters which required his immediate personal attention," and which enclosure, it is just as well to state, the honorable justice placed inside the mantel clock, that being the safest place for such precious missives, at least until the right owner should appear.
This duly mailed, he had returned to the Sailors' House, knocked at the door of the upstairs room in which, through his generosity, the street vendor lay sleeping, and after waking him up and becoming assured that the man was in real distress, had bought at twice their value the China silks which had caused the disheartened pedler so many weary hours of tramping. These he had tucked under his arm and carried away.
The act was not alone due to his charitable instincts. A much more selfish motive influenced him. Indeed the thought came to him in a way that had determined him to attend to his mail at early dawn and return at sunrise lest the owner should disappear and take the bundle with him. The silks were the very things he needed to help him solve one of his greatest difficulties. He would try, as the sailor-pedler had done, to sell them in the neighborhood of Moorlands—(a common practice in those days)—and in this way might gather up the information of which he was in search. Pawson had not known him—perhaps the others would not: he might even offer the silks to his father without being detected.
With this plan clearly defined in his mind, he had walked into a livery stable near the market, but a short distance from his lodgings, with the silks in a bundle and after looking the stock over had picked out this unprepossessing beast as best able to take him to Moorlands and back between sunrise and dark.
As he rode on, leaving the scattered buildings of the town far behind, mounting the hills and then striking the turnpike—every rod of which he could have found in the dark—his thoughts, like road-swallows, skimmed each mile he covered. Here was where he had stopped with Kate when her stirrup broke; near the branches of that oak close to the ditch marking the triangle of cross-roads he had saved his own and Spitfire's neck by a clear jump that had been the talk of the neighborhood for days. On the crest of this hill—the one he was then ascending—his father always tightened up the brakes on his four-in-hand, and on the slope beyond invariably braced himself in his seat, swung his whip, and the flattened team swept on and down, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake that blurred the road for minutes thereafter.
When noon came he dismounted at a farmer's out-building beside the road—he would not trust the public-houses—fed and watered his horse, rubbed him down himself, and after an hour's rest pushed on toward the fork in the road to Moorlands. Beyond this was a cross-path that led to the outbarns and farm stables—a path bordered by thick bushes and which skirted a fence in the rear of the manor house itself. Here he intended to tie his steed and there he would mount him again should his mission fail.
The dull winter sky had already heralded the dusk—it was near four o'clock in the afternoon—when he passed some hayricks where a group of negroes were at work. One or two raised their heads and then, as if reassured, resumed their tasks. This encouraged him to push on the nearer—he had evidently been mistaken for one of the many tradespeople seeking his father's overseer, either to sell tools or buy produce.
Tying the horse close to the fence—so close that it could not be seen from the house—he threw the bundle of silks over his shoulder and struck out for the small office in the rear. Here the business of the estate was transacted, and here were almost always to be found either the overseer or one of his assistants—both of them white. These men were often changed, and his chance, therefore, of meeting a stranger was all the more likely.
As he approached the low sill of the door which was level with the ground, and which now stood wide open, he caught the glow of a fire and could make out the figure of a man seated at a desk bending over a mass of papers. The man pushed back a green shade which had protected his eyes from the glare of a lamp and peered out at him.
It was his father!
The discovery was so unexpected and had come with such suddenness—it was rarely in these later days that the colonel was to be found here in the afternoon: he was either riding or receiving visitors—that Harry's first thought was to shrink back out of sight, or, if discovered, to make some excuse for his intrusion and retire. Then his mind changed and he stepped boldly in. This was what he had come for and this was what he would face.
"I have some China silks to sell," he said in his natural tone of voice, turning his head so that while his goods were in sight his face would be in shadow.
"Silks! I don't want any silks! Who allowed you to pass in here? Alec!" He pushed back his chair and moved to the door. "Alec! Where the devil is Alec! He's always where I don't want him!"
"I saw no one to ask, sir," Harry replied mechanically. His father's appearance had sent a chill through him; he would hardly have known him had he met him on the street. Not only did he look ten years older, but the injury to his sight caused him to glance sideways at any one he addressed, completely destroying the old fearless look in his eyes.
"You never waited to ask! You walk into my private office unannounced and—" here he turned the lamp to see the better. "You're a sailor, aren't you?" he added fiercely—a closer view of the intruder only heightening his wrath.
"Yes, sir—I'm a sailor," replied Harry simply, his voice dying in his throat as he summed up the changes that the years had wrought in the colonel's once handsome, determined face—thinner, more shrunken, his mustache and the short temple-whiskers almost white.
For an instant his father crumpled a wisp of paper he was holding between his fingers and thumb; and then demanded sharply, but with a tone of curiosity, as if willing the intruder should tarry a moment while he gathered the information:
"How long have you been a sailor?"
"I am just in from my last voyage." He still kept in the shadow although he saw his father had so far failed to recognize him. The silks had been laid on a chair beside him.
"That's not what I asked you. How long have you been a sailor?" He was scanning his face now as best he could, shifting the green shade that he might see the better.
"I went to sea three years ago."
"Three years, eh? Where did you go?"
The tone of curiosity had increased. Perhaps the next question would lead up to some basis on which he could either declare himself or lay the foundation of a declaration to be made the next day—after he had seen his mother and Alec.
"To South America. Para was my first port," he answered simply, wondering why he wanted to know.
"That's not far from Rio?" He was still looking sideways at him, but there was no wavering in his gaze.
"No, not far—Rio was our next stopping place. We had a hard voyage and put in to—"
"Do you know a young man by the name of Rutter—slim man with dark hair and eyes?" interrupted his father in an angry tone.
Harry started forward, his heart in his mouth, his hands upraised, his fingers opening. It was all he could do to restrain himself. "Don't you know me, father?" was trembling on his lips. Then something in the sound of the colonel's voice choked his utterance. Not now, he thought, mastering his emotion—a moment more and he would tell him.
"I have heard of him, sir," he answered when he recovered his speech, straining his ears to catch the next word.
"Heard of him, have you? So has everybody else heard of him—a worthless scoundrel who broke his mother's heart; a man who disgraced his family—a gentleman turned brigand—a renegade who has gone back on his blood! Tell him so if you see him! Tell him I said so; I'm his father, and know! No—I don't want your silks—don't want anything that has to do with sailormen. I am busy—please go away. Don't stop to bundle them up—do that outside," and he turned his back and readjusted the shade over his eyes.
Harry's heart sank, and a cold faintness stole through his frame. He was not angry nor indignant. He was stunned.
Without a word in reply he gathered up the silks from the chair, tucked them under his arm, and replacing his cap stepped outside into the fast approaching twilight. Whatever the morrow might bring forth, nothing more could be done to-day. To have thrown himself at his father's feet would only have resulted in his being driven from the grounds by the overseer, with the servants looking on—a humiliation he could not stand.
As he stood rolling the fabrics into a smaller compass, a gray-haired negro in the livery of a house servant passed hurriedly and entered the door of the office. Instantly his father's voice rang out:
"Where the devil have you been, Alec? How many times must I tell you to look after me oftener. Don't you know I'm half blind and—No—I don't want any more wood—I want these vagabonds kept off my grounds. Send Mr. Grant to me at once, and don't you lose sight of that man until you have seen him to the main road. He says he is a sailor—and I've had enough of sailors, and so has everybody else about here."
The negro bowed and backed out of the room. No answer of any kind was best when the colonel was in one of his "tantrums."
"I reckon I hab to ask ye, sah, to quit de place—de colonel don't 'low nobody to—" he said politely.
Harry turned his face aside and started for the fence. His first thought was to drop his bundle and throw his arms around Alec's neck; then he realized that this would be worse than his declaring himself to his father—he could then be accused of attempting deception by the trick of a disguise. So he hurried on to where his horse was tied—his back to Alec, the bundle shifted to his left shoulder that he might hide his face the better until he was out of sight of the office, the old man stumbling on, calling after him:
"No, dat ain't de way. Yer gotter go down de main road; here, man—don't I tell yer dat ain't de way."
Harry had now gained the fence and had already begun to loosen the reins when Alec, out of breath and highly indignant over the refusal to carry out his warning, reached his side.
"You better come right back f'om whar ye started," the old negro puffed; "ye can't go dat way or dey'll set de dogs on ye." Here his eyes rested on the reins and forelock. "What! you got a horse an' you—"
Harry turned and laid his hand on the old servant's shoulder. He could hardly control his voice:
"Don't you know me, Alec? I'm Harry!"
The old man bent down, peered into Harry's eyes, and with a quick spring forward grabbed him by both shoulders.
"You my Marse Harry!—you!" His breath was gone now, his whole body in a tremble, his eyes bulging from his head.
"Yes, Alec, Harry! It's only the beard. Look at me! I didn't want my father to see us—that's why I kept on."
The old servant threw up his hands and caught his young master around the neck. For some seconds he could not speak.
"And de colonel druv ye out!" he gasped. "Oh, my Gawd! my Gawd! And ye ain't daid, and ye come back home ag'in." He was sobbing now, his head on the exile's shoulder, Harry's arms about him—patting his bent back. "But yer gotter go back, Marse Harry," he moaned. "He ain't 'sponsible these days. He didn't know ye! Come 'long, son; come back wid ol' Alec; please come, Marse Harry. Oh, Gawd! ye GOTTER come!"
"No, I'll go home to-night—another day I'll—"
"Ye ain't got no home but dis, I tell ye! Go tell him who ye is—lemme run tell him. I won't be a minute. Oh! Marse Harry, I can't let ye go! I been dat mizzable widout ye. I ain't neber got over lovin' ye!"
Here a voice from near the office broke out. In the dusk the two could just make out the form of the colonel, who was evidently calling to some of his people. He was bareheaded and without his shade.
"I've sent Alec to see him safe off the grounds. You go yourself, Mr. Grant, and follow him into the highroad; remember that after this I hold you responsible for these prowlers."
The two had paused while the colonel was speaking, Harry, gathering the reins in his hand, ready to vault into the saddle, and Alec, holding on to his coat-sleeves hoping still to detain him.
"I haven't a minute more—quick, Alec, tell me how my mother is."
"She's middlin' po'ly, same's ever; got great rings under her eyes and her heart's dat heaby makes abody cry ter look at 'er. But she ain't sick, jes' griebin' herse'f to death. Ain't yer gwineter stop and see 'er? May be I kin git ye in de back way."
"Not now—not here. Bring her to Uncle George's house to-morrow about noon, and I will be there. Tell her how I look, but don't tell her what my father has done. And now tell me about Miss Kate—how long since you saw her? Is she married?"
Again the colonel's voice was heard; this time much nearer—within hailing distance. He and the overseer were evidently approaching the fence; some of the negroes had doubtless apprised them of the course of Harry's exit.
Alec turned quickly to face his master, and Harry, realizing that his last moment had come, swung himself into the saddle. If Alec made any reply to his question it was lost in the clatter of hoofs as both horse and man swept down the by-path. In another moment they had gained the main road, the rider never breaking rein until he had reached the farm-house where he had fed and watered his horse some hours before.
Thirty-odd miles out and back was not a long ride for a hired horse in these days over a good turnpike with plenty of time for resting—and he had as many breathing spells as gallops, for Harry's moods really directed his gait. Once in a while he would give him his head, the reins lying loose, the horse picking his way in a walk. Then the bitterness of his father's words and how undeserved they were, and how the house of cards his hopes had built up had come tumbling down about his ears at the first point of contact would rush over him, and he would dig his heels into the horse's flanks and send him at full gallop through the night along the pale ribbon of a road barely discernible in the ghostly dark. When, however, Alec's sobs smote his ear, or the white face of his mother confronted him, the animal would gradually slacken his pace and drop into a walk.
Dominated by these emotions certain fixed resolutions at last took possession of him: He would see his mother at once, no matter at what cost—even if he defied his father—and then he would find his uncle. Whether he would board the next vessel heaving port and return to his work in the mountains, or whether he would bring his uncle back from Craddock and the two, with his own vigorous youth and new experience of the world, fight it out together as they had once done before, depended on what St. George advised. Now that Kate's marriage was practically decided upon, one sorrow—and his greatest—was settled forever. Any others that were in store for him he would meet as they came.
With his mind still intent on these plans he rode at last into the open door of the small courtyard of the livery stable and drew rein under a swinging lantern. It was past ten at night, and the place was deserted, except by a young negro who advanced to take his horse. Tossing the bridle aside he slipped to the ground.
"He's wet," Harry said, "but he's all right. Let him cool off gradually, and don't give him any water until he gets dry. I'll come in to-morrow and pay your people what I owe them."
The negro curry-combed his fingers down the horse's flanks as if to assure himself of his condition, and in the movement brought his face under the glare of the overhead light.
Harry grabbed him by the shoulder and swung him round.
"Todd—you rascal! What are you doing here? Why are you not down on the Eastern Shore?" His astonishment was so intense that for an instant he could not realize he had the right man.
The negro drew back. He was no runaway slave, and he didn't intend to be taken for one—certainly not by a man as rough and suspicious looking as the one before him.
"How you know my name, man?" He was nervous and scared half out of his wits. More than one negro had been shanghaied in that way and smuggled off to sea.
"Know you! I'd know you among a thousand. Have you, too, deserted your master?" He still held him firmly by the collar of his coat, his voice rising with his wrath. "Why have you left him? Answer me."
For an instant the negro hesitated, leaned forward, and then with a burst of joy end out:
"You ain't!—Fo' Gawd it is! Dat beard on ye, Marse Harry, done fool me—but you is him fo' sho. Gor-a-mighty! ain't I glad ye ain't daid. Marse George say on'y yisterday you was either daid or sick dat ye didn't write an'—"
"Said yesterday! Why, is he at home?"
"HOME! Lemme throw a blanket over dis hoss and tie him tell we come back. Oh, we had a heap o' mis'ry since ye went away—a heap o' trouble. Nothin' but trouble! You come 'long wid me—'tain't far; des around de corner. I'll show ye sompin' make ye creep all over. An' it ain't gettin' no better—gettin' wuss. Dis way, Manse Harry. You been 'cross de big water, ain't ye? Dat's what I heared. Aunt Jemima been mighty good, but we can't go on dis way much longer."
Still talking, forging ahead in the darkness through the narrow street choked with horseless drays, Todd swung into a dingy yard, mounted a flight of rickety wooden steps, and halted at an unpainted door. Turning the knob softly he beckoned silently to Harry, and the two stepped into a small room lighted by a low lamp placed on the hearth, its rays falling on a cot bed and a few chairs. Beside a cheap pine table sat Aunt Jemima, rocking noiselessly. The old woman raised her hand in warning and put her fingers to her lips.
On the bed, with the coverlet drawn close under his chin, lay his Uncle George!
Harry looked about the room in a bewildered way and then tiptoed to St. George's bed. It had been a day of surprises, but this last had completely upset him. St. George dependent on the charity of his old cook and without other attendant than Todd! Why had he been deserted by everybody who loved him? Why was he not at Wesley or Craddock? Why should he be here of all places in the world?
All these thoughts surged through his mind as he stood above the patient and watched his slow, labored breathing. That he had been ill for some time was evident in his emaciated face and the deep hollows into which his closed eyes were sunken.
Aunt Jemima rose and handed the intruder her chair. He sat down noiselessly beside him. Once his uncle coughed, and in the effort drew the coverlet close about his throat, his eyes still shut; but whether from weakness or drowsiness, Harry could not tell. Presently he shifted his body, and moving his head on the pillow, called softly:
The old woman bent over him.
"Yes, Marse George."
"Give me a little milk—my throat troubles me."
Harry drew back into the shadow cast over one end of the cot and rear wall by the low lamp on the hearth. Whether to slip his hand gently over his uncle's and declare himself, or whether to wait until he dozed again and return in the morning, when he would be less tired and could better withstand the shock of the meeting, was the question which disturbed him. And yet he could not leave until he satisfied himself of just what ought to be done. If he left him at all it must be for help of some kind. He leaned over and whispered in Jemima's ear:
"Has he had a doctor?"
Jemima shook her head. "He wouldn't hab none; he ain't been clean beat out till day befo' yisterday, an' den I got skeered an'—" She stopped, leaned closer, clapped her hand over her mouth to keep from screaming, and staggered back to her chair.
St. George raised his head from the pillow and stared into the shadows.
"Who is talking? I heard somebody speak? Jemima—you haven't disobeyed me, have you?"
Harry stepped noiselessly to the bedside and laid his fingers on the sick man's wrist:
"Uncle George," he said gently.
Temple lowered his head as if to focus his gaze.
"Yes, there is some one!" he cried in a stronger voice. "Who are you, sir?—not a doctor, are you? I didn't send for you!—I don't want any doctor, I told my servant so. Jemima!—Todd!—why do you—"
Harry tightened his grasp on the emaciated wrist. "No, Uncle George, it's Harry! I'm just back."
"What did he say, Todd? Harry!—Harry! Did he say he was Harry, or am I losing my mind?"
In his eagerness to understand he lifted himself to a sitting posture, his eyes wandering uneasily over the speaker's body, resting on his head—on his shoulders, arms, and hands—as if trying to fix his mind on something which constantly baffled him.
Harry continued to pat his wrist soothingly.
"Yes, it's Harry, Uncle George," he answered. "But don't talk—lie down. I'm all right—I got in yesterday and have been looking for you everywhere. Pawson told me you were at Wesley. I found Todd a few minutes ago by the merest accident, and he brought me here. No, you must lie down—let me help—rest yourself on me—so." He was as tender with him as if he had been his own mother.
The sick man shook himself free—he was stronger than Harry thought. He was convinced now that there was some trick being played upon him—one Jemima in her anxiety had devised.
"How dare you, sir, lie to me like that! Who asked you to come here? Todd—send this fellow from the room!"
Harry drew back out of his uncle's vision and carefully watched the invalid. St. George's mind was evidently unhinged and it would be better not to thwart him.
Todd crept up. He had seen his master like this once before and had had all he could do to keep him in bed.
"Dat ain't no doctor, Marse George," he pleaded, his voice trembling. "Dat's Marse Harry come back agin alive. It's de hair on his face make him look dat way; dat fool me too. It's Marse Harry, fo' sho'—I fotch him yere myse'f. He's jes' come from de big ship."
St. George twisted his head, looked long and earnestly into Harry's face, and with a sudden cry of joy stretched out his hand and motioned him nearer. Harry sank to his knees beside the bed. St. George curved one arm about his neck, drew him tightly to his breast as he would a woman, and fell back upon the pillow with Harry's head next his own. There the two lay still, St. George's eyes half closed, thick sobs stifling his utterance, the tears streaming down his pale cheeks; his thin white fingers caressing the brown hair of the boy he loved. At last, with a heavy, indrawn sigh, not of grief, but of joy, he muttered:
"It's true, isn't it, my son?"
Harry hugged him the tighter in answer.
"And you are home for good?"
Again the pressure. "Yes, but don't talk, you must go to sleep. I won't leave you." His own tears were choking him now.
Then, after a long pause, releasing his grasp: "I did not know how weak I was.... Maybe I had better not talk.... Don't stay. Come to-morrow and tell me about it.... There is no bed for you here... I am sorry ... but you must go away—you couldn't be comfortable.... Todd—"
The darky started forward—both he and Aunt Jemima were crying:
"Yes, Marse George."
"Take the lamp and light Mr. Rutter downstairs. To-morrow—to-morrow, Harry.... My God—think of it!—Harry home! Harry home! My Harry home!" and he turned his face to the wall.
On the way back—first to the stable, where he found that the horse had been properly cared for and his bill ready and then to his lodgings,—Todd told him the story of what had happened: At first his master had firmly intended going to the Eastern Shore—and for a long stay—for he had ordered his own and Todd's trunks packed with everything they both owned in the way of clothes. On the next day, however—the day before the boat left—Mr. Temple had made a visit to Jemima to bid her good-by, where he learned that her white lodger had decamped between suns, leaving two months board unpaid. In the effort to find this man, or compel his employer to pay his bill, out of some wages still due him—in both of which he failed—his master had missed the boat and they were obliged to wait another week. During this interim, not wishing to return to Pawson, and being as he said very comfortable where he was with his two servants to wait upon him, and the place as clean as a pin—his master had moved his own and Todd's trunk from the steamboat warehouse where they had been stored and had had them brought to Jemima's. Two days later—whether from exposure in tramping the streets in his efforts to collect the old woman's bill, or whether the change of lodgings had affected him—he was taken down with a chill and had been in bed ever since. With this situation staring both Jemima and himself in the face—for neither she nor Mr. Temple had much money left—Todd had appealed to Gadgem—(he being the only man in his experience who could always produce a roll of bills when everybody else failed)—who took him to the stableman whose accounts he collected—and who had once bought one of St. George's saddles—and who then and there hired Todd as night attendant. His wages, added to what Jemima could earn over her tubs, had kept the three alive. All this had taken place four weeks or more ago.
None of all this, he assured Harry, had he told Gadgem or anybody else, his master's positive directions being to keep his abode and his condition a secret from everybody. All the collector knew was that Mr. Temple being too poor to take Todd with him, had left him behind to shift for himself until he could send for him. All the neighborhood knew, to quote Todd's own hilarious chuckle, was that "Miss Jemima Johnsing had two mo' boa'ders; one a sick man dat had los' his job an' de udder a yaller nigger who sot up nights watchin' de hosses eat dere haids off."
Since that time his master had had various ups and downs, but although he was still weak he was very much stronger than he had been any time since he had taken to his bed. Only once had he been delirious; then he talked ramblingly about Miss Kate and Marse Harry. This had so scared Aunt Jemima that she had determined to go to Mammy Henny and have her tell Miss Kate, so he could get a doctor—something he had positively forbidden her to do, but he grew so much better the next day that she had given it up; since that time his mind had not again given way. All he wanted now, so Todd concluded, was a good soup and "a drap o' sumpin warmin'—an' he'd pull thu'. But dere warn't no use tryin' ter git him to take it 'cause all he would eat was taters an' corn pone an' milk—an' sich like, 'cause he said dere warn't money 'nough fer de three—" whereupon Todd turned his head away and caught his breath, and then tried to pass it off as an unbidden choke—none of which subterfuges deceived Harry in the least.
When the two arrived off the dimly burning lantern—it was past ten o'clock—and pushed in the door of the Sailors' House, Todd received another shock—one that sent his eyes bulging from his head. That Marse Harry Rutter, who was always a law unto himself, should grow a beard and wear rough clothes, was to be expected—"Dem Rutters was allus dat way—do jes's dey mineter—" but that the most elegant young man of his day "ob de fustest quality," should take up his quarters in a low sailors' retreat, and be looked upon by the men gathered under the swinging lamp around a card table—(some of whom greeted Harry familiarly)—as one of their own kind, completely staggered him.
The pedler was particularly gracious—so much so that when he learned that Harry was leaving for good, and had come to get his belongings—he jumped up and insisted on helping—at which Harry laughed and assented, and as a further mark of his appreciation presented him with the now useless silks, in addition to the money he gave him—an act of generosity which formed the sole topic of conversation in the resort for weeks thereafter.
Board and lodging paid, the procession took up its return march: Harry in front, Todd, still dazed and still at sea as to the meaning of it all, following behind; the pedler between with Harry's heavy coat, blankets, etc.—all purchased since his shipwreck—the party threading the choked-up street until they reached the dingy yard, where the pedler dumped his pack and withdrew, while the darky stowed his load in the basement. This done, the two tiptoed once more up the stairs to where Aunt Jemima awaited them, St. George having fallen asleep.
Beckoning the old woman away from the bedroom door and into the far corner of the small hall, Harry unfolded to her as much of his plans for the next day as he thought she ought to know. Early in the morning—before his uncle was astir—he would betake himself to Kennedy Square; ascertain from Pawson whether his uncle's rooms were still unoccupied, and if such were the case—and St. George be unable to walk—would pick him up bodily, wrap him in blankets, carry him in his own arms downstairs, place him in a carriage, and drive him to his former home where he would again pick him up and lay him in his own bed: This would be better than a hundred doctors—he had tried it himself when he was down with fever and knew. Aunt Jemima was to go ahead and see that these preparations were carried out. Should Alec be able to bring his mother to Kennedy Square in the morning, as he had instructed him to do, then there would indeed be somebody on hand who could nurse him even better than Jemima; should his mother not be there, Jemima would take her place. Nothing of all this, he charged her, was to be told St. George until the hour of departure. To dwell upon the intended move might overexcite him. Then, when everything was ready—his linen, etc., arranged—(Jemima was also to look after this)—he would whisk him off and make him comfortable in his own bed. He would, of course, now that his uncle wished it, keep secret his retreat; although why St. George Wilmot Temple, Esq., or any other gentleman of his standing, should object to being taken care of by his own servants was a thing he could not understand: Pawson, of course, need not know—nor should any outside person—not even Gadgem if he came nosing around. To these he would merely say that Mr. Temple had seen fit to leave home and that Mr. Temple had seen fit to return again: that was quite enough for attorneys and collectors. To all the others he would keep his counsel, until St. George himself made confession, which he was pretty sure he would do at the first opportunity.
This decided upon he bade Jemima good-night, gave her explicit directions to call him, should his uncle awake (her own room opened out of St. George's) spread his blanket in the cramped hall outside the sick man's door—he had not roughed it on shipboard and in the wilderness all these years without knowing something of the soft side of a plank—and throwing his heavy ship's coat over him fell fast asleep.
When the first glimmer of the gray dawn stole through the small window at the end of the narrow hall, and laid its chilled fingers on Harry's upturned face, it found him still asleep. His ride to Moorlands and back—his muscles unused for months to the exercise—had tired him. The trials of the day, too, those with his father and his Uncle George, had tired him the more—and so he had slept on as a child sleeps—as a perfectly healthy man sleeps—both mind and body drinking in the ozone of a new courage and a new hope.
With the first ray of the joyous sun riding full tilt across his face, he opened his eyes, threw off the cloak, and sprang to his feet. For an instant he looked wonderingly about as if in doubt whether to call the watch or begin the hunt for his cattle. Then the pine door caught his eye and the low, measured breathing of his uncle fell upon his ear, and with a quick lift of his arms, his strong hands thumping his broad chest, he stretched himself to his full height: he had work to do, and he must begin at once.
Aunt Jemima was already at her duties. She had tiptoed past his sleeping body an hour before, and after listening to St. George's breathing had plunged into her tubs; the cat's cradle in the dingy court-yard being already gay with various colored fragments, including Harry's red flannel shirts which Todd had found in a paper parcel, and which the old woman had pounced upon at sight. She insisted on making him a cup of coffee, but he had no time for such luxuries. He would keep on, he said, to Kennedy Square, find Pawson, ascertain if St. George's old rooms were still unoccupied; notify him of Mr. Temple's return; have his bed made and fires properly lighted; stop at the livery stable, wake up Todd, if that darky had overslept himself—quite natural when he had been up almost all night—engage a carriage to be at Jemima's at four o'clock, and then return to get everything ready for the picking-up-and-carrying-downstairs process.
And all this he did do; and all this he told Jemima he had done when he swung into the court-yard an hour later, a spring to his heels and a cheery note in his voice that had not been his for years. The reaction that hope brings to youth had set in. He was alive and at home; his Uncle George was where he could get his hands on him—in a minute—by the mounting of the stairs; and Alec and his mother within reach!
And the same glad song was in his heart when he opened his uncle's door after he had swallowed his coffee—Jemima had it ready for him this time—and thrusting in his head cried out:
"We are going to get you out of here, Uncle George!" This with a laugh—one of his old contagious laughs that was music in the sick man's ears.
"When?" asked the invalid, his face radiant. He had been awake an hour wondering what it all meant. He had even thought of calling to Jemima to reassure himself that it was not a dream, until he heard her over her tubs and refrained from disturbing her.
"Oh, pretty soon! I have just come from Pawson's. Fogbin hasn't put in an appearance and there's nobody in the rooms and hasn't been anybody there since you left. He can't understand it, nor can I—and I don't want to. I have ordered the bed made and a fire started in both the chamber and the old dining-room, and if anybody objects he has got to say so to me, and I am a very uncomfortable person to say some kinds of things to nowadays. So up you get when the time comes; and Todd and Jemima are to go too. I've got money enough, anyhow, to begin on. Aunt Jemima says you had a good night and it won't be long now before you are yourself again."
The radiant smile on the sick man's face blossomed into a laugh: "Yes—the best night that I have had since I was taken ill, and—Where did you sleep, my son?"
"Me!—Oh, I had a fine time—long, well-ventilated room with two windows and private staircase; nice pine bedstead—very comfortable place for this part of the town."
St. George looked at him and his eyes filled. His mind was neither on his own questions nor on Harry's answers.
"Get a chair, Harry, and sit by me so I can look at you closer. How fine and strong you are my son—not like your father—you're like your mother. And you've broadened out—mentally as well as physically. Pretty hard I tell you to spoil a gentleman—more difficult still to spoil a Rutter. But you must get that beard off—it isn't becoming to you, and then somebody might think you disguised yourself on purpose. I didn't know you at first, neither did Jemima—and you don't want anybody else to make that kind of a mistake."
"My father did, yesterday—" Harry rejoined quietly, dropping into Jemima's chair.
St. George half raised himself from his bed: "You have seen him?"
"Yes—and I wish I hadn't. But I hunted everywhere for you and then got a horse and rode out home. He didn't know me—that is, I'm pretty sure he didn't—but he cursed me all the same. My mother and old Alec, I hope, will come in to-day—but father's chapter is closed forever. I have been a fool to hope for anything else."
"Drove you out! Oh, no—NO! Harry! Impossible!"
"But he did—" and then followed an account of all the wanderer had passed through from the time he had set foot on shore to the moment of meeting Todd and himself.
For some minutes St. George lay staring at the ceiling. It was all a horrid, nightmare to him. Talbot deserved nothing but contempt and he would get it so far as he was concerned. He agreed with Harry that all reconciliation was now a thing of the past; the only solution possible was that Talbot was out of his senses—the affair having undermined his reason. He had heard of such cases and had doubted them—he was convinced now that they could be true. His answer, therefore, to Harry's next question—one about his lost sweetheart—was given with a certain hesitation. As long as the memory of Rutter's curses rankled within him all reference to Kate's affairs—even the little he knew himself—must be made with some circumspection. There was no hope in that direction either, but he did not want to tell him so outright; nor did he want to dwell too long upon the subject.
"And I suppose Kate is married by this time, Uncle George," Harry said at last in a casual tone, "is she not?" (He had been leading up to it rather skilfully, but there had been no doubt in his uncle's mind as to his intention.) "I saw the house lighted up, night before last when I passed, and a lot of people about, so I thought it might be either the wedding or the reception." The question had left his lips as one shoots an arrow in the dark—hit or miss—as if he did not care which. He too realized that this was no time to open wounds, certainly not in his uncle's heart; and yet he could wait no longer.
"No—I don't think the wedding has taken place," St. George replied vaguely. "The servants would know if it had—they know everything—and Aunt Jemima would be the first to have told me. The house being lighted up is no evidence. They have been giving a series of entertainments this winter and there were more to come when I last saw Kate, which was one night at Richard Horn's. But let us close that chapter too, my boy. You and I will take a new lease of life from now on. You have already put fresh blood into my veins—I haven't felt so well for weeks. Now tell me about yourself. Your last letter reached me six months ago, if I remember right. You were then in Rio and were going up into the mountains. Did you go?"
"Yes—up into the Rio Abaste country where they had discovered diamonds as big as hens' eggs—one had been sold for nearly a quarter of a million dollars—and everybody was crazy. I didn't find any diamonds nor anything else but starvation, so I herded cattle, that being the only thing I knew anything about—how to ride—and slept out on the lowlands sometimes under a native mat and sometimes under the kindly stars. Then we had a revolution and cattle raids, and one night I came pretty near being chewed up by a puma—and so it went. I made a little money in rawhides after I got to know the natives, and I'm going back to make some more; and you are going with me when we get things straightened out. I wouldn't have come home except that I heard you had been turned out neck and crop from Kennedy Square. One of Mr. Seymour's clerks stopped in Rio on his way to the River Plate and did some business with an English agent whom I met afterward at a hacienda, and who told me about you when he learned I was from Kennedy Square. And when I think of it all, Uncle George, and what you have suffered on account of me!"—Here his voice faltered. "No!—I won't talk about it—I can't. I have spent too many sleepless nights over it: I have been hungry and half dead, but I have kept on—and I am not through: I'll pull out yet and put you on your feet once more if I live!"
St. George laid his hand tenderly on the young man's wrist. He knew how the boy felt about it. That was one of the things he loved him for.
"And so you started home when you heard it," he went on, clearing his throat. "That was just like you, you dear fellow! And you haven't come home an hour too soon. I should have been measured for a pine coffin in another week." The choke was quite in evidence now. "You see, I really couldn't go to Coston's when I thought it all over. I had made up my mind to go for a week or so until I saw this place, and then I determined I would stop with Jemima. I could eke out an existence here on what I had left and still feel like a gentleman, but I couldn't settle down on dear Peggy Coston and be anything but a poltroon. As to my making a living at the law—that was pure moonshine. I haven't opened a law book for twenty years and now it's too late. People of our class"—here he looked away from his companion and talked straight at the foot of the bed—"People of our class my boy," he repeated slowly—"when they reach the neck and crop period you spoke of, are at the end of their rope. There are then but two things left—either to become the inmate of a poorhouse or to become a sponge. I prefer this bare room as a happy medium, and I am content to stay where I am as long as we three can keep body and soul together. There is—so Pawson told me before I left my house—a little money coming in from a ground rent—a few months off, perhaps, but more than enough to pay Todd back—he gives Jemima every cent of his wages—and when this does come in and I can get out once more, I'm going to order my life so I can make a respectable showing of some kind."
He paused for a moment, fastened his gaze again on Harry, and continued:
"As to my going back to Pawson's, I am not altogether sure that that is the wisest thing to do. I may have to leave again as soon as I get comfortably settled in my bed. I turned out at his bidding before and may have to turn again when he says the word. So don't kindle too many fires with Pawson's wood—I hadn't a log to my name when I left—or it may warm somebody's else's shins besides mine," and a merry twinkle shone in his eyes.
Harry burst out laughing.
"Wood or no wood, Uncle George, I'm going to be landlord now—Pawson can move out and graze his cattle somewhere else. I'm going to take charge of the hut and stock and the pack mules and provisions—and with a gun, if necessary—" and he levelled an imaginary fowling-piece with a boyish gesture.
"Don't you try to move anybody without an order of the court!" cried St. George, joining in the merriment. "With that mortgage hanging over everything and Gorsuch and your father cudgelling their brains to foreclose it, you won't have a ghost of a chance. Come to think of it, however, I might help—for a few weeks' expenses, at least. How would this do?" Here he had all he could do to straighten his face: "'Attention now—Hats off in the court-room. For sale or hire! Immediate delivery. One first-class gentleman, in reasonable repair. Could be made useful in opening and shutting doors, or in dancing attendance upon children under one year of age, or in keeping flies from bedridden folk. Apply, and so forth,' Gadgem could fix it. He has done the most marvellous things in the last year or two—extraordinary, really! Ask Todd about it some time—he'll tell you."
They were both roaring with laughter, St. George so buoyed up by the contagious spirit of the young fellow that he insisted on getting out of bed and sitting in Aunt Jemima's rocking chair with a blanket across his knees.
All the morning did this happy talk go on:—the joyous unconfined talk of two men who had hungered and thirsted for each other through weary bitter days and nights, and whose coming together was like the mingling of two streams long kept apart, and now one great river flowing to a common outlet and a common good.
And not only did their talk cover the whole range of Harry's experiences from the time he left the ship for his sojourn in the hill country and the mountains beyond, and all of St. George's haps and mishaps, with every single transaction of Gadgem and Pawson—loving cup, dogs and all—but when their own personal news was exhausted they both fell back on their friends, such as Richard Horn and old Judge Pancoast; when he had seen Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Latrobe—yes, and what of Mr. Poe—had he written any more?—and were his habits any better?—etc., etc.
"I have seen Mr. Poe several times since that unfortunate dinner, Harry; the last time when he was good enough to call upon me on his way to Richmond. He was then particularly himself. You would not have known him—grave, dignified, perfectly dressed—charming, delightful. He came in quite late—indeed I was going to bed when I heard his knock and, Todd being out, I opened the door myself. There was some of that Black Warrior left, and I brought out the decanter, but he shook his head courteously and continued his talk. He asked after you. Wonderful man, Harry—a man you never forget once you know him."
St. George dragged the pine table nearer his chair and moistened his lips with the glass of milk which Jemima had set beside him. Then he went on:
"You remember Judge Giles, do you not? Lives here on St. Paul Street—yes—of course you do—for he is a great friend of your father's and you must have met him repeatedly at Moorlands. Well, one day at the club he told me the most extraordinary story about Mr. Poe—this was some time after you'd gone. It seems that the judge was at work in his study late one snowy night when his doorbell sounded. Outside stood a man with his coat buttoned close about his throat—evidently a gentleman—who asked him politely for a sheet of paper and a pen. You know the judge, and how kind and considerate he is. Well, of course he asked him in, drew out a chair at his desk and stepped into the next room to leave him undisturbed. After a time, not hearing him move, he looked in and to his surprise the stranger had disappeared. On the desk lay a sheet of paper on which was written three verses of a poem. It was his 'Bells.' The judge has had them framed, so I hear. There was enough snow on the ground to bring out the cutters, and Poe had the rhythm of the bells ringing in his head and being afraid he would forget it he pulled the judge's doorbell. I wish he'd rung mine. I must get the poem for you, Harry—it's as famous now as 'The Raven.' Richard, I hear, reads it so that you can distinguish the sound of each bell."
"Well, he taught me a lesson," said Harry, tucking the blanket close around his uncle's knees—"one I have never forgotten, and never will. He sent me to bed a wreck, I remember, but I got up the next morning with a new mast in me and all my pumps working."
"You mean—" and St. George smiled meaningly and tossed his hand up as if emptying a glass.
"Yes—just that—" rejoined Harry with a nod. "It's so hot out where I have been that a glass of native rum is as bad as a snake bite and everybody except a native leaves it alone. But if I had gone to the North Pole instead of the equator I would have done the same. Men like you and father, and Mr. Richard Horn and Mr. Kennedy, who have been brought up on moderation, may feel as they choose about it, but I'm going to let it alone. It's the devil when it gets into your blood and mine's not made for it. I'd like to thank Mr. Poe if I dared, which I wouldn't, of course, if I ever saw him, for what he did for me. I wouldn't be surprised if he would give a good deal himself to do the same—or has he pulled out?"
"He never has pulled in, Harry—not continuously. Richard has the right of it. Poe is a man pursued by a devil and lives always on the watch to prevent the fiend from getting the best of him. Months at a time he wins and then there comes a day when the devil gets on top. He says himself—he told me this the last time I saw him—that he really lives a life devoted to his literary work; that he shuts himself up from everybody; and that the desire for society only comes upon him when he's excited by drink. Then, and only then, does he go among his fellows. There is some truth in that, my son, for as long as I have known him I have never seen him in his cups except that one night at my house. A courteous, well-bred gentleman, my boy—most punctilious about all his obligations and very honest about his failings. All he said to me the next day when he sobered up—I kept him all that night, you remember—was: 'I was miserably weak and inexcusably drunk last night, Mr. Temple. If that was all it would make no difference; I have been very drunk before, and I will be very drunk again; but in addition to my being drunk I insulted you and your friends and ruined your dinner. That makes every difference. Don't let it cause a break between us. Let me come again. And now please brush it from your mind. If you knew how I suffer over this fiend who tortures and gloats over me you'd only have the greatest pity for me, in your heart.' Then he wrung my hand and left the house."
"Well, that's all any of us could do," sighed Harry, leaning back in his chair, his eyes on the ceiling. "It makes some difference, however, of whom you ask forgiveness. I've been willing to say the same kind of thing to my father ever since my affair with Mr. Willits, but it would have fallen on deaf ears. I had another trial at it yesterday, and you know what happened."
"I don't think your father knew you, Harry," protested St. George, with a negative wave of his hand.
"I hope he didn't—I shouldn't like to think he did. But, by heaven! it broke my heart to see him, Uncle George. You would hardly know him. Even his voice has changed and the shade over his eyes and the way he twists his head when he looks at you really gave me a creepy feeling," and the young man passed his fingers across his own eyes as if to shut out some hideous object.
"Was he looking straight at you when he ordered you from the room?"
"Straight as he could."
"Well, let us try and think it was the beard. And that reminds me, son, that it's got to come off, and right away. When Todd comes in he'll find my razors and—"
"No—I'll look up a barber."
"Not down in this part of the town," exclaimed St. George with a suggestive grimace.
"No—I'll go up to Guy's. There used to be an old negro there who looked after us young fellows when our beards began to sprout. He'll take care of it all right. While I'm out I'll stop and send Todd back. I'm going to end his apprenticeship to-day, and so he'll help you dress. Nothing like getting into your clothes when you're well enough to get out of bed; I've done it more than once," and with a pat on his uncle's shoulder and the readjustment of the blanket, he closed the door behind him and left the room.
"Everything is working fine, auntie," he cried gaily as he passed the old woman who was hanging out the last of her wash. "I'll be back in an hour. Don't tell him yet—" and he strode out of the yard on his way uptown.
Intruders of all kinds had thrust their heads between the dripping, slightly moist, and wholly dry installments of Aunt Jemima's Monday wash, and each and every one had been assailed by a vocabulary hurled at them through the creaky gate, and as far out as the street—peddlers; beggars; tramps; loose darkies with no visible means of support, who had smelt the cooking in the air—even goats with an acquired taste for stocking legs and window curtains—all of whom had either been invited out, whirled out, or thrown out, dependent upon the damage inflicted, the size of the favors asked, or the length of space intervening between Jemima's right arm and their backs. In all of these instances the old cook had been the broom and the intruders the dust. Being an expert in its use the intruders had succumbed before they had gotten through their first sentence. In the case of the goat even that privilege was denied him; it was the handle and not the brush-part which ended the argument. To see Aunt Jemima get rid of a goat in one whack and two jumps was not only a lesson in condensed conversation, but furnished a sight one rarely forgot—the goat never!
This morning the situation was reversed. It was Aunt Jemima who came flying upstairs, her eyes popping from her head, her plump hands flattened against her big, heaving bosom, her breath gone in the effort to tell her dreadful news before she should drop dead.
"Marse George! who d'ye think's downstairs?" she gasped, bursting in the door of his bedroom, without even the customary tap. "Oh, bless Gawd! dat you'se outen dat bed! and dressed and tryin' yo' po' legs about the room. He's comin' up. Got a man wid him I ain't neber see befo'. Says he's a-lookin' fer somebody! Git in de closet an' I'll tell him you'se out an' den I'll run an' watch for Marse Harry at de gate. Oh, I doan' like dis yere bus'ness," and she began to wring her hands.
St. George, who had been listening to the old woman with mingled feelings of wonder and curiosity, raised his hand to silence her. Whether she had gone daft or was more than usually excited he could not for the moment decide.
"Get your breath, Jemima, and tell me what you're talking about. Who's downstairs?"
"Ain't I jes' don' tol' yer? Got a look on him make ye shiver all over; says he's gwineter s'arch de house. He's got a constable wid him—dat is, he's got a man dat looks like a constable, an'—"
St. George laid his hands on the old woman's shoulders, and turned her about.
"Hush your racket this instant, and tell me who is downstairs?"
"Marse Talbot Rutter," she wheezed; "come f'om de country—got mud all ober his boots."
"Mr. Harry's father?"
Aunt Jemima choked and nodded: there was no breath left for more.
"Who did he ask for?" St. George was calm enough now.
"Didn't ask fer nobody; he say, 'I'm lookin' fer a man dat come in yere las' night.' I see he didn't know me an' I neber let on. Den he say, 'Hab you got any boa'ders yere?' an' I say, 'I got one,' an' den he 'tempted ter pass me an' I say, 'Wait a minute 'til I see ef he's outen de bed.' Now, what's I gwineter do? He doan' mean no good to Marse Harry an' he'll dribe him 'way ag'in, an' he jes' come back an' you gittin' well a-lovin' of him—an'—"
An uncertain step was heard in the hall.
"Dat's him," Jemima whispered hoarsely, behind her hand, "what'll I do? Doan' let him come in. I'll—"
St. George moved past her and pushed back the door.
Colonel Rutter stood outside.
The two men looked into each other's faces.
"I am in search, sir," the colonel began, shading his eyes with his fingers, the brighter light of the room weakening his sight, "for a young sailor whom I am informed stopped here last night, and who... ST. GEORGE! What in the name of God are you doing in a place like this?"
"Come inside, Talbot," Temple replied calmly, his eyes fixed on Rutter's drawn face and faltering gaze. "Aunt Jemima, hand Colonel Rutter a chair. You will excuse me if I sit down—I am just out of bed after a long illness, and am a little weak," and he settled slowly into his seat. "My servant tells me that you are looking for a—"
St. George paused. Rutter was paying no more attention to what he said than if he had been in the next room. He was straining his eyes about the apartment; taking in the empty bed from which St. George had just arisen, the cheap chairs and small pine table and the kitchen plates and cup which still held the remains of St. George's breakfast. He waited until Jemima had backed out of the door, her scared face still a tangle of emotions—fear for her master's safety uppermost. His eyes again veered to St. George.
"What does it all mean, Temple?" he asked in a dazed way.
"I don't think that subject is under discussion, Talbot, and we will, therefore, pass it. To what do I owe the honor of this visit?"
"Don't be a damned fool, St. George! Don't you see I'm half crazy? Harry has come back and he is hiding somewhere in this neighborhood."
"How do you know?" he inquired coolly. He did not intend to help Rutter one iota in his search until he found out why he wanted Harry. No more cursing of either his son or himself—that was another chapter which was closed.
"Because I've been hunting for him all day. He rode out to Moorlands yesterday, and I didn't know him, he's so changed. But think of it! St. George, I ordered him out of my office. I took him for a road-peddler. And he's going to sea again—he told Alec as much. I tell you I have got to get hold of him! Don't sit there and stare at me, man! tell me where I can find my son!"
"What made you suppose he was here, Talbot?" The same cool, measured speech and manner, but with a more open mind behind it now. The pathetic aspect of the man, and the acute suffering shown in every tone of his voice, had begun to tell upon the invalid.
"Because a man I've got downstairs brought Harry here last night. He is not positive, as it was quite dark, but he thinks this is the place. I went first to the Barkeley Line, found they had a ship in—the Mohican—and saw the captain, who told me of a man who came aboard at Rio. Then I learned where he had put up for the night—a low sailors' retreat—and found this peddler who said he had sold Harry the silks which he offered me. He brought me here."
"Well, I can't help you any. There are only two rooms—I occupy this and my old cook, Jemima, has the other. I have been here for over a month."
"Here! in this God-forsaken place! Why, we thought you had gone to Virginia. That's why we have had no answers to our letters, and we've hunted high and low for you. Certainly you have heard about the Patapsco and what—"
"I certainly have heard nothing, Talbot, and as I have just told you, I'd rather you would not discuss my affairs. The last time you saw fit to encroach upon them brought only bitterness, and I prefer not to repeat it. Anything you have to say about Harry I will gladly hear. Go on—I'm listening."
"For God's sake, St. George, don't take that tone with me! If you knew how wretched I am you'd be sorry for me. I am a broken-down man! If Harry goes away again without my seeing him I don't want to live another day. When Alec came running back last night and told me that I had cursed my son to his face, I nearly went out of my mind. I knew when I saw Alec's anger that it was true, and I knew, too, what a brute I had been. I ran to Annie's room, took her in my arms, and asked her pardon. All night I walked my room; at daylight I rang for Alec, sent for Matthew, and he hooked up the carryall and we came in here. Annie wanted to come with me, but I wouldn't let her. I knew Seymour wasn't out of bed that early, and so I drove straight to the shipping office and waited until it was open, and I've been hunting for him ever since. You and I have been boys together, St. George—don't lay up against me all the insulting things I've said to you—all the harm I've done you! God knows I've repented of it! Will you forgive me, St. George, for the sake of the old days—for the sake of my boy to whom you have been a father? Will you give me your hand? What in the name of common sense should you and I be enemies for? I, who owe you more than I owe any man in the world! Will you help me?"
St. George was staring now. He bent forward, gripped the arms of his chair for a better purchase, and lifted himself to his feet. There he stood swaying, Rutter's outstretched hand in both of his, his whole nature stirred—only one thought in his heart—to wipe out the past and bring father and son together.
"Yes, Talbot—I'll forgive you and I'll help you—I have helped you! Harry will be here in a few minutes—I sent him out to get his beard shaved off—that's why you didn't know him."
The colonel reeled and but for St. George's hand would have lost his balance. All the blood was gone from his cheeks. He tried to speak, but the lips refused to move. For an instant St. George thought he would sink to the floor.
"You say—Harry... is here!" he stammered out at last, catching wildly at Temple's other hand to steady himself.
"Yes, he came across Todd by the merest accident or he would have gone to the Eastern Shore to look me up. Listen!—that's his step now! Turn that door knob and hold out your hands to him, and after you've got your arms around him get down on your knees and thank your God that you've got such a son! I do, every hour I live!"
The door swung wide and Harry strode in: his eyes glistening, his cheeks aglow.
"Up, are you, and in your clothes!" he cried joyfully, all the freshness of the morning in his voice. "Well, that's something like! How do you like me now?—smooth as a marlinspike and my hair trimmed in the latest fashion, so old Bones says. He didn't know me either till he got clear down below my mouth and when my chin began to show he gave a—"
He stopped and stared at his father, who had been hidden from sight by the swinging door. The surprise was so great that his voice clogged in his throat. Rutter stood like one who had seen an apparition.
St. George broke the silence:
"It's all right, Harry—give your father your hand."
The colonel made a step forward, threw out one arm as if to regain his equilibrium and swayed toward a chair, his frame shaking convulsively, wholly unstrung, sobbing like a child. Harry sprang to catch him and the two sank down together—no word of comfort—only the mute appeal of touch—the brown hand wet with his father's tears.
For some seconds neither spoke, then Rutter raised his head and looked into his son's face.
"I didn't know it was you, Harry. I have been hunting you all day to ask your pardon." It was the memory of the last indignity he had heaped upon him that tortured him.
"I knew you didn't, father."
"Don't go away again, Harry, please don't, my son!" he pleaded, strangling the tears, trying to regain his self-control—tears had often of late moistened Rutter's lids. "Your mother can't stand it another year, and I'm breaking up—half blind. You won't go, will you?"
"No—not right away, father—we'll talk of that later." He was still in the dark as to how it had come about. All he knew was that for the first time in all his life his father had asked his pardon, and for the first time in his life the barrier which held them apart had been broken down.
The colonel braced himself in his seat in one supreme effort to get himself in hand. One of his boasts was that he had never lost his self-control. Harry rose to his feet and stood beside him. St. George, trembling from his own weakness, a great throb of thankfulness in his heart, had kept his place in his chair, his eyes turned away from the scene. His own mind had also undergone a change. He had always known that somewhere down in Talbot Rutter's heart—down underneath the strata of pride and love of power, there could be found the heart of a father—indeed he had often predicted to himself just such a coming together. It was the boy's pluck and manliness that had done it; a manliness free from all truckling or cringing. And then his tenderness over the man who had of all others in the world wronged him most! He could hardly keep his glad hands off the boy.
"You will go home with me, of course, won't you, Harry?" He must ask his consent now—this son of his whom he had driven from his home and insulted in the presence of his friends at the club, and whom he could see was now absolutely independent of him—and what was more to the point absolutely his own master.
"Yes, of course, I'll go home with you, father," came the respectful answer, "if mother isn't coming in. Did she or Alec say anything to you about it before you left?"
"No, she isn't coming in to-day—I wouldn't let her. It was too early when I started. But that's not what I mean," he went on with increasing excitement. "I want you to go home with me and stay forever; I want to forget the past; I want St. George to hear me say so! Come and take your place at the head of the estate—I will have Gorsuch arrange the papers to-morrow. You and St. George must go back with me to-day. I have the large carryall—Matthew is with me—he stopped at the corner—he's there now."
"That's very kind of you, father," Harry rejoined calmly, concealing as best he could his disappointment at not being able to see his mother.
"Yes! of course you will go with me," his father continued in nervous, jerky tones. "Please send the servant for Matthew, my coachman, and have him drive up. As for you, St. George, you can't stay here another hour. How you ever got here is more than I can understand. Moorlands is the place for you both—you'll get well there. My carriage is a very easy one. Perhaps I had better go for Matthew myself."
"No, don't move, Talbot," rejoined St. George in a calm firm voice wondering at Talbot's manner. He had never seen him like this. All his old-time measured talk and manner were gone; he was like some breathless, hunted man pleading for his life. "I'm very grateful to you but I shall stay here. Harry, will you kindly go for Matthew?"
"Stay here!—for how long?" cried the colonel in astonishment, his glance following Harry as he left the room in obedience to his uncle's request.
"Well, perhaps for the balance of the winter."
"In this hole?" His voice had grown stronger.
"Certainly, why not?" replied St. George simply, moving his chair so that his guest might see him the better. "My servants are taking care of me. I can pay my way here, and it's about the only place in which I can pay it, and I want to tell you frankly, Talbot, that I am very happy to be here—am very glad, really, to get such a place. No one could be more devoted than my Todd and Jemima—I shall never forget their kindness."
"But you're not a pauper?" cried the colonel in some heat.
"That was what you were once good enough to call me—the last time we met. The only change is that then I owed Pawson and that now I owe Todd," he replied, trying to repress a smile, as if the humor of the situation would overcome him if he was not careful. "Thank you very much, Talbot—and I mean every word of it—but I'll stay where I am, at least for the present."
"But the bank is on its legs again," rebounded the colonel, ignoring all reference to the past, his voice gaining in volume.
"So am I," laughed St. George, tapping his lean thighs with his transparent fingers—"on a very shaky pair of legs—so shaky that I shall have to go to bed again pretty soon."
"But you're coming out all right, St. George!" Rutter had squared himself in his chair and was now looking straight at his host. "Gorsuch has written you half a dozen letters about it and not a word from you in reply. Now I see why. But all that will come out in time, I tell you. You're not going to stay here for an hour longer." His old personality was beginning to assert itself.
"The future doesn't interest me, Talbot," smiled St. George in perfect good humor. "In my experience my future has always been worse than my past."
"But that is no reason why you shouldn't go home with me now and let us take care of you," Rutter cried in a still more positive tone. "Annie will be delighted. Stay a month with me—stay a year. After what I owe you, St. George, there's nothing I wouldn't do for you."
"You have already done it, Talbot—every obligation is wiped out," rejoined St. George in a satisfied tone.
"By coming here and asking Harry's pardon—that is more to me than all the things I have ever possessed," and his voice broke as he thought of the change that had taken place in Harry's fortunes in the last half hour.
"Then come out to Moorlands and let me prove it!" exclaimed the colonel, leaning forward in his eagerness and grasping St. George by the sleeve.
"No," replied St. George in appreciative but positive tones—showing his mind was fully made up. "If I go anywhere I'll go back to my house on Kennedy Square—that is to the little of it that is still mine. I'll stay there for a day or two, to please Harry—or until they turn me out again, and then I'll come back here. Change of air may do me good, and besides, Jemima and Todd should get a rest."
The colonel rose to his feet: "You shall do no such thing!" he exploded. The old dominating air was in full swing now. "I tell you you WILL come with me! Damn you, St. George!—if you don't I'll never speak to you again, so help me, God!"
St. George threw back his head and burst into a roar of laughter in which, after a moment of angry hesitation, Rutter joined. Then he reached down and with his hand on St. George's shoulder, said in a coaxing tone—"Come along to Moorlands, old fellow—I'd be so glad to have you, and so will Annie, and we'll live over the old days."
Harry's re-entrance cut short the answer.
"No father," he cried cheerily, taking up the refrain. He had seen the friendly caress and had heard the last sentence. "Uncle George is still too ill, and too weak for so long a drive. It's only the excitement over my return that keeps him up now—and he'll collapse if we don't look out—but he'll collapse in a better place than this!" he added with joyous emphasis. "Todd is outside, the hack is at the gate, and Jemima is now waiting for him in his old room at home. Give me your arm, you blessed old cripple, and let me help you downstairs. Out of the way, father, or he'll change his mind and I'll have to pick him up bodily and carry him."
St. George shot a merry glance at Harry from under his eyebrows, and with a wave of his hand and a deprecating shake of his head at the colonel said:
"These rovers and freebooters, Talbot, have so lorded it over their serfs that they've lost all respect for their betters. Give me your hand, you vagabond, and if you break my neck I'll make you bury me."
The colonel looked on silently and a sharp pain gripped his throat. When, in all his life, had he ever been spoken to by his boy in that spirit, and when in all his life had he ever seen that same tenderness in Harry's eyes? What had he not missed?
"Harry, may I make a suggestion?" he asked almost apologetically. The young fellow turned his head in respectful attention: "Put St. George in my carriage—it is much more comfortable—and let me drive him home—my eyes are quite good in the daytime, after I get used to the light, and I am still able to take the road. Then put your servant and mine in the hack with St. George's and your own luggage."
"Capital idea!" cried Harry enthusiastically "I never thought of it! Attention company! Eyes to the front, Mr. Temple! You'll now remain on waiting orders until I give you permission to move, and as this may take some time—please hold on to him, father, until I get his chair" (they were already out on the landing—on the very plank where Harry had passed the night) "you'll go back to your quarters... Here sir, these are your quarters," and Harry dragged the chair into position with his foot. "Down with you... that's it... and you will stay here until the baggage and hospital train arrives, when you'll occupy a front seat in the van—and there will be no grumbling or lagging behind of any kind, remember, or you'll get ten days in the calaboose!"
Pawson was on the curbstone, his face shining, his semaphore arms and legs in action, his eyes searching the distance, when the two vehicles came in sight. He had heard the day boat was very late, and as there had been a heavy fog over night, did not worry about the delay in their arrival.
What troubled him more was the change in Mr. Temple's appearance. He had gone away ruddy, erect, full of vigor and health, and here he was being helped out of the carriage, pale, shriveled, his eyes deep set in his head. His voice, though, was still strong if his legs were shaky, and there seemed also to be no diminution in the flow of his spirits. Wesley had kept that part of him intact whatever changes the climate had made.
"Ah, Pawson—glad to see you!" the invalid called gaily extending his hand as soon as he stood erect on the sidewalk. "Back again, you see—these old derelicts bob up once in a while when you least expect them." And he wrung his hand heartily. "So the vultures, it seems, have not turned up yet and made their roost in my nest. Most kind of you to stay home and give up your business to meet me! You know Colonel Talbot Rutter, of Moorlands, I presume, and Mr. Harry Rutter—Of course you do! Harry has told me all about your midnight meeting when you took him for a constable, and he took you for a thief. No—please don't laugh, Pawson—Mr. Rutter is the worst kind of a thief. Not only has he stolen my heart because of his goodness to me, but he threatens to make off with my body. Give me your hand, Todd. Now a little lift on that rickety elbow and I reckon we can make that flight of steps. I have come down them so many times of late with no expectation of ever mounting them again that it will be a novelty to be sure of staying over night. Come in, Talbot, and see the home of my ancestors. I am sorry the Black Warrior is all gone—I sent Kennedy the last bottle some time ago—pity that vintage didn't last forever. Do you know, Talbot, if I had my way, I'd have a special spigot put in the City Spring labelled 'Gift of a once prominent citizen,' and supply the inhabitants with 1810—something fit for a gentleman to drink."
They were all laughing now; the colonel carrying the pillows Todd had tucked behind the invalid's back, Harry a few toilet articles wrapped in paper, and Matthew his cane—and so the cortege crawled up the steps, crossed the dismantled dining-room—the colonel aghast at the change made in its interior since last he saw it—and so on to St. George's room where Todd and Jemima put him to bed.
His uncle taken care of—(his father had kept on to Moorlands to tell his mother the good news)—Harry mounted the stairs to his old room, which Pawson had generously vacated.
The appointments were about the same as when he left; time and poverty had wrought but few changes. Pawson, had moved in a few books and there was a night table beside the small bed with a lamp on it, showing that he read late; but the bureau and shabby arm-chair, and the closet, stripped now of the young attorney's clothes to make room for the wanderer's—(a scant, sorry lot)—were pretty much the same as Harry had found on that eventful night when he had driven in through the rain and storm beside his Uncle George, his father's anathemas ringing in his ears.
Unconsciously his mind went back to the events of the day;—more especially to his uncle's wonderful vitality and the blissful change his own home-coming had wrought not only in his physique, but in his spirits. Then his father's shattered form, haggard face, and uncertain glance rose before him, and with it came the recollection of all that had happened during the previous hours: his father's brutal outburst in the small office and the marvellous effect produced upon him when he learned the truth from Alec's lips; his hurried departure in the gray dawn for the ship and his tracing him to Jemima's house. More amazing still was his present bearing toward himself and St. George; his deference to their wishes and his willingness to follow and not lead. Was it his ill-health that had brought about this astounding reformation in a man who brooked no opposition?—or had his heart really softened toward him so that from this on he could again call him father in the full meaning of the term? At this a sudden, acute pain wrenched his heart. Perhaps he had not been glad enough to see him—perhaps in his anxiety over his uncle he had failed in those little tendernesses which a returned prodigal should have shown the father who had held out his arms and asked his forgiveness. Why was he not more affected by the sight of his suffering. When he first saw his uncle he had not been able to keep the tears back—and yet his eyes were dry enough when he saw his father. At this he fell to wondering as to the present condition of the colonel's mind. What was he thinking of in that lonely drive. He must be nearing Moorlands by this time and Alec would meet him, and later the dear mother—and the whole story would be told. He could see her glad face—her eyes streaming tears, her heart throbbing with the joy of his return.
And it is a great pity he could not have thus looked in upon the autocrat of Moorlands as he sat hunched up on the back seat of the carryall, his head bowed, the only spoken words being Matthew's cheery hastening of his horses. And it is even a greater pity that the son could not have searched as well the secret places of the man's heart: such clearings out of doubts and misgivings make for peace and good fellowship and righteousness in this world of misunderstanding.
That a certain rest had come into Rutter's soul could be seen in his face—a peace that had not settled on his features for years—but, if the truth must be told, he was far from happy. Somehow the joy he had anticipated at the boy's home-coming had not been realized. With the warmth of Harry's grasp still lingering in his own and the tones of his voice still sounding in his ears, try as he might, he yet felt aloof from him—outside—far off. Something had snapped in the years they had been apart—something he knew could never be repaired. Where there had once been boyish love there was now only filial regard. Down in his secret soul he felt it—down in his secret soul he knew it! Worse than that—another had replaced him! "Come, you dear old cripple!"—he could hear the voice and see the love and joy in the boy's eyes as he shouted it out. Yes, St. George was his father now!
Then his mind reverted to his former treatment of his son and for the hundredth time he reviewed his side of the case. What else could he have done and still maintain the standards of his ancestors?—the universal question around Kennedy Square, when obligations of blood and training were to be considered. After all it had only been an object lesson; he had fully intended to forgive him later on. When Harry was a boy he punished him as boys were punished; when he became a man he punished him as men were punished. But for St. George the plan would long since have worked. St. George had balked him twice—once at the club and once at his home in Kennedy Square, when he practically ordered him from the house.
And yet he could not but admit—and at this he sat bolt upright in his seat—that even according to his own high standards both St. George and Harry had measured up to them! Rather than touch another penny of his uncle's money Harry had become an exile; rather than accept a penny from his enemy, St. George had become a pauper. With this view of the case fermenting in his mind—and he had not realized the extent of both sacrifices until that moment—a feeling of pride swept through him. It was HIS BOY and HIS FRIEND, who had measured up!—by suffering, by bodily weakness—by privation—by starvation! And both had manfully and cheerfully stood the test! It was the blood of the DeRuyters which had put courage into the boy; it was the blood of the cavaliers that had made Temple the man he was. And that old DeRuyter blood! How it had told in every glance of his son's eyes and every intonation of his voice! If he had not accumulated a fortune he would—and that before many years were gone. But!—and here a chill went through him. Would not this still further separate them, and if it did how could he restore in the shortest possible time the old dependence and the old confidence? His efforts so far had met with almost a rebuff, for Harry had shown no particular pleasure when he told him of his intention to put him in charge of the estate: he had watched his face closely for a sign of satisfaction, but none had come. He had really seemed more interested in getting St. George downstairs than in being the fourth heir of Moorlands—indeed, it was very evident that he had no thought for anybody or anything except St. George.
All this the son might have known could he have sat by his father in the carryall on this way to Moorlands.
The sudden halting of two vehicles close to the horse-block of the Temple Mansion—one an aristocratic carryall driven by a man in livery, and the other a dilapidated city hack in charge of a negro in patched overcoat and whitey-brown hat, the discharge of their inmates, one of whom was Colonel Talbot Rutter of Moorlands carrying two pillows, and another a strange young man loaded down with blankets—the slow disembarking of a gentleman in so wretched a state of health that he was practically carried up the front steps by his body-servant, and the subsequent arrival of Dr. Teackle on the double quick—was a sight so unusual in and around peaceful Kennedy Square that it is not surprising that all sorts of reports—most of them alarming—reached the club long before St. George had been comfortably tucked away in bed.
Various versions were afloat: "St. George was back from Wesley with a touch of chills and fever—" "St. George was back from Wesley with a load of buckshot in his right arm—" "St. George had broken his collar-bone riding to hounds—" etc.
Richard Horn was the first to spring to his feet—it was the afternoon hour and the club was full—and cross the Square on the run, followed by Clayton, Bowman, and two or three others. These, with one accord, banged away on the knocker, only to be met by Dr. Teackle, who explained that there was nothing seriously the matter with Mr. Temple, except an attack of foolhardiness in coming up the bay when he should have stayed in bed—but even that should cause his friends no uneasiness, as he was still as tough as a lightwood knot, and bubbling over with good humor; all he needed was rest, and that he must have—so please everybody come to-morrow.