By the next morning the widening of ripples caused by the dropping of a high-grade invalid into the still pool of Kennedy Square, spread with such force and persistency that one wavelet overflowed Kate's dressing-room. Indeed, it came in with Mammy Henny and her coffee.
"Marse George home, honey—Ben done see Todd. Got a mis'ry in his back dat bad it tuk two gemmens to tote him up de steps."
"Uncle George home, and ill!"
That was enough for Kate. She didn't want any coffee—she didn't want any toast or muffins, or hominy—she wanted her shoes and stockings and—Yes everything, and quick!—and would Mammy Henny call Ben and send him right away to Mr. Temple's and find out how her dear Uncle George had passed the night, and give him her dearest love and tell him she would come right over to see him the moment she could get into her clothes; and could she send anything for him to eat; and did the doctor think it was dangerous—? Yes—and Ben must keep on to Dr. Teackle's and find out if it was dangerous—and say to him that Miss Seymour wanted to know IMMEDIATELY, and—(Here the poor child lost her breath, she was dressing all the time, Mammy Henny's fingers and ears doing their best) "and tell Mr. Temple, too," she rushed on, "that he must send word by Ben for ANYTHING and EVERYTHING he needed" (strong accent on the two words)... all of which was repeated through the crack of the door to patient Ben when he presented himself, with the additional assurance that he must tell Mr. Temple it wouldn't be five minutes before she would be with him—as she was nearly dressed, all but her hair.
She was right about her good intentions, but she was wrong about the number of minutes necessary to carry them out. There was her morning gown to button, and her gaiters to lace, and her hair to be braided and caught up in her neck (she always wore it that way in the morning) and the dearest of snug bonnets—a "cabriolet" from Paris—a sort of hood, stiffened with wires, out of which peeped pink rosebuds quite as they do from a trellis—had to be put on, and the white strings tied "just so"—the bows flaring out and the long ends smoothed flat; and then the lace cape and scarf and her parasol;—all these and a dozen other little niceties had to be adjusted before she could trip down her father's stairs and out of her father's swinging gate and on through the park to her dear Uncle George.
But when she did—and it took her all of an hour—nothing that the morning sun shone on was quite as lovely, and no waft of air so refreshing or so welcome as our beloved heroine when she burst in upon him.
"Oh!—you dear, DEAR thing!" she cried, tossing her parasol on Pawson's table and stretching out her arms toward him sitting in his chair. "Oh, I am so sorry! Why didn't you let me know you were ill? I would have gone down to Wesley. Oh!—I KNEW something was the matter with you or you would have answered my letters."
He had struggled to his feet at the first sound of her footsteps in the hall, and had her in his arms long before she had finished her greeting;—indeed her last sentence was addressed to the collar of his coat against which her cheek was cushioned.
"Who said I was ill?" he asked with one of his bubbling laughs when he got his breath.
"Todd told Ben—and you ARE!—and it breaks my heart." She was holding herself off now, scanning his pale face and shrunken frame—"Oh, I am so sorry you did not let me know!"
"Todd is a chatterer, and Ben no better; I've only had a bad cold—and you couldn't have done me a bit of good if you had come—and now I am entirely well, never felt better in my life. Oh—but it's good to get hold of you, Kate,—and you are still the same bunch of roses. Sit down now and tell me all about it. I wish I had a better chair for you, my dear, but the place is quite dismantled, as you see. I expected to stay the winter when I left."
She had not given a thought to the chair or to the changes—had not even noticed them. That the room was stripped of its furniture prior to a long stay was what invariably occurred in her own house every summer: it was her precious uncle's pale, shrunken face and the blue veins that showed in the backs of his dear transparent hands which she held between her own, and the thin, emaciated wrists that absorbed her.
"You poor, dear Uncle George!" she purred—"and nobody to look after you." He had drawn up Pawson's chair and had placed her in it beside the one he sat in, and had then dropped slowly into his own, the better to hide from her his weakness—but it did not deceive her. "I'm going to have you put back to bed this very minute; you are not strong enough to sit up. Let me call Aunt Jemima."
St. George shook his head good-naturedly in denial and smoothed her hands with his fingers.
"Call nobody and do nothing but sit beside me and let me look into your face and listen to your voice. I have been pretty badly shaken up; had two weeks of it that couldn't have been much worse—but since then I have been on the mend and am getting stronger every minute. I haven't had any medicine and I don't want any now—I just want you and—" he hesitated, and seeing nothing in her eyes of any future hope for Harry, finished the sentence, with "and one or two others to sit by me and cheer me up; that's better than all the doctors in the world. And now, first about your father and then about yourself."
"Oh, he's very well," she rejoined absently. "He's off somewhere, went away two days ago. He'll be back in a week. But you must have something to eat—GOOD things!"—her mind still occupied with his condition. "I'm going to have some chicken broth made the moment I get home and it will be sent fresh every day: and you must eat every bit of it!"
Again St. George's laugh rang out. He had let her run on—it was music to his ears—that he might later on find some clue on which he could frame a question he had been revolving in his mind ever since he heard her voice in the hall. He would not tell her about Harry—better wait until he could read her thoughts the clearer. If he could discover by some roundabout way that she would still refuse to see him it would be best not to embarrass her with any such request; especially on this her first visit.
"Yes—I'll eat anything and everything you send me, you dear Kate—and many thanks to you, provided you'll come with it—you are the best broth for me. But you haven't answered my question—not all of it. What have YOU been doing since I left?"
"Wondering whether you would forgive me for the rude way in which I left you the last time I saw you,—the night of Mr. Horn's reading, for one thing. I went off with Mr. Willits and never said a word to you. I wrote you a letter telling you how sorry I was, but you never answered it, and that made me more anxious than ever."
"What foolishness, Kate! I never got it, of course, or you would have heard from me right away. A number of my letters have gone astray of late. But I don't remember a thing about it, except that you walked off with your—" again he hesitated—"with Mr. Willits, which, of course, was the most natural thing for you to do in the world. How is he, by the way?"
Kate drew back her shoulders with that quick movement common to her when some antagonism in her mind preceded her spoken word.
"I don't know—I haven't seen him for some weeks."
St. George started in his chair: "You haven't! He isn't ill, is he?"
"No, I think not," she rejoined calmly.
"Oh, then he has gone down to his father's. Yes, I remember he goes quite often," he ventured.
"No, I think he is still here." Her gaze was on the window as she spoke, through which could be seen the tops of the trees glistening in the sunlight.
"And you haven't seen him? Why?" asked St. George wonderingly—he was not sure he had heard her aright.
"I told him not to come," she replied in a positive tone.
St. George settled back in his chair. Had there been a clock in the room its faintest tick would have rung out like a trip-hammer.
"Then you have had a quarrel: he has broken his promise to you and got drunk again."
"No, he has never broken it; he has kept it as faithfully as Harry kept his."
"You don't mean, Kate, that you have broken off your engagement?"
She reached over and picked up her parasol: "There never was any engagement. I have always felt sorry for Mr. Willits and tried my best to love him and couldn't—that is all. He understands it perfectly; we both do. It was one of the things that couldn't be."
All sorts of possibilities surged one after the other through the old diplomat's mind. A dim light increasing in intensity began to shine about him. What it meant he dared not hope. "What does your father say?" he asked slowly, after a pause in which he had followed every expression that crossed her face.
"Nothing—and it wouldn't alter the case if he did. I am the best judge of what is good for me." There was a certain finality in her cadences that repelled all further discussion. He remembered having heard the same ring before.
"When did all this happen?—this telling him not to come?" he persisted, determined to widen the inquiry. His mind was still unable to fully grasp the situation.
"About five weeks ago. Do you want to know the very night?" She turned her head as she spoke and looked at him with her full, deep eyes.
"Yes, if you wish me to."
"The night Mr. Horn read 'The Cricket on the Hearth,'" she answered in a tone of relief—as if some great crisis had marked the hour, the passing of which had brought her infinite peace. "I told him when I got home, and I have never seen him since."
For some seconds St. George did not move. He had turned from her and sat with his head resting on his hand, his eyes intent on the smouldering fire: he dare not trust himself to speak; wide ranges opened before him; the light had strengthened until it was blinding. Kate sat motionless, her hands in her lap, her eyes searching St. George's face for some indication of the effect of her news. Then finding him still silent and absorbed in his thoughts, she went on:
"There was nothing else to do, Uncle George. I had done all I could to please my father and one or two of my friends. There was nothing against him—he was very kind and very considerate—but somehow I—" She paused and drew a long breath.
"Somehow what?" demanded St. George raising his head quickly and studying her the closer. The situation was becoming vital now—too vital for any further delay.
"Oh, I don't know—I couldn't love him—that's all. He has many excellent qualities—too many maybe," and she smiled faintly. "You know I never liked people who were too good—that is, too willing to do everything you wanted them to do—especially men who ought really to be masters and—" She stopped and played with the top of her parasol, smoothing the knob with her palm as if the better to straighten out the tangle in her mind. "I expect you will think me queer, Uncle George, but I have come to the conclusion that I will never love anybody again—I am through with all that. It's very hard, you know, to mend a thing when it's broken. I used to say to myself that when I grew to be a woman I supposed I would love as any other woman seemed content to love; that no romance of a young girl was ever realized and that they could only be found in love stories. But my theories all went to pieces when I heard Mr. Horn that night. Dot's love for John the Carrier—I have read it so often since that I know the whole story by heart—Dot's love for John was the real thing, but May Fielding's love for Tackleton wasn't. And it seemed so wonderful when her lover came home and—it's foolish, I know—very silly—that I should have been so moved by just the reading of a story—but it's true. It takes only a very little to push you over when you are on the edge, and I had been on the edge for a long time. But don't let us talk about it, dear Uncle George," she added with a forced smile. "I'm going to take care of you now and be a charming old maid with side curls and spectacles and make flannel things for the poor—you just wait and see what a comfort I will be." Her lips were trembling, the tears crowding over the edges of her lids.
St. George stretched out his hand and in his kindest voice said:
"Was it the carrier and his wife, or was it the sailor boy who came back so fine and strong, that affected you, Kate?—and made you give up Mr. Willits?" He would go to the bottom now.
"It was everything, Uncle George—the sweetness of it all—her pride in her husband—his doubts of her—her repentance; and yet she did what she thought was for the best; and then his forgiveness and the way he wanted to take her in his arms at last and she would not until she explained. And there was nothing really to explain—only love, and trust, and truth—all the time believing in him—loving him. Oh, it is cruel to part people—it's so mean and despicable! There are so many Tackletons—and the May Fieldings go to the altar and so on to their graves—and there is often such a very little difference between the two. I never gave my promise to Mr. Willits. I would not!—I could not! He kept hoping and waiting. He was very gentle and patient—he never coaxed nor pleaded, but just—Oh, Uncle George!—let me talk it all out—I have nobody else. I missed you so, and there was no one who could understand, and you wouldn't answer my letters." She was crying softly to herself, her beautiful head resting on her elbow pillowed on the back of his chair.
He leaned forward the closer: he loved this girl next best to Harry. Her sorrows were his own. Was it all coming out as he had hoped and prayed for? He could hardly restrain himself in his eagerness.
"Did you miss anybody else, Kate?" There was a peculiar tenderness in his voice.
She did not raise her head nor did she answer. St. George waited and repeated the question, Slipping his hand over hers, as he spoke.
"It was the loneliness, Uncle George," she replied, evading his inference. "I tried to forget it all, and I threw open our house and gave parties and dances—hardly a week but there has been something going on—but nothing did any good. I have been—yes—wretchedly unhappy and—No, it will only distress you to hear it—don't let's talk any more about it. I won't let you go away again. I'll go away with you if you don't get better soon, anywhere you say. We'll go down to the White Sulphur—Yes—we'll go there. The air is so bracing—it wouldn't be a week before all the color would come back to your cheeks and you be as strong as ever."
He was not listening. His mind was framing a question—one he must ask without committing himself or her. He was running a parallel, really—reading her heart by a flank movement.
"Kate, dear?" He had regained his position although he still kept hold of her hand.
"Yes, Uncle George."
"Did you write to Harry, as I asked you?"
"No, it wouldn't have done any good. I have had troubles enough of my own without adding any to his."
"Were you afraid he would not answer it?"
She lifted her head and tightened her fingers about his own, her wet eyes looking into his.
"I was afraid of myself. I have never known my own mind and I don't know it now. I have played fast and loose with everybody—I can't bind up a broken arm and then break it again."
"Wouldn't it be better to try?" he said softly.
"No, I don't think so."
St. George released her hand and settled back in his chair; his face grew grave. What manner of woman was this, and how could he reach the inner kernel of her heart? Again he raised his head and leaning forward took both her hands between his own.
"I am going to tell you a story, Kate—one you have never heard—not all of it. When I was about your age—a little older perhaps, I gave my heart to a woman who had known me from a boy; with whom I had played when she was a child. I'm not going into the whole story, such things are always sad; nor will I tell you anything of the beginning of the three happy months of our betrothal nor of what caused our separation. I shall only tell you of the cruelty of the end. There was a misunderstanding—a quarrel—I begging her forgiveness on my knees. All the time her heart was breaking. One little word from her would have healed everything. Some years after that she married and her life still goes on. I am what you see."
Kate looked at him with swimming eyes. She dimly remembered that she had heard that her uncle had had a love affair in his youth and that his sweetheart had jilted him for a richer man, but she had never known that he had suffered so bitterly over it. Her heart went out to him all the more.
"Will you tell me who it was?" She had no right to ask; but she might comfort him the better if she knew.
Kate dropped his hands and drew back in her seat.
"You—loved—Mrs.—Rutter—and she—refused you for—Oh!—what a cruel thing to do! And what a fool she was. Now I know why you have been so good to Harry. Oh, you poor, dear Uncle George. Oh, to think that you of all men! Is there any one whose heart is not bruised and broken?" she added in a helpless tone.
"Plenty of them, Kate—especially those who have been willing to stoop a little and so triumph. Harry has waited three years for some word from you; he has not asked for it, for he believes you have forgotten him; and then he was too much of a man to encroach upon another's rights. Does your breaking off with Mr. Willits alter the case in any way?—does it make any difference? Is this sailor boy always to be a wanderer—never to come home to his people and the woman he loves?"
"He'll never come back to me, Uncle George," she said with a shudder, dropping her eyes. "I found that out the day we talked together in the park, just before he left. And he's not coming home. Father got a letter from one of his agents who had seen him. He was looking very well and was going up into the mountains—I wrote you about it. I am sorry you didn't get the letter—but of course he has written you too."
"Suppose I should tell you that he would come back if he thought you would be glad to see him—glad in the old way?"
Kate shook her head: "He would never come. He hates me, and I don't blame him. I hate myself when I think of it all."
"But if he should walk in now?"—he was very much afraid he would, and he was not quite ready for him yet. What he was trying to find out was not whether Kate would be glad to see Harry as a relief to her loneliness, but whether she really LOVED him.
Some tone in his voice caught her ear. She turned her head quickly and looked at him with wondering gaze, as if she would read his inmost thoughts.
"You mean that he is coming, Uncle George—that Harry IS coming home!" she exclaimed excitedly, the color ebbing from her cheeks.
"He is already here, Kate. He slept upstairs in his old room last night. I expect him in any minute."
"Here!—in this room!" She was on her feet in an instant, her face deathly pale, her whole frame shaking. Which way should she turn to escape? To meet him face to face would bring only excruciating pain. "Oh, why didn't you tell me, Uncle George!" she burst out. "I won't see him! I can't!—not now—not here! Let me go home—let me think! No—don't stop me!" and catching up her cape and parasol she was out the door and down the steps before he could call her back or even realize that she had gone.
Once on the pavement she looked nervously up and down the street, gathered her pretty skirts tight in her hand and with the fluttered flight of a scared bird darted across the park, dashed through her swinging gate, and so on up to her bedroom.
There she buried her face in Mammy Henny's lap and burst into an agony of tears.
While all this had been going on upstairs another equally important conference was taking place in Pawson's office below, where Harry at Pawson's request had gone to meet Gadgem and talk over certain plans for his uncle's future welfare. He had missed Kate by one of those trifling accidents which often determine the destiny of nations and of men. Had he, after attending to the business of the morning—(he had been down to Marsh Market with Todd for supplies)—mounted the steps to see his uncle instead of yielding to a sudden impulse to interview Pawson first and his uncle afterward, he would have come upon Kate at the very moment she was pouring out her heart to St. George.
But no such fatality or stroke of good fortune—whatever the gods had in store for him—took place. On the contrary he proceeded calmly to carry out the details of a matter of the utmost importance to all concerned—one in which both Pawson and Gadgem were interested—(indeed he had come at Pawson's suggestion to discuss its details with the collector and himself):—all of which the Scribe promises in all honor to reveal to his readers before the whole of this story is told.
Harry walked straight up to Gadgem:
"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Gadgem," he said in his manly, friendly way. "You have been very good to my uncle, and I want to thank you both for him and for myself," and he shook the little man's hand heartily.
Gadgem blushed. St. George's democracy he could understand; but why this aristocrat—outcast as he had once been, but now again in favor—why this young prince, the heir to Moorlands and the first young blood of his time, should treat him as an equal, puzzled him; and yet, somehow, his heart warmed to him as he read his sincerity in his eyes and voice.
"Thank you, sir—thank you very much, sir," rejoined Gadgem, with a folding-camp-stool-movement, his back bent at right angles with his legs. "I really don't deserve it, sir. Mr. Temple is an EXtraordinary man, sir; the most EXtraordinary man I have ever met, sir. Give you the shirt off his back, sir, and go NAked himself."
"Yes, he gave it to me," laughed Harry, greatly amused at the collector's effusive manner: He had never seen this side of Gadgem. "That, of course, you know all about—you paid the bills, I believe."
"PREcisely so, sir." He had lengthened out now with a spiral-spring, cork-screw twist in his body, his index finger serving as point. "Paid every one of them. He never cared, sir—he GLOried in it—GLOried in being a pauper. UNaccountable, Mr. Rutter—Enormously unaccountable. Never heard of such a case; never WILL hear of such a case. So what was to be done, sir? Just what I may state is being done this minute over our heads UPstairs": and out went the index finger. "Rest and REcuperation, sir—a slow—a very slow use of AVAILable assets until new and FURther AVAILable assets could become visible. And they are here, sir—have arRIVED. You may have heard, of course, of the Patapsco where Mr. Temple kept the largest part of his fortune."
"No, except that it about ruined everybody who had anything to do with it."
"Then you have heard nothing of the REsuscitation!" cried Gadgem, all his fingers opened like a fan, his eyebrows arched to the roots of his hair. "You surPRISE me! And you are really ignorant of the PHOEnix-like way in which it has RISen from its ashes? I said RISen, sir, because it is now but a dim speck in the financial sky. Nor the appointment of Mr. John Gorsuch as manager, ably backed by your DIStinguished father—the setting of the bird upon its legs—I'm speaking of the burnt bird, sir, the PHOEnix. I'm quite sure it was a bird—Nor the payment on the first of the ensuing month of some eighty per cent of the amounts due the ORIGinal depositors and another twenty per cent in one year thereafter—The cancelling of the mortgage which your most BEnevolent and HONorable father bought, and the sly trick of Gorsuch—letting Fogbin, who never turned up, become the sham tenant—and the joy—"
"Hold on Mr. Gadgem—I'm not good at figures. Give me that over again and speak slower. Am I to understand that the bank will pay back to my uncle, within a day or so, three-quarters of the money they stole from him?"
"STOLE, sir!" chided Gadgem, his outstretched forefinger wig-wagging a Fie! Fie! gesture of disapproval—"STOLE is not a pretty word—actionable, sir—DANgerously actionable—a question of the watch-house, and, if I might be permitted to say—a bit of COLD lead—Perhaps you will allow me to suggest the word 'maNIPulated,' sir—the money the bank maNIPulated from your confiding and inexperienced uncle—that is safer and it is equally EXpressive. He! He!"
"Well, will he get the money?" cried Harry, his face lighting up, his interest in the outcome outweighing his amusement over Gadgem's antics and expressions.
"He WILL, sir," rejoined Gadgem decisively.
"And you are so sure of it that you would be willing to advance one-half the amount if the account was turned over to you this minute?" cried Harry eagerly.
"No sir—not one-half—ALL of it—less a TRIfling commission for my services of say one per cent. When you say 'this minute,' sir, I must reply that the brevity of the area of action becomes a trifle ACUTE, yes, ALARMingly acute. I haven't the money myself, sir—that is, not about my person—but I can get it in an hour, sir—in less time, if Mr. Temple is willing. That was my purpose in coming here, sir—that was why Mr. Pawson sent for me, sir; and it is but fair to say that you can thank your DIStinguished father for it all, sir—he has worked night and day to do it. Colonel Rutter has taken over—so I am inFORMED—I'm not sure, but I am inFORMED—taken over a lot of the securities himself so that he COULD do it. Another EXtraordinary combination, if you will permit me to say so—I refer to your father—a man who will show you his door one minute and open his pocketbook and his best bottle of wine for you the next," and he plunged himself down in his seat with so determined a gesture that it left no question on Harry's mind that he intended sitting it out until daylight should there be the faintest possibility of his financial proposition being accepted.
Harry walked to the window and gazed out on the trees. There was no doubt now that Mr. Temple was once more on his feet. "Uncle George will go now to Moorlands," he said, decisively, in a low tone, speaking to himself, his heart swelling with pride at this fresh evidence of his father's high sense of honor—then he wheeled and addressed the attorney:
"Shall I tell Mr. Temple this news, about the Patapsco Bank, Mr. Pawson?"
"Yes, if you think best, Mr. Rutter. And I have another piece of good news. This please do not tell Mr. Temple, not yet—not until it is definitely settled. That old suit in Chancery has been decided, or will be, so I learned this morning and decided in favor of the heir. You may not have heard of it before, Gadgem," and he turned to the collector, "but it is one of old General Dorsey Temple's left-overs. It has been in the courts now some forty years. When this decision is made binding," here he again faced Harry—"Mr. Temple comes in for a considerable share."
Gadgem jumped to his feet and snapped his fingers rapidly. Had he sat on a tack his rebound could not have been more sudden. This last was news to him.
"SHORN lamb, sir!" he cried gleefully, rubbing his palms together, his body tied into a double bow-knot. "Gentle breezes; bread upon the waters! By jiminy, Mr. Rutter, if Mr. Temple could be born again—figuratively, sir—and I could walk in upon him as I once did, and find him at breakfast surrounded by all his comforts with Todd waiting upon him—a very good nigger is Todd, sir—an exCEPtionally good nigger—I'd—I'd—damn me, Mr. Rutter, I'd—well, sir, there's no word—but John Gadgem, sir—well, I'll be damned if he wouldn't—" and he began skipping about the room, both feet in the air, as if he was a boy of twenty instead of a thin, shambling, badly put together bill collector in an ill-fitting brown coat, a hat much the worse for wear, and a red cotton handkerchief addicted to weekly ablutions.
As for Harry the glad news had cleared out wide spaces before him, such as he had not looked through in years; leafy vistas, with glimpses of sunlit meadows; shadow-flecked paths leading to manor-houses with summer skies beyond. He, too, was on his feet, walking restlessly up and down.
Pawson and Gadgem again put their heads together, Harry stopping to listen. Such expressions as "Certainly," "I think I can": "Yes, of course it was there when I was last in his place," "Better see him first," caught his ear.
At last he could stand it no longer. Dr. Teackle or no Dr. Teackle, he would go upstairs, open the door softly, and if his uncle was awake whisper the good news in his ear. If anybody had whispered any such similar good news in his ear on any one of the weary nights he had lain awake waiting for the dawn, or at any time of the day when he sat his horse, his rifle across the pommel, it would have made another man of him.
If his uncle was awake!
He was not only awake, but he was very much alive.
"I've got a great piece of news for you, Uncle George!" Harry shouted in a rollicking tone, his joy increasing as he noted his uncle's renewed strength.
"So have I got a great piece of news for you!" was shouted back. "Come in, you young rascal, and shut that door behind you. She isn't going to marry Willits. Thrown him over—don't want him—don't love him—can't love him—never did love him! She's just told me so. Whoop—hurrah! I Dance, you dog, before I throw this chair at you!!"
There are some moments in a man's life when all language fails;—pantomime moments, when one stares and tries to speak and stares again. They were both at it—St. George waiting until Harry should explode, and Harry trying to get his breath, the earth opening under him, the skies falling all about his head.
"She told you so! When!" he gasped.
"Two minutes ago—you've just missed her! Where the devil have you been? Why didn't you come in before?"
"Kate here—two minutes ago—what will I do?" Had he found himself at sea in an open boat with both oars adrift he could not have been more helpless.
"DO! Catch her before she gets home! Quick!—just as you are—sailor clothes and all!"
"But how will I know if—?"
"You don't have to know! Away with you, I tell you!"
And away he went—and if you will believe it, dear reader—without even a whisper in his uncle's ears of the good news he had come to tell.
Ben let him in.
He came as an apparition, the old butler balancing the door in his hand, as if undecided what to do, trying to account for the change in the young man's appearance—the width of shoulders, the rough clothes, and the determined glance of his eye.
"Fo' Gawd, it's Marse Harry!" was all he said when he could get his mouth open.
"Yes, Ben—go and tell your mistress I am here," and he brushed past him and pushed back the drawing-room door. Once inside he crossed to the mantel and stood with his back to the hearth, his sailor's cap in his hand, his eyes fixed on the door he had just closed behind him. Through it would come the beginning or the end of his life. Ben's noiseless entrance and exit a moment after, with his mistress's message neither raised nor depressed his hopes. He had known all along she would not refuse to see him: what would come after was the wall that loomed up.
She had not hesitated, nor did she keep him waiting. Her eyes were still red with weeping, her hair partly dishevelled, when Ben found her—but she did not seem to care. Nor was she frightened—nor eager. She just lifted her cheek from Mammy Henny's caressing hand—pushed back the hair from her face with a movement as if she was trying to collect her thoughts, and without rising from her knees heard Ben's message to the end. Then she answered calmly:
"Did you say Mr. Harry Rutter, Ben? Tell him I'll be down in a moment."
She entered with that same graceful movement which he loved so well—her head up, her face turned frankly toward him, one hand extended in welcome.
"Uncle George told me you were back, Harry. It was very good of you to come," and sank on the sofa.
It had been but a few steps to him—the space between the open door and the hearth rug on which he stood—and it had taken her but a few seconds to cross it, but in that brief interval the heavens had opened above her. The old Harry was there—the smile—the flash in the eyes—the joy of seeing her—the quick movement of his hand in gracious salute; then there had followed a sense of his strength, of the calm poise of his body, of the clearness of his skin. She saw, too, how much handsomer he had grown,—and noted the rough sailor's clothes. How well they fitted his robust frame! And the clear, calm eyes and finely cut features—no shrinking from responsibility in that face; no faltering—the old ideal of her early love and the new ideal of her sailor boy—the one Richard's voice had conjured—welded into one personality!
"I heard you had just been in to see Uncle George, Kate, and I tried to overtake you."
Not much: nothing in fact. Playwriters tell us that the dramatic situation is the thing, and that the spoken word is as unimportant to the play as the foot-lights—except as a means of illuminating the situation.
"Yes—I have just left him, Harry. Uncle George looks very badly—don't you think so? Is there anything very serious the matter? I sent Ben to Dr. Teackle's, but he was not in his office."
He had moved up a chair and sat devouring every vibration of her lips, every glance of her wondrous eyes—all the little movements of her beautiful body—her dress—the way the stray strands of hair had escaped to her shoulders. His Kate!—and yet he dare not touch her!
"No, he is not ill. He took a severe cold and only needs rest and a little care. I am glad you went and—" then the pent-up flood broke loose. "Are you glad to see me, Kate?"
"I am always glad to see you, Harry—and you look so well. It has been nearly three years, hasn't it?" Her calmness was maddening; she spoke as if she was reciting a part in which she had no personal interest.
"I don't know—I haven't counted—not that way. I have lain awake too many nights and suffered too much to count by years. I count by—"
She raised her hand in protest: "Don't Harry—please don't. All the suffering has not been yours!" The impersonal tone was gone—there was a note of agony in her voice.
His manner softened: "Don't think I blame you, Kate. I love you too much to blame you—you did right. The suffering has only done me good—I am a different man from the one you once knew. I see life with a wider vision. I know what it is to be hungry; I know, too, what it is to earn the bread that has kept me alive. I came home to look after Uncle George. When I go back I want to take him with me. I won't count the years nor all the suffering I have gone through if I can pay him back what I owe him. He stood by me when everybody else deserted me."
She winced a little at the thrust, as if he had touched some sore spot, sending a shiver of pain through her frame, but she did not defend herself.
"You mustn't take him away, Harry—leave Uncle George to me," not as if she demanded it—more as if she was stating a fact.
"Why not? He will be another man out in Brazil—and he can live there like a gentleman on what he will have left—so Pawson thinks."
"Because I love him dearly—and when he is gone I have nobody left," she answered in a hopeless tone.
Harry hesitated, then he asked: "And so what Uncle George told me about Mr. Willits is true?"
Kate looked at him furtively—as if afraid to read his thoughts and for reply bowed her head in assent.
"Didn't he love you enough?" There was a certain reproach in his tone, as if no one could love this woman enough to satisfy her.
"What was the matter then? Was it—" He stopped—his eagerness had led him onto dangerous, if not discourteous, grounds. "No, you needn't answer—forgive me for asking—I had no right. I am not myself, Kate—I didn't mean to—"
"Yes, I'll tell you. I told Uncle George. I didn't like him well enough—that's all." All this time she was looking him calmly in the face. If she had done anything to be ashamed of she did not intend to conceal it from her former lover.
"And will Uncle George take his place now that he's gone? Do you ever know your own heart, Kate?" There was no bitterness in his question. Her frankness had disarmed him of that. It was more in the nature of an inquiry, as if he was probing for something on which he could build a hope.
For a brief instant she made no answer; then she said slowly and with a certain positiveness:
"If I had I would have saved myself and you a great deal of misery."
"And Langdon Willits?"
"No, he cannot complain—he does not—I promised him nothing. But I have been so beaten about, and I have tried so hard to do right; and it has all crumbled to pieces. As for you and me, Harry, let us both forget that we have ever had any differences. I can't bear to think that whenever you come home we must avoid each other. We were friends once—let us be friends again. It was very kind of you to come. I'm glad you didn't wait. Don't be bitter in your heart toward me."
Harry left his chair and settled down on the sofa beside her, and in pleading, tender tones said:
"Kate—When was I ever bitter toward you in my heart? Look at me! Do you realize how I love you?—Do you know it sets me half crazy to hear you talk like that? I haven't come here to-day to reproach you—I have come to do what I can to help you, if you want my help. I told you the last time we talked in the park that I wouldn't stay in Kennedy Square a day longer even if you begged me to. That is over now; I'll do now anything you wish me to do; I'll go or I'll stay. I love you too much to do anything else."
"No, you don't love me!—you can't love me! I wouldn't let you love me after all the misery I have caused you! I didn't know how much until I began to suffer myself and saw Mr. Willits suffer. I am not worthy of any man's love. I will never trust myself again—I can only try to be to the men about me as Uncle George is to everyone. Oh, Harry!—Harry!—Why was I born this way—headstrong wilful—never satisfied? Why am I different from the other women?"
He tried to take her hand, but she drew it away.
"No!—not that!—not that! Let us be just as we were when—Just as we used to be. Sit over there where I can see you better and watch your face as you talk. Tell me all you have done—what you have seen and what sort of places you have been in. We heard from you through—"
He squared his shoulders and faced her, his voice ringing clear, his eyes flashing: something of the old Dutch admiral was in his face.
"Kate—I will have none of it! Don't talk such nonsense to me; I won't listen. If you don't know your own heart I know mine; you've GOT to love me!—you MUST love me! Look at me. In all the years I have been away from you I have lived the life you would have me live—every request you ever made of me I have carried out. I did this knowing you would never be my wife and you would be Willits's! I did it because you were my Madonna and my religion and I loved the soul of you and lived for you as men live to please the God they have never seen. There were days and nights when I never expected to see you or any one else whom I loved again—but you never failed—your light never went out in my heart. Don't you see now why you've got to love me? What was it you loved in me once that I haven't got now? How am I different? What do I lack? Look into my eyes—close—deep down—read my heart! Never, as God is my judge, have I done a thing since I last kissed your forehead, that you would have been ashamed of. Do you think, now that you are free, that I am going back without you? I am not that kind of a man."
She half started from her seat: "Harry!" she cried in a helpless tone—"you do not know what you are saying—you must not—"
He leaned over and took both her hands firmly in his own.
"Look at me! Tell me the truth—as you would to your God! Do you love me?"
She made an effort to withdraw her hands, then she sank back.
"I—I—don't know—" she murmured.
"YOU DO—search again—way down in your heart. Go over every day we have lived—when we were children and played together—all that horror at Moorlands when I shot Willits—the night of Mrs. Cheston's ball when I was drunk—all the hours I have held you in my arms, my lips to yours—All of it—every hour of it—balance one against the other. Think of your loneliness—not mine—yours—and then tell me you do not know! You DO know! Oh, my God, Kate!—you must love me! What else would you want a man to do for you that I have not done?"
He stretched out his arms, but she sprang to her feet and put out her palms as a barrier.
"No. Let me tell you something. We must have no more misunderstandings—you must be sure—I must be sure. I have no right to take your heart in my hands again. It is I who have broken my faith with you, not you with me. I was truly your wife when I promised you here on the sofa that last time. I knew then that you would, perhaps, lose your head again, and yet I loved you so much that I could not give you up. Then came the night of your father's ball and all the misery, and I was a coward and shut myself up instead of keeping my arms around you and holding you up to the best that was in you, just as Uncle George begged me to do. And when your father turned against you and drove you from your home, all because you had tried to defend me from insult, I saw only the disgrace and did not see the man behind it; and then you went away and I stretched out my arms for you to come back to me and only your words echoed in my ears that you would never come back to me until you were satisfied with yourself. Then I gave up and argued it out and said it was all over—"
He had left his seat and at every sentence had tried to take her in his arms, but she kept her palms toward him.
"No, don't touch me! You SHALL hear me out; I must empty all my heart! I was lonely and heart-sore and driven half wild with doubts and what people said, my father worse than all of them. And Mr. Willits was kind and always at my beck and call—and so thoughtful and attentive—and I tried and tried—but I couldn't. I always had you before me—and you haunted me day and night, and sometimes when he would come in that door I used to start, hoping it might be you."
"It IS me, my darling!" he cried, springing toward her. "I don't want to hear any more—I must—I will—"
"But you SHALL! There IS something more. It went on and on and I got so that I did not care, and one day I thought I would give him my promise and the next day all my soul rebelled against it and it was that way until one night Mr. Horn read aloud a story—and it all came over me and I saw everything plain as if it had been on a stage, and myself and you and Mr. Willits—and what it meant—and what would come of it—and he walked home with me and I told him frankly, and I have never seen him since. And now here is the last and you must hear it out. There is not a word I have said to him which I would recall—not a thing I am ashamed of. Your lips were the last that touched my own. There, my darling, it is all told. I love you with my whole heart and soul and mind and body—I have never loved anybody else—I have tried and tried and couldn't. I am so tired of thinking for myself,—so tired,—so tired. Take me and do with me as you will!"
Again the plot is too strong for the dialogue. He had her fast in his arms before her confession was finished. Then the two sank on the sofa where she lay sobbing her heart out, he crooning over her—patting her cheeks, kissing away the tears from her eyelids; smoothing the strands of her hair with his strong, firm fingers. It was his Kate that lay in his grasp—close—tightly pressed—her heart beating against his, her warm, throbbing body next his own, her heart swept of every doubt and care, all her will gone.
As she grew quiet she stretched up her hand, touching his cheek as if to reassure herself that it was really her lover. Yes! It was Harry—HER Harry—Harry who was dead and is alive again—to whom she had stripped her soul naked—and who still trusted and loved her.
A little later she loosened herself from his embrace and taking his face in her small, white hands looked long and earnestly into his eyes, smoothing back the hair from his brow as she used to do; kissing him on the forehead, on each eyelid, and then on the mouth—one of their old-time caresses. Still remembering the old days, she threw back his coat and let her hands wander over his full-corded throat and chest and arms. How big and strong he had become! and how handsome he had grown—the boy merged into the man. And that other something! (and another and stronger thrill shot through her)—that other something which seemed to flow out of him;—that dominating force that betokened leadership, compelling her to follow—not the imperiousness of his father, brooking no opposition no matter at what cost, but the leadership of experience, courage, and self-reliance.
With this the sense of possession swept over her. He was all her own and for ever! A man to lean upon; a man to be proud of; one who would listen and understand: to whom she could surrender her last stronghold—her will. And the comfort of it all; the rest, the quiet, the assurance of everlasting peace: she who had been so torn and buffeted and heart-sore.
For many minutes she lay still from sheer happiness, thrilled by the warmth and pressure of his strong arms. At last, when another thought could squeeze itself into her mind, she said: "Won't Uncle George be glad, Harry?"
"Yes," he answered, releasing her just far enough to look into her eyes. "It will make him well. You made him very happy this morning. His troubles are over, I hear—he's going to get a lot of his money back."
"Oh, I'm so glad. And will we take him with us?" she asked wonderingly, smoothing back his hair as she spoke.
"Take him where, darling?" he laughed.
"To where we are going—No, you needn't laugh—I mean it. I don't care where we go," and she looked at him intently. "I'll go with you anywhere in the world you say, and I'll start to-morrow."
He caught her again in his arms, kissed her for the hundredth time, and then suddenly relaxing his hold asked in assumed alarm: "And what about your father? What do you think he will say? He always thought me a madcap scapegrace—didn't he?" The memory brought up no regret. He didn't care a rap what the Honorable Prim thought of him.
"Yes—he thinks so now," she echoed, wondering how anybody could have formed any such ideas of her Harry.
"Well, he will get over it when I talk with him about his coffee people. Some of his agents out there want looking after."
"Oh!—how lovely, my precious; talking coffee will be much pleasanter than talking me!—and yet we have got to do it somehow when he comes home."
And down went her head again, she nestling the closer as if terrified at the thought of the impending meeting; then another kiss followed—dozens of them—neither of them keeping count, and then—and then—...................................
And then—Ben tapped gently and announced that dinner was served, and Harry stared at the moon-faced dial and saw that it was long after two o'clock, and wondered what in the world had become of the four hours that had passed since he had rushed down from his uncle's and into Kate's arms.
And so we will leave them—playing housekeeping—Harry pulling out her chair, she spreading her dainty skirts and saying "Thank you, Mr. Rutter—" and Ben with his face in so broad a grin that it got set that way—Aunt Dinah, the cook, having to ask him three times "Was he gwineter hab a fit" before he could answer by reason of the chuckle which was suffocating him.
And now as we must close the door for a brief space on the happy couple—never so happy in all their lives—it will be just as well for us to find out what the mischief is going on at the club—for there is something going on—and that of unusual importance.
Everybody is out on the front steps. Old Bowdoin is craning his short neck, and Judge Pancoast is saying that it is impossible and then instatly changing his mind, saying: "By jove it is!"—and Richard Horn and Warfield and Murdoch are leaning over the balcony rail still unconvinced and old Harding is pounding his fat thigh with his pudgy hand in ill-concealed delight.
Yes—there is no doubt of it—hasn't been any doubt of it since the judge shouted out the glad tidings which emptied every chair in the club: Across the park, beyond the rickety, vine-covered fence and close beside the Temple Mansion, stands a four-in-hand, the afternoon sun flashing from the silver mountings of the harness and glinting on the polished body and wheels of the coach. Then a crack of the whip, a wind of the horn, and they are off—the leaders stretching the traces, two men on the box, two grooms in the rear. Hurrah! Well, by thunder, who would have believed it—that's Temple inside on the back seat! "There he is waving his hand and Todd is with him. And yes! Why of course it's Rutter! See him clear that curb! Not a man in this county can drive like that but Talbot."
Round they come—the colonel straight as a whip—dusty-brown overcoat, flowers in his buttonhole—bell-crowned hat, brown driving gloves—perfectly appointed, even if he is a trifle pale and half blind. More horn—a long joyous note now, as if they were heralding the peace of the world, the colonel bowing like a grand duke as he passes the assembled crowd—a gathering of the reins together, a sudden pull-up at Seymours', everybody on the front porch—Kate peeping over Harry's shoulder—and last and best of all, St. George's cheery voice ringing out:
"Where are you two sweethearts!" Not a weak note anywhere; regular fog-horn of a voice blown to help shipwrecked mariners.
"All aboard for Moorlands, you turtle-doves—never mind your clothes, Kate—nor you either, Harry. Your father will send for them later. Up with you."
"All true, Harry," called back the colonel from the top of the coach (nobody alighted but the grooms—there wasn't time—) "Your mother wouldn't wait another hour and sent me for you, and Teackle said St. George could go, and we bundled him up and brought him along and you are all going to stay a month. No, don't wait a minute, Kate; I want to get home before dark. One of my men will be in with the carryall and bring out your mammy and your clothes and whatever you want. Your father is away I hear, and so nobody will miss you. Get your heavy driving coat, my dear; I brought one of mine in for Harry—it will be cold before we get home. Matthew, your eyes are better than mine, get down and see what the devil is the matter with that horse. No, it's all right—the check-rein bothered him."
And so ended the day that had been so happily begun, and the night was no less joyful with the mother's arms about her beloved boy and Kate on a stool beside her and Talbot and St. George deep in certain vintages—or perhaps certain vintages deep in Talbot and St. George—especially that particular and peculiar old Madeira of 1800, which his friend Mr. Jefferson had sent him from Monticello, and which was never served except to some such distinguished guest as his highly esteemed and well-beloved friend of many years, St. George Wilmot Temple of Kennedy Square.
It would be delightful to describe the happy days at Moorlands during St. George's convalescence, when the love-life of Harry and Kate was one long, uninterrupted, joyous dream. When mother, father, and son were again united—what a meeting was that, once she got her arms around her son's neck and held him close and wept her heart out in thankfulness!—and the life of the old-time past was revived—a life softened and made restful and kept glad by the lessons all had learned. And it would be more delightful still to carry the record of these charming hours far into the summer had not St. George, eager to be under his own roof in Kennedy Square, declared he could stay no longer.
Not that his welcome had grown less warm. He and his host had long since unravelled all their difficulties, the last knot having been cut the afternoon the colonel, urged on by Harry's mother—his disappointment over his sons's coldness set at rest by her pleadings—had driven into town for Harry in his coach, as has been said, and swept the whole party, including St. George, out to Moorlands.
Various unrelated causes had brought about this much-to-be-desired result, the most important being the news of the bank's revival, which Harry, in his mad haste to overtake Kate, had forgotten to tell his uncle, and which St. George learned half an hour later from Pawson, together with a full account of what the colonel had done to bring about the happy result—a bit of information which so affected Temple that, when the coach with the colonel on the box had whirled up, he, weak as he was, had struggled to the front door, both hands held out, in welcome.
"Talbot—old fellow," he had said with a tear in his voice, "I have misunderstood you and I beg your pardon. You've behaved like a man, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!"
At which the stern old aristocrat had replied, as he took St. George's two hands in his: "Let us forget all about it, St. George. I made a damned fool of myself. We all get too cocky sometimes."
Then there had followed—the colonel listening with bated breath—St. George's account of Kate's confession and Harry's sudden exit, Rutter's face brightening as it had not done for years when he learned that Harry had not yet returned from the Seymours', the day's joy being capped by the arrival of Dr. Teackle, who had given his permission with an "All right—the afternoon is fine and the air will do Mr. Temple a world of good," and so St. George was bundled up and the reader knows the rest.
Later on—at Moorlands of course—the colonel, whose eyes were getting better by the day and Gorsuch whose face was now one round continuous smile, got to work, and had a heart-to-heart—or rather a pocket-to-pocket talk—which was quite different in those days from what it would be now—after which both Kate and Harry threw to the winds all thoughts of Rio and the country contiguous thereto, and determined instead to settle down at Moorlands. And then a great big iron door sunk in a brick vault was swung wide and certain leather-bound books were brought out—and particularly a sum of money which Harry duly handed over to Pawson the next time he drove to town—(twice a week now)—and which, when recounted, balanced to a cent the total of the bills which Pawson had paid three years before, with interest added, a list of which the attorney still kept in his private drawer with certain other valuable papers tied with red tape, marked "St. G. W. T." And still later on—within a week—there had come the news of the final settlement of the long-disputed lawsuit with St. George as principal residuary legatee—and so our long-suffering hero was once more placed upon his financial legs: the only way he could have been placed upon them or would have been placed upon them—a fact very well known to every one who had tried to help him, his philosophy being that one dollar borrowed is two dollars owed—the difference being a man's self-respect.
And it is truly marvellous what this change in his fortunes accomplished. His slack body rounded out; his sunken cheeks plumped up until every crease and crack were gone, his color regained its freshness, his eyes their brilliancy; his legs took on their old-time spring and lightness—and a wonderful pair of stand-bys, or stand-ups, or stand-arounds they were as legs go—that is legs of a man of fifty-five.
And they were never idle, these legs: there was no sitting cross-legged in a chair for St. George: he was not constructed along those lines. Hardly a week had passed before he had them across Spitfire's mate; had ridden to hounds; danced a minuet with Harry and Kate; walked half-way to Kennedy Square and back—they thought he was going to walk all the way and headed him off just in time; and best of all—(and this is worthy of special mention)—had slipped them into the lower section of a suit of clothes—and these his own, although he had not yet paid for them—the colonel having liquidated their cost. These trousers, it is just as well to state, had arrived months before from Poole, along with a suit of Rutter's and the colonel had forwarded a draft for the whole amount without examining the contents, until Alec had called his attention to the absurd width of the legs—and the ridiculous spread of the seat. My Lord of Moorlands, after the scene in the Temple Mansion, dared not send them in to St. George, and they had accordingly lain ever since on top of his wardrobe with Alec as chief of the Moth Department. St. George, on his arrival, found them folded carefully and placed on a chair—Todd chief valet. Whereupon there had been a good-natured row when our man of fashion appeared at breakfast rigged out in all his finery, everybody clapping their hands and saying how handsome he looked—St. George in reply denouncing Talbot as a brigand of a Brummel who had stolen his clothes, tried to wear them, and then when out of fashion thrown them back on his hands.
All these, and a thousand other delightful things, it would, I say, be eminently worth while to dilate upon—(including a series of whoops and hand-springs which Todd threw against the rear wall of the big kitchen five seconds after Alec had told him of the discomfiture of "dat red-haided gemman," and of Marse Harry's good fortune)—were it not that certain mysterious happenings are taking place inside and out of the Temple house in Kennedy Square—happenings exciting universal comment, and of such transcendent importance that the Scribe is compelled, much against his will—for the present installment is entirely too short—to confine their telling to a special chapter.
For some time back, then be it said, various strollers unfamiliar with the neighbors or the neighborhood of Kennedy Square, poor benighted folk who knew nothing of the events set down in the preceding chapters, had nodded knowingly to each other or shaken their pates deprecatingly over the passing of "another old landmark."
Some of these had gone so far as to say that the cause could be found in the fact that Lawyer Temple had run through what little money his father and grandmother had left him; additional wise-acres were of the opinion that some out-of-town folks had bought the place and were trying to prop it up so it wouldn't tumble into the street, while one, more facetious than the others, had claimed that it was no wonder it was falling down, since the only new thing Temple had put upon it was a heavy mortgage.
The immediate neighbors, however,—the friends of the house—had smiled and passed on. They had no such forebodings. On the contrary nothing so diverting—nothing so enchanting—had happened around Kennedy Square in years. In fact, when one of these humorists began speaking about it, every listener heard the story in a broad grin. Some of the more hilarious even nudged each other in the waist-coats and ordered another round of toddies—for two or three, or even five, if there were that number of enthusiasts about the club tables. When they were asked what it was all about they invariably shook their heads, winked, and kept still—that is, if the question were put by some one outside the magic circle of Kennedy Square.
All the general public knew was that men with bricks in hods had been seen staggering up the old staircase with its spindle banisters and mahogany rail; that additional operatives had been discovered clinging to the slanting roof long enough to pass up to further experts grouped about the chimneys small rolls of tin and big bundles of shingles; that plasterers in white caps and aprons, with mortar-boards in one hand and trowels in the other, had been seen chinking up cracks; while any number of painters, carpenters, and locksmiths were working away for dear life all over the place from Aunt Jemima's kitchen to Todd's bunk under the roof.
In addition to all this curious wagons had been seen to back up to the curb, from which had been taken various odd-looking bundles; these were laid on the dining-room floor, a collection of paint pots, brushes, and wads of putty being pushed aside to give them room—and with some haste too, for every one seemed to be working overtime.
As to what went on inside the mansion itself not the most inquisitive could fathom: no one being permitted to peer even into Pawson's office, where so large a collection of household goods and gods were sprawled, heaped, and hung, that it looked as if there had been a fire in the neighborhood, and this room the only shelter for miles around. Even Pawson's law books were completely hidden by the overflow and so were the tables, chairs, and shelves, together with the two wide window-sills.
Nor did it seem to matter very much to the young attorney as to how or at what hours of the day or night these several articles arrived. Often quite late in the evening—and this happened more than once—an old fellow, pinched and wheezy, would sneak in, uncover a mysterious object wrapped in a square of stringy calico, fumble in his pocket for a scrap of paper, put his name at the bottom of it, and sneak out again five, ten, or twenty dollars better off. Once, as late as eleven o'clock, a fattish gentleman with a hooked nose and a positive dialect, assisted another stout member of his race to slide a very large object from out the tail of a cart. Whereupon there had been an interchange of wisps of paper between Pawson and the fatter of the two men, the late visitors bowing and smiling until they reached a street lantern where they divided a roll of bank-notes between them.
And the delight that Pawson and Gadgem took in it all!—assorting, verifying, checking off—slapping each other's backs in glee when some doubtful find was made certain, and growing even more excited on the days when Harry and Kate would drive or ride in from Moorlands—almost every day of late—tie the horse and carry-all, or both saddle-horses, to St. George's tree-boxes, and at once buckle on their armor.
This, rendered into common prose, meant that Harry, after a prolonged consultation with Pawson and Gadgem, would shed his outer coat, the spring being now far advanced, blossoms out and the weather warm—and that Kate would tuck her petticoats clear of her dear little feet and go pattering round, her sleeves rolled up as far as they would go, her beautiful arms bare almost to her shoulders—her hair smothered in a brown barege veil to keep out the dust—the most bewitching parlor-maid you or anybody else ever laid eyes on. Then would follow such a carrying up of full baskets and carrying down of empty ones; such a spreading of carpets and rugs; such an arranging of china and glass; such a placing of andirons, fenders, shovels, tongs, and bellows; hanging of pictures, curtains, and mirrors—old and new; moving in of sofas, chairs, and rockers; making up of beds with fluted frills on the pillows—a silk patchwork quilt on St. George's bed and cotton counterpanes for Jemima and Todd!
And the secrecy maintained by everybody! Pawson might have been stone deaf and entirely blind for all the information you could twist out of him—and a lot of people tried. And as to Gadgem—the dumbest oyster in Cherrystone Creek was a veritable magpie when it came to his giving the precise reason why the Temple Mansion was being restored from top to bottom and why all its old furniture, fittings, and trappings—(brand-new ones when they couldn't be found in the pawn shops or elsewhere)—were being gathered together within its four walls. When anybody asked Kate—and plenty of people did—she would throw her head back and laugh so loud and so merrily and so musically, that you would have thought all the birds in Kennedy Square park were still welcoming the spring. When you asked Harry he would smile and wink and perhaps keep on whispering to Pawson or Gadgem whose eyes were glued to a list which had its abiding place in Pawson's top drawer.
Outside of these four conspirators—yes, six—for both Todd and Jemima were in it, only a very few were aware of what was really being done. The colonel of course knew, and so did Harry's mother—and so did old Alec who had to clap his hand over his mouth to keep from snickering out loud at the breakfast table when he accidentally overheard what was going on—an unpardonable offence—(not the listening, but the laughing). In fact everybody in the big house at Moorlands knew, for Alec spread it broadcast in the kitchen and cabins—everybody EXCEPT ST. GEORGE.
Not a word reached St. George—not a syllable. No one of the house servants would have spoiled the fun, and certainly no one of the great folks. It was only when his visit to Moorlands was over and he had driven into town and had walked up his own front steps, that the true situation in all its glory and brilliancy dawned upon him.
The polished knobs, knocker, and the perfect level and whiteness of the marble steps first caught his eye; then the door swung open and Jemima in white apron and bandanna stood bowing to the floor, Todd straight as a ramrod in a new livery and a grin on his face that cut it in two, with Kate and Harry hidden behind them, suffocating from suppressed laughter.
"Why, you dear Jemima! Howdy—... Why, who the devil sent that old table back, Todd, and the hall rack and—What!" Here he entered the dining-room. Everything was as he remembered it in the old days. "Harry! Kate!—Why—" then he broke down and dropped into a chair, his eyes still roaming around the room taking in every object, even the loving cup, which Mr. Kennedy had made a personal point of buying back from the French secretary, who was gracious enough to part with it when he learned the story of its enforced sale—each and every one of them—ready to spring forward from its place to welcome him!
"So this," he stammered out—"is what you have kept me up at Moorlands for, is it? You never say a word to me—and—Oh, you children!—you children! Todd, did you ever see anything like it?—my guns—and the loving cup—and the clock, and—Come here you two blessed things and let me get my arms around you! Kiss me, Kate—and Harry, my son—give me your hand. No, don't say a word—don't mind me—I'm all knocked out and—"
Down went his face in his hands and he in a heap in the chair; then he stiffened and gave a little shiver to his elbows in the effort to keep himself from going completely to pieces, and scrambled to his feet again, one arm around Kate's neck, his free hand in Harry's.
"Take me everywhere and show me everything. Todd, go and find Mr. Pawson and see if Mr. Gadgem is anywhere around; they've had something to do with this"—here his eyes took in Todd—"You damned scoundrel, who the devil rigged you out in that new suit?"
"Marse Harry done sont me to de tailor. See dem buttons?—but dey ain't nuthin' to what's on the top shelf—you'll bust yo'self wide open a-laughin', Marse George, when ye sees what's in dar—you gotter come wid me—please Mistis an' Marse Harry, you come too. Dis way—"
Todd was full to bursting. Had his grin been half an inch wider his ears would have dropped off.
"An' fore ye look at dem shelves der's annuder thing I gotter tell ye;—an' dat is dat the dogs—all fo' oh em is comin' in the mawnin'. Mister Floyd's coach-man done tole me so," and with a jerk and a whoop, completely ignoring his master's exclamation of joy over the return of his beloved setters, the darky threw back the door of the little cubby-hole of a room where the Black Warrior and his brethren had once rested in peace, and pointed to a row of erect black bottles backed by another of recumbent ones.
"Look at dat wine, will ye, Marse George," he shouted, "all racked up on dern shelves? Dat come f'om Mister Talbot Rutter wid dis yere cyard—" and he handed it out.
St. George reached over, took it from his hand, and read it aloud:
"With the compliments of an old friend, who sends you herewith a few bottles of the Jefferson and some Sercial and old Port—and a basket or two of Royal Brown Sherry—nothing like your own, but the best he could scare up."
Soon the newly polished and replated knocker began to get in its liveliest work: "Mrs. Richard Horn's compliments, and would St. George be pleased to accept a basket of Maryland biscuit and a sallylunn just out of the oven." Mrs. Bowdoin's compliments with three brace of ducks—"a little late in the season, my dear St. George, but they are just up from Currytuck where Mr. Bowdoin has had extremely good luck—for Mr. Bowdoin." "Mrs. Cheston's congratulations, and would Mr. Temple do her the honor of placing on his sideboard an old Accomack County ham which her cook had baked that morning and which should have all the charm and flavor of the State which had given him birth—" and last a huge basket of spring roses from Miss Virginia Clendenning, accompanied by a card bearing the inscription—"You don't deserve them, you renegade," and signed—"Your deserted and heart-broken sweetheart." All of which were duly spread out on the sideboard, together with one lone bottle to which was attached an envelope.
Before the day was over half the club had called—Richard acting master of ceremonies—Kate and old Prim—(he seemed perfectly contented with the way everything had turned out)—doing the honors with St. George. Pawson had also put in an appearance and been publicly thanked—a mark of St. George's confidence and esteem which doubled his practice before the year was out, and Gadgem—
No, Gadgem did not put in an appearance. Gadgem got as far as the hall and looked in, and, seeing all the great people thronging about St. George, would have sneaked out again to await some more favorable occasion had not Harry's sharp eyes discovered the top of his scraggly head over the shoulders of some others, and darted towards him, and when he couldn't be made to budge, had beckoned to St. George, who came on a run and shook Gadgem's hand so heartily and thanked him in so loud a voice—(everybody in the hall heard him)—that he could only sputter—"Didn't do a thing, sir—no, sir—and if I—" and then, overwhelmed, shot out of the door and down the steps and into Pawson's office where he stood panting, saying to himself—"I'll be tuckered if I ain't happier than I—yes—by Jingo, I am. JIMminy-CRIMminy what a man he is!"
And so the day passed and the night came and the neighbors took their leave, and Harry escorted Kate back to Seymours' and the tired knocker gave out and fell asleep, and at last Todd said good-night and stole down to Jemima, and St. George found himself once more in his easy chair, his head in his hand, his eyes fixed on the dead coals of a past fire.
As the echo of Todd's steps faded away and he began to realize that he was alone, there crept over him for the first time in years the comforting sense that he was once more under his own roof—his again and all that it covered—all that he loved; even his beloved dogs. He left his chair and with a quick indrawing of his breath, as if he had just sniffed the air from some open sea, stretched himself to his full height. There he stood looking about him, his shapely fingers patting his chest; his eyes wandering over the room, first with a sweeping glance, and then resting on each separate object as it nodded to him under the glow of the candles.
He had come into his possessions once more. Not that the very belongings made so much difference as his sense of pride in their ownership. They had, too, in a certain way regained for him his freedom—freedom to go and come and do as he pleased untrammelled by makeshifts and humiliating exposures and concealments. Best of all, they had given him back his courage, bracing the inner man, strengthening his beliefs in his traditions and in the things that his race and blood stood for.
Then as a flash of lightning reveals from out black darkness the recurrent waves of a troubled sea, there rushed over him the roll and surge of the events which had led up to his rehabilitation. Suddenly a feeling of intense humiliation and profound gratitude swept through him. He raised his arms, covered his face with his hands, and stood swaying; forcing back his tears; muttering to himself: "How good they have been—how good, how good! All mine once more—wonderful—wonderful!" With a resolute bracing of his shoulders and a brave lift of his chin, he began a tour of the room, stopping before each one of his beloved heirlooms and treasures—his precious gun that Gadgem had given up—(the collector coveted it badly as a souvenir, and got it the next day from St. George, with his compliments)—the famous silver loving cup with an extra polish Kirk had given it; his punch bowl—scarf rings and knick-knacks and the furniture and hangings of various kinds. At last he reached the sideboard, and bending over reread the several cards affixed to the different donations—Mrs. Cheston's, Mrs. Horn's, Miss Clendenning's, and the others. His eye now fell on the lone bottle—this he had not heretofore noticed—and the note bearing Mr. Kennedy's signature. "I send you back, St. George, that last bottle of old Madeira, the Black Warrior of 1810—the one you gave me and which we were to share together. I hadn't the heart to drink my half without you and so here is the whole and my warmest congratulations on your home-coming and long life to you!"
Picking up the quaint bottle, he passed his hand tenderly over its crusted surface, paused for an instant to examine the cork, and held it closer to the light that he might note its condition. There he stood musing, his mind far away, his fingers caressing its sides. All the aroma of the past; all the splendor of the old regime—all its good-fellowship, hospitality, and courtesy—that which his soul loved—lay imprisoned under his hand. Suddenly one of his old-time quizzical smiles irradiated his face: "By Jove!—just the thing!" he cried joyously, "it will take the place of the one Talbot didn't open!"
With a mighty jerk of the bell cord he awoke the echoes below stairs.
Todd came on the double quick:
"Yes, Marse George."
"Todd, here's the last bottle of the 1810. Lay it flat on the top shelf with the cork next the wall. We'll open it at Mr. Harry's wedding."