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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGordon Keith - Chapter 23. General Keith Visits Strange Lands
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Gordon Keith - Chapter 23. General Keith Visits Strange Lands Post by :welshbeef Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas Nelson Page Date :May 2012 Read :2146

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Gordon Keith - Chapter 23. General Keith Visits Strange Lands

CHAPTER XXIII. GENERAL KEITH VISITS STRANGE LANDS

Just then the wheel turned. Interest was awaking in England in American enterprises, and, fortunately for Keith, he had friends on that side.

Grinnell Rhodes now lived in England, dancing attendance on his wife, the daughter of Mr. Creamer of Creamer, Crustback & Company, who was aspiring to be in the fashionable set there.

Matheson, the former agent of the Wickershams, with whom Ferdy had quarrelled, had gone back to England, and had acquired a reputation as an expert. By one of the fortuitous happenings so hard to account for, about this time Keith wrote to Rhodes, and Rhodes consulted Matheson, who knew the properties. Ferdy had incurred the Scotchman's implacable hate, and the latter was urged on now by a double motive. To Rhodes, who was bored to death with the life he was leading, the story told by the Wickershams' old superintendent was like a trumpet to a war-horse.

Out of the correspondence with Rhodes grew a suggestion to Keith to come over and try to place the Rawson properties with an English syndicate. Keith had, moreover, a further reason for going. He had not recovered from the blow of Miss Brooke's refusal to let him visit Lois. He knew that in some way it was connected with his attention to Terpsichore; he knew that there was a misunderstanding, and felt that Wickersham was somehow connected with it. But he was too proud to make any further attempt to explain it.

Accordingly, armed with the necessary papers and powers, he arranged to go to England. He had control of and options on lands which were estimated to be worth several millions of dollars at any fair valuation.

Keith had long been trying to persuade his father to accompany him to New York on some of his visits; but the old gentleman had never been able to make up his mind to do so.

"I have grown too old to travel in strange lands," he said. "I tried to get there once, but they stopped me just in sight of a stone fence on the farther slope beyond Gettysburg." A faint flash glittered in his quiet eyes. "I think I had better restrain my ambition now to migrations from the blue bed to the brown, and confine my travels to 'the realms of gold'!"

Now, after much urging, as Gordon was about to go abroad to try and place the Rawson properties there, the General consented to go to New York and see him off. It happened that Gordon was called to New York on business a day or two before his father was ready to go. So he exacted a promise that he would follow him, and went on ahead. Though General Keith would have liked to back out at the last moment, as he had given his word, he kept it. He wrote his son that he must not undertake to meet him, as he could not tell by what train he should arrive.

"I shall travel slowly," he said, "for I wish to call by and see one or two old friends on my way, whom I have not seen for years."

The fact was that he wished to see the child of his friend, General Huntington, and determined to avail himself of this opportunity to call by and visit her. Gordon's letter about her had opened a new vista in life.

The General found Brookford a pleasant village, lying on the eastern slope of the Piedmont, and having written to ask permission to call and pay his respects, he was graciously received by Miss Abby, and more than graciously received by her niece. Miss Lois would probably have met any visitor at the train; but she might not have had so palpitating a heart and so rich a color in meeting many a young man.

Few things captivate a person more than to be received with real cordiality by a friend immediately on alighting at a strange station from a train full of strangers. But when the traveller is an old and somewhat unsophisticated man, and when the friend is a young and very pretty girl, and when, after a single look, she throws her arms around his neck and kisses him, the capture is likely to be as complete as any that could take place in life. When Lois Huntington, after asking about his baggage, and exclaiming because he had sent his trunk on to New York and had brought only a valise, as if he were only stopping off between trains, finally settled herself down beside the General and took the reins of the little vehicle that she had come in, there was, perhaps, not a more pleased old gentleman in the world than the one who sat beside her.

"How you have grown!" he said, gazing at her with admiration. "Somehow, I always thought of you as a little girl--a very pretty little girl."

She thought of what his son had said at their meeting at the ball.

"But you know one must grow some, and it has been eleven years since then. Think how long that has been!"

"Eleven years! Does that appear so long to you?" said the old man, smiling. "So it is in our youth. Gordon wrote me of his meeting you and of how you had changed."

I wonder what he meant by that, said Lois to herself, the color mounting to her cheek. "He thought I had changed, did he?" she asked tentatively, after a moment, a trace of grimness stealing into her face, where it lay like a little cloud in May.

"Yes; he hardly knew you. You see, he did not have the greeting that I got."

"I should think not!" exclaimed Lois. "If he had, I don't know what he might have thought!" She grew as grave as she could.

"He said you were the sweetest and prettiest girl there, and that all the beauty of New York was there, even the beautiful Mrs.--what is her name? She was Miss Yorke."

Lois's face relaxed suddenly with an effect of sunshine breaking through a cloud.

"Did he say that?" she exclaimed.

"He did, and more. He is a young man of some discernment," observed the old fellow, with a chuckle of gratification.

"Oh, but he was only blinding you. He is in love with Mrs. Lancaster."

"Not he."

But Lois protested guilefully that he was.

A little later she asked the General:

"Did you ever hear of any one in New Leeds who was named Terpsichore?"

"Terpsichore? Of course. Every one knows her there. I never saw her until she became a nurse, when she was nursing my son. She saved his life, you know?"

"Saved his life!" Her face had grown almost grim. "No, I never heard of it. Tell me about it."

"Saved his life twice, indeed," said the old General. "She has had a sad past, but she is a noble woman." And unheeding Lois's little sniff, he told the whole story of Terpsichore, and the brave part she had played. Spurred on by his feeling, he told it well, no less than did he the part that Keith had played. When he was through, there had been tears in Lois's eyes, and her bosom was still heaving.

"Thank you," she said simply, and the rest of the drive was in silence.

When General Keith left Brookford he was almost as much in love with his young hostess as his son could have been, and all the rest of his journey he was dreaming of what life might become if Gordon and she would but take a fancy to each other, and once more return to the old place. It would be like turning back the years and reversing the consequences of the war.

* * * * *

The General, on his arrival in New York, was full of his visit to Brookford and of Lois. "There is a girl after my own heart," he declared to Gordon, with enthusiasm. "Why don't you go down there and get that girl?"

Gordon put the question aside with a somewhat grim look. He was very busy, he said. His plans were just ripening, and he had no time to think about marrying. Besides, "a green country girl" was not the most promising wife. There were many other women who, etc., etc.

"Many other women!" exclaimed the General. "There may be; but I have not seen them lately. As to 'a green country girl'--why, they make the best wives in the world if you get the right kind. What do you want? One of these sophisticated, fashionable, strong-minded women--a woman's-rights woman? Heaven forbid! When a gentleman marries, he wants a lady and he wants a wife, a woman to love him; a lady to preside over his home, not over a woman's meeting."

Gordon quite agreed with him as to the principle; but he did not know about the instance cited.

"Why, I thought you had more discernment," said the old gentleman. "She is the sweetest creature I have seen in a long time. She has both sense and sensibility. If I were forty years younger, I should not be suggesting her to you, sir. I should be on my knees to her for myself." And the old fellow buttoned his coat, straightened his figure, and looked quite spirited and young.

At the club, where Gordon introduced him, his father soon became quite a toast. Half the habitues of the "big room" came to know him, and he was nearly always surrounded by a group listening to his quaint observations of life, his stories of old times, his anecdotes, his quotations from Plutarch or from "Dr. Johnson, sir."

An evening or two after his appearance at the club, Norman Wentworth came in, and when the first greetings were over, General Keith inquired warmly after his wife.

"Pray present my compliments to her. I have never had the honor of meeting her, sir, but I have heard of her charms from my son, and I promise myself the pleasure of calling upon her as soon as I have called on your mother, which I am looking forward to doing this evening."

Norman's countenance changed a little at the unexpected words, for half a dozen men were around. When, however, he spoke it was in a very natural voice.

"Yes, my mother is expecting you," he said quietly. Mrs. Wentworth also would, he said, be very glad to see him. Her day was Thursday, but if General Keith thought of calling at any other time, and would be good enough to let him know, he thought he could guarantee her being at home. He strolled away.

"By Jove! he did it well," said one of the General's other acquaintances when Norman was out of ear-shot.

"You know, he and his wife have quarrelled," explained Stirling to the astonished General.

"Great Heavens!" The old gentleman looked inexpressibly shocked.

"Yes--Wickersham."

"That scoundrel!"

"Yes; he is the devil with the women."

Next evening, as the General sat with Stirling among a group, sipping his toddy, some one approached behind him.

Stirling, who had become a great friend of the General's, greeted the newcomer.

"Hello, Ferdy! Come around; let me introduce you to General Keith, Gordon Keith's father."

The General, with a pleasant smile on his face, rose from his chair and turned to greet the newcomer. As he did so he faced Ferdy Wickersham, who bowed coldly. The old gentleman stiffened, put his hand behind his back, and with uplifted head looked him full in the eyes for a second, and then turned his back on him.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Stirling, for declining to recognize any one whom you are good enough to wish to introduce to me, but that man I must decline to recognize. He is not a gentleman."

"I doubt if you know one," said Ferdy, with a shrug, as he strolled away with affected indifference. But a dozen men had seen the cut.

"I guess you are right enough about that, General," said one of them.

When the General reflected on what he had done, he was overwhelmed with remorse. He apologized profusely to Stirling for having committed such a solecism.

"I am nothing but an irascible old idiot, sir, and I hope you will excuse my constitutional weakness, but I really could not recognize that man."

Stirling's inveterate amiability soon set him at ease again.

"It is well for Wickersham to hear the truth now and then," he said. "I guess he hears it rarely enough. Most people feed him on lies."

Some others appeared to take the same view of the matter, for the General was more popular than ever.

Gordon found a new zest in showing his father about the city. Everything astonished him. He saw the world with the eyes of a child. The streets, the crowds, the shop-windows, the shimmering stream of carriages that rolled up and down the avenue, the elevated railways which had just been constructed, all were a marvel to him.

"Where do these people get their wealth?" he asked.

"Some of them get it from rural gentlemen who visit the town," said Gordon, laughing.

The old fellow smiled. "I suspect a good many of them get it from us countrymen. In fact, at the last we furnish it all. It all comes out of the ground."

"It is a pity that we did not hold on to some of it," said Gordon.

The old gentleman glanced at him. "I do not want any of it. My son, Agar's standard was the best: 'neither poverty nor riches.' Riches cannot make a gentleman."

Keith laughed and called him old-fashioned, but he knew in his heart that he was right.

The beggars who accosted him on the street never turned away empty-handed. He had it not in his heart to refuse the outstretched hand of want.

"Why, that man who pretended that he had a large family and was out of work is a fraud," said Gordon. "I'll bet that he has no family and never works."

"Well, I didn't give him much," said the old man. "But remember what Lamb said: 'Shut not thy purse-strings always against painted distress. It is good to believe him. Give, and under the personate father of a family think, if thou pleasest, that thou hast relieved an indigent bachelor.'"

A week later Gordon was on his way to England and the General had returned home.

It was just after this that the final breach took place between Norman Wentworth and his wife. It was decided that for their children's sake there should be no open separation; at least, for the present. Norman had business which would take him away for a good part of the time, and the final separation could be left to the future. Meanwhile, to save appearances somewhat, it was arranged that Mrs. Wentworth should ask Lois Huntington to come up and spend the winter in New York, partly as her companion and partly as governess for the children. This might stop the mouths of some persons.

When the proposal first reached Miss Abigail, she rejected it without hesitation; she would not hear of it. Curiously enough, Lois suddenly appeared violently anxious to go. But following the suggestion came an invitation from Norman's mother asking Miss Abigail to pay her a long visit. She needed her, she said, and she asked as a favor that she would let Lois accept her daughter-in-law's invitation. So Miss Abby consented. "The Lawns" was shut up for the winter, and the two ladies went up to New York.

As Norman left for the West the very day that Lois was installed, she had no knowledge of the condition of affairs in that unhappy household, except what Gossip whispered about her. This would have been more than enough, but for the fact that the girl stiffened as soon as any one approached the subject, and froze even such veterans as Mrs. Nailor.

Mrs. Wentworth was far too proud to refer to it. All Lois knew, therefore, was that there was trouble and she was there to help tide it over, and she meant, if she could, to make it up. Meanwhile, Mrs. Wentworth was very kind, if formal, to her, and the children, delighted to get rid of the former governess, whom they insisted in describing as an "old cat," were her devoted slaves.

Yet Lois was not as contented as she had fondly expected to be.

She learned soon after her arrival that one object of her visit to New York would be futile. She would not see Mr. Keith. He had gone abroad.--"In pursuit of Mrs. Lancaster," said Mrs. Nailor; for Lois was willing enough to hear all that lady had to say on this subject, and it was a good deal. "You know, I believe she is going to marry him. She will unless she can get a title."

"I do not believe a title would make any difference to her," said Lois, rather sharply, glad to have any sound reason for attacking Mrs. Nailor.

"Oh, don't you believe it! She'd snap one up quick enough if she had the chance."

"She has had a plenty of chances," asserted Lois.

"Well, it may serve Mr. Keith a good turn. He looked very low down for a while last Spring--just after that big Creamer ball. But he had quite perked up this Fall, and, next thing I heard, he had gone over to England after Alice Lancaster, who is spending the winter there. It was time she went, too, for people were beginning to talk a good deal of the way she ran after Norman Wentworth."

"I must go," said Lois, suddenly rising; "I have to take the children out."

"Poor dears!" sighed Mrs. Nailor. "I am glad they have some one to look after them." Lois's sudden change prevented any further condolence. Fortunately, Mrs. Nailor was too much delighted with the opportunity to pour her information into quite fresh ears to observe Lois's expression.

* * * * *

The story of the trouble between Mr. and Mrs. Wentworth was soon public property. Wickersham's plans appeared to him to be working out satisfactorily. Louise Wentworth must, he felt, care for him to sacrifice so much for him. In this assumption he let down the barriers of prudence which he had hitherto kept up, and, one evening when the opportunity offered, he openly declared himself. To his chagrin and amazement, she appeared to be shocked and even to resent it.

Yes, she liked him--liked him better than almost any one, she admitted; but she did not, she could not, love him. She was married.

Wickersham ridiculed the idea.

Married! Well, what difference did that make? Did not many married women love other men than their husbands? Had not her husband gone after another?

Her eyes closed suddenly; then her eyelids fluttered.

"Yes; but I am not like that. I have children." She spoke slowly.

"Nonsense," cried Wickersham. "Of course, we love each other and belong to each other. Send the children to your husband."

Mrs. Wentworth recoiled in horror. There was that in his manner and look which astounded her. "Abandon her children?" How could she? Her whole manner changed. "You have misunderstood me."

(Illustration: "Sit down. I want to talk to you.")

Wickersham grew angry.

"Don't be a fool, Louise. You have broken with your husband. Now, don't go and throw away happiness for a priest's figment. Get a divorce and marry me, if you want to; but at least accept my love."

But he had overshot the mark. He had opened her eyes. Was this the man she had taken as her closest friend!--for whom she had quarrelled with her husband and defied the world!

Wickersham watched her as her doubt worked its way in her mind. He could see the process in her face. He suddenly seized her and drew her to him.

"Here, stop this! Your husband has abandoned you and gone after another woman."

She gave a gasp, but made no answer.

She pushed him away from her slowly, and after a moment rose and walked from the room as though dazed.

It was so unexpected that Wickersham made no attempt to stop her.

A moment later Lois entered the room. She walked straight up to him. Wickersham tried to greet her lightly, but she remained grave.

"Mr. Wickersham, I do not think you--ought to come here--as often as you do."

"And, pray, why not?" he demanded.

Her brown eyes looked straight into his and held them steadily.

"Because people talk about it."

"I cannot help people talking. You know what they are," said Wickersham, amused.

"You can prevent giving them occasion to talk. You are too good a friend of Cousin Louise to cause her unhappiness." The honesty of her words was undoubted. It spoke in every tone of her voice and glance of her eyes. "She is most unhappy."

Wickersham conceived a new idea. How lovely she was in her soft blue dress!

"Very well, I will do what you say There are few things I would not do for you." He stepped closer to her and gazed in her eyes. "Sit down. I want to talk to you."

"Thank you; I must go now."

Wickersham tried to detain her, but she backed away, her hands down and held a little back.

"Good-by."

"Miss Huntington--Lois--" he said; "one moment."

But she opened the door and passed out.

Wickersham walked down the street in a sort of maze.

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