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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGordon Keith - Chapter 26. A Misunderstanding
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Gordon Keith - Chapter 26. A Misunderstanding Post by :welshbeef Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas Nelson Page Date :May 2012 Read :2488

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Gordon Keith - Chapter 26. A Misunderstanding

CHAPTER XXVI. A MISUNDERSTANDING

Miss Lois Huntington, as she sank back in the corner of her cousin's carriage, on their way home, was far away from the rattling New York street. Mrs. Wentworth's occasional recurrence to the unfortunate incidents of stopping her ears and of singing the song without an accompaniment did not ruffle her. She knew she had pleased one man--the one she at that moment would rather have pleased than all the rest of New York. Her heart was eased of a load that had made it heavy for many a day. They were once more friends. Mrs. Wentworth's chiding sounded as if it were far away on some alien shore, while Lois floated serenely on a tide that appeared to begin away back in her childhood, and was bearing her gently, still gently, she knew not whither. If she tried to look forward she was lost in a mist that hung like a soft haze over the horizon. Might there be a haven yonder in that rosy distance? Or were those still the billows of the wide and trackless sea? She did not know or care. She would drift and meantime think of him, the old friend who had turned the evening for her into a real delight. Was he in love with Mrs. Lancaster? she wondered. Every one said he was, and it would not be unnatural if he were. It was on her account he had gone to Mrs. Wickersham's. She undoubtedly liked him. Many men were after her. If Mr. Keith was trying to marry her, as every one said, he must be in love with her. He would never marry any one whom he did not love. If he were in love with Mrs. Lancaster, would she marry him? Her belief was that she would.

At the thought she for one moment had a pang of envy.

Her reverie was broken in on by Mrs. Wentworth.

"Why are you so pensive? You have not said a word since we started."

"Why, I do not know. I was just thinking. You know, such a dinner is quite an episode with me."

"Did you have a pleasant time? Was Mr. Keith agreeable? I was glad to see you had him; for he is a very agreeable man when he chooses, but quite moody, and you never know what he is going to say."

"I think that is one of his--of his charms--that you don't know what he is going to say. I get so tired of talking to people who say just what you know they are going to say--just what some one else has just said and what some one else will say to-morrow. It is like reading an advertisement."

"Lois, you must not be so unconventional," said Mrs. Wentworth. "I must beg you not to repeat such a thing as your performance this evening. I don't like it."

"Very well, Cousin Louise, I will not," said the girl, a little stiffly. "I shall recognize your wishes; but I must tell you that I do not agree with you. I hate conventionality. We all get machine-made. I see not the least objection to what I did, except your wishes, of course, and neither did Mr. Keith."

"Well, while you are with me, you must conform to my wishes. Mr. Keith is not responsible for you. Mr. Keith is like other men--ready to flatter a young and unsophisticated girl."

"No; Mr. Keith is not like other men. He does not have to wait and see what others think and say before he forms an opinion. I am so tired of hearing people say what they think others think. Even Mr. Rimmon, at church, says what he thinks his congregation likes--just as when he meets them he flatters them and tells them what dear ladies they are, and how well they look, and how good their wine is. Why can't people think for themselves?"

"Well, on my word, Lois, you appear to be thinking for yourself! And you also appear to think very highly of Mr. Keith," said Mrs. Wentworth.

"I do. I have known Mr. Keith all my life," said the girl, gravely. "He is associated in my mind with all that I loved."

"There, I did not mean to call up sorrowful thoughts," said Mrs. Wentworth. "I wanted you to have a good time."

Next day Mr. Keith gave himself the pleasure of calling promptly at Mrs. Norman's. He remembered the time when he had waited a day or two before calling on Miss Huntington and had found her gone, with its train of misunderstandings. So he had no intention of repeating the error. In Love as in War, Success attends Celerity.

Miss Huntington was not at home, the servant said in answer to Keith's inquiries for the ladies; she had taken the children out to see Madam Wentworth. But Mrs. Wentworth would see Mr. Keith.

Mrs. Wentworth was more than usually cordial. She was undoubtedly more nervous than she used to be. She soon spoke of Norman, and for a moment grew quite excited.

"I know what people say about me," she exclaimed. "I know they say I ought to have borne everything and have gone on smiling and pretending I was happy even when I had the proof that he was--was--that he no longer cared for me, or for my--my happiness. But I could not--I was not constituted so. And if I have refused to submit to it I had good reason."

"Mrs. Wentworth," said Keith, "will you please tell me what you are talking about?"

"You will hear about it soon enough," she said, with a bitter laugh. "All you have to do is to call on Mrs. Nailor or Mrs. Any-one-else for five minutes."

"If I hear what I understand you to believe, that Norman cares for some one else, I shall not believe it."

She laughed bitterly.

"Oh, you and Norman always swore by each other. I guess that you are no better than other men."

"We are, at least, better than some other men," said Keith, "and Norman is better than most other men."

She simply shrugged her shoulders and drifted into a reverie. It was evidently not a pleasant one.

Keith rose to go. And a half-hour later he quite casually called at old Mrs. Wentworth's, where he found the children having a romp. Miss Huntington looked as sweet as a rose, and Keith thought, or at least hoped, she was pleased to see him.

Keith promptly availed himself of Mrs. Wentworth's permission, and was soon calling every day or two at her house, and even on those days when he did not call he found himself sauntering up the avenue or in the Park, watching for the slim, straight, trim little figure he now knew so well. He was not in love with Lois. He said this to himself quite positively. He only admired her, and had a feeling of protection and warm friendship for a young and fatherless girl who had once had every promise of a life of ease and joy, and was by the hap of ill fortune thrown out on the cold world and into a relation of dependence. He had about given up any idea of falling in love. Love, such as he had once known it, was not for him. Love for love's sake--love that created a new world and peopled it with one woman--was over for him. At least, so he said.

And when he had reasoned thus, he would find himself hurrying along the avenue or in the Park, straining his eyes to see if he could distinguish her among the crowd of walkers and loungers that thronged the sidewalk or the foot-path a quarter of a mile away. And if he could not, he was conscious of disappointment; and if he did distinguish her, his heart would give a bound, and he would go racing along till he was at her side.

Oftenest, though, he visited her at Mrs. Wentworth's, where he could talk to her without the continual interruption of the children's busy tongues, and could get her to sing those old-fashioned songs that, somehow, sounded to him sweeter than all the music in the world.

In fact, he went there so often to visit her that he began to neglect his other friends. Even Norman he did not see as much of as formerly.

Once, when he was praising her voice to Mrs. Wentworth, she said to him: "Yes, I think she would do well in concert. I am urging her to prepare herself for that; not at present, of course, for I need her just now with the children; but in a year or two the boys will go to school and the two girls will require a good French governess, or I may take them to France. Then I shall advise her to try concert. Of course, Miss Brooke cannot take care of her always. Besides, she is too independent to allow her to do it."

Keith was angry in a moment. He had never liked Mrs. Wentworth so little. "I shall advise her to do nothing of the kind," he said firmly. "Miss Huntington is a lady, and to have her patronized and treated as an inferior by a lot of _nouveaux riches is more than I could stand."

"I see no chance of her marrying," said Mrs. Wentworth. "She has not a cent, and you know men don't marry penniless girls these days."

"Oh, they do if they fall in love. There are a great many men in the world and even in New York, besides the small tuft-hunting, money-loving parasites that one meets at the so-called swell houses. If those you and I know were all, New York would be a very insignificant place. The brains and the character and the heart; the makers and leaders, are not found at the dinners and balls we are honored with invitations to by Mrs. Nailor and her like. Alice Lancaster was saying the other day--"

Mrs. Wentworth froze up.

"Alice Lancaster!" Her eyes flashed. "Do not quote her to me!" Her lips choked with the words.

"She is a friend of yours, and a good friend of yours," declared Keith, boldly.

"I do not want such friends as that," she said, flaming suddenly. "Who do you suppose has come between my husband and me?"

"Not Mrs. Lancaster."

"Yes."

"No," said Keith, firmly; "you wrong them both. You have been misled."

She rose and walked up and down the room in an excitement like that of an angry lioness.

"You are the only friend that would say that to me."

"Then I am a better friend than others." He went on to defend Mrs. Lancaster warmly.

When Keith left he wondered if that outburst meant that she still loved Norman.

It is not to be supposed that Mr. Keith's visits to the house of Mrs. Wentworth had gone unobserved or unchronicled. That portion of the set that knew Mrs. Wentworth best, which is most given to the discussion of such important questions as who visits whom too often, and who has stopped visiting whom altogether, with the reasons therefor, was soon busy over Keith's visits.

They were referred to in the society column of a certain journal recently started, known by some as "The Scandal-monger's Own," and some kind friend was considerate enough to send Norman Wentworth a marked copy.

Some suggested timidly that they had heard that Mr. Keith's visits were due to his opinion of the governess; but they were immediately suppressed.

Mrs. Nailor expressed the more general opinion when she declared that even a debutante would know that men like Ferdy Wickersham and Mr. Keith did not fall in love with unknown governesses. That sort of thing would do to put in books; but it did not happen in real life. They might visit them, but--! After which she proceeded to say as many ill-natured things about Miss Lois as she could think of; for the story of Lois's stopping her ears had also gotten abroad.

Meantime, Keith pursued his way, happily ignorant of the motives attributed to him by some of those who smiled on him and invited him to their teas. A half-hour with Lois Huntington was reward enough to him for much waiting. To see her eyes brighten and to hear her voice grow softer and more musical as she spoke his name; to feel that she was in sympathy with him, that she understood him without explanation, that she was interested in his work: these were the rewards which lit up life for him and sent him to his rooms cheered and refreshed. He knew that she had no idea of taking him otherwise than as a friend. She looked on him almost as a contemporary of her father. But life was growing very sweet for him again.

It was not long before the truth was presented to him.

One of his club friends rallied him on his frequent visits in a certain quarter and the conquest which they portended. Keith flushed warmly. He had that moment been thinking of Lois Huntington. He had just been to see her, and her voice was still in his ears; so, though he thought it unusual in Tom Trimmer to refer to the matter, it was not unnatural. He attempted to turn the subject lightly by pretending to misunderstand him.

"I mean, I hear you have cut Wickersham out. Ferdy thought he had a little corner there."

Again Keith reddened. He, too, had sometimes thought that Ferdy was beginning to be attentive to Lois Huntington. Others manifestly thought so too.

"I don't know that I understand you," he said.

"Don't you?" laughed the other. "Haven't you seen the papers lately?"

Keith chilled instantly.

"Norman Wentworth is my friend," he said quietly.

"So they say is Mrs. Norm--" began Mr. Trimmer, with a laugh.

Before he had quite pronounced the name, Keith leaned forward, his eyes levelled right into the other's.

"Don't say that, Trimmer. I want to be friends with you," he said earnestly. "Don't you ever couple my name with that lady's. Her husband is my friend, and any man that says I am paying her any attention other than such as her husband would have me pay her says what is false."

"I know nothing about that," said Tom, half surlily. "I am only giving what others say."

"Well, don't you even do that." He rose to his feet, and stood very straight. "Do me the favor to say to any one you may hear intimate such a lie that I will hold any man responsible who says it."

"Jove!" said Mr. Trimmer, afterwards, to his friend Minturn, "must be some fire there. He was as hot as pepper in a minute. Wanted to fight any one who mentioned the matter. He'll have his hands full if he fights all who are talking about him and Ferdy's old flame. I heard half a roomful buzzing about it at Mrs. Nailor's. But it was none of my affair. If he wants to fight about another man's wife, let him. It's not the best way to stop the scandal."

"You know, I think Ferdy is a little relieved to get out of that," added Mr. Minturn. "Ferdy wants money, and big money. He can't expect to get money there. They say the chief cause of the trouble was Wentworth would not put up money enough for her. He has got his eye on the Lancaster-Yorke combine, and he is all devotion to the widow now."

"She won't look at him. She has too much sense. Besides, she likes Keith," said Stirling.

As Mr. Trimmer and his friend said, if Keith expected to silence all the tongues that were clacking with his name and affairs, he was likely to be disappointed. There are some people to whose minds the distribution of scandal is as great a delight as the sweetest morsel is to the tongue. Besides, there was one person who had a reason for spreading the report. Ferdy Wickersham had returned and was doing his best to give it circulation.

Norman Wentworth received in his mail, one morning, a thin letter over which a frown clouded his brow. The address was in a backhand. He had received a letter in the same handwriting not long previously--an anonymous letter. It related to his wife and to one whom he had held in high esteem. He had torn it up furiously in little bits, and had dashed them into the waste-basket as he had dashed the matter from his mind. He was near tearing this letter up without reading it; but after a moment he opened the envelope. A society notice in a paper the day before had contained the name of his wife and that of Mr. Gordon Keith, and this was not the only time he had seen the two names together. As his eye glanced over the single page of disguised writing, a deeper frown grew on his brow. It was only a few lines; but it contained a barbed arrow that struck and rankled:


"When the cat's away
The mice will play.
If you have cut your wisdom-teeth,
You'll know your mouse. His name is ----"


It was signed, "_A True Friend_."

Norman crushed the paper in his band, in a rage for having read it. But it was too late. He could not banish it from his mind: so many things tallied with it. He had heard that Keith was there a great deal. Why had he ceased speaking of it of late?

When Keith next met Norman there was a change in the latter. He was cold and almost morose; answered Keith absently, and after a little while rose and left him rather curtly.

When this had occurred once or twice Keith determined to see Norman and have a full explanation. Accordingly, one day he went to his office. Mr. Wentworth was out, but Keith said he would wait for him in his private office.

On the table lay a newspaper. Keith picked it up to glance over it. His eye fell on a marked passage. It was a notice of a dinner to which he had been a few evenings before. Mrs. Wentworth's name was marked with a blue pencil, and a line or two below it was his own name similarly marked.

Keith felt the hot blood surge into his face, then a grip came about his throat. Could this be the cause? Could this be the reason for Norman's curtness? Could Norman have this opinion of him? After all these years!

He rose and walked from the office and out into the street. It was a blow such as he had not had in years. The friendship of a lifetime seemed to have toppled down in a moment.

Keith walked home in deep reflection. That Norman could treat him so was impossible except on one theory: that he believed the story which concerned him and Mrs. Wentworth. That he could believe such a story seemed absolutely impossible. He passed through every phase of regret, wounded pride, and anger. Then it came to him clearly enough that if Norman were laboring under any such hallucination it was his duty to dispel it. He should go to him and clear his mind. The next morning he went again to Norman's office. To his sorrow, he learned that he had left town the evening before for the West to see about some business matters. He would be gone some days. Keith determined to see him as soon as he returned.

Keith had little difficulty in assigning the scandalous story to its true source, though he did Ferdy Wickersham an injustice in laying the whole blame on him.

Meantime, Keith determined that he would not go to Mrs. Wentworth's again until after he had seen Norman, even though it deprived him of the chance of seeing Lois. It was easier to him, as he was very busy now pushing through the final steps of his deal with the English syndicate. This he was the more zealous in as his last visit South had shown him that old Mr. Rawson was beginning to fail.

"I am just livin' now to hear about Phrony," said the old man, "--and to settle with that man," he added, his deep eyes burning under his shaggy brows.

Keith had little idea that the old man would ever live to hear of her again, and he had told him so as gently as he could.

"Then I shall kill him," said the old man, quietly.

Keith was in his office one morning when his attention was arrested by a heavy step outside his door. It had something familiar in it. Then he heard his name spoken in a loud voice. Some one was asking for him, and the next moment the door opened and Squire Rawson stood on the threshold. He looked worn; but his face was serene. Keith's intuition told him why he had come; and the old man did not leave it in any doubt. His greeting was brief.

He had gotten to New York only that morning, and had already been to Wickersham's office; but the office was shut.

"I have come to find her," he said, "and I'll find her, or I'll drag him through this town by his neck." He took out a pistol and laid it by him on the table.

Keith was aghast. He knew the old man's resolution. His face showed that he was not to be moved from it. Keith began to argue with him. They did not do things that way in New York, he said. The police would arrest him. Or if he should shoot a man he would be tried, and it would go hard with him. He had better give up his pistol. "Let me keep it for you," he urged.

The old man took up the pistol and felt for his pocket.

"I'll find her or I'll kill him," he said stolidly. "I have come to do one or the other. If I do that, I don't much keer what they do with me. But I reckon some of 'em would take the side of a woman what's been treated so. Well, I'll go on an' wait for him. How do you find this here place?" He took out a piece of paper and, carefully adjusting his spectacles, read a number. It was the number of Wickersham's office.

Keith began to argue again; but the other's face was set like a rock. He simply put up his pistol carefully. "I'll kill him if I don't find her. Well, I reckon somebody will show me the way. Good day." He went out.

The moment his footsteps had died away, Keith seized his hat and dashed out.

The bulky figure was going slowly down the street, and Keith saw him stop a man and show him his bit of paper. Keith crossed the street and hurried on ahead of him. Wickersham's office was only a few blocks away, and a minute later Keith rushed into the front office. The clerks hooked up in surprise at his haste. Keith demanded of one of them if Mr. Wickersham was in. The clerk addressed turned and looked at another man nearer the door of the private office, who shook his head warningly. No, Mr. Wickersham was not in.

Keith, however, had seen the signal, and he walked boldly up to the door of the private office.

"Mr. Wickersham is in, but he is engaged," said the man, rising hastily.

"I must see him immediately," said Keith, and opening the door, walked straight in.

Wickersham was sitting at his desk poring over a ledger, and at the sudden entrance he looked up, startled. When he saw who it was he sprang to his feet, his face changing slightly. Just then one of the clerks followed Keith.

As Keith, however, spoke quietly, Wickersham's expression changed, and the next second he had recovered his composure and with it his insolence.

"To what do I owe the honor of this unexpected visit?" he demanded, with a curl of his lip.

Keith gave a little wave of his arm, as if he would sweep away his insolence.

"I have come to warn you that old Adam Rawson is in town hunting you."

Wickersham's self-contained face paled suddenly, and he stepped a little back. Then his eye fell on the clerk, who stood just inside the door. "What do you want?" he demanded angrily. "---- you! can't you keep out when a gentleman wants to see me on private business?"

The clerk hastily withdrew.

"What does he want?" he asked of Keith, with a dry voice.

"He is hunting for you. He wants to find his granddaughter, and he is coming after you."

"What the ---- do I know about his granddaughter!" cried Wickersham.

"That is for you to say. He swears that he will kill you unless you produce her. He is on his way here now, and I have hurried ahead to warn you."

Wickersham's face, already pale, grew as white as death, for he read conviction in Keith's tone. With an oath he turned to a bell and rang it.

"Ring for a cab for me at once," he said to the clerk who appeared. "Have it at my side entrance."

As Keith passed out he heard him say to the clerk:

"Tell any one who calls I have left town. I won't see a soul."

A little later an old man entered Wickersham & Company's office and demanded to see F.C. Wickersham.

There was a flurry among the men there, for they all knew that something unusual had occurred; and there was that about the massive, grim old man, with his fierce eyes, that demanded attention.

On learning that Wickersham was not in, he said he would wait for him and started to take a seat.

There was a whispered colloquy between two clerks, and then one of them told him that Mr. Wickersham was not in the city. He had been called away from town the day before, and would be gone for a month or two. Would the visitor leave his name?

"Tell him Adam Rawson has been to see him, and that he will come again." He paused a moment, then said slowly: "Tell him I'm huntin' for him and I'm goin' to stay here till I find him."

He walked slowly out, followed by the eyes of every man in the office.

The squire spent his time between watching for Wickersham and hunting for his granddaughter. He would roam about the streets and inquire for her of policemen and strangers, quite as if New York were a small village like Ridgely instead of a great hive in which hundreds of thousands were swarming, their identity hardly known to any but themselves. Most of those to whom he applied treated him as a harmless old lunatic. But he was not always so fortunate. One night, when he was tired out with tramping the streets, he wandered into one of the parks and sat down on a bench, where he finally fell asleep. He was awakened by some one feeling in his pocket. He had just been dreaming that Phrony had found him and hail sat down beside him and was fondling him, and when he first came back to consciousness her name was on his lips. He still thought it was she who sat beside him, and he called her by name, "Phrony." The girl, a poor, painted, bedizened creature, was quick enough to answer to the name.

"I am Phrony; go to sleep again."

The joy of getting back his lost one aroused the old man, and he sat up with an exclamation of delight. The next second, at sight of the strange, painted face, he recoiled.

"You Phrony?"

"Yes. Don't you know me?" She snuggled closer beside him, and worked quietly at his big watch, which somehow had caught in his tight vest pocket.

"No, you ain't! Who are you, girl? What are you doin'?"

The young woman put her arms around his neck, and began to talk cajolingly. He was "such a dear old fellow," etc., etc. But the old man's wit had now returned to him. His disappointment had angered him.

"Get away from me, woman. What are you doin' to me?" he demanded roughly.

She still clung to him, using her poor blandishments. But the squire was angry. He pushed her off. "Go away from me, I say. What do you want? You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You don't know who I am. I am a deacon in the church, a trustee of Ridge College, and I have a granddaughter who is older than you. If you don't go away, I will tap you with my stick."

The girl, having secured his watch, with something between a curse and a laugh, went off, calling him "an old drunk fool."

Next moment the squire put his hand in his pocket to take out his watch, but it was gone. He felt in his other pockets, but they were empty, too. The young woman had clung to him long enough to rob him of everything. The squire rose and hurried down the walk, calling lustily after her; but it was an officer who answered the call. When the squire told his story he simply laughed and told him he was drunk, and threatened, if he made any disturbance, to "run him in."

The old countryman flamed out.

"Run who in?" he demanded. "Do you know who I am, young man?"

"No, I don't, and I don't keer a ----."

"Well, I'm Squire Rawson of Ridgely, and I know more law than a hundred consarned blue-bellied thief-hiders like you. Whoever says I am drunk is a liar. But if I was drunk is that any reason for you to let a thief rob me? What is your name? I've a mind to arrest you and run you in myself. I've run many a better man in."

It happened that the officer's record was not quite clear enough to allow him to take the chance of a contest with so bold an antagonist as the squire of Ridgely. He did not know just who he was, or what he might be able to do. So he was willing to "break even," and he walked off threatning, but leaving the squire master of the field.

The next day the old man applied to Keith, who placed the matter in Dave Dennison's hands and persuaded the squire to return home.

Keith was very unhappy over the misunderstanding between Norman and himself. He wrote Norman a letter asking an interview as soon as he returned. But he received no reply. Then, having heard of his return, he went to his office one day to see him.

Yes, Mr. Wentworth was in. Some one was with him, but would Mr. Keith walk in? said the clerk, who knew of the friendship between the two. But Keith sent in his name.

The clerk came out with a surprised look on his face. Mr. Wentworth was "engaged."

Keith went home and wrote a letter, but his letter was returned unopened, and on it was the indorsement, "Mr. Norman Wentworth declines to hold any communication with Mr. Gordon Keith."

After this, Keith, growing angry, swore that he would take no further steps.

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