Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 39
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 39 Post by :webiz Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :1102

Click below to download : The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 39 (Format : PDF)

The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 39

Chapter XXXIX

Almost at once a light flashed from an upper window in response to Charlotte's knock and ring. Anderson himself had been in New York that night with Henry Edgecomb to the theatre. A celebrated play was on, in which a celebrated actress figured, and the two had taken one of their rather infrequent excursions. Consequently, Anderson had not been in the house more than an hour, and during that hour had been writing some letters which he wished to get off in the early mail. His room was at the back of the house, a long room extending nearly the whole width, consequently his own brightly shining light had not been visible to Charlotte coming up the street.

As he was not undressed, he lost no time in opening his door and entering with his lamp the front hall. As he did so his mother's door opened, and her delicate, alarmed old face, frilled with white cambric, appeared.

"Oh, who is it at this time of night, do you suppose, Randolph?" she whispered.

"I don't know, mother dear; don't be frightened."

But she came quite out in her white night draperies, which made her appear singularly massive. "Oh, do you suppose there are burglars in the store?" she said.

"No. Don't worry, mother."

"Do you suppose it is fire?"

"No; there is no alarm."

"Randolph, you won't open the door until you have asked who it is. Promise me."

"It is nobody to be afraid of, mother."

"Promise me."

"It is probably Henry come back for something. Harriet may have locked him out, and he forgotten his night-key." That was actually what had flashed through Randolph's mind when he heard the knock and ring.

"Well, I shouldn't wonder if it was," said Mrs. Anderson, in a relieved tone.

"Go back to bed, mother, or you will catch your death of cold."

"But you will ask?"

"Yes, yes."

Anderson hurried down-stairs, and in consideration of his mother's listening ears of alarm, he did call out, "Who is there?" at the same time unlocking the door. It was manifest to his masculine intelligence, unhampered by nerves, that no one with evil intent would thus strive to enter a house with a clang of knocker and peal of bell. He, therefore, having set the lamp on the hall-table, at once unlocked the door, and Charlotte pulled herself to her feet and her little, pretty, woe-begone face, in which was a new look for him and herself, confronted him. Anderson did not say a word. He somehow--he never remembered how--laid hold of the little thing, and she was in the house, in the sitting-room, and in his arms, clinging to him.

"Papa didn't come. Papa didn't come home," she sobbed, but so softly that Mrs. Anderson, who was listening, did not hear.

Anderson laid his cheek down against the girl's soft, wet one, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if he had been used to so doing ever since he could remember anything. There was no strangeness for either of them in it. He patted her poor little head, which felt cold from the frosty night air.

"There, there, dear," he said.

"He didn't come home," she repeated, piteously, against his breast, and it was almost as if she were accusing him because of it.

"Poor little girl!"

"Not on the last train. Papa didn't come on the last train, and--there was no telegram, and I--I was all alone in the house, and--and--I came." She sobbed convulsively.

Anderson kissed her cheek softly, he continued to smooth the little, dark, damp head. "You did quite right," he whispered--"quite right, dear. You are safe now. Don't!"

"Papa!"

"Oh, some business detained him in the City."

"What has happened to papa?" demanded Charlotte, in a shrill voice, and it was again as if she were unconsciously accusing Anderson. When a heart becomes confident of love, it is filled with wonder at any evil mischance permitted, and accuses love, even the love of God. "What has happened to papa? Where is he?" she demanded again. And it was then that Mrs. Anderson, unseen by either of them, stood in the doorway with an enormous purple-flowered wrapper surging over her nightgown.

"Hush, dear!" whispered Anderson. "I am sure nothing has happened."

"Why are you sure?"

"If anything had happened I should have heard of it. I came out on the last train myself. If there had been an accident I should certainly have heard."

"Would you?"

"I surely should have. Don't, dear. Your father has just been detained by business."

"Then why didn't papa telegraph?"

"He did not get it in the office in season. The office closes at half-past eight," said Anderson, lying cheerfully.

"Does it?"

"Of course! There is nothing for you to worry about. Now I'll tell you what we will do. My mother is awake. I will speak to her, and you must go straight to bed, and go to sleep, and in the morning your father will be along on the first train. He must have been as much worried as you."

"Poor papa," said Charlotte.

"So you were all alone in the house, and you came down here all alone at this time," said Anderson, in a tone which his mother had never heard. But it was then that she spoke.

"Didn't her father come home?" she asked.

When the girl turned like a flash and saw her she seemed to realize for the first time that she had been, and was, doing something out of the wonted. A great, burning blush surged all over her. She shrank away from the man who held her. She cowered before the other woman.

"No, papa didn't come," she stammered, "and--I didn't know what to do, and I came here."

"You did quite right, you precious child," said Mrs. Anderson, suddenly, in a voice of the tenderest authority. She held out her arms and Charlotte fled to them. Mrs. Anderson looked over the girl's head at her son with the oddest and most inexplicable reproach. "You go up and see if the heat is turned on in that little room out of mine," she commanded, "and then you go into the kitchen and see if you can't find the milk, and set some on the stove to warm. You can pour a little hot water in it to hurry it. If the fire isn't good, open the dampers. And, Randolph, you get my hot-water bag out of my bed, and fill it from the tea-kettle--that water will be hotter than the bath-room, this time of night--and you bring it right up; be as quick as you can." Then all in the same breath she was comforting Charlotte. "Your father is all right, dear child. Don't you worry one mite--not one mite. I remember once, when I was a girl, my father didn't come home, and mother and I were almost crazy, and he came in laughing the next morning. He had lost his last train because there was a block on account of the ice. The river was frozen over. There is nothing for you to worry about. Now come right up-stairs and go to bed. There is a little room out of mine, as warm as toast, and you won't be a bit afraid. There you were all alone in that great house, you poor, blessed child."

Charlotte sobbed, but now with a certain comfort.

"I should have been so afraid, I should have lost my senses, all alone in a house at your age," said Mrs. Anderson, all the time gently impelling the girl along with her. "Of course there is nothing to be afraid of, but one imagines things; and you came here all alone at this time of the night!"

"Yes," responded Charlotte, with a gasp of the intensest self-pity, sure of an echo.

Randolph ran up-stairs before his mother and Charlotte and snatched the hot-water bottle out of his mother's bed, and was out the opposite door, which connected with the back stairs leading to the kitchen. As he went out he heard his mother say: "All that way alone this time of night, you poor, precious child!" and Charlotte's little, piteous, yet comforted sob in response, exactly as a hurt baby might respond to commiserations. He felt his own knees tremble as he went down-stairs, carrying the hot-water bottle, which had always struck him as a rather absurd article, to be regarded with the concessions which a man should make to the little, foolish devices for the comfort of a softer and slighter sex. He hunted up the milk in the ice-box, and warmed it with solicitude in a china cup, which, luckily, did not break. The fire was still very good, and the water in the tea-kettle quite boiling. It was not long before he knocked at his mother's door, bearing the water-bottle dangling on one wrist, and carrying the cup of milk. His mother opened the door just wide enough to receive the articles.

"Is the milk hot?" she asked.

Randolph meekly replied that it had almost boiled.

"The water-bottle is hot, too," said his mother, in a satisfied tone. "She is undressed. I got one of my nightgowns for her, and it is quite warm in the little room. Now I am going to take this in to her, and make her drink the milk, and I hope she will get to sleep."

"I hope she will," replied Randolph, in a sort of dazed fashion, and there was a foolish radiance over his face, and he did not meet his mother's eyes.

"I'm coming into your room a minute, after I see to her," said his mother, and if the man had been a child the tone would have sounded ominous.

"All right, mother," replied Anderson. He crossed the hall to his room lined with books, with the narrow couch. It hardly seemed like a bedroom, and indeed he spent much of his time, when not at the store, there. He resumed his seat in the well-worn easy-chair beside his hearth, upon which smouldered a fire, and waited. He still felt dazed. He had that doubt of his own identity which comes to us at times, and which is primeval under stress of a great surprise. The old nursery rhyme of the old woman who had her petticoats clipped and was not sure of herself, has a truth in it which dates from the beginning of things. Anderson, sitting precisely as he had been sitting before in the same chair by the same hearth--he had even taken up the same book in which he had thought to read a chapter after his letters were finished, before retiring--was as completely removed from his former state as if he had been translated into another planet. He looked around the long room, which had a dark, rich coloring from the backs of old books, and some dark red hangings, and even that had a curious appearance of unsubstantiality to him. Or was it substantiality. Suddenly it seemed to him that heretofore he had seen it all through a glass, and now with his natural eyes. He had attained a height a nature whence the prospect is untrammelled by imaginations and shows in the clear light of reality. He thought of the girl whom his mother was coddling, tucking into bed as if she were a baby, and such a wave of tenderness and protection came over him that he felt newly vivified by it. It was as if his very soul put forth arms and wings of love and defence.

"The dear little girl!" he thought to himself--"the dear little girl!"

The thought that she was safe under his roof, away from all fancied and real terror, filled him with such a joy that he could scarcely contain it. He imagined her nestling in that warm little bed out of his mother's room, and the satisfaction that he might have felt had she been his child instead of his sweetheart, filled him with pure delight. He tried to imagine her terrors, her young-girl terrors, alone in that house, her panic running alone through the night streets, and he even magnified it through inability to understand it. He said to himself that she might have almost gone mad, and again that sublime joy, that immense sense of the protection and tenderness of love, filled his soul, which seemed to put forth wings. Then the door opened and his mother entered softly, slipping through in her voluminous, purple-flowered draperies, with glimpses of white frills and large padding feet in purple-knitted slippers. She still wore her frilled nightcap, and her face confronted him from the white setting with a curious severity. Her hair was put up on crimping-pins, and her high forehead gave her a rather intellectual and stern appearance, and she looked much older.

Randolph rose. "Sit down, mother," he said.

"No; I am not going to stop a minute. I am going back to her. She seemed real quiet, and I think she'll go to sleep, but if she should wake up and find herself alone she might be frightened."

Mrs. Anderson spoke as if of a baby in arms.

"Yes, she might; she has had a terrible shock," Anderson said, in what he essayed to render a natural tone.

"Terrible shock! I should think she had, poor child!" said Mrs. Anderson, and she seemed to reproach him.

"It was a long way for her to come alone," said Anderson, as if he were trying to excuse himself.

"I should think it was. It's a good mile, and that wasn't the worst of it. Worrying about her father, and all alone in the house! I was always scared to death alone in a house, and I know what it means." She still seemed reproachful.

"She must have been frightened."

"I should rather think she would have been." Suddenly his mother's face regarding his took on a different expression; it became shrewd and confidential. "Do you suppose her father has taken this way of--?" she said.

"No," answered Randolph, emphatically.

"You don't?"

"No, I do not. I don't know the man very well, and I don't suppose his record is to be altogether justified, but, if I know anything, he would no more go voluntarily and leave that child alone all night to worry over him than I would."

"Then you think something has happened to him?"

"I am afraid so."

"Do you think there has been an accident?"

"I don't know, mother."

His mother continued to look at him shrewdly. "Do you suppose he has got into any trouble?" she asked, bluntly.

"I don't know, mother."

Then Mrs. Anderson's face suddenly resumed its old, reproachful expression. "Well, I don't care if there has," said she. She whispered, but her voice was intense. "I don't care if there has. I don't care if he is in state-prison. That child has got to caring about you, and you ought to--"

Anderson turned and looked at his mother, and her severe face softened and paled. He looked to her at that moment more like his father than himself. He was accusing her.

"Mother, do you think, if she cares, that I would ever desert her, any more than father would have deserted you?" he demanded.

It was her turn to excuse herself. "I know you are honorable, Randolph," she said, "but I saw when I came in, and I don't see how you have seen enough of her to have it happen; but I know girls, and I can see how she feels, and I didn't know but you might think if her father--"

"What difference do you think her father makes to me, mother?" asked Anderson.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 40 The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 40

The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 40
Chapter XLWhen Carroll came to himself that night after his fall, his first conscious motion was for his dollar watch. He was in William Allbright's bed. There were only two sleeping-apartments in the little tenement. William was seated beside him, watching him with his faithful, serious face; there was also a physician, keenly observant, still closer to the injured man's head; and the sister, Allbright's sister, was visible in the next room, seated in a chair which commanded a good view of the bed. It was Allbright who had rescued Carroll from the station-house; for when he did not rise, the
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 38 The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 38

The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 38
Chapter XXXVIIIThere is, to a human being of Charlotte Carroll's type, something unutterably terrifying about entering, especially at nightfall, an entirely empty house. The worst of it is it does not seem to be empty. In reality, the emptiness of it is the last thing which is comprehended. It is full to overflowing with terrors, with spiritual entities which are much more palpable, when one is in a certain mood, than actual physical presences. Charlotte approaching the house, saw, first, glimmers of light on the windows, which were merely reflections ostensibly from the electric light in the street, not so ostensibly
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT