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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 41
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The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 41 Post by :bjmays Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :1604

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The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 41

Chapter XLI

It was quite early the next morning when Charlotte received the telegram that her father had had a fall on the ice, was not badly injured, and would be home on the noon train. Anderson had gone very early to the telegraph-office. It was being ticked off in Andrew Drake's drug-store when he inquired, and the boy viewed him with intense curiosity when he took the message, but did not dare ask any questions. Anderson hurried home with it to Charlotte, who was not yet up. Mrs. Anderson had insisted upon her having her breakfast in bed, and she had yielded readily. In fact, she was both too confused and too ashamed to see Anderson. She dreaded seeing him. She was as simple as a child, and she reasoned simply.

"He held me in his arms and kissed me last night, the way Major Arms would have done with Ina," she told herself, "and of course I suppose I must be engaged to him; but I don't know what he must think of me for coming here the way I did. It was almost as if I asked him first." She wondered if Mrs. Anderson had seen. But Mrs. Anderson's manner to her was of such complete and caressing motherliness that she could not have much fear of her. In reality, the older woman, who had an active imagination, was slightly jealous, in view of future possibilities.

"I wonder if they will think they ought to sit by themselves evenings," she reflected. She looked at the girl's slight grace in the bed, and the little, dark head sunken in the pillow, and she wondered how in the world the mother of a girl like that could stay one minute in Kentucky and leave her. "She must be a pretty woman!" she thought to herself. Already she hated the other mother-in-law, and she felt almost a maternal right to the girl. She recalled what she had seen the night before, and thrills of tender reminiscence came over her. "Randolph will make just such a good husband as his father," she thought to herself, and then she rather resented his superior right over the girl, as she might have done if it had not been a question of her own son, and Charlotte had been her own daughter. She loved her as she loved the daughter she had never had. She stroked her hair softly as it curled over the pillow.

"You have such pretty hair, dear," she said, with positive pride. The little, flushed face looked up at her.

Charlotte had just finished her breakfast. Anderson had brought the telegram and gone, and the two were alone. It was arranged that Charlotte was to get up in an hour, and that Mrs. Anderson was to go home with her in one of Samson Rawdy's coaches.

"We will take my maid, and she can get the furnace fire started," she said, "and help about the dinner."

"I had such a nice dinner all ready last night," Charlotte said, "and I am afraid it must be spoiled now."

"Never mind. We will get another," said Mrs. Anderson.

Both Anderson and his mother had succeeded in quieting Charlotte's lingering fears concerning her father.

"He probably got stunned," Anderson said; "and he cannot be very bad or he would not be coming home on the noon train." He was talking to Charlotte from his mother's room, with the door ajar.

There was something conclusive in Anderson's voice which reassured Charlotte.

"My son would not say so unless he thought so," said Mrs. Anderson. "He never says a thing he does not mean." She spoke with a double meaning which Charlotte wholly missed. It had not occurred to her that Mr. Anderson would have taken her in his arms last night and kissed her and comforted her, if he had not been thoroughly in earnest and in love with her. She supposed, of course, he wished to marry her. All that troubled her was her own course in practically proposing to him. Presently, after she and Mrs. Anderson were alone together, she tried to say something about this to the other woman.

"I don't know as I ought to have come here last night," she said, "but--"

"Where else would you have gone?" inquired Mrs. Anderson.

Charlotte looked up at her piteously. "I hope Mr. Anderson didn't think I--I--ought not to," she whispered, and she felt her cheeks blazing with shame. She did not know if Mrs. Anderson really knew, but she was as much ashamed.

Mrs. Anderson stooped over her and laid her soft old cheek against the soft young one. "My precious child!" she whispered. "I could not help seeing last night, and this was just the place for you to come, for this is your home, or is going to be; isn't it, dear?"

Charlotte put up her soft little arms around the other woman's neck, and began to cry softly. "Oh," she sobbed, "I don't want him to think that I--"

"Hush, dear! He will think nothing he ought not to think," said Mrs. Anderson, who did not, in reality, know in the least what the girl was troubled about, but rather thought it possible that she might fear lest her son was not in earnest in his attentions, on her father's account. She did not imagine Charlotte's faith and pride in her father. "My son cares a great deal for you, dear child, or he would never have done as he did last night," she said, "and some day we are all going to be very happy."

Charlotte continued to sob softly, but not altogether unhappily.

"My son will make a very good husband," Mrs. Anderson said, with a slight inflection of pride. "He will make a good husband, just as his father did."

"He is the best man I ever saw, except papa," cried Charlotte then, with a great gulp of blissful confession, and the two women wept in each other's arms. "I will try and make him a good wife," Charlotte whispered, softly.

"Of course you will, you precious child."

But suddenly Charlotte raised herself a little and looked at Mrs. Anderson with a troubled face. "But I can't leave papa all alone," she said, "and your son would not want to leave you."

"Of course my son could not leave me," Mrs. Anderson said, quickly.

"I could not leave papa all alone."

"Well, we won't worry about that now, dear," Mrs. Anderson replied, although her forehead was slightly knitted. "Your mother and aunt will be back; some way will be opened. We will not worry about that now."

Charlotte blushed painfully at the thought that she had been hasty about making preparations for the marriage, and had shocked Mrs. Anderson. "You don't think papa is very badly hurt?" she said.

"Why, of course not, dear. Didn't you hear what Randolph said? He probably was stunned. It is so easy to get stunned from a fall on the ice. My husband got a bad fall once, one icy Sunday as we were coming home from the church. They had to carry him into Mr. John Bemis's house, and he did not come to for several hours. I thought he was killed. I never was so frightened except once when Randolph had the croup. But he got all over it. His head was a little sore, but that was all. I presume it was black and blue under his hair. Randolph's father had beautiful thick hair just like his. I dare say he was not hurt so badly, because of that. Your father has thick hair, hasn't he?"

"Yes."

"Well, I dare say he struck on his head, just as my husband did, and was stunned. I dare say that was just what happened. Of course he did not break any bones, or he would not be coming home on the noon train. I don't believe they would let him out from the hospital so soon as that, even if he had only broken his arm."

"Oh, do you think they carried him to a hospital?"

"They took him somewhere where he was taken care of, or he would not be coming home on the noon train," said Mrs. Anderson. "It is almost time for you to get up, and I want you to drink another cup of coffee. You came here without any hat, didn't you, poor child?"

"Yes."

"Well, I haven't got any hat, and you can't wear one of my bonnets, but I have a pretty white head-tie that you can wear; and nobody will see you in the closed carriage, anyway."

"I am making so much trouble," said Charlotte.

"You precious child!" said Mrs. Anderson; "when I think of you all alone in that house!"

"It was dreadful," Charlotte said, with a shudder. "I suppose there was nothing at all to be afraid of, but I imagined all kinds of things."

"The things people imagine are more to be afraid of than the things they see, sometimes," Mrs. Anderson said, wisely. "Now, I think perhaps you had better get up, dear, and you must drink another cup of coffee. I think there will be just about time enough for you to drink it and get dressed before the carriage comes."

Mrs. Anderson took the pride in assisting the girl to dress that she had done in dressing her son when he was a child. She even noticed, with the tenderest commiseration instead of condemnation, that the lace on her undergarments was torn, and that there were buttons missing.

"Poor dear child, she never had any decent training," she said to herself. She anticipated teaching Charlotte to take care of her clothes, as she might have done if she had been her own girl baby. "I guess her clothes won't look like this when I have had her awhile," she said to herself, eying furtively some torn lace on the girl's slender white shoulder.

When they were at last driving through the streets of Banbridge, she felt unspeakably proud, and also a little defiant.

"I suppose there are plenty of people who will say Randolph is a fool to marry a girl whose father has done the way hers has," she told herself, "but I don't care. There isn't a girl in Banbridge to compare with her. I don't care; they can say what they want to." She was so excited that she had put on her bonnet, which had a little jet aigrette on top, awry. After a while Charlotte timidly ventured to speak of it and straighten it, and the tenderest thrill of delight came over the older woman at the daughterly attention.

She told Randolph that noon, after she had got home, that she was really surprised to see how well the poor child, with no training at all, had kept the house, and she said it, remembering quite distinctly a white shade of dust in full view on the parlor-table.

"Her dinner was all dried up, of course," she said, "but I thought it looked as if it might have been quite nice when it was first cooked."

Already Mrs. Anderson was becoming deceptive for the sake of the girl. She had carried a box of provisions to the house, and they had stopped at the fish-market and bought some oysters; and Mrs. Anderson had taught Charlotte how to make a stew, and retreated before it was quite time for Carroll to arrive. She felt in her heart of hearts that she could not see him yet. Even her love for the girl did not yet reconcile her to Carroll. Charlotte was so glad that her little purse was in her coat-pocket and that she had enough money to pay for the oysters. She felt that she could not have borne it had she been obliged to borrow money of Mrs. Anderson. She felt that it would reflect upon her father. Already she had an instinctive jealousy on her father's account. She loved Mrs. Anderson, but she felt vaguely that not enough was said, even there was not enough anxiety displayed, with regard to her father. She reflected with the fiercest loyalty that even although she did love Mr. Anderson, although she had let him kiss her, although at the mere memory thrills of delight overwhelmed her, she would not ever admit even to herself that he was any better than her father--her poor father who had been hurt and whom everybody was blaming and accusing. Directly after Mrs. Anderson and the maid had gone, she began making the oyster-stew. It would not be quite so good as if she had waited until her father had really arrived, and Mrs. Anderson had told her so, but Charlotte could not bear to wait. She wished him to have something nice and hot the minute he came in. The water boiled and she made the tea. Mrs. Anderson had said that the tea might be better for him than coffee, and she also made toast. Then she went again into the parlor to the window, as she had done the night before; but it was all so different now. She was so happy that she was confused by it. She had not been brought up, as one would say, religiously, although she had always gone to church, but now she realized a strange uplifting of her thoughts above the happiness itself, to a sense of God. She was conscious of a thankfulness which at once exalted and humbled her. She sat down beside the window and looked out, and everything, every dry spear of grass and every slender twig on the trees, was streaming like rainbows in the frosty air. It came to her what an unspeakable blessing it was that she had been allowed to come into a world where there were so many rainbows and so much happiness, and how nothing but more rainbows and happiness could come of these. That there was nothing whatever to dread in the future. And she thought how her father was coming home, and she thought of all her horrible imaginations of the night before as she might have thought of a legion of routed fiends. And soon Samson Rawdy drove her father into the grounds, and she ran to the door. She opened it and went to the carriage with her arms extended, but he got out himself, laughing.

"Did you think I wanted help, honey?" he said, but though he laughed, he walked weakly and his face was very pale.

He paid Samson Rawdy, who opened his mouth as if to say something, then looked at Carroll's pale face and changed his mind, getting rather stiffly up on his seat--he was growing stout--and driving away.

"Oh, papa!" Charlotte said, slipping her arm through his and nestling close up to him as they went into the house.

Carroll bent down and kissed her. "Papa's poor little girl!" he said. "It was mighty hard on her, wasn't it?"

"Oh, papa, you are not hurt very badly?"

"Not hurt at all, sweetheart. I, to put it simply, tumbled down on the ice and hit my head, and was so stunned that I did not come to myself until it was too late for the last train."

"Oh, papa, where were you? Did they carry you to a hospital?"

"No, dear. I was very near a man who used to keep my books before I gave up my office, and he had me carried to his house, which was near by, and he and his sister did everything for me, they and their doctor."

"They must be such good people!" said Charlotte.

"Such good people that I can never pay them," said Carroll, in an odd voice. They had entered the house and were going through the hall. "Not in other ways than money," he added, quickly. "I owe him nothing." It was the first time that Carroll had ever attempted to justify himself to his child, but at that moment the sting of thinking that she might suspect that he owed Allbright money was more than he could bear.

When they were in the dining-room, Carroll turned and looked at Charlotte. "My poor little girl! What did you think, and what did you do?" said he.

She threw her arms around his neck again and clung to him. "Oh, papa, when you didn't come, when the last train went by and you didn't come, I thought--"

"Poor little sweetheart!"

"I went down to the six-o'clock train, and then I waited for the next, and then I came home, and I watched, and the telegraph-boy came to tell me there was no telegram, and I had the dinner keeping warm on the back of the range; it was beefsteak cooked that way in the cook-book, and there was a pudding," said Charlotte, incoherently, and she began to weep against her father's shoulder.

In reality, the girl's nerves were nearer the overstrained point now than they had been before. She was so glad to have her father home, she was so dazed by her new happiness, and there was something about her father's white face which frightened her in a subtle fashion. There was a changed meaning in it beside the sick look.

"Poor little girl!" Carroll said again. "Did you have to stay here alone all night?"

"No, papa. I stayed just as long as I could, and then I went out, and I ran--"

"Where, dear?"

"I ran to--"

Carroll waited. Charlotte had turned her face as far away from him as she could as she leaned against him, but one ear was burning red.

"I ran to the--Andersons'. You know Mr. Anderson, that time when I was so frightened by the tramp-- You know I stayed there to tea, that-- Mrs. Anderson was very kind," said Charlotte, in a stammering and incoherent voice.

"Oh," said Carroll.

Suddenly Charlotte raised her head, and she looked at him quite bravely, with an innocent confidence. "Papa," said she, "you needn't think I am ever going to leave you, not until Amy and the others come back, because I never will. You never will think so?"

"No, darling," said Carroll. His face grew paler.

"But," continued Charlotte, "when I went to the Andersons' last night, I rang the bell, and I pounded with the knocker, too, I was so frightened, and Mr. Anderson came right away. He had been to New York himself, to the theatre, and he had not been home long, and--"

Carroll waited.

"I am never going to leave you, papa," said Charlotte, "and I love you just as much. I love you just as much as I do--him, only, of course, it is different. You needn't think I don't. There is nobody like you. But he--if you don't mind, papa, I think I will marry Mr. Anderson sometime, the way Ina did Major Arms."

Carroll did not speak for a moment. He continued looking at her with an expression made up of various emotions--trouble, relief, shame.

"He is a very good man," said Charlotte, in a half-defensive tone. "He is the best man I ever saw, except you, papa."

Carroll bent down and kissed her. "You are very sure you love him, are you, dear?" he said.

"Why, papa, of course I am! I never could see how Ina could love Major Arms enough to marry him, but I can see how anybody could be glad to marry Mr. Anderson."

"Then I am very glad, sweetheart," Carroll said, with a curious quietness, almost weariness.

"His mother is lovely, too," said Charlotte.

"That is nice, dear, for I suppose you will live with them."

"When Amy and the others come back," said Charlotte. "I am not ever going to leave you, papa. You know it, don't you?"

"Yes, sweetheart," said Carroll, still with the same curious, weary quiet.

Charlotte looked at him anxiously. "Does your head ache now, papa?" she asked.

"No, dear."

"But you don't feel well. You are very pale."

"I feel a little weak, that is all, dear."

"You will feel better when you have had dinner. Mrs. Anderson came home with me, she and her maid, and she gave me some lovely thin slices of ham, and there is an oyster-stew, and some tea. Sit down, papa dear, and we will have dinner right away."

Carroll made a superhuman effort to eat that dinner, but still the look whose strangeness rather than paleness puzzled Charlotte never left his face. She kept looking at him.

"You won't go to New York again to-morrow, will you, papa?" said she.

"No, dear. I don't think so."

"I wish you wouldn't go again this week, papa. To-day is Thursday."

"Perhaps I won't, dear."

After dinner Carroll lay down on the divan in the den and Charlotte covered him up, and after a while he fell asleep; but even asleep, when she stole in to look at him, there was the same strange expression on his face. It was the face of a man whose mind is set irrevocably to an end. A martyr going to the stake might have had that same look, or even a criminal who was going to his doom with a sense of its being his just deserts, and with the bravery that befitted a man.

That evening Anderson came to call, and Carroll answered the door-bell. He took him into the parlor, and spoke at once of the subject uppermost in the minds of both.

"Charlotte has told me," Carroll said, simply. He extended his hand with a pathetic, deprecatory air. "You know what you are doing when you ask for my daughter's hand," he said. "You know she might have a parentage which would reflect more credit upon her."

"I am quite satisfied," Anderson replied, in a low voice. All at once, looking at the other man, it struck him that he had never in his life pitied any one to such an extent, and that he pitied him all the more because Carroll seemed one to resent pity.

"This much I will say--I can say it confidently now," said Carroll, "I shall meet all my indebtedness. You will have no reason to hesitate on that account," but he paused a moment. "I am driven to resorting to any honest method which I can find to enable me so to do," he continued. He made a slight emphasis upon the word honest.

"I can understand that as fully, possibly, as any man," Anderson replied, gravely.

Carroll looked at him. "Yes, so you can," he said--"so you can. Well, this much I will say for myself, Mr. Anderson. I am proud and glad to confide my daughter to your keeping. I am satisfied, and more than satisfied, with her choice."

"Thank you," replied Anderson. He felt a constraint, even embarrassment, as if he had been a very young man. He was even conscious of blushing a little.

"Sit down," said Carroll, placing a chair for him, and offering him a cigar.

Then he went to call Charlotte. It was at that moment rather a hard experience for Charlotte that it was not her mother instead of her father who called her to go down and see her lover. She had thought, with a passion of yearning, of her mother who had done the same thing, and would understand, as she fluffed out her pretty hair around her face in front of the glass in her room. When her father called her she ran down, but instead of going at once into the parlor, where she knew her lover was waiting for her, she ran into the den. She felt sure that her father had retreated there. She found him there, as she had thought, and she flung her arms around his neck.

"I am never going to leave you alone, you know, papa," she whispered.

"Yes, dear."

"Papa, come in there with me."

Carroll laughed then. "Run along, honey," he said, and gave her a kiss, and pushed her softly out of the room.

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Chapter XLIICarroll, left alone, lighted another cigar from force of habit. It was one of the abominably cheap ones which he had been smoking lately when by himself. He never offered one to anybody else. But soon the cigar went out and he never noticed it. He sat in a deep-hollowed chair before a fireless hearth, and the strange expression upon his face deepened. It partook of at once exaltation and despair. He heard the soft murmur of voices from the parlor where the lovers were. He reflected that he should tell Anderson, before he married Charlotte, the purpose in his
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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
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