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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 42
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The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 42 Post by :jojac Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :629

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The Debtor: A Novel - Chapter 42

Chapter XLII

Carroll, 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 mind; that he owed it to him, since that purpose might quite reasonably cause a man to change his own plans with regard to marrying her. He decided that he would tell him that night before he left. But he felt that it would make no difference to a man of Anderson's type; that it was only for his own sake, the sake of his own honor, that it was necessary to tell him at all. Then he fell to thinking of what was before him, of the new life upon which he would enter the next Monday, and it was actually to this man of wrong courses but right instincts, this man born and bred of the best and as the best, as if he were contemplating the flames of the stake or the torture of the rack. He felt, in anticipation, his pride, his self-respect, stung as with fire and broken as upon the wheel. He was beset with the agonies of spiritual torture, which yet brought a certain solace in the triumph of endurance. He had at once the agony and the delight of the fighter, of the wrestler with the angel. What he had set himself to do for the sake of not only making good to others what they had lost through him, but what he had lost through himself, was unutterably terrible to him. But while his face was agonized, he yet threw back his head with the motion of the conqueror. And he owned to himself that the conquest was even greater because it was against such petty odds, because both the fight and the triumph savored of the ignoble, even of the ridiculous. It would be much easier to be a hero whom the multitude would applaud and worship than a hero whom the multitude would welcome with laughter. When comedy becomes tragedy, when the ignominious becomes victorious, he who brings it about becomes majestic in spite of fate itself. And yet withal the man sitting there listening to the soft murmur from the other room felt that his own life, so far as the happiness which, after all, makes life worth living for mortal weakness, was over. He thought of his wife and sister and children, who would be all safely sheltered, and, he hoped, even happy in time, although separated from him; and while his soul rejoiced over that, he yet could not help thinking of himself. Listening to the voices of the lovers in the parlor, he thought how he and Amy used to make love, and how it was all over, perhaps forever over. He smiled a little as he remembered how his Charlotte had asked him to go with her to meet her lover. Gentle and affectionate to his family as he was, Carroll was essentially masculine. He could not in the least understand how the girl felt. He felt a little anxious lest the child should not really love Anderson, because she hesitated, since he could see no other reason for her hesitation. However, when, about eleven o'clock, he heard the stir of approaching departure, and went hurriedly into the hall in order to intercept Anderson before he went, one glimpse of the girl's little face reassured him. She seemed to at once have grown older and younger. She was reflective, and fairly beaming with utmost anticipations. She looked at Anderson as he had never seen her look at any one. He had doubted a little about Ina; he had no doubt whatever about Charlotte. "She is in love with him, fast enough," he said to himself. He spoke to Anderson, and asked to have a word with him before he went.

"Come back into the parlor a moment, if you please," he said. "I have a word to say to you."

Anderson followed him into the room. He already had on his overcoat. Carroll stood close to him and spoke in a low voice. His face was ghastly when he had finished, but he looked proudly at the other man.

"Now it is for you to say whether you will advance or retreat, for I think that, under the circumstances, nobody could say that you did not do the last with honor," he concluded.

Anderson, who had also turned pale, stared at him a second, and his look was a question.

"There is absolutely nothing else that I can do," replied Carroll, simply; "it is my only course."

Anderson held out his hand. "I shall be proud to have your daughter for my wife," he said.

"Remember she is not to know," Carroll said.

"Do you think the ignorance preferable to the anxiety?"

"I don't know. I cannot have her know. None of them shall know. I have trusted you," Carroll said, with a sort of agonized appeal. "I had, as a matter of honor, to tell you, but no one else," he continued, still in his voice which seemed strained to lowness. "I had to trust you."

"You will never find your trust misplaced," replied Anderson, gravely, "but it will be hard for her."

"You can comfort her," Carroll said, with a painful smile, in which was a slight jealousy, the feeling of a man outside all his loves of life.

"When?" asked Anderson, in a whisper.

"Monday."

"She will, of course, come straight to my mother, and it can all be settled as soon as possible afterwards. There will be no occasion to wait."

"Amy may wish to come," said Carroll, "and Anna."

"Of course."

The two men shook hands and went out in the hall. Carroll went back to the den, and left Charlotte, who was shyly waiting to have the last words with her lover. Pretty soon she came fluttering into the den.

"You do like him, don't you, papa?" she asked, putting her arms around her father's neck.

"Yes, dear."

"But I am never going to leave you, papa, not for him nor anybody, not until Amy and the others come back."

"You will never forget papa, anyway, will you, honey?" said Carroll, and his voice was piteous in spite of himself.

"Forget you, papa? I guess not!" said Charlotte, "and I never will leave you."

That was Thursday. The next afternoon Mrs. Anderson came and called on Charlotte. She was glad that Carroll was not at home. She shrank very much from meeting him. Carroll had not gone to New York, but had taken the trolley to New Sanderson. He also went into several of the Banbridge stores. The next Sunday morning, in the barber's shop, several men exhibited notes of hand with Carroll's signature.

"I don't suppose it is worth the paper it is written on," said Rosenstein, with his melancholy accent, frowning intellectually over the slip of paper.

"He gave the dressmaker one, too," said Amidon, "and she is tickled to death with it. The daughter had already asked her to take back a silk dress she had made for her, and she has sold it for something. The dressmaker thinks the note is as good as money."

"I've got one of the blasted things, too," said the milkman, Tappan.

"It's for forty dollars, and I'll sell out for ten cents."

"I'd be willing to make my davyalfit that Captain Carroll's notes will be met when they are accentuated," said the little barber, in a trembling voice of partisanship, looking up from the man he was shaving; and everybody laughed.

Lee, who was waiting his turn, spoke. "Captain Carroll says he will pay me the price I paid for the United Fuel stock, in a year's time," he said, proudly. "The stock has depreciated terribly, too. A pretty square man, I call him."

"He's got more sides than you have, anyhow," growled Tappan, who was bristling like a pirate with his week's beard; and everybody laughed again, though they did not altogether know why.

However the recipients of Carroll's notes doubted their soundness, they folded them carefully and put them in their pocketbooks. When Carroll took the eight-o'clock train to New York the next morning, several noticed it and thought it looked well for the payment of the notes.

"Guess he's goin' to start another cheat," said the milkman, who had stopped at the saloon opposite Rosenstein's. "I seed him git on the eight-ten train."

Charlotte had been told by her father that he was going to New York that morning, and she had risen early and prepared what she considered a wonderful breakfast for him. She was radiant. Anderson had called upon her the evening before. She had never been so happy. Her father seemed in very good spirits, but she wondered why he looked so badly. It was actually as if he had lost ten pounds since the night before. He was horribly haggard, but he talked and laughed in a manner rather unusual for him, as he ate his breakfast. Charlotte watched jealously that he should do that. When he took his second badly fried egg, she beamed, and he concealed his physical and mental nausea.

When they were eating breakfast, much to Charlotte's amazement, the village express drove into the yard.

"Why, there is the express, papa!" she said.

"Yes, honey," replied Carroll, calmly. "I have a trunk I want to send to New York."

"Oh, papa, you are not going away?"

"Sending a trunk does not necessarily imply you are going yourself, honey. I have a trunk to send in connection with some business."

"Oh!" said Charlotte, quite satisfied.

Carroll rose from the table and showed the expressman the way to his room, and the trunk was brought down and carried away, and Charlotte asked no more questions and thought no more about it. Carroll walked to the station. When it was time for him to start, he went to Charlotte, who was clearing away the breakfast dishes, and held her in his arms and kissed her.

"Good-bye, papa's blessing," he said, and in spite of himself his voice broke. The man had reached the limit of his strength.

But Charlotte, who was neither curious nor suspicious, and was, besides, dazzled by her new happiness, only laughed. "Why, papa, I should think you were going away to stay a year!" said she.

Carroll laughed too, but his laugh was piteous. He kissed her again. "Well, good-bye, honey," he said. Just as he was going out of the door he stopped, and said, as if it were a minor matter which he had nearly forgotten, "Oh, by-the-way, sweetheart, I want you, at exactly half-past nine, to go into the den and look in the third volume of the Dutch Republic, and see what you will find."

Charlotte giggled. "A present!" said she. "I know it is a present, but what a funny place to put it in, papa, the third volume of the Dutch Republic."

"At exactly half-past nine," said Carroll. He kissed her again and went away.

Charlotte stood watching him go out of the yard. It came into her head that he must have had some very good luck, and had taken this funny way of making her a present of some money. Of course it could only be money which was to be hidden in such a place as a book. Poor Charlotte's imaginations were tainted by the lack of money.

She could hardly imagine a pleasant surprise unconnected with money. She hurried about her household tasks, and at exactly half-past nine, for she was obedient as a child, she went into the den and got from the case the third volume of the Dutch Republic. In it she found an envelope. She thought that it contained money, but when she opened it and found a letter, suddenly her heart failed her. She sat down dizzily on the divan and read the letter. It was very short. It only told her that her father loved her and loved them all; that he was writing the others just what he was writing her; that he loved her, but he was forced to go away and leave her, and not even let her know where he was nor what he was doing--not for a long time, at least; but that she was not to worry, and she was to go at once to Mrs. Anderson, who would take care of her until she was married. Then he bade God bless her, and said he was her loving father. Charlotte sat with the letter in her lap, and the room looked dim to her. She heard the door-bell ring, but she did not seem to realize what it was, not even when it rang the second and the third time. But the front door had been left unlocked when Carroll went, and Anderson came in presently, and his mother was with him. Mrs. Anderson knew nothing except that Carroll had gone, and nobody was to know where, or why, but that there was nothing dishonorable about it, and Charlotte was to come to them. She was quite pale herself when she saw Charlotte sitting on the divan with the letter in her lap.

"I have a letter from papa," Charlotte said, piteously, in a trembling voice. Then Anderson had her in his arms and was soothing and comforting her, and telling her he knew all about it. It was all right, and she was not to worry.

Mrs. Anderson stood watching them. "Where are your coat and hat, child?" said she, presently. She, in reality, felt that she was the proper person to have comforted the girl, under such circumstances, and not a man who knew nothing about girls, nor how they would feel when deserted, in a measure, by a father. When they were in the carriage, she sat on the seat with Charlotte and kept her arm around her, and looked across almost defiantly at her son.

"It is a terrible strain on the poor little thing, and if we are not careful she will be down with a fever," she told Randolph, privately, when they were home.

He laughed. "Take care of her all you want to, mother," he said.

After dinner he went up to the Carroll place. He had his instructions from Carroll what to do. Some of the creditors were partly satisfied with the things belonging to the Carrolls; some were taken to the Anderson house for Charlotte. As for Charlotte herself, she was, in reality, not so far from the fever which Mrs. Anderson had predicted. She adored her father. Every day she watched for a letter. At last Anderson told her as much as he could and not break his word to her father.

"Your father is perfectly safe, dear," he said, "and he is earning a great deal of money."

"What is he doing?" asked Charlotte, and her manner showed for the first time suspicion of her father.

"Something perfectly honest, dear," Anderson replied, simply, "but he does not want you to know and he does not want the others to know. You just be contented and brave and make the best of it all."

That was not long before they were married. It had seemed best to them all that they should not delay long. Mrs. Carroll did not come to the wedding, because Ina was ill. Anna knew as well as Anderson what her brother was doing. She had somehow comforted her sister-in-law without telling her anything, but she did not think it best to visit Banbridge. She had at times a feeling as if she herself were doing what her brother was, and the shame and pride together stung her in the same way. She wrote by every mail to Carroll, and posted it in another town, and nobody knew. In one of the letters she told him with an unconcealed glee that his old enemy, the man who had brought about all this, had had a shock of paralysis.

"He will never speak again," she wrote. "He has become dead while he is alive. After all, the Lord is just."

Carroll got that letter a few weeks after Charlotte was married. One Sunday night he made a trip to Banbridge. He was close-shaven; he had grown very thin; nobody would have recognized him, nobody did recognize him, although he met several Banbridge people whom he used to know on the train. It was after dark, but the winter sky was full of stars, which seemed very near as he took his way up the street towards the Anderson house. He walked slowly when he approached the house, and frequently cast a look behind him, as if he were afraid of being seen. When he reached the house he saw the curtains in the sitting-room were not drawn, and a warm glow of home seemed to shine forth into the wintry night. Carroll cautiously went up the steps, very softly. He went far enough to see the interior of the room, and he saw Charlotte and her husband sitting there. Mrs. Anderson was there also. She was reading the Bible, as befitted a Sunday night. Now and then she looked at Charlotte with a look of the utmost love and pride. Anderson, who was reading the paper, looked up, and the watching man saw him, and his eyes and Charlotte's met. The man watching knew that no anxiety about him seriously troubled her then, that she was entirely happy, and a feeling of sublime content and delight that it should be so, and he quite outside of it all, came over him.

He went softly down the steps and along the street to the station, where he could get a train back to the City in a few moments. To his own amazement, he was quite happy, he was even more than happy. A species of exaltation possessed him. Even the thought of himself, Arthur Carroll, posing nightly as a buffoon before the City crowds, did not daunt him. He realized a kind of joyful acquiescence with even that. He felt a happy patience when he considered the time that might elapse before he could see his family again. He passed the butcher's shop, and reflected with delight that he should be able to meet the note which was due next day. He remembered happily that he had been able to send Charlotte a little sum of money for her _trousseau_, and that perhaps a part of it had bought the pretty, rose-colored dress which she was wearing that night. Still, all this did not altogether account for the wonderful happiness which seemed to fill him as with light. He hurried along the street frozen in ridges like a sea, and he remembered what Anna had written about the man who had wronged him, and all at once he understood what filled him with this exaltation of joy, and he understood that underneath all the petty dishonors of his life had been a worse dishonor which took hold of his very soul and precipitated all the rest, and that he was now rid of it. He had no sense of triumph over his enemy, no joy that the Lord had at last wreaked vengeance upon the man who had injured him; but he was filled with an exceeding pity, and a sense of forgiveness which he had never in his life felt before. He had never forgiven before; now he forgave. He remembered, going along the streets, the words of The Lord's Prayer, "Forgive my debts as I forgive my debtors," and his very heart leaped with the knowledge that forgiveness was due him because of his forgiveness of another, and that the debt of honor to God and his own soul was paid.


(THE END)
Mary E Wilkins Freeman's Book: Debtor: A Novel

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