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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesKennedy Square - Chapter 27
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Kennedy Square - Chapter 27 Post by :beetee Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :1468

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Kennedy Square - Chapter 27

CHAPTER XXVII

When the first glimmer of the gray dawn stole through the small window at the end of the narrow hall, and laid its chilled fingers on Harry's upturned face, it found him still asleep. His ride to Moorlands and back--his muscles unused for months to the exercise--had tired him. The trials of the day, too, those with his father and his Uncle George, had tired him the more--and so he had slept on as a child sleeps--as a perfectly healthy man sleeps--both mind and body drinking in the ozone of a new courage and a new hope.

With the first ray of the joyous sun riding full tilt across his face, he opened his eyes, threw off the cloak, and sprang to his feet. For an instant he looked wonderingly about as if in doubt whether to call the watch or begin the hunt for his cattle. Then the pine door caught his eye and the low, measured breathing of his uncle fell upon his ear, and with a quick lift of his arms, his strong hands thumping his broad chest, he stretched himself to his full height: he had work to do, and he must begin at once.

Aunt Jemima was already at her duties. She had tiptoed past his sleeping body an hour before, and after listening to St. George's breathing had plunged into her tubs; the cat's cradle in the dingy court-yard being already gay with various colored fragments, including Harry's red flannel shirts which Todd had found in a paper parcel, and which the old woman had pounced upon at sight. She insisted on making him a cup of coffee, but he had no time for such luxuries. He would keep on, he said, to Kennedy Square, find Pawson, ascertain if St. George's old rooms were still unoccupied; notify him of Mr. Temple's return; have his bed made and fires properly lighted; stop at the livery stable, wake up Todd, if that darky had overslept himself--quite natural when he had been up almost all night--engage a carriage to be at Jemima's at four o'clock, and then return to get everything ready for the picking-up-and-carrying-downstairs process.

And all this he did do; and all this he told Jemima he had done when he swung into the court-yard an hour later, a spring to his heels and a cheery note in his voice that had not been his for years. The reaction that hope brings to youth had set in. He was alive and at home; his Uncle George was where he could get his hands on him--in a minute--by the mounting of the stairs; and Alec and his mother within reach!

And the same glad song was in his heart when he opened his uncle's door after he had swallowed his coffee--Jemima had it ready for him this time--and thrusting in his head cried out:

"We are going to get you out of here, Uncle George!" This with a laugh--one of his old contagious laughs that was music in the sick man's ears.

"When?" asked the invalid, his face radiant. He had been awake an hour wondering what it all meant. He had even thought of calling to Jemima to reassure himself that it was not a dream, until he heard her over her tubs and refrained from disturbing her.

"Oh, pretty soon! I have just come from Pawson's. Fogbin hasn't put in an appearance and there's nobody in the rooms and hasn't been anybody there since you left. He can't understand it, nor can I--and I don't want to. I have ordered the bed made and a fire started in both the chamber and the old dining-room, and if anybody objects he has got to say so to me, and I am a very uncomfortable person to say some kinds of things to nowadays. So up you get when the time comes; and Todd and Jemima are to go too. I've got money enough, anyhow, to begin on. Aunt Jemima says you had a good night and it won't be long now before you are yourself again."

The radiant smile on the sick man's face blossomed into a laugh: "Yes--the best night that I have had since I was taken ill, and--Where did you sleep, my son?"

"Me!--Oh, I had a fine time--long, well-ventilated room with two windows and private staircase; nice pine bedstead--very comfortable place for this part of the town."

St. George looked at him and his eyes filled. His mind was neither on his own questions nor on Harry's answers.

"Get a chair, Harry, and sit by me so I can look at you closer. How fine and strong you are my son--not like your father--you're like your mother. And you've broadened out--mentally as well as physically. Pretty hard I tell you to spoil a gentleman--more difficult still to spoil a Rutter. But you must get that beard off--it isn't becoming to you, and then somebody might think you disguised yourself on purpose. I didn't know you at first, neither did Jemima--and you don't want anybody else to make that kind of a mistake."

"My father did, yesterday--" Harry rejoined quietly, dropping into Jemima's chair.

St. George half raised himself from his bed: "You have seen him?"

"Yes--and I wish I hadn't. But I hunted everywhere for you and then got a horse and rode out home. He didn't know me--that is, I'm pretty sure he didn't--but he cursed me all the same. My mother and old Alec, I hope, will come in to-day--but father's chapter is closed forever. I have been a fool to hope for anything else."

"Drove you out! Oh, no--NO! Harry! Impossible!"

"But he did--" and then followed an account of all the wanderer had passed through from the time he had set foot on shore to the moment of meeting Todd and himself.

For some minutes St. George lay staring at the ceiling. It was all a horrid, nightmare to him. Talbot deserved nothing but contempt and he would get it so far as he was concerned. He agreed with Harry that all reconciliation was now a thing of the past; the only solution possible was that Talbot was out of his senses--the affair having undermined his reason. He had heard of such cases and had doubted them--he was convinced now that they could be true. His answer, therefore, to Harry's next question--one about his lost sweetheart--was given with a certain hesitation. As long as the memory of Rutter's curses rankled within him all reference to Kate's affairs--even the little he knew himself--must be made with some circumspection. There was no hope in that direction either, but he did not want to tell him so outright; nor did he want to dwell too long upon the subject.

"And I suppose Kate is married by this time, Uncle George," Harry said at last in a casual tone, "is she not?" (He had been leading up to it rather skilfully, but there had been no doubt in his uncle's mind as to his intention.) "I saw the house lighted up, night before last when I passed, and a lot of people about, so I thought it might be either the wedding or the reception." The question had left his lips as one shoots an arrow in the dark--hit or miss--as if he did not care which. He too realized that this was no time to open wounds, certainly not in his uncle's heart; and yet he could wait no longer.

"No--I don't think the wedding has taken place," St. George replied vaguely. "The servants would know if it had--they know everything--and Aunt Jemima would be the first to have told me. The house being lighted up is no evidence. They have been giving a series of entertainments this winter and there were more to come when I last saw Kate, which was one night at Richard Horn's. But let us close that chapter too, my boy. You and I will take a new lease of life from now on. You have already put fresh blood into my veins--I haven't felt so well for weeks. Now tell me about yourself. Your last letter reached me six months ago, if I remember right. You were then in Rio and were going up into the mountains. Did you go?"

"Yes--up into the Rio Abaste country where they had discovered diamonds as big as hens' eggs--one had been sold for nearly a quarter of a million dollars--and everybody was crazy. I didn't find any diamonds nor anything else but starvation, so I herded cattle, that being the only thing I knew anything about--how to ride--and slept out on the lowlands sometimes under a native mat and sometimes under the kindly stars. Then we had a revolution and cattle raids, and one night I came pretty near being chewed up by a puma--and so it went. I made a little money in rawhides after I got to know the natives, and I'm going back to make some more; and you are going with me when we get things straightened out. I wouldn't have come home except that I heard you had been turned out neck and crop from Kennedy Square. One of Mr. Seymour's clerks stopped in Rio on his way to the River Plate and did some business with an English agent whom I met afterward at a hacienda, and who told me about you when he learned I was from Kennedy Square. And when I think of it all, Uncle George, and what you have suffered on account of me!"--Here his voice faltered. "No!--I won't talk about it--I can't. I have spent too many sleepless nights over it: I have been hungry and half dead, but I have kept on--and I am not through: I'll pull out yet and put you on your feet once more if I live!"

St. George laid his hand tenderly on the young man's wrist. He knew how the boy felt about it. That was one of the things he loved him for.

"And so you started home when you heard it," he went on, clearing his throat. "That was just like you, you dear fellow! And you haven't come home an hour too soon. I should have been measured for a pine coffin in another week." The choke was quite in evidence now. "You see, I really couldn't go to Coston's when I thought it all over. I had made up my mind to go for a week or so until I saw this place, and then I determined I would stop with Jemima. I could eke out an existence here on what I had left and still feel like a gentleman, but I couldn't settle down on dear Peggy Coston and be anything but a poltroon. As to my making a living at the law--that was pure moonshine. I haven't opened a law book for twenty years and now it's too late. People of our class"--here he looked away from his companion and talked straight at the foot of the bed--"People of our class my boy," he repeated slowly--"when they reach the neck and crop period you spoke of, are at the end of their rope. There are then but two things left--either to become the inmate of a poorhouse or to become a sponge. I prefer this bare room as a happy medium, and I am content to stay where I am as long as we three can keep body and soul together. There is--so Pawson told me before I left my house--a little money coming in from a ground rent--a few months off, perhaps, but more than enough to pay Todd back--he gives Jemima every cent of his wages--and when this does come in and I can get out once more, I'm going to order my life so I can make a respectable showing of some kind."

He paused for a moment, fastened his gaze again on Harry, and continued:

"As to my going back to Pawson's, I am not altogether sure that that is the wisest thing to do. I may have to leave again as soon as I get comfortably settled in my bed. I turned out at his bidding before and may have to turn again when he says the word. So don't kindle too many fires with Pawson's wood--I hadn't a log to my name when I left--or it may warm somebody's else's shins besides mine," and a merry twinkle shone in his eyes.

Harry burst out laughing.

"Wood or no wood, Uncle George, I'm going to be landlord now--Pawson can move out and graze his cattle somewhere else. I'm going to take charge of the hut and stock and the pack mules and provisions--and with a gun, if necessary--" and he levelled an imaginary fowling-piece with a boyish gesture.

"Don't you try to move anybody without an order of the court!" cried St. George, joining in the merriment. "With that mortgage hanging over everything and Gorsuch and your father cudgelling their brains to foreclose it, you won't have a ghost of a chance. Come to think of it, however, I might help--for a few weeks' expenses, at least. How would this do?" Here he had all he could do to straighten his face: "'Attention now--Hats off in the court-room. For sale or hire! Immediate delivery. One first-class gentleman, in reasonable repair. Could be made useful in opening and shutting doors, or in dancing attendance upon children under one year of age, or in keeping flies from bedridden folk. Apply, and so forth,' Gadgem could fix it. He has done the most marvellous things in the last year or two--extraordinary, really! Ask Todd about it some time--he'll tell you."

They were both roaring with laughter, St. George so buoyed up by the contagious spirit of the young fellow that he insisted on getting out of bed and sitting in Aunt Jemima's rocking chair with a blanket across his knees.

All the morning did this happy talk go on:--the joyous unconfined talk of two men who had hungered and thirsted for each other through weary bitter days and nights, and whose coming together was like the mingling of two streams long kept apart, and now one great river flowing to a common outlet and a common good.

And not only did their talk cover the whole range of Harry's experiences from the time he left the ship for his sojourn in the hill country and the mountains beyond, and all of St. George's haps and mishaps, with every single transaction of Gadgem and Pawson--loving cup, dogs and all--but when their own personal news was exhausted they both fell back on their friends, such as Richard Horn and old Judge Pancoast; when he had seen Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Latrobe--yes, and what of Mr. Poe--had he written any more?--and were his habits any better?--etc., etc.

"I have seen Mr. Poe several times since that unfortunate dinner, Harry; the last time when he was good enough to call upon me on his way to Richmond. He was then particularly himself. You would not have known him--grave, dignified, perfectly dressed--charming, delightful. He came in quite late--indeed I was going to bed when I heard his knock and, Todd being out, I opened the door myself. There was some of that Black Warrior left, and I brought out the decanter, but he shook his head courteously and continued his talk. He asked after you. Wonderful man, Harry--a man you never forget once you know him."

St. George dragged the pine table nearer his chair and moistened his lips with the glass of milk which Jemima had set beside him. Then he went on:

"You remember Judge Giles, do you not? Lives here on St. Paul Street--yes--of course you do--for he is a great friend of your father's and you must have met him repeatedly at Moorlands. Well, one day at the club he told me the most extraordinary story about Mr. Poe--this was some time after you'd gone. It seems that the judge was at work in his study late one snowy night when his doorbell sounded. Outside stood a man with his coat buttoned close about his throat--evidently a gentleman--who asked him politely for a sheet of paper and a pen. You know the judge, and how kind and considerate he is. Well, of course he asked him in, drew out a chair at his desk and stepped into the next room to leave him undisturbed. After a time, not hearing him move, he looked in and to his surprise the stranger had disappeared. On the desk lay a sheet of paper on which was written three verses of a poem. It was his 'Bells.' The judge has had them framed, so I hear. There was enough snow on the ground to bring out the cutters, and Poe had the rhythm of the bells ringing in his head and being afraid he would forget it he pulled the judge's doorbell. I wish he'd rung mine. I must get the poem for you, Harry--it's as famous now as 'The Raven.' Richard, I hear, reads it so that you can distinguish the sound of each bell."

"Well, he taught me a lesson," said Harry, tucking the blanket close around his uncle's knees--"one I have never forgotten, and never will. He sent me to bed a wreck, I remember, but I got up the next morning with a new mast in me and all my pumps working."

"You mean--" and St. George smiled meaningly and tossed his hand up as if emptying a glass.

"Yes--just that--" rejoined Harry with a nod. "It's so hot out where I have been that a glass of native rum is as bad as a snake bite and everybody except a native leaves it alone. But if I had gone to the North Pole instead of the equator I would have done the same. Men like you and father, and Mr. Richard Horn and Mr. Kennedy, who have been brought up on moderation, may feel as they choose about it, but I'm going to let it alone. It's the devil when it gets into your blood and mine's not made for it. I'd like to thank Mr. Poe if I dared, which I wouldn't, of course, if I ever saw him, for what he did for me. I wouldn't be surprised if he would give a good deal himself to do the same--or has he pulled out?"

"He never has pulled in, Harry--not continuously. Richard has the right of it. Poe is a man pursued by a devil and lives always on the watch to prevent the fiend from getting the best of him. Months at a time he wins and then there comes a day when the devil gets on top. He says himself--he told me this the last time I saw him--that he really lives a life devoted to his literary work; that he shuts himself up from everybody; and that the desire for society only comes upon him when he's excited by drink. Then, and only then, does he go among his fellows. There is some truth in that, my son, for as long as I have known him I have never seen him in his cups except that one night at my house. A courteous, well-bred gentleman, my boy--most punctilious about all his obligations and very honest about his failings. All he said to me the next day when he sobered up--I kept him all that night, you remember--was: 'I was miserably weak and inexcusably drunk last night, Mr. Temple. If that was all it would make no difference; I have been very drunk before, and I will be very drunk again; but in addition to my being drunk I insulted you and your friends and ruined your dinner. That makes every difference. Don't let it cause a break between us. Let me come again. And now please brush it from your mind. If you knew how I suffer over this fiend who tortures and gloats over me you'd only have the greatest pity for me, in your heart.' Then he wrung my hand and left the house."

"Well, that's all any of us could do," sighed Harry, leaning back in his chair, his eyes on the ceiling. "It makes some difference, however, of whom you ask forgiveness. I've been willing to say the same kind of thing to my father ever since my affair with Mr. Willits, but it would have fallen on deaf ears. I had another trial at it yesterday, and you know what happened."

"I don't think your father knew you, Harry," protested St. George, with a negative wave of his hand.

"I hope he didn't--I shouldn't like to think he did. But, by heaven! it broke my heart to see him, Uncle George. You would hardly know him. Even his voice has changed and the shade over his eyes and the way he twists his head when he looks at you really gave me a creepy feeling," and the young man passed his fingers across his own eyes as if to shut out some hideous object.

"Was he looking straight at you when he ordered you from the room?"

"Straight as he could."

"Well, let us try and think it was the beard. And that reminds me, son, that it's got to come off, and right away. When Todd comes in he'll find my razors and--"

"No--I'll look up a barber."

"Not down in this part of the town," exclaimed St. George with a suggestive grimace.

"No--I'll go up to Guy's. There used to be an old negro there who looked after us young fellows when our beards began to sprout. He'll take care of it all right. While I'm out I'll stop and send Todd back. I'm going to end his apprenticeship to-day, and so he'll help you dress. Nothing like getting into your clothes when you're well enough to get out of bed; I've done it more than once," and with a pat on his uncle's shoulder and the readjustment of the blanket, he closed the door behind him and left the room.

"Everything is working fine, auntie," he cried gaily as he passed the old woman who was hanging out the last of her wash. "I'll be back in an hour. Don't tell him yet--" and he strode out of the yard on his way uptown.

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CHAPTER XXVIHarry looked about the room in a bewildered way and then tiptoed to St. George's bed. It had been a day of surprises, but this last had completely upset him. St. George dependent on the charity of his old cook and without other attendant than Todd! Why had he been deserted by everybody who loved him? Why was he not at Wesley or Craddock? Why should he be here of all places in the world? All these thoughts surged through his mind as he stood above the patient and watched his slow, labored breathing. That he had been ill for
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