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- A Knight Of The Nineteenth Century - 20/79 -


"He could have tried to do otherwise. Did he not offer some explanation?"

"What he said amounted to a confession of the crime."

"What did he say?"

"I have not charged my mind with all the rash, foolish words of the young scapegrace. It is sufficient for me that he and all in my employ received a lesson which they will not soon forget. I wish you would excuse me from further consideration of the subject at present. It has cost me too much time already."

"You are correct," said Mrs. Arnot very quietly. "It is likely to prove a very costly affair. I tremble to think what your lesson may cost this young man, whom you have rendered reckless and desperate by this public disgrace; I tremble to think what this event may cost my friend, his mother. Of the pain it has cost me I will not speak--"

"Madam," interrupted Mr. Arnot harshly, "permit me to say that this is an affair concerning which a sentimental woman can have no correct understanding. I propose to carry on my business in the way which experience has taught me is wise, and, with all respect to yourself, I would suggest that in these matters of business I am in my own province."

The ashen hue deepened upon Mrs. Arnot's face, but she answered quietly:

"I do not wish to overstep the bounds which should justly limit my action and my interest in this matter. You will also do me the justice to remember that I have never interfered in your business, and have rarely asked you about it, though in the world's estimation I would have some right to do so. But if such harshness, if such disastrous cruelty, is necessary to your business, I must withdraw my means from it, for I could not receive money stained, as it were, with blood. But of this hereafter. I will now telegraph Mrs. Haldane to come directly to our house--"

"To our house!" cried Mr. Arnot, perfectly aghast.

"Certainly. Can you suppose that, burdened with this intolerable disgrace, she could endure the publicity of a hotel? I shall next visit Haldane, for as I saw him in the street, with the rabble following, he looked desperate enough to destroy himself."

"Now, I protest against all this weak sentimentality," said Mr. Arnot, rising. "You take sides with a robber against your husband."

"I do not make light of Haldane's offence to you, and certainly shall not to him. But it is his first offence, as far as we know, and, though you have not seen fit to inform me of the circumstances, I cannot believe that he committed a cool, deliberate theft. He could have been made to feel his guilt without being crushed. The very gravity of his wrong action might have awakened him to his danger, and have been the turning-point of his life. He should have had at least one chance--God gives us many."

"Well, well," said Mr. Arnot impatiently, "let his mother return the money, and I will not prosecute. But why need Mrs. Haldane come to Hillaton? All can be arranged by her lawyer."

"You know little of a mother's feelings if you can suppose she will not come instantly."

"Well, then, when the money is paid she can take him home, that is, after the forms of law are complied with."

"But he must remain in prison till the money is paid?"

"Certainly."

"You intimated that if any one went bail for him he need not go to prison. I will become his security."

"O nonsense! I might as well give bail myself."

"Has he reached the prison yet?"

"I suppose he has," replied Mr. Arnot, taking care to give no hint of the preliminary examination, for it would have annoyed him excessively to have his wife appear at a police court almost in the light of an antagonist to himself. And yet his stubborn pride would not permit him to yield, and carry out with considerate delicacy the merciful policy upon which he saw she was bent.

"Good-morning," said his wife very quietly, and she at once left her husband's private room. Laura rose from her chair in the outer office and welcomed her gladly, for, in her nervous trepidation, the minutes had seemed like hours. Mrs. Arnot went to a telegraph office, and sent the following despatch to Mrs. Haldane:

"Come to my house at once. Your son is well, but has met with misfortune."

She then, with Laura, returned immediately home and ordered her carriage for a visit to the prison. She also remembered with provident care that the young man could not have tasted food that morning.

CHAPTER XIII

OUR KNIGHT IN JAIL

As Haldane emerged from the office into the open glare of the street, he was oppressed with such an intolerable sense of shame that he became sick and faint, and tottered against the policeman, who took no other notice of his condition than the utterance of a jocular remark:

"You haven't got over your drunk yet, I'm athinking."

Haldane made no reply, and the physical weakness gradually passed away. As his stunned and bewildered mind regained the power to act, he became conscious of a morbid curiosity to see how he was regarded by those whom he met. He knew that their manner would pierce like sword-thrusts, and yet every scornful or averted face had a cruel fascination.

With a bitterness of which his young heart had never before had even a faint conception, he remembered that this cold and contemptuous, this scoffing and jeering world was the same in which only yesterday he proposed to tower in such lofty grandeur that the maiden who had slighted him should be consumed with vain regret in memory of her lost opportunity. He had, indeed, gained eminence speedily. All the town was hearing of him; but the pedestal which lifted him so high was composed equally of crime and folly, and he felt as if he might stand as a monument of shame.

But his grim and legal guardians tramped along in the most stolid and indifferent manner. The gathering rabble at their heels had no terror for them. Indeed, they rather enjoyed parading before respectable citizens this dangerous substratum of society. It was a delicate way of saying, "Behold in these your peril, and in us your defence. We are necessary to your peace and security. Respect us and pay us well."

They represented the majesty of the law, which could lay its strong hand on high and low alike, and the publicity which was like a scorching fire to Haldane brought honor to them.

Although the journey seemed interminable to the culprit, they were not long in reaching the police court, where the magistrate presiding had already entered on his duties. All night long, and throughout the entire city, the scavengers of the law had been at work, and now, as a result, every miserable atom of humanity that had made itself a pestilential offence to society was gathered here to be disposed of according to sanatory moral rules.

Hillaton was a comparatively well-behaved and decorous city; but in every large community there is always a certain amount of human sediment, and Haldane felt that he had fallen low indeed, when he found himself classed and huddled with miserable objects whose existence he had never before realized. Near him stood men who apparently had barely enough humanity left to make their dominating animal natures more dangerous and difficult to control. To the instincts of a beast was added something of a man's intelligence, but so developed that it was often little more than cunning. If, when throwing away his manhood, man becomes a creature more to be dreaded than a beast or venomous reptile, whichever he happens most to resemble, woman, parting with her womanhood, scarcely finds her counterpart even in the most noxious forms of earthly existence. She becomes, in her perversion, something that is unnatural and monstrous; something, so opposite to the Creator's design, as to suggest it only in caricature, or, more often, in fiendish mockery. The Gorgons, Sirens, and Harpies of the ancients are scarcely myths, for their fabled forms only too accurately portray, not the superficial and transient outward appearance, but the enduring character within.

Side by side with Haldane stood a creature whose dishevelled, rusty hair, blotched and bloated features, wanton, cunning, restless eyes, combined perfectly to form the head of the mythological Harpy. It required little effort of the imagination to believe that her foul, bedraggled dress concealed the "wings and talons of the vulture." Being still unsteady from her night's debauch, she leaned against the young man, and when he shrank in loathing away, she, to annoy him, clasped him in her arms, to the uproarious merriment of the miscellaneous crowd that is ever present at a police court. Haldane broke away from her grasp with such force as to make quite a commotion, and at the same time said loudly and fiercely to the officer who had arrested him:

"You may have power to take me to jail, but you have not, and shall not have, the right nor the power to subject me to such indignities."

"Silence there! Keep order in the court!" commanded the judge.

The officer removed his prisoner a little further apart from the others, growling as he did so:

"If you don't like your company, you should have kept out of it."

Even in his overwhelming anxiety and distress Haldane could not forbear giving a few curious glances at his companions. He had dropped out of his old world into a new one, and these were its inhabitants. In their degradation and misery he seemed to see himself and his future reflected. What had the policeman said?--"Your company," and with a keener pang than he had yet experienced he realized that this was his company, that he now belonged to the criminal classes. He who yesterday had the right to speak to Laura Romeyn, was now herded with drunkards, thieves, and prostitutes; he who yesterday could enter Mrs. Arnot's parlor, might now as easily enter heaven. As the truth of his situation


A Knight Of The Nineteenth Century - 20/79

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