Driven from Home/Chapter XL
At this moment Mrs. Crawford re-entered the room.
"What brings you here?" she demanded, coolly, of Carl.
"I came here because this is my father's house, madam."
"You have behaved badly to me," said Mrs. Crawford. "You have defied my authority, and brought sorrow and distress to your good father. I thought you would have the good sense to stay away."
"Do you indorse this, father?" asked Carl, turning to Dr. Crawford.
"No!" answered his father, with unwonted energy. "My house will always be your home."
"You seem to have changed your mind, Dr. Crawford," sneered his wife.
"Where did you pick up the report of Carl's being killed on the railroad?" asked the doctor, sternly.
"Peter heard it in the village," said Mrs. Crawford, carelessly.
"Did it occur to you that the sudden news might injure your husband?" asked Ashcroft.
"I spoke too impulsively. I realize too late my imprudence," said Mrs. Crawford, coolly. "Have you lost your place?" she asked, addressing Carl.
"No. I have just returned from Chicago."
His stepmother looked surprised.
"We have had a quiet time since you left us," she said. "If you value your father's health and peace of mind, you will not remain here."
"Is my presence also unwelcome?" asked Ashcroft.
"You have not treated me with respect," replied Mrs. Crawford. "If you are a gentleman, you will understand that under the circumstances it will be wise for you to take your, departure."
"Leaving my old friend to your care?"
"Yes, that will be best."
"Mr. Ashcroft, can I have a few minutes' conversation with you?" asked Carl.
They left the room together, followed by an uneasy and suspicious glance from Mrs. Crawford.
Carl hurriedly communicated to his father's friend what he had learned about his stepmother.
"Mr. Cook, Peter's father, is just outside," he said. "Shall I call him in?"
"I think we had better do so, but arrange that the interview shall take place without your father's knowledge. He must not be excited. Call him in, and then summon your stepmother."
"Mrs. Crawford," said Carl, re-entering his father's room, "Mr. Ashcroft would like to have a few words with you. Can you come out?"
She followed Carl uneasily.
"What is it you want with me, sir?" she asked, frigidly.
"Let me introduce an old acquaintance of yours."
Mr. Cook, whom Mrs. Crawford had not at first observed, came forward. She drew back in dismay.
"It is some time since we met, Lucy," said Cook, quietly.
"Do you come here to make trouble?" she muttered, hoarsely.
"I come to ask for the property you took during my absence in California," he said. "I don't care to have you return to me----"
"I obtained a divorce."
"Precisely; I don't care to annul it. I am thankful that you are no longer my wife."
"I--I will see what I can do for you. Don't go near my present husband. He is in poor health, and cannot bear a shock."
"Mrs. Crawford," said Ashcroft, gravely, "if you have any idea of remaining here, in this house, give it up. I shall see that your husband's eyes are opened to your real character."
"Sir, you heard this man say that he has no claim upon me."
"That may be, but I cannot permit my friend to harbor a woman whose record is as bad as yours."
"What do you mean?" she demanded, defiantly.
"I mean that you have served a term in prison for larceny."
"It is false," she said, with trembling lips.
"It is true. I visited the prison during your term of confinement, and saw you there."
"I, too, can certify to it," said Cook. "I learned it two years after my marriage. You will understand why I am glad of the divorce."
Mrs. Crawford was silent for a moment. She realized that the battle was lost.
"Well," she said, after a pause, "I am defeated. I thought my secret was safe, but I was mistaken. What do you propose to do with me?"
"I will tell you this evening," said Ashcroft. "One thing I can say now--you must not expect to remain in this house."
"I no longer care to do so."
A conference was held during the afternoon, Dr Crawford being told as much as was essential. It was arranged that Mrs. Crawford should have an allowance of four hundred dollars for herself and Peter if she would leave the house quietly, and never again annoy her husband. Mr. Cook offered to take Peter, but the latter preferred to remain with his mother. A private arrangement was made by which Dr. Crawford made up to Mr. Cook one-half of the sum stolen from him by his wife, and through the influence of Ashcroft, employment was found for him. He is no longer a tramp, but a man held in respect, and moderately prosperous.
Carl is still in the employ of Mr. Jennings, and his father has removed to Milford, where he and his son can live together. Next September, on his twenty-first birthday, Carl will be admitted to a junior partnership in the business, his father furnishing the necessary capital. Carl's stepmother is in Chicago, and her allowance is paid to her quarterly through a Chicago bank. She has considerable trouble with Peter, who has become less submissive as he grows older, and is unwilling to settle down to steady work. His prospects do not look very bright.
Mr. Jennings and Hannah are as much attached as ever to Carl, and it is quite likely the manufacturer will make him his heir. Happy in the society of his son, Dr. Crawford is likely to live to a good old age, in spite of his weakness and tendency to heart disease, for happiness is a great aid to longevity.