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Mr. Thompson’s Prodigal
by [?]

“Sha’ly! yo’ d—-d ol’ scoun’rel, hoo rar ye!”

“Hush–sit down!–hush!” said Charles Thompson, hurriedly endeavoring to extricate himself from the embrace of his unexpected guest.

“Look at ‘m!” continued the stranger, unheeding the admonition, but suddenly holding the unfortunate Charles at arm’s length, in loving and undisguised admiration of his festive appearance. “Look at ‘m! Ain’t he nasty? Sha’ls, I’m prow of yer!”

“Leave the house!” said Mr. Thompson, rising, with a dangerous look in his cold, gray eye. “Char-les, how dare you?”

“Simmer down, ole man! Sha’ls, who’s th’ ol’ bloat? Eh?”

“Hush, man; here, take this!” With nervous hands, Charles Thompson filled a glass with liquor. “Drink it and go–until to-morrow–any time, but–leave us!–go now!” But even then, ere the miserable wretch could drink, the old man, pale with passion, was upon him. Half carrying him in his powerful arms, half dragging him through the circling crowd of frightened guests, he had reached the door, swung open by the waiting servants, when Charles Thompson started from a seeming stupor, crying,–


The old man stopped. Through the open door the fog and wind drove chilly. “What does this mean?” he asked, turning a baleful face on Charles.

“Nothing–but stop–for God’s sake. Wait till to-morrow, but not to-night. Do not–I implore you–do this thing.”

There was something in the tone of the young man’s voice, something, perhaps, in the contact of the struggling wretch he held in his powerful arms; but a dim, indefinite fear took possession of the old man’s heart. “Who,” he whispered, hoarsely, “is this man?”

Charles did not answer.

“Stand back, there, all of you,” thundered Mr. Thompson, to the crowding guests around him. “Char-les–come here! I command you–I–I–I–beg you–tell me WHO is this man?”

Only two persons heard the answer that came faintly from the lips of Charles Thompson,–


When day broke over the bleak sand-hills, the guests had departed from Mr. Thompson’s banquet-halls. The lights still burned dimly and coldly in the deserted rooms,–deserted by all but three figures, that huddled together in the chill drawing-room, as if for warmth. One lay in drunken slumber on a couch; at his feet sat he who had been known as Charles Thompson; and beside them, haggard and shrunken to half his size, bowed the figure of Mr. Thompson, his gray eye fixed, his elbows upon his knees, and his hands clasped over his ears, as if to shut out the sad, entreating voice that seemed to fill the room.

“God knows I did not set about to wilfully deceive. The name I gave that night was the first that came into my thought,–the name of one whom I thought dead,–the dissolute companion of my shame. And when you questioned further, I used the knowledge that I gained from him to touch your heart to set me free; only, I swear, for that! But when you told me who you were, and I first saw the opening of another life before me–then–then–O, sir, if I was hungry, homeless, and reckless, when I would have robbed you of your gold, I was heart-sick, helpless, and desperate, when I would have robbed you of your love!”

The old man stirred not. From his luxurious couch the newly found prodigal snored peacefully.

“I had no father I could claim. I never knew a home but this. I was tempted. I have been happy,–very happy.”

He rose and stood before the old man. “Do not fear that I shall come between your son and his inheritance. To-day I leave this place, never to return. The world is large, sir, and, thanks to your kindness, I now see the way by which an honest livelihood is gained. Good by. You will not take my hand? Well, well. Good by.”

He turned to go. But when he had reached the door he suddenly came back, and, raising with both hands the grizzled head, he kissed it once and twice.


There was no reply.


The old man rose with a frightened air, and tottered feebly to the door. It was open. There came to him the awakened tumult of a great city, in which the prodigal’s footsteps were lost forever.