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On this bad November afternoon, while the rain and sleet lashed the
lofty windows, and the shrill winds whistled around the gables, Mrs.
Ferdinand Walraven's only son sat in his chamber, staring out of the
window, and smoking no end of cigars.
Fifth Avenue, in the raw and rainy twilight, is not the sprightliest
spot on earth, and there was very little for Mr. Walraven to gaze at
except the stages rattling up the pave, and some belated newsboys crying
Perhaps these same little ill-clad newsboys, looking up through the
slanting rain, and seeing the well-dressed gentleman behind the rich
draperies, thought it must be a fine thing to be Mr. Carl Walraven, heir
to a half a million of money and the handsomest house in New York.
Perhaps you might have thought so, too, glancing into that lofty
chamber, with its glowing hangings of ruby and gold, its exquisite
pictures, its inlaid tables, its twinkling chandelier, its perfumed
warmth, and glitter, and luxury.
But Carl Walraven, lying back in a big easy-chair, in slippers and
dressing-gown, smoking his costly cheroots, looked out at the dismal
evening with the blackest of bitter, black scowls.
"Confound the weather!" muttered Mr. Walraven, between strong, white
teeth. "Why the deuce does it always rain on the twenty-fifth of
November? Seventeen years ago, on the twenty-fifth of this horrible
month, I was in Paris, and Miriam was--Miriam be hanged!" He stopped
abruptly, and pitched his cigar out of the window. "You've turned over a
new leaf, Carl Walraven, and what the demon do you mean by going back to
the old leaves? You've come home from foreign parts to your old and
doting mother--I thought she would be in her dotage by this time--and
you're a responsible citizen, and an eminently rich and respectable man.
Carl, my boy, forget the past, and behave yourself for the future; as
the copy-books say: 'Be virtuous and you will be happy.'"
He laughed to himself, a laugh unpleasant to hear, and taking up another
cigar, went on smoking.
He had been away twenty years, this Carl Walraven, over the world,
nobody knew where. A reckless, self-willed, headstrong boy, he had
broken wild and run away from home at nineteen, abruptly and without
warning. Abruptly and without warning he had returned home, one fine
morning, twenty years after, and walking up the palatial steps, shabby,
and grizzled, and weather-beaten, had strode straight to the majestic
presence of the mistress of the house, with outstretched hand and a cool
"How are you, mother?"
And Mrs. Walraven knew her son. He had left her a fiery, handsome,
bright-faced lad, and this man before her was gray and black-bearded and
weather-beaten and brown, but she knew him. She had risen with a shrill
cry of joy, and held open her arms.
"I've come back, you see, mother," Mr. Carl said, easily, "like the
proverbial bad shilling. I've grown tired knocking about this big world,
and now, at nine-and-thirty, with an empty purse, a light heart, a
spotless conscience, and a sound digestion, I'm going to settle down and
walk in the way I should go. You are glad to have your ne'er-do-well
back again, I hope, mother?"
Glad! A widowed mother, lonely and old, glad to have an only son back!
Mrs. Walraven had tightened those withered arms about him closer and
closer, with only that one shrill cry:
"Oh, Carl--my son! my son!"
"All right, mother! And now, if there's anything in this house to eat,
I'll eat it, because I've been fasting since yesterday, and haven't a
stiver between me and eternity. By George! this isn't such a bad harbor
for a shipwrecked mariner to cast anchor in. I've been over the world,
mother, from Dan to--What's-her-name! I've been rich and I've been poor;
I've been loved and I've been hated; I've had my fling at everything
good and bad under the shining sun, and I come home from it all,
subscribing to the doctrine: 'There's nothing new and nothing true.' And
it don't signify; it's empty as egg-shells, the whole of it."
That was the story of the prodigal son. Mrs. Walraven asked no
questions. She was a wise old woman; she took her son and was thankful.
It had happened late in October, this sudden arrival, and now, late in
November, the fatted calf was killed, and Mrs. Walraven's dear five
hundred friends bidden to the feast.
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