Riggs glanced cautiously around, but Anderson had returned to his office. “I don’t believe anybody in town but us trusts ’em,” said he, in a whisper.
“Well, I’m sorry for his folks, but he’d ought to be strung up,” said the man. “Why in thunder don’t he go to work. I guess if he was coughin’ as bad as I be at night, an’ had to work, he might know a little something about it. I ain’t in debt, though, not a dollar.”
When a strong normal character which has consciously made wrong moves, averse to the established order of things, and so become a force of negation, comes into contact with weaker or undeveloped natures, it sometimes produces in them an actual change of moral fibre, and they become abnormal. Instead of a right quantity on the wrong track, they are a wrong quantity, and exactly in accordance with their environments. In the case of the Carroll family, Arthur Carroll, who was in himself of a perfect and unassailable balance as to the right estimate of things, and the weighing of cause and effect, who had never in his whole life taken a step blindfold by any imperfection of spiritual vision, who had never for his own solace lost his own sense of responsibility for his lapses, had made his family, in a great measure, irresponsible for the same faults. Except in the possible case of Charlotte, all of them had a certain measure of perverted moral sense in the direction in which Carroll had consciously and unpervertedly failed. Anna Carroll, it is true, had her eyes more or less open, and she had much strength of character; still it was a feminine strength, and even she did not look at affairs as she might have done had she not been under the influence of her brother for years. While she at times waxed bitter over the state of affairs, it was more because of the constant irritation to her own pride, and her impatience at the restraints of an alien and dishonest existence, than from any moral scruples. Even Charlotte herself was scarcely clear-visioned concerning the family taint. The word debt had not to her its full meaning; the inalienable rights of others faded her comprehension when measured beside her own right of existence and of the comforts and delights of existence. Even to her a new hat or a comfortable meal was something of more importance than the need of the vender thereof for reimbursement. The value to herself was the first value, her birthright, indeed, which if others held they must needs yield up to her without money and without price, if her purse happened to be empty. Her compunction and sudden awakening of responsibility in the case of Randolph Anderson were due to an entirely different influence from any which had hitherto come into her life. Charlotte, although she was past the very first of young girlhood, being twenty, was curiously undeveloped emotionally. She had never had any lovers, and the fault had been her own, from a strange persistence of childhood in her temperament. She had not attracted, from her own utter lack of responsiveness. She was like an instrument which will not respond to the touch on certain notes, and presently the player wearies.