Billeder på siden





IF spending money could purchase health, Lady Moffat must speedily have found herself restored to perfect strength. There was a beautiful monotony about her letters which Sir John failed to find altogether pleasing. Do not forget the cheque.' 'Be sure you send a remittance by return of post.' 'I was much disappointed at not hearing from you to-day. I have not five pounds left.' 'I shall require another order by Wednesday at latest.'

No matter how wealthy a man may be, let his liberality be almost boundless, the eternal iteration of pecuniary demands becomes after a time trying to his temper. Sir John was rich and generous; he had never been one to look after cheeseparings, or inquire when he gave a sum of money how every halfpenny of it was disbursed; but at the same time, if he were strong in anything, it was in prudence; if there were one trait more pronounced than another in his nature, it was that of a keen and comprehensive business intelligence. He had known how to make money, how to take care of it, how to add to it; and it was a simple impossibility for a man to have been at the head of a large and solvent business for years, and at length fail in a capacity which should enable him to grasp the reasons for any expenditure which seemed to him excessive.

He had not the slightest inten

tion of being ruined through any domestic extravagance. He knew well enough that many commercial adventurers not merely permit, but encourage, a lavish expenditure in order to what is called 'maintain credit,' and 'keep the ball moving;' but it was not for Sir John Moffat to follow suit in such an evil game. A quiet style of living, an unostentatious liberality, the comfort which springs from living well within an income, the satisfaction that arises from being able to give without feeling pinched in consequence, the sense of right in knowing children will not be left unprovided for-all these things, and these only, had seemed hitherto desirable in his eyes. Wild profusion, wasteful management, mad hospitality, shocked his feeling of propriety as well as his common sense.

In permitting a ball to be given, he had not intended his house should witness such a gathering as assembled under its roof; in allowing his wife to go to Scarborough, it never occurred to him she would run the pecuniary muck on which she had evidently started.

'I shall have to stop it,' he thought, after looking over his private account, and adding up the various sums he had forwarded, which amounted, indeed, to a most formidable total. 'I think I had better take Yorkshire on my way to Lancashire, and just see what they are doing. She has never given me any trouble of this sort before, and I am loth to speak about it, more especially as she is

out of health; but I am afraid Palace Gardens has turned her head a little. She forgets, poor soul, and she mistakes; and I have my doubts about that Miss Banks.'

He had to call in Great Georgestreet; so he took Westminster on his way back from the City, and walked thence home slowly through the Parks. In former days he had not been over fond of Nature; business then supplied all the charm and change he wanted; but now, time and sorrow having taught him to feel the soothing expression the face of the great mother ever wears to those of her children who are weary of the world's hard ways, heartbroken to find the toys they have striven for valueless now they understand their paltry worth, there was nothing he loved so much as a quiet stroll beneath the trees, when the lights and shadows fell tenderly on the grass. How many a time had he not thought of his own wasted life as in the winter days he walked beside the darkling water in St. James's Park, and wondered in the spring-time whether in another world he would ever look upon such a season without mournful memories, without the tears of repentance dropping down in his heart, with the certainty that the stains of his sin were washed from his soul, and the assurance that his remorse had not been all in vain, and the atonement he had striven in all humility and with bitter grief to make was accepted! God knew that to him the fruits of sin had been bitter; that the typical Dead Sea apples were not more surely mere dust and ashes than the socalled happiness of fulfilled desire. Since that first morning, when in the early twilight he looked upon the woman who was his partner in wrong, though not in misery, he

had never known a day's real peace or comfort.

The world had prospered with him; the world often does so prosper with men otherwise miserable; but underneath the robe of affluence, closer to his heart than wife might ever creep or child nestle, lay the stinging scorpion and the gnawing fox.

In the dust he had trampled the honour of a man who trusted in him; on his soul, he felt, lay the death of one who had done him no evil, and yet to whom so much evil had been done, it was, he knew at the time, a relief to feel he could come back no more.

Sir John walked on! what a mockery that title, the esteem in which his fellows held him, the respect he received, the honour paid to what the world called his strict probity, his unswerving rectitude, seemed! Ah, how far away lay that time when he had been somewhat of a Pharisee; when, though conventionally calling himself vile, he really believed he was very good-not as others, not as that wretched publican, not as the woman divinely bidden 'to go and sin no more.'

That was all past and over; he had learned to be very humble and also to be very pitiful. He knew now what temptation meant, and what yielding to it involved; he did not still think that with eyes wide open a man always walked straight into the pit of sin; he comprehended the weak resolves, the blinded vision, the stumbling steps which so often precede the final fall. He himselfhad traversed the descent so gradual and so easy, that it is only when the height from which he started is looked back upon through blinding tears the wayfarer understands the depth of degradation into which his erring feet have led him.

This man, who had trodden the

downward path, no part of which was for him strewed with flowers, gazed on that summer evening, while he walked homeward, all abroad over his life. What had he made of it, what had his own act brought him? The sad gravity of the worn face, the wistful melancholy of the kindly gray eyes, told their story without need of further word.

He possessed riches, he had achieved position; those whose good opinion was to be prized spoke. well of him; he went through the world with no external mark of the fire that had consumed his honour and destroyed his peace; he was considered a fortunate man; his labours in the cause of philanthropy were remembered, and his fellows extolled his name. In rounded sentences oratory had rolled forth panegyrics on his unselfishness, his liberality, his Christianity; if he were to die, he was sure preachers would refer to the loss of one foremost in every practical work of charity, and tell in touching language how his left hand scarce knew the number or value of the gifts his right delighted to bestow; and yet he knew, he and his Maker, that he was not happy, or fortunate, or


He knew that even the love which sometimes makes the burden of sin seem almost light had never been vouchsafed to him; that ice was not colder or the barren rock harder than the woman for whose beauty he had bartered away selfrespect, hope, virtue; he knew that whilst taking all she could give nothing, for the simple reason she had nothing to give; no tenderness of heart, no grace of soul, no loveliness of mind, no instinct of understanding. It had been all loss; throughout no gain came to him. In his case the wages of sin had indeed been death. LookVOL. XXXVIII. NO. CCXXIV.

ing back, looking with his mental eyes on the darksome road he had traversed, the while his outward vision ranged over leafy trees and rippling water, and joyous children shrieking with delight as stately swans came onward to where they stood, he was aware that no glamour of love, no light of hope, no faithful friendship had offered the smallest compensation for the failures sustained. By his hearth no fond woman had greeted his return, from his windows no sweet face had watched for his coming; there had been no one to speed him onward to victory, to console him when disappointed, to sympathise with his success.

All loss, all loss; all thorns, no roses; fair to look upon till touched, and then the leaves lay scattered on the earth; sweet to the lips, bitter in the mouth; not even so much of pleasure as generally precedes pain; not even the sunshine before the storm.

Throughout, through all the long years, all the days and hours and minutes of his weary repentance, but one thing had brought him the faintest happiness, and that seemed often merely but one link in his long chain of punishment-Rachel.

As a child, as a girl, now when she was almost a woman, her love for him had been infinite. From the first she took to him; her baby heart, wrung at being torn from those who had loved and tended her, turned for consolation to the man by whom the separation was wrought.

eyes-so like-so like the father she had never seen-were lifted full of tears in trust to a face which possessed no beauty to attract, no smiling wiles to beguile.

A stranger amongst strangersfor the first who passed along the street would have felt more kindly


[ocr errors]

towards the tiny creature than her own mother-she aroused the pity and awoke the love of a man lonely and desolate as herself. He had meant to be just to her, but no more. He had meant there should exist no difference between her and his own children; he intended her to be fed, clothed, housed, educated, dowered, as though she were his daughter. He said there should be no distinction made, she should be called by his name, provided for by him; and he had done all this and more.

Though her baby face often awakened the bitterest memories, though the touch of her little hand seemed sometimes heavy to him, as if it were laid on his in accusation, though her laugh often sounded painful to his ear, she had grown to him; she had twined herself around his heart-strings; he looked for her when he came home at night, he never turned away from the kiss her rosebud lips pressed against his cheek ere he departed in the morning. He was jealous about her and watchful; he would have her considered: no matter what befell the other children, Rachel must not be neglected.

He saw the antipathy her mother had conceived for her, and he interposed between them, so that no harshness might fall on the little one; that, though helpless, she should be preserved from harm.

And she returned to him what he thus sowed a hundred fold: the thought, the care, the gratitude, the tenderness, the comprehension his wife had never showed, this girl lavished upon him with a prodigality which many and many a time brought an aching remorse to his heart, and recalled memories he would fain have laid at rest for ever.

Between himself and the other children there was but the ordin

ary affection that in most cases subsists between parents and their offspring; but with Rachel the matter was different. She possessed a nature unlike any of her brothers, unlike her sister also: she had a power of intuition, of sympathy they entirely lacked. Her ways were not theirs, her thoughts were otherwise ordered. She was graver than any of them and more observant, less selfish too, and gifted with a higher species of intelligence.

He could not have lived through all the years without her, he often thought, unknowing how many a one has to continue his weary pilgrimage along the world's highways without the slightest reed to lean on; and yet there were times constantly recurring when he considered with affright that if she knew all, if her innocence could understand so terrible and shameful a story, he would behold the love-light fade out of her sweet face, and see her shrink away from his side in an agony of


He was beginning to realise a time must come when she would have to be told at least that she was not his child. At first when she was a mere infant, and the idea of loving and lovers remained an indistinct idea in the misty shadows of a remote future, this trouble had not presented itself.

She might never marry-thousands of women never married, never wanted to marry, never were asked to marry; he might die, her mother might die, she might

die. So many mights and buts and ifs and possibilities were on the board when her life's game commenced, that it seemed useless to speculate concerning a mere probability many parents are so eager to consider a certainty. But now the case was very different: she was quite grown up; she

would marry, he felt sure, or at all events she would be sought in marriage. He had known this with all the power of sudden conviction from the day he told her mother he hoped she never would be wooed or wed. When he bought the house in Palace Gardens he felt he was taking an important step towards a bitter end; but he did not mean to hesitate on that account. Once the subject was forced upon him--and it had been so forced by his wife, whose motives in thus doing happened to be far different from any which could have influenced him -he gave the matter his most earnest consideration.

The girl could not be shut up in a nunnery. If such power had lain with him, Sir John would not have exercised it. She must be introduced to society, and then, whatever consequences followed, he could only face one by one as they presented themselves.

None save those able to sympathise with the shy reserve, the unpretending modesty, the retiring temperament of this man, who, even if all things had gone well with him, would always have preferred a life of quiet domesticity to the throng and bustle of an existence passed amongst crowds,

even faintly imagine what this determination cost; but he accepted it as he accepted many other things, as a matter of duty, in the execution of which he had no choice.

He could not offer expiation to the father; but it was competent for him to try to make the daughter's life happy. At whatever sacrifice to himself he resolved to keep that aim steadily in view.

'I will do my duty by Rachel, whatever comes,' he thought; and thus it chanced even ordinary acquaintances remarked,

[blocks in formation]

But then they did not know, they never knew. Sir John was thinking about her as he wended his way homeward. While he walked slowly under the trees in Kensington he wondered how long the evil day would be deferred, when and where she would meet her fate.

'Heaven send,' murmured the sad heart, he may be an honest man, and one not disposed to think the sins of the parents should be visited by poor humanity upon the heads of the children. Other girls have married well, other girls whose mothers-' and he drifted out again on that sad gray sea, the waves of which were always ebbing and flowing around his life, rolling ever over the sands, and washing memories of the long-ago like corpses on the shore.

He felt very weary when he reached Palace Gardens; dull, and tired, and out of sorts. As he glanced up at the stately house, at the long lines of windows, he wondered what wealth had done for him, what wealth did for any one, that men should so court its possession.

He had beheld more happiness in the old manse lying amongst the hills, in modest homes set far away from riches and fashion, than it was ever his lot to meet with in the world's high places.

Passing even through the meaner streets of London neighbourhoods, where his business rarely led him, he remembered how the children ran to meet their parents, how mothers took little dirty bundles of humanity to their bosom, and kissed the smudged and smeared faces which were lovelier

« ForrigeFortsæt »