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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Longest Journey - PART 2 - SAWSTON - Chapter 25
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The Longest Journey - PART 2 - SAWSTON - Chapter 25 Post by :martyr Category :Long Stories Author :E M Forster Date :March 2011 Read :849

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The Longest Journey - PART 2 - SAWSTON - Chapter 25

"I am afraid," said Agnes, unfolding a letter that she had
received in the morning, "that things go far from satisfactorily
at Cadover."

The three were alone at supper. It was the June of Rickie's
second year at Sawston.

"Indeed?" said Herbert, who took a friendly interest. "In what
way?

"Do you remember us talking of Stephen--Stephen Wonham, who by an
odd coincidence--"

"Yes. Who wrote last year to that miserable failure Varden. I
do."

"It is about him."

"I did not like the tone of his letter."

Agnes had made her first move. She waited for her husband to
reply to it. But he, though full of a painful curiosity, would
not speak. She moved again.

"I don't think, Herbert, that Aunt Emily, much as I like her, is
the kind of person to bring a young man up. At all events the
results have been disastrous this time."

"What has happened?"

"A tangle of things." She lowered her voice. "Drink."

"Dear! Really! Was Mrs. Failing fond of him?"

"She used to be. She let him live at Cadover ever since he was a
little boy. Naturally that cannot continue."

Rickie never spoke.

"And now he has taken to be violent and rude," she went on.

"In short, a beggar on horseback. Who is he? Has he got
relatives?"

"She has always been both father and mother to him. Now it must
all come to an end. I blame her--and she blames herself--for not
being severe enough. He has grown up without fixed principles. He
has always followed his inclinations, and one knows the result of
that"

Herbert assented. "To me Mrs. Failing's course is perfectly
plain. She has a certain responsibility. She must pay the youth's
passage to one of the colonies, start him handsomely in some
business, and then break off all communications."

"How funny! It is exactly what she is going to do."

"I shall then consider that she has behaved in a thoroughly
honourable manner." He held out his plate for gooseberries. "His
letter to Varden was neither helpful nor sympathetic, and, if
written at all, it ought to have been both. I am not in the least
surprised to learn that he has turned out badly. When you write
next, would you tell her how sorry I am?"

"Indeed I will. Two years ago, when she was already a little
anxious, she did so wish you could undertake him.

"I could not alter a grown man." But in his heart he thought he
could, and smiled at his sister amiably. "Terrible, isn't it?" he
remarked to Rickie. Rickie, who was trying not to mind anything,
assented. And an onlooker would have supposed them a
dispassionate trio, who were sorry both for Mrs. Failing and for
the beggar who would bestride her horses' backs no longer. A new
topic was introduced by the arrival of the evening post

Herbert took up all the letters, as he often did.

"Jackson?" he exclaimed. "What does the fellow want?" He read,
and his tone was mollified, "'Dear Mr. Pembroke,--Could you, Mrs.
Elliot, and Mr. Elliot come to supper with us on Saturday next? I
should not merely be pleased, I should be grateful. My wife is
writing formally to Mrs. Elliot'--(Here, Agnes, take your
letter),--but I venture to write as well, and to add my more
uncouth entreaties.'--An olive-branch. It is time! But
(ridiculous person!) does he think that we can leave the House
deserted and all go out pleasuring in term time?--Rickie, a
letter for you."

"Mine's the formal invitation," said Agnes. "How very odd! Mr.
Ansell will be there. Surely we asked him here! Did you know he
knew the Jacksons?"

"This makes refusal very difficult," said Herbert, who was
anxious to accept. "At all events, Rickie ought to go."

"I do not want to go," said Rickie, slowly opening his own
letter. "As Agnes says, Ansell has refused to come to us. I
cannot put myself out for him."

"Who's yours from?" she demanded.

"Mrs. Silt," replied Herbert, who had seen the handwriting.
"I trust she does not want to pay us a visit this term, with the
examinations impending and all the machinery at full pressure.
Though, Rickie, you will have to accept the Jacksons'
invitation."

"I cannot possibly go. I have been too rude; with Widdrington we
always meet here. I'll stop with the boys--" His voice caught
suddenly. He had opened Mrs. Silt's letter.

"The Silts are not ill, I hope?"

"No. But, I say,"--he looked at his wife,--"I do think this is
going too far. Really, Agnes."

"What has happened?"

"It is going too far," he repeated. He was nerving himself for
another battle. "I cannot stand this sort of thing. There are
limits."

He laid the letter down. It was Herbert who picked it up, and
read: "Aunt Emily has just written to us. We are so glad that her
troubles are over, in spite of the expense. It never does to live
apart from one's own relatives so much as she has done up to now.
He goes next Saturday to Canada. What you told her about him just
turned the scale. She has asked us--"

"No, it's too much," he interrupted. "What I told her--told her
about him--no, I will have it out at last. Agnes!"

"Yes?" said his wife, raising her eyes from Mrs. Jackson's formal
invitation.

"It's you--it's you. I never mentioned him to her. Why, I've
never seen her or written to her since. I accuse you."

Then Herbert overbore him, and he collapsed. He was asked what he
meant. Why was he so excited? Of what did he accuse his wife.
Each time he spoke more feebly, and before long the brother and
sister were laughing at him. He felt bewildered, like a boy who
knows that he is right but cannot put his case correctly. He
repeated, "I've never mentioned him to her. It's a libel. Never
in my life." And they cried, "My dear Rickie, what an absurd
fuss!" Then his brain cleared. His eye fell on the letter that
his wife had received from his aunt, and he reopened the battle.

"Agnes, give me that letter, if you please."

"Mrs. Jackson's?"

"My aunt's."

She put her hand on it, and looked at him doubtfully. She saw
that she had failed to bully him.

"My aunt's letter," he repeated, rising to his feet and bending
over the table towards her.

"Why, dear?"

"Yes, why indeed?" echoed Herbert. He too had bullied Rickie, but
from a purer motive: he had tried to stamp out a dissension
between husband and wife. It was not the first time he had
intervened.

"The letter. For this reason: it will show me what you have done.
I believe you have ruined Stephen. you have worked at it for two
years. You have put words into my mouth to 'turn the scale'
against him. He goes to Canada--and all the world thinks it is
owing to me. As I said before--I advise you to stop smiling--you
have gone a little too far."

They were all on their feet now, standing round the little table.
Agnes said nothing, but the fingers of her delicate hand
tightened upon the letter. When her husband snatched at it she
resisted, and with the effect of a harlequinade everything went
on the floor--lamb, mint sauce, gooseberries, lemonade, whisky.
At once they were swamped in domesticities. She rang the bell for
the servant, cries arose, dusters were brought, broken crockery
(a wedding present) picked up from the carpet; while he stood
wrathfully at the window, regarding the obscured sun's decline.

"I MUST see her letter," he repeated, when the agitation was
over. He was too angry to be diverted from his purpose. Only
slight emotions are thwarted by an interlude of farce.

"I've had enough of this quarrelling," she retorted. "You know
that the Silts are inaccurate. I think you might have given me
the benefit of the doubt. If you will know--have you forgotten
that ride you took with him.?"

"I--" he was again bewildered. "The ride where I dreamt--"

"The ride where you turned back because you could not listen to a
disgraceful poem?"

"I don't understand."

"The poem was Aunt Emily. He read it to you and a stray soldier.
Afterwards you told me. You said, 'Really it is shocking, his
ingratitude. She ought to know about it' She does know, and I
should be glad of an apology."

He had said something of the sort in a fit of irritation. Mrs.
Silt was right--he had helped to turn the scale.

"Whatever I said, you knew what I meant. You knew I'd sooner cut
my tongue out than have it used against him. Even then." He
sighed. Had he ruined his brother? A curious tenderness came over
him, and passed when he remembered his own dead child. "We have
ruined him, then. Have you any objection to 'we'? We have
disinherited him."

"I decide against you," interposed Herbert. "I have now heard
both sides of this deplorable affair. You are talking most
criminal nonsense. 'Disinherit!' Sentimental twaddle. It's been
clear to me from the first that Mrs. Failing has been imposed
upon by the Wonham man, a person with no legal claim on her, and
any one who exposes him performs a public duty--"

"--And gets money."

"Money?" He was always uneasy at the word. "Who mentioned money?"

"Just understand me, Herbert, and of what it is that I accuse my
wife." Tears came into his eyes. "It is not that I like the
Wonham man, or think that he isn't a drunkard and worse. He's too
awful in every way. But he ought to have my aunt's money, because
he's lived all his life with her, and is her nephew as much as I
am. You see, my father went wrong." He stopped, amazed at
himself. How easy it had been to say! He was withering up: the
power to care about this stupid secret had died.

When Herbert understood, his first thought was for Dunwood House.

"Why have I never been told?" was his first remark.

"We settled to tell no one," said Agnes. "Rickie, in his anxiety
to prove me a liar, has broken his promise."

"I ought to have been told," said Herbert, his anger increasing.
"Had I known, I could have averted this deplorable scene."

"Let me conclude it," said Rickie, again collapsing and leaving
the dining-room. His impulse was to go straight to Cadover and
make a business-like statement of the position to Stephen. Then
the man would be armed, and perhaps fight the two women
successfully, But he resisted the impulse. Why should he help one
power of evil against another? Let them go intertwined to
destruction. To enrich his brother would be as bad as enriching
himself. If their aunt's money ever did come to him, he would
refuse to accept it. That was the easiest and most dignified
course. He troubled himself no longer with justice or pity, and
the next day he asked his wife's pardon for his behaviour.

In the dining-room the conversation continued. Agnes, without
much difficulty, gained her brother as an ally. She acknowledged
that she had been wrong in not telling him, and he then declared
that she had been right on every other point. She slurred a
little over the incident of her treachery, for Herbert was
sometimes clearsighted over details, though easily muddled in a
general survey. Mrs. Failing had had plenty of direct causes of
complaint, and she dwelt on these. She dealt, too, on the very
handsome way in which the young man, "though he knew nothing, had
never asked to know," was being treated by his aunt.

"'Handsome' is the word," said Herbert. "I hope not indulgently.
He does not deserve indulgence."

And she knew that he, like herself, could remember money, and
that it lent an acknowledged halo to her cause.

"It is not a savoury subject," he continued, with sudden
stiffness. "I understand why Rickie is so hysterical.
My impulse"--he laid his hand on her shoulder--"is to abandon it
at once. But if I am to be of any use to you, I must hear it all.
There are moments when we must look facts in the face."

She did not shrink from the subject as much as he thought, as
much as she herself could have wished. Two years before, it had
filled her with a physical loathing. But by now she had
accustomed herself to it.

"I am afraid, Bertie boy, there is nothing else to bear, I have
tried to find out again and again, but Aunt Emily will not tell
me. I suppose it is natural. She wants to shield the Elliot name.
She only told us in a fit of temper; then we all agreed to keep
it to ourselves; then Rickie again mismanaged her, and ever since
she has refused to let us know any details."

"A most unsatisfactory position."
"So I feel." She sat down again with a sigh. Mrs. Failing had
been a great trial to her orderly mind. "She is an odd woman. She
is always laughing. She actually finds it amusing that we know no
more."

"They are an odd family."

"They are indeed."

Herbert, with unusual sweetness, bent down and kissed her.

She thanked him.

Their tenderness soon passed. They exchanged it with averted
eyes. It embarrassed them. There are moments for all of us when
we seem obliged to speak in a new unprofitable tongue. One might
fancy a seraph, vexed with our normal language, who touches the
pious to blasphemy, the blasphemous to piety. The seraph passes,
and we proceed unaltered--conscious, however, that we have not
been ourselves, and that we may fail in this function yet again.
So Agnes and Herbert, as they proceeded to discuss the Jackson's
supper-party, had an uneasy memory of spiritual deserts,
spiritual streams.

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