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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWeighed And Wanting - Chapter 19. Light And Shade
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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 19. Light And Shade Post by :voltaire11 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2952

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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 19. Light And Shade


Light and shade, sunshine and shadow pursue each other over the moral as over the material world. Every soul has a landscape that changes with the wind that sweeps its sky, with the clouds that return after its rain.

It was now the month of March. The middle day of it had been dreary all over England, dreariest of all, perhaps, in London. Great blasts had gone careering under a sky whose miles-thick vault of clouds they never touched, but instead hunted and drove and dashed earth-clouds of dust into all unwelcoming places, throats and eyes included. Now and then a few drops would fall on the stones as if the day's fierce misery were about to yield to sadness; but it did not so yield; up rose again a great blundering gust, and repentance was lost in rage. The sun went down on its wrath, and its night was tempestuous.

But the next morning rose bright and glad, looking as if it would make up for its father's wildness by a gentler treatment of the world. The wind was still high, but the hate seemed to have gone out of it, and given place to a laborious jollity. It swept huge clouds over the sky, granting never a pause, never a respite of motion; but the sky was blue and the clouds were white, and the dungeon-vault of the world was broken up and being carted away.

Everything in the room where the Raymounts were one by one assembling to break their fast, was discolored and dark, whether with age or smoke it would have needed more than a glance to say. The reds had grown brown, and the blues a dirty slate-color, while an impression of drab was prevalent. But the fire was burning as if it had been at it all night and was glorying in having at length routed the darkness; and in the middle of the table on the white cloth, stood a shallow piece of red pottery full of crocuses, the earnest of the spring. People think these creatures come out of the earth, but there are a few in every place, and in this house Mark was one of such, who are aware that they come out of the world of thought, the spirit-land, in order to manifest themselves to those that are of that land.

Mr. Raymount was very silent, seemed almost a little gloomy, and the face of his wife was a shade less peaceful in consequence. There was nothing the matter, only he had not yet learned to radiate. It is hard for some natures to let their light shine. Mr. Raymount had some light; he let it shine mostly in reviews, not much in the house. He did not lift up the light of his countenance on any.

The children were rosy, fresh from their baths, and ready to eat like breakfast-loving English. Cornelius was half his breakfast ahead of the rest, for he had daily to endure the hardship of being at the bank by nine o'clock, and made the best of it by claiming in consequence an utter immunity from the _petite norale of the breakfast-table. Never did he lose a moment in helping anybody. Even the little Saffy he allowed with perfect frigidity to stretch out a very long arm after the butter--except indeed it happened to cross his plate, when he would sharply rebuke her breach of manners. It would have been all the same if he had not been going till noon, but now he had hurry and business to rampart his laziness and selfishness withal. Mark would sooner have gone without salt to his egg than ask Corney to pass it.

This morning the pale boy sat staring at the crocuses--things like them peeping out of the spring-mould of his spirit to greet them.

"Why don't you eat your breakfast, Mark, dear?" said his mother.

"I'm not hungry, mamma," he answered.

The mother looked at him a little anxiously. He was not a very vigorous boy in corporeal matters; but, unlike his father's, his light was almost always shining, and making the faces about him shine.

After a few minutes, he said, as if unconsciously, his eyes fixed on the crocuses,

"I can't think how they come!"

"They grow!" said Saffy.

Said her father, willing to set them thinking,

"Didn't you see Hester make the paper flowers for her party?"

"Yes," replied Saffy, "but it would take such a time to make all the flowers in the world that way!"

"So it would; but if a great many angels took it in hand, I suppose they could do it."

"That can't be how!" said Saffy, laughing; "for you know they come up out of the earth, and there ain't room to cut them out there!"

"I think they must be cut out and put together before they are made!" said Mark, very slowly and thoughtfully.

The supposition was greeted with a great burst of laughter from Cornelius. In the midst of a refined family he was the one vulgar, and behaved as the blind and stupid generally behave to those who see what they cannot see. Mockery is the share they choose in the motions of the life eternal!

"Stop, stop, Cornelius!" said his father. "I suspect we have a young philosopher where you see only a silly little brother. He has, I fancy, got a glimpse of something he does not yet know how to say."

"In that case, don't you think, sir," said Cornelius, "he had better hold his tongue till he does know how to say it?"

It was not often he dared speak so to his father, but he was growing less afraid of him, though not through increase of love.

His father looked at him a moment ere he replied, and his mother looked anxiously at her husband.

"It _would be better," he answered quietly, "were he not among _friends_."

The emphasis with which he spoke was lost on Cornelius.

"They take everything for clever the little idiot says!" he remarked to himself. "Nobody made anything of _me when _I was his age!"

The letters were brought in. Amongst them was one for Mr. Raymount with a broad black border. He looked at the postmark.

"This must be the announcement of cousin Strafford's death!" he said. "Some one told me she was not expected to live. I wonder how she has left the property!"

"You did not tell me she was ill!" said his wife.

"It went out of my head. It is so many years since I had the least communication with her, or heard anything of her! She was a strange old soul!"

"You used to be intimate with her--did you not, papa?" said Hester.

"Yes, at one time. But we differed so entirely it was impossible it should last. She would take up the oddest notions as to what I thought, and meant, and wanted to do, and then fall out upon me as advocating things I hated quite as much as she did. But that is much the way generally. People seldom know what they mean themselves, and can hardly be expected to know what other people mean. Only the amount of mental and moral force wasted on hating and talking down the non-existent is a pity."

"I can't understand why people should quarrel so about their opinions," said Mrs. Raymount.

"A great part of it comes of indignation at not being understood and another great part from despair of being understood--and that while all the time the person thus indignant and despairing takes not the smallest pains to understand the neighbor whose misunderstanding of himself makes him so sick and sore."

"What is to be done then?" asked Hester.

"Nothing," answered her father with something of a cynical smile, born of this same frustrated anxiety to impress his opinions on others.

He took up his letter, slowly broke the large black seal which adorned it, and began to read it. His wife sat looking at him, and waiting, in expectation sufficiently mild, to hear its contents.

He had scarcely read half the first page when she saw his countenance change a little, then flush a little, then grow a little fixed, and quite inscrutable. He folded the letter, laid it down by the side of his plate, and began to eat again.

"Well, dear?" said his wife.

"It is not quite what I thought," he answered, with a curious smile, and said nothing more, but ate his toast in a brooding silence. Never in the habit of _making secrets, like his puny son, he had a strong dislike to showing his feelings, and from his wife even was inclined to veil them. He was besides too proud to manifest his interest in the special contents of this letter.

The poor, but, because of its hopelessness, hardly indulged ambition of Mr. Raymount's life, was to possess a portion, however small, of the earth's surface--if only an acre or two. He came of families both possessing such property, but none of it had come near him except that belonging to the cousin mentioned. He was her nearest relation, but had never had much hope of inheriting from her, and after a final quarrel put an end to their quarelling, had had none. Even for Mammon's sake Mr. Raymount was not the man to hide or mask his opinions.

He worshipped his opinions indeed as most men do Mammon. For many years in consequence there had not been the slightest communication between the cousins. But in the course of those years all the other relatives of the old lady had died, and, as the letter he now held informed him, he was after all heir to her property, a small estate in a lovely spot among the roots of the Cumberland hills. It was attended by not a few thousands in government securities.

But while Mr. Raymount was not a money-lover in any notable sense--the men are rare indeed of whom it might be said absolutely they do not love money--his delight in having land of his own was almost beyond utterance. This delight had nothing to do with the money value of the property; he scarcely thought of that: it came in large part of a new sense of room and freedom; the estate was an extension of his body and limbs--and such an extension as any lover of the picturesque would have delighted in. It made him so glad he could hardly get his toast down.

Mrs. Raymount was by this time tolerably familiar with her husband's moods, but she had never before seen him look just so, and was puzzled. The fact was he had never before had such a pleasant surprise, and sat absorbed in a foretaste of bliss, of which the ray of March sun that lighted up the delicate transparencies of the veined crocuses purple and golden, might seem the announcing angel.

Presently he rose and left the room. His wife followed him. The moment she entered his study behind him he turned and took her in his arms.

"Here's news, wifie!" he said. "You'll be just as glad of it as I am. Yrndale is ours after all!--at least so my old friend Heron says, and he ought to know! Cousin Strafford left no will. He is certain there is none. She persistently put off making one, with the full intention, he believes, that the property shall come to me, her heir at law and next of kin. He thinks she had not the heart to leave it away from her old friend. Thank God! It is a lovely place. Nothing could have happened to give me more pleassure."

"I am indeed glad, Raymount," said his wife--who called him by his family name on important occasions. "You always had a fancy for playing the squire, you know."

"A great fancy for a little room, rather," replied her husband--"not much, I fear, for the duties of a squire. I know little of them; and happily we shall not be dependent on the result of my management. There is money as well, I am glad to say--enough to keep the place up anyhow."

"It would be a poor property," replied his wife with a smile, that could not keep itself up. I have no doubt you will develop into a model farmer and landlord."

"You must take the business part--at least till Corney is fit to look after it," he returned.

But his wife's main thought was what influence would the change have on the prospects of Hester. In her heart she abjured the notion of property having anything to do with marriage--yet this was almost her first thought! Inside us are played more fantastic tricks than any we play in the face of the world.

"Are the children to be told?" she asked.

"I suppose so. It would be a shame not to let them share in our gladness. And yet one hates to think of their talking about it as children will."

"I am not afraid of the children," returned his wife. "I have but to tell them not. I am sure of Mark as if he were fifty. Saffy might forget, but Mark will keep her in mind."

When she returned to the dining-room Cornelius was gone, but the rest were still at the table. She told them that God had given them a beautiful house in the country, with hills and woods and a swift-flowing river. Saffy clapped her hands, cried, "Oh, mam_mah_!" and could hardly sit on her chair till she had done speaking. Mark was perfectly still, his eyes looking like ears. The moment her mother ceased, Saffy jumped down and made a rush for the door.

"Saffy, Saffy, where are you going?" cried her mother.

"To tell Sarah," answered Saffy.

"Come back, my child."

"Oh, do let me run and tell Sarah! I will come back _instantly_."

"Come here," insisted the mother. "Your papa and I wish you to say nothing whatever about it to _any one."

"O-oh!" returned Saffy; and both her look and her tone said, "Where is the good of it then?" as she stood by her mother's side in momentary check.

Not a word did Mark utter, but his face shone as if it had been heaven he was going to. No color, only light came to the surface of it, and broke in the loveliest smile. When Mark smiled, his whole body and being smiled. He turned and kissed Saffy, but still said nothing.

Hester's face flushed a "celestial rosy red." Her first thought was of the lovely things of the country and the joy of them. Like Moses on mount Pisgah, she looked back on the desert of a London winter, and forth from the heart of a blustering spring into a land of promise. Her next thought was of her poor: "Now I shall be able to do something for them!" Alas! too swiftly followed the conviction that now she would be able to do less than ever for them. Yrndale was far from London! They could not come to her, and she could not go to them, except for an occasional visit, perhaps too short even to see them all. If only her father and mother would let her stay behind! but that she dared hardly hope--ought not perhaps to wish! It might be God's will to remove her because she was doing more harm than good! She had never been allowed to succeed in anything! And now her endeavor would be at an end! So her pleasure was speedily damped. The celestial red yielded to earthly pale, and the tears came in her eyes.

"You don't like the thought of leaving London, Hester!" said her mother with concern: she thought it was because of Vavasor.

"I am very glad for you and papa, mother dear," answered Hester. "I was thinking of my poor people, and what they would do without me."

"Wait my child," returned her mother, "I have sometimes found the very things I dreaded most serve me best. I don't mean because I got used to them, or because they did me good. I mean they furthered what I thought they would ruin."

"Thank you, dear mother, you can always comfort me," rejoined Hester. "For myself I could not imagine anything more pleasant. If only it were near London!--or," she added, smiling through her tears, "if one hadn't a troublesome heart and conscience playing into each other's hands!"

She was still thinking of her poor, but her mother was in doubt.

* * * * *

"I suppose, father," said Cornelius, "there will be no occasion for me to go to the bank any more?"

"There will be more occasion than ever," answered his father: "will there not be the more to look after when I am gone? What do you imagine you could employ yourself with down there? You have never taken to study, else, as you know, I would have sent you to Oxford. When you leave the bank it will be to learn farming and the management of an estate--after which you will be welcome to Yrndale."

Cornelius made no reply. His father's words deeply offended him. He was hardly good at anything except taking offense, and he looked on the estate as his nearly as much as his father's. True the father had not spoken so kindly as he might, but had he known his son, he would often have spoken severely. From the habit of seeking clear and forcible expression in writing, he had got into a way of using stronger vocal utterances than was necessary, and what would have been but a blow from another, was a stab from him. But the feelings of Cornelius in no case _deserved consideration--they were so selfish. And now he considered that mighty self of his insulted as well as wronged. What right had his father to keep from him--from him alone, who had the first right--a share in the good fortunes of the family? He left the study almost hating his father because of what he counted his injustice; and, notwithstanding his request that he would say nothing of the matter until things were riper, made not even an effort to obey him, but, too sore for silence, and filled with what seemed to him righteous indignation, took the first opportunity of pouring out everything to Vavasor, in a torrent of complaint against the fresh wrong. His friend responded to the communication very sensibly, trying, without exactly saying it, and without a shadow of success, to make him see what a fool he was, and congratulating him all the more warmly on his good fortune that a vague hope went up in him of a share in the same. For Cornelius had not failed to use large words in making mention of the estate and the fortune accompanying it; and in the higher position, as Vavasor considered it, which Mr. Raymount would henceforth occupy as one of the proprietors of England, therefore as a man of influence in his country and its politics, he saw something like an approximative movement in the edges of the gulf that divided him from Hester: she would not unlikely come in for a personal share in this large fortune; and if he could but see a possibility of existence without his aunt's money, he would, he _almost said to himself, marry Hester, and take the risk of his aunt's displeasure. At the same time she would doubtless now look with more favor on his preference--he must not yet say _choice! There could be nothing insuperably offensive to her pride at least in his proposing to marry the daughter of a country squire. If she were the heiress of a rich brewer, that is, of a brewer rich enough, his aunt would, like the rest of them, get over it fast enough! In the meantime he would, as Cornelius, after the first burst of his rage was over, had begged him, be careful to make no illusion to the matter.

Mr. Raymount went to look at his property, and returned more delighted with house, land, and landscape, than he had expected. He seldom spoke of his good fortune, however, except to his wife, or betrayed his pleasure except by a glistening of the eyes. As soon as the warm weather came they would migrate, and immediately began their preparations--the young ones by packing and unpacking several times a day a most heterogeneous assemblage of things. The house was to be left in charge of old Sarah, who would also wait on Cornelius.

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