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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWeighed And Wanting - Chapter 34. Calamity
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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 34. Calamity Post by :voltaire11 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2231

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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 34. Calamity

CHAPTER XXXIV. CALAMITY

One afternoon the post brought side by side with a letter from lord Gartley, one in a strange-looking cramped hand, which Mrs. Raymount recognized.

"What can Sarah be writing about?" she said, a sudden foreboding of evil crossing her mind.

"The water-rate perhaps," answered Hester, opening her own letter as she withdrew to read it. For she did not like to read Gartley's letters before her mother--not from shyness, but from shame: she would have liked ill to have her learn how poor her Gartley's utterances were upon paper. But ere she was six slow steps away, she turned at a cry from her mother.

"Good heavens, what can it be? Something has happened to him!" said Mrs. Raymount.

Her face was white almost as the paper she held. Hester put her arms round her.

"Mother! mother! what is it?" she cried. "Anything about Corney?"

"I thought something would come to stop it all. We were too happy!" she moaned, and began to tremble.

"Come to papa, mamma dear," said Hester, frightened, but quiet. She stood as if fixed to the ground. Mr. Raymount's letters had been carried to him in the study, and one of them had put him into like perturbation. He was pacing up and down the room almost as white as his wife, but his pallor was that of rage.

"The scoundrel!" he groaned, and seizing a chair hurled it against the wall. "I had the suspicion he was a mean dog! Now all the world will know it--and that he is my son! What have I done--what has my wife done, that we should give being to a vile hound like this? What is there in her or in me--?"

There he paused, for he remembered: far back in the family some five generations or so, one had been hanged for forgery.

He threw himself in a chair, and wept with rage and shame. He had for years been writing of family and social duties; here was his illustration! His books were his words; here was his deed! How should he ever show himself again! He would leave the country! Damn the property! The rascal should never succeed to it! Mark should have it--if he lived! But he hoped he would die! He would like to poison them all, and go with them out of the disgrace--all but the dog that had brought it on them! Hester marry an earl! Not if the truth would prevent it! Her engagement must at once be broken! Lord Gartley marry the sister of a thief!

While he was thus raging a knock came to the door, and a maid entered.

"Please, sir," she said, "Miss Raymount says will you come to mis'ess: she's taken bad!"

This brought him to himself. The horrible fate was hers too! He must go to her. How could she have heard the vile news? She must have heard it! what else could make her ill! He followed the maid to the lawn. It was a cold morning of January sunshine. There stood his wife in his daughter's arms, trembling from head to foot, and apparently without power of motion! He asked no question, took her in his arms, bore her to her room, laid her on the bed, and sat down beside her, hardly caring if she died, for the sooner they were all dead the better! She lay like one dead, and do what she could Hester was unable to bring her to herself. But by and by the doctor came.

She had caught up the letter and as her father sat there, she handed it to him. The substance and manner of it were these:

"Dear mistress, it is time to let you know of the goings on here. I never held with bearing of tales against my fellow-servants, and perhaps it's worse to bring tales against Master Cornelius, as is your own flesh and blood, but what am I to do as was left in charge, and to keep the house respectable? He's not been home this three nights; and you ought to know as there is a young lady, his cousin from New Zealand, as is come to the house a three or four times since you went away, and stayed a long time with him, though it is some time now that I ain't seen her. She is a pretty, modest-looking young lady; though I must say I was ill-pleased when Mr. Cornelius would have her stay all night; and I up and told him if she was his cousin it wasn't as if she was his sister, and it wouldn't do, and I would walk out of the house if he insisted on me making up a bed for her. Then he laughed in my face, and told me I was an old fool, and he was only making game of me. But that was after he done his best to persuade me, and I wouldn't be persuaded. I told him if neither he nor the young lady had a character to keep, I had one to lose, and I wouldn't. But I don't think he said anything to her about staying all night; for she come down the stair as innocent-like as any dove, and bid me good night smiling, and they walked away together. And I wouldn't by no means have took upon me to be a spy, nor I wouldn't have mentioned the thing, for it's none of my business so long as nobody doesn't abuse the house as is my charge; but he ain't been home for three nights, and there is the feelings of a mother! and it's my part to let her know as her son ain't slept in his own bed for three nights, and that's a fact. So no more at present, and I hope dear mis'ess it won't kill you to hear on it. O why did his father leave him alone in London, with none but an old woman like me, as he always did look down upon, to look after him! Your humble servant for twenty years to command, S. H."

* * * * *

Mrs. Raymount had not read the half of this. It was enough to learn he had not been home for three nights. How is it? Parents with no reasonable ground for believing their children good, nay with considerable ground for believing them worse than many, are yet seized as by the awfully incredible when they hear they are going wrong. Helen Raymount concluded her boy had turned into bad ways because left in London, although she knew he had never taken to good ways while they were all with him. If he had never gone right why should she wonder he had gone wrong?

The doctor was sitting by the bedside, watching the effect of something he had given her. Mr. Raymount rose and led Hester from the room--sternly almost, as if she had been to blame for it all.

Some people when they are angry, speak as if they were angry with the person to whom they are in fact looking for comfort. When in trouble few of us are masters enough of ourselves, because few of us are children enough of our Father in heaven, to behave like gentlemen--after the fashion of "the first stock father of gentleness." But Hester understood her mother and did not resent.

"Is this all your mother knows, Hester?" said her father, pointing to the letter in his hand. She told him her mother had read but the first sentence or two.

He was silent--returned to the bedside, and stood silent. The life of his dearest had been suddenly withered at the root, like the gourd of Jonah, and had she not learned nearly the worst!

His letter was from his wife's brother, in whose bank Cornelius was a clerk. A considerable deficit had been discovered in his accounts. He had not been to the bank for two days before, and no trace of him was to be found. His uncle, from regard to the feelings of his sister, had not allowed the thing to transpire, but had requested the head of his office to be silent: he would wait his brother-in-law's reply before taking any steps. He feared the misguided youth had reckoned on the forbearance of an uncle; but for the sake of his own future, if for no other reason, the thing could not be passed over!

"Passed over!" Had Gerald Raymount been a Roman with the power of life and death over his children, he would in his present mood have put his son to death with his own hands. But for his wife's illness he would have been already on the way to London to repay the missing money; for his son's sake he would not cross his threshold! So at least he said to himself.

But something must be done. He must send some one! Who was there to send? There was Hester! With her uncle she was a favourite! nor would she dread the interview, which, as the heat of his rage yielded to a cold despair, he felt would be to him an unendurable humiliation. For he had had many arguments, not always quite friendly, with this same brother-in-law concerning the way he brought up his children: they had all turned out well, and here was his miserable son a felon, disgracing both families! Yes; let Hester go! There were things a woman could do better than a man! Hester was no child now, but a capable woman! While she was gone he could be making up his mind what to do with the wretched boy!

He led Hester again from her mother's room to his, and gave her her uncle's letter to read. Tell her its contents he could not. He watched her as she read--watched his own heart as it were in her bosom--saw her grow pale, then flush, then turn pale again. At length her face settled into a look of determination. She laid the letter on the table, and rose with a steady troubled light in her eyes. What she was thinking of he could not tell, but he made at once the proposal.

"Hester," he said, "I cannot leave your mother; you must go for me to your uncle and do the best you can. If it were not for your mother I would have the rascal prosecuted; but it would break her heart."

Hester wasted no words of reply: She had often heard him say there ought to be no interference with public justice for private ends.

"Yes, papa," she answered. "I shall be ready in a moment. If I ride Hotspur I shall catch the evening train."

"There is time to take the brougham."

"Am I to say anything to Corney, papa?" she asked, her voice trembling over the name.

"You have nothing to do with him," he answered sternly. "Where is the good of keeping a villain from being as much of a villain as he has got it in him to be? I will sign you a blank cheque, which your uncle can fill up with the amount he has stolen. Come for it as soon as you are ready."

Hester thought as she went whether, if it had not been for the possibility of repentance, the world would ever have been made at all.

On her way to her room she met the major, looking for herself, to tell him about her mother, of whose attack, as he had been out for a long walk, he had but just heard.

"But what did it, Hester?" he said. "I can smell in the air something has gone wrong: what the deuce is it? There's always something getting out of gear in this best of worlds?"

She would have passed him with a word in her haste, but he turned and walked with her.

"The individual, any individual, all the individuals," he went on, "may come to smash, but the world is all right, notwithstanding, and a good serviceable machine!--by George, without a sound pinion in all the carcass of it, or an engineer that cares there should be!"

They had met in a dark part of the corridor, and had now, at a turn in it, come opposite a window. Then first the major saw Hester's face: he had never seen her look like that!

"Is your mother in danger?" he asked, his tone changing to the gentlest, for his heart was in reality a most tender one.

"She is very ill," answered Hester. "The doctor has been with her now three hours. I am going up to London for papa. He can't leave her."

"Going up to London--and by the night-train!" said the major to himself. "Then there has been bad news! What can they be? Money matters? No; cousin Helen is not the one to send health after money! It's something worse than that! I have it! That scoundrel Corney has been about some mischief--damn him! I shouldn't be surprised to hear anything bad of him! But what can you do, my dear?" he said aloud. "It's not fit--"

He looked up. Hester was gone.

She put a few things together, drank a cup of tea brought to her room, went to her father and received the cheque, and was ready by the time the brougham came to the door with a pair of horses. She would not look at her mother again lest she might be sufficiently revived to wonder where she was going, but hastened down, and saw no one on the way. One of the servants was in the hall, and opened the carriage-door for her. The moment it closed she was on her way through the gathering dusk to the railway station.

While the lodge-gate was being opened, she thought she saw some one get up on the box beside the coachman, and fancied it must be a groom going with them. The drive was a long and anxious one; it seemed to her all the time as if the horses could not get on. In spots the road was slippery, and as the horses were not roughed they had to go slowly, and parts were very heavy. What might not be happening to Corney, she thought, while she was on the way to his rescue! She kept fancying one dreadful thing after another. It was like a terrible dream, only with the assurance of reality in it.

The carriage stopped, the door opened, and there was the major in a huge fur coat, holding out his hand to help her down. It was as great a pleasure as surprise, and she showed both.

"You didn't think I was going to let you travel alone?" he said. "Who knows what wolf might be after my Red riding-hood! I'll go in another carriage of course if you wish it; but in this train I'm going to London."

Hester told him she was only too glad of his escort. Careful not to seem in the least bent on the discovery of the cause of her journey, he seated himself in the farthest corner, for there was no one else in the carriage, and pretended to go to sleep. And now first began Hester's private share in the general misery of the family. In the presence of her suffering father and mother, she put off looking into the mist that kept gathering deeper and deeper, filled with forms undefined, about herself. Now these forms began to reveal themselves in shifting yet recognizable reality. If this miserable affair should be successfully hushed up, there was yet one must know it: she must immediately acquaint lord Gartley with what had taken place! And therewith one of the shapes in the mist settled into solidity: if the love between them had been of an ideal character, would she have had a moment's anxiety as to how her lover would receive the painful news? But therewith her own mind was made up: if he but hesitated, that would be enough! Nothing could make her marry a man who had once hesitated whether to draw back or not. It was impossible.

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