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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWeighed And Wanting - Chapter 57. Vengeance Is Mine
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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 57. Vengeance Is Mine Post by :voltaire11 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1692

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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 57. Vengeance Is Mine

CHAPTER LVII. VENGEANCE IS MINE

That same morning, Mr. Raymount had found it, or chosen to imagine it necessary--from the instinct, I believe to oppose inner with outer storm, to start pretty early for the county-town, on something he called business, and was not expected home before the next day. Assuming heart in his absence, Cornelius went freely wandering about the house, many parts of which had not yet lost to him the interest of novelty, and lunched with his mother and Hester and Saffy like one of the family. His mother, wisely or not, did her best to prevent his feeling any difference from old times: where one half of the parental pair erred so much on the side of severity, perhaps it was well that the other should err on that of leniency--I do not know; I doubt if it was right; I think she ought to have justified her husband's conduct, to the extent to which it would bear justification, by her own. But who shall be sure what would have been right for another where so much was wrong and beyond her setting right! If what is done be done in faith, some good will come out of our mistakes even; only let no one mistake self-will for that perfect thing faith!

Their converse at table was neither very interesting nor very satisfactory. How could it be? As well might a child of Satan be happy in the house of Satan's maker, as the unrepentant Cornelius in the house of his mother, even in the absence of his father. Their talk was poor and intermittent. Well might the youth long for his garret and the company of the wife who had nothing for him but smiles and sweetest attentions!

After dinner he sat for a time at the table alone. He had been ordered wine during his recovery, and was already in some danger of adding a fondness for that to his other weaknesses. He was one of those slight natures to which wine may bring a miserable consolation. But the mother was wise, and aware of the clanger, kept in her own hands the administrating of the medicine. To-day, however, by some accident called from the room, she had not put away the decanter, and Cornelius had several times filled his glass before she thought of her neglect. When she re-entered he sat as if he were only finishing the glass she had left him with. The decanter revealed what had taken place, but the mother blaming herself, thought it better to say nothing.

Cornelius leaving the room in a somewhat excited mood, but concealing it, sauntered into the library, and thence into the study, where was his father's own collection of books. Coming there upon a volume by a certain fashionable poet of the day, he lighted the lamp which no one used but his father, threw himself into his father's chair, and began to read. He never had been able to read long without weariness, and from the wine he had drunk and his weakness, was presently overcome with sleep. His mother came and went, and would not disturb him, vexed that she failed in her care over him. I fear, poor lady! her satisfaction in having him under her roof was beginning to wane in the continual trouble of a presence that showed no signs of growth any more than one of the dead. But her faith in the over-care of the father of all was strong, and she waited in hope.

The night now was very dark, "with hey, ho, the wind and the rain!" Up above, the major and the boy talked of sweet, heavenly things, and down below the youth lay snoring, where, had his father been at home, he dared not have showed himself. The mother was in her own room, and Hester in the drawing-room--where never now, in the oppression of these latter times, did she open her piano. The house was quiet but for the noise of the wind and the rain, and those Cornelius did not hear.

He started awake and sat up in terror. A hand was on his shoulder, gripping him like a metal instrument, not a thing of flesh and blood. The face of his father was staring at him through the lingering vapours of his stupid sleep.

Mr. Raymount had started with a certain foolish pleasure in the prospect of getting wet through, and being generally ill-used by the weather--which he called _atrocious_, and all manner of evil names, while not the less he preferred its accompaniment to his thoughts to the finest blue sky and sunshine a southern summer itself could have given him. Thinking to shorten the way he took a certain cut he knew, but found the road very bad. The mud drew off one of his horse's shoes, but he did not discover the loss for a long way--not until he came to a piece of newly mended road. There the poor animal fell suddenly lame. There was a roadside smithy a mile or two farther on, and dismounting he made for that. The smith, however, not having expected anything to do in such weather, and having been drinking hard the night before, was not easily persuaded to appear. Mr. Raymount, therefore, leaving his horse in the smithy, walked to an inn yet a mile or two farther on, and there dried his clothes and had some refreshment. By the time his horse was brought him and he was again mounted, the weather was worse than ever; he thought he had had enough of it; and it was so late besides that he could not have reached the town in time to do his business. He gave up his intended journey therefore, and turning aside to see a friend in the neighbourhood, resolved to go home again the same night.

His feelings when he saw his son asleep in his chair, were not like those of the father in that one story of all the world. He had been giving place to the devil for so long, that the devil was now able to do with him as he would--for a season at least. Nor would the possessed ever have been able to recognize the presence of the devil, had he not a minute or two of his full will with them? Or is it that the miserable possessed goes farther than the devil means him to go? I doubt if he cares that we should murder; I fancy he is satisfied if only we hate well. Murder tends a little to repentance, and he does not want that. Anyhow, we cherish the devil like a spoiled child, till he gets too bad and we find him unendurable. Departing then, he takes a piece of the house with him, and the tenant is not so likely to mistake him when he comes again. Must I confess it at this man so much before the multitude of men, that he was annoyed, even angry, to see this unpleasant son of his asleep in _his chair! "The sneak!" he said! "he dares not show his face when I'm at home, but the minute he thinks me safe, gets into my room and lies in my chair! Drunk, too, by Jove!" he added, as a fume from the sleeper's breath reached the nostrils beginning to dilate with wrath. "What can that wife of mine be about, letting the rascal go on like this! She is faultless except in giving me such a son--and then helping him to fool me!" He forgot the old forger of a bygone century! His side of the house had, I should say, a good deal more to do with what was unsatisfactory in the lad's character than his wife's.

The devil saw his chance, sprang up, and mastered the father.

"The snoring idiot!" he growled, and seizing his boy by the shoulder and the neck, roughly shook him awake.

The father had been drinking, not what would have been by any of the neighbours thought too much, but enough to add to the fierceness of his wrath, and make him yet more capable of injustice. He had come into the study straight from the stable, and when the poor creature looked up half awake, and saw his father standing over him with a heavy whip in his hand, he was filled with a terror that nearly paralyzed him. He sat and stared with white, trembling lips, red, projecting eyes, and a look that confirmed the belief of his father that he was drunk, whereas he had only been, like himself, drinking more than was good for him.

"Get out of there, you dog!" cried his father, and with one sweep of his powerful arm, half dragged, half hurled him from the chair. He fell on the floor, and in weakness mixed with cowardice lay where he fell. The devil--I am sorry to have to refer to the person so often, but he played a notable part in the affair, and I should be more sorry to leave him without his part in it duly acknowledged--the devil, I say, finding the house abandoned to him, rushed at once into brain and heart and limbs, and _possessed_. When Raymount saw the creature who had turned his hitherto happy life into a shame and a misery lying at his feet thus abject, he became instantly conscious of the whip in his hand, and without a moment's pause, a moment's thought, heaved his arm aloft, and brought it down with a fierce lash on the quivering flesh of his son. He richly deserved the punishment, but God would not have struck him that way. There was the poison of hate in the blow. He again raised his arm; but as it descended, the piercing shriek that broke from the youth startled even the possessing demon, and the violence of the blow was broken. But the lash of the whip found his face, and marked it for a time worse than the small-pox. What the unnatural father would have done next, I do not know. While the cry of his son yet sounded in his ears, another cry like its echo from another world, rang ghastly through the storm like the cry of the banshee. From far away it seemed to come through the world of wet mist and howling wind. The next instant a spectral face flitted swift as a bird up to the window, and laid itself close to the glass. It was a French window, opening to the ground, and neither shutters nor curtains had been closed. It burst open with a great clang and clash and wide tinkle of shivering and scattering glass, and a small figure leaped into the room with a second cry that sounded like a curse in the ears of the father. She threw herself on the prostrate youth, and covered his body with hers, then turned her head and looked up at the father with indignant defiance in her flashing eye. Cowed with terror, and smarting with keenest pain, the youth took his wife in his arms and sobbed like the beaten thing he was. Amy's eye gleamed if possible more indignantly still. Protection grew fierce, and fanned the burning sense of wrong. The father stood over them like a fury rather than a fate--stood as the shock of Amy's cry, and her stormy entrance, like that of an avenging angel, had fixed him. But presently he began to recover his senses, and not unnaturally sprang to the conclusion that here was the cause of all his misery--some worthless girl that had drawn Cornelius into her toils, and ruined him and his family for ever! The thought set the geyser of his rage roaring and spouting in the face of heaven. He heaved his whip, and the devil having none of the respect of the ordinary well bred Englishman for even the least adorable of women, the blow fell. But instead of another and shriller shriek following the lash, came nothing but a shudder and a silence and the unquailing eye of the girl fixed like that of a spectre upon her assailant. He struck her again. Again came the shivering shudder and the silence: the sense that the blows had not fallen upon Corney upheld the brave creature. Cry she would not, if he killed her! She once drew in her breath sharply, but never took her eyes from his face--lay expecting the blow that was to come next. Suddenly the light in them began to fade, and went quickly out; her head dropped like a stone upon the breast of her cowardly husband, and there was not even mute defiance more.

What if he had killed the woman! At an inquest! A trial for murder!--In lowest depths Raymount saw a lower deep, and stood looking down on the pair with subsiding passion.

Amy had walked all the long distance from the station and more, for she had lost her way. Again and again she had all but lain down to die on the moorland waste on to which she had wandered, when the thought of Corney and his need of her roused her again. Wet through and through, buffeted by the wind so that she could hardly breathe, having had nothing but a roll to eat since the night before, but aware of the want of food only by its faintness, cold to the very heart, and almost unconscious of her numbed limbs, she struggled on. When at last she got to the lodge gate, the woman in charge of it took her for a common beggar, and could hardly be persuaded to let her pass. She was just going up to the door when she heard her husband's cry. She saw the lighted window, flew to it, dashed it open, and entered. It was the last expiring effort of the poor remnant of her strength. She had not life enough left to resist the shock of her father-in-law's blows.

While still the father stood looking down on his children, the door softly opened, and the mother entered. She knew nothing, not even that her husband had returned, came merely to know how her unlovely but beloved child was faring in his heavy sleep. She stood arrested. She saw what looked like a murdered heap on the floor, and her husband standing over it, like the murderer beginning to doubt whether the deed was as satisfactory as the doing of it. But behind her came Hester, and peeping over her shoulder understood at once. Almost she pushed her mother aside, as she sprang to help. Her father would have prevented her. "No, father!" she said, "it is time to disobey." A pang as of death went through her at the thought that she had not spoken. All was clear! Amy had come, and died defending her husband from his father! She put her strong arms round the dainty little figure, and lifted it like a seaweed hanging limp, its long wet hair continuing the hang of the body and helpless head. Hester gave a great sob. Was this what Amy's lovely brave womanhood had brought her to! What creatures men were! As the thought passed through her, she saw on Amy's neck a frightful upswollen wale. She looked at her father. There was the whip in his hand! "Oh, papa!" she screamed, and dropped her eyes for shame: she could not look him in the face--not for his shame, but for her shame through him. And as she dropped them she saw the terrified face of Cornelius open its eyes.

"Oh, Corney!" said Hester, in the tone of an accusing angel, and ran with her from the room.

The mother darted to her son.

But the wrath of the father rose afresh at sight of her "infatuation."

"Let the hound lie!" he said, and stepped between. "What right has he to walk the earth like a man! He is but fit to go on all fours--Ha! ha!" he went on, laughing wildly, "I begin to believe in the transmigration of souls! I shall one day see that son of yours running about the place a mangy mongrel!"

"You've killed him, Gerald!--your own son!" said the mother, with a cold, still voice.

She saw the dread mark on his face, felt like one of the dead--staggered, and would have fallen. But the arm that through her son had struck her heart, caught and supported her. The husband bore the wife once more to her chamber, and the foolish son, the heaviness of his mother, was left alone on the floor, smarting, ashamed, and full of fear for his wife, yet in ignorance that his father had hurt her.

A moment and he rose. But, lo, in that shameful time a marvel had been wrought! The terror of his father which had filled him was gone. They had met; his father had put himself in the wrong; he was no more afraid of him. It was not hate that had cast out fear. I do not say that he felt no resentment, he is a noble creature who, deserving to be beaten, approves and accepts: there are not a few such children: Cornelius was none of such; but it consoled him that he had been hardly used by his father. He had been accustomed to look vaguely up to his father as a sort of rigid but righteous divinity; and in a disobedient, self-indulgent, poverty-stricken nature like his, reverence could only take the form of fear; and now that he had seen his father in a rage, the feeling of reverence, such as it was, had begun to give way, and with it the fear: they were more upon a level. Then again, his father's unmerciful use of the whip to him seemed a sort of settling of scores, thence in a measure, a breaking down of the wall between them. He seemed thereby to have even some sort of claim upon his father: so cruelly beaten he seemed now near him. A weight as of a rock was lifted from his mind by this violent blowing up of the horrible negation that had been between them so long. He felt--as when punished in boyhood--as if the storm had passed, and the sun had begun to appear. Life seemed a trifle less uninteresting than before. He did not yet know to what a state his wife was brought. He knew she was safe with Hester.

He listened, and finding all quiet, stole, smarting and aching, yet cherishing his hurts like a possession, slowly to his room, there tumbled himself into bed, and longed for Amy to come to him. He was an invalid, and could not go about looking for her! it was her part to find him! In a few minutes he was fast asleep once more, and forgot everything in dreams of the garret with Amy.

When Mrs. Raymount came to herself, she looked up at her husband. He stood expecting such reproaches as never yet in their married life had she given him. But she stretched out her arms to him, and drew him to her bosom. Her pity for the misery which could have led him to behave so ill, joined to her sympathy in the distressing repentance which she did not doubt must have already begun, for she knew her husband, made her treat him much as she treated her wretched Corney. It went deep to the man's heart. In the deep sense of degredation that had seized him--not for striking his son, who, he said, and said over and over to himself, entirely deserved it, but for striking a woman, be she who she might--his wife's embrace was like balm to a stinging wound. But it was only when, through Hester's behaviour to her and the words that fell from her, he came to know who she was, that the iron, the beneficent spear-head of remorse, entered his soul. Strange that the mere fact of our knowing _who a person is_, should make such a difference in the way we think of and behave to that person! A person is a person just the same, whether one of the few of our acquaintances or not, and his claim on us for all kinds of humanities just the same. Our knowledge of any one is a mere accident in the claim, and can at most only make us feel it more. But recognition of Amy showed his crime more heinous. It brought back to Mr. Raymount's mind the vision of the bright girl he used to watch in her daft and cheerful service, and with that vision came the conviction that not she but Corney must be primarily to blame: he had twice struck the woman his son had grievously wronged! He must make to her whatever atonement was possible--first for having brought the villain into the world to do her such wrong, then for his own cruelty to her in her faithfulness! He pronounced himself the most despicable and wretched of men: he had lifted his hand against a woman that had been but in her right in following his son, and had shown herself ready to die in his defence! His wife's tenderness confirmed the predominance of these feelings, and he lay down in his dressing-room a humbler man than he had ever been in his life before.

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