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- The Pillars of the House, V1 - 60/124 -
'Nearly,' with a heavy sigh.
Felix drew an ancient straw-bottomed chair in front of the fire backwards, placed himself astride on it, laid his arms on the top and his forehead on them, and in this imposing Mentorial attitude began, 'After all, Clem, I don't see that you need be so desperately broken- hearted. It was mere innocence and ignorance. Water-drinkers at home are really not on a level with other people. I always have to be very guarded when I have to dine with the other reporters.'
'No,' said Clement, sadly; 'I do not regard the disgrace as the sin so much as the punishment.'
It was more sensible than Felix had expected. He was conscious of not understanding Clement, who always seemed to him like a girl, but if treated like one, was sure to show himself in an unexpected light.
'You did not know where you were going?'
'Not at first. I found out long before I came off the ice; and then, like an absurd fool as I was, I thought myself showing how to deal courteously and hold one's own with such people.'
'You are getting to the bottom of it,' said Felix.
'I have been thinking it over all day,' said Clement, mournfully. 'I see that such a fall could only be the consequence of long continued error. Have I not been very conceited and uncharitable of late, Felix?'
'Not more than usual,' said Felix, intending to speak kindly.
'I see. I have been treating my advantages as if they were merits, condemning others, and lording it over them. Long ago I was warned that my danger was spiritual pride, but self-complacency blinded me.' And he hid his face and groaned.
Felix was surprised. He could not thus have discussed himself, even with his father; but he perceived that if Clement had no one else to preach to he would preach to himself, and that this anatomical examination was done in genuine sorrow.
'No humility!' continued Clement. 'That is what has brought me to this. If I had distrusted and watched myself, I should have perceived when I grew inflated by their flattery, and never--egregious fool that I was--have thought I was showing that one of our St. Matthew's choir could meet worldly men on their own ground.'
Felix was glad that his posture enabled him to conceal a smile; but perhaps Clement guessed at it, for he exclaimed, 'A fit consequence, to have made myself contemptible to everybody!'
'Come, Clem, that is too strong. Your censorious way was bad for yourself, and obnoxious to us all, and it was very silly to go to that place after what you had heard.'
'After telling Lance it was unworthy of a servant of the sanctuary,' moaned Clement.
'Very silly indeed,' continued the elder brother, 'very wrong; but as to what happened there, it is not reasonable to look at it as more than an accident. It will be forgotten in a week by all but Fulbert and yourself, and you will most likely be the wiser for it all your lives. I never got on so well with Ful before, or saw him really sorry.
Clement only answered by a disconsolate noise; and Felix was becoming a little impatient, thinking the penitence overstrained, when he broke silence with, 'You must let me go up to St. Matthew's!'
'Really, Clement, it is hardly right to let you be always living upon Mr. Fulmort now your occupation is ended, and it would be braver not to run away.'
'I do not mean that!' cried Clement. 'I will not stay there. I would not burthen them; but see the Vicar I _must_! I will go third class, and walk from the station.'
'The fare of an omnibus will not quite break our backs,' said Felix, smiling. 'If this is needful to settle your mind, you had better go.'
'You do not know what this is to me,' said Clement, earnestly; 'I wish you did.' Then perceiving the recurrence to his old propensity, he sighed pitifully and hung his head, adding, 'It is of no use till Saturday, the Vicar is gone to his sisters.'
'Very well, you can get a return ticket on Saturday--that is, if the organist is come back.'
'Lance must play; I am not worthy.'
'You have no right to break an engagement for fancies about your own worthiness,' said Felix. 'Rouse yourself up, and don't exaggerate the thing, to alarm all the girls, and make them suspicious.'
'They ought to know. I felt myself a wicked hypocrite when Wilmet would come and read me the Psalms, and yet I could not tell her. Tell them, Felix; I cannot bear it without.'
'No, I shall not. You have no right to grieve and disgust them just because you "cannot bear it without." Cannot you bear up, instead of drooping and bemoaning in this way? It is not manly.'
'Manliness is the great temptation of this world.'
'You idiot!' Felix, in his provocation, broke out; then getting himself in hand again, 'Don't you know the difference between true and false manliness?'
'I know men of the world make the distinction,' said Clement; 'I am not meaning any censure, Felix. Circumstances have given you a different standard.'
Felix interrupted rather hotly: 'Only my father's. I have heard him say, that if one is not a man before one is a parson, one brings the ministry into contempt. The things the boys call you Tina for are not what make a good clergyman.'
'I don't feel as if I could presume to seek the priesthood after that.'
'Stuff and nonsense!' cried Felix. 'If no one was ordained who had ever made a fool of himself and repented, we should be badly off for clergy. You were conceited and provoking, and have let yourself be led into a nasty scrape--that's the long and short of the matter; but it is only hugging your own self-importance to sit honing and moaning up here. Come down, and behave like a reasonable being.'
'Let me stay here to-night, Felix, I do need it,' said Clement, with tears in his eyes; 'if I am alone now, I think I can bring myself to bear up outwardly as you wish.'
The affected tone had vanished, and Felix rose, and kindly put his hand on his shoulder, and said, 'Do, Clem. You know it is not only my worldliness--mere man of business as I am--that bids us to hide grief within, and "anoint the head and wash the face."'
Just then an exulting shout rang through the house, many feet scuttled upstairs, knocks hailed upon the door, and many voices shouted, 'Mr Audley! Felix, Clem, Mr. Audley!'
'Won't you come, Clem?'
'Not to-night; I could not.'
Clement shut the door, and Felix hastened down among the dancing exulting little ones. 'I thought you were at Rome!' he said, as the hands met in an eager grasp.
'I was there on Christmas Day; but Dr. White's appointment is settled, and he wants me to go out with him in June. My brother is gone on to London, and I must join him there on Saturday.'
'I am glad it is to-day instead of yesterday,' said Wilmet. 'We were all out but Felix and Cherry, and poor Clement was so ill.'
'Clement ill? Is he better?'
'He will be all right to-morrow,' said Felix.
Mr. Audley detected a desire to elude inquiry, as well as a meaning look between the two younger boys, and he thought care sat heavier on the brow of the young master of the house than when they had parted eighteen months before.
His travels were related, his photographs admired, his lodging arranged in Mr. Froggatt's room, and after the general goodnight, he drew his chair in to the fire, and prepared for a talk with his ex- ward.
'You look anxious, Felix. Have things gone on pretty well?'
'Pretty fairly, thank you, till just now, when there is rather an ugly scrape,'--and he proceeded to disburthen his mind of last night's misadventure; when it must be confessed that the narrative of Clement's overweening security having had a fall provoked a smile from his guardian, and an observation that it might do him a great deal of good.
'Yes,' said Felix, 'if his friends do not let him make much of his penitence, and think it very fine to have so important a thing to repent of.'
'I don't think they will do that. You must not take Clement as exactly the fruit of their teaching.'
'There's no humbug about him, at least,' said Felix. 'He is really cut up exceedingly. Indeed all I have been doing was to get him to moderate his dolefulness. I believe he thinks me a sort of heathen.'
'Well,' said Mr. Audley, laughing, 'you don't seem to have taken the line of the model head of the family.'
'The poor boys were both so wretched, that one could not say a word to make it worse,' said Felix. 'This satisfies me that Fulbert is all right in that way. He would not have been so shocked if he had ever seen anything like it before; but though he is very sorry now, I am afraid it will not cut the connection with those Collises.'
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