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'Nay! I'm not going for to tell more. I've maybe getten them into mischief already, for they kept it very close. I nobbut wanted to know if they'd getten him cleared?'
'Not that I know of. I know nothing. I only hear of Miss Hale, now, as my landlord, and through her lawyer.'
He broke off from Higgins, to follow the business on which he had been bent when the latter first accosted him; leaving Higgins baffled in his endeavour.
'It was her brother,' said Mr. Thornton to himself. 'I am glad. I may never see her again; but it is a comfort--a relief--to know that much. I knew she could not be unmaidenly; and yet I yearned for conviction. Now I am glad!'
It was a little golden thread running through the dark web of his present fortunes; which were growing ever gloomier and more gloomy. His agent had largely trusted a house in the American trade, which went down, along with several others, just at this time, like a pack of cards, the fall of one compelling other failures. What were Mr. Thornton's engagements? Could he stand?
Night after night he took books and papers into his own private room, and sate up there long after the family were gone to bed. He thought that no one knew of this occupation of the hours he should have spent in sleep. One morning, when daylight was stealing in through the crevices of his shutters, and he had never been in bed, and, in hopeless indifference of mind, was thinking that he could do without the hour or two of rest, which was all that he should be able to take before the stir of daily labour began again, the door of his room opened, and his mother stood there, dressed as she had been the day before. She had never laid herself down to slumber any more than he. Their eyes met. Their faces were cold and rigid, and wan, from long watching.
'Mother! why are not you in bed?'
'Son John,' said she, 'do you think I can sleep with an easy mind, while you keep awake full of care? You have not told me what your trouble is; but sore trouble you have had these many days past.'
'Trade is bad.'
'And you dread----'
'I dread nothing,' replied he, drawing up his head, and holding it erect. 'I know now that no man will suffer by me. That was my anxiety.'
'But how do you stand? Shall you--will it be a failure?' her steady voice trembling in an unwonted manner.
'Not a failure. I must give up business, but I pay all men. I might redeem myself--I am sorely tempted--'
'How? Oh, John! keep up your name--try all risks for that. How redeem it?'
'By a speculation offered to me, full of risk; but, if successful, placing me high above water-mark, so that no one need ever know the strait I am in. Still, if it fails--'
'And if it fails,' said she, advancing, and laying her hand on his arm, her eyes full of eager light. She held her breath to hear the end of his speech.
'Honest men are ruined by a rogue,' said he gloomily. 'As I stand now, my creditors, money is safe--every farthing of it; but I don't know where to find my own--it may be all gone, and I penniless at this moment. Therefore, it is my creditors' money that I should risk.'
'But if it succeeded, they need never know. Is it so desperate a speculation? I am sure it is not, or you would never have thought of it. If it succeeded--'
'I should be a rich man, and my peace of conscience would be gone!'
'Why! You would have injured no one.'
'No; but I should have run the risk of ruining many for my own paltry aggrandisement. Mother, I have decided! You won't much grieve over our leaving this house, shall you, dear mother?'
'No! but to have you other than what you are will break my heart. What can you do?'
'Be always the same John Thornton in whatever circumstances; endeavouring to do right, and making great blunders; and then trying to be brave in setting to afresh. But it is hard, mother. I have so worked and planned. I have discovered new powers in my situation too late--and now all is over. I am too old to begin again with the same heart. It is hard, mother.'
He turned away from her, and covered his face with his hands.
'I can't think,' said she, with gloomy defiance in her tone, 'how it comes about. Here is my boy--good son, just man, tender heart--and he fails in all he sets his mind upon: he finds a woman to love, and she cares no more for his affection than if he had been any common man; he labours, and his labour comes to nought. Other people prosper and grow rich, and hold their paltry names high and dry above shame.'
'Shame never touched me,' said he, in a low tone: but she went on.
'I sometimes have wondered where justice was gone to, and now I don't believe there is such a thing in the world,--now you are come to this; you, my own John Thornton, though you and I may be beggars together--my own dear son!'
She fell upon his neck, and kissed him through her tears.
'Mother!' said he, holding her gently in his arms, 'who has sent me my lot in life, both of good and of evil?'
She shook her head. She would have nothing to do with religion just then.
'Mother,' he went on, seeing that she would not speak, 'I, too, have been rebellious; but I am striving to be so no longer. Help me, as you helped me when I was a child. Then you said many good words--when my father died, and we were sometimes sorely short of comforts--which we shall never be now; you said brave, noble, trustful words then, mother, which I have never forgotten, though they may have lain dormant. Speak to me again in the old way, mother. Do not let us have to think that the world has too much hardened our hearts. If you would say the old good words, it would make me feel something of the pious simplicity of my childhood. I say them to myself, but they would come differently from you, remembering all the cares and trials you have had to bear.'
'I have had a many,' said she, sobbing, 'but none so sore as this. To see you cast down from your rightful place! I could say it for myself, John, but not for you. Not for you! God has seen fit to be very hard on you, very.'
She shook with the sobs that come so convulsively when an old person weeps. The silence around her struck her at last; and she quieted herself to listen. No sound. She looked. Her son sate by the table, his arms thrown half across it, his head bent face downwards.
'Oh, John!' she said, and she lifted his face up. Such a strange, pallid look of gloom was on it, that for a moment it struck her that this look was the forerunner of death; but, as the rigidity melted out of the countenance and the natural colour returned, and she saw that he was himself once again, all worldly mortification sank to nothing before the consciousness of the great blessing that he himself by his simple existence was to her. She thanked God for this, and this alone, with a fervour that swept away all rebellious feelings from her mind.
He did not speak readily; but he went and opened the shutters, and let the ruddy light of dawn flood the room. But the wind was in the east; the weather was piercing cold, as it had been for weeks; there would be no demand for light summer goods this year. That hope for the revival of trade must utterly be given up.
It was a great comfort to have had this conversation with his mother; and to feel sure that, however they might henceforward keep silence on all these anxieties, they yet understood each other's feelings, and were, if not in harmony, at least not in discord with each other, in their way of viewing them. Fanny's husband was vexed at Thornton's refusal to take any share in the speculation which he had offered to him, and withdrew from any possibility of being supposed able to assist him with the ready money, which indeed the speculator needed for his own venture.
There was nothing for it at last, but that which Mr. Thornton had dreaded for many weeks; he had to give up the business in which he had been so long engaged with so much. honour and success; and look out for a subordinate situation. Marlborough Mills and the adjacent dwelling were held under a long lease; they must, if possible, be relet. There was an immediate choice of situations offered to Mr. Thornton. Mr. Hamper would have been only too glad to have secured him as a steady and experienced partner for his son, whom he was setting up with a large capital in a neighbouring town; but the young man was half-educated as regarded information, and wholly uneducated as regarded any other responsibility than that of getting money, and brutalised both as to his pleasures and his pains. Mr. Thornton declined having any share in a partnership, which would frustrate what few plans he had that survived the wreck of his fortunes. He would sooner consent to be only a manager, where he could have a certain degree of power beyond the mere money-getting part, than have to fall in with the tyrannical humours of a moneyed partner with whom he felt sure that he should quarrel in a few months.
So he waited, and stood on one side with profound humility, as the news swept through the Exchange, of the enormous fortune which his brother-in-law had made by his daring speculation. It was a nine days' wonder. Success brought with it its worldly
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