"ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH," "FLORA LINDSAY," "MATRIMONIAL SPECULATIONS," &c.
What—dost thou think I'll bend to thee? The free in soul are ever free: Nor force, nor poverty can bind The subtle will—the thinking mind.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
LONDON: RICHARD BENTLEY, NEW BURLINGTON STREET. 1856.
LONDON: Printed by Schulze and Co., 13, Poland Street.
TO JOHN LOVELL, ESQ., OF MONTREAL, WHO WAS ONE OF THE FIRST AND MOST SUCCESSFUL PIONEERS IN ESTABLISHING A NATIONAL LITERATURE IN THE CANADIAN COLONIES, THIS WORK, WHICH OWES ITS EXISTENCE TO HIS GENEROUS CARE, IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED, BY HIS GRATEFUL AND OBLIGED FRIEND, SUSANNA MOODIE.
Transcriber's Note: The Table of Contents is not contained in the book but has been created for the convenience of the reader of this etext.
I. MY GRANDFATHER AND HIS SONS. II. MY MOTHER'S FUNERAL. III. MY AUNT REBECCA. IV. THE TUTOR. V. A CHANGE IN MY PROSPECTS. VI. THE SORROWS OF DEPENDENCE. VII. GEORGE HARRISON. VIII. UNGRATIFIED CURIOSITY. IX. A PORTRAIT. X. DREAMS. XI. MY FIRST LOVE. XII. I FORFEIT MY INDEPENDENCE. XIII. A VISIT FROM THE GREAT MAN OF THE FAMILY. XIV. LOVE AND HATRED. XV. GEORGE HARRISON AND HIS HISTORY. XVI. GEORGE HARRISON CONTINUES HIS HISTORY. XVII. HARRISON FINDS A FRIEND IN NEED. XVIII. THE MEETING.
MY GRANDFATHER AND HIS SONS.
There was a time—a good old time—when men of rank and fortune were not ashamed of their poor relations; affording the protection of their name and influence to the lower shoots of the great family tree, which, springing from the same root, expected to derive support and nourishment from the main stem.
That time is well-nigh gone for ever. Kindred love and hospitality have decreased with the increase of modern luxury and exclusiveness, and the sacred ties of consanguinity are now regarded with indifference; or if recognized, it is only with those who move in the same charmed circle, and who make a respectable appearance in the world: then, and then only, are their names pronounced with reverence, and their relationship considered an honor.
It is amusing to watch from a distance, the eagerness with which some people assert their claims to relationship with wealthy and titled families, and the intrigue and manoeuvring it calls forth in these fortunate individuals, in order to disclaim the boasted connexion.
It was my fate for many years to eat the bitter bread of dependence, as one of those despised and insulted domestic annoyances—A Poor Relation.
My grandfather, Geoffrey Moncton, whose name I bear, was the youngest son of a wealthy Yorkshire Baronet, whose hopes and affections entirely centered in his first-born. What became of the junior scions of the family-tree was to him a matter of secondary consideration. My grandfather, however, had to be provided for in a manner becoming the son of a gentleman, and on his leaving college, Sir Robert offered to purchase him a commission in the army.
My grandfather was a lad of peaceable habits, and had a mortal antipathy to fighting. He refused point blank to be a soldier. The Navy offered the same cause for objection, strengthened by a natural aversion to the water, which made him decline going to sea.
What was to be done with the incorrigible youth? Sir Robert flew into a passion—called him a coward—a disgrace to the name of Moncton.
My grandfather, who was a philosopher in his way, pleaded guilty to the first charge. From his cradle he had carefully avoided scenes of strife and violence, and had been a quiet, industrious boy at school, a sober plodding student at college, minding his own business, and troubling himself very little with the affairs of others. The sight of blood made him sick; he hated the smell of gunpowder, and would make any sacrifice of time and trouble rather than come to blows. He now listened to the long catalogue of his demerits, which his angry progenitor poured forth against him, with such stoical indifference, that it nearly drew upon him the corporeal punishment which at all times he so much dreaded.
Sir Robert at length named the Church, as the profession best suited to a young man of his peaceable disposition, and flew into a fresh paroxysm of rage, when the obstinate fellow positively refused to be a parson.
"He had a horror," he said, "of making a mere profession of so sacred a calling. Besides, he had an awkward impediment in his speech, and he did not mean to stand up in a pulpit to expose his infirmity to the ridicule of others."
Honour to my grandfather. He was not deficient in mental courage, though Sir Robert, in the plenitude of his wisdom, had thought fit to brand him as a coward.
The bar was next proposed for his consideration, but the lad replied firmly, "I don't mean to be a lawyer."
"Your reasons, sir?" cried Sir Robert in a tone which seemed to forbid a liberty of choice.
"I have neither talent nor inclination for the profession."
"And pray, sir, what have you talent or inclination for?"
"A merchant," returned Geoffrey calmly and decidedly, without appearing to notice his aristocratic sire's look of withering contempt. "I have no wish to be a poor gentleman. Place me in my Uncle Drury's counting-house, and I will work hard and become an independent man."
Now this Uncle Drury was brother to the late Lady Moncton, who had been married by the worthy Baronet for her wealth. He was one of Sir Robert's horrors—one of those rich, vulgar connections which are not so easily shaken off, and whose identity is with great difficulty denied to the world. Sir Robert vowed, that if the perverse lad persisted in his grovelling choice, though he had but two sons, he would discard him altogether.
Obstinacy is a family failing of the Monctons. My grandfather, wisely, or unwisely, as circumstances should afterwards determine, remained firm to his purpose. Sir Robert realized his threat. The father and son parted in anger, and from that hour, the latter was looked upon as an alien to the old family stock; which he was considered to have disgraced.
Geoffrey, however, succeeded in carrying out his great life object. He toiled on with indefatigable industry, and soon became rich. He had singular talents for acquiring wealth, and they were not suffered to remain idle. The few pounds with which he commenced his mercantile career, soon multiplied into thousands, and tens of thousands; and there is no knowing what an immense fortune he might have realized, had not death cut short his speculations at an early period of his life.
He had married uncle Drury's only daughter, a few years after he became partner in the firm, by whom he had two sons, Edward and Robert, to both of whom he bequeathed an excellent property.
Edward, the eldest, my father, had been educated to fill the mercantile situation, now vacant by its proprietor's death, which was an ample fortune in itself, if conducted with prudence and regularity.
Robert had been early placed in the office of a lawyer of eminence, and was considered a youth of great talents and promise. Their mother had been dead for some years, and of her little is known in the annals of the family. When speculating upon the subject, I have imagined her to have been a plain, quiet, matter-of-fact body, who never did or said anything worth recording.
When a man's position in life is marked out for him by others, and he is left no voice in the matter, in nine cases out of ten, he is totally unfitted by nature and inclination for the post he is called to fill. So it was with my father, Edward Moncton. A person less adapted to fill an important place in the mercantile world, could scarcely have been found. He had a genius for spending, not for making money; and was so easy and credulous that any artful villain might dupe him out of it. Had he been heir to the title and the old family estates, he would have made a first rate country gentleman; for he possessed a fine manly person, was frank and generous, and excelled in all athletic sports.
My Uncle Robert was the very reverse of my father—stern, shrewd, and secretive; no one could see more of his mind than he was willing to show; and, like my grandfather, he had a great love for money, and a natural talent for acquiring it. An old servant of my grandfather's, Nicholas Banks, used jocosely to say of him: "Had Master Robert been born a beggar, he would have converted his ragged wrap-rascal into a velvet gown. The art of making money was born in him."
Uncle Robert was very successful in his profession; and such is the respect that men of common minds pay to wealth for its own sake, that my uncle was as much courted by persons of his class, as if he had been Lord Chancellor of England. He was called the honest lawyer: wherefore, I never could determine, except that he was the rich lawyer; and people could not imagine that the envied possessor of five thousand per annum, could have any inducement to play the rogue, or cheat his clients. The dependent slave who was chained all day to the desk, in Robert Moncton's office, knew him to be a dishonest man; but his practice daily increased, and his reputation and fortune increased in proportion.
The habits and dispositions of these brothers were so different, so utterly opposed to each other, that it was difficult to reconcile the mind to the fact that they were so closely related.
My uncle had a subtle knowledge of character, which was rendered more acute by his long acquaintance with the world; and he did not always turn it to a righteous account. My father was a babe in these matters—a cunning child might deceive him. While my uncle had a knack of saving without appearing parsimonious, my father had an unfortunate habit of frittering his money away upon trifles. You would have imagined that the one had discovered the secret of the philosopher's stone; and the other had ruined himself in endeavouring to find it out. The one was economical from choice, the other extravagant from the mere love of spending. My uncle married a rich merchant's daughter, for her money. My father ran off with a poor curate's penniless girl, for love. My father neglected his business and became poor. In the hope of redeeming his fortune he frequented the turf and the gambling-table; and died broken-hearted and insolvent in the prime of manhood; leaving his widow and her orphan boy to the protection and guardianship of the brother, who had drudged all his life to become a millionaire.
My dear mother only survived her handsome, reckless husband six short months; and, bereaved of both my natural protectors, I was doomed at the early age of eight years to drink the bitter cup of poverty and dependence to its very dregs.
MY MOTHER'S FUNERAL.
I never saw my Uncle Robert Moncton until the morning of my mother's funeral; and the impression that first interview made upon my young heart will never be forgotten. It cast the first dark shadow upon the sunny dial of my life, and for many painful years my days and hours were numbered beneath its gloomy influence.
It was a chill, murky November day, such a day as London or its immediate vicinity can alone produce. The rain fell slowly and steadily to the ground; and trickled from the window-frames in one continuous stream. A thick mist hung upon the panes of glass like a gauze veil, intersected by innumerable channels of water, which looked like a pattern of open work left in the dingy material. The shutters of our once populous parlour were half-closed; and admitted into the large, deserted apartment only a portion of this obscure light. The hearse destined to convey the remains of my dear mother to their last, long resting-place, was drawn up at the door. I saw it looming through the fog, with its tall, black shadowy plumes, like some ghostly and monstrous thing. A hitherto unknown feeling of dread stole over me. My life had been all sunshine up to the present moment—the sight of that mournful funeral array swept like a dark cloud over the smiling sky, blotting out all that was bright and beautiful from my eyes and heart. I screamed in terror and despair, and hid my face in the lap of my old nurse to shut out the frightful vision, and shed torrents of tears.
The good woman tried to soothe me while she adjusted my black dress, as I was to form one in that doleful procession as chief mourner—I was my mother's only child. The only real mourner there.
The door which led into the next room was partly open. I saw the undertaker's people removing the coffin in order to place it in the hearse. This was a fresh cause for anxiety. I knew that that black, mysterious-looking box contained the cold, pale, sleeping form of my mother; but I could not realize the fact, that the beautiful and beloved being, who had so lately kissed and blessed me, was unconscious of her removal from her home and weeping boy.
"Mamma!—dear mamma!" I cried, struggling violently with nurse. "Let me go, nurse! those wicked men shall not take away mamma!"
Two gentlemen, attracted by my cries and struggles, entered the room. The foremost was a tall, portly man, whom the world would call handsome. His features were good, and his complexion darkly brilliant; but there was a haughty, contemptuous expression in his large, prominent, selfish-looking eyes, which sent a chill to my heart. Glittering and glassy, they sparkled like ice—clear, sarcastic and repelling—and oh, how cold! The glance of that eye made me silent in a moment. It fascinated like the eye of a snake. I continued to shiver and stare at him, as long as its scornful gaze remained riveted upon my face. I felt a kindred feeling springing up in my heart—a feeling of defiance and resistance which would fain return hatred for hatred, scorn for scorn; and never in after-life could I meet the searching look of that stern cold eye, without experiencing the same outward abhorrence and inward revulsion.
He took my hand, and turning me round, examined my countenance with critical minuteness, neither moved by my childish indignation nor my tears. "A strong-limbed straight-made fellow, this. I did not think that Edward could be the father of such an energetic-looking boy. He's like his grandfather, and if I mistake not, will be just as obstinate and self-sustained."
"A true Moncton," returned his companion, a coarse-featured, vulgar-looking man, with a weak, undecided, but otherwise kindly countenance. "You will not be able to bend that young one to your purpose."
A bitter smile was the reply, and a fixed stare from those terribly bright eyes.
"Poor child! He's very unfortunate," continued the same speaker. "I pity him from my very soul!" He placed his large hand kindly upon my head, and drawing me between his knees held up my face and kissed me with an air of parental tenderness. Touched by the unexpected caress, I clasped my arms about his neck, and hid my face in his bosom. He flung himself into a large chair, and lifted me upon his knee.
"You seem to have taken a fancy to the boy," said my uncle, in the same sarcastic tone. "Suppose you adopt him as your son. I would gladly be rid of him for ever; and would pay well for his change of name and country. Is it a bargain?" and he grasped his companion by the shoulder.
"No. I will not incur the responsibility. I have done too much against the poor child already. Besides, a man with ten children has no need of adopting the child of a stranger. Providence has thrown him into your hands, Robert Moncton; and whether for good or evil, I beseech you to treat the lad kindly for his father's sake."
"Well, well, I must, I see, make the best of a bad bargain. But, Walters, you could so easily take him with you to America. He has no friends by his mother's side, to make any stir about his disappearance. Under your name his identity will never be recognized, and it would be taking a thorn out of my side."
"To plant it in my own heart. The child must remain with you."
I did not pay very particular attention to this conversation at the time, but after events recalled it vividly to my recollection.
The undertaker put an end to the conference by informing the gentlemen that "all was ready, and the hearse was about to move forward." My nurse placed me in a mourning coach, beside my uncle and his companion, in order that I might form part of that dismal procession, to the nearest cemetery. I shall never forget the impression that solemn scene made on my mind. My first ideas of death and decay were formed whilst standing beside my mother's grave. There my heart received its first life-lesson; and owned its first acquaintanceship with grief—the ideal vanished, and the hard, uncompromising real took its place.
After the funeral was over, I accompanied my Uncle Robert to his house in Hatton Garden. At the door we parted with Mr. Walters, and many years elapsed, before I saw his face again.
MY AUNT REBECCA.
Mrs. Moncton welcomed the poor orphan with kindness. She was a little, meek-looking woman; with a sweet voice, and a very pale face. She might have been pretty when young, but my boyish impression was that she was very plain. By the side of her tall, stern partner, she looked the most delicate, diminutive creature in the world; and her gentle, timid manner made the contrast appear greater than it really was.
"God bless you! my poor child," said she, lifting me up in her arms and wiping the tears from my face. "You are young, indeed, to be left an orphan."
I clasped her neck and sobbed aloud. The sound of her voice reminded me of my mother, and I began to comprehend dimly all I had lost.
"Rebecca," said my uncle, in a deep, clear voice, "you must not spoil the boy. There is no need of this display."
His wife seemed as much under the influence of his eye as myself. She instantly released me from her arms, and quietly placed me in a chair beside the fire, and in the presence of her husband, she took no more notice of me than she would have done of one of the domestic animals about the house. Yet, her eyes rested upon me with motherly kindness, and she silently took care to administer liberally to all my wants; and when she did speak, it was in such a soft, soothing tone, that I felt that she was my friend, and loved her with my whole heart.
My uncle was a domestic tyrant—cruel, exacting, and as obstinate as a mule; yet, she contrived to live with him on friendly terms; the only creature in the world, I am fully persuaded, who did not hate him. Married, as she had been, for money, and possessing few personal advantages, it was wonderful the influence she had over him in her quiet way. She never resisted his authority, however harshly enforced; and often stood between him and his victims, diverting his resentment without appearing to oppose his will. If there existed in his frigid breast one sentiment of kindness for any human creature, I think it was for her.
With women he was no favourite. He had no respect for the sex, and I question whether he was ever in love in his life. If he had ever owned a tender passion, it must have been in very early youth, before his heart got hardened and iced in the world. My aunt seemed necessary to his comfort, his convenience, his vanity: however he might be disliked by others he was certain of her fidelity and attachment. His respect for her was the one bright spot in his character, and even that was tarnished by a refined system of selfishness.
The only comfort I enjoyed during my cheerless childhood, I derived from her silent attention to my wants and wishes, which she gratified as far as she dared, without incurring the jealous displeasure of her exacting husband.
In private, Mrs. Moncton always treated me as her own child. She unlocked the fountains of natural affection, which my uncle's harshness had sealed, and love gushed forth. I dearly loved her, and longed to call her mother; but she forbade all outward demonstration of my attachment, which she assured me would not only be very offensive to Mr. Moncton, but would draw down his displeasure upon us both.
The hours I spent with my good aunt were few: I only saw her at meals, and on the Sabbath-day, when I accompanied her to church, and spent the whole day with her and her only son—a cross, peevish boy, some four years older than myself—but of him anon. During the winter, she always sent for me into the parlour, during the dark hour between dinner and tea, when I recited to her the lessons I had learned with my cousin's tutor during the day. My uncle was always absent at that hour, and these were precious moments to the young heart, which knew no companionship, and pined for affection and sympathy.
My worthy aunt! it is with heartfelt gratitude I pay this slight tribute to your memory. But for your gentle love and kind teachings, I might have become as cold and tyrannical as your harsh lord—as selfish and unfeeling as your unnatural son.
How I delighted to sit by your side, in the warm, red light of a cheerful fire, in that large, dusky room, and hold your small white hand in mine, while I recounted to you all the beautiful and shadowy reminiscences of my happy infancy—to watch the pensive smile steal over your lips, as I described the garden in which I played, the dear little white bed in which I slept, and where my own dear mother nightly knelt beside me, to hear me repeat my simple prayers and hymns, before she kissed and blessed me, and left me to the protecting care of the great Father in Heaven.
"Ah!" I exclaimed one evening, while sitting at my aunt's feet, "why did she die and leave me for ever? I am nobody's child. Other little boys have kind mothers to love them, but I am alone in the world. Aunt, let me be your boy—your own dear little boy, and I will love you almost as well as I did my poor mamma!"
The good woman caught me to her heart, tears were streaming down her kind, benevolent face, she kissed me passionately, as she sobbed out,
"Geoffrey, you will never know how much I love you—more, my poor boy, than I dare own. But rest assured that you shall never want a mother's love while I live."
Well and conscientiously did she perform her promise. She has long been dead, but time will never efface from my mind a tender recollection of her kindness. Since I arrived at man's estate, I have knelt beside her grave, and moistened the turf which enfolds that warm, noble heart with grateful tears.
She had, as I before stated, one son—the first-born and only survivor of a large family. This boy was a great source of anxiety to his mother; a sullen, unmanageable, ill-tempered child. Cruel and cowardly, he united with the cold, selfish disposition of the father, a jealous, proud and vindictive spirit peculiarly his own. It was impossible to keep on friendly terms with Theophilus Moncton: he was always taking affronts, and ever on the alert to dispute and contradict every word or opinion advanced by another. He would take offence at every look and gesture, which he fancied derogatory to his dignity; and if you refused to speak to him, he considered that you did not pay him proper respect—that you slighted and insulted him.
He was afraid of his father, for whom he entertained little esteem or affection; and to his gentle mother he was always surly and disobedient; ridiculing her maternal admonitions, and thwarting and opposing her commands, because he knew that his opposition pained and annoyed her.
Me—he hated; and not only told me so to my face, both in public and private, but encouraged the servants to treat me with insolence and neglect. This class of individuals are seldom actuated by high and generous motives; and anxious to court the favour of their wealthy master's heir, they soon found that the best way to worm themselves into his good graces, was to treat me with disrespect. The taunts and blows of my tyrannical cousin, though hard to bear, never wounded me so keenly as the sneers and whispered remarks of these worldly, low-bred domestics. Their conduct clenched the iron of dependence into my very soul.
It was vain for my aunt to remonstrate with her son on his ungenerous conduct: her authority with him was a mere cipher, he had his father upon his side, and for my aunt's sake, I forebore to complain.
My uncle did not send us to school, but engaged a young man of humble birth, but good classical attainments, to act in the capacity of tutor to his son, and as an act of especial favour, which fact was duly impressed upon me from day to day, I was allowed the benefit of his instructions.
Mr. Jones, though a good practical teacher, was a weak, mean creature, possessing the very soul of a sneak. He soon discovered that the best way to please his elder pupil was to neglect and treat me ill. He had been engaged on a very moderate salary to teach one lad, and he was greatly annoyed when Mr. Moncton introduced me into his presence, coldly remarking, "that I was an orphan son of his brother—a lad thrown upon his charity, and it would add very little to Mr. Jones's labours to associate me with Theophilus in his studies."
Mr. Jones was poor and friendless, and had to make his own way in the world. He dared not resent the imposition, for fear of losing his situation, and while outwardly he cheerfully acquiesced in Mr. Moncton's proposition, he conceived a violent prejudice against me, as being the cause of it.
He was spiteful, irritable, narrow-minded man; and I soon found that any attempt to win his regard, or conciliate him, was futile: he had made up his mind to dislike me, and he did so with a hearty good will which no attention or assiduity on my part could overcome.
Theophilus, who, like his father, professed a great insight into character, read that of his instructor at a glance; and despised him accordingly. But Theophilus was vain and fond of admiration, and could not exist without satellites to move around him, and render him their homage as to a superior luminary. He was a magnificent paymaster to his sneaks; and bound them to him with the strongest of all ties—his purse-strings.
Mr. Moncton, allowed this lad a handsome sum monthly for his own private expenses; and fond as he was of money, he never inquired of the haughty arrogant boy, the manner in which he disposed of his pocket-money. He might save or spend it as inclination prompted—he considered it a necessary outlay to give his son weight and influence with others; and never troubled himself about it again.
Theophilus soon won over Mr. Jones to his interest, by a few judicious presents; while he fostered his dislike to me, by informing him of circumstances regarding my birth and family, with which I never became acquainted until some years afterwards. At this distance of time, I can almost forgive Mr. Jones, for the indifference and contempt he felt for his junior pupil.
Influenced by these feelings, he taught me as little as he could; but I had a thirst for knowledge, and he could not hinder me from listening and profiting by his instructions to my cousin. Fortunately for me, Theophilus did not possess either a brilliant or inquiring mind. Learning was very distasteful to him; and Mr. Jones had to repeat his instructions so often, that it enabled me to learn them by heart. Mr. Jones flattered and coaxed his indolent pupil; but could not induce him to take any interest in his studies, so that I soon shot far ahead of him, greatly to the annoyance of both master and pupil; the former doing his best to throw every impediment in my way.
I resented the injustice of this conduct with much warmth, and told him, "that I would learn in spite of him; I had mastered the first rudiments of Latin and Mathematics, and I could now teach myself all I wanted to know."
This boast was rather premature. I found the task of self-instruction less easy than I anticipated. I was in Mr. Jones's power—and he meanly withheld from me the books necessary to my further advancement. I now found myself at a stand-still. I threatened Mr. Jones that I would complain to my uncle of his unjustifiable conduct. The idea seemed greatly to amuse him and my cousin—they laughed in my face, and dared me to make the experiment.
I flew to my aunt.
She told me to be patient and conceal my resentment; and she would supply the books and stationery I required, from her own purse.
I did not like this. I was a blunt straight-forward boy; and I thought that my aunt was afraid to back me in what I knew to be right. I told her so.
"True, Geoffrey. But in this house it is useless to oppose force to force. Your only safe course is non-resistance."
"That plan I never can adopt. It is truckling to evil, aunt. No ultimate good can spring from it."
"But great trouble and pain may be avoided, Geoffrey."
"Aunt, I will not submit to Mr. Jones's mean tyranny; I feel myself aggrieved; I must speak out and have it off my mind. I will go this instant to Mr. Moncton and submit the case to him."
"Incur his displeasure—no trifle at any time, Geoffrey—and have Theophilus and Mr. Jones laughing at you. They can tell your uncle what story they please: and which is he most likely to believe, your statement or theirs?"
"He is a clever man. Let them say what they like, it is not so easy to deceive him; he will judge for himself. He would know that I was in the right, even if he did not choose to say so; and that would be some satisfaction, although he might take their part."
My aunt was surprised at my boldness; she looked me long and earnestly in the face.
"Geoffrey, your argument is the best. Honesty is the right policy, after all. I wish I had moral courage to act up to it at all times. But, my dear boy, when you are the slave of a violent and deceitful man, your only chance for a quiet life is to fight him with his own weapons."
"Wrong again, aunt," I cried vehemently. "That would make me as had as him. No, no, that plan would not do for me. I should betray myself every minute, and become contemptible in his eyes and my own. It strikes me, although I am but a boy of twelve, and know little of the world, that the only real chance you have with such men is, to show them that you are not afraid of them. They are all cowards, aunt; they will yield to courage which they feel to be superior to their own. So much I have learnt from the experience of the last four years."
Aunt made no reply; she smiled sadly and kindly upon me, and her tacit approval sent me directly to my uncle. He was in his private office. I knocked gently at the door.
I did so; and there I stood, not a little confused and perplexed before him, with flushed cheeks and a fast-throbbing heart. It was the first complaint I had ever made to him in my life—the first time I had ever dared to enter his sanctum sanctorum; and I remained tongue-tied upon the threshold, without knowing how to begin. I thought he would have looked me down. I felt the blood receding from my face beneath his cold gaze, as he said—
"Geoffrey, what do you want here?"
"I came, sir," I at last faltered out, "to make a complaint against Mr. Jones."
"I never listen to complaints brought by a pupil against his teacher," he cried, in a voice which made me recoil over the door-step. "Be gone, sir! If you come into my presence again on such an errand, I will spurn you from the room."
This speech, meant to intimidate me, restored my courage. I felt the hot blood rush to my face in a fiery flood.
"Hear me, sir. Did not you place me under his care in order that I might learn?"
"And you refuse to do so?"
"No, sir: the reverse is the case: he refuses to teach me, and deprives me of my books, so that I cannot teach myself."
"A very probable tale," sneered Mr. Moncton; then rising from the table at which he was seated, he cried out hastily, "Is Mr. Jones in the study?"
"Then, my new client, come along with me. I will soon learn the truth of your case."
He clutched me by the arm, which he grasped so tightly that I could scarcely resist a cry of pain, and hurried me out. In the study we found Theophilus and Mr. Jones: the one lounging on two chairs, the other smoking a cigar and reading a novel. Mr. Moncton stood for a moment in the door-way, regarding the pair with his peculiar glance.
"Gentlemen, you seem pleasantly and profitably employed!"
"Our morning tasks are concluded," said Theophilus, returning the stare of scrutiny with a steady lie. "'Too much work would make Jack a dull boy.'"
His father smiled grimly. How well he understood the character of his son.
"Here is a lad, Mr. Jones, who complains that you not only refuse to teach him, but deprive him of his books."
"He tells the truth, sir," returned that worthy, casting upon me a spiteful, sidelong glance, which seemed to say more eloquently than words, "You shall see, master Geoffrey, what you'll get by tale-bearing. I'll match you yet." "I have withheld his books, and refused my instructions for the past week, as a punishment for his insolent and disrespectful conduct to your son and me; to say nothing of his impertinent speeches regarding you, sir, who are his guardian and benefactor."
"Do you hear that—sir!" said my uncle, giving me a violent blow on my cheek, and flinging me from him. "When next you come to me with such tales, you shall not leave your bed for a week."
I sprang from the floor, where his blow had sent me; and stood erect before him. It was a pigmy confronting a giant; but my blood was boiling. I had lost all control over myself. "It's a lie!" I cried, shaking my fist at Mr. Jones. "A monstrous falsehood! He knows it is. Theophilus knows it is. I have been falsely accused and unjustly punished; I will remember that blow to my dying day. I will never forget nor forgive it."
"And who cares, my hero, for your impotent rage?" My uncle seized me by my thick curling hair, and turned round my face, hot with passion and streaming with tears of rage, to the gaze of my sneering enemies. "I will make you know, that you are in my house and in my power—and you shall submit to my authority, and the authority of those I choose to place over you."
I struggled desperately in his herculean grasp in order to free myself. He laughed at my impotent rage and then threw me on the floor—and this time, I was quiet enough.
When I recovered my senses, I found myself lying upon the bed in the garret, allotted to my use. My aunt was sitting beside me, bathing my temples with vinegar and water. "Oh, aunt," I sighed, closing my eyes, "I wish I were dead!"
"Hush! Geoffrey. You brought this on yourself. I told you how it would be."
"It was so unjust," I replied with bitterness.
"And you were so rash. You will be wiser another time."
"When I am as wicked as my persecutors."
"No need of quoting others, my son, while you suffer such violent passions to master you. Listen to me, my child. I have known your uncle for years—have seen him in his darkest and stormiest moods; and contrived to live peaceably with him. Nay, he respects me more than he does any one else in the world. But I never opposed his will. He is not a man to be trifled with—tears and complaints are useless. You cannot touch his heart. He will be obeyed. Left to himself, he may become your friend, and even treat you with a certain degree of kindness and consideration. But if you anger him, he will never forgive, and can be a dreadful enemy. If you love me, Geoffrey, follow my advice and submit to his authority with a good grace."
"I will try not to hate him for your dear sake. I can promise no more!"
I kissed her hand and fell back exhausted on my pillow. My head ached dreadfully from the ill-treatment I had received; and wounded pride made my heart very sore. It was only on her account that I could control the deadly and revengeful feelings I cherished against him. Theophilus and Mr. Jones, I considered beneath contempt.
A CHANGE IN MY PROSPECTS.
The next day, I was surprised at receiving a message from Mr. Moncton desiring me to attend him in his private office. I went to him in fear and trembling. I was ill, nervous and dispirited, and cared very little as to what in future might become of me.
I found him all smiles and affability. "Geoffrey," said he, holding out his hand, as I entered, "I trust you have received a useful lesson. You will be wise to lay it to heart. Mr. Jones tells me that you write a good bold hand. Give me a specimen of it. Sit down at the table, and direct that letter to Messieurs Hanbury and Company, Liverpool."
I did as I was commanded, but my hand trembled with excitement: I found some difficulty in steadying the pen. He took the letter and looked at it carefully, muttering as he did so—
"How like my father's hand. Ay, and how like in obstinacy of purpose; more like him in every respect than his own sons." Then turning to me, who was lost in wonder at this sudden change in his manner towards me, he said, "This is well; you write a fair, legible hand for a boy. I want a lad in my office to copy writs and other law papers. I think you will just do for that purpose. If you are diligent and industrious, after two years trial, I will article you to myself. How old are you?"
"Thirteen, next August."
"It is young; but you are tall and manly for your age. You and Theophilus are never likely to agree; it is best for you to be apart. You have no fortune of your own. I will give you a profession, and make an independent man of you, if you will try for the future to be a docile and obedient boy."
I promised to do my best. He then bade me follow him, and leading the way through a narrow arched passage, he introduced me into the public office, where the large business in which he was engaged was carried on. Though I had been four years in the house, I had never seen the inside of this office before. It was a spacious, dark, dirty, apartment, lighted by high, narrow windows of ground glass; so that no time could be wasted by the junior clerks in looking out into the street. Several pale, melancholy men were seated at desks, hard at work. You heard nothing but the rapid scratching of their pens against the parchment and paper on which they were employed. When Mr. Moncton entered the office, a short, stout, middle-aged man swung himself round on his high stool and fronted us; but the moment he recognized his superior, he rose respectfully to receive him.
Mr. Moncton took him apart, and they entered into a deep and earnest conversation: of which, I am certain, from the significant glances which, from time to time, they directed towards me, I formed the principal topic.
At length the conference was over, and my uncle left the office without giving me a parting word or glance. When he was fairly out of hearing, all the clerks gathered round me.
"Who is he?"
"Mr. Moncton's nephew," was the short man's reply to the eager questioners.
"Is he sent here to be a spy?"
"To learn the profession."
"That babe! Is the man mad. It will kill the child to chain him to the desk all day."
"Poor fellow; he is the orphan son of his brother," said another. "I have seen him at church with Mrs. Moncton."
"Well, Robert Moncton is a hard man," said a third.
"Hush! gentlemen," interposed Mr. Bassett, the senior clerk. "It is not right to make such remarks in the lad's hearing. Mr. Moncton doubtless does for the best. Come, my little fellow, you and I must be good friends. Your uncle has placed you under my charge, to initiate you into all the mysteries of the law. I have no doubt we shall get on famously together. But you must be diligent and work hard. Your uncle hates idlers; he is a strict master, but one of the ablest lawyers in London. Let me tell you, that to be articled to him is a fortune in itself."
A far-off, indistinct hope of freedom through this channel, presented itself to my bewildered mind. I thanked Mr. Bassett warmly for his proffered aid, and told him that I would do my best to deserve his good opinion.
From that day, I became an office drudge, condemned to copy the same unintelligible, uninteresting law forms, from early morning until late at night. Mr. Bassett, a quiet, methodical, business man, was kind in his own peculiar way. He had a large family, and perhaps felt a paternal sympathy in my early introduction to the labours and cares of life. He often commended my diligence, and mentioned me in very handsome terms to Mr. Moncton; but from that gentleman I never received a word of praise—weeks and months often passed without his speaking to me. I was even debarred from spending with my dear aunt that blessed twilight-hour, which had proved the chief solace of my weary life.
Constant confinement to that close office preyed upon my health and spirits. I became fretful and irritable, the colour left my cheeks, and my eyes looked dull and heavy. The clerks, generally kind to me, all pitied me, though they dared not openly show their regard. They brought me presents of fruit and sweet-meats, and one who lived in the suburbs used to delight my heart, every now and then, with a rich bouquet of flowers. Their beauty and perfume brought back a glimpse of the old times—dim visions of lawns and gardens, of singing-birds and humming-bees; of a fair smiling creature who led me by the hand through those bowers of enchantment, and called me her Geoffrey—her darling boy.
When such thoughts came over me, my hand trembled, and I could not see the parchment I was copying through my tears; but for all that, the sight of the flowers was always inexpressibly dear, and I prized them beyond every other gift.
I had been about eighteen months in the office, when my good Aunt Rebecca died—an event sudden and unexpected by all. I was allowed to see her in her last moments; to sob out my full heart by her death-bed. Her last words were an earnest request to her husband to be kind to poor Geoffrey, for her sake: she died—and I felt myself alone and friendless in the world.
THE SORROWS OF DEPENDENCE.
My heart sickens over this dreary portion of my life. I have heard childhood called the happiest season of life. To me it had few joys. It was a gloomy period of mental suffering and bodily fatigue; of unnatural restraint and painful probation.
The cold, authoritative manner of my uncle, at all times irksome and repelling, after the death of his good wife became almost insupportable; while the insolence and presumption of his artful son, goaded a free and irascible spirit like mine almost to madness. The moral force of his mother's character, though unappreciated by him, had been some restraint upon his unamiable, tyrannical temper. That restraint was now removed, and Theophilus considered that my dependent situation gave him a lawful right to my services, and had I been a workhouse apprentice in his father's house, he could not have given his commands with an air of more pointed insolence. My obstinate resistance to his authority, and my desperate struggles to emancipate myself from his control, produced a constant war of words between us; and if I appealed to my uncle, I was sure to get the worst of it. He did not exactly encourage his son in this ungenerous line of conduct, but his great maxim was to divide and rule; to exact from all who were dependent upon him, the most uncompromising obedience to his arbitrary will; and he laughed at my remonstrances, and turned my indignation into ridicule.
I was daily reminded, particularly before strangers, of the domestic calamities which had made me dependent upon his cold, extorted charity; while I was reproached with my want of gratitude to a cruel master.
Passion and wounded pride drew from me burning tears. I felt that I was growing fierce and hard like my persecutors, and my conscience, yet tender, deplored the lamentable change. My heart, crushed beneath the sense of injustice and unmerited neglect, was closed against the best feelings of humanity, and I regarded my fellow men with aversion and mistrust.
These bitter and desponding feelings deprived my nights of rest—my days, of hope. When the morning came and I took my stand at the accursed desk, I wished the day gone; and when night released me from the abhorrent task, and I sought my humble garret, I sat for hours at the open window, brooding over my wrongs.
The moonbeams glittered in the tears that anguish wrung from my upturned eyes. The stars seemed to look down upon me with compassionate earnestness. Sometimes my young spirit, carried away by the intense love I felt for those beautiful eyes of heaven, forgot for awhile the sorrows and cares of life and soared far, far away to seek for sympathy and affection in those unknown regions of light and purity.
I had few opportunities of religious instruction in this truly Godless household. My uncle never attended church when he could avoid the obligation, and then, only to keep up appearances—a religion of the world; in which the heart had no part. There was always a Bible in the office, but it was never used but in the way of business to administer oaths. Whenever I had a moment's leisure I had turned over the pages with eager and mysterious curiosity, but the knowledge that should have brought peace and comfort, and reconciled me to my dreary lot, not being sought for in the right spirit, added to my present despondency, the dread of future punishment.
Oh, that awful fear of Hell. How it darkened with its unholy shadow, all that was bright and beautiful in the lower world. I had yet to learn, that perfect love casteth out fear, that the great Father punishes but to reform, and is ever more willing to save than to condemn. I dared not seek Him, lest I should hear the terrible denunciation thundered against the wicked: "Depart from me, ye cursed!"
A firm trust in His protecting care would have been a balm for every wound which festered and rankled at my heart's core. Had the Christian's hope been mine, I should no longer have pined under that dreary sense of utter loneliness, which for many years paralyzed all mental exertions, or nurtured in my breast the stern unforgiving temper which made me regard my persecutors with feelings of determined hate.
Residing in the centre of the busy metropolis, and at an age when the heart sighs for social communion with its fellows, and imagines, with the fond sincerity of inexperienced youth, a friend in every agreeable companion, I was immured among old parchments and dusty records, and seldom permitted to mingle with the guests who frequented my uncle's house, unless my presence was required to sign some official document.
Few persons suspected that the shabbily-dressed silent youth who obeyed Mr. Moncton's imperious mandates was his nephew—the only son of an elder brother; consequently I was treated as nobody by his male visitors, and never noticed at all by the ladies.
This was mortifying enough to a tall lad of eighteen, who already fancied himself a man: who, though meanly dressed, and sufficiently awkward, had enough of vanity in his composition to imagine that his person would create an interest in his behalf and atone for all other deficiencies, at least in the eyes of the gentler sex—those angels, who seen at a distance, were daily becoming objects of admiration and worship.
Alas! Poor Geoffrey. Thou didst not know in that thy young day the things pertaining to thy peace. Thou didst not suspect in thy innocence how the black brand of poverty can deform the finest face, and dim the brightest intellect in the eyes of the world.
Among all my petty trials there were none which I felt more keenly than having to wear the cast-off clothes of my cousin. He was some years older, but his frame was slighter and shorter than mine, and his garments did not fit me in any way. The coat sleeves were short and tight, and the trowsers came half-way up my legs. The figure I cut in these unsuitable garments was so ludicrous that it was a standing joke among the clerks in the office.
"When you step into your cousin's shoes, Geoffrey, we hope they will suit you better than his clothes."
I could have been happy in the coarsest fustian or corderoy garment which I knew was my own. I believe Robert Moncton felt a malicious pleasure in humbling me in the eyes of his people.
My uncle had fulfilled his promise, and I had been articled to him when I completed my fourteenth year; and I now eagerly looked forward to my majority, when I should be free to quit his employ, and seek a living in the world.
My time had been so completely engaged in copying law papers, that I had not been able to pay much attention to the higher branches of the profession; and when night came, and I was at length released from the desk, I was so over-powered by fatigue that I felt no inclination to curtail the blessed hours of sleep by reading dull law books. Yet, upon this all-important knowledge, which I was neglecting, rested my chance of independence.
My cousin Theophilus was pursuing his studies at Oxford, and rarely visited home, but spent his vacations with some wealthy relatives in Yorkshire. This was a happy time for me; for of all my many trials his presence was the greatest. Even Mr. Moncton was more civil to me in the absence of his hopeful heir.
Thus time glided on until I was twenty years of age, and full six feet in height, and I could no longer wear the cast-off suits of my cousin. Mr. Moncton, in common decency, was at length obliged to order my clothes of his tailor; but he took good care that they should be of the coarsest description, and of the most unfashionable cut. The first suit which was made expressly for me, ridiculous as it must appear to my readers, gave me infinite satisfaction. I felt proud and happy of the acquisition.
The afternoon of that memorable day, my uncle sent for me into the drawing-room to witness the transfer of some law papers. His clients were two ladies, young and agreeable. While I was writing from Mr. Moncton's dictation, I perceived, with no small degree of trepidation, that the younger was regarding me with earnest attention; and in spite of myself my cheeks flushed and my hand trembled. After my part of the business was concluded Mr. Moncton told me to withdraw. As I left the room, I heard Miss Mary Beaumont say, in a low voice to her sister—my uncle having stepped into the adjoining apartment:
"What a handsome young man! Who is he?"
"Oh, the clerk, of course."
"He looks a gentleman."
"A person of no consequence, by his shabby dress and awkward manners."
I closed the door, and walked hastily away. How I despised the new suit, of which a few minutes before I had felt so proud. The remarks of the younger lady tingled in my ears for weeks. She had considered me worth looking at, in spite of my unfashionable garments; and I blessed her for the amiable condescension, and thought her in return as beautiful as an angel. I never saw her again—but I caught myself scribbling her name on my desk, and I covered many sheets of waste paper with indifferent rhymes in her praise.
This confession may call up a smile on the lip of the reader, and I am content that he should accuse me of vanity. But these were the first words of commendation which had ever reached my ears from the lips of woman, and though I have since laughed heartily at the deep impression they made on my mind, they produced a beneficial effect at the time, and helped to reconcile me to my lot.
It was about this period, that Mr. Bassett left the office, and went into the profession on his own account. The want of means, and an imprudent marriage in early life, had hindered him from entering it sooner. For twenty years he had worked as a clerk, when he was fully qualified to have been the head of the firm. The death of an uncle who left him a small property unchained him from the oar, and as he said, "made a man of him at last."
Poor little man. I shall never forget his joy when he got that important letter. He sprang from his desk, upsetting the high stool in his haste, and shook hands with us all round, laughing and crying alternately.
He was a great favourite in the office, and we all rejoiced in his good fortune, though I felt sincerely grieved at parting with him. He had been a kind friend to me when I had no friends; and I had spent some quiet, happy evenings with him at his humble lodgings, in the company of a very pretty and amiable wife. My occasional visit to him was the only indulgence I had ever been allowed, and these visits were not permitted to be of too frequent recurrence.
He saw how much I was affected at bidding him good-by.
"Geoffrey," said he, taking me by the hand and drawing me aside: "one word with you before we part. I know your attachment for me is sincere. Believe me, the feeling is reciprocated in its fullest extent. Your uncle is not your friend. Few men act wickedly without a motive. He has his own reasons for treating you as he does. I cannot enter into particulars here. Nor would I, even if time and opportunity warranted, for it would do no good. Keep your eyes open, your head clear—your temper cool, and your tongue silent, and you will see and learn much without the interference of a second person. I am going to open an office in Nottingham, my native town, and if ever you want a friend in the hour of need, come to Josiah Bassett in the full confidence of affection, and I will help you."
This speech roused all my curiosity. I pressed him eagerly to tell me all he knew respecting me and my uncle, but he refused to satisfy my earnest inquiries.
The departure of Mr. Bassett, which I regarded as a calamity, proved one of the most fortunate events in my life.
His place was supplied by a gentleman of the name of Harrison, who was strongly recommended to Mr. Moncton by his predecessor as an excellent writer, a man well versed in the law, sober and industrious, and in whose integrity he might place the utmost reliance. He had no wish to enter into the profession, but only sought to undertake the management of the office as head clerk.
Mr. Moncton was a man who never associated himself with a partner, and regarded despotic rule as the only one that deserved the name.
When Mr. Harrison was introduced in propria persona he did not seem to realize his employer's expectations—who, from Mr. Bassett's description, had evidently looked for an older and more methodical person, and was disappointed in the young and interesting individual who presented himself. But as he required only a moderate salary for his services, he was engaged on trial for the next three months.
George Harrison was not distinguished by any remarkable talents; or endowed with that aspiring genius which forces its way through every obstacle, and places the possessor above the ordinary mass with whom he is daily forced to associate. Yet, his was no common character; no every-day acquaintance, with whom we may spend a pleasant hour, and care not if we ever meet again in our journey through life.
The moment he entered the office my heart was drawn towards him by an irresistible, mysterious impulse, so that looking upon him I became attached to him, and felt confident that the friend whom I had ardently wished to obtain for so many hopeless years, was now before me.
This impression was strengthened by the simple, unaffected, frank manner in which he met the advances of the other clerks. There was a charm in his smile, in the rich tones of his deep, mellow voice, which made me anxious to catch the one, and hear the other again, though both were marked by quiet, subdued sadness.
His face, strictly speaking, could not be called handsome; and his general appearance was more remarkable for a refined and gentlemanly demeanour, than for anything particularly striking in form or feature. A good head, fine intelligent hazel eyes, and a profusion of curling dark brown hair, redeemed his countenance from mediocrity; but its careworn, anxious expression, showed too clearly, that some great life-sorrow, had blighted the early promise of youth and hope.
It was some days before I had an opportunity of becoming better acquainted with him. We were preparing for the spring assizes, and there was work enough in the office to have employed twice the number of hands. Nothing was heard but the scratching of pens upon paper, from early day until midnight.
At last the hurry was over, and we had more leisure to look about us. Mr. Moncton was attending a circuit in the country, and his watchful eye was no longer upon us. The clerks were absent at dinner; Mr. Harrison and I were alone in the office, which he never left till six, when he returned to his lodgings in Charlotte Street to dine; and unless there happened to be a great stress of business which required his presence, we saw him no more that night.
After regarding me for some minutes with an earnest scrutiny which, impulsive creature that I was, almost offended me, he said—
"Am I mistaken, or is your name really Moncton?"
"Really and truly, Geoffrey Moncton, at your service. What made you doubt the fact?"
"I had always heard that Robert Moncton had but one son."
"Surely there is enough of the breed, without your wishing to affiliate me upon him. I flatter myself that we do not in the least resemble each other. And as to the name, I have so little respect for it, for his sake, that I wish some one would leave me a fortune to change it; for, between ourselves, I have small reason to love it. He is my uncle—my father's younger brother—and I find the relationship near enough."
This explanation led to a brief sketch of my painful, though uneventful history, to which Mr. Harrison listened with an air of such intense interest that, though it flattered my vanity, not a little surprised me. When I concluded, he grasped my hand firmly, muttering to himself—
"It is like him—just like him. The infernal scoundrel!"
"What do you know about him?" said I, astonished at the excited state into which my revelations had thrown him.
"Only too much," he responded, with a heavy sigh; and sinking back in his chair, pressed his hands to his head, like one who wished to shut out painful recollections, while I continued to grasp his arm and stare at him in blank amazement. At length, rousing himself, he said with a faint smile,—
"Don't make big eyes at me, Geoffrey. I cannot tell you all you wish to know. At some other time, and in some other place, I will repay the confidence you have reposed in me, and satisfy your queries; but not here—not in the lion's den."
"For heaven's sake! don't keep silent now," I cried. "You have roused my curiosity to such a pitch, that I shall go mad if you hold your tongue. You must speak out."
"I must not, if, by so doing, I ruin your prospects and my own. Be satisfied, Geoffrey, that I am your friend; that henceforth I will regard you as a brother, and do all in my power to lighten and shorten your present bondage."
The generous assurance he gave me of a warm and affectionate sympathy in my destiny, nearly atoned for twenty years of sorrow and degradation. The intense desire I felt to deserve his esteem, made me anxious to cultivate my mind, which I had suffered to lie waste. Harrison kindly offered his aid, and supplied me with books. I now devoted myself with zeal to the task. For the first time I had a motive for exertion; I no longer vegetated; I had a friend, and my real life commenced from that day. I set apart two hours each night for reading and study, and soon felt a keen relish for the employment.
"In these lie your best hope of independence, Geoffrey," said my kind friend, laying his hand upon a pile of books, which, for lack of a table, he placed upon the truck-bed in my mean garret. Then seating himself beside me on the shabby couch, he proceeded to examine, by the light of a miserable tallow-candle, a translation I had been making from the Orations of Cicero.
"With your talents, Geoffrey, you need not fear the tyranny of any man. It will be your own fault if you do not rise in the profession you have chosen."
"The choice was none of mine."
"Then be grateful to your uncle for once, in having chosen it for you."
"Do not expect impossibilities!" and I smiled bitterly.
"Not exactly. Yet, Geoffrey, many things which appear at first sight impossible, only require a series of persevering efforts to become both easy and practicable. You might render your unpleasant position with your uncle more tolerable, by yielding to his authority with a better grace. The constant opposition you make to his wishes, is both useless and dangerous. Though you neither love nor respect him, and I should be sorry if you could do either, yet he is entitled to obedience and a certain degree of deference as your guardian and master."
"I never can willingly obey him," I cried, angrily, "or bring my mind to submit to his authority."
"In which, I assure you as a friend, you are wrong. As long as his commands do not interfere with any moral obligation, you are bound to listen to them with respect."
"The man has always been my enemy, and would you have me become a passive instrument in his hands?"
"Certainly, as long as you remain his clerk, and he does not require your aid in any villainous transaction. If his intentions towards you are evil, you cannot frustrate them better than by doing your duty. Believe me, Geoffrey, you have a more dangerous enemy to contend with, one bound to you by nearer ties, who exercises a more pernicious influence over your mind."
"His sordid, selfish, counterpart—his worthy son?"
George shook his head.
I looked inquiringly.
"A certain impetuous, wilful, wrong-headed boy, yclept Geoffrey Moncton."
"Pish!" I exclaimed, shrugging my shoulders: "is this your friendship?"
"The best proof I can give you of it."
I walked hastily to and fro, the narrow limits of the chamber, raising, at every step, a cloud of dust from folds of old, yellow parchment and musty rolls of paper, which had accumulated there for the last half century, and lay in a pile upon the floor. I was in no humour to listen to a lecture, particularly when my own faulty temper was to be the principal subject, and form the text. Harrison watched my movements for some time in silence, with a provokingly-amused air; not in the least discouraged by my wayward mood; but evidently ready for another attack.
"Prithee, Geoffrey, leave off raising that cloud of dust, disturbing the evil spirits which have long slumbered in yon forgotten pile of professional rubbish, and sit down quietly and listen to reason."
I felt annoyed, and would not resume my place beside him, but, assuming a very stately air, seated myself opposite to my tormentor on a huge iron chest, which was the only seat, save the bed, in the room; and then, fixing my eyes reproachfully upon him, I sat as stiff as a poker, without relaxing a muscle of my face.
He laughed outright.
"You are displeased with my bluntness, Geoffrey, and I am amused with your dignity. That solemn, proud face would become the Lord Chancellor of England."
"Hold your tongue, you tormentor; I won't be laughed at in this absurd manner. What have I done to deserve such a sermon?"
"'Vanity, vanity, all is vanity, saith the preacher,' and surely, Geoffrey, your vanity exceeds all other vanity. I hint at a fault, and point it out for correction. You imagine yourself perfection, and are up in arms in a moment. Answer me, seriously: do you ever expect to settle in life?"
"I have dared to cherish the forlorn hope."
"Forlorn as it is, you are taking the best method to destroy it."
"What would you have me do?"
"Yield to circumstances."
"Become a villain?" This was said with a very tragic air.
"May Heaven forbid! I should be sorry to see you so nearly resemble your uncle. But I would have you avoid uselessly offending him; for, by constantly inflaming his mind to anger, you may ruin your own prospects, and be driven in desperation to adopt measures for obtaining a living, scarcely less dishonourable than his own."
"Go on," I cried: "it is all very well for you to talk in this philosophical strain. You have not been educated in the same bitter school with me; you have not known what it is to writhe beneath the oppressive authority of this cold, unfeeling man; you cannot understand the nature of my sufferings, or the painful humiliation I must daily endure."
He took my hand affectionately.
"Geoffrey," said he, "how do you know all this? Yours is not a profession which allows men to jump at conclusions. What can you tell of my past or present trials. What if I should say, they had been far greater and worse to bear than your own?"
"All things that have reference to sorrow and trouble, in this world, are only too possible. But I will have patience with you, my poor friend; your heart is very sore. The deadly wounds in mine are partially healed; yet, my experience of life has been bought with bitter tears;—the loss of hope, health and self-respect. I am willing that you should profit by this; and, having made this confession, will you condescend to hear my lecture to an end?"
"Oh, tell me something more about yourself. I would rather listen to your sorrows, than have my faults paraded before me."
A melancholy smile passed over his face.
"Geoffrey, what a child you are! Listen to me. You have suffered this personal dislike to your uncle and his son to overtop, like some rank weed, every better growth of your mind; to destroy your moral integrity and mental advantages; to interfere with your studies, and prevent any beneficial result which might arise from your situation as clerk in this office. Is this wise?"
I remained obstinately silent.
"You are lengthening the term of your bondage, and riveting the fetters you are so anxious to break. Does not your uncle know this? Does he not laugh at your impotent efforts to break his yoke from off your neck? In one short year your articles will expire, and you will become a free agent. But, with the little knowledge you have gained of your profession, what would liberty do for you? Would it procure for you a better situation; establish your claims as a gentleman, or fill an empty purse?"
"Let the worst come to the worst, I could work for my bread."
"Not such an easy thing as you imagine."
"With health, strength and youth on my side, what should hinder me?"
"Your uncle's influence, which is very great. The world does not know him, as we know him. He is considered an upright, honourable man. One word from him would blast your character, and keep you out of every office in London."
I felt my cheeks grow pale. I had never seen matters in this light before. Still, I would not yield to the arguments of my friend. The obstinate spirit of the Monctons was in active operation just then, and would not submit to reason.
"There are more ways of earning a living than by following the profession of the law," said I doggedly.
"To all of which you have an apprenticeship to serve. Think, Geoffrey, of the thousands of respectable young men who are looking for employment in this vast metropolis, and how few are successful; and then ask yourself, how you, without money, without friends, and with a powerful enemy to crush all your honest endeavours, and render them abortive, are likely to earn your own living."
I was struck speechless, and for the first time in my life became aware of my utter inability to extricate myself out of the net of difficulties which surrounded me.
"You are convinced at last. Look me steadily in the face, Geoffrey, and own that you are beaten. Nay, smooth that frowning brow: it makes you look like Robert Moncton. Your profession is a fortune in itself, if you persevere in acquiring it. Be not discouraged by difficulties that beset the path. A poor man's road to independence is always up-hill work. Duty fences the path on either side, and success waves her flag from the summit; but every step must be trod, often in ragged garments, and with bare feet, if we would reach the top."
I pressed George Harrison's hand, silently within my own. He had won a great victory over obstinacy and self-conceit.
From that hour my prospects brightened. I became a new creature, full of hope, activity and trust. My legal studies engaged all my leisure moments. I had no time left to brood over my wrongs. My mind had formed an estimate of its own powers; the energetic spirit which had been wasted in endless cavils and contradictions (for my temper was faulty and headstrong, and my uncle not always the aggressor) now asserted its own dignity, and furnished me with the weapon most needed in such petty warfare—self-respect. Harrison had given me a motive for exertion, and I was ashamed of having suffered my mental powers to remain so long inactive. As my mind recovered a healthy tone, my spirits rose in proportion. The thirst for improvement daily acquired new strength, while my industry not only surprised, but drew forth the commendations of my uncle.
"What has become of your churlish, morose temper, Geoffrey?" said he to me one day, at dinner; "why, boy, you are greatly changed of late. From a sulky, impertinent, vindictive lad, you have become an industrious, agreeable, pleasant fellow."
"It is never too late to mend, uncle," said I, laughing, though I did not much relish his portrait of what I had been. "My temper I found a greater punishment to myself than to others, so I thought it high time to change it for a better."
"You were perfectly right. I have a better hope for your future than I once had. I shall be able to make something out of you yet."
This unlooked-for condescension on the part of Mr. Moncton, softened the hard feelings I had long cherished against him into a more Christian-like endurance of his peculiarities; and the conscientious discharge of my own duty taught me to consider his interests as my own.
There is a period in every young man's first outset in life, which gives a colouring to his future destiny. It is the time for action, for mental and moral improvement, and the manner in which it is applied or neglected, will decide his character, or leave him weak and vacillating all the days of his life.
If this precious portion of existence be wasted in frivolous amusements, time gets the start of us, and no after-exertion will enable us to overtake him in his flight. This important era was mine; and I lost no opportunity of turning it to the best advantage. I worked early and late in the office, and made myself master of the nature of the work which employed my hands. I learned the philosophy of those law forms, which hitherto I had only copied mechanically, and looked upon as a weary task, and I soon reaped the benefit of my increased stock of knowledge. Grave men, in the absence of my uncle, often applied to me for information and advice, which I felt proud and happy in being able to supply.
Thus, I found that in serving my employer faithfully, I conferred the greatest benefit on myself; and the hours devoted to study, while they formed a pleasant recreation from the day labours of the office, were among the happiest and most sinless of my life.
I was seldom admitted into my uncle's drawing-room, and never allowed to mingle with evening parties, which, during the brief visits of Theophilus to his home, were not only frequent, but very brilliant. This I felt as a great hardship. My solitary and companionless youth had deeply imbued my mind with romance. I was fond of castle-building; I pictured to myself the world as a paradise, and fancied that I was an illustrious actor in scenes of imaginary splendour, which bore no analogy to the dull realities of my present life.
I was a dreamer of wild dreams, and suffered my enthusiasm to get the master of reason, and betray me into a thousand absurdities. My love for poetry and music was excessive. I played upon the flute by ear, and often when alone dissipated my melancholy thoughts by breathing them into the instrument.
Through this medium, Harrison became an adept at discovering the state of my feelings. "My flute told tales," he said. "It always spoke the language of my heart." Yet from him I had few concealments. He was my friend and bosom-counsellor, in whom I reposed the most unreserved confidence. But strange to say, this confidence was not mutual. There was a mystery about George which I could not fathom; a mental reservation which was tantalizing and inexplicable.
He was a gentleman in education, appearance and manners, and possessed those high and honourable feelings, which if displayed in a peasant would rank him as one, and which are inseparable from all who really deserve the title. He never spoke to me of his family—never alluded to the events of his past life, or the scenes in which his childhood had been spent. He talked of sorrow and sickness—of chastisements in the school of adversity, in general terms; but he never revealed the cause of these trials, or why a young man of his attainments was reduced to a situation so far below the station he ought to have held in society.
I was half inclined to quarrel with him for so pertinaciously concealing from me circumstances which I thought I had a right to know; and in which, when known, I was fully prepared to sympathize. A thousand times I was on the point of remonstrating with him on this undue reserve, which appeared so foreign to his frank, open nature, but feelings of delicacy restrained me.
What right had I to pry into his secrets? My impertinent curiosity might reopen wounds which time had closed. There were, doubtless, good reasons for his withholding the information I coveted.
Yet, I must confess that I had an intense curiosity—a burning desire to know the history of his past life. For many long months my wishes remained ungratified.
At this time I felt an ardent desire to see something more of life, to mingle in the gay scenes of the great world around me. Pride, however, withheld me from accepting the many pressing invitations I daily received from the clerks in the office, to join them in parties of pleasure, to the theatres and other places of public amusement. Mr. Moncton had strictly forbidden me to leave the house of an evening; but as he was often absent of a night, I could easily have evaded his commands; but I scorned to expose to strangers the meanness of my wealthy relative, by confessing that mine was an empty purse; while the thought of enjoying myself at the expense of my generous companions, was not to be tolerated for an instant. If I could not go as a gentleman, and pay my own share of the entertainment, I determined not to go at all; and these resolutions met with the entire approbation of my friend Harrison.
"Wait patiently, Geoffrey, and fortune will pay up the arrears of the long debt she owes you. It is an old and hackneyed saying, 'That riches alone, cannot confer happiness upon the possessor.'"
"My uncle and cousin are living demonstrations of the truth of the proverb. Mr. Moncton is affluent, and might enjoy all the luxuries that wealth can procure; yet he toils with as much assiduity to increase his riches, as the poorest labourer does to earn bread for his family. He can acquire, but has not the heart to enjoy—while the bad disposition of Theophilus would render him, under any circumstances, a miserable man. Yet, after all, George, in this bad world, money is power."
"Only, to a certain extent: to be happy, a man must be good; religiously, morally, physically. He must bear upon his heart the image of the Prince of Peace, before he can truly value the glorious boon of life."
"I wish I could see these things in the same calm unprejudiced light," said I; "but I find it a bitter mortification, after so many years of hard labour, to be without a penny to pay for seeing a raree-show."
Harrison laughed heartily, "You will perhaps say, that it is easy for me to preach against riches; but like the Fox in the fable, the grapes are sour. I speak, however, with indifference of the good that Providence has placed beyond my reach. Geoffrey, I was once the envied possessor of wealth, which in my case was productive of much evil."
"How did you lose such an advantage?" I eagerly exclaimed, "do tell me something of your past life?"
This was the first allusion he had made to his former circumstances; and I was determined not to let the opportunity pass unnoticed.
He seemed to guess my thoughts. "Are you anxious for a humiliating confession, of vanity, folly and prodigality? Well, Geoffrey, you shall have it; but mark me—it will only be in general terms—I cannot enter into particulars. I was born poor, and unexpectedly became rich, and like many persons in like circumstances, I was ashamed of my mean origin; and thought, by making a dashing appearance and squandering lavishly my wealth, to induce men to forget my humble birth. The world applauds such madness as long as the money lasts, and for a short period, I had friends and flatterers at will.
"My brief career terminated in ruin and disgrace: wealth which is not acquired by industry, is seldom retained by prudence; and to those unacquainted with the real value of money, a large sum always appears inexhaustible. So it was with me. I spent, without calculating the cost, and soon lost all. The world now wore a very different aspect. I was deserted by all my gay associates; my most intimate companions passed me in the streets without recognition. I knew that this would be the result of my altered fortunes, yet the reality cut me to the heart.
"These are mortifying lessons, which experience, wisdom's best counsellor, daily teaches us; and a man must either be very self-conceited, or very insensible, who cannot profit by her valuable instructions. The hour which brought to me the humiliating conviction, that I was a person of no consequence; that the world could go on very well without me; that my merry companions would not be one jot less facetious, though I was absent from their jovial parties, was after all not the most miserable of my life.
"I woke as from a dream. The scales had fallen from my eyes. I knew myself—and became a wiser and better man. I called all my creditors together, discharged my debts, and found myself free of the world in the most liberal sense.
"Good Heavens!" I exclaimed. "How could you bear such a dreadful reverse with such fortitude—such magnanimity?"
"You give me greater credit than I deserve, Geoffrey: my imprudent conduct merited a severe punishment, and I had sense enough to discern that it was just. After the first shock was over, I felt happier in my poverty than I had ever done during my unmerited prosperity. I had abused the gifts of fortune while they were mine, and I determined to acquire an independence by my own exertions. A friend, whom I had scarcely regarded as such, during my reckless career of folly, came unexpectedly to my assistance, and offered to purchase for me a commission in the army, but I had private reasons for wishing to obtain a situation in this office. Writing a good hand, and having been originally educated for the profession, together with the recommendation of Mr. Bassett who was related to my friend, procured me the place I now hold."
"And your reasons for coming here?" I cried, burning with curiosity.
"Pardon me, Geoffrey. That is my secret."
He spoke with the calmness of a philosopher, but I saw his emotion, as his eyes turned mechanically to the parchment he was copying, and affected an air of cheerful resignation.
The candid exposure of his past faults and follies raised, rather than sunk him in my estimation; but I was sadly disappointed at the general terms in which they were revealed. I wanted to know every event of his private life, and this abridgment was very tantalizing.
While I was pondering these things in my heart, the pen he had grasped so tightly was flung to some distance, and he raised his fine eyes to my face.
"Thank God! Geoffrey; I have not as yet lost the faculty of feeling—that I can see and deplore the errors of the past. When I think what I was, what I am, and what I might have been, it brings a cloud over my mind which often dissolves in tears. This is the weakness of human nature. But the years so uselessly wasted rise up in dread array against me, and the flood-gates of the soul are broken up by bitter and remorseful regrets. But see," he exclaimed, dashing the thickening mist from his eyes, and resuming his peculiarly benevolent smile: "the dark cloud has passed, and George is himself again."
"You are happier than I. You can smile through your tears," I cried, regarding his April face with surprise.
"And so would you, Geoffrey, if, like me, you had brought your passions under the subjection of reason."
"It is no easy task, George, to storm a city, when your own subjects defend the walls, and at every attack drive you back with your own weapons, into the trenches. I will, however, commence the attack, by striving to forget that there is a world beyond these gloomy walls, in whose busy scenes I am forbidden to mingle."
"Valiantly resolved, Geoffrey. But how comes it, that you did not tell me the news this morning?"
"Your cousin Theophilus returned last night."
"The devil he did! That's everything but good news to me. But are you sure the news is true?"
"My landlady is sister to Mr. Moncton's housekeeper. I had my information from her. She tells me that the father and son are on very bad terms."
"I have seldom heard Mr. Moncton mention him of late. I wonder we have not seen him in the office. He generally pays us an early visit to show off his fine clothes, and to insult me."
"Talk of his satanic majesty, Geoff. You know the rest. Here comes the heir of the house of Moncton."
"He does not belong to the elder branch," I cried, fiercely. "Poor as I am, I consider myself the head of the house, and one of these days will dispute his right to that title."
"Tush!" said George, resuming his pen, "you are talking sad nonsense. But hereby hangs a tale."
I looked up inquiringly. Harrison was hard at work. I saw a mischievous smile hovering about his lips. He turned his back abruptly to the door, and bent more closely over his parchment, as Theophilus Moncton entered the office equipped for a journey.
Two years had passed away since I last beheld my cousin, and during his absence, there had been peace between his father and me. He appeared before me like the evil genius of the house, prepared to renew the old hostility, and I could not meet him with the least show of cordiality and affection.
I am not a good hand at sketching portraits, but the person of my cousin is so fresh in my memory, his image so closely interwoven with all the leading events of my life, that I can scarcely fail in giving a tolerably correct likeness of the original.
He was about the middle stature, his figure slender and exceedingly well made: and but for a strong dash of affectation, which marred all that he did and said, his carriage would have been easy and graceful. His head was small and handsomely placed upon his shoulders, his features sharply defined and very prominent. His teeth were remarkably white, but so long and narrow, that they gave a peculiarly sinister and malicious expression to his face—which expression was greatly heightened by the ghastly contortion that was meant for a smile, and which was in constant requisition, in order to show off the said teeth, which Theophilus considered one of his greatest attractions. But my cousin had no personal attractions. There was nothing manly or decided about him. Smooth and insidious where he wished to please, his first appearance to strangers was always unprepossessing; and few persons on their first introduction had any great desire to extend their acquaintance.
He ought to have been fair, for his hair and whiskers were of the palest tint of brown; but his complexion was grey and muddy, and his large sea-green eyes afforded not the least contrast to the uniform smokiness of his skin. Those cold, selfish, deceitful eyes; his father's in shape and expression, but lacking the dark strength—the stern, determined look which at times lighted up Robert Moncton's proud, cruel face.
Much as I disliked the father, he was in his worst moods more tolerable to me than his son. Glimpses of his mind would at times flash out through those unnaturally bright eyes; and betray somewhat of the hell within; but Theophilus was close and dark—a sealed book which no man could open and read. An overweening sense of his own importance was the only trait of his character which lay upon the surface; and this, his master-failing, was revealed by every look and gesture.
A servile flatterer to persons of rank, and insolent and tyrannical to those whom he considered beneath him, he united in his character, the qualifications of both tyrant and slave.
The most brilliant sallies of wit could not produce the least brightening effect upon his saturnine countenance, or the most pathetic burst of eloquence draw the least moisture to his eye, which only became animated when contradicting some well-received opinion, or discussing the merits of an acquaintance, and placing his faults and follies in the most conspicuous light.
He was endowed with excellent practical abilities, possessed a most retentive memory, and a thorough knowledge of the most intricate windings of the human heart. Nothing escaped his observation. It would have been a difficult matter to have made a tool of one, whose suspicions were always wide awake; who never acted from impulse, or without a motive, and who had a shrewd knack of rendering the passions of others subservient to his own.
He was devoted to sensual pleasures, but the mask he wore, so effectually concealed his vicious propensities, that the most cautious parents would have admitted him without hesitation into their family circle. Robert Moncton thought himself master of the mind of his son, and fancied him a mere puppet in his hands; but his cunning was foiled by the superior cunning of Theophilus, and he ultimately became the dupe and victim of the being for whose aggrandizement he did not scruple to commit the worst crimes.
Theophilus was extremely neat in his dress, and from the cravat to the well-polished boot, his costume was perfect. An effeminate, solemn-looking dandy outwardly—within, as ferocious and hard a human biped as ever disgraced the name of man.
"Well, Geoff!" said he, condescendingly presenting his hand, "what have you been doing for the last two years?"
"Writing, in the old place," said I, carelessly.
"A fixture!—ha, ha! 'A rolling stone,' they say, 'gathers no moss.' How does that agree with your stationary position?"
"It only proves, that all proverbs have two sides to them," said I. "You roll about the world and scatter the moss that I sit here to help accumulate."
"What a lucky dog you are," said he, "to escape so easily from the snares and temptations of this wicked world. While I am tormented with ennui, blue-devils and dyspepsia, you sit still and grow in stature and knowledge. By Jove! you are too big to wear my cast-off suits now. My valet will bless the increase of your outward man, and I don't think you have at all profited by the circumstance. Where the deuce did you get that eccentric turn-out? It certainly does not remind one of Bond Street."
"Mr. Theophilus!" I cried, reddening with indignation. "Did you come here on purpose to insult me?"
"Sit still, now, like a good lad, and don't fly into heroics and give us a scene. I am too lazy to pick a quarrel with you. What a confounded wet morning! It has disarranged all my plans. I ordered the groom to bring up my mare at eleven. The rain commenced at ten. I think it means to keep on at this rate all day."
He cast a peevish glance at the dusty ground-glass windows.
"There's no catching a glimpse of heaven through these dim panes. My father's clerks are not called upon to resist the temptation of looking into the streets."
"They might not inappropriately be called the pains and penalties of lawyer's clerks," said I, smothering my anger, as I saw by the motion of Harrison's head, that he was suffering from an agony of suppressed laughter.
"Not a bad idea that. The plan of grinding the glass was suggested by me. An ingenious one, is it not? My father had the good sense to adopt it. It's a pity that his example is not followed by all the lawyers and merchants in London."
In spite of the spattering of Harrison's pen, which told me as plainly as words could have done, that he was highly amused at the scene, I felt irritated at Theophilus joking about a circumstance which, to me, was a great privation and annoyance.
"If you had a seat in this office, Mr. Theophilus," said I, laying a strong stress upon the personal pronoun, "you would, I am certain, take good care to keep a peep-hole, well-glazed, for your own convenience."
"If I were in the office," he replied, with one of his sidelong, satirical glances, "I should have too much to do in keeping the clerks at work and in their places, to have much time for looking out of the window. My father would do well to hire an overseer for idle hands."
Harrison's tremulous fit increased, while I was burning with indignation, and rose passionately from my seat.
"Geoffrey"—pronounced in an undertone, restrained me from committing an act of violence. I resumed my stool, muttering audibly between my teeth—
I was quite ready for a quarrel, but Theophilus, contrary to my expectations, did not choose to take any notice of my imprudent speech. Not that he wanted personal courage. Like the wasp, he could, when unprovoked, attack others, and sting with tenfold malice when he felt or fancied an affront. His forbearance on the present occasion, I attributed to the very handsome riding-dress in which he had encased his slight and elegant form. A contest with a strong, powerful young fellow like me, might have ended in its demolition:
Slashing his boot with his riding-whip, and glancing carelessly towards the window, he said, with an air of perfect indifference,
"Well, if the rain means to pour in this way all day, it is certain that I cannot prosecute my journey to Dover on horseback. I must take the coach, and leave the groom to follow with the horses."
"Dover!" I repeated, with an involuntary start, "are you off for France?"
"Yes" (with a weary yawn); "I shall not return until I have made the tour of Europe, and I just stepped in for a moment to say good-by."
"Unusually kind," said I, with a sneer.
He remained silent for a few minutes, and seemed slightly embarrassed, as if he found difficulty in bringing out what he had to say.
"Geoffrey, I may be absent several years. It is just possible that we may never meet again."
"I hope so," was the response in my heart, while he continued,
"Your time in this office expires when you reach your majority. Our paths in life are very different, and from that period I must insist upon our remaining perfect strangers to each other."
Before I had time to answer his ungracious speech, he turned upon his heel and left the office, and me literally foaming with passion.
"Thank God he is gone!" cried Harrison. "My dear Geoff, accept my sincere congratulations. It would indeed be a blessing did you never meet again."
"Oh, that he had stayed another minute that I might have demolished his gay plumes! I am so angry, so mortified, George, that I can scarcely control myself."
"Nonsense! His departure is a fortunate event for you."
"Of course—the absence of one so actively annoying, must make my bondage more tolerable."
"Listen to me, petulant boy! there is war in the camp. Theophilus leaves the house under the ban of his father's anger. They have had a desperate quarrel, and he quits London in disgrace; and if you are not a gainer by this change in the domestic arrangements, my name is not George Harrison."
"Why do you think so?"
"Because I know more of Robert Moncton than you do. To provoke his son to jealousy, he will take you into favour. If Theophilus has gone too far—he is so revengeful, so unforgiving—he may, probably, make you his heir."
"May God forbid!" cried I, vehemently.
"Gold is too bright to betray the dirty channels through which it flows—and I feel certain, Geoffrey——"
A quick rap at the office-door terminated all further colloquy, and I rose to admit the intruder.
Harrison and I generally wrote in an inner, room, which opened into the public office; and a passage led from the apartment we occupied into Mr. Moncton's private study, in which he generally spent the fore-part of the day, and in which he received persons who came to consult him on particular business.
On opening the door which led into the public office, a woman wrapped closely in a black camblet cloak, glided into the room.