Charles Kingsley.

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"Never, never, never, never, never, never!" shrieked Elsley like a baby,
every word increasing in intensity, till the whole house rang; and then
threw himself into the crazy chair, and dashed his head between his
hands upon the table.

"This is a case for me, Major Campbell. I think you had better go now."

"You will not leave him?"

"No, sir. It is a very curious psychological study, and he is a Whitbury
man."

Campbell knew quite enough of the would-be cynical doctor, to understand
what all that meant. He came up to Elsley.

"Mr. Vavasour, I am going to the war, from which I expect never to
return. If you believe me, give me your hand before I go."

Elsley, without lifting his head, beat on the table with his hand.

"I wish to die at peace with you and all the world. I am innocent in
word, in thought. I shall not insult another person by saying that she
is so. If you believe me, give me your hand."

Elsley stretched his hand, his head still buried. Campbell took it, and
went silently downstairs.

"Is he gone?" moaned he, after a while.

"Yes."

"Does she - does she care for him?"

"Good heavens! How did you ever dream such an absurdity?"

Elsley only beat upon the table.

"She has been ill?"

"Is ill. She has lost her child."

"Which?" shrieked Elsley.

"A boy whom she should have had."

Elsley only beat on the table; then -

"Give me the bottle, Tom!"

"What bottle?"

"The laudanum; - there in the cupboard."

"I shall do no such thing. You are poisoning yourself."

"Let me then! I must, I tell you! I can live on nothing else. I shall go
mad if I do not have it. I should have been mad by now. Nothing else
keeps off these fits; - I feel one coming now. Curse you! give me the
bottle!"

"What fits?"

"How do I know? Agony and torture - ever since I got wet on that
mountain."

Tom knew enough to guess his meaning, and felt Elsley's pulse and
forehead.

"I tell you it turns every bone to red-hot iron!" almost screamed he.

"Neuralgia; rheumatic, I suppose," said Tom to himself. "Well, this is
not the thing to cure you: but you shall have it to keep you quiet." And
he measured him out a small dose.

"More, I tell you, more!" said Elsley, lifting up his head, and looking
at it.

"Not more while you are with me."

"With you! Who the devil sent you here?"

"John Briggs, John Briggs, if I did not mean you good, should I be here
now? Now do, like a reasonable man, tell me what you intend to do."

"What is that to you, or any man?" said Elsley, writhing with neuralgia.

"No concern of mine, of course: but your poor wife - you must see her."

"I can't, I won't! - that is, not yet! I tell you I cannot face the
thought of her, much less the sight of her, and her family, - that
Valencia! I'd rather the earth should open and swallow me! Don't talk to
me, I say!"

And hiding his face in his hands, he writhed with pain, while Thurnall
stood still patiently watching him, as a pointer dog does a partridge.
He had found his game, and did not intend to lose it.

"I am better now; quite well!" said he, as the laudanum began to work.
"Yes! I'll go - that will be it - go to - - at once. He'll give me an
order for a magazine article; I'll earn ten pounds, and then off to
Italy."

"If you want ten pounds, my good fellow, you can have them without
racking your brains over an article." Elsley looked up proudly.

"I do not borrow, sir!"

"Well - I'll give you five for those pistols. They are of no use to you,
and I shall want a spare brace for the East."

"Ah! I forgot them. I spent my last money on them," said he with a
shudder; "but I won't sell them to you at a fancy price - no dealings
between gentleman and gentleman. I'll go to a shop, and get for them
what they are worth."

"Very good. I'll go with you, if you like. I fancy I may get you a
better price for them than you would yourself: being rather a knowing
one about the pretty little barkers." And Tom took his arm, and walked
him quietly down into the street.

"If you ever go up those kennel-stairs again, friend," said he to
himself, "my name's not Tom Thurnall."

They walked to a gunsmith's shop in the Strand, where Tom had often
dealt, and sold the pistols for some three pounds.

"Now then let's go into 333, and get a mutton chop."

"No."

Elsley was too shy; he was "not fit to be seen."

"Come to my rooms, then, in the Adelphi, and have a wash and a shave. It
will make you as fresh as a lark again, and then we'll send out for the
eatables, and have a quiet chat."

Elsley did not say no. Thurnall took the thing as a matter of course,
and he was too weak and tired to argue with him. Beside, there was a
sort of relief in the company of a man who, though he knew all, chatted
on to him cheerily and quietly, as if nothing had happened; who at least
treated him as a sane man. From any one else he would have shrunk, lest
they should find him out: but a companion, who knew the worst, at least
saved him suspicion and dread.

His weakness, now that the collapse after passion had come on, clung to
any human friend. The very sound of Tom's clear sturdy voice seemed
pleasant to him, after long solitude and silence. At least it kept off
the fiends of memory.

Tom, anxious to keep Elsley's mind employed on some subject which should
not be painful, began chatting about the war and its prospects. Elsley
soon caught the cue, and talked with wild energy and pathos, opium-fed,
of the coming struggle between despotism and liberty, the arising of
Poland and Hungary, and all the grand dreams which then haunted minds
like his.

"By Jove!" said Tom, "you are yourself again now. Why don't you put all
that into a book!"

"I may perhaps," said Elsley proudly.

"And if it comes to that, why not come to the war, and see it for
yourself? A new country - one of the finest in the world. New scenery,
new actors, - Why, Constantinople itself is a poem! Yes, there is
another 'Revolt of Islam' to be written yet. Why don't you become our
war poet? Come and see the fighting; for there'll be plenty of it, let
them say what they will. The old bear is not going to drop his dead
donkey without a snap and a hug. Come along, and tell people what it's
all really like. There will be a dozen Cockneys writing battle songs,
I'll warrant, who never saw a man shot in their lives, not even a hare.
Come and give us the real genuine grit of it, - for if you can't, who
can?"

"It is a grand thought! The true war poets, after all, have been
warriors themselves. K√ґrner and Alcaeus fought as well as sang, and sang
because they fought. Old Homer, too, - who can believe that he had not
hewn his way through the very battles which he describes, and seen every
wound, every shape of agony? A noble thought, to go out with that army
against the northern Anarch, singing in the van of battle, as Taillefer
sang the song of Roland before William's knights, and to die like him,
the proto-martyr of the Crusade, with the melody yet upon one's lips!"

And his face blazed up with excitement.

"What a handsome fellow he is, after all, if there were but more of
him?" said Tom to himself. "I wonder if he'd fight, though, when the
singing-fever was off him."

He took Elsley upstairs into his bed-room, got him washed and shaved:
and sent out the woman of the house for mutton chops and stout, and
began himself setting out the luncheon table, while Elsley in the room
within chanted to himself snatches of poetry.

"The notion has taken: he's composing a war song already, I believe."
It actually was so: but Elsley's brain was weak and wandering; and he
was soon silent; and motionless so long, that Tom opened the door and
looked in anxiously.

He was sitting on a chair, his hands fallen on his lap, the tears
running down his face.

"Well?" asked Tom smilingly, not noticing the tears; "how goes on the
opera? I heard through the door the orchestra tuning for the prelude."

Elsley looked up in his face with a puzzled piteous expression.

"Do you know, Thurnall, I fancy at moments that my mind is not what it
was. Fancies flit from me as quickly as they come. I had twenty verses
five minutes ago, and now I cannot recollect one."

"No wonder," thought Tom to himself. "My clear fellow, recollect all
that you have suffered with this neuralgia. Believe me all you want is
animal strength. Chops and porter will bring all the verses back, or
better ones instead of them."

He tried to make Elsley eat; and Elsley tried himself: but failed. The
moment the meat touched his lips he loathed it, and only courtesy
prevented his leaving the room to escape the smell. The laudanum had
done its work upon his digestion. He tried the porter, and drank a
little: then, suddenly stopping, he pulled out a phial, dropped a heavy
dose of his poison into the porter, and tossed it off.

"Sold am I?" said Tom to himself. "He must have hidden the bottle as he
came out of the room with me. Oh, the cunning of those opium-eaters?
However, it will keep him quiet just now, and to Eaton Square I must
go."

"You had better be quiet now, my dear fellow, after your dose; talking
will only excite you. Settle yourself on my bed, and I'll be back in an
hour."

So he put Elsley on his bed, carefully removing razors and pistols (for
he had still his fears of an outburst of passion), then locked him in,
ran down into the Strand, threw himself into a cab for Eaton Square, and
asked for Valencia.

Campbell had been there already; so Tom took care to tell nothing which
he had not told, expecting, and rightly, that he would not mention
Elsley's having fired at him. Lucia was still all but senseless, too
weak even to ask for Elsley; to attempt any meeting between her and her
husband would be madness.

"What will you do with the unhappy man, Mr. Thurnall?"

"Keep him under my eye, day and night, till he is either rational again,
or - "

"Do you think that he may? - Oh my poor sister!"

"I think that he may yet end very sadly, madam. There is no use
concealing the truth from you. All I can promise is, that I will treat
him as my own brother."

Valencia held out her fair hand to the young doctor. He stooped, and
lifted the tips of her fingers to his lips.

"I am not worthy of such an honour, madam. I shall study to deserve it."
And he bowed himself out, the same sturdy, self-confident Tom, doing
right, he hardly knew why, save that it was all in the way of business.

And now arose the puzzle, what to do with Elsley? He had set his heart
on going down to Whitbury the next day. He had been in England nearly
six months, and had not yet seen his father; his heart yearned, too,
after the old place, and Mark Armsworth, and many an old friend, whom he
might never see again. "However, that fellow I must see to, come what
will: business first and pleasure afterwards. If I make him all right -
if I even get him out of the world decently, I get the Scoutbush
interest on my side - though I believe I have it already. Still, it's as
well to lay people under as heavy an obligation as possible. I wish Miss
Valencia had asked me whether Elsley wanted any money: it's expensive
keeping him myself. However, poor thing, she has other matters to think
of: and I dare say, never knew the pleasures of an empty purse. Here we
are! Three-and-sixpence - eh, cabman? I suppose you think I was born
Saturday night? There's three shillings. Now, don't chaff me, my
excellent friend, or you will find you have met your match, and a leetle
more!"

And Tom hurried into his rooms, and found Elsley still sleeping.

He set to work, packing and arranging, for with him every moment found
its business: and presently heard his patient call faintly from the next
room.

"Thurnall!" said he; "I have been a long journey. I have been to
Whitbury once more, and followed my father about his garden, and sat
upon my mother's knee. And she taught me one text, and no more. Over and
over again she said it, as she looked down at me with still sad eyes,
the same text which she spoke the day I left her for London. I never saw
her again. 'By this, my son, be admonished; of making of books there is
no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Let us hear the
conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God and keep His commandments; for
this is the whole duty of man.'.... Yes, I will go down to Whitbury,
and he a little child once more. I will take poor lodgings, and crawl
out day by day, down the old lanes, along the old river-banks, where I
fed my soul with fair and mad dreams, and reconsider it all from the
beginning; - and then die. No one need know me; and if they do, they
need not be ashamed of me, I trust - ashamed that a poet has risen up
among them, to speak words which have been heard across the globe. At
least, they need never know my shame - never know that I have broken the
heart of an angel, who gave herself to me, body and soul - attempted the
life of a man whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose - never know that I
have killed my own child! - that a blacker brand than Cain's is on my
brow! - Never know - Oh, my God, what care I? Let them know all, as long
as I can have done with shams and affectations, dreams, and vain
ambitions, and he just my own self once more, for one day, and then
die!"

And he burst into convulsive weeping.

"No, Tom, do not comfort me! I ought to die, and I shall die. I cannot
face her again; let her forget me, and find a husband who will - and be a
father to the children whom I neglected! Oh, my darlings, my darlings!
If I could but see you once again: but no! you too would ask me where I
had been so long. You too would ask me - your innocent faces at least
would - why I had killed your little brother! - Let me weep it out,
Thurnall; let me face it all! This very misery is a comfort, for it will
kill me all the sooner."

"If you really mean to go to Whitbury, my poor dear fellow," said Tom at
last, "I will start with you to-morrow morning. For I too must go; I
must see my father."

"You will really?" asked Elsley, who began to cling to him like a child.

"I will indeed. Believe me, you are right; you will find friends there,
and admirers too. I know one."

"You do?" asked he, looking up.

"Mary Armsworth, the banker's daughter."

"What! That purse-proud, vulgar man?"

"Don't be afraid of him. A truer and more delicate heart don't beat. No
one has more cause to say so than I. He will receive you with open arms,
and need be told no more than is necessary; while, as his friend, you
may defy gossip, and do just what you like."

Tom slipped out that afternoon, paid Elsley's pittance of rent at his
old lodgings; bought him a few necessary articles, and lent him, without
saying anything, a few more. Elsley sat all day as one in a dream,
moaning to himself at intervals, and following Tom vacantly with his
eyes, as he moved about the room. Excitement, misery, and opium were
fast wearing out body and mind, and Tom put him to bed that evening, as
he would have put a child.

Tom walked out into the Strand to smoke in the fresh air, and think, in
spite of himself, of that fair saint from whom he was so perversely
flying. Gay girls slithered past him, looked round at him, but in vain;
those two great sad eyes hung in his fancy, and he could see nothing
else. Ah - if she had but given him back his money - why, what a fool he
would have made of himself! Better as it was. He was meant to be a
vagabond and an adventurer to the last; and perhaps to find at last the
luck which had flitted away before him.

He passed one of the theatre doors; there was a group outside, more
noisy and more earnest than such groups are wont to be; and ere he could
pass through them, a shout from within rattled the doors with its mighty
pulse, and seemed to shake the very walls. Another; and another! - What
was it? Fire?

No. It was the news of Alma.

And the group surged to and fro outside, and talked, and questioned, and
rejoiced; and smart gents forgot their vulgar pleasures, and looked for
a moment as if they too could have fought - had fought - at Alma; and
sinful girls forgot their shame, and looked more beautiful than they had
done for many a day, as, beneath the flaring gas-light, their faces
glowed for a while with noble enthusiasm, and woman's sacred pity, while
they questioned Tom, taking him for an officer, as to whether he thought
there were many killed.

"I am no officer: but I have been in many a battle, and I know the
Russians well, and have seen how they fight; and there is many a brave
man killed, and many a one more will be."

"Oh, does it hurt them much?" asked one poor thing.

"Not often," quoth Tom.

"Thank God, thank God!" and she turned suddenly away, and with the
impulsive nature of her class, burst into violent sobbing and weeping.

Poor thing! perhaps among the men who fought and fell that day was he to
whom she owed the curse of her young life; and after him her lonely
heart went forth once more, faithful even in the lowest pit.

"You are strange creatures, women, women!" thought Tom: "but I knew that
many a year ago. Now then - the game is growing fast and furious, it
seems. Oh, that I may find myself soon in the thickest of it!"

So said Tom Thurnall; and so said Major Campbell, too, that night, as he
prepared everything to start next morning to Southampton. "The better
the day, the better the deed," quoth he. "When a man is travelling to a
better world, he need not be afraid of starting on a Sunday."




CHAPTER XXV.

THE BANKER AND HIS DAUGHTER.


Tom and Elsley are safe at Whitbury at last; and Tom, ere he has seen
his father, has packed Elsley safe away in lodgings with an old dame
whom he can trust. Then he asks his way to his father's new abode; a
small old-fashioned house, with low bay windows jutting out upon the
narrow pavement.

Tom stops, and looks in the window. His father is sitting close to it,
in his arm-chair, his hands upon his knees, his face lifted to the
sunlight, with chin slightly outstretched, and his pale eyes feeling for
the light. The expression would have been painful, but for its perfect
sweetness and resignation. His countenance is not, perhaps, a strong
one; but its delicacy, and calm, and the high forehead, and the long
white locks, are most venerable. With a blind man's exquisite sense, he
feels Tom's shadow fall on him, and starts, and calls him by name; for
he has been expecting him, and thinking of nothing else all the morning,
and takes for granted that it must be he.

In another moment Tom is at his father's side. What need to describe the
sacred joy of those first few minutes, even if it were possible? But
unrestrained tenderness between man and man, rare as it is, and, as it
were, unaccustomed to itself, has no passionate fluency, no metaphor or
poetry, such as man pours out to woman, and woman again to man. All its
language lies in the tones, the looks, the little half-concealed
gestures, hints which pass themselves off modestly in jest; and such was
Tom's first interview with his father; till the old Isaac, having felt
Tom's head and hands again and again, to be sure whether it were his
very son or no, made him sit down by him, holding him still fast, and
began -

"Now, tell me, tell me, while Jane gets you something to eat. No, Jane,
you mustn't talk to Master Tom yet, to bother about how much he's
grown; - nonsense, I must have him all to myself, Jane. Go and get him
some dinner. Now, Tom," as if he was afraid of losing a moment; "you
have been a dear boy to write to me every week; but there are so many
questions which only word of mouth will answer, and I have stored up
dozens of them! I want to know what a coral reef really looks like, and
if you saw any trepangs upon them? And what sort of strata is the gold
really in? And you saw one of those giant rays; I want a whole hour's
talk about the fellow. And - What an old babbler I am! talking to you
when you should be talking to me. Now begin. Let us have the trepangs
first. Are they real Holothurians or not?"

And Tom began, and told for a full half-hour, interrupted then by some
little comment of the old man's, which proved how prodigious was the
memory within, imprisoned and forced to feed upon itself.

"You seem to know more about Australia than I do, father," said Tom at
last.

"No, child; but Mary Armsworth, God bless her! comes down here almost
every evening to read your letters to me; and she has been reading to me
a book of Mrs. Lee's Adventures in Australia, which reads like a novel;
delicious book - to me at least. Why, there is her step outside, I do
believe, and her father's with her!"

The lighter woman's step was inaudible to Tom; but the heavy, deliberate
waddle of the banker was not. He opened the house-door, and then the
parlour-door, without knocking; but when he saw the visitor, he stopped
on the threshold with outstretched arms.

"Hillo, ho! who have we here? Our prodigal son returned, with his
pockets full of nuggets from the diggings. Oh, mum's the word, is it?"
as Tom laid his finger on his lips. "Come here, then, and let's have a
look at you!" and he catches both Tom's hands in his, and almost shakes
them off. "I knew you were coming, old boy! Mary told me - she's in all
the old man's secrets. Come along, Mary, and see your old playfellow.
She has got a little fruit for the old gentleman. Mary, where are you I
always colloguing with Jane."

Mary comes in: a little dumpty body, with a yellow face, and a red nose,
the smile of an angel, and a heart full of many little secrets of other
people's - and of one great one of her own, which is no business of any
man's - and with fifty thousand pounds as her portion, for she is an only
child. But no man will touch that fifty thousand; for "no one would
marry me for myself," says Mary; "and no one shall marry me for my
money."

So she greets Tom shyly and humbly, without looking in his face, yet
very cordially; and then slips away to deposit on the table a noble
pine-apple.

"A little bit of fruit from her greenhouse," says the old man in a
disparaging tone: "and, oh Jane, bring me a saucer. Here's a sprat I
just capered out of Hemmelford mill-pit; perhaps the Doctor would like
it fried for supper, if it's big enough not to fall through the
gridiron."

Jane, who knows Mark Armsworth's humour, brings in the largest dish in
the house, and Mark pulls out of his basket a great three-pound trout.

"Aha! my young rover; Old Mark's right hand hasn't forgot its cunning,
eh? And this is the month for them; fish all quiet now. When fools go
a-shooting, wise men go a-fishing! Eh? Come here, and look me over. How
do I wear, eh? As like a Muscovy duck as ever, you young rogue? Do you
recollect asking me, at the Club dinner, why I was like a Muscovy duck?
Because I was a fat thing in green velveteen, with a bald red head, that
was always waddling about the river bank. Ah, those were days! We'll
have some more of them. Come up to-night and try the old '21 bin."

"I must have him myself to-night; indeed I must, Mark," says the Doctor.

"All to yourself you selfish old rogue?"

"Why - no - "

"We'll come down, then, Mary and I, and bring the '21 with us, and hear
all his cock-and-bull stories. Full of travellers' lies as ever, eh?
Well, I'll come, and smoke my pipe with you. Always the same old Mark,
my lad," nudging Tom with his elbow; "one fellow comes and borrows my
money, and goes out and calls me a stingy old hunks because I won't let
him cheat me; another comes, and eats my pines, and drinks my port, goes
home, and calls me a purse-proud upstart, because he can't match 'em.
Never mind; old Mark's old Mark; sound in the heart, and sound in the
liver, just the same as thirty years ago, and will be till he takes his
last quietus est -

'And drops into his grassy nest.'

Bye, bye, Doctor! Come, Mary!"

And out he toddled, with silent little Mary at his heels.

"Old Mark wears well, body and soul," said Tom.

"He is a noble, generous fellow, and as delicate-hearted as a woman
withal, in spite of his conceit and roughness. Fifty and odd years now,
Tom, have we been brothers, and I never found him change. And brothers
we shall be, I trust, a few years more, till I see you back again from
the East, comfortably settled. And then - "

"Don't talk of that, sir, please!" said Tom, quite quickly and sharply.
"How ill poor Mary looks!"

"So they say, poor child; and one hears it in her voice. Ah, Tom, that
girl is an angel; she has been to me daughter, doctor, clergyman, eyes
and library; and would have been nurse too, if it had not been for


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Online LibraryCharles KingsleyTwo Years Ago, Volume II → online text (page 18 of 25)