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but too feeble now, in body and in mind, to do more than listen. Claude
is telling him about the late Photographic Exhibition; and the old man
listens with a triumphant smile to wonders which he will never behold
with mortal eyes. At last, -

"This is very pleasant - to feel surer and surer, day by day, that one is
not needed; that science moves forward swift and sure, under a higher
guidance than one's own; that the sacred torch-race never can stand
still; that He has taken the lamp out of old and failing hands, only to
put it into young and brave ones, who will not falter till they reach
the goal."

Then he lies back again, with closed eyes, waiting for more facts from
Claude.

"How beautiful!" says Claude - "I must compliment you, sir - to see the
child-like heart thus still beating fresh beneath the honours of the
grey head, without envy, without vanity, without ambition, welcoming
every new discovery, rejoicing to see the young outstripping them."

"And what credit, sir, to us? Our knowledge did not belong to us, but to
Him who made us, and the universe; and our sons' belonged to Him
likewise. If they be wiser than their teachers, it is only because they,
like their teachers, have made His testimonies their study. When we
rejoice in the progress of science, we rejoice not in ourselves, not in
our children, but in God our Instructor."

And all the while, hidden in the gloom behind, stands Grace, her arms
folded over her bosom, watching every movement of the old man; and
listening, too, to every word. She can understand but little of it: but
she loves to hear it, for it reminds her of Tom Thurnall. Above all she
loves to hear about the microscope, a mystery inseparable in her
thoughts from him who first showed her its wonders.

At last the old man speaks again: -

"Ah! How delighted my boy will be when he returns, to find that so much
has been done during his absence."

Claude is silent awhile, startled.

"You are surprised to hear me speak so confidently? Well, I can only
speak as I feel. I have had, for some days past, a presentiment - you
will think me, doubtless, weak for yielding to it. I am not
superstitious."

"Not so," said Claude, "but I cannot deny that such things as
presentiments may be possible. However miraculous they may seem, are
they so very much more so than the daily fact of memory? I can as little
guess why we can remember the past as why we may not, at times, be able
to foresee the future."

"True. You speak, if not like a physician, yet like a metaphysician; so
you will not laugh at me, and compel the weak old man and his fancy to
take refuge with a girl - who is not weak. - Grace, darling, you think
still that he is coming?"

She came forward and leaned over him.

"Yes," she half whispered. "He is coming soon to us: or else we are soon
going to him. It may mean that, sir. Perhaps it is better that it
should."

"It matters little, child, if he be near, as near he is. I tell you, Mr.
Mellot, this conviction has become so intense during the last week,
that - that I believe I should not be thrown off my balance if he entered
at this moment.... I feel him so near me, sir, that - that I could swear,
did I not know how the weak brain imitates expected sounds, that I heard
his footstep outside now."

"I heard horses' footsteps," says Claude. - "Ah, there comes Stangrave
and our host."

"I heard them: but I heard my boy's likewise," said the old man quietly.

The next minute he seemed to have forgotten the fancy, as the two
hunters entered, and Mark began open-mouthed as usual -

"Well, Ned! In good company, eh? That's right. Mortal cold I am! We
shall have a white Christmas, I expect. Snow's coming."

"What sport?" asked the doctor blandly.

"Oh! Nothing new. Bothered about Sidricstone till one. Got away at last
with an old fox, and over the downs into the vale. I think Mr. Stangrave
liked it?"

"Mr. Stangrave likes the vale better than the vale likes him. I have
fallen into two brooks following, Claude; to the delight of all the
desperate Englishmen."

"Oh! You rode straight enough, sir! You must pay for your fun in the
vale: - but then you have your fun. But there were a good many falls the
last ton minutes: ground heavy, and pace awful; old rat-tail had enough
to do to hold his own. Saw one fellow ride bang into a pollard-willow,
when there was an open gate close to him - cut his cheek open, and lay;
but some one said it was only Smith of Ewebury, so I rode on."

"I hope you English showed more pity to your wounded friends in the
Crimea," quoth Stangrave, laughing, "I wanted to stop and pick him up:
but Mr. Armsworth would not hear of it."

"Oh, sir, if it had been a stranger like you, half the field would have
been round you in a minute: but Smith don't count - he breaks his neck on
purpose three days a week: - by the by, Doctor, got a good story of him
for you. Suspected his keepers last month. Slips out of bed at two in
the morning; into his own covers, and blazes away for an hour. Nobody
comes. Home to bed, and tries the same thing next night. Not a soul
comes near him. Next morning has up keepers, watchers, beaters, the
whole posse; and 'Now, you rascals! I've been poaching my own covers two
nights running, and you've been all drunk in bed. There are your wages
to the last penny; and vanish! I'll be my own keeper henceforth; and
never let me see your faces again!"

The old Doctor laughed cheerily. "Well: but did you kill your fox?"

"All right: but it was a burster, - just what I always tell Mr.
Stangrave. Afternoon runs are good runs; pretty sure of an empty fox and
a good scent after one o'clock."

"Exactly," answered a fresh voice from behind; "and fox-hunting is an
epitome of human life. You chop or lose your first two or three: but
keep up your pluck, and you'll run into one before sun-down; and I seem
to have run into a whole earthful!"

All looked round; for all knew that voice.

Yes! There he was, in bodily flesh and blood; thin, sallow, bearded to
the eyes, dressed in ragged sailor's clothes: but Tom himself.

Grace uttered a long, low, soft, half-laughing cry, full of the
delicious agony of sudden relief; a cry as of a mother when her child is
born; and then slipped from the room past the unheeding Tom, who had no
eyes but for his father. Straight up to the old man he went, took both
his hands, and spoke in the old cheerful voice, -

"Well, my dear old daddy! So you seem to have expected me; and gathered,
I suppose, all my friends to bid me welcome. I'm afraid I have made you
very anxious: but it was not my fault; and I knew you would be certain I
should come at last, eh?"

"My son! my son! Let me feel whether thou be my very son Esau or not!"
murmured the old man, finding half-playful expression in the words of
Scripture, for feelings beyond his failing powers.

Tom knelt down: and the old man passed his hands in silence over and
over the forehead, and face, and beard; while all stood silent.

Mark Armsworth burst out blubbering like a great boy:

"I said so! I always said so! The devil could not kill him, and God
wouldn't!"

"You won't go away again, dear boy? I'm getting old - and - and forgetful;
and I don't think I could bear it again, you see."

Tom saw that the old man's powers were failing. "Never again, as long as
I live, daddy!" said he, and then, looking round, - "I think that we are
too many for my father. I will come and shake hands with you all
presently."

"No, no," said the Doctor. "You forget that I cannot see you, and so
must only listen to you. It will be a delight to hear your voice and
theirs; - they all love you."

A few moments of breathless congratulation followed, during which Mark
had seized Tom by both his shoulders, and held him admiringly at arm's
length.

"Look at him, Mr. Mellot! Mr. Stangrave! Look at him! As they said of
Liberty Wilkes, you might rob him, strip him, and hit him over London
Bridge: and you find him the next day in the same place, with a laced
coat, a sword by his side, and money in his pocket! But how did you come
in without our knowing?"

"I waited outside, afraid of what I might hear - for how could I tell!"
said he, lowering his voice; "but when I saw you go in, I knew all was
right, and followed you; and when I heard my father laugh, I knew that
he could bear a little surprise. But, Stangrave, did you say? Ah! this
is too delightful, old fellow! How's Marie and the children?"

Stangrave, who was very uncertain as to how Tom would receive him, had
been about to make his amende honorable in a fashion graceful,
magnificent, and, as he expressed it afterwards laughingly to Thurnall
himself, "altogether highfalutin:" but what chivalrous and courtly words
had arranged themselves upon the tip of his tongue, were so utterly
upset by Tom's matter-of-fact bonhomie, and by the cool way in which he
took for granted the fact of his marriage, that he burst out laughing,
and caught both Tom's hands in his.

"It is delightful; and all it needs to make it perfect is to have Marie
and the children here."

"How many?" asked Tom.

"Two."

"Is she as beautiful as ever!"

"More so, I think."

"I dare say you're right; you ought to know best, certainly."

"You shall judge for yourself. She is in London at this moment."

"Tom!" says his father, who has been sitting quietly, his face covered
in his handkerchief, listening to all, while holy tears of gratitude
steal down his face.

"Sir!"

"You have not spoken to Grace yet!"

"Grace?" cries Tom, in a very different tone from that in which he had
yet spoken.

"Grace Harvey, my boy. She was in the room when you came in."

"Grace? Grace? What is she doing here?"

"Nursing him, like an angel as she is!" said Mark.

"She is my daughter now, Tom; and has been these twelve months past."

Tom was silent, as one astonished.

"If she is not, she will be soon," said he quietly, between his clenched
teeth. "Gentlemen, if you'll excuse me for five minutes, and see to my
father:" - and he walked straight out of the room, closing the door
behind him - to find Grace waiting in the passage.

She was trembling from head to foot, stepping to and fro, her hands and
face all but convulsed; her left hand over her bosom, clutching at her
dress, which seemed to have been just disarranged; her right drawn back,
holding something; her lips parted, struggling to speak; her great eyes
opened to preternatural wideness, fixed on him with an intensity of
eagerness; - was she mad?

At last words bubbled forth: "There! there! There it is! - the belt! -
your belt! Take it! take it, I say!"

He stood silent and wondering; she thrust it into his hand.

"Take it! I have carried it for you - worn it next my heart, till it has
all but eaten into my heart. To Varna, and you were not there! - Scutari,
Balaklava, and you were not there! - I found it, only a week after! - I
told you I should! and you were gone! - Cruel, not to wait! And Mr.
Armsworth has the money - every farthing - and the gold: - he has had it
these two years! - I would give you the belt myself; and now I have done
it, and the snake is unclasped from my heart at last, at last, at last!"

Her arms dropped by her side, and she burst into an agony of tears.

Tom caught her in his arms: but she put him back, and looked up in his
face again.

"Promise me!" she said, in a low clear voice; "promise me this one thing
only, as you are a gentleman; as you have a man's pity, a man's
gratitude in you"

"Anything!"

"Promise me that you will never ask, or seek to know, who had that
belt."

"I promise: but, Grace! - "

"Then my work is over," said she in a calm collected voice. "Amen. So
lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. Good-bye, Mr. Thurnall. I must
go and pack up my few things now. You will forgive and forget?"

"Grace!" cried Tom; "stay!" and he girdled her in a grasp of iron. "You
and I never part more in this life, perhaps not in all lives to come!"

"Me? I? - let me go! I am not worthy of you!"

"I have heard that once already; - the only folly which ever came out of
those sweet lips. No! Grace, I love you, as man can love but once; and
you shall not refuse me! You will not have the heart, Grace! You will
not dare, Grace! For you have begun the work; and you must finish it."

"Work? What work?"

"I don't know," said Tom. "How should I? I want you to tell me that."

She looked up in his face, puzzled. His old self-confident look seemed
strangely past away.

"I will tell _you_" he said, "because I love you. I don't like to show
it to them; but I've been frightened, Grace, for the first time in my
life."

She paused for an explanation; but she did not straggle to escape from
him.

"Frightened; beat; run to earth myself, though I talked so bravely of
running others to earth just now. Grace, I've been in prison!"

"In prison? In a Russian prison? Oh, Mr. Thurnall!"

"Ay, Grace, I'd tried everything but that; and I could not stand it.
Death was a joke to that. Not to be able to get out! - To rage up and
down for hours like a wild beast; long to fly at one's gaoler and tear
his heart out; - beat one's head against the wall in the hope of knocking
one's brains out; - anything to get rid of that horrid notion, night and
day over one - I can't get out!"

Grace had never seen him so excited.

"But you are safe now," said she soothingly. "Oh, those horrid
Russians!"

"But it was not Russians! - If it had been, I could have borne it. - That
was all in my bargain, - the fair chance of war: but to be shut up by a
mistake! - at the very outset, too - by a boorish villain of a khan, on a
drunken suspicion; - a fellow whom I was trying to serve, and who
couldn't, or wouldn't, or daren't understand me - Oh, Grace, I was caught
in my own trap! I went out full blown with self-conceit. Never was any
one so cunning as I was to be! - Such a game as I was going to play, and
make my fortune by it! - And this brute to stop me short - to make a fool
of me - to keep me there eighteen months threatening to cut my head off
once a quarter, and wouldn't understand me, let me talk with the tongue
of the old serpent!"

"He didn't stop you: God stopped you!"

"You're right, Grace; I saw that at last! I found out that I had been
trying for years which was the stronger, God or I; I found out I had
been trying whether I could not do well enough without Him: and there I
found that I could not, Grace; - could not! I felt like a child who had
marched off from home, fancying it can find its way, and is lost at
once. I felt like a lost child in Australia once, for one moment: but
not as I felt in that prison; for I had not heard you, Grace, then. I
did not know that I had a Father in heaven, who had been looking after
me, when I fancied that I was looking after myself; - I don't half
believe it now - If I did, I should not have lost my nerve as I have
done! - Grace, I dare hardly stir about now, lest some harm should come
to me. I fancy at every turn, what if that chimney fell? what if that
horse kicked out? - and, Grace, you, and you only, can cure me of my new
cowardice. I said in that prison, and all the way home, - if I can but
find her! - let me but see her - ask her - let her teach me; and I shall be
sure! Let her teach me, and I shall be brave again! Teach me, Grace! and
forgive me!"

Grace was looking at him with her great soft eyes opening slowly, like a
startled hind's, as if the wonder and delight were too great to be taken
in at once. The last words unlocked her lips.

"Forgive you? What! Do you forgive me?"

"You? It is I am the brute; ever to have suspected you. My conscience
told me all along I was a brute! And you - have you not proved it to me
in this last minute, Grace? - proved to me that I am not worthy to kiss
the dust from off your feet?"

Grace lay silent in his arms: but her eyes were fixed upon him; her
hands were folded on her bosom; her lips moved as if in prayer.

He put back her long tresses tenderly, and looked into her deep glorious
eyes.

"There! I have told you all. Will you forgive my baseness; and take me,
and teach me, about this Father in heaven, through poverty and wealth,
for better, for worse, as my wife - my wife?"

She leapt up at him suddenly, as if waking from a dream, and wreathed
her arms about his neck.

"Oh, Mr. Thurnall! my dear, brave, wise, wonderful Mr. Thurnall! come
home again! - home to God! - and home to me! I am not worthy! Too much
happiness, too much, too much: - but you will forgive, will you not, - and
forget - forget?"

And so the old heart passed away from Thomas Thurnall: and instead of it
grew up a heart like his father's; even the heart of a little child.







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