Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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Vivian still at the Farm ?"

" Yes." Mr. Lester seemed doubtful what further
to add.

" And the General is not better, then ? "

" Yes, he is better, in a way ; though he looks ill.**


" Then you have seen him, Sir ? " and Ronald
waited for an answer, with evident anxiety.

" For a little while, just before I came here. He
is a singular man, Ronald. The wall of prejudice
and warped principle is too strong for us."

Ronald leaned forward eagerly. " It musn't be.
Oh, Mr. Lester," and his voice sank, " if he has dealt
hardly unintentionally, surely, surely he will make

Mr. Lester's reply was delayed for a few seconds.
Presently he said, not looking at Ronald, " He knows
all, but I can't say what impression it has made upon
him ; he demands proof."

Ronald's face, before very pale, became quite
colourless. " Then he would have vengeance," he

" He would call it justice, not vengeance."

"And it would be justice," murmured Ronald.

" But he cannot have it ; there can be no legal
proof ; your father is safe. My poor boy ! " and Mr.
Lester laid his hand upon Ronald's, " you musn't
think of that."

" I do ; I think of it always, and I try to feel the

" You will do so by-and-by. You are weak now ;
you can scarcely realise it."

" But I do realise it. I know that some might
say I should be content. They would feel the out-
ward, not the inward, wound."

"Even that God can comfort, Ronald, and He will
as years go on."

z 2


" He is Teiy merciful ; I pray to Him to help me ;
but to begin life with disgrace ! " And he shuddered.
The next moment he turned from the thought, and
asked, " Has the General seen Mr. Vivian ? "

"Not yet. There is an immense amount of hidden
excitement preying upon him, and I dread the con-
sequences. It is the strong-indulged will, and the
warped spirit of manhood, working upon the enfeebled
body of age, and becoming its torture. No one has,
and no one, I believe, ever will, influence him."

A long silence followed. Mr. Lester again went
to Barney *s couch, and looked at him attentively.
When he came back, Ronald was seated more upright,
his face and attitude expressive of some strong self-

He returned to the subject without any preface,
and said : " Then there is no hope ? "

" I don't allow myself to think so ; it is too hard
and unnatural. I must, to-morrow, speak to him
myself, alone — as only a minister of God can speak.
He has no right to demand proof against his sou's

" He shall have proof, to-morrow," repeated Ronald

Mr. Lester looked at him, doubting whether his
ears had rightly caught the words.

" He shall have it, to-morrow," repeated Ronald,
" If Mr. Vivian will meet me at the Hall, we will
see the General together."

Mr. Lester felt uneasy. Ronald's voice was so
changed and hollow, and his eye had a fixed glare.
" You could not go with him, my dear boy, even if


you wished it," he said, gently ; " remember how weak
you are."

" Mark Wood will help me. To-morrow, at three."
" My dear Ronald, this will not do ; you are dream-
ing of what it is impossible you should perform. And
your notions are wrong. You can't think that you
are bound to come forward in this sad business. It
is a feverish fancy."

Eonald touched his pulse. " Feel it. Sir, I am quite
calm. Say to Mr. Vivian that I rely upon the pro-
mise solemnly made, when I had aided in saving his
child's life. Now, will you read to me ? It will do
me good."

Mr. Lester paused, but there was that in Ronald's
countenance which made him shrink from pursuing
the subject, or attempting to gainsay his will, at least
without consultation with Mr. Vivian. He read to
him and prayed, and Ronald thanked him gratefully
and affectionately, but he made no more reference to
his determination, except by repeating when they
parted, " To-morrow, at three."

The remainder of that afternoon Ronald spent in
sitting by Barney's couch, holding the child's hand,
smoothing his pillow, repeating verses of hymns, —
trying, in every way that he could think of, to soothe
his pain. And from time to time the little fellow
dozed for a few moments, and then woke again to ask
that Ronald would please to say the prayer for God to
make him patient, for he was very tired of the ache.
The other children returned from school, and were
taken into the back room by Mother Brewer, and
kept quiet with playthings ; and about six o'clock
z 3


Mark Wood, who, finding that he was likely to escape
detection, had ventured back to his cottage, came in
and had tea with them ; but Barney was in a great
deal of pain just then, and Ronald had no heart to
join them, though he was very weary.

The old woman put the little ones to bed early ;
and Mark said he would go into Cleve to get some-
thing from the doctor to make his boy sleep ; but
Mother Brewer muttered that there was no need for
that; he'd sleep sound enough before many hours
were over ; and Mark gave up his intention, and sat
down moodily by the fire.

So they went on till about eight o'clock; about
that time the "pain ceased entirely, but Barney was
almost too exhausted to speak. He asked Ronald
once to move, that father might kiss him, and bade
Mother Brewer say " Good night " to little brothers
and sisters, and tell them to be good ; and after that
he went to sleep, and they thought he would wake
refreshed, as he had often done before after similar
attacks. He was quiet for more than two hours ;
then he roused himself, and Mark gave him a little
water. The child looked at him intently for an
instant, and said, " Thank you, Father. Please say
prayers." And Mark knelt by the side of the little
bed, and buried his face in the coverlet.

Barney felt feebly for Ronald's hand : " You'll set
the 'sample, Ronald, and then you'll come." And the
light grasp relaxed, and Barney fell asleep, to wake
to the sight of the golden streets, and the river of
pure water, and the fruits of the trees of everlasting



Bright were the gleams of the December sun,
although it had already passed its low meridian
height, as Edward Vivian and Mr. Lester walked
slowly through the Cleve Woods on their way to the
Hall. They spoke of many things ; the past perhaps
more than the present or the future. It was a
natural feeling, which would fain linger over the
recollections connected with those scenes of happier
days now, before the sentence might again be spoken
which was to be the decree of separation from them
for ever.

Mr. Vivian was greatly depressed, yet a tone of
only partially subdued indignation occasionally es-
caped him. He felt bitterly the doubt which had
been cast upon his word, and would with difficulty
listen to Mr. Lester's explanation. It was useless, he
said, to tell him that he was not doubted. If it were
so, why was he not received, and the wrong acknow^
ledged? There could be no alternative in such a
case. Even duty to his father seemed scarcely to
call upon him to enter into more detailed explana-

" Years ago it might have been so," was Mr. Lester's
reply. "But you arc fighting against a feeling first
fostered as a duty, and encouraged the more since
z 4


it has been against natural inclination. General
Vivian fears himself. He has rested upon his
sense of justice, and made an idol of it; and now,
conscious of his own weakness — such, at least, he
would call it, — he dreads being betrayed into an
offence against it. He thinks himself bound to treat
you as he would a stranger. There is prejudice in
this, the rankling of former grievances, but he does
not see it. His is the spirit of the old Roman who
would sit in judgment upon his children, and con-
demn them."

" I don't understand it," exclaimed Mr. Vivian,
hastily. " We are Christians, not heathens."

" Even so. But General Vivian's principles are —
I say the word in all reverence, and, of course, with
great limitation — heathen. I mean that he has
formed his own standard of right, without looking
at that given in the Bible. If justice were the
one virtue alone to be upheld, where should we
all be?"

Mr. Vivian stopped suddenly. " It goads me," he
said ; *' it makes me feel that I would give up every
thing and go. K it were not for my children I think
I could."

" My dear Vivian, that would be an action which
you would repent for ever. You have no right to
act upon pride. Eemember — forgive me for saying
it — that your own conduct was the first cause of
ofience. If it has since been exaggerated and mis-
construed, yet the original evil lies at your own

" You are rio^ht, Lester. I must bear all. And if


I could see liim — Oh ! were he ever so stern — ever
so cruel — all angrj feelings would go. I could
throw myself at his feet and ask for pardon, as in my
childish days. But he will not see me ; there is no
hope of it."

Mr. Lester, without answering, opened the little
gate which led into Mildred's flower-garden. From
thence a private door admitted them into the morning
room. It was empty. Mildred was with the General ;
but her work-basket and books were lying about;
she had been there only lately.

" Eighteen years ! " murmured Mr. Vivian. " It
seems but yesterday." He went to the lower end of
the room, and drew aside the curtain from the picture
hanging there ; looked at it for several minutes, then
covered it again, and sat down without making any

"If Ronald should come, as he said, he must wait
here," observed Mr. Lester.

" Yes." But Mr. Vivian would take no comfort
from the thought of Ronald's promise. " My father
wants proof; and words are no proofs to him," he
said indignantly. "And the boy will not speak to
his father's prejudice. Who could ask it of him? I
would not accept restoration on such terms."

"He was bent upon being here," observed Mr.

" He was feverish and excited yesterday, no doubt.
If he had anything that would really help us, he
would have come forward before."

"He was not in a state to do so," remarked
Mr. Lester.


"I can't hope, Lester. I would rather fear the

And Mr. Lester was silent, and rang the bell.

" Will the General see me, Greaves ? "

Greaves, now fully aware of the interests at stake
in the family, looked important, and was doubtful.
The General had slept badly, and was, he thought,
inclined to doze ; but he would see.

Ella and Rachel appeared at the window, and drew
back, startled at seeing gentlemen ; but they soon
came forward again, laughing. Rachel's bright eyes
were raised lovingly to her father, as she exclaimed,
" We didn't know you were here, Papa. Ella had
been at the farm, and was coming back, and I said I
would walk with her. Mrs. Robinson was coming
too, and said she would go back with me. There
wasn't any harm, was there ? "

" None at all, my child ; but you mustn't disturb
us now."

" Let them come in," said Mr. Vivian. He seemed
glad of any thing which would distract his thoughts ;
and Ella and Rachel were admitted.

" We saw Mark Wood, Papa, as we were coming,"
said Rachel ; " he looked so very sad ; he was driving
Hardman's little cart, and said he was going to take
Ronald out. I didn't like to ask if Barney was

" He died last night, Rachel. I was going to tell

Rachel walked away to the window. Her father
followed her. " We mustn't grieve for him, Rachel."

"No, Papa, only — I will try not;" and she struggled


against her tears, and smiled, and then gave way
again, and cried bitterly. " I don't want him back,
but I loved him so."

Ella looked very grave and sorrowful, yet she
could not quite feel with Rachel. She began telling
her father about Barney, and Mr. Vivian was inte-
rested, and made her repeat to him what Ronald had
done for the child ; and when Greaves returned and
said that the General was ready, and would see Mr.
Lester, if he would walk upstairs, though he turned
pale for the instant, yet he went on talking to Ella,
whilst Rachel sat down on a stool in the recess of the
window, gazing at the pale sunlight which still
flickered upon the lawn.

Mr. Lester passed through the dressing-room, and
found Mildred there. The door into the bed-room
was open, so that he could only press her hand
kindly, and ask a few ordinary questions. The
General's hearing was wonderfully quick for his age,
and he dared not stay to talk with her.

" You will find him very weak," she said, in an
under-tone, when he asked what she thought of her
father ; " but he has referred to nothing ; only he has
been trying to write this morning, sitting up in bed.
Now he is dressed, and in his arm-chair."

The General looked at least eighty, but that might
have been his position, supported by pillows, and
with only a partial light falling upon him through the
half-closed curtains. He spoke with tolerable firm-
ness, and thanked Mr. Lester for coming, and ac-
cepted his offer of reading to him.

" Mildred is not strong enough to read much to


me," lie said ; " and Ella has been out, they say, this
morning. I should like to hear the Morning Lessons
for the day." He spoke decidedly, as if he did not
choose any other subject to be discussed.

Mr. Lester turned over the pages of his Bible
slowly, and remarked that in another week it would
be Christmas Day.

" Yes ; I forgot it was so near, till Mildred re-
minded me. She will receive your lists of the poor,
as usual."

" You are very kind, Sir. The poor people are
extremely grateful."

" It is no kindness, Mr. Lester ; it is their right.
I am their steward."

" I wish all persons with property would think the
same. Sir ; but it is in many cases a difficult lesson to

" I learnt it in my childhood, from warning. TNTien
I came into possession of my property, I vowed that
the poor should never be defrauded."

" It is a happy thought for old age, General, that
the vow has been kept ; and yet "

" Well, Sir, have you any fault to find with it ? " and
the General turned his keen eyes upon Mr. Lester.

"I was thinking of the completeness of God's
demands upon us," replied Mr. Lester ; " that one
good deed will not stand in the stead of another."

The General was silent, but there was an uncom-
fortable, nervous twitching about his mouth.

Mr. Lester again turned to the Bible, and opened
it, not at the lesson for the day, but at the Epistle of
St. James: "Whosoever shall keep the whole law.


and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."
" That has always struck me as one of the most fear-
ful texts in the Bible," he said. " It strikes at the
root of such a common error. May I say to you,
dear Sir, that it has been upon my mind very much
since our parting yesterday ? "

It was an immense effort to him, and he watched
the General's countenance with an anxiety which
made his voice tremble.

" You mean rightly, Mr. Lester ; go on."

" You are most kind, most thoughtful, and conside-
rate for your poor neighbours. Sir. It seems strange
to beg that you will be equally so toward your son."

" My conscience is clear upon that point," replied the
General, "and my judgment, Mr. Lester, lies with God.
If I have wronged my son, I will repair the wrong."

" And see him. Sir ; hear his confession ; restore
him to your love ; that is what he asks ? "

The General tried to take up a paper which lay
upon the table, but his hand trembled too much. " I
have tried to write it," he murmured to himself.

Mr. Lester interrupted him. " But will you not
tell me, dear Sir ? Speaking is better than writing ;
there is more truth in it."

" No, Sir, no ; I can't. Mr. Lester, you mustn't
urge it. I am old — God knows I have been tried —
you must leave me."

" I would speak to you, Sir, because you are old.
Life may be very short. I would not have you go,
unforgiving, to your grave."

"I do forgive — all. I did him wrong, perchance.
He mayn't have done what I thought. He says it ;


Miss Campbell says it. Let it be tried and proved ;
but let me rest, let me rest, for my days are few."

" There will be rest in mercy," replied Mr. Lester,
solemnly ; " for so only can we hope for mercy. Ge-
neral Vivian, at whatever risk, I must speak to you
as God's minister. Whilst you thought your son had
dishonoured your name, there was doubtless an ex-
cuse for the severity with which he was treated.
Whether it was right to cast off his children also,
need not now be discussed. But you have at length
the proof that you suspected him wrongly. Not the
proof which would stand, it may be, in a court of
justice, but the word of an honourable man, and the
corresponding testimony of a lady, who, whatever
may be your prejudice against her family, lays claim
to universal respect. If you still persist in your sus-
picions, if 'judgment without mercy ' is still to be your
motto, think what will be your condition when you
are summoned to that awful account, at which our
only hope must be in the ' mercy that rejoiceth
against judgment.' "

The General's countenance underwent many
changes during this speech, — surprise, anger, — then
a more chastened, solemnised feeling ; but it would
have seemed that the indomitable will remained un-
shaken. " Mr. Lester, I asked you to read to me,"
he said, his voice sounding hollow and tremulous.

And ]Mr. Lester read, and when he had finished
reading, he knelt in prayer ; and the General's voice
was heard in the confession, that he was a miserable
sinner, that he had erred and strayed from God's
ways like a lost sheep. At the close Mr. Lester


paused, remained for a few moments in silent pe-
tition, and rose.

The General turned to him hastily : " Your prayers
are short. Sir," he said.

" I leave it to yourself. General, to pray ; ' Forgive
us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass
against us.' "

The old man turned away his head, and wept.

A knock was heard at the door ; it was Mildred.
She came in, and stood by the General's chair.

He gave her his hand without looking up : " Mil-
dred, child, your father is very weak."

" You have been tried, dear Sir, very much. It is
no wonder."

" Mr. Lester would have me see him, Mildred. I
would do it, if it were right, — if it were good ; but it
mustn't be, — there is no proof My people would be
sacrificed; and the Campbells, — they are not to be
depended on. Years ago they defrauded and ruined
us. He married a Campbell, and they uphold him.
The boy, too, — it would all be ruin." He spoke with
difiiculty; his eyes were dulled, and his voice was
weak. Old feelings of dislike and prejudice were
working together, with more newly-excited mistrust,
to cloud a mind already, in a degree, enfeebled by

" Don't think of the future, my dearest Father ;
let it be as you will. See him, that is all we ask, —
all he would ask either."

" But Mildred, if I see him, — help me, — I said

I wouldn't, — I must keep my vow. I mustn't yield."

" You said it when you thought him guilty of a


grievous offence, dearest Father ; he comes now to
prove his innocence."

" Proof! proof!" The General repeated the words
to himself again and again. Then he said suddenly,
" Is he changed ? "

" Not as much as I expected ; he looks older, of
course. But he is changed in mind wonderfully."

The General shook his head, and motioned her
from him : " You tempt me, — go." His complexion
became of a livid paleness.

Mr. Lester gave him some water, and he recovered
a little, and murmured " To-morrow."

Poor Mildred looked at Mr. Lester in despair :
" And Ronald Vivian is here," she said, " on busi-

The General caught at the word as a relief:
" Business ! let me hear it ? I am well enough

" Impossible ! " whispered Mildred to Mr. Lester.

To her surprise Mr. Lester answered quietly also,
" I will go to him ; perhaps it may be as well."

He left the room. The General leaned back in his
chair, perfectly still. Mildred sat down by liim.
The minutes were very long. She dared not speak
to him again. Steps were heard along the corridor,
— in the dressing-room. The General moved, and
pushed away the footstool, and placed his writing-
case before him.

" May we come in ? " Mr. Lester entered, Ronald
v/ith him : another shadow darkened the doorway.

The General bent his head stiffly, with all his for-
mer precision of manner. Ronald scarcely returned


the greeting. His eye took a rapid survey of the
room, and rested on Mildred. She moved to go.

" If it is private business, Mildred, you can leave
us," said the General. " Young gentleman, you look
ill ; you had better sit down."

" Miss Vivian, pray stay." Ronald drew near the
table, and rested one hand upon it ; his countenance,
naturally pale from illness, was ghastly in its ex-
pression, but his eye was calm and cold. " I have
intruded upon you, General Vivian," he began, —

" No intrusion, young gentleman. I have had a
slight illness, but I am recovering. Can I, in any
way, help you ? "

" I have no claim upon you, Sir. I am the son of
— Captain Vivian."

Mildred's eye glanced uneasily at her father ; the
nervous motion of his mouth was visible again.

" Captain Vivian may have done my family injury ;
yet I would not visit the injury upon his son. What
do you ask of me ? "

Ronald paused.

" I beg you to explain yourself quickly," repeated
the General, rather sternly. " What do you need?"

Ronald approached nearer. His figure was erect,
whilst pride was giving its impress to his countenance.

" Speak, Sir," exclaimed the General.

And the tall form bent as though crushed by a
mighty load, and the agony of humiliation convulsed
every feature, as, laying a paper upon the table,
Ronald said, " You require proof of your son's inno-
cence. General Vivian ; you have it."



Mr. Lester pushed a chair towards him, but he
still stood.

" Read it, Mildred," said the General ; and Mil-
dred read tremblingly : —

" I forged the bill. They can take all I have to re-
pay themselves.

"John Viyian."

The General caught the paper from her hand, and
there was a long, death-like silence. He looked at
the words fearfully, — doubtfully.

The shadow passed from the doorway, and Edward
Vivian knelt by his side. " Father, forgive, — forgive

The General sat as one paralysed ; but his hand
rested, with a tremulous touch, on his son's head.

" Pardon me, Father ! Speak to me ! "

The white lips moved, and the glassy eyes became
dim ; and, leaning forward, the old man threw his
arm round his son's neck and kissed him.

He looked up again, and his eye wandered for an
instant round the room, as if in search of Ronald ;
but even in that moment he had left the apartment,
unnoticed by all save Mr. Lester ; and the General,
worn and exhausted, could only say, " I was so wrong,
Edward, so wrong. God forgive me ! I was so

The bells rang merrily from the tower of Encombe
church, on Christmas morning ; cheerful were the
greetings, hearty the good wishes, which met at the


entrance of the old Norman porch ; and fervently went
up thanksgivings to Heaven, whilst the notes of
the Angels' hymn rose, and echoed, and died away
amidst the arches. Eighteen years before, Mr. Vivian
had knelt in that church, proud in his self-reliance, a
young man ; with the hopes, the fears, the follies, the
offences of youth upon him. He knelt there now,
humbled, chastened, penitent, yet unutterably thank-
ful, with one prayer, earnest above all others, that
his children might never learn the same lesson at the
same price of sin and suffering.

That day was the first of Christmas-days spent as
in the olden time at Cleve Hall, since sorrow and
death had laid their chill grasp upon it, and rendered
it desolate.

The General, infirm and shaken though he was,
sat at the head of his table, and told of his plans for
the poor, and discussed alterations in his farm, and
seemed to forget that the lapse of years could be a
difiiculty in the way of his son's understanding any
thing which he wished him to undertake ; and Mil-
dred, smiling as she had never smiled before since
her sister's death, talked with Ella of what must be
done to make the old home happy in its new cha-
racter, and devised schemes by which they might
do all she needed in the village ; and read with

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Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellCleve Hall (Volume 2) → online text (page 21 of 26)