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THE HEIR OF THE WORLD; OR, HOW THE YOUNG MAN CAME TO HIS INHERITANCE.
BY C. CHESEBROUGH,
"A brutish man knowcth not, neither does a fool understand this."
Robert Fessenden walked on velvet carpets, very gay with flowers, until he came to his twentieth year, when the smooth path which he had trodden, with the careless step of entire security, ended suddenly.
From garret to basement of the six-story house the carpets were torn up, the dust was shaken from them, they went to the auctionrooms, and the young man stepped from the dismantled mansion to walk on the bare earth. In that pilgrimage, that bare-foot pilgrimage, as it might be called, he was alone, his father and mother having both died during the last year of disaster and ruin.
He had fancied himself the heir of a vast estate. Being disabused of that notion, he was compelled, for the first time, to question, in the very consternation of doubt,'what he should do. It is one thing to ask this, as he had been in the habit of doing, with the feeling that time, impertinently obtrusive on his hands, was to be got rid of; and quite another, to ask it in the stern assurance of unrelenting certainty, that bread is to be earned before it shall be eaten.
Circumstances, though they do not ordain, do manifestly develop; and, to all appearance, they had developed iu Robert Fessenden what one may see any day, by looking in almost any direction.
An indolent youth, more than boy, less than man; luxurious, effeminate, proud, presuming; not a very hopeful young life; for obvious reaioni, not a promising one.
Robert had lived in too warm a house for his soul's health. But now that he was houseless, would the strength enfeebled be restored? He had fed too constantly on dainties; but now that banqueting was over, would the change of diet change the habit of the patient? He had heard,
heaven knows what amount of idle talk; handled and squandered, starving poverty could best feel, how much money; and eternity alone could bring in the solemn testimony to the time that he had wasted.
So Robert Fessenden, Junior, looked, talked, conducted himself; the reader knows the manner as well as the writer. And I trust his knowledge comes from observation, not experience. But what he thought, this youth, what he thought of life, what he felt and purposed— that was not so easily discerned. For, in respect to these points, there was a vast vagueness in his own mind. A stern-eyed discerner of the youth would have characterized him as shallow, selfish, cowardly. Only Charity, with her fine, far-penetrating glance, could have pierced beneath these traits; and would her eyes have detected anything more hopeful than shallowness, and selfishness, and cowardice? Not from a momentary observation, certainly.
The senior Robert Fessenden had insulted the world by his career—so the world said, now that the man was dead, and a bankrupt in death. He was dead; he was buried. But actually done with, does anybody think — as a beast is dead and done with r No! he was living yet. A memory, an influence, a ghost to haunt his son, an angry memory for creditors. They neither forgot nor forgave him; and, in testimony thereof, they looked their curses and contempt into the face of his representative on earth.
Thus it was that the dead man was alive again. Such men as he may be laid away in their vault, to the general regret, or universal satisfaction, as the case may be; but who thinks that they stay there, that the essential self which made use of hands and feet for the execution of human purposes is indeed clean gone out of the world? This was not true of Fee. senden. He did not rest in his vault of stone and iron, though verily a certain body of death did. He came back to the world, the world busy in dishonouring his memory; came back to his son, came back to say, with a command that had entreaty in it, "Avenge me of mine adversary, my false fortune." To say, "Forty years I toiled: the fortune was surely mine by right of possession. I built my house upon a good foundation; all the world called it honourable. But the winds came, and then disaster. Avenge me of that evil gale of fortune 1"
The son, in the retirement to which he had retreated, in the hiding-place which he had sought for concealment of his shame, heard this voice. He heard it day after day, speaking now with vehement wrath, and now with ancient pride, and now with tearful supplication, "Take away my reproach: give me my place: build up the fortune: stop the mouths of slanderers. Be what My son should be I"
But how fulfil these requirements? What shall a young man do to be saved from the necessary influences of his training? Do you expect a kingly oak to grow from the Arbutis germ? or does the seed you plant bear fruit of its own kind? Unless there was something in the youth beside what had been drawn out by his foolish life of show, could ho be, in his fallen fortune, otherwise than profitless and wretched? Does the Ethiopian change his skin? Can the leopard change his spots?
There seemed, in the first days of the rain, nothing in the soul of Robert to which the father's voice could successfully appeal. He was Inst to sense of all except his own overwhelming losses. No eye could see him, no ear could hear; and he wept and groaned without rebuke or shame.
He feared, he had been taught to fear, nothing so much as the disfavour of men—the averted faces of former companions. And now all men were against him. And really, what would you expect him to do but weep? Him, I say; I speak of Robert Fessenden, not of another man. Think what his training had been. Think what his expectations were. He was like any petted girl. And what maiden, dealt with as he had had been, would not weep at a reverse of fortune? But the seclusion, the solitude in which he kept himself, and his straitened circumstances, compelled Robert finally to cease from tears and groaning; and then what was there for him to do but listen to the ghostly wailing of his father P And listening to that, from an unknown depth, a voice responded, far off and unintelligible, and he listened as one in agonized suspense to discover what it was within him that answered to his father, and to learn the answer also. Was it indeed his hand that would nerve itself to avenge that memory? Was it indeed his spirit that stirred with the purpose to achieve something, anything in (his) life f
But what could Robert do? He folded his arms to consider that question, perplexed beyond all perplexity he had ever felt or imagined. He despaired of ever solving it; but despaired to hope again. Days came and they went without bringing a ray of light to him; but still the spirit struggled, and groped, and muttered, and groaned, until at last the voice said: "What is there for you here? No man will trust you. Go down to the country; begin where your father began. He made his own fortune; retrieve that. Build up the fallen house. Show these base fools that the father's life is in the Son. What! are you not aware that it is only your lost fortune that you need to recover in order to stop the mouths of slanderous paragraphists, and make them cringe to you? Are you blind, boy, that you cannot see your course?"
So it came to pass that Robert Fessenden. went down into the country, not for the first time; he had summered at the spas and the seaside and among the mountains. But now he went as he never went before. For youthful elasticity he had never been remarkable; but now, as he went with his new proud resolution, it was a heavy weight to him.
Not for summer sport, not for inexorable fashion's sake, went he. But as an exile; all his aspirations tending in one direction ; every purpose pointing to one achievement.
Heirs of the world are all born into it. But Robert Fessenden had no perception of this fact. An heir has his possessions—something to show the world, houses, lands, or stock, or gold; so Robert would have reasoned; but he had nothing. He was a very, very poor young man; he owned nothing in the world. Possessions he had been wont to consider his own had suddenly passed into other hands. He was only unlike the myriad of disappointed plaintiffs, who are hurried away to the grave before their petitions are half heard, in this, that a chance of a hearing remained. But it looked like a desperate chance to him.
Going into the country did not change his views in respect to these things. The varied scenery he passed through relieved not the monotony of his thoughts; he was nursing his wounded pride along the troubled way, and calling Heaven and man to account for their punishment of the laws which had been broken.
The path of his travel lay over Borne hundreds of miles through a region of hopes and enterprizes; but he kept to his one thought, one hope, one enterprize, as a timid child clings to the nurse's hand; as the threader of labyrinths to his clue. How vast that thought was to him, and yet how really narrow! but to him, by no possible comparison, could it be made to appear small.
So he sat in the corner of the railway carriage wrapped in his purposes, muffled by them out of sight, out of reach of all the world.
Men, women, and children, came near him, and went by unseen, unheard. He was the one man of the world. The aim of every other was simple and easily attained; but how mighty was hint aud what Heroulean labours before all should be accomplished I This phase of feeling was better than that which admitted the girl's tears perhaps; because there was at least a prospect that in his struggle he might come to some true perception of the things of life; but it was all doubtful at best.
The sun rose and set upon that joumey. The travellers went, and the traveller past towns and hamlets; past tracts of land untouched yet by labour. Along that roadside wild flowers bloomed abundantly, and streams ran in their own ways at their own will j rich farm-lands, country houses, rural graveyards, churches, peaceable little villages minding their own business; busy towns attending to the world's concerns; great tracts of woodlands; past all these went the rushing engine, but the traveller saw them not. He could afford to dispense with the sunlit earth, the moonlit sky; these wore nothing to him; but at the end of his journey was one human being on whose will ne was pending his whole future career, and there he looked to find the work to which he stood prepared to give his mortal life.
What was he anticipating in exchange for those years P Something less, it might prove, than the bird, hopping from branch to branch, possessed; for he had enjoyment of the creation of God so far as he could perceive it.
But Robert Fessenden went like a beggar. He had nothing, who might have possessed all things. Nothing, forsooth because be was not standing idle, questioning how time might be endured and squandered. A beggar indeed; heir of neither earth nor heaven. Such was not the poverty of Lazarus at Dives' gate. r * » * •
The banker to whom Fessenden went, the early friend and partner of the elder Fessenden, was living in an unpretending house in an unfashionable street, with no show of affluence around him. He was a quiet man, and enjoyed life in its quiet ways. But he was likewise a man of power, whose influence was none the less certain and real because it moved without pretence and noise. When he said, "Do this," to the clerks in his counting-house or to bankers in distant parts of the country, or to the multitude of small men who were anxious for hi3 orders, the command became a deed for record.
The banker had never married, His sister lived with him in his quiet home, quiet in her life as be. Through those windows no great blaze of light ever fell upon the walk below or on the building opposite. The banker spent his evenings reading by a lamp while his sister sat on the other Bide and sewed. It was a rare event when either of them departed from this course; a rare thing that visitors disturbed them. But there was always room for another before the fire-place of the drawing-room; it was not inhospitality that excluded any, but this was the way of life contracted there, and however much a change of habit would have benefited either the brother or
sister, such a change would never take place by their own exertion. They were too well satisfied with their comfortable way of life.
In the rear of the unpretending building was a garden, glowing with beauty six months of the year; it was the joy of the banker's heart; here he found all the poetry- of life; here be threw off all cares, and walked, a simple-hearted man, with reverent, glad heart, like a child, before the beloved presence of Nature. Here he forgot that he wag a banker, a rich man, whose favour was sought because of his riches: lie was a loving-hearted man here, humble and holy. The garden was a Paradise to him, a feast, a continual refreshment; but no one that could rejoice in or profit by its beauty was ever excluded from it.
Augustus Sidell was growing old: the stoop in his shoulders betrayed him; he was not far from seventy years by that. But his step was still firm, his eye clear; his decision and energy were perhaps moderated from their ancient vigour, but his mind as equal to the labour demanded of it as it was half a century ago. His business among men had been that of a silent worker, and so well had he performed it that he stood out in grand relief among the best men of business, eminent for ability among the capable. A sterling man and true, who, each day of his life, justified the power he held, the place he occupied. Through his long career not a shadow had ever fallen on any work of his; in times of panic the people kept their confidence in him; and what he said was quoted and believed, without ever a question.
With those calm black eyes, which had made their study of men so long a time, Augustus Sidell looked up when the son of his old friend was shown into his parlour. He rose at the Bound of Robert's name, and stepped forward with a rapidity that showed the heartiness of the welcoming words he said, and took the hand of Fessenden with a cordial grasp, that must have nerved the courage of the youth.
But the value of this welcome, grateful as the welcome itself might be, was to be tested. It had no independent value to Robert; the smile and the word were nothing, if they did not include occupation, assistance, direction. With this feeling, not so well concealed as it might have been, the young man sat down to confer with the old.
He lost no time in accounting for his appearance there, and though there was something in bis directness and anxiety that jarred the tranquillity of the old man's spirit, Mr. Sidell was, or believed himself to be, gratified by the confidence which seemed to dictate the abruptlyspoken words:
"I have come here, sir, to look for employment in the country, where my father began business. I came to you for advice, and I am not ashamed to say, for assistance. You know how it has ended with us?"
"I have heard," said the banker; and sympathy and sadness were in the voice of the greyhaired man as he looked seriously upon the youth. Though this tribute were a watte, still he could not withhold it.
"Did I right in coming here ?—in trusting you i" asked Robert, encouraged to go on by the old man's word.
"What do you purpose doing t"
"Going to work, sir," answered Robert, with a promptness and readiness that surprised and pleased himself.
"Have you ever worked before?"
"You can imagine how much. In the office, Bir, or out, as it happened. But my books were kept well, so far as they were kept, my father always said."
"He knew," answeied the banker. "I will try you myself. You want to support yourself, I suppose. Anything more?"
"To begin where he did; but not to end in the same place, sir. One notch short, if resolution can do it."
This honest statement seemed to please the questioner. He began at once to hope for the youth, according to his custom. So hopeful, he was always for those in whose fortune be was interested.
"Resolution has done a good many fine things," said he; "but not alone. Never alone, I take it. It requires more than resolution." He looked at the young man with serious questioning in his eyes, and Robert promptly assented to the proposition.
"If we can suit each other," said Mr. Sidell, "I shall be very glad that you came down here. I can make room for you, and find enough for you to do. Shame if I could not, for the son of my old friend. I read of what had happened; it was a heavy blow. Did he understand what was going to happen, do you think? Did your father?"
"I think he feared, but he could not have known," replied Robert Fessenden. "I am sure he could not have known. He said to me one day, 'It will be a tight squeeze to get through this heat.' But I had heard him say the same twenty times before. When it came the doctors said he might have had the tit just as likely if the crisis had not proved fatal."
"I hoped that was true," said the old banker; "I believed it was. I did not believe that Robert Fessenden could die on account of his failure. I know, my young friend, it is a hard thing for a man to be thrown down in a minute from Buch a place as he held. But I believed that he could stand even that. When I heard that he was dead (I read it in the papers) I remembered his habits of business. Forty years ago I warned him against them; I knew that what had happened time and again was to be expected in his case; that, strained to the last inch as he was, there would come a time when the cord would snap. He was an honest man at bottom, sir. I'd say that against the testimony of the world. No matter how ugly things in in lit look, he was a true man at bottom."
This tribute was the first uttered in Robert's bearing that did honour to the memory of bis
father. He choked back the tears the words called fortb, and said, with a manful spirit that gave the old man some additional courage concerning the youth:
"I want the world should see that. I want to make the slanderers eat their words.''
"Forget, rather," said the old man mildly; "forget that there is a world to be appeased, and that slanderers walk in it. Your business is not with them, but with man. Man is better than men; and you ought to permit yourself to deal only with the best."
How much of this philosophy attained through a long life's experience, the life just wakened was able to receive, the reader will judge.
A sufficient impetus will send a not very strong character from one extreme violently and wholly to another. Fessenden, who went into the counting-house of his father's old colleague, Augustus Sidell, was not the Fessenden of L—— Street, the fastidious young gentleman who took hold of life with the languor and indifference of a patron whose interest in his protege is gone. He was an ambitious youtb, whom time and experience might now hope to teach; one whose new-roused ardour would be someday restrained beyond a fear. Thus Mr. Sidell regarded him, believing according to his hope, as people I observe do, in the main.
From the time of his entrance into the counting-house, Fessenden gave himself over to the consideration of the great purpose he had formed and to the fulfilling of it.
The slanderers must be made to eat their words.
The house must be re-established.
The name that had been thrown down to the mercy of paragraphists must possess itself of its lost dignity and power.
And for these three ends, each included in the result of his own labour, Robert Fessenden was content to strive till his hair should be grey, his strength exhausted, his life ended.
lie gave to his pride and his ambition full license; the stream became a torrent, as all streams must, where tributaries are allowed and the course is downward. But the stream was subterranean. It never broke out into the light of day. Had it done so what clod of earth had been enriched thereby?
He was in the path where the work of the labourer is never finished. There was ever study with bis claim, or work with its demand; no time was idleness with him. But idleness with him meant every human enjoyment; every moment given to the exchange of light words which are not idle, because they are the cement of human hearts, and serve a purpose as the flowers do; every such moment was a loss to him. Augustus Sidell and his sister might re&t in their garden or chat through an evening, or amuse themselves with games; but the time