« AnteriorContinuar »
was not come for such enjoyment to him; and never would it come, at the rate he was now going on.
• # # • #
In that garden of his, that place of freshness and beauty, lying in the midst of and surrounded by pretence, and hollowness, and clamour, and dust, in the rear of his unpretending house, Mr. Sidell lived every hour of his summer days. There he renewed his youth. In the summer-house he read or dozed, in sight of his bee-hives, his grapery, his greenhouse, and the fountains that played every day and all the day long. That garden was bis mine, he said. And in truth it was so: a mine of enjoyment; a rich mine, whose treasure was precious to the owner; beyond price, though never hoarded.
Sometimes it would happen that Robert Fessenden walked in this garden; never from choice for a moment's enjoyment, always of necessity. There was some account or statement to render Mr. Sidell, which had been overlooked during the proper business hours, some errand that had reference to the transactions of the counting-house, it invariably proved, was the reason of his appearance there. Mr. Sidell perceived this with regret. Absorbed as he might seem to be in bis book or reverie, he had always an open eye and careful observation to bestow upon the youth, whom in his heart he "loved for his father's sake."
This careful observation had a serious meaning; there was in it mure than curiosity. Mr. Sidell had himself trodden the dangerous road which Robert Fessenden had entered. He understood its dangers, for looking back on his past life from the height he had gained, he could survey the whole way; could see himself toiling along the road, driven through its first stages by an insane purpose; arrested in it, but still led on, astray here and there, blundering, mistaking, failing, elated by success again; and then, even in the full tide of prosperity, arrested, and compelled to ascertain his real position, and to understand the true meaning and nature of success; to go on then, from day to day, verily a new man, in new paths, with new purposes.
He saw and understood, against his wish and hope, how when Fessenden would sometimes pause, contrary to his will it seemed, compelled by the lovely garden prospect, the freshness and the fragrance, it was only to hurry on the faster about his business afterward, and to transact it in haste. He must make instant amends for that glance at the blue sky, for that pause, and that inhaling of the garden sweets. Mr. Sidell could well see, when he had succeeded in detaining the young fellow to look at this flower, or observe the groivth of the grapevines, or the development of some strange foreign plant, that he was regarded as a trespasser on Robert's time. And to himself he said, in perfect understanding of what he beheld: "It will be too late soon, if it be not now
too late. What prices we pay! He gives youth and all its glorious privileges; and I, I paid a high price too, hardly daring to hope that she shall be mine, even in heaven, when I might have had her for this life and for all life. If he had but a heart such as I had in those old times, oh! I could counsel him! But who can see that anybody's love is anything to him? What youth in these days can be warned? But I might tell bim a tale that would serve as a lesson! Yes 1 it were even worth the pang and distress it would cost this old heart. But wouldn't he just turn upon me and say I had come to my dotage before men were prepared? Still, it might make him consider whether fortune is worth buying at the price of all the faculties that can best enjoy it."
Thus would Augustus Sidell, in the benevolence of his heart, muse in his solitude on the welfare of Robert Fessenden. Meditating on it more thoughtfully, more anxiously than Robert, with all his care and anxiety, knew how to do; for the one had eternity in view and the other only the triumphs possible in time.
So, even more thoughtful, careful, close, more unyielding to the open solicitations of the world and the concealed solicitudes of his employer, Robert went on his way. Over his desk and his books he foreswore and abandoned his youth; while the flower of life was blowing, he was only mindful of gold-dust, to be found by delving in the soil or among rocks by some blasting process.
True to his sterling principles the banker, in ways unknown to Robert, advanced his interests, but at the same time constantly endeavoured to nullify the legitimate result of rapid prosperity; for he said to himself, taking counsel of that wise man:
"The heart will turn into rock too, and the gold be soon beyond the reach of any miner."
And, as the musician tries the keys of the instrument before him to ascertain its quality, so be sought in various ways to learn more precisely the spirit of Fessenden.
Poverty found its way under varied forms within Mr. Sidell's garden. Squalid and deformed figures walked in the midst of that pure and radiant beauty; and, but not often, as he came or went the heirs ot calamity crossed the path of Robert Fessenden. Did he see and understand? Did he recognize a brotherhood with these? Did he ever pass by neglecting and unmindful? The sympathies of his heart, if any sympathies were there, must, thought Augustus Sidell, compel a pity, a commiseration, which should not disappear in the same moment that it was called into exercise.
But when the banker perceived that though Robert never passed by deaf or dumb; though he never failed to give his charity, the tide of his thoughts was still no more than a moment arrested, and his steps hardly a moment, he sighed and thought again about the story of his youth, and hesitated still to touch, even with purpose like his, a memory so solemn and
frievous. Mr. Sidel had a niece named Annie Driscoll, who had lived from her childhood in the banker's house under her aunt's charge. Was there nothing in her youth and beauty that could win and engage the eyes and thoughts of Fessenden?
More and more intent on the fulfilment of his soul's desire, the banker waited impatiently till she should return from school for the summer vacation. He would not interfere with the designs of Providence, by calling her home to serve the purpose of a test to suit his own pleasure; but when she had come in due time, and the light she always brought with her was restored to the somewhat dull house, he waited anxiously for the result, as if, of necessity, there must be a result.
But result was none. She might enliven the house and fill it with echoes; she might break in upon her uncle's sober discussion with Robert Fessenden, and quite change its current by her vivacity, making demands on the old man and the young which could not be resisted; still the severe calm face of Robert remained changeless in its expression. What was youth and beauty, what was a free life to him P He could not see its joy and its great price, so narrowed was his vision. And when Mr. Sidell observed the young people together, he might well have felt grateful that these lives were separated as securely as they were from each other; that there existed a certainty that the dark cloud of Robert's life would not roll in between the sun and this gay flower that flourished in the light. It only remained then, thought Augustus Sidell in solemn meditation, it only remained for him to make use of his last expedient. The young man's cure must come from his own soul; from its sense of want. To bring restoratives around him in his present unconsciousness of need were indeed a vain work. But if a mirror were held up with a steady hand before his eyes, perhaps he could perceive.
It therefore happened, as was predicted by every omen, that the day after Annie Driscoll returned to school, the weeks of vacation having ended, Mr. Sidell said to Robert Fessenden, the latter standing in the door of the banker's summer-house, declining the fruit and wine spread on the rustic table, "Sit down with me awhile." ,
With an expression of thanks for the courtesy, which was received at its real value, Robert, with reluctance which he could not hide from the old man, however much he might congratulate himself on its concealment, stepped back and sat down opposite Augustus Sidell.
"I am lonely," said the banker; "I want a young face over yonder where Annie sat yesterday. The house seems as deserted as a church on week-days. It's lonesome even out here, where I generally find plenty of company. I'm not a man that has ever stood long on mere appearances. If there were not a fear behind the seeming folly of it, a fear that Annie would
be the loser by it, I'd have her back to-morrow. But she must attend to her books, I suppose. Youth is the summer-time, and if the honey isn't stored then very likely it won't be stored at all."
'* Very true," said Robert heartily, thinking 1 of honey too, and making his own application of 'Mr. Sidell's words.
"That child's music," the banker continued, as though entirely absorbed in his own thoughts, "that child's music made me almost young again; as young as I can ever hope to be after all my boasting that I should never grow old; as young as I have been in many a year. But still I hold to the doctrine, sir, that it is a folly and a sin in men to wear out in the way they do.'
"It seems to be a natural arrangement that they should," observed Robert.
"No!" exclaimed the banker, in no assumed earnestness; '* that is our mistake. We can't control our limbs, and faces, and faculties altogether, though even these are ours more entirely than we seem to think. But our hearts, boy, are ours, and there's no use of allowing them to be ruined by rust or to decay before our very sight."
"True, sir," said Robert. He was merely assenting to be rid the sooner probably of the garrulous old gentleman. Mr. Sidell thought that he could see as well as hear that in Fessenden's reply; still he said to himself:
"It's now or never, and I'll through with it, He won't make quite the fool of himself that he intends if I can help it."
"No, indeed, sir," he went on aloud. "And when I think of what my life is, and of what it might have been, I feel guilty before God and man."
"You I" exclaimed Robert, his attention fairly caught by this remarkable announcement.
"I might have been a poorer and a vastly happier man, Fessenden. It troubles me when I look back at my youth. It terrifies me, for I know tbatmy youth has been held up to others as a safe model for imitation. I have heard it said with my own ears, many a time that it was so. But I will tell you, Fessenden, what I never said before, that this old age and wealth of mine, tranquil as it is and filled with solid cheer, is no more what it should have been than ■ why, it is as if in a shipwreck I bad saved some valuable luggage, indeed, but in doing that had lost the precious life in my charge. I might have been a poorer man if I had lost that luggage, ... I had a fortune
young man, and if one must be sacrificed
but mind, I did not know that word then, why it must be my chance in the world I would choose to keep: so you see I have the fortune. But in place of something better, I have it; and I walk alone. Young man, there is one good gift that we cannot barter away and ever possess again. Even if she had lived and our union had taken place, for I never broke my vow, it would not have been the life it might have been, had I not chosen as I did. It is the spirit that dictates the choice that determines the whole career. But God be thanked; I could repent. I lived to see my mistake. And so I say, it terrifies me whenever I see a young man, and the sight is not rare, giving up his soul, sir, in the endeavour to make a prosperous life of it. Fessenden, of all the wise men I have ever known, Tom Myres is the wisest. How he enjoys life! Blessed in his constitution, no doubt. But such a spirit as his ought to be universal. There would be chance enough for variety in the development of that same spirit, I say, sir, that the most of the wretchedness in the world is unconstitutional, and to consent to it is criminal. In the consent — ah! there it is! I know it is fearful to feel this responsibility, but it's more fearful not to feel it. Fessenden, don't let any devil-argument delude you. As true as there's a God there's something to be looked after beside our business concerns. It profits a man nothing to gain the world and lose his soul. That loss, sir, makes a hell of this world as well as of the next . . . . No more preaching; but I deserve to feel Annie's loss. And there's some satisfaction in owning that. Take a glass of wine with me for our mutual better health, and I'll keep you no longer."
The old man poured out a glass for Robert, and lifted his, which was already filled, to his lips.
"I am in no haste to be gone, sir. I feel it an honour to be detained by you," said Robert, his attention at last really arrested and held by those words of Augustus Sidell.
"Are you—is it true? But I must take my nap now. It is as good as a song from Annie, t bough, to hear you say that."
So Robert Fessenden went his way, and the banker began to hope for him.
• # # »
Now Tom Myres was a little bandy-legged fellow, with straw-coloured hair and blue eyes, grave as a sexton, and like him not solemn nor repulsive in his gravity—always in his place, always to be relied on—busy as the working bee. When he came into the counting-house with his light step and took his place at his desk, a new impulse of activity seemed to possess every man in the office. With no eye or ear for anything going on around him, he would apply himself, with all diligence, to his particular duties, until the clock struck the hour when the office closed, and then he lost no more time in going out than he had in coming in. The face and the habits of this young fellow had attracted the notice of Fessenden, but never his attention. He lodged in the same house, too; but they were men who would never of themselves come to hold any special relation toward each other.
Now, however, when the approbation of the young clerk had been pronounced with so much heartiness by the master, it was time for several reasons that Fessenden should observe.
He now remembered that it had occurred to him on the day that he first saw Tom Myres
(Tom everybody called him), that some extra good fortune must have befallen that individual that morning, so radiant was his face as he tripped into the counting-house and threw himself into his work.
He remembered that he had observed since that day—even he taking cognizance of an individual so humble—that it was only an habitual cheerfulness which shone in the contrast with Robert's own gloomy and depressed state. However great the weariness of Tom might be, however much the face might express its weariness, the contented and cheerful expression never quite vanished from it. The joyous spirit shone through the body. He came in from a happy region and went out to the same. It was all recollection and anticipation with him.
This person being introduced to Fessenden's attention by Mr. Sidell as a model, some special consideration must needs follow. Whatever the young man's own preconceived opinion might be, the speech of the banker conld but produce its effect.
And, this observation being secured, could it be in vain? Tom Myres, of all men in the world, the last to look upon himself in the light of an example for the imitation of Robert Fessenden or any other creature. Tom with his wife occupied the rooms just underneath those of Fessenden.
Yes, he had his wife and his violin—the wife a pretty girl as fair as himself, as blue-eyed, and happy-hearted. They were two "children of the sun." Very children, thought Fessenden, and probably by this virtue they had possessed themselves of his favour. Children are so well managed, if you but humour them. But Augustus Sidell was not in his dotage, and he had never employed a tool, for he had never any but the most honourable purposes to serve. Again and again Fessenden was compelled to return from his own impressions and opinions to a new contemplation and observation of the character of this same bright-haired and blueeyed clerk.
In these days meditation like this was frequently indulged by Robert. "If it is true that Mr. Sidell's experience arose from the operation of circumstances which, in their result, are the same in all times and places, and I should at last, after whatever success, sit down to a melancholy old age such as his seems to be, in spite of all his success, and prosperity, and honour, would I be compelled to feel, as he does, that in some respects, and those the most important, my life had been a failure? But I sacrificed nothing. I have deferred nothing in the doing of which my heart was interested, until my fortune should be secured. Some men are born to be satisfied with little; it would be easier for them to starve to death than sustain themselves in a high position."
But if these were Robert's reflections, he must in their progress have often paused and reflected seriously, surveying the points he gained doubtingly; and certainly the conclusions he reached left him in a condition of no particular self-satisfaction.
There came an evening when, after a day's confinement to the house, in the prostration and exhaustion of over-work of brain and body, Fessenden found himself led by his curiosity to the door of Tom Myron's sitting-room, and standing there waiting for admittance. Amy Myres was in the room alone, tuning a violin. She came to the door at Fessenden s knock, and invited him in so cordially, that Robert's scruples, for he was nice on points of etiquette, and knew that he had not come hither as a guest, but as a spy, disappeared, and he went in, making much of his apology. But the occasion did not call for that. Tom was coming any minute. If Mr. Fessenden would remain her husband would be very happy.
There are some people, and Amy Myres was of these, before whom the parade of grand manners is more than an impertinence—it is a cruelty. Affectation and pretence must hide before them, if they would not appear in their own eyes ridiculous; any pretence whatsoever, any exhibition short of kindliness of feeling, and goodness of heart, ia the last the exhibitor would care to make.
Robert Fessenden went into the Small apartment feeling all this, and acting accordingly. It was a small, plainly-furnished room, and the wife was its greatest feature and attraction. Can you say this always, feeling that you speak the truth, of the grand rooms of grand houses? She made all other ornament at the least superfluous.
Now, behold him sitting there, in that happy presence, four bare walls encompassing them: no pictures, not many books, but heaps of music on the piano, and flowers on the mantelpiece in a handsome vase, placed before a handsome clock. There was a table, moreover, and half-a-dozen chairs, a cheap carpet on the floor —cheap, but bright with gaily-coloured flowers.
Robert had no need to sit gazing around him, waiting the husband's return; nor was there a chance of his consuming with curiosity that could not be gratified. In one way or another the talk, that confidential talk, began. How it began Fessenden could never tell: it was mystery to him; but it was all so naturally done, and the simple-hearted innocence and trustfulness of the young wife was expressing itself in the story of the attachment, and courtship, and marriage of Tom and herself; how they had always been friends, till they became more; and now they had been married, to his amazement Robert heard it, five years and more. Tom was twenty.five, and she Amy, was twenty. Her father and mother had died, and Tom married her out of school, and brought her to his lodgings; and certainly the young fellow's reward was with him hourly.
"He will always have his place as long as Mr. Sidell lives: we are sure of that," said she, "You are in the office—did you ever notice his writing? Is it not beautiful?" Fessenden had
observed it, and he answered Amy as she obviously hoped he would, that it was a fine hand. "We have lived here in these rooms," she continued, " ever since we were married, and I hope that we shall live here always. You see that Mr. Sidell has a great consideration for my husband. Every Christmas he sends me a present because he likes Thomas so well. Thomas just suits him; you might not think that, because they are so different, but it is so. That clock was one thing and this piano another. It is always something we can both enjoy. But I like the violin best, best of all. He gave that to Tom before he knew anything about me. And I have learned to play on it, not as well as Thomas, of course, but still a little."
With more real interest than you might anticipate, Robert Fessenden asked this happy woman how she managed to spend her time while her husband was away.
"O, that is easy to do," she answered, looking around the room with her rejoicing eyes, proud of her ownership and authority. "I sew, and read, and walk out, or learn new music. I teach music to the children in the house, the three young ladies, and that pays." But here she checked herself in her communicativeness. "He likes me to sing for him; "maybe I disturb you sometimes," she said quickly, and quite seriously, uttering the thought the instant it occurred to her.
"No, indeed," Robert hastened to assure her.
"You should come and hear us sometimes; maybe you would like it. Do you play the violin?"
Her questioning did not offend him, by the manner of his answer.
"The piano, maybe?"
"But you sing?"
"Not a note."
"Well, you listen."
"Yes, I can do that," answered Robert, laughing heartily; "but with the woman, bear in mind, not at her.
"Here is my husband—Mr. Fessenden, who is waiting to see you, Thomas," she said, when Tom came in. The young fellow looked rather embarrassed as he entered singing: he stopped short in his song, seeing who was there, and seemed surprised at the sight. Yet he also was glad of the visitor—really so.
He brought with him a bunch of fresh flowers from Mr. Sidell's green-house, he said, as he gave them to Amy. And when he bad made all plain that Robert desired to know in regard to business that day, Fessenden still remained, and needed not to produce an excuse for so doing; he w as cordially welcome there.
They sang for him, and played for him, and talked over the flowers of the green-house, no more envious of the fortune of their owner than Amy was on account of the red splendour of the rose, or the white glory of the lily.
When at length Robert retired from the room, it was as one might go who has seen for the first time the beauty and the freshness of the world. He had been in the habit of thinking, when he saw all the pride of the banker's gardens, and the splendid but neglected opportunity that old man bad of "living," of thinking of the time that certainly must come when, having regained all that his father had lost, he should take his proper place in the world. It should be a lofty place indeed; loftily would he fill it, and stand there unapproached by the mere circumstances of the world; and all the mouths of slanderers should be stopped, and bis father's honour rest free of all stain.
But—here were people who, while having nothing, actually seemed to be possessors of all things. There was no room for envy or ambition in their hearts—no room for pride. It had evidently never occurred to them that they had cause for repining. Great fortune was no further from their thoughts than it was desire. They had made a five-years' experiment of this joy of theirs, and surely it could never have been deeper, or more real than it was now. He did not believe that it could ever become less real and true.
He went from their room up to his—up to the scene of toiling thought, of unflagging industry, of little dreaming, but of the patient fashioning of great projects, the formation of vast designs, which ten lives could hardly accomplish, were they all laborious as his.
Was this Robert Fessenden? On his table were the books and papers, and his night-lamp ready lighted; all things waited (or the workman who there applied himself by night. He stood upon the threshold looking in and around the room; then, with a hasty stride, he advanced to the table, extinguished the light, turned the key in the lock, and descended the stair with the key in his pocket, his purpose of labour for that night at least abandoned. So much as this was gained.
The moon is up; the night is clear and cool, after the sultry day. The earth feels the refreshment of the moonlight and the dew. A light as mild falls on the heart of Robert Fessenden from the beaming eyes so frank anil cordial, whose gaze but now met his; and that free and genial talk to which he has but now listened—he never heard its like before, never; and surprising as it may seem, it is true that there are multitudes of people who never hear its like—their ears not being opened.
Augustus Sidell had said, in no idle mood of talk, that of all men known to him, if there is one whose lot he would envy, it is the lot of Tom Myres. And Robert cannot now persuade himself that this was the speech of age-surveying youth and opportunity, and longing to fight the battle of life over again. It cannot be that a renewed chance of struggle is what the old man covets. In his heart Robert Fessenden now understands the meaning of Augustus Sidell, and as be wonders through the streets and the square, he consents to the banker's judgment; he sighs for the freedom of those who have no family honour to retrieve, no dignity to main
tain, no place to win and occupy. The soft night-breeze lulls him into subjection to these thoughts; but at length came a colder breath of wind; a gust from the north bears down on the indolent sighing southern breeze, and Robert goes home at midnight—and the " summer-night's dream" is ended.
But he extorts no work from himself; he lies down to wakefulness and meditation.
If Augustus Sidell has yet an appreciation for such a life as Tom Myres is living, as he says, why is it too late for him to live a life like Tom's? Can an old love never be replaced? Is not the old man, after all, the victim of a whimsical self- deception? Having satisfied himself in one direction, does he not turn himself wholly in another, and of necessity think and reason childishly? But would he, Robert Fessenden, be willing to renounce all that he hopes yet to achieve, and is labouring day and night to achieve, for any such cheap possession as that held by Tom and Amy Myres? A strange question, yes—almost, he thinks, if the career he has marked out did not lie before him like the path of duty, which it were base, cowardly, unfilial to forsake.
The fact is this, Robert Fessenden, at this period of his career, stands in precisely the relation to the world which his father occupied at the corresponding period of his life. At such a point as this, Fessenden the elder had paused in his career, and looked into the future with serious eyes; then, closing his eyes, he had leaped forward, choosing the purpose which he would serve, and through his life that purpose he had served with mind, and soul, and body. Every step he took was in reference to that purpose; every aim revealed it. And prosperity and ruin proved him equally.
Substantially the spirit of the father did live in the son. If it should prove in the end that their career differed essentially, the proof of their likeness might be drawn from this point of the son's life, the point we now see him holding.
Manifestly here, with the setting forth of two careers, with the warning voice of a man who had tried life in his ear, and the exhibition of a truly joyous state of existence before him, there was not only an opportunity, but a necessity of choice between them, laid on Fessenden. If henceforth he should set himself to labour with the same end in view that he had so long cherished, it must be in the nature of things more resolutely, more effectively; he must quite shut out the prospect of a merely happy human life, and choose an ambitious striving one.
Augustus Sidell with increased interest surveyed the young man for whom he had laid bare his heart. But whether the seed he had attempted to plant had found any lodgment in that soil, or whether the next breeze bad wafted it far off, he could not tell. Robert himself could not have told. But the spirit of the dead had surely loosened its hold upon the living. The word had gone forth and could not return void. As long as day after day Fessenden breathed the same atmosphere with Tom and