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FATHER AND SON
The flood-gates of accusation and information once set open, innumerable tongues that had never stirred to give timely warning to a person so inaccessible and unpopular as Andrew Cleave were valuable in pouring in upon him charge upon charge against the son who had been so lately not less the darling than the pride of the old man's heart, and many a one who had refrained from speaking the word in time which would have saved a fellow-creature from destruction, because their own pride was offended by the reserve of the austere old man, now sought him even in his own lonely dwelling to multiply upon him humiliating proofs of his misfortune, and professions of sympathy and compassion that would have been gall and wormwood to the proud old man if his son's deceptive and profligate conduct had not already humbled it to the dust. He heard all patiently and in silence: attempted no vindication of himself when the Job's comforters obliquely reflected on his blind credulity, by observing that they had long seen how matters were going on—"that they had always sharply looked after their own boys, thank God .,'but then they were ordinary children, no geniuses." For it was well known that Andrew Cleave had prided himself on his son's superior abilities; and he who had long held himself pre-eminent in wisdom qualified to rebuke and instruct others, now listened with a subdued spirit to the torrent of unasked and impertinent advice, which sounded sweet and pleasant to the ears of the intrusive utterers, if it fell harshly and unprofitably on those of the unhappy hearer.
On the Sunday morning succeeding that Saturday in the course of which Andrew Cleave had been subjected to this spiritual martyrdom, he went twice, as usual, to the parish church; but during divine service his eyes were never lifted even during the sermon to the face of the minister, and his deep sonorous voice did not mingle with those of the village choristers, and in going and returning he shunned all passing salutation, and once within his own threshold, the cottage door was closed on all intruders and not again did they see him. Not in vain had been the long communion of Andrew Cleave with his own heart and with his God. Yet, at
last he detected his pride, his worldliness, his worship of the creature encroaching on that due to the Creator. He felt and confessed his own insufficiency, and laying down at the foot of the cross the burden of his frailties and sorrows, he sought counsel and consolation at the only source which is never resorted to in vain. The fruit of the night's vigil was a determination on the part of Andrew to go the next
morning to C and seek out this erring
child, not with frowns and upbraiding, but tender remonstrance and mild conciliation; to inquire into and cancel whatever embarrassments he had incurred; and having done so to say— "My son give me thine heart;" and then — for who could doubt the effect of such an appeal ?—to consult the boy's own wishes with regard to a profession. So resolved Andrew during the sleepless watches of that Sunday night; but when morning came he found himself unable to act on his determination as he had intended. He was feeble and indisposed and unequal to the task he had assigned himself; therefore, as the delay of twenty-four hours would not be material he determined to pass the interval in reconsidering his new projects.
Early on the morrow, however, with recruited strength and matured purpose, he hastily despatched his morning meal, and was preparing to set out, when the sound of approaching footsteps and the swinging of the garden-gate made him pause for a moment with his hand on the latch, and almost before he could lift it the door was dashed rudely open, and three men presented themselves, one of whom stationed himself just without the threshold, while the two others, stepping forward threw down a warrant on the table, abruptly declaring that by its authority they were empowered to make search for and arrest the body of Josiah Cleave. Their abrupt notice fell like a thunderclap on the ear of the unfortunate old man, and yet for a moment he could not comprehend its fatal sense; but stood as if spellbound, upright, immovable, every muscle of his strong features still as in the rigidity of death, and his eyes fixed with a stony and vacant stare on the countenance of the unfeeling speaker. And yet the man was but outwardly hardened to his hateful occupation, his heart was not insensible to the speechless horror of that gaze; his own eyes fell beneath it, and in softened tones of almost compassionate gentleness he proceeded to explain—that in the execution of his duty he must be permitted to make strict search over the cottage and premises, in some part of which it was suspected the offender might have taken refuge, with the hope of being concealed till the first heat of pursuit was over. As he spoke Andrew gradually recovered from the first effects of the shock, his features relaxed from their unnatural rigidity, and by a great effort he regained his accustomed aspect of stern composure, and in a low but steady voice calmly asked for what infraction of the laws his son had become amenable to justice. The appalling truth was soon told: during the last night the counting-house of Messrs. —— had been entered by means of skeleton-keys. Access to the cash-draw, the strong-box, and other depositaries of valuables had been obtained, and considerable property in notes, gold, and plate taken away by the burglars, who had escaped with their booty, and not a trace of their route had been discovered. Then came the dreadful climax and the officer's voice was less firm as he spoke it, though every softened accent fell like an iceball on his father's heart. His son, his own Josiah, had been the planner and chief perpetrator of the deed. A chain of circumstances already elicited, evidences clear as noonday, left no shadow of doubt as to his guilt, and though he was known to have accomplices,
his situation of trust in Messrs. 's firm, and
the advantage he had taken of it in the perpetration of the robbery, marked him out as the principal offender, after whom the officers of justice were the hottest in pursuit.
Andrew heard all in silence, with compressed lips, but with looks rooted to the ground, and when all was told, bowing his head, he waved his hand with dignified submission and calmly said—" It is enough; do your duty." He seated himself in his old elbow-chair, from which he did not stir nor give further token by word or gesture of concern in what was going on, while the ineffectual search was proceeding.
When it was over and the officer, with a few well-meant and unheeded words of attempted comfort, left him alone with his misery, he got up and closed and bolted the cottage-door, and from that hour no one saw Andrew Cleave till on the third day from that on which his great sorrow had fallen upon him, He was seen
slowly walking up the High-street, at C ,
with an aspect as composed as usual, though its sternness was softened to a milder seriousness, as if the correcting hand of God had affixed that changed expression, and his tall athletic form, hitherto upright as the cedar, bent earthward with visible feebleness, as though ten added years had bowed him nearer to the grave.
His calamity was generally known and commiserated, for even those who had taken delight in mortifying the parental pride of a
man so arrogant in his prosperity, now that the hand of the Lord lay heavily on him, were affected by the sacredness of his sorrow, and, awed by the quiet dignity of his resignation, as he passed many a hat was touched with silent respect, whose wearer he was personally unacquainted with, and many hands were extended to his by persons who had never in their lives greeted him with that kindly greeting. To those who addressed him with a few words of cordial but unavailing sympathy he replied without impatience, but with a brief and simple acknowledgment, or a lowly-uttered "God's will be done;" and withdrawing himself as soon as possible from the cruel kindness of his comforters he betook himself with all the undiminished energy of his uncommon character to transact the business which had urged him forth into the haunts of men.
To satisfy the demands of tradespeople who had claims on his unhappy son was his first concern, and that done, he repaired to the
banking-house of Messrs. , and, having
ascertained the actual loss those gentlemen had sustained by the late robbery, he proceeded to make over to them without reservation the entire sum of his long accumulating wealth, of which their house had been the depositary; and the first sensation of relief which lightened the heart of the afflicted father was that when he received into his hands an acknowledgment of monies paid into the establishment as due to it on account of his son Josiah. That payment reimbursed the firm within a trifle of their actual loss, and the deficiency was made good to them in a fortnight by the sale of a few acres of Andrew's paternal farm, the little patrimony be had tilled with the sweat of his brow in the natural and honest hope of transmitting it entire to his descendants, though destined in his fond anticipations to form but an inconsiderable part of the worldly wealth to which he aspired for his young Josiah. The. greater part of the land in the occupation of Andrew Cleave was held on renewable leases; a term whereof expiring about the time, he resigned the whole into the landlord's hands. The concern, though considerable, had hitherto been but the healthful and salutary occupation of his hale and vigorous age; and its annual bringing in were still added to the previous board for him who was to inherit all; but that great stimulus was gone for ever, for whom should he now toil ?—for whom, to what, look forward? "To Heaven 1" was the earnest response of his heart when the desolate old man thus mused within himself: but with earth what more had he to do? the few paternal acres with which he had begun the world would more than furnish a sufficiency for his contracted wants, and afford a surplus to reserve for future exigencies; and in calculating those he thought far less of hit own desolate old age than of the wretched exile whose cry might come from afar to the ear of his forsaken father should disease and misery come upon him. It was a miserable hope; but still it was a hope, and it lent the old man energy and strength to ply his rural labours. Almost undiminished weeks slipped away—weeks—months—a year—four years: four years had come and gone since the day that left Andrew Cleave a worse than childless father, the forlorn tenant of his cottage, which, with the barn, outbuildings, and a few fields, was all that then remained of his previous prosperity. Four years had passed since then, and the old man still lived; the same roof still sheltered him, the same small garden still yielded its produce to his laborious hands; but that small dwelling and that poor patch of ground, and its adjoining slips of pasture, a crazy cart, one cow, and one old horse, the favourite grey colt, now white with age. These were all the possessions that Andrew Cleave could call his own in the wide world.
A cry had come from afar—the appeal of guilt and misery—and it did not come unheeded. Again and again his father's heart was wrung, and his straitened means were drained to the uttermost to supply the necessities or the fraudulent cravings of the miserable supplicant. And now and then professions of contrition and promises of reform served to keep up the parent's hope, and, old and impoverished as he was, he would have taken up his staff and travelled leagues to have thrown himself upon the outcast's neck and received the tears of the repentant prodigal whose communications became more frequent, more regular, and more plausible—and at last came such as, while he read them, blinded the old man's eyes with tears of gratitude and joy. It was an artfully constructed tale. The eloquence of a preacher had touched his stony heart: then he spoke of conversion, of regeneration, of peace—unspeakable Sious friends had rejoiced over their converted rother; had associated him in their labours, thinking him a fit instrument to convince others, himself a shining testimony of the power of grace—and then points of worldly interest were cautiously introduced; for him there was no safety in his native land; but other lands offered a refuge, a decent maintenance, and, above all, a spiritual harvest; and he felt called to labour in the vineyard. A little band of Christians were about to embark themselves and their families for a distant mission: to them he was constrained to join himself, and then came the pith and marrow of the whole: to his forgiving father he looked for the assistance necessary to fit him out for a long voyage and distant establishment, and there was reference given to reverend gentlemen and serious Christians, and letters confirming Josiah's statement were addressed to Andrew Cleave by more than one pious enthusiast blessed with more zeal than discretion, whose credulity had been imposed on by the pretended convert. This well-concerted story was but too successful. All lurking doubts were disregarded when Andrew succeeded in ascertaining that the letters were actually written by the persons whose names were affixed as signatures—names long familiar in the pages of the " Evangelical Magazine,"
"Now I may depart in peace!" was the old man's inward ejaculation, as, full of joyful gratitude, he despoiled himself of nearly hislast earthly possession to forward what he believed the brightening prospects of his repentant child. The reversion of his cottage and garden, and the small close was promptly and without one selfish pang disposed of to a fair bidder, and an order for the sum it sold for as quickly transmitted to the unworthy expectant, together with an assortment of such articles as Andrew, in the simplicity of his heart, fondly imagined might contribute to the comfort of the departing exile, a few good books were slipped into the package, and Josiah's own bible and prayerbook were not forgotten. Involuntarily he paused a moment, and opened the bible, and on the few words written on the fly-leaf nineteen years before by his own hand his eyes dwelt intently till the sight became obscure, and a large drop falling on the simple inscription startled the venerable writer from his fond abstraction. Day after day the anxious father expected the coming letter of acknowledgment; day after day, procrastinating the tasks on which depended his whole subsistence, he was at C—— by the hour of the mail's arrival; and evening after evening he returned to his solitary home and his frugal, and alas! his now scanty meal, sick at heart and with hope deferred, yet devising pretences for retaining the blissful illusion; but at length its fading hues were utterly effaced. No word, no letter came; but the fiery trial had not reached its climax. The gold was yet to be more thoroughly refined—yes, purged to the uttermost.
Three months had elapsed since the last day of Andrew's short-lived happiness, when a rumour reached him that his unhappy son had been seen in the neighbourhood and recognised by more than one person, in spite of the real and artificial change which had taken place in his appearance; that he had been observed in company with suspected characters, some of whom were believed to be connected with a gang of horse-stealers, whose depredations had lately
proceeded to an audacious extent in C and
its vicinity, and that two houses had lately been broken open under circumstances that evidenced the skilful practice of experienced thieves. For many days and nights after he heard this frightful rumour, Andrew Cleave did not know an hour of peaceful thought, nor one of quiet slumber. However employed—in his cottage, in his garden, if a passing cloud but cast a momentary shadow, he started from his task and looked fearfully abroad for the feet of those who might be swift to bring evil tidings, and in the silence of the night, and during the unrest of his thorny pillow, the stirring of a leaf, the creaking of the old vine-stems, the rustling of the martin on her nest under the eaves, sounded to the distempered fancy like steps and whispers and murmuring voices; and once when the night-hawk dashed against his casement in her eccentric circles, he started from his bed with the sudden thought, Was it possible that the