HotFreeBooks.com
The Silver Lining - A Guernsey Story
by John Roussel
Previous Part     1  2  3  4
Home - Random Browse

He felt very lonely, his spirits were depressed, the doctor's remarks did not tend to enliven him.

He heard a cry. He thought he recognized the voice of his little Adele.

Was he dreaming? He roused himself. His horse had stopped short. He looked to see what was the matter. In front of his horse, a child lay crying. What a flood of memories that childish wail had the effect of forcing upon him.

He jumped off his vehicle, picked up the child and asked: "Are you hurt?" He intended to have spoken softly, but his voice seemed to have completely lost that power or any approach to it. The child looked up half afraid, and did not answer. "Are you hurt, my little man?" he again asked, endeavouring to soften his voice. Vain attempt; he only succeeded in speaking low.

The "little man" who, by the by, was a girl, ceased crying, looked at his interlocutor and answered: "No."

The child had only been knocked down by the horse's knee whilst crossing the road; and thanks to the sagacity of the old mare, had escaped unhurt.

Mr. Rougeant again bent towards the child: "Where do you live?" he questioned.

"Vere," said the child with such a vague wave of the hand that any of the three corners of the island might have been implicated in her childish, "There."

"But where is it. Down that way"—pointing with his finger,—"or up that way."

The child made a little gesture with her mouth, "a moue" as the French call it, and pointed with her lips towards the bottom of the hill. The farmer mounted his carriage, holding the child in his arms, and drove away. Meanwhile, the child felt quite at home; she was examining this rough man attentively.

An indescribable something was passing within the farmer's soul.

That little child clinging confidently to him, her large blue eyes expressing thankfulness and contentment filled him with a queer, but by no means unpleasant sensation. He was catching a glimpse of the joy that is reaped through performing a good action.

There was something more than this, some power at work which he could not analyze. There was something in that childish voice and mien; that penetrated his soul and reminded him of former days.

He felt a tender sensation gradually overwhelming him. His heart of stone melted, a tear rolled down that hard featured and deep wrinkled visage.

"You cry," said the child, "are you hurt?"

He roused himself, brushed away the tell-tale tear with a quick movement of his right arm and whipped up his horse.

"Are you hurt?" repeated the little girl who was not to be put off so easily.

"No;" he answered, almost softly.

"Trot; I like to see a horse trot," said the child.

But Mr. Rougeant was looking round to see if he could discern someone searching for the child.

"What is your father's name?" asked the farmer.

"Papa."

"Humph! and your mother's?"

"Mamma."

He tried another expedient. "What do people say to your papa, Mr. What."

"Yes; I fink it's Mr. What."

The farmer looked puzzled. He saw a man approaching. "I will ask him if he knows where the child lives," he was saying to himself, when the little girl exclaimed: "Ah! there's 'ma; look, she's looking frough the window."

"'Ma;" she cried, "I've had a ride."

Mr. Rougeant looked round. So this was where the child lived. He descended from the phaeton holding the little girl in his arms and stood confronting——his daughter.

They recognized each other. There was a moment of embarrassment.

Then the farmer, without a word, not a muscle of his face betraying his emotion, handed over the parcel, turned on his heels and mounting the conveyance was soon out of view.

He did not even cast a glance behind him. His daughter watched him disappear, then re-entered the house.

"Poor father," she sighed, "what a great change, what an emaciated figure; he has already the appearance of a ghost."

Then, seating herself upon a sofa, she meditated a long time. Finally, her face assumed a determined expression; "Come what may," she said to herself; "I will not leave him descend thus into the grave. I will make at least one real effort at reconciliation. If I do not succeed, I shall be free from remorse."

She talked the matter over with her husband when he came home.

"You look terribly in earnest," said he. "If only your father possessed a heart, I should hope. I think that with the zeal which you now show you would melt a heart of stone. However, the task is a noble one, and if you succeed, I shall only be too glad to welcome my father-in-law."

Next morning, Mrs. Mathers directed her steps towards "Les Marches." She had undertaken what seemed to be a stupendous task, and she resolved to pursue it energetically.

This was why she went to her father's house in person.

While she was nearing her birth-place her father was lying in his bed, ill. Mrs. Dorant watched near him as he tossed about his couch.

At times he was calmer than at others; one could discern the traces upon his face softening. For he was thinking of the time when a little girl used to nestle upon his knee, a little child exactly resembling the one with which he had talked on the previous day.

He could not help thinking: "I was happier then than I now am. I had a loving wife, a child whose innocence softened my heart; but now, I am abandoned by everyone."

He set his teeth, he again tossed about his couch and muttered: "It is all through my daughter's fault; she might be respectably married. Still, she looked happy and contented. I know these fellows, they eat and drink everything which is not spent in superfluities."

As Mrs. Mathers approached the front door of "Les Marches," she felt a tremor pass through her whole frame. The once familiar surroundings and the ennobling object of her visit inspired her with strangely tender feelings.

Her soul was deeply moved as she entered the house. There was the kitchen with its primitive and quaint furniture. It was deserted. She seated herself on a chair and began to ponder.

Soft was to be her voice, tender were to be her appeals to his conscience, earnest her entreaties, she was to plead with patience, and appeal to his most heart-melting sentiments.

She heard someone coming downstairs. "It is he," she said to herself, and she braced herself for the encounter.

"How you frighten me Miss—I beg your pardon—Madam."

It was Mrs. Dorant who uttered these words as she stood in the doorway seemingly afraid to enter, fearing the visitor might turn out to be a ghost.

"It is you, Mrs. Dorant," said Mrs. Mathers; "is my father upstairs?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Is he ill?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Dangerously?"

"Not very; he does not want us to fetch the doctor. But what have you come here for? If Mr. Rougeant saw you—oh—;" here she threw up both her hands and opened her mouth and eyes wide—"oh—" she continued, "master would swallow you."

"Do you think so; but I mean to go upstairs and to talk to him."

"Oh, don't go," she entreated, fixing her supplicating eyes upon Adele, "he might kill you."

Mrs. Mathers laughed. "No," she said, "he is my father; he is ill and needs me. I am going to discharge my duty towards him." And so saying she ascended the creaky staircase.

To this day, she cannot explain the sensation which she felt as she entered the room where her father lay.

She went straight up to her father's bedside, sank on her knees, took the hand that was lying on the bedclothes between both hers and began to weep.

Mr. Rougeant quickly withdrew his hand, he contracted his brow, his lips slightly curved, he looked on her with contempt.

"What do you want?" he said roughly. "You come to beg, you pauper, your angry creditors are clamouring for their money, you are on the verge of bankruptcy. I knew it;" he added triumphantly.

"Father, it is true, I come to beg, but not for money. I am not poor."

He looked at her suspiciously.

She turned upon him her tearful eyes and softly said: "Father, you are miserable, I want to render you happy once more."

To her great surprise, he did not answer, but his countenance fell. "Who has told her that I am miserable and that I wish to be happy once more?" he mused.

His daughter seized this opportunity. She took the tide at the flood. She pleaded earnestly and tenderly.

Then, as he balanced between pride and prejudice on one side, and a life of peace and contentment on the other, her persuasive voice made the tendrils of his heart move uneasily.

This stone-hearted man wept.

So did his daughter. And amidst this flood of tears, father and daughter were reconciled once more.

Mr. Rougeant grew rapidly better. He had something to live for now. He, however, would not quit his farm.

"Why don't you come and live here?" he said to Frank one evening as they sat near a blazing fire in the parlour of "Les Marches."

The idea struck Frank as being quite practicable. He was already prevented, from want of room, to extend his business at the Rohais.

"You would not like to see greenhouses in your fields yonder;" he said.

"Yes, I would; besides, I have a lot of capital which might be profitably used up. We might form a partnership."

"I must think it over," said Frank. He cast a look towards Adele, and as he met her beseeching eyes, he added smilingly: "I think we may as well consider the matter as settled."

Frank's property at the Rohais was let. The farm at "Les Marches" underwent a complete transformation.

For fully three months, there was such a rubbing and scrubbing, painting and papering, that everything was turned completely topsy-turvy.

Order was at last evoked, the furniture from the Rohais was brought in and the farm-house was made a model of snugness and comfort within.

Without, during those three months, nothing was heard but the noise of the carpenter's hammers and the click of the glazier's tools.

Mr. Rougeant was as completely transformed as his farm. He looked upon the whole with such an air of complacency that the neighbours remarked: "He is in his second infancy."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

A SAD END OF A MISPENT LIFE.

In one of the numerous public-houses in the town of St. Peter-Port, surrounded by a gang of "roughs," a man, still young, sat on a stool.

His face was terribly emaciated, and on it, one could discern all the traces of that demon, alcohol.

In one of his agitated hands, he held a half-filled glass, in the other, a short, blackened clay-pipe.

His glassy eyes had a strange look.

He made an effort to carry the tumbler which he was holding to his lips, but his nerves and muscles refused to act.

Here, we may as well say that this man's name was Tom Soher.

"What's the matter, Tom?" said one of the men.

"Nothing," responded he, making use of a very old form of lie.

At this reassuring statement, the company resumed their conversation, and their drink.

But Tom, after placing his glass on the counter, retired to one corner of the room, sat himself on an empty barrel and was soon fast asleep.

It was a profound sleep, and, from time to time, the young man trembled convulsively. He opened a gaping mouth, he muttered some unintelligible words, but his "pals" noticed it not.

They were accustomed to such scenes,—the sight of man, who is no more man; an animal, lower in many respects than the brute.

The sleeper was dreaming. He dreamt that he saw the same public-house in which he now was. But, instead of being built of granite,—as it really was,—its walls were one mass of human beings, piled one on top of the other.

He could recognize some former companions who now were deceased.

Their bodies served instead of stones, and their souls he discerned, placed in lieu of windows.

Amidst the horrible mass of human flesh, he saw his father's body, crushed and terribly mangled; his face wore an expression of suffering, his whole body seemed borne down by a heavy and oppressive weight.

Tom Soher looked at his father. The latter cast a sad and troubled look at his son.

All at once, the drunken man saw himself seated upon his father's back. So this was the load that crushed him. He gazed upon his resemblance; a mere shadow of his former self.

As he contemplated this sad picture, he saw, issuing out of his mouth—his soul.

An inexpressible fear and a sense of suffocation seized him.

He tried to explain to himself this curious vision. "Bah! 'tis but a dream," he muttered; "ah! someone is grasping my throat. I am dying." He lifted his eyes towards heaven. They encountered the ceiling.

As he sought in vain to rouse himself from that awful state of lethargy, something within him whispered: "This house is built with the price of bodies and of souls."

He listened eagerly. The voice was silent.

Then the awful interpretation of this strange vision dawned upon his troubled mind. "Is it possible that I have given both my body and my soul in exchange for drink. My soul! Alas!"

He struggled to shake himself free. Another fit of suffocation seized him in its deathly embrace. He tried to shout or to entreat mercy, but his tongue refused to utter a sound and his heart was as hard and as cold as the stones over which the vehicle in which he was lying rolled.

For Tom Soher was in a closed carriage. When closing time came, the owner of the public-house had him placed in a conveyance and sent home.

He realised this, as a dull, but deep-seated pain, caused him to open his eyes. He looked wildly round.

The carriage rattled over the newly macadamized road, and he was dying, unable to cry for help, incapable of articulating a single sound.

He struck his fist frantically out, intending to smash the window, but his blow fell an inch short of its intended mark.

Then all his past life seemed to roll before his eyes, a mispent, futile, licentious life, in which the bad passions had predominated, and finally hustled him to his doom. A dreadful sense of fear seized him. He raised himself upon one of his elbows, his eyes were wide open, and in them, there was not the expression that is seen in those of a dying beast, which seems to say "It is finished;" his eyes expressed a conviction of something yonder, coupled with a look of blank despair.

The elbow upon which he was supporting himself gave way, and he fell back—dead.

As the driver approached the "Prenoms," he whistled gaily. He little dreamt of the surprise which awaited him. He drove straight through the open gate into the farmyard.

When Mrs. Soher heard the sound of the carriage wheels, she went to the door of the house, opened it and said: "Here he comes again, the poor inebriate."

"Now, ma'am, here's your son; he's had a glass too much, but he'll be right enough after a bit o' sleep;" and so saying, the driver opened the carriage door while Mrs. Soher approached, lantern in hand. Her daughter followed her.

They came close to the driver, who stood stock-still, his mouth half open, his whole body trembling like an aspen leaf. At last, he recovered himself sufficiently to speak. "Jerusalem—he's dead," he muttered in a hoarse and frightened tone.

The dead man's mother let fall the lantern which she was holding, her legs gave way under her, and she fell down and fainted.

Her daughter was also greatly moved. She began to sob.

"What must we do?" questioned the man.

"Oh, I don't know," she answered, crying; then, after a few moments' pause, she said: "Call the neighbours."

The man gave a shout. Two men from the house on the other side of the road appeared at the door.

"This way, please, be quick;" shouted the driver.

The men precipitated themselves towards the spot. Mrs. Soher was carried to her room upstairs and left to the care of her daughter who applied restoratives.

The corpse was carried into another room and laid upon a bed. The eyes remained wide open.

The neighbours sent away the carriage and its owner; one of them remained in the house while the other went for a doctor.

Mrs. Soher regained consciousness, and as her senses returned to her, she cried bitterly: "My poor son, my dear son."

At this stage, Mr. Soher came home. He was surprised to find his neighbour seated near the fire in the kitchen. His surprise was changed into anguish, when the neighbour, in a few words, informed him of Tom's sad fate.

Mr. Soher was horrified. With a blanched face and tottering steps he ascended the stairs and entered the room in which lay his wife. Upon seeing him, his wife uttered heart-rending cries: "Oh, Thomas, what are we going to do; our only son." Her sobs choked her.

Her husband did not say a word. He turned on his heels, closed the door after him, and entered the room in which lay his son's corpse.

As he glanced at those dilated eyes, a chill ran through his frame. "Great God; is it possible?" he exclaimed, raising his eyes to heaven; "my son, my son."

He paced up and down the room with feverish steps, a prey to the most poignant grief. His conscience upbraided him loudly. It said:

"Behold your son whose education you have overlooked; behold him whom you have left to grow in vice, without an effort worth the name to save him from the ruinous bent of his bad passions."

"I know it; 'tis all my fault," exclaimed the grief and conscience-stricken man. "I have not done half of what I might have done for him.

"Animated by a false pride, I desired to shine among my fellow-worshippers, and have been continually away from home, neglecting my duty there, to satisfy my ambition. Miserable man that I am."

He cast his eyes towards the lifeless body of which the eyes met his and seemed to reproach him for having shirked his duty.

"Oh, God! wilt thou ever forgive me?" he cried in wild despair; "what can I do to atone? If one half, if a tenth part of the energy which I have displayed elsewhere had been employed in bringing up my son as I ought to have done, this would not be."

He continued thus to soliloquize, now and then stopping abruptly in his nervous walk to gaze upon those reproachful eyes, then resuming his wanderings, blaming himself continually.

He was in the midst of his peregrinations when his daughter entered the room.

"Father," she said, "a woman who is downstairs wishes to speak with you."

The troubled man did not answer. What was this to him; what was all the world to him compared with his grief?

"She says her daughter, who is dying, wishes to see you," continued the young woman.

"Tell her I am coming," said Mr. Soher.

A dying woman wishing to see him. How could he refuse that? Perhaps he would be the means of doing some good to this person. If he could thus begin to atone for his want of dutifulness towards his son.

He went downstairs.

"My daughter wishes to see you now," said his visitor. "You will come, Sir; you will not refuse a dying woman's request?"

"Refuse; certainly not," he said, and he immediately accompanied his visitor.

They walked the whole distance which separated the two houses without a word being exchanged between them.

Mr. Soher's thoughts were with the dead; his companion was already grieving for the daughter which she felt sure she was about to lose.

Mr. Soher was ushered near the dying woman's bed. The latter was raving, but directly she perceived him she fixed her gaze upon him, her wild, rambling talk ceased, her mind seemed to regain its lucidity. She exclaimed: "I have not found it, therefore I am lost for ever."

"What have you not found?" he said kindly.

"Listen," said she. "Some time ago, I entered a small place of worship in which a man was delivering an address, or, as he called it, a testimonial.

"He said that when he had been converted, he had felt a heavenly ray of light flooding his very soul. He said he felt as if an electric battery had come in contact with his entrails. At the same time, he heard a voice clearly saying: 'My son, thy sins are forgiven thee.'

"This man, who was no other than you, Sir, said that if his hearers had not clearly heard this divine voice and experienced this shock, they were doomed. He exhorted the congregation to seek for these blessings.

"I went home impressed. I decided to seek for these things of which you spoke. I prayed, I hoped, I waited, but I have never felt half of what you promised your audience they would find.

"Now, I am then to understand that I am rejected.

"Rejected! oh Heaven."

The poor woman burst into tears and uttered a wail of despair.

Mr. Soher tried to soothe her.

"No," she said, "you are trying to deceive me, you are not speaking the truth."

He protested. "It was then, that I did not speak the truth," he said. "I was exalted, I went too far."

"Is it true?" said the dying woman.

"Oh yes, do believe me."

"I believe you," she said sneeringly.

The fever was again coming upon her. She began to wander in her speech.

Mr. Soher, at a sign from the mother, who had followed him into the room, withdrew.

His brain was on fire. His heart was full of the deepest and keenest anguish.

"What have I done?" he muttered. "I wanted to be thought a saint. Not being one, I acted the hypocrite. Now, here I am, maimed, afflicted, weighed down with grief."

He reached his home—a wreck.

A few days afterwards, poor Tom's body was buried in the churchyard.

From that day, life at the "Prenoms" was completely changed.

Mr. Soher examined himself and his surroundings.

He saw that he was drifting towards bankruptcy. He resolved—he did more—he went to work, to try and avert the catastrophe. He succeeded in all that he undertook, for he worked with a will.

His lost son was not brought back to life, neither was the land which he had sold redeemed, but he managed to supply his wants and those of his family, besides putting something by for a rainy day.



CHAPTER XXIX.

DOMESTIC HAPPINESS.

They had had a hard day's work at "Les Marches," packing tomatoes for the English markets.

It was the month of September. The days were growing short and the nights long.

After the day's occupations were over, the family assembled in the neatly furnished parlour. Frank wrote his letters of advice to his fruit merchants. Then he took a German book, "Hauff's stories," and proceeded to read the diverting history of "Little Mudj," making frequent use of the vocabulary.

Afterwards, to relax his mind, he took a French book. It was one of the works of Blaise Pascal, his "Lettres Provinciales." He admired their originality, the trenchant satire, and the galling blows of this man whom Chateaubriand called a "frightful genius."

As he read the beautiful passages which had issued from this great man's mind, he became imbued with some of the flame that had inspired the author of the book.

He placed the volume on the table, rested his head upon his hand and began to think of his past life.

He thought of his ambition to acquire riches, and of how he had been deceived. Providence had ordered otherwise and baffled him.

He was very well off now, but how differently from what he had anticipated, he had acquired his present position.

He thought of his mental sufferings, the acute brain, the deep-seated ambition torturing him.

He no longer asked himself why he had endured pain. Had he never suffered, he would never have attained the moral position in which he now was. It was when he was disgusted with the world, when he experienced an aversion for earthly things, that his firmest resolves had been formed and his determination to do good solidified. It was then that he attempted to rise above the dusty, monotonous and weary walks of ordinary life; it was then that his virtuous sensibility had been awakened, and that his lofty conceptions had been framed. And now, having aimed at something noble, he was leading a useful, happy, and dignified life.

He was cheerful, and possessed of some of that supreme happiness which brightens the soul, and accompanies it through immortality.

He had said: "Why endure pain?" But it was with the same senses that he now enjoyed pleasure.

He had said: "Why suffer physically?" "Why," he thought, "if that little child did not feel, and had not experienced the pangs of hunger, it would now be dead; so would I, if, when I was wrapped in thick smoke, the foul gases had not irritated my bronchial tubes and my eyes.

"As for the remainder, I am satisfied to leave it to Him who has cared for and protected me so far through life. Perhaps the day will come when I shall also know the why and wherefore of things which I almost dared to accuse an all-wise Providence of having sent into the world."

While her husband was soliloquizing thus, Mrs. Mathers was busily engaged in stitching a smart little pinafore of diaper.

Grandpapa was resting upon the sofa with little Adele seated on his knee.

He held both the child's hands in his, the left one he held in his left hand, and the right one he held in his right hand. Taking Adele's right-hand forefinger and placing it in her left hand, he began to tell her a little story about a lark, which he remembered his mother used to recite to him when he was a little boy.

"A little lark built its nest there," he began.

"Here, in my hand?" said the child.

"We shall suppose the little bird did so," answered Mr. Rougeant. "It passed this way, and the thumb caught it."

"Ah-ha," laughed little Adele.

"This finger plucked its feathers, this one cooked it, and—this one ate it."

Frank made some remark.

Mr. Rougeant looked up.

"And the little one," said Adele, pulling impatiently on her grandfather's sleeve, "you have not told me what the little one did."

"Indeed! well, the little one was left without a single crumb."

"Poor little one," said the child.

END.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4
Home - Random Browse