THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
PATIENT KITTY. [Continued. ]' I was bound' to believe him, for I had never known Fred to tell a lie, but a week or two afterwards I had good reason to conclude that he had deceived me. I was fond of a little gaiety myself, in which Kitty encouraged me—as I am now firmly persuaded in order that she might have the more opportunity for sitting up to work, for when I was at home I would not permit it—. and on a certain occasion I had been to the Adelphi Theatre. As I was walking home, and passing the doors of of a music hall, I could have taken my oath that I saw Frederic Raynor in the crowd that was emerging from it; the next moment I lost sight of him, but if I had spoken to him I could not have been more sure of his identity. He was at the office at the usual hour, looking very much as if, after the music hall, he had gone to the cider cellars (as the late supper houses were called in those days), but, of course, I had no right to dictate to him as to how he should spend his evenings.
“So you were at ‘the Harmonium/ my, friend, last night,” said I, half in banter, half in remonstrance.
“ Indeed, i was not,” said he, looking me straight in the face, as was his custom. “ I went home from the office, and remained there all the evening, except for half an hour, when I went out —” he hesitated, then added, “oh business.”
Then somehow 1 felt, not because of the music hall, but because of the lying to me in that composed way, that Fred was going to the bad. At the same time, I little guessed how very faille had advanced that way, and least of all the direction his. erring steps had taken.
It was about six months after communication' between Fred and my sister had been cut off, that for the first time since 1 had been in the employment of Halland Brothers, Jacob Raynor did not appear at his desk at his ordinary hour, or rather minute, for he was punctuality personified. We all concluded that he was ill, particularly as Fred was also absent, but the cause of the non-appearance was. as it turned out, much Worse than anything , which we had imagined. Both the members of the firm were in their .usual places; and when the time for closing 'arrived word came to us that all the clerks were to remain, as there was something of importance to be communicated to them. Even then few of us associated the matter with the Raynors, and perhaps one or two had qualms of conscience as to whether some piccadillo of their own more serious than common might not be'the cause of so portentous an announcement. , -
I never saw Mr. Halland, the elder, so moved as when he began to address us. •
“ A great misfortune, raiy friends, has befallen us all” (we thought the house had failed). “Dishonesty, for the first time, as I believe, has crept in among us. One of our number, hitherto trusted on his own account, and much more on account of his relationship to another, has betrayed his trust. It is easy to say that such - a wretched termination of a career that prornisqd so bright should be a warning to ns all; but it is an example bought at a dear rate indeed, at the cost (for one thing) of a father’s misery. I left our dear and long-tried friend, Mr. Raynor, this morning, well-nigh . broken-hearted’; a man that will never be bimself again. His son Frederic has falsified his accounts, with the object of procuring money, no doubt for the purpose of self-indulgence and dissipation.” What he said more l did not rightly understand, the announcement of Frederic’s guilt fell on me like a blow and stunned me, I was pained and shocked on my own account, for he had been my nearest friend, and until lately my most constant companion; but my great distress and wretchedness arose from the thought of poor Kitty, I pictured to myself how she would look that night when I should tell her, “ Frederic is a thief ; you must forget birr}.” I saw her large blue eyes staring at me in mute despair, and the work dropping from her little hands in horror —the work at which there was no need to toil in future, since he, for whose sake
she wearied herself, had proved unworthy of her. Proved ? No. It was not proved, and before that was done I should tell her nothing.. I asked to have a few words in private with my employers, a liberty which nothing but the urgent necessity of the case would have prompted me to do ; for though, I knew them to be just, their manners to their inferiors were somewhat austere, and I filled jbuf. g very humble place in their service. They gave permission at once, and I found myself, alone with the two brothers. They looked at me very gravely ; my impression is that, having perhaps heard of my intimacy with Frederic, they expected me to confess to. some connivance with his evil deeds. This made me feel more embarrassed than ever • I stood speechless. “ What have you got to say, Mr. Clayton?” asked Mr. Halland coldly; “our time is precious.” “ Sir,” cried I, scarce knowing what I said, “ I speak on behalf of another, of my sister Kitty, who was’ engaged to be married to Frederic Raynor. She loves him with all her heart, and you were talking of broken hearts.. Oh, pray have mercy upon her. ;Do not pass sentence upon Fred unless you are quite sure.” The brothers exchanged significant glances with one another. “ This is very sad,” said Mr. John (the younger), gently ; “ we did not know, of it.” “No, sir,” said I, “it was not talked about. Mr. Raynor disapproved of the match, but it was to take place next year, nevertheless.” “ Ah, disobedience was to be expected of him,” observed Mr. Halland. “ Your sister, Mr. Clayton, has had a lucky escape.” “She will not think so, sir; and it will kill her.”
“My poor lad,” said the younger partner, laying his hand upon my shoulder, at which I burst into tears, though I strove to restrain them,” We are very sorry, sorry for her and sonry for you j you need not be ashamed, of those tears, which do you honor.”
“ Frederic Raynor will not be punished,” said Mr. Halland in a gentler tone; “or rather he will be left to the stings of his own conscience; for his father’s sake we shall spare him all' public shame. He sails for Australia next week. In a new land and under new influence there is still a hope that he may make amends for his own sinful —nay, his criminal —act, and become another man.”
“ Oh, sir, but are you quite sure he did it ?” •
“ Yes, he confessed as much to my brother and myself this morning, and in his father’s presence; it is a wonder that murder—parricide—was not added to the other crime, for I thought it would have killed the old man.”/■.
“It will kill Kitty,” cried I, vehemently. - “ No, no,” said the younger brother; “ it will hot kill her, if, as we doubt hot, she is a good girl. She will see that this young man is not worthy of her, and in the end will make a -better choice.” “ Can I see him, sir ?”
“ No, my lad; it is his own wish that he should see no one until he sets sail.- An interview with him would only pain you, for I see you have a tender heart. We must forget him, that is the kindest thing to be done on all accounts; and above all things, let no one speak of him to his father.” “ Could you ask him to write -to Kitty?” said I simply. I had a selfish hope that :! might be spared the telling of his disgrace with my own lips. “We could, of course,” said Mr. Halland; “ but if you will-take s pur advice you will not ask' it. He would only unsettle her by dwelling,, perhaps, on possibilities that ’ may 5 never be realised. We are sorry for you. We shall think no worse of you, but better, for having spoken in his behalf-; but his case is, in bur opinion, a hopeless one. It will be best, much, best, ; to represent it as being so to your sister.” Then I made my bow and departed in sad distress, only/£re R did so, John Halland held out his -hand, which had never been done to me, or to any of the- clerks, as- I - believe, before; an hour before it would have made me vejy proud, but there| was small comfort tb * nie? ‘ridvv in such' a mark of honor,. , I found-Kitty that evening, as usual, at her embroidery, at which kind of work . she had really attained a great proficiency; she had called tp me from the parlor as. I came in, in a bright, c.heery.iway, which showed me that r she had some good news to communicate, doubtless concerning increased prices paid to her by those who bought her work; but the smile faded from her face directly she caught sight of mine. “ There, is nothing the -.matter■-■•with Frederic ?” she cried, with’agitation: “ Not as to health, darling; but in other ways, alas ! there, is.’f And then I told her all. It was an easier task than I expected, from her never making the least interruption ■. but listening; with pale face and rigid lips until the end—and even when I-had done there was no outburst.
A “Then you believe,Frank;,that Frederic Raynor, your old friend, has been gulity of a fraud was all she said.
“My darling,” cried I, X have no choice but to believe it, though Heaven knows I would give all I have to think him innocent. He has confessed to it himself,”
“ Did you hear him? did you see him ?” inquired Kitty, in quick, passionate tones.
“No, dear; but both the Messrs. Hallands were present whenA-’.- - \i (To be continued.)
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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 219, 17 December 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 219, 17 December 1880
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