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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 220, 18 December 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
• ❖ PATIENT KITTY. [ Continued ,] “ What do I care for the Messrs. Hallands ?” she broke forth. “ What do I know of them that I should believe it night because they say so, although the sun is shining ? I do know Fred. He is good and honest, generous and kind. If j'our employers called your sister a thief, would you believe them then ? It would be more likely to be true than this is. It is they who are thieves, for they have stolen his good name.” I could not have dreamed that there was such force and fury in Kilty’s gentle nature as shone forth in her looks and tone; she did not spare even myself.
“ You are a coward, and not worthy of such a friend, Frank. If I had been in your place, I would have said, ‘ You lie ! you lie ! ’ ” “ My darling, calm yourself,” said I, as gently as I could, for I really feared that, in her extreme excitement, she would do herself some serious mischief. “Itis a question of proof and fact. If a man confesses to a crime, there is an end to all doubts.”
“ Let him confess it to me,” cried she ; “ let him tell me with his own lips, ‘ I have falsified n;y father’s accounts. I have robbed the men who gave me bread.” And not even then would I say ‘ I believe it.’ I would say, ‘You are mad, and know not what you say. ’ ” It was idle, of course, to reason with her after this, and I did not attempt to do so. I spoke of the probability of Raynor’s writing to her himself before he left England ; for I had made up my mind, in spite of Mb Halland’s advice, to ask him to do sq. It was clear that no hand but his could open her eyes ; and he was bound —alas ! I could no longer say “in honor ” —but in common humanity, to release her from her engagement.
“If he writes to say he is innocent,” said I, “ then I will believe him, though you and I should be the only persons to do so.” “ He will not do that,” answered the girl; “ for he will know that I shall take his innocence for granted.”
And so the matter was left. In the letter I addressed to Frederic Raynor, I adjured him to make a clean breast of the matter in which he stood accused, for my sister’s sake. If he was guiltless he had only to say so, and we two at least wouldcontinue to hold him innocent, (hough all the world should be on the other side. But if he had really disgraced himself, was it not his duty to confess it to us, that time might erase his image from my sister’s heart, and leave it open to the reception of another? I put all this in as gentle language as I could, consistently with Kitty’s interest, but I felt they were hard terms. It was humiliation enough that he had already owned his crime to his employers, without my constituting
myself his father-confessor;"Slid it must be added after that affair of the music hall I had not the confidence in Ins word which I now professed. His reply was of an evasive nature ; he did not write to Kitty at ail ; and only these few words to me, with neither commencement nor signature ; “ Kitty is quite free, and may her next choice be a less unhappy one. God bless you both.” Of course this was tantamount to an acknowledgement of his crime ; but it was not precisely so, which .1 thought cruel. 1 saw that my poor sister was not even yet convinced by it; so, without saying one word to her, I went down to Clapham tiiat very evening to see Frederic face to face. He had set off to Liverpool to go on board ship an hour before I arrived; and on my asking to see his father I was informed that Jacob Raynor was too ill to speak with any one. it. Under no circumstances, it is probable, would the firm have prosecuted Fred; but the defalcations of which he had been guilty were not very serious, and only extended over eighteen months or so. They were discovered quite accidentally by Mr. Halland ; though, had it been otherwise—that is, if Mr. Raynor himself had found it out —I did not believe lie would have concealed his son’s depravity for an instant. It shocked me to think that each of those “ windfalls,” of which the unhappy young fellow used to talk so lightly, had probably been a successful fraud upon his employers, and I no longer wondered at the haggard and weary looks which had accompanied his introduction to crime. I should have desired Kitty to return those little presents to her, which I felt had not been his to give, but that, in the first place, my lips were sealed upon all concerning him, and secondly, I knew these relics of her lost love were her greatest treasures. I never saw them, but when 1 came upon her suddenly sometimes, she would lock her little desk, and rise from it with such a look as a devotee might wear caught on her knees (by one of another faith) before a shrine. She did not mope nor show by any outward signs that her young hopes were withered; she even redoubled her solicitude, always great for my home comfort; but I felt that life in her case was no longer a blessing to be enjoyed, but a long tedious road to be trodden with a burden, only to be laid down on that last milestone which stands at the head of our graves. Of course I hoped otherwise at first, that the poor girl would gradually forget the man who had thus trodden out the well-spring of her youth and happiness; but in the end I could come to no other conclusion.
In less than a year, though still comely, Kitty had lost the good looks which belong to girlhood, and only needed the garb of the pious sisterhood to enrol her with those who have given up the world and affianced themselves to Heaven. Instead of the work which she had so assiduously pursued for love’s sake, she now gave up her leisure time to ministrations among the poor.
It was more than a month after his son’s catastrophe before Mr. Jacob Raynor reappeared at the office, and when he did so he was scarcely recognizable. His hair, which had been iron gray, was now become snow white ; his erect form was bowed, and instead of looking those who spoke with him in the face, he studiously kept his eyes averted from them, and generally fixed upon the ground. There was no need to speak of the disgrace that his only son had inflicted on him, for it could be read in his face, in his voice, and even in his very movements, which, heretofore somewhat stiff and pompous, had become vague and shambling. For my own part, I confess (though I could not but pity him) his presence was even less agreeable to me than before, though it had no longer any fears for me; he never asked us for subscriptions to this or that benevolent object now; never found fault with our caligraphy ; never administered little private lectures of his own, or invited us to attend his private ones. But I could not forget that if this man had been less unyielding in the matter of his son’s affections, less stern in forbidding him both companionship and correspondence with the object of them, Fred would never have gone so fatally astray. He had, it is true, acted within his rights as a father, but he had exercised them, as it seemed to me, in a manner inconsistent with those professions of kindliness and good wilt to all men, of the genuineness of which I was st'll far from doubting. Indeed, one of the most painful features of his case was that his occupation in the way of public well-doing seemed to have gone simply through lack, not of will, but of “ heart ” for it; his back-bone, as one of my fellow-clerks expressed it, appeared to have slipped out and left him limp, yet with no one to lean on ; and it was rumored that at home he would now sit for hours muttering to himself and staring at the wall. He did his office work notwithstanding with his usual mechanical exactness, so that there was no need for his employers to extend to him the indulgence which would certainly not have been wanting, however inadequately he might have served them.
Neither they nor their subordinates ever ventured to speak to him concerning his son, but it was somehow generally understood that the old man was saving all he could, and sending it from time to time across the seas for the benefit of the unhappy exile. I had no doubt that, now his expenses in the way of public charity had ceased, these savings were considerable; but I took no account of them in connection with my poor sister; if Frederic Raynor had grown ever so prosperous, whether by his own exertions or by his father’s help, I could not have welcomed him as a brother-in-law; and I should have been sorry to hear of his' return to England, because I knew Kitty loved him still. My affection for my sister must be my excuse for any hardness I may seem to have shown toward buy former friend; and indeed, by reason of the change I saw in her, and of the indignation I experienced on beholding it, my very employment with Halland Brothers had become distasteful to me, from its connection with her misfortune, Otherwise I had reason to be more than, satisfied with the behavior of the firm, who (doubtless fromwhat I had told!
them on that unhappy day, though they, never referred to it) had become unexpectedly alive to my merits, and conferred upon me considerable promotion. When I brought her the good news Kitty congratulated me much more warmly than I had expected ; it seemed to me that there was a certain unpleasantness in deriving prosperity from a source which, however indirectly, had been the ruin of her happiness; but her characteristic unselfishness (as I supposed) prevented the dear girl from looking on the matter with a jaundiced eye, but rather regarded it as the natural rewards of good desert. About four years after poor Fred’s departure, during which time not one word had dropped concerning him from his father’s lips, an important change took place in the office. It had been, as I have mentioned, the custom ever since its establishment for one at least of the members of the firm to reside on the business premises, and they had up to this time been inhabited by the younger Mr. Halland ; but circumstances now occurred (and very unexpected they were —namely, his marriage) which took him elsewhere.
Mr. Jacob Raynor was thereupon requested to take his place, and certainly in a veiy gratifying way. In order to keep up the rule of the. house he was to take possession as resident partner —a considerable sum, amounting, indeed, to L 2,000, being paid over to him at the same time as his necessary qualification^ Indifferent as he had long become to most matters, this seemed to rouse the old man from his lethargy, though, curiously enough, without producing any exultation. He seemed to be impressed by the magnitude of his new responsibility rather than - by its advantages, and went, about with a more thoughtful face than ever, although his manner was no longer so absent and dreamy as heretofore. By his promotion a step was gained by all the juniors, and for my part I found myself the second clerk, the duties of which post brought me into immediate contact with the principals. Accordingly, on the very morning after Mr. Raynor had taken possession I was the first to go into his private room (lately occupied by Mr. Halland junior) with the usual pile of office letters. This apartment was on the ground floor, but separated from the rest of the premises by a long stone passage, and ensured an absolute privacy for all business interviews. I did not much relish my new employment, on account of its bringing me into connection with Mr. Raynor ; but if I had known what was to come of it, I would rather have been a junior all my days than have gone through such an experience. The first object that met my eyes as I entered the parlor, as it was called, was the new partner sitting in his chair, with his head fallen forward on the desk before him in a pool of blood ; a pistol was clutched in his right hand, with which he had, with terrible literalness, blown his brains out, for they were scattered on the opposite wall. (7 o be continued. )
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 220, 18 December 1880
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