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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 221, 20 December 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
PATIENT KITTY, [Continued.] It appeared afterward that he had not been to bed the previous night at all, but had sat up where I found him, and shortly after daylight had committed the fatal deed ; but at that time so overcome was 1 by the shock that I understood little beyond the fact that the unhappy man, whose life had been one at least of good intentions, and which had certainly been actuated by good principles, had put an end to his existence by his own hand. All business was of course suspended for that day, and I was obliged to tell Kitty what had occurred (and indeed I could hardly have kept so sad, a secret to myself) to explam my return home at such an unusually .early hpur. : All she said was, “ God forgive him !’’ and then, as if involuntarily, “My poor Fred !” which showed whither the thoughts of her bruised head were tending still.
I was of course a witness at the inquest, where the fact of Mr. Raynor’s suicide was clearly proved, and; attributed, as was natural, to perturbation of mind induced by his sudden change of fortune acting upon an enfeebled system. The day after the funeral I was sent for by the surviving partners, when the following particulars were communicated to me. Jacob Raynor had shot himself from remorse. It was he, and not the son, who had robbed his employers, and poor Fred had known it and sacrificed himself for his father’s sake. All this was stated in a letter written by the unhappy man before he destroyed himself. “I am the gultiest wretch alive,’’ it said, “ and the most cowardly ; but it was to save me from the fate which is now about to overcome me, that my Frederic accepted undeserved shame. He knew that I could never survive exposure, after my long and public professions of goodness and well-doing. They were not my professions in a false sense, for I believed in the utility of what I advocated, but an overweening vanity consumed me : I wished to be looked up to, not only as the deviser and agent of good institutions, but as their patron; the money I stole from my employers was really dedicated to this end. I robbed that I might give the money away to deserving objects and gain a name for practical benevolence. If you think that a proof of madness you will be charitable indeed. The money was not much, though it might have grown to be so, had not the discovery taken place so early. This pistol has been in my hand before. My son found it there, and said, ‘ Let me bear the burden, father, and you live on.’ That I let him do so was a far meaner act even than the robbery of my kind employers, yet I infamously survived it. I saw him leave his native land in shame and ignominy; I knew that he was parting for ever from the girl he loved; I knew that I was plunging others into unmerrited misery; but what was that, to me, who did not spare my own flesh and blood? For four years I have dragged on a wretched existence, poisoned by the knowledge of my own vileness, and made more wretched still by the good opinion men expressed of me; till at last you, my employers, heaped such benefits upon my unworthy head that even I could no longer bear them. I know now the full meaning of that phrase ‘as coals of fire ’ when applied to unmerited goodwill, and 1 have found them insupportable. When you read this I shall.be a' dead man. The L 2,000 you have given me in such mistaken kindness is untouched, and will of course return to you. I have earned nothing at your hands ; but let a dying sinner appeal to you in favor of the innocent. My poor Fred! my poor Fred! forgive me, forgive—” The letter had no conclusion, but the bottom of its page was splashed and smeared with blood. 1 dropped it (it had been placed in my hands by Mr. Halland) with a gesture of disgust; but not because of its red finis. My soul was filled with loathing against the wretch who had sacrificed his only son rather than take the consequences of his own misdeed, and for the moment poor Frederic’s wrongs outweighed with me those of Kate herself What Roman, what Spartan, of them all had ever performed a nobler act ' of self-denial than this, to give up his good name, his love, and his country; to save a father’s character from well-merited disgrace ! What injuries had this old man wrought all around! and among them this personal wrong, that he had caused me to doubt the honor of my dearest friend, and to desert him in the, hour of need. And oh, what misery for all these years had my sweet, patient Kitty suffered ! Mr. Halland’s grave voice interrupted these angry thoughts. “We have sent for you, Mr. Clayton,” he said, “to put you in possession of the contents of that sad letter, because wethought that the revelation was due to you. It has been made known to no one else, and I need not say that we look to you, in the interests of a wronged and innocent man, to preserve the secret. We do not know how things may have gone with your poor sister—”
Here he paused and looked toward his brother, who struck in
“ Mr. Clayton could relieve us from some of our embarrassment in this matter by telling us frankly how things stand at home.”
Then I told them, not without some bitterness, how Kitty’s life had been wrecked by the blast of ill report, though even yet she did not believe it; how the few years that had intervened since Frederic’s exile had been as half a lifetime to her ; and that when she died it would be this miserable wretch who had cut short her days. “ The man is dead,” said Mr. Halland, softly. “Yes,.sir; but his deeds live after him.” “ Your wrath is just,” put in the younger brother; “still, something, may yet be done in the way of remedy. We shall telegraph this day to Frederic Raynor, to summon him to take his father’s place here; it is at once the least and most, we can do fprrhi.ii.; If we can add, however, that your sister’s heart is still within his keeping— ’’ T “ But suppose that his; own'.Teelihgs are changed ?” suggested Mr. Halland.
“ That would place the young lady ill an embarrassing position.” .■ ; “ To be sure, 1 had forgotten that,” returned the other, with a touch of color; he was known to have been happy in his choice of a wife, and when that is so, men arc apt to believe in the fiedlity even of their own sex. On my return home I found a strange alteration in Kitty’s face. It was always pale enough now, poor soul; it looked careworn, though never griefworn. But now her sweet eyes were rod and swollen, and her cheeks showed the traces of many tears. Unable to endure the spectacle of her misery, I bade her a hasty good-night, and was about to take my bed-candle when she suddenly put this question, “ Have you no message for me, Frank ?” “Message, darling? No. What .news did you expect ?’’ ■ * “ I did not say ‘ news,’ ” replied she in a strange tone of suppressed triumph. “ It . would be no news to me to hear that Fred was innocent. I knew [ that all along.” “ Mr. Haliand has been here, then !” cried I, in astonishment. “He has told jou what has happened.” She shook her head, and from her bosom pulled out a telegram wet with tears. It was from Frederic, and had arrived an hour ago. “I am coming home, love,” Not a word else, lie had not troubled himself to add, “ My innocence is, establishedit would have been two sovereigns thrown away. At that moment a hansom dashed up to the door, and the next moment I •heard the voice of the younger Mr. Haliand asking the servant if I was at home. I knew at once that Frederic had sent bis reply to his private house, and that this good man had driven over to me at once upon the receipt of it. “It is all right, Mr. Clayton,” whispered he, as he grasped my hand. “He comes home by the next steamer.”
He came up-stairs, and—well, to make it clear, I suppose, how matters stood, or perhaps it was a part of Fred’s message that lie had to deliver—he kissed Kitty ; and we sat up talking till past midnight. But not. a word did we ever teU her of that question, “ Are you free ?” which had been sent so unnecessarily across the world. It was the intention of the firm, John told us, since they felt that a man with such an exceptional sense of duty as Frederic Raynor was invaluable, to put him in his father’s place; while in the two months that must intervene before his arrival in England their attention would be devoted to the selection of a wedding present for their junior partner. “ My wife, Miss Clayton, will do herself the honor—for such she will feel it—of calling on you to-morrow,” were his last words. -•
I had no conception that “ Johnny,” as we clerks used, to call him, was such a noble fellow. :
The next day we were all summoned before the partners,-and informed that a grave and terrible mistake had been made in the dismissal of Frederic Raynor, who had been proved wholly innocent of the crime laid to his charge. But. not a word was said as to the actual offender ; and though all sorts of surmises and suspicions were of course excited among my fellow-clerks, not one of them ever dreamed of accusing that exemplary and public spirited man, Jacob Raynor, for whom, indeed, a sympathy greater than ever was now aroused from the sense that he had been hurried to his death by .the calumny that had exiled his only son. And here was manifested the wisdom of making Fred a partner, for in any lower position he would have been exposed To some painful interrogations concerning the true culprit which now no one would dare put to him when it was once understood that he wished to be silent on the point. It was felt by both employers—or, as I may now say, by his co-partners —that the chief point to be aimed at for Frederic’s sake was to keep that secret, for which he had already sacrificed so much, from the world at large. (To be continued.)
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 221, 20 December 1880
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