Benjamin Farjeon.

Miser Farebrother: A Novel (vol. 2 of 3)



скачать книгу бесплатно

So now when her father sent for her, and told her that it was time the plans he had formed for her future should be carried out, she answered, "Cannot things remain as they are?"

"They cannot," said Miser Farebrother. "Mr. Pamflett will come here this evening, and will sleep here to-night. To-morrow morning he will go to London to attend to the business, and in the evening he will return. Before to-morrow night is over you will accept him for your husband."

"I will never do that," said Ph?be.

"You have sworn to obey me," he said, sternly.

"I have not," she said, in as steady a voice as she could command. "I have sworn never to marry without your consent, and I will keep my oath. I have sworn not to leave Parksides unless you thrust me out, and I will keep my oath. There my obligation ends."

"What objection have you to Mr. Pamflett?" he asked.

"I hate and abhor him," said Ph?be, firmly. "He is not a man; he is a reptile."

The door opened, and Mrs. Pamflett appeared.

"Come in," cried Miser Farebrother, "and hear what this ungrateful child calls your son. Repeat it in her hearing," he said to Ph?be.

The girl did not speak.

"I will tell you," said Miser Farebrother, "and if she denies it she lies. I asked her what objection she had to Jeremiah, and she answered that she hated and abhorred him, and that he was not a man but a reptile."

"Did you say that?" exclaimed Mrs. Pamflett, with venom in her voice and eyes.

Ph?be was silent.

"That is the proof," said Miser Farebrother. "If she did not say it she would deny it."

"My son a reptile!" said Mrs. Pamflett; "then what am I – his mother? I shall remember it!"

"Do you want me any longer?" asked Ph?be of her father.

"No; you can go."

At tea time, Jeremiah having arrived, Miser Farebrother sent for his daughter. She sat at the table and poured out the tea. Dark rims were around her eyes, her lips were quivering; but there was no pity for her. They talked of business matters; according to Jeremiah, money was being made fast; profitable negotiations had been entered into that day, and the miser gloated as he jotted down figures and calculated interest.

"Things are looking up, Jeremiah," he said, in a tone of exultation.

"That they are, sir," said Jeremiah. "Everything is going on swimmingly."

Could the thoughts which were harassing him have been read, could his mind have been laid bare, Miser Farebrother would have been aghast. Jeremiah was in a sea of difficulties; he had spread nets for others, they were closing around himself. The accounts he presented to his master were false; the negotiations he had entered into were inventions; the bills he exhibited were forged. There were only two roads of safety for him – one, his speedy marriage with Ph?be; the other, his master's death. His mother was filled with apprehension, for, having a better knowledge of his guilty nature than the others, she divined that he was in some deep trouble.

After tea the miser said, "Jeremiah, you have something in your pocket for my daughter."

Jeremiah produced it – a piece of silver tissue-paper, from which he took a ring.

"It is an engagement ring," said Miser Farebrother.

"Give it to Ph?be."

He offered it to her, and she did not raise her hand.

"Take it!" cried Miser Farebrother.

Ph?be took it, and flung it away.

Miser Farebrother rose slowly to his feet. One hand rested on the table, in the other he held his crutch stick.

"Pick it up!" he said, sternly.

Ph?be did not move.

"Pick it up!" he cried again.

Still Ph?be made no motion. Trembling with passion, he lifted his crutch stick and struck her across the neck. It was a cruel blow, and it left a long red streak upon the girl's fair flesh. She tottered, and almost fell to the ground, but she straightened herself, and uttered no word.

"If I were dead," he said, "you could marry your gentleman lawyer."

"If he would have me," Ph?be replied, in a low, firm tone. "I should then not be bound by my oath."

"You hear!" he exclaimed, appealing to Mrs. Pamflett and Jeremiah. "She wishes for my death, and would bring it about if she could in order that she might be free to disgrace me!"

They heard; but Ph?be did not. The pain of the blow was great, and she could scarcely bear it. Blinding tears rushed into her eyes.

"Go from my sight!" said Miser Farebrother. "And bear this in mind: my word is law. You will marry the gentleman I have chosen for you, or my curse shall rest upon you till your dying day! My death alone shall accomplish your guilty desire."

Thereafter there was no peace for her. There was something devilish in the ingenuity displayed by her enemies to torture her soul. There are women, strong women, whom it would have driven to madness; but from this despair Ph?be was mercifully saved. "I will bear it; I will bear it," she murmured, "till the end comes. I must preserve my reason. When I am dead, Aunt Leth will drop a flower on my grave. And Mr. Cornwall, perhaps, will think with sorrow of the poor girl whose heart is his for ever and ever!" She never thought of him now as "Fred;" he was too far removed from her; all was over between them, but she would be faithful to him to the last. She intrenched herself in silence, never opening her lips to Mrs. Pamflett and Jeremiah, and never to her father unless he addressed her and compelled her to reply. From the day he struck her she did not call him "father." She did not regard him as such; her heart was a heart of tenderness, but his merciless conduct had deadened it to him. She thought frequently of her mother, and prayed aloud to that pure spirit. "Take me, mother," she cried, "take your unhappy child from this hard world!" So months passed, her cross becoming harder to bear with every rising sun. Then it was that Ph?be began to fear that in the cruel, unequal fight her reason might be wrecked. At length a crisis came.

During the day her father had been more than usually savage toward her. In the evening he ordered her to her room. She went willingly, and undressing, retired to bed.

She did not know what time of the night it was when she heard her father's voice outside her door. He had tried the handle, but Ph?be never went to bed now without turning the key in the lock.

"Answer me! answer me!" cried her father.

"What do you want?" she asked, sitting up in bed.

"You! Dress this instant, and come out!"

She rose from her bed, and dressed hurriedly, without lighting a candle. Then she went to the door and opened it.

"Assist me to my room," he said, in his cold, cruel voice.

He leant upon her with such force that he almost bore her down. They reached his room.

"Attend to my words," he said, "they may be the last that will ever pass between us. There is ruin on all sides of me. Whom should I trust, if not you? Once more I ask if you will obey me."

"In everything," said Ph?be, "except – "

He did not allow her to finish.

"Except in the way I wish. I will put an end to this. You walk like a ghost about the house. I see you in my dreams. You come, you and your mother, who was like you, a pale, sickly creature, and stand by my bedside in the night. I saw her a few minutes since, and I will submit to it no longer. I will rid myself of you both, now and for ever! Again, will you obey me?"

"Not in the way you wish," replied Ph?be.

"In what other way can you satisfy me? You know well in no other way. You will not?"

"I will not."

With all his strength – with more than his ordinary strength, for he was excited to a furious pitch – he struck her in the face.

"Will you obey me?"

"No."

He struck her again, a frightful blow.

"I call down a curse upon you!" he cried. "You are no longer a child of mine. I drive you from my house. Go, this moment, or I shall kill you!"

She turned and fled without a word. Out into the passage, down the stairs, out of the house, and into the open, quivering, bleeding, and staggering blindly on through the darkness of night.

CHAPTER XVII
DARK CLOUDS ARE GATHERING

During these troublous months in Ph?be's life matters pregnant with momentous issues for weal or woe were progressing in the careers of others who are playing their parts in this domestic drama. From a worldly point of view Fred Cornwall was making rapid progress. He still possessed but a scanty purse, but he saw before him an almost certain prospect of success. He was making a reputation; his foot was on the ladder. He was unhappy and sad at heart, and he took refuge in desperately hard work, slaving day and night, as it is necessary for a man to do if he desires to make his mark in life's tough battle. This incessant labour and his visits to the Lethbridges – which were as frequent as ever – were his only consolation. Faithfully did he cherish Ph?be's image in his memory; he was as true to her as a true man could be; and the esteem and affection which the Lethbridges entertained for him deepened as time wore on. Many were the conversations, many the consultations, which he and the Lethbridges held respecting the young girl upon whose life had fallen so heavy a blow, and whose place in the dear home in Camden Town was open for her if by any happy chance she should come to claim it. That they received no letters from her, that those they wrote to her should remain unanswered, distressed them, but did not shake their faith in her.

"She has written," said Aunt Leth, "and her letters have been intercepted. Ours have never reached her hands. Poor child! poor child!"

"What is the use of being a lawyer," exclaimed Fanny, "if you don't know how to bring her back to us?"

Fred Cornwall smiled sadly. "God knows," he said, "I would risk and sacrifice my life for her if any good could be done! A lawyer's skill is powerless here. She is living with her father, under his protection. He has a legal claim upon her which no action on our part can touch. If she herself made some move we could act; but as it is, the lawful right is on her father's side."

"Her father!" cried Fanny. "Her oppressor! her torturer, you mean!"

"I mean that," replied Fred; "but that does not help us. I have consulted a dozen fellows, and they all agree that, as things stand, nothing can be done. Her father has forbidden us his house; he has a right to do so. To put a foot inside the grounds of Parksides would be a trespass; we should only be bringing ourselves into trouble, and bringing heavier trouble, most likely, upon Ph?be."

"If I were a man," Fanny declared, "I would do it! I would drag her from that wretched, miserable hole; I would tear the hair out of Mrs. Pamflett's head; I – I – "

"Fanny," said her mother, reprovingly, "you don't know what you are saying."

Whereupon Fanny began to cry and express her wish that she lived in a country where there was no law.

In the kitchen, as in the parlour, the principal topic of conversation between Tom Barley and 'Melia Jane was Ph?be. Tom Barley, truly, would have laid his life down for his young mistress; he sorrowed and grieved, and if he could conveniently have got into a personal difficulty with Jeremiah Pamflett which could have been decided by fists or sticks, he would have courted the opportunity with alacrity. But though he cudgelled his brains he could find no way to an issue so agreeable and desirable. The number of times 'Melia Jane laid out the cards to arrive at a proper understanding of Ph?be's future could not be counted. Sometimes it was bad, sometimes it was good; and Tom Barley's spirits rose and fell accordingly. There was always the dark woman, Mrs. Pamflett, exercising her malevolent influence; there was always the dark man, Jeremiah Pamflett, prowling around to do some dreadful deed; there was always the fair man, Fred Cornwall, popping up to circumvent the diabolical plots which surrounded poor Ph?be. The result of the labour of scores of nights, with the heads of Tom Barley and 'Melia Jane very close together bending over the cards, was eventually 'Melia Jane's summing up that it all depended upon Tom Barley.

"Yes, Tom," said 'Melia Jane, "it all depends upon you."

Tom Barley could not exactly see how this could be, but he set his wits to work, and he came to the conclusion that it was his duty to go down to Parksides as often as possible "to have a good look around," and to be on the spot if he was required. His efforts in this direction were circumscribed, for a very sufficient reason. Fred Cornwall was not the only one who, despite the cloud which hung over him and the girl he loved, was getting along in the world. The same may be said of faithful Tom Barley. He had reached the height of his ambition. Through the interest of friends, and the good character he had earned since he left Parksides, he had succeeded in being taken on in "the force." He was now a policeman. The pride he felt in obtaining this honourable position in the service of his country, and the sense of importance which almost overwhelmed him when he presented himself in his uniform to his friends, would require a more powerful pen than mine to describe. At length he had raised himself; at length he was "somebody"; at length he held a place in the world and society.

"Behave yourself, 'Melia Jane," said he to that most estimable servant of all work, "or I'll take you up."

"'Im take me up!" said 'Melia Jane in confidence to Aunt Leth. "Why, I can twist 'im round my little finger!"

Which, if not taken literally, was exactly how the case stood.

"I 'ope he'll take somebody up," said 'Melia Jane, still in confidence to her mistress; "'cause if he doesn't, what's the good of 'is being a peeler?" A view of the case which is no doubt entertained by other persons than 'Melia Jane.

That Tom Barley had a heart as tender as "a babe unborned," in 'Melia Jane's estimation, was perhaps true enough, but he had a strong sense of duty, and it will be seen that, common policeman as he was, he had in him the stuff of which heroes are made. It is the fashion to dress heroes in grand uniform and gold-lace, but the majority of them are dressed in fustian.

Being a policeman, as has been stated, with a policeman's duties, was a tax upon Tom Barley's time; in that respect he was not his own master; but 'Melia Jane's verdict, that it all depended upon him, was not to be disputed. Therefore, when he was on day duty, he sometimes went down to Parksides at night, to try and find out something about his young mistress, and whether he could be of service to her; and when he was on night duty, he went down to Parksides during the day, bent on the same errand. But he saw nothing; heard nothing. Nevertheless, he did not relax his efforts. That they encroached upon the hours which should have been devoted to sleep was of the smallest importance; he had a constitution of iron and the strength of a lion, and, bent upon a task to which his heart and soul were devoted, he could do with three hours' sleep out of the twenty-four. You shall see presently of what else he was capable. It is not revealing anything in this domestic drama which at this point should not be revealed, by stating that, in the exercise of his common policeman's duties, he did a deed which made all England ring with admiration. It is simply leaving you in a pleasant state of mystery.

His expenses to Parksides were not borne entirely by himself. Fred Cornwall supplied him with part of the necessary funds, and would have supplied him with the whole, but Tom would not have it so. His service was a service of love and honour, not to be measured by pounds, shillings, and pence.

Thus it will be seen that the lawyer and the policeman were on the road to worldly prosperity. Not so the Lethbridges. A thunder-bolt was forged, ready at the fatal moment to descend upon them and crush them. This thunder-bolt was the acceptance for three hundred pounds which Mr. Lethbridge had given to Kiss and Mr. Linton, the dramatic author, and which they had negotiated with Jeremiah Pamflett. On the night that Miser Farebrother drove his daughter with cruel blows from Parksides, this acceptance was within three weeks of becoming due, and there was no prospect of meeting it.

The cause of this is easily explained.

A Heart of Gold, on its first representation a failure, had been made the talk of the town by Mr. Linton's extraordinary speech when the audience insisted upon his appearing before the curtain. It has already been described how the papers took it up, and how great was the interest it excited. For two or three weeks the Star Theatre was crowded, and the manager advertised that seats could be booked two months in advance. Everybody concerned in the success of A Heart of Gold was in high feather. Kiss went about in a state of exultation; the company were in raptures, discovering in the drama diamonds which they had looked upon as paste; the author beamed, believing that his star had risen at last. His wife was radiant; colour came into her cheeks, and she visited the Lethbridges in her cotton frock with joyful hope blooming in her eyes. Apart from this unexpected turn in her husband's fortunes, had she not cause to rejoice? Her little boy was growing stronger. Friends had come forward to assist Linton with loans of small sums of money, to be repaid presently when the dramatic author touched his profits. Before that fortunate day arrived there were the expenses of the getting up of the play to be provided for; it was the arrangement made in the agreement into which he had entered with the manager of the Star Theatre. A month's good business would clear off these expenses, and the boat would be trimmed and the winds would be fair for the haven of rest and hope.

But that month's good business did not become an accomplished fact. In three weeks the interest which had been excited, and which had nothing whatever to do with the merits of A Heart of Gold, slackened, and the audiences followed suit. The flash of prosperity was but a flash in the pan. The emphatic verdict of the first-night audience that the drama was not a good drama was endorsed by the majority of those who flocked afterward to the theatre to judge for themselves. From a hundred pounds a night the receipts fell to eighty, sixty, fifty, forty, and then dwindled down infinitesimally. A Heart of Gold was not "in" for a long run, as the elated ones declared; it was doomed.

Reviewing the play from a dramatic standpoint, Kiss, in a subsequent conversation with Mr. Lethbridge, thus summed it up: "It is a good play; its literature is of a high order; it has plenty of points; the plot is strong enough; the opportunities given to the actors to create parts are capital. But, my dear sir —but– and here comes in the fatal blemish – it has no villain. I must have been blind not to have discovered it in time, but I was misled by the reading. There is absolutely no villain. In a pure comedy a mild villain is sufficient; even that order of piece requires something disagreeable, something we can condemn. But for a drama, my dear sir, for such a drama as A Heart of Gold, not only is a villain required, but a strong villain – some damned unscrupulous scoundrel that the audience would like to jump upon and tear to pieces. Every character in Linton's piece is too good; they are all too good. There is nothing to hate. What is the consequence? There is no contrast; and, sir, a drama without strong contrasts will not, cannot, please. Why? Because it is contrary to human nature. Never mind the colour; never mind the improbability of the story. Give us contrasts; and that is exactly what Linton has not done. Love interest – yes? I do not know a play in which the love interest is stronger than it is in A Heart of Gold; and yet it is a failure – and a failure, my dear sir, upon assured and established grounds. I will just ask you if play-goers sympathize with a pair of lovers because they are lovers, because they are interesting, because they are all that is sweet, because they are true to each other?"

"Yes," replied Mr. Lethbridge, in the innocence of his heart; "of course they do."

"Not a bit of it, my dear sir," said Kiss – "not a bit of it. They sympathize with the lovers because they are oppressed; because a villain is trying to ruin their happiness, is trying to separate them, is trying to blacken and damn the young fellow. That, my dear sir, is the secret of the interest the love-story creates. Without it the audience would regard it as so much wash – mere milk and water. The more the lovers are oppressed, the more the audience sympathizes with them. Pile on the agony; that is what a dramatist has to do. And a curious outcome of all this is to be found in the fact that the villain is now really the most popular character in a play. Presently he will command a larger salary than the leading man."

All this was very well as a matter of observation and disputation, but it did not provide for the meeting of the acceptance, and Mr. Lethbridge looked forward to the due date with a feeling of terror. Kiss could not meet the bill; Mr. Linton could not; and he could not.

He kept the trouble to himself, and all the more did it weigh upon him with terrible effect. The home in which they had been so happy from the first day of their marriage was slipping from him; the exposure would be a disgrace; the chances were that he would lose his situation at the bank; and what would become of him after that? He dared not think of it. Unconsciously he paced the rooms of the dear home, gazing at the old mementos with exaggerated affection. They were part of his life; to every small item some story was attached which invested it with a sweet and human interest. It was an additional torture that he had kept his secret from his wife.



скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13