« PreviousContinue »
a high hand. He had not married till late But the change was attended with many adin life, and when his only son and heir was vantages to him. Old Richard Herford was born he was already sixty years of age-a not unkind to the fatherless boy, and in a strong-willed, selfish man, neither able nor rough fashion of his own he tried to make a willing to learn any lesson disagreeable to his man of him. He succeeded in training the egotism. He idolized his boy, the son of town-bred lad into a capital sailor, and a still his old age, but he did not suffer this idolatry better farmer. The quiet, beautiful country to interfere with the supreme worship of him- life won all Justin's affections, which had so self. He could not have more perfectly suc- little else to cling to. The bright, changeful ceeded in ruining his son by indulgence if sea, never bearing the same aspect long; the he had set that end before him as a definite dangerous cliffs, which he soon learned to aim. Master Dick, as he was called by all the scale with the most venturesome of the village village, grew up wild, ignorant, and reckless; urchins; the wild slopes of the deep valley, a torment to the men, and a terror to the with their elegant birch-trees and ferns and women of the place. He would not go to flowers, that lived all the winter through ; school, and the tutors provided for him at the large, well-stocked farmstead adjoining home found him unmanageable and incor- the Court; the Court itself, with its low, rigible; but were laughed at or scorned by wainscotted rooms, and long, dark lobbies, his father if they made any complaint against and high-roofed attics set in the gables-all him. “The boy can always be managed by these took almost the place of human friendme,” he said.
ships, and awoke in his heart the strong, deep Mrs. Herford, who was more than thirty love which no one about him cared to cherish. years younger than her husband, had been a It was a heart-breaking trial to Justin when widow with one child when she married a he was banished from Herford to a school in second time. Until this marriage her life London. had been spent in large towns, chiefly in But the boy distinguished himself at school, London, amid the constant bustle and stir of having one object before him—that of quickly a populous community. She had been fas- learning all he had to learn, so as to get back cinated by the seclusion and quiet of Her- to his beloved Herford. He won prize after ford, and fancied a perpetual peace must prize, bringing them home at each holiday, reign there. Moreover, she was a penniless with a secret sense that nobody really cared widow, dependent upon relations who kept for his success. His master urgently repreher grudgingly; and her young son was a sented to his step-father that he merited a heavy burden to her. She was not fit to university education, and old Richard Hermaintain herself, or at least thought so. She ford consented to it, reflecting that the present had never been willing to work steadily, or vicar of Herford was an old man, and that to do anything that might be at the moment the living was in his gift. It would probably irksome to her. When old Richard Herford be the cheapest and best way of providing had unexpectedly asked her to become his for his wife's son. Justin cared for nothing wife, she had consented with alacrity, believ- so much as coming back to Herford. The ing that henceforth she would have her own old vicar died opportunely, and he succeeded way in everything. “Better be an old man's him, having a few months before married the darling than a young man's slave," she had daughter of one of his former masters. Thus, said to herself. But as soon as her child was at twenty-four years of age, he settled down born she was set on one side, and treated, for life as vicar of Herford-on-the-Sea. even with regard to his training, as a com- There had been no great love between the plete cypher; being hardly more than the half-brothers. Each regarded the other with housekeeper of Herford Court, which from contempt; Justin after a quiet fashion, that epoch became the kingdom of the son Richard after an ostentatious one. The old and heir of Herford.
man was roughly good-natured to his stepJustin Webb, her elder boy, was ten years son, but he idolized his heir. Mrs. Herford of age when his half-brother was born. He favoured sometimes one, and sometimes the was already a thoughtful, advanced lad, pre- other, according to the caprice of the moment; maturely wise from knocking about in the but her whims were of no weight with any of world during the homeless years of his the three men belonging to her, over whom mother's widowhood. He was old enough her shallow and fickle nature had no into feel a sharp pang of resentment at her fluence. The parishioners, with the excepsecond marriage ; a step which throughout tion of four or five scampish young men, sushis whole after life he never fully forgave. pected of poaching, petty larcenies, and
2'. similar misdemeanours, were all strongly attached to Master Justin, the quiet, pleasant
CHAPTER II.--OLD RICHARD HERFORD. lad who had grown up among them, and who If it were possible for us to take our last was now their own young, friendly parson, journey as we take other journeys, half the not over strict, and not too long in his terror of it would be gone. We shrink more, sermons. Master Richard had grown up perhaps, from going alone than from entering among them also, but he was headstrong into an utterly unknown state of existence. and domineering, and there was a secret Could we only say to one or two of our dread of his succession to the estates, dearest, most familiar friends, “Come, I will which could not be very far off now, bid good-bye to this world next week if you and which was looked forward to as a will go with me. Let us hasten to that better great though inevitable calamity to the land, of which we have so often spoken, and whole parish.
so often heard, in our hours of sorrow," then As might have been foreseen, as soon as we might set about our preparations for that Richard was but little more than a boy, his great migration with an unusual courage and strong, uncurbed will came into frequent cheerfulness, as if we were merely flitting to collision with the strong, uncurbed will of some new home across the seas. But we are his aged father. Old Richard Herford grew called to pass singly to that far-off
, mysterious more obstinate and tyrannical as he ad-shore in darkness and silence, hearing nothing, vanced in years, and began to sink under the seeing nothing, knowing nothing. Against infirmities of his great age. His increasing our will we are stripped of all our customary deafness and dimness of sight made him surroundings, even of the outer self, so much increasingly suspicious and unreasonable. better known to most of us than the hidden, On the other hand, his son could not submit lonely, living soul, which alone has to pass to any control, and it was enough for him to the unseen boundary. It is not change that know that his father had forbidden a thing daunts us; it is the utter, absolute strangeto cause him ardently to desire to do it. ness of that future world, and of our place Time after time violent quarrels arose, in and bearing in it. which Justin played the part of peacemaker, The extreme age of old Richard Herford, the old man being always more readily paci- standing on the brink of the grave one Janfied than his son. But there could be no uary night, did not make the strangeness of lasting peace between them. Threats were the change less painful to him. He had constantly bandied to and fro; on the one lived so long in this life that the brief, fleethand of disinheritance, on the other of run- ing visions one catches now and then of ning away, and never more being heard of. another world must long since have ceased At length young Richard put his threat into to visit him, if, indeed, they had ever visited execution. When he was little over eighteen him at all. The curtain had become darker he disappeared suddenly and completely, and and more closely drawn between him and the no inquiry or search availed to procure a world to come. He was clinging with fierce solitary trace of him. Some of the fishermen tenacity to the worn-out, half paralyzed whispered that he must have been seized frame which had been his tenement so long. with cramp whilst bathing, and been carried If he might have his will, he would rather away by the tide; but there was no evidence remain thus, bed-ridden and barely alive, to support this suggestion, and it did not re- than venture into the thick darkness he was ceive a moment's credence at the Court. about to enter. His white head tossed to Old Richard Herford knew, though he never and fro on his pillow, and he groaned imbetrayed the secret, that a large sum of money patiently. How poor and short a time it had disappeared from the cabinet in his was since he was a boy! It did not seem bedroom at the same time as his hopeful long since he was a lad scrambling up Halson,
stone Cliff, and hanging by strong young Two other events had chequered the some hands to any jutting crag or root of ivy, what monotonous life of the young vicar of whilst the tide roared far below him against Herford—the birth of a little daughter, and the rocks. He had been dreaming a good the death, a few months later, of his wife, deal of his boyhood of late, going back to who was some years older than himself, and the smallest memories of childish trifles. who might be said to have chosen and mar- Was it a token that his worn-out, sickly spirit ried him rather than he her. Both of these was about to enter into some new youth? events took place three or four years before There was no trace of youth in his withered, Richard's disappearance.
yellow face, or in the hands, with their hooked
and shrivelled fingers clutching the bed “Can I do nothing for you
before I go: ?” clothes higher up his shoulders. It was diffi- she asked kindly, for she had been a good cult to believe that such decrepit old age had nurse to him, and was willing to do her duty ever known childhood. Bleared and sunken by him to the last. eyes looked out dimly and anxiously from “No; just do as I bid you. You never under his bushy eyebrows. They could not do as you're told,” he answered peevishly. rest upon an object that had not been familiar Without a word she walked quietly out of and unchanged to them for many years. the room. Justin stood still, looking down This chamber, which had been his own for thoughtfully on the dying old man. There was more than seventy years, in which he had not much affection in his steadfast gaze, though slept and waked night and morning, was less there was some sadness and sympathy; but altered than he was himself. There was the he waited in silence, as if used to his stepsame old carved cabinet where his father, and father's querulous temper, and the dim his grandfather before him, had kept their mournful eyes of the old man were fastened deeds and papers of value; the same looking- upon him. glass which had reflected his own face since “I am going fast,” he said sorrowfully. it was the smooth, beardless face of a boy; Justin neither contradicted nor reassured the same windows looking out upon the old him. He knew that this was old Richard unchanged landscape. Was it possible that Herford's last day—perhaps his last hour. he was really going to quit all the old posses- | He held his peace even from good words, sions, never to return to them ; his home, for he knew how quickly the old spirit of which had grown so much a part of himself tyranny and opposition was aroused. that he could not conceive of life of any “I was nearly sixty when my son was kind apart from it? Would he never see the born,” he went on, "and my head was white sun rise again through the eastern window? | as snow. Neighbours called me an old man Nay, would the sun rise at all, or the dawn then, but I felt like a lad. Ay! it was like break through grey clouds upon that unknown being a lad again to have Dick all in a frolic world? Would there never more be a farm about me. He was a bolder, a merrier lad for him to ride over? No fishing or hunt than thee. 'Justin was born to be a parson, ing? No tides flowing and ebbing? No with no spirit in him,' I said ; and Dick was dinners and suppers ? No long nights of born to be a roistering squire.' Dick could unbroken sleep? His face had been turned never have turned out a milksop.” to the wall for a minute or two, but at these “ He was very brave and bold,” said Justin, dread questions he tossed over again on his in a soothing tone. pillow, and gazed out with a troubled gleam “I doted on every hair of his head," he in his eye, looking for comfort to the faces moaned; "it's cruel of him to forsake his old of his wife and step-son.
father-cruel and thankless. I have cursed They were sitting on the hearth together, him hundreds of times for it. How long is it talking in so low a tone that the old man's since he went away, and we've never heard deaf and jealous ear could not catch a word, a word of him, good or bad?” though he lay quite still, and listened eagerly. “Four years last September," he answered. They did not glance towards him, and he “ Four years last September ! And the felt neglected and aggrieved. Already they rascal knows I'm over eighty-three ! He were drifting away from him; he was losing doesn't care to see his old father's face again. his power over them. His own forlorn lone- Yet I was very good to him. You've been liness smote him more painfully as he more like a son to me, Justin, though there's watched them, their heads almost touching not a drop of my blood in your veins. I've each other as they continued their earnest all along said you were like a son to me, and conversation. They were discussing some I swore to make you a son in my will. All plans and schemes with which he could not the neighbours know that. 'Justin Webb interfere. There would be no more plan- shall be my heir, and take the name of Herning and scheming for him. There was no ford,' I've said wherever I went. “I'll cut more for him to do in the world. Except the runaway off with a shilling,' I've said, one thing.
and he deserves it. All the country knows. “ Justin!” he cried, so sharply and loudly If he isn't at home before I die, he shall that it made them both start and hurry rue it,' I've said. Church, market, and towards the bed. “I must speak to you everywhere, I've said the same words. Ought alone. Send your mother away till I wanı I to stick to them, Justin ? Would God her."
Almighty be angry if I broke my word ? Is
vas He muttered the last words to himself ;
there aught in the Bible about keeping fast it now, because I've forgiven him from the by one's bitter curses ?”
bottom of my heart, for he's my only son, He had raised himself upon his pillows, born when I was sixty years of age ; and why and stretched his yellow, shrivelled face should I leave what I've got to another man's towards Justin, with a passion of anxiety in son ?” every line of it. A vehement struggle was going on in his mind. He dared not, on the but Justin's ear caught every one of them. very threshold of the unseen world, commit He found the key mechanically, and unany fresh offence that might endanger his locked the cabinet door. In a drawer within own welfare there; yet he could not bear to lay two packets, tied and sealed. His hand keep his bitter threats against his only son. shook a little as he took them out, and he It was a moment of fierce inward conflict dropped them hastily on the old man's bed, with Justin also. He knew well that Richard as though the very touch of them was a pain had been disinherited, and he himself put in to him. With crooked, palsied fingers the his place, and all his future depended upon dying father took them up, and looked at his next word. Yet he stood there as a them through his bleared eyes. minister of Christ to teach the dying man all mother in,” he said sharply and suspiciously. he would receive of Divine truth.
Justin hastened to the door and called aloud, “On the contrary," he said distinctly and without leaving the room. She was not far slowly, “God requires of you to forgive every away, and the next moment she was standing one that has trespassed against you. It is by her husband's bed. your bounden duty to pardon your son.” “ Take this packet,” he said to her, “and
“Ah, I do, I do!” cried the old man with drop it in the fire, and let me see it burn away a sudden burst of tears and sobs. “Oh, I to a cinder. Justin, you put this one back forgive him ! I love him! I dote upon him in its safe place. That's my last will, and still, Justin! He must be my son again. I you can testify I'm of sound mind.” believe now in God Almighty, if He orders me to forgive my own son. I was afraid I
CHAPTER III.-THE MASTER OF HERFORD. must stick to my word and my curses. Oh, It was four o'clock in the morning when God bless you, Dick! my boy, my son!” Justin left Herford Court to return to his
He had fallen back upon his pillows, and own home. Old Richard Herford was dead, lay shaking with sobs. Justin's face was and his death had been a depressing one, so pale and set as he waited for this paroxysm completely had the selfishness of his nature to pass over. ** Forgive, and ye shall be for- displayed itself, even in the solemn hour of given,'
,'” he said, after a painful effort to speak passing away. A stormy wind was driving clearly. “For if ye forgive men their tres- the thin clouds hurriedly across the sky, passes, your heavenly Father will also forgive where the waning moon shone out now and you. * Be ye kind one to another, tender- then with a fitful and watery light. He could hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, not see the sea along the deep lane he was for Christ's sake, has forgiven you.'” Justin treading, with tall hedgerows on each side ; felt as if he was reading the words of some but the moan of it filled the silent air of the solemn sacrament. Death had not yet lost night, mingling with the rush of the wind his sacred mystery for him.
through the leafless trees overhead. There Old Richard Herford lay still for a quarter was no other sound except his own lingering of an hour to recover his strength for further and tardy footsteps. He turned round, and speech after his fit of sobbing was over. But stood longer than he was aware of, gazing at Justin did not move away. He stood with the gabled front of the Court, which stood his arms folded and his head bowed down, on the brow of a low rocky hill, with the waiting in profound patience for the next sheltering cliffs behind, its high roof and word of the dying lips, though the pause strong stacks of chimneys looking black in seemed intolerably long.
the fitful moonlight. He knew every stone “ Justin,” he said at last, opening his dim- of the pile of building. It had been the sighted eyes, “ you know I made a will after only home he had ever known, though he Dick ran away, making you my son. It's in had had but a step-son's place in it. He the old cabinet there, and my will when he had never forgiven his mother for marrying was born, leaving it all to him. I meant to old Richard Herford; but he had long ago burn the new one the very day he came acknowledged the advantages that had achome again ; but he's never come! Here's crued to him because of it. But were they the key; bring them both to me. I'll burn real advantages ? he asked himself at this moment. Mr. Herford had given him a confess to himself that his mood was anycollege education, and bestowed upon him thing more than the depressing and weary the small living in his gift. He had drifted sadness of witnessing the passing away into into taking orders and becoming a clergy- impenetrable mystery of an utterly selfish man, because his step-father, with his strong and unenlightened soul. Slowly he turned and domineering will, had so ordered it. his back upon Herford Court, and slowly he But who could tell him what he might have paced the long deep lane which led down to become, by his own exertions, had his mother the little fishing village, where every house remained a poor widow?
was closed and no sign of life was to be His heart felt very sore as he stood gazing seen. The cottages were all real homeat the black gabled roof of the Court. He steads to him, every one of whose inmates had just been passing through a vehement he had known from boyhood ; and now that struggle with a strong temptation; and his he was their pastor he was not wilfully victory, so far from making him feel tri- neglectful of his duties to them, distasteful umphant, had left him depressed and disap- as they were to him. Justin delighted in pointed. He had wished in his inmost heart dwelling amongst people whom he knew that it had not fallen to his lot to impress closely. Possibly the absence of any strong upon the conscience of the dying man the home affection had made him more deduty of pardoning his graceless son. He pendent upon the good-will of the outer had seen the will destroyed which would circle of neighbours. He was very popular have made him master of the estate, Herford with his parishioners, though few of the of Herford, in the place of his half-brother. rough men could overcome their reluctance It had been promised to him scores of times, to attend the church, which they were acwith many an oath; and although he had customed to look upon as a safe and warm always disclaimed the promises, even to him shelter for women folk, and for such among self, the hope had unconsciously sprung up themselves as had grown too rheumatic to in his heart that some day the old place, brave all weathers on the beach. so dear to him and so little cared for by From this little strip of shingly beach, Richard, might become his own.
where the boats were now lying above highIt was true that he had been a better son water mark, a narrow and somewhat danto the old man than Richard had ever been. gerous path wound upwards, round the face He had worked for him, submitted to him, of a rock that stood well out to sea, on the carried out his schemes, and waited duti- highest point of which stood a little lightfully upon his whims year after year, whilst house. Long ago, in some far-away dark Richard had acted like the spoiled scape- age, it had been a small chapel or chantry grace that he was. He had mocked at his belonging to an abbey some miles inland; father, assiduously opposed him in his plans, and it looked still like a diminutive church, done his best to supplant him, and at last with its low porch and dwarf square belfry, deserted him in his old age; yet now which now held the lantern burning brightly Richard was to come into the kingdom, be towards the sea. Justin knew very well that the young squire, and squander away the this spot was the favourite haunt of his seamoney his father had accumulated, simply faring parishioners on a Sunday, and he felt because he had been born to it; whilst he no wonder or resentment at it. It was dark, who had acted the better part must go back, for the faint ray of the waning moon hardly for the remainder of the long life stretching touched the glistening whiteness of the foam before him, to the small vicarage and scanty as the sea roared and broke into flecks upon stipend of his seaboard parish. Until now the rocks below; and he could scarcely trace he had not felt deeply discontented with his the black outline of the cliff stretching on position, but he had not known before how each side of the Lantern Hill, as it was much he was unconsciously building upon called. But he had no need to see the his stepfather's reiterated promises. It was familiar prospect.
He could name every still three hours before the break of day, yet crag and headland on either side; and as he felt reluctant to go home and wake up the strong westerly breeze blew the spray his elderly maid-servant to admit him into into his face, he knew almost to a foot how his cheerless house. It was better out here high the tide had risen on the jagged rocks in the stillness of the night, for there was beneath him. no sleep possible whilst thoughts were hur- He sat down on a rude seat under the rying faster than the flying clouds overhead lighthouse tower, turning a sad set face to through his wakeful brain. He could hardly the dark sea. Why, he asked himself at this