GOING HOME

There are people, we are told, on whom the rapid action of railway
travelling acts as a soothing influence; but to the majority of us,
when suffering from any loss or grief, a long train journey is simply
maddening. The rattling of the windows, the vibration of the carriage,
the banging of doors and shouting of porters at the stations, the
prolonged and ear-piercing shriek of the whistle, occurring at such
moments as to convince the thinking mind that it is not let off with
any good intention or to serve any useful purpose, but simply to
gratify the torturing instinct of the engine-driver at the expense
of the passengers’ nerves and tempers–all these only aggravate any
trouble which may be part of one’s invisible luggage. For all these
together are not enough to distract one from the contemplation of
one’s special skeleton, and each is in itself enough to keep one from
contemplating it with any good result. And as for seeing the bright
side of one’s troubles, that is quite impossible when one is moving at
the rate of fifty miles an hour; the only wonder is that more people
are not overcome by the peculiarly dismal aspect which one’s position
assumes under these circumstances, and that we don’t hear of more
suicides in railway carriages.

The three o’clock Midland express was tearing through the quiet
country. A faint mist lay over the fields and hedges, faint, but still
thick enough to hold its own against the pale yellow sunbeams that
seemed striving to disperse it.

Richard Ferrier, idly gazing at the flying hedges and gates and squalid
cottages, did not feel any less sad for the sadness of the outside
world through which he was speeding home.

He had spent the previous evening in a vigorous search after Alice–a
search which had been unsuccessful, even though he had offered Mrs
Fludger the best inducement to frankness. It had needed that golden
token to mitigate the wrath with which she had received his first
question. She had, indeed, hinted, not darkly, in the first flush of
indignation, at worse designs on his part than even Bible-reading; but
gold itself, though it had softened her asperity, had been powerless to
extort from her any information of the slightest value. Having tried
all he knew, and failed, to discover any trace of what he sought,
Richard had given up the search. He had met Roland once on the hotel
staircase. They had passed each other like strangers.

As the train rushed on, he went over and over again all the
circumstances of his quarrel with his brother. A fire of hate burned
in him fiercely, a stern and deep indignation surged in his heart,
and blinded his eyes to any possible palliation of his brother’s
conduct. This state of mind was the outcome of months of heart soreness
and suppressed bitterness of spirit,–months in which he had vainly
tried to disguise from himself that if Clare Stanley did incline to
one more than the other, it was Roland who was the favourite. During
that month of Roland’s unexplained holiday Richard had fancied he
made some progress in her good graces, but when his brother came back
again she had turned on him just the same smiles and glances that had
bewildered Dick. And from that time it had seemed to him that Roland
was gradually elbowing him out. Miss Stanley had a taste for poetry,
and Roland read poetry extremely well. Miss Stanley called herself a
Radical, and Roland had been a shining light on that side in a small
debating society at Cambridge. Miss Stanley liked to chatter about Art,
and Roland always had a stock of the latest Art prattle at the tip of
his tongue. Roland had grown fond of solitary walks, and in these was
constantly meeting Miss Stanley ‘by accident’–‘accident’ which Richard
could not always bring himself to believe in. It was to be noticed, by
the way, that in the walks of both these young men all roads led, not
to Rome, but past Aspinshaw. Richard had borne all this, sustaining
himself with a hope that Miss Stanley did not really feel interested so
much in Roland as in the tastes he affected. He had still hoped that
she might come to care for him,–for the man who loved her with such a
passionate intensity. It is so hard, so very hard, to believe that the
love that is everything to us is absolutely nothing to the beloved. Men
have even dreamed that their passion could warm marble to life. How
much easier to fancy that it can stir a heart to love.

But the sting in the pain he had suffered while his lady smiled on
Roland had been a half unselfish fear that these smiles of hers were
being bestowed on a man unworthy of them. Now that he believed this
unworthiness to be proved, all the latent doubts, distrusts, suspicions
he had kept down ‘sprang full statured in an hour,’ and with them
sprang a hatred of his brother, so fierce as to frighten himself; for
however he might seek to deceive himself about it, he knew in his
inmost heart that it was less as a heartless profligate than as a
possibly successful rival that he had learned to hate him.

But he knew that now this rivalry could not be successful. His great
love for her prevented his seeing the realities that underlay the
superficial side of her character, so that he actually believed her to
be the last woman in the world one could dare to ask to share poverty.
He knew that his own chance, such as it had been, was lost; but he
knew, too, that his brother’s chance was also at an end. This did not
make him less determined that the quarrel should be _à outrance_.

‘Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face’ is such a wildly
irrational act that one would never expect any reasonable being to be
guilty of it, and yet hundreds of people do it every day. Dick was
doing it now, practically, though he kept reminding himself that this
was really the only honourable course open to him, and that he was
influenced mainly by irreproachable motives.

It was nearly eight o’clock when his journey ended at Thornsett Edge.

He went straight into the dining-room, where Miss Ferrier sat filling
in the groundwork of some canvas slippers, which she hastily pushed
out of sight when she saw him. It was one of her habits, kept up since
the days when they were children, to make some present for each of the
brothers every year, and give it to them at Christmas as a ‘surprise.’

‘My dear Dick, how ill you look! Why didn’t you write? Have you had any
dinner?’

‘No, auntie,’ said he, kissing her. ‘Just order up something cold, will
you? I want to run up to Gates this evening. I won’t wait for anything
to be cooked.’

Miss Letitia suppressed her curiosity as to what could be taking Dick
to his father’s solicitor at this time of night, and hurried off to
see about the meal herself. While he was busy with the cold beef and
pickles he told her briefly that he had run down on business, which had
been rather worrying lately.

‘That accounts,’ said the good lady, ‘for your looking so poorly. I
hope you’ve not been keeping bad hours.’

‘Not I!’ said Dick, as he drew the cork of a bottle of stout. ‘Nor yet
bad company, aunt–don’t you think it.’

‘And how is Roland?’ she asked, at last; but at the same minute Dick
pushed his chair back, and rose.

‘I’m off to Gates now,’ he said. ‘I shall be back some time to-night.
And I say, auntie, have my father’s room got ready for me. I should
like to sleep there.’

When he had put on hat and great coat, he put his head in again at the
room door.

‘After all, I think I’ll have my own room.’

He found Mr Gates sitting smoking very comfortably in the society of
two of his bosom friends, with whom he had that day enjoyed some very
good shooting.

‘Can I see Mr Richard Ferrier?’ he cried, when a servant took him the
name. ‘I should think I could. Come in, Dick, my boy; you’re just in
time to help finish the bottle. Stevens is full already–he’s missed
every bird he’s aimed at to-day–and Clark is too sleepy to appreciate
good stuff.’

The other men laughed, and all shook hands with Dick, and made room for
him in the little circle which they formed round a splendid fire.

‘I suppose the Aspinshaw people will soon be down now,’ Gates went on;
‘in fact, I heard so from Stanley.’

‘I came down on business,’ said Dick, as the three other men burst out
laughing.

‘Of course,’ said Gates; ‘you went to town on business just when they
went.’

The duet of less than half-sober laughter with which Mr Gates’s guests
received this suggestion brought the colour to Richard’s cheeks.

‘I want to speak to you in private,’ he said, ‘if your friends will
excuse us.’

‘Oh, they won’t mind,’ said Mr Gates, his cheerfulness unabated by the
sharp tone in which Richard spoke. ‘Come along; let’s get the beastly
business over.’

Richard followed him into another room. Mr Gates set down on a table
the brass candle-stick he had brought in; both men remained standing.

‘I have come up to ask you to take immediate steps to stop working the
mill. I suppose we must give the men some notice?’

‘Have you gone mad, boy? What on earth should you close the mill for?’

‘It will be closed under the provisions of my father’s will, which, I
believe, you drew up, Mr Gates.’

Mr Gates sat down heavily on the nearest chair.

‘You don’t mean to say you’ve been quarrelling already?’

Richard made an impatient gesture of assent.

‘You’re both of you too old and too sensible to let a quarrel like this
stand between you and your living,’ said Gates seriously. ‘What’s the
trouble?’

‘I can’t tell you what our quarrel is about. My brother can do so if he
likes; but it is impossible–please understand me thoroughly, Mr Gates,
it is quite impossible that Roland and I can ever work together again.’

His tone was so decided, his face so firm, that Gates saw plainly that
what he said he meant, and that this was no quarrel to be got over by
‘being slept upon.’

‘May I ask,’ he said, when he had risen and taken a turn or two up and
down the room, ‘how you propose to get your living?’

‘I shall have a little, I believe, without the mill, and I am not an
absolute fool; and, if the worst comes to the worst, I suppose my hands
are of some use,’ holding them out, with a laugh.

‘And what will Roland do?’ said the lawyer, more to gain time than
because he expected any answer.

‘You forget, sir,’ said Richard haughtily–and as he spoke the other
noticed how much older he seemed to have grown in the last month–‘you
forget, sir, that my brother’s affairs no longer concern me in the
least.’

‘Well, I can do nothing till I hear from him. That’ll be time enough,
God knows.’

‘You know best, sir,’ said Richard. ‘I’ve done my duty in telling you;
I shall write to the trustees to-night.’

‘Well,’ said Gates, with a shrug of his shoulders, ‘what must be must.
I can only hope you’ll think better of it. Why, it’s perfect madness.
Do let me try to arrange matters between you.’

‘You had better address yourself to Roland. Don’t make any mistake,
Mr Gates. This is quite as much my brother’s quarrel as mine. Only
three days ago he told me never to speak again to him on this side of
the grave, and swore that the same roof should not continue to cover
us both. I must be off now. I’m sorry to have troubled you at such an
hour. Good-night.’

Gates let him out. As he closed the front door after watching him down
to the gate,–

‘How in the world,’ he said, ‘did such a hard-headed man of business as
old Dicky Ferrier ever manage to get two such hare-brained young fools
as these boys? Why, it’s beastly unnatural,’ he added discontentedly.
‘But it’s the same old tale, I suppose–“All along of Eliza.” A good
business smashed up, and two young fellows going straight to the dogs,
because of that damned girl’–with a backward jerk of his head in the
direction of Aspinshaw, as he returned into the cloud of smoke in which
his two friends were dozing placidly.

Richard went quickly away under the arching interlaced boughs of the
garden trees. When he reached the road he did not turn his face towards
Thornsett Edge, but went up the hill that lay at the back of the house.
Across the fields, where no track was visible, but where he could
have found his way blindfold, through narrow lanes with stone walls,
past more than one farmstead, now settled down into the restfulness of
night, always upwards he went, until he reached the little church that
crowned the hill and kept watch over the dead that crowded under its
shadow.

The young man passed into the graveyard and made his way to a very
white stone, that showed strikingly among the dun-coloured monuments
about it.

Light fleecy clouds were being blown over the face of the waning moon,
and alternations of weird shadows, and still weirder lights, fell on
the tombstones and on the grey, weather-beaten little church. Richard
rested his hand on his father’s gravestone with a caressing touch. A
great wave of regret and longing swept over him, and then a sort of
relief at the thought that his father could not know how his dying wish
would be unfulfilled. The old man’s words rang in his ears,–‘_It has
been a long life; I should like to lie quiet at last_.’

‘Thank God,’ said Richard. People who don’t believe in God have a way
of speaking as though they did in moments of emotion. ‘Thank God, he
can’t be troubled about anything now. Dear old dad–he has that wish,
at any rate. He lies quiet and beyond the reach of it all.’

He stooped and kissed the stone, almost as though it had been the face
of him who lay beneath it.