« PreviousContinue »
at what you tell me, such things being so common at college; but I am surprised Philip, and disappointed too. We all thought the sum set apart for your college life so liberal."
"I thought so, too, at first,-but it proved otherwise."
"Mind this, Philip-if illness or any
"So do I."
"You should have told me so before. other calamity had overtaken you, I would I hate debts." not have grudged you my last shilling, but in the circumstances of our family!— "Yours can't be much, at any rate. Are I had a little scheme of my own, too." they?" "What! a building scheme, I suppose?" "No, not building this time. But it is
"Oh dear no."
"A few tradesmen's bills unpaid I better not to speak of it row. suppose." debts must be paid, they must."
"And what do you propose to do?" "That is precisely the question I have come to ask you. I can do nothing." "Nor I much. I suppose you know that, Philip?"
"That is what my mother told me. But I don't think she meant quite what she said."
"I don't know what my mother said, but I do know this, that the expenses of the family are very great just now; and that money is a very scarce article with me, and very difficult to make sure of. Still, I hate the very thought of these debts, Philip, and if you will just sit down and write on that paper exactly what they are-perhaps you have some account by you?"
"I mean what I said before, that I am in a horrid fix. But it is the last time, Robert, that you or any one else shall have to pay my debts." "I hope so."
"I am sure of it."
"Fifty would do something, certainly. If you could make it a hundred ?"
"That would satisfy you?"
"For the present; but I am afraid it will have to be doubled."
"Doubled? - What can you mean, Philip?"
Robert walked towards a private desk, took out the key, and was about to open it, but he stopped suddenly, and looking round towards his brother, said with some degree of sternness in his tone-" And the future, Philip? What about the
"Ah! the future is quite fixed, and certain. I am an altered man, nowbeginning life upon an entirely new plan, with new hopes, new motives, new everything."
"Be quite frank with me," said Robert. "Does that sweet girl, as they describe her-does she know of your attachment?" "Yes."
"And returns it?"
"Of course; but what we have to talk about is living. For her you would practice self-denial, patience, perseverance- -?" "Everything."
"You run on too fast, Philip. I want to feel some certainty about the future." "You may feel the utmost. Nothing is more safe. I never can-I never will be again the fool I have been. As I stand here, Robert, in the sight of God and man, I tell you I am an altered being. I have no tastes now, no propensities that could lead me into bad company, extravagance, or debt."
"Well, then," said Robert, applying the key to his desk, and taking out a roll of papers, at which he looked attentively,
is one hundred at all events, and we must see about the other."
and with something like affection-"Here"Now then," said he, 'you must take this into the city. You know Preston's bank?"
Philip held out his hand. and careful you are," he said. "Somebody must be careful," observed Robert. "Shall I tell you what this money was put away for ?""
"Yes, if you please."
"I said I had a little scheme. I thought that for the first time in my life I would this autumn make a short trip on the continent. I was saving, and hoarding, and adding little to little, because I meant to take my sisters with me--my father too, if he would prigo, and I thought the change might do him good."
"I can't take the money," said Philip, throwing the papers down.
"You give it grudgingly, I think." No, Philip; much as I love travelling, I hate debt more."
"But what a horrid selfish villain I should be to take that money."
"Not to take the money, but to increase the debts which make the using of that money necessary."
"Come, Philip," said Robert, "be a man. You are very young yet. I don't think there is much harm done."
Philip held out his hand for the money. He could not speak, but with averted face he pressed his brother's hand, and in another moment was gone.
"I shall hate myself as long as I live." "Better hate your own ungoverned passions, Philip. I don't think it is in cool blood that you run into extravagance, or excess. When you think quietly on these subjects, you are right enough; and since, as you tell me, you have found an antidote for your wrong impulses, and have now a right and honourable motive to act upon, with a prospect before you which I could almost envy-since this is the case, Philip, I think I will trust you, though it costs me a pretty sharp pang, I must confess."
Robert, if you find me, after this, the base, unworthy dog I have been"-Philip | could say no more. A sudden choking stopped his voice, and he hid his face in his handkerchief, leaning for a moment over the mantelpiece, so as to conceal the working of his agitated features.
"Yes, there is," muttered Philip.
Many strange sensations pressed upon Robert's heart, as he stood looking after his brother-stood fixed as a statue in the very place which Philip had occupied. It was a cruel stroke to him to have to give up the scheme with which he intended to surprise his family. He had refrained from joining them of late, in order that he might do so with a clear conscience, when the proper time should arrive, and have then no occasion to reproach himself with idleness, or self-indulgence. Upon this pleasant thought he lived, and lived cheerfully; enduring the trial of separation, while they were united, without a murmur. In this thought he had felt rich, for what a glorious autumn they would all have of it together-their father gaining health and spirits; their mother happy in present things, and forgetful for a while of the future. But his sisters-it was of them chiefly that Robert thought; and in their anticipated delight he had found his own. Now all was gone-the pleasant vision shut out from sight; for what might not another year bring with it of privation and anxiety. Young people like to catch these stray sunbeams of enjoyment; and can bask in their warmth and light with as much satisfaction as if they were to shine for ever. And so it was, that although no one of his own years could know better than Robert what were the perplexities and cares surrounding him, yet was he ready at all times to live, even if only for a day, in an atmosphere of joy.
Thus the pleasure he had planned for himself and his family, was as great in idea as if prosperity had smiled upon them, and promised to welcome them back from their delightful travels. Perhaps it was even greater,-because it appeared to him who planned this pleasant future like a solid piece of real good, snatched out of the vicissitudes of a life, that did not look, on a general view, as if it would have much good to bestow.
It may easily be seen that Robert Clif
ton inherited his mother's tendency to look into, and live upon, the future.. It was, perhaps, well for the family that the oldest son had this tendency; but as he was situated, it gave him an appearance of premature anxiety and care. So much so, that already there were white threads amongst his glossy raven hair, and lines across his forehead, indicating habits of concentrated and earnest thought. But for this anxious look, and a certain sharpness in his features, Robert Clifton would have been scarcely less handsome than his brother Philip; but it was in a very different way. No artist would have taken him for his model; but the look of suffering and the glance of hope would equally have rested upon him, as possessing exactly the kind of directness of purpose, and energy of will, which the weak require for their protection, and the enterprising for their support.
So Robert Clifton stood leaning against the mantelpiece long after his brother was gone. His countenance bore no marks of energy then,-all the will seemed to have died out of him, without leaving a trace behind. His eye gazed into vacancy. He was thinking of all his own life, and the lives of those with whom his was bound up, until he came to think of human life in general-how it was ordered that some should toil and suffer, and others luxuriate and enjoy. His thoughts, at last, became rebellious, for he was a stout advocate for justice; and he could not see the fairness of God's dispensations in these matters. Oftener than he liked, he was troubled with wanting to know why certain things were so, as they appeared to him; as if he would have understood had an angel told him. Did his mother understand when she was thus instructed?
But Robert Clifton was more troubled than people generally are, whenever his thoughts assumed this rebellious and questioning character. He was more troubled, because they ran counter then to the whole tenour of his habits, life, and modes of feeling; these being marked by implicit confidence in the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Divine disposer of all human events. Thus a sort of revulsion or confusion was occasioned whenever he began to doubt or question, which
It was a beautiful sight, even there, to see the calm moon shining, and the soft clouds floating past her face, which still kept shining as sweetly and benignantly as if her smile fell only upon mountaintops in their sublimity, or verdant valleys where the crystal brooks held intercourse in music, or worshipping assemblies prostrate before the might and majesty of heaven, and pouring forth the adoration of the soul in anthems sweet of mingled prayer and praise.
The moon looked down as placidly as if she beheld all this, and this alone,-as placidly upon the streets of that huge Babel, its steaming alleys, and its starving hordes, its Mammon worship, and its haste to gather dust, and heap itself with ashes. Still there were eyes that looked to her as lovingly from out that mass of human life as the child looks to its mother, or the maiden to her lover, as lovingly as if they saw no other face so beautiful as hers.
Perhaps Robert Clifton was one of these; for he had never learned that love of human beauty which to his brothers, seemed to have grown up with them from infancy. To Robert, and especially to
Seymour, the moon was perhaps more like a friend than to them, partly because he had no other lovely countenance to dwell upon, even in imagination, and partly because he saw the moon so seldom, and never under circumstances in which she looked lovelier or more at home and in her native element than now. Consequently Robert was quite satisfied with as she looked this night, and pleased to exchange glances with her, and to feel her soft pale smile upon his cheek. Neither was he much disposed to find fault with his prospect, as it appeared to him then, nor to quarrel with the smothered din of all around him; for he had no sickly sensibilities, nor morbid fancies about such matters. Human life was to him a great and grand bestowment, rich alike in means and capabilities. He wished that men would use it better; but except that now and then a fit of uneasy doubt assailed him, he looked pretty steadily onward, and thought there was
! great good, and great glory, in much that human life was engaged in working out.
So Robert sat at his open window, and grew calm. It never took him very long to school his mind so as to make the best of that which was inevitable. The case was not so bad he thought, in the present instance, as it had looked at first. Since no one had been acquainted with his pleasant plan, no one could be disappointed by its failure. In short, the cause of his vexation touched none but himself, and consequently would the more easily be got over. It was too bad of Philip, he still thought, to be so reckless of money, when others had to be so careful and self-denying; but if this attachment prospered with him, all would be well in the end no doubt. A disposition like Philip's required something to keep it steady. A good, manly, honest, openly-avowed attachment would supply him with a sufficient motive for the restraint of inclination, and the government of those strong natural propensities which were too ready at all times to plunge him into some momentary gratification, making him forget everything else in his own indulgence. But Philip was still young. His heart was good, Robert said more than once, as if to reassure himself that it was so, but at the same time with a certain amount of secret mis
giving as to the requisite ingredients of what is called a good heart." Others have speculated upon the application of this term besides Robert Clifton, and wondered what those essentials are which the world takes into account when bestowing this epithet, as it does sometimes, upon its favourites.
While Robert watched the moon at his open window, letting the soft balm of its sweet influence shine as it seemed into his heart,-while he thus thought and mused, neither unkindly nor despondingly, he recognised the dim sound of that music which had so often reached his ear before, and which now seemed as if it came down to him from some region overhead. By degrees the strain grew louder and deeper. There was a human voice now blending with it, so clear and yet so low. Whose could that voice be? He had often heard footsteps in the room above the chamber where he slept. He had heard them chiefly late at night and in the early morning, and so concluded they must be those of the servant, only that they trod so softly as no servant's feet, he thought, ever did. There was an occupant, then, in those chambers above. He had promised himself the range of the highest as a sort of workshop, and had already applied for the use of it to the lady of the house.
As these thoughts occupied the listener, the strain of music rose and fell, swelling at times into passages of a deep devotional anthem, well-known, and easily recognised. To this Robert listened for some time, when becoming more curious, he ventured to look upward from his open window, in order to ascertain, if he could, whether there were lights and moving figures in the room above. But all was dark within, only that the moon shone full upon the window which was closed.
"So the fair musician sits in the dark," said he, drawing in his head. I wonder who it is. It seems there is somebody, after all, besides the good lady and her child. A little deception has been practised upon me, I suspect. Perhaps there is a maniac enclosed within those mysterious apartments, and that was the foundation of the seeming mystery. No wonder it was so difficult to come at the whole truth."
As Robert brought himself to this most
sagacious conclusion, the window immediately over his own was thrown open. No wonder that on such an evening any one should wish to look without interruption at that glorious moon. Robert had a great inclination to stretch his head out again; and perhaps he might have done so, but that the low voice began again to sing, this time in a manner more subdued, as if the singer was afraid of being overheard.
Robert remained perfectly still. There was something monotonous and sad in the melody which caught his ear, and which was so near to him that he could now distinguish almost every word.
The strain to which he listened, went on much in the following manner :
Over fields of thymy blossom,
The moonbeams go,
Where the heaving waters flow, Where the sea-bird finds her pillow, There the glistening moonbeams go: Soft and slow, Soft and slow,
Ever wandering, soft, and slow.
Queen of Beauty, robed in splendour,
Queen of Beauty! canst thou ever
As winter's snow,
Fall thy footsteps cold and still.
Silent moon! thy smile of beauty,
Patient, meek, but lonely, too. "Soft and slow-soft and slow." The monotonous cadence of these few words was prolonged, and repeated. It seemed especially to harmonise with the hour and the scene, with the hush of approaching night, and with the silent majesty of the moon, now rising high in the heavens; for there is that beauty in the moon, that
she takes almost any form and character which is appropriate to that of the watcher, with the exception only of levity, or vulgar mirth. The moon is not sad to the happy, nor in their sorrow does she ever seem to mock their grief. The sun does this-the glaring, cloudless, noonday sun, when he shines upon the earth in the full splendour of exulting joy, and calls upon the merry birds to ring out a welcome to him from every bower and tree. The mourner cannot look upon the sun, nor bask within his smile, but seeks the shade, the darkness, the dim twilight of overhanging woods. Happythrice happy those who find the "shadow of a mighty Rock in a weary land!" With all sweet, sad, or solemn influences, the silent moon is called upon to sympathise, and to this call she responds; not, as is sometimes imagined, to sorrow more than to joy; for there is a deep and intense happiness which is in all respects as still, and often as silent as sorrow: in fact we commit a grievous wrong when we speak of happiness as necessarily loud, boisterous, and exulting; such is mirthbut those who are capable of the deepest feeling know that there are lower depths, and richer stores of enjoyment than ever yet found utterance in words, still less in laughter.
All deep feeling is still-happiness as well as grief. Hence there are appeals upraised to the ever sympathising moon from hearts so richly laden, that they sail like gold - freighted vessels silently along the bosom of life's ocean, and no one hears their shout of exultation, even when they near some long wished for haven; for all great happiness is fearful, as well as still. The heart does not trumpet forth its greatest wealth, any more than its heaviest loss, or bitterest destitution. It knows that shipwrecks happen to the barque returning home, and already touching on the happy shore; and then it has so much to lose, so much to tremble for. Oh, yes, the heart, brimful of happiness, grows very fearful, as well it may, lest even a drop should be scattered, and so lost. To realise this fear is almost to feel that the precious drops are scattered; but it is also to learn at the same time, how blessed will be that harbour of safety from whence the storm-tossed vessel shall go no more out forever.