Wives and Daughters/Chapter XXVII

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Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
Chapter XXVII: Father And Sons
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Things were not going on any better at Hamley Hall. Nothing had occurred to change the state of dissatisfied feeling into which the squire and his eldest son had respectively fallen; and the long continuance merely of dissatisfaction is sure of itself to deepen the feeling. Roger did all in his power to bring the father and son together; but sometimes wondered if it would not have been better to leave them alone; for they were falling into the habit of respectively making him their confidant, and so defining emotions and opinions which would have had less distinctness if they had been unexpressed. There was little enough relief in the daily life at the Hall to help them all to shake off the gloom; and it even told on the health of both the squire and Osborne. The squire became thinner, his skin as well as his clothes began to hang loose about him, and the freshness of his colour turned to red streaks, till his cheeks looked like Eardiston pippins, instead of resembling 'a Katherine pear on the side that's next the sun.' Roger thought that his father sate indoors and smoked in his study more than was good for him, but it had become difficult to get him far afield; he was too much afraid of coming across some sign of the discontinued drainage works, or being irritated afresh by the sight of his depreciated timber. Osborne was wrapt up in the idea of arranging his poems for the press, and so working out his wish for independence. What with daily writing to his wife—taking his letters himself to a distant post-office, and receiving hers there—touching up his sonnets, &c., with fastidious care; and occasionally giving himself the pleasure of a visit to the Gibsons, and enjoying the society of the two pleasant girls there, he found little time for being with his father. Indeed Osborne was too self-indulgent or 'sensitive,' as he termed it, to bear well with the squire's gloomy fits, or too frequent querulousness. The consciousness of his secret, too, made Osborne uncomfortable in his father's presence. It was very well for all parties that Roger was not 'sensitive,' for, if he had been, there were times when it would have been hard to bear little spurts of domestic tyranny, by which his father strove to assert his power over both his sons. One of these occurred very soon after the night of the Hollingford charity-ball.

Roger had induced his father to come out with him; and the squire had, on his son's suggestion, taken with him his long unused spud. The two had wandered far afield; perhaps the elder man had found the unwonted length of exercise too much for him, for, as he approached the house, on his return, he became what nurses call in children 'fractious,' and ready to turn on his companion for every remark he made. Roger understood the case by instinct, as it were, and bore it all with his usual sweetness of temper. They entered the house by the front door; it lay straight on their line of march. On the old cracked yellow-marble slab, there lay a card with Lord Hollingford's name on it, which Robinson, evidently on the watch for their return, hastened out of his pantry to deliver to Roger.

'His lordship was very sorry not to see you, Mr. Roger, and his lordship left a note for you. Mr. Osborne took it, I think, when he passed through, I asked his lordship if he would like to see Mr Osborne, who was indoors, as I thought. But his lordship said he was pressed for time, and told me to make his excuses.'

'Didn't he ask for me?' growled the squire.

'No, sir; I can't say as his lordship did. He would never have thought of Mr. Osborne, sir, if I hadn't named him. It was Mr. Roger he seemed so keen after.'

'Very odd,' said the squire. Roger said nothing, although he naturally felt some curiosity. He went into the drawing-room, not quite aware that his father was following him. Osborne sate at a table near the fire, pen in hand, looking over one of his poems, and dotting the i's, crossing the t's, and now and then pausing over the alteration of a word.

'Oh, Roger!' he said, as his brother came in, 'here's been Lord Hollingford wanting to see you.'

'I know,' replied Roger.

'And he's left a note for you. Robinson tried to persuade him it was for my father, so he's added a "junior" (Roger Hamley, Esq., junior) in pencil.' The squire was in the room by this time, and what he had overheard rubbed him up still more the wrong way. Roger took his unopened note and read it.

'What does he say?' asked the squire.

Roger handed him the note. It contained an invitation to dinner to meet M. Geoffroi St H—,' whose views on certain subjects Roger had been advocating in the article Lord Hollingford had spoken about to Molly, when he danced with her at the Hollingford ball. M. Geoffroi St H—was in England now, and was expected to pay a visit at the Towers in the course of the following week. He had expressed a wish to meet the author of the paper which had already attracted the attention of the French comparative anatomists; and Lord Hollingford added a few words as to his own desire to make the acquaintance of a neighbour whose tastes were so similar to his own; and then followed a civil message from Lord and Lady Cumnor.

Lord Hollingford's hand was cramped and rather illegible. The squire could not read it all at once, and was enough put out to decline any assistance in deciphering it. At last he made it out.

'So my lord lieutenant is taking some notice of the Hamleys at last. The election is coming on, is it? But I can tell him we're not to be got so easily. I suppose this trap is set for you, Osborne? What's this you've been writing that the French mounseer is so taken with?'

'It is not me, sir!' said Osborne. 'Both note and call are for Roger.'

'I don't understand it,' said the squire. 'These Whig fellows have never done their duty by me; not that I want it of them. The Duke of Debenham used to pay the Hamleys a respect due to 'em—the oldest landowners in the county—but since he died, and this shabby Whig lord has succeeded him, I've never dined at the lord lieutenant's once—no, not once.'

'But I think, sir, I've heard you say Lord Cumnor used to invite you,— only you did not choose to go,' said Roger.

'Yes. What d'ye mean by that? Do you suppose I was going to desert the principles of my family, and curry favour of the Whigs? No! leave that to them. They can ask the heir of the Hamleys fast enough when a county election is coming on.'

'I tell you, sir,' said Osborne, in the irritable tone he sometimes used when his father was particularly unreasonable, 'it is not me Lord Hollingford is inviting; it is Roger. Roger is making himself known for what he is, a first-rate fellow,' continued Osborne—a sting of self- reproach mingling with his generous pride in his brother—'and he is getting himself a name; he's been writing about these new French theories and discoveries, and this foreign savant very naturally wants to make his acquaintance, and so Lord Hollingford asks him to dine. It's as clear as can be,' lowering his tone, and addressing himself to Roger, 'it has nothing to do with politics, if my father would but see it.'

Of course the squire heard this little aside with the unlucky uncertainty of hearing which is a characteristic of the beginning of deafness; and its effect on him was perceptible in the increased acrimony of his next speech.

'You young men think you know everything. I tell you it's a palpable Whig trick. And what business has Roger—if it is Roger the man wants— to go currying favour with the French? In my day we were content to hate 'em and to lick 'em. But it's just like your conceit, Osborne, setting yourself up to say it's your younger brother they're asking, and not you; I tell you it's you. They think the eldest son was sure to be called after his father, Roger—Roger Hamley, junior. It's as plain as a pike-staff. They know they can't catch me with chaff, but they've got up this French dodge. What business had you to go writing about the French, Roger? I should have thought you were too sensible to take any notice of their fancies and theories; but if it is you they've asked, I'll not have you going and meeting these foreigners at a Whig house. They ought to have asked Osborne. He's the representative of the Hamleys, if I'm not; and they can't get me, let them try ever so. Besides, Osborne has got a bit of the mounseer about him, which he caught with being so fond of going off to the Continent, instead of coming back to his good old English home.'

He went on, repeating much of what he had said before, till he left the room. Osborne had kept on replying to his unreasonable grumblings, which had only added to his anger; and as soon as the squire had fairly gone, Osborne turned to Roger, and said,—

'Of course you'll go, Roger? ten to one he'll be in another mind to- morrow.'

'No,' said Roger, bluntly enough—for he was extremely disappointed; 'I won't run the chance of vexing him. I shall refuse.'

'Don't be such a fool!' exclaimed Osborne. 'Really, my father is too unreasonable. You heard how he kept contradicting himself; and such a man as you to be kept under like a child by—'

'Don't let us talk any more about it, Osborne,' said Roger, writing away fast. When the note was written, and sent off, he came and put his hand caressingly on Osborne's shoulder, as he sate pretending to read, but in reality vexed with both his father and his brother, though on very different grounds.

'How go the poems, old fellow? I hope they're nearly ready to bring out.'

'No, they're not; and if it were not for the money, I shouldn't care if they were never published. What's the use of fame, if one mayn't reap the fruits of it?'

'Come, now, we'll have no more of that; let's talk about the money. I shall be going up for my fellowship examination next week, and then we'll have a purse in common, for they'll never think of not giving me a fellowship now I'm senior wrangler. I'm short enough myself at present, and I don't like to bother my father; but when I'm Fellow, you shall take me down to Winchester, and introduce me to the little wife.'

'It will be a month next Monday since I left her,' said Osborne, laying down his papers and gazing into the fire, as if by so doing he could call up her image. 'In her letter this morning she bids me give you such a pretty message. It won't bear translating into English; you must read it for yourself,' continued he, pointing out a line or two in a letter he drew out of his pocket.

Roger suspected that one or two of the words were wrongly spelt; but their purport was so gentle and loving, and had such a touch of simple, respectful gratitude in them, that he could not help being drawn afresh to the little unseen sister-in-law, whose acquaintance Osborne had made by helping her to look for some missing article of the children's, whom she was taking for their daily walk in Hyde Park. For Mrs. Osborne Hamley had been nothing more than a French bonne, very pretty, very graceful, and very much tyrannized over by the rough little boys and girls she had in charge. She was a little orphan-girl, who had charmed the heads of a travelling English family, as she had brought madame some articles of lingerie at an hotel; and she had been hastily engaged by them as bonne to their children, partly as a pet and plaything herself, partly because it would be so good for the children to learn French from a native (of Alsace!). By and by her mistress ceased to take any particular notice of Aimee in the bustle of London and London gaiety; but though feeling more and more forlorn in a strange land every day, the French girl strove hard to do her duty. One touch of kindness, however, was enough to set the fountain gushing; and she and Osborne naturally fell into an ideal state of love, to be rudely disturbed by the indignation of the mother, when accident discovered to her the attachment existing between her children's bonne and a young man of an entirely different class. Aimee answered truly to all her mistress's questions; but no worldly wisdom, nor any lesson to be learnt from another's experience, could in the least disturb her entire faith in her lover. Perhaps Mrs Townshend did no more than her duty in immediately sending Aimee back to Metz, where she had first met with her, and where such relations as remained to the girl might be supposed to be residing. But, altogether, she knew so little of the kind of people or life to which she was consigning her deposed protegee that Osborne, after listening with impatient indignation to the lecture which Mrs. Townshend gave him when he insisted on seeing her in order to learn what had become of his love, that the young man set off straight for Metz in hot haste, and did not let the grass grow under his feet until he had made Aimee his wife. All this had occurred the previous autumn, and Roger did not know of the step his brother had taken until it was irrevocable. Then came the mother's death, which, besides the simplicity of its own overwhelming sorrow, brought with it the loss of the kind, tender mediatrix, who could always soften and turn his father's heart. It is doubtful, however, if even she could have succeeded in this, for the squire looked high, and over high, for the wife of his heir; he detested all foreigners, and moreover held all Roman Catholics in dread and abomination something akin to our ancestors' hatred of witchcraft. All these prejudices were strengthened by his grief. Argument would always have glanced harmless away off his shield of utter unreason; but a loving impulse, in a happy moment, might have softened his heart to what he most detested in the former days. But the happy moments came not now, and the loving impulses were trodden down by the bitterness of his frequent remorse, not less than by his growing irritability; so Aimee lived solitary in the little cottage near Winchester in which Osborne had installed her when she first came to England as his wife, and in the dainty furnishing of which he had run himself so deeply into debt. For Osborne consulted his own fastidious taste in his purchases rather than her simple childlike wishes and wants, and looked upon the little Frenchwoman rather as the future mistress of Hamley Hall than as the wife of a man who was wholly dependent on others at present. He had chosen a southern county as being far removed from those midland shires where the name of Hamley of Hamley was well and widely known; for he did not wish his wife to assume, if only for a time, a name which was not justly and legally her own. In all these arrangements he had willingly striven to do his full duty by her; and she repaid him with passionate devotion and admiring reverence. If his vanity had met with a check, or his worthy desires for college honours had been disappointed, he knew where to go for a comforter; one who poured out praise till her words were choked in her throat by the rapidity of her thoughts, and who poured out the small vials of her indignation on every one who did not acknowledge and bow down to her husband's merits. If she ever wished to go to the chateau—that was his home—and to be introduced to his family, Aimee never hinted a word of it to him. Only she did yearn, and she did plead, for a little more of her husband's company; and the good reasons which had convinced her of the necessity of his being so much away when he was present to urge them, failed in their efficacy when she tried to reproduce them to herself in his absence.

The afternoon of the day on which Lord Hollingford had called, Roger was going upstairs, three steps at a time, when, at a turn on the landing, he encountered his father. It was the first time he had seen him since their conversation about the Towers' invitation to dinner. The squire stopped his son by standing right in the middle of the passage.

'Thou'rt going to meet the mounseer, my lad?' said he, half as affirmation, half as question.

'No, sir; I sent off James almost immediately with a note declining it. I don't care about it—that's to say, not to signify.'

'Why did you take me up so sharp, Roger?' said his father pettishly. 'You all take me up so hastily now-a-days. I think it's hard when a man mustn't be allowed a bit of crossness when he's tired and heavy at heart—that I do.'

'But, father, I should never like to go to a house where they had slighted you.'

'Nay, nay, lad,' said the squire, brightening up a little; 'I think I slighted them. They asked me to dinner after my lord was made lieutenant time after time, but I never would go near 'em. I call that my slighting them.'

And no more was said at the time; but the next day the squire again stopped Roger.

'I've been making Jem try on his livery-coat that he hasn't worn this three or four years,—he's got too stout for it now.'

'Well, he needn't wear it, need he? and Morgan's lad will be glad enough of it,—he's sadly in want of clothes.'

'Ay, ay; but who's to go with you when you call at the Towers? It's but polite to call after Lord What's-his-name has taken the trouble to come here; and I shouldn't like you to go without a groom.'

'My dear father! I shouldn't know what to do with a man riding at my back. I can find my way to the stable-yard for myself, or there'll be some man about to take my horse. Don't trouble yourself about that.'

'Well, you're not Osborne, to be sure. Perhaps it won't strike 'em as strange for you. But you must look up, and hold your own, and remember you're one of the Hamleys, who've been on the same land for hundreds of years, while they're but trumpery Whig folk who only came into the county in Queen Anne's time.'