Forester, by Maria Edgeworth

The Catastrophe.

Henry Campbell, the last time we heard of him, was at the house at the back of the meadows. When he went into the large room to his chemical experiments, the little girl, who was proud of having arranged it neatly, ran on before him, and showed him the places where all his things were put. “The writing and the figures are not rubbed off your slate — there it is, sir,” said she, pointing to a high shelf. “But whose handkerchief is this?” said Henry, taking up a handkerchief which was under the slate. “Gracious! that must be the good gentleman’s handkerchief; he missed it just as he was going out of the house. He thought he had left it at the washerwoman’s, where I met him; and he’s gone back to look for it there. I’ll run with it to the washerwoman’s — maybe she knows where to find him.” “But you have not told me who he is. Whom do you mean by the good gentleman?” “The good gentleman, sir, that I saw with you at the watchmaker’s, the day that you helped me to carry the great geranium out of my grandmother’s room.” “Do you mean that Forester has been here?” exclaimed Henry. “I never heard his name, sir; but I mean that the gentleman has been here, whom I call the good gentleman, because it was he who went with me to my cross schoolmistress, to try to persuade her to use me well. She beat me, to be sure, after he was gone, for what he had said; but I’m not the less obliged to him, because he did every thing as he thought for the best. And so I’ll run with his handkerchief to the woman’s, who will give it safe to him.”

Henry recollected his promise to his father. It required all his power over himself to forbear questioning the child, and endeavouring to find out something more of his friend. He determined to mention the circumstance to his father, and to Flora, as soon as he returned home. He was always impatient to tell any thing to his sister that interested himself or his friends; for Flora’s gaiety was not of that unfeeling sort which seeks merely for amusement, and which, unmixed with sympathy for others, may divert in a companion, but disgusts in a friend.

Whilst Henry was reflecting upon the manner in which he might most expeditiously arrange his chemical experiments and return home, the little girl came running back, with a face of great distress. As soon as she had breath to speak, she told Henry that when she went to the washerwoman’s with the handkerchief, she was told a sad piece of news; that Mr. Forester had been taken up, and carried before Mr. W—— the magistrate. “We don’t know what he has done: I’m sure I don’t think he can have done any thing wrong.” Henry no sooner heard these words than he left all his retorts, rushed out of the house, hurried home to his father, and learned from Flora, with great surprise, that his father had already been sent for, and was gone to Mr. W——‘s. She did not know the circumstances that Mackenzie related to Dr. Campbell, but she told him that her father seemed much alarmed; that she met him crossing the hall, and that he could not stop to speak to her. Henry proceeded directly to Mr. W——‘s, and he arrived there just as the people returned from the search of the tailor’s house. His opinion of Forester’s innocence was so strong, that when he entered the room, he instantly walked up to him, and embraced him, with a species of frank confidence in his manner which, to Forester, was more expressive than any thing that he could have said. The whole affair was quickly explained to him; and the people who had been sent to Mr. Macpherson’s now came up-stairs to Mr. W—— and produced a ten-guinea bank-note, which was found in the foreman’s box. Upon examination, this note was discovered to be the very note which Mr. Macpherson sent with the change to Pasgrave. It was No. 177, of Sir William Forbes’s bank, as mentioned in the circumstantial entry in the day-book. The joy of the poor dancing-master at this complete proof of his innocence was rapturous and voluble. Secure of the sympathy of Forester, Henry, and Dr. Campbell, he looked at them by turns, whilst he congratulated himself upon this “éclaircissement,” and assured the banker’s clerk that he would in future keep accounts. We are impatient to get rid of the guilty foreman: he stood a horrible image of despair. He was committed to gaol; and was carried away by the constables, without being pitied by any person present. Every body, however, was shocked. Mackenzie broke silence first, by exclaiming, “Well, now, I presume, Mr. W—— I may take possession of my bank-note again.” He took up all the notes which lay upon the table to search amongst them for his own. “Mine, you know, is stained,” said Archibald. “But it is very singular,” said Henry Campbell, who was looking over his shoulder, “that here are two stained notes. That which was found in the foreman’s box is stained in one corner, exactly as yours was stained, Mr. Mackenzie.” Macpherson, the tailor, now stooped to examine it. “Is this No. 177, the note that I sent in change, by my foreman, to M. Pasgrave? I’ll take my oath it was not stained in that manner when I took it out of my desk. It was a new and quite clean note: it must have been stained since.” “And it must have been stained with vitriolic acid,” continued Henry. “Ay, there’s cunning for you,” cried Archibald. “The foreman, I suppose, stained it, that it might not be known again.” “Have you any vitriolic acid in your house?” pursued Henry, addressing himself to the master-tailor. “Not I, indeed, sir; we have nothing to do with such things. They’d be very dangerous to us.” “Pray,” said Henry, “will you give me leave, Mr. W—— to ask the person who searched the foreman’s box a few questions?” “Certainly sir,” said Mr. W——; “though, I protest, I cannot see what you are driving at.” Henry inquired what was found in the box with the bank-note. The man who searched it enumerated a variety of things. “None of these,” said Henry, “could have stained the note: are you sure that there was nothing else?” “Nothing in the world; nothing but an old glass stopper, I believe.” “I wish I could see that stopper,” said Henry. “This note was rolled round it,” said the man: “but I threw it into the box again. I’ll go and fetch it, sir, if you have any curiosity to see it.” “Curiosity to see an old stopper? No!” cried Archibald Mackenzie, with a forced laugh; “what good would that do us? We have been kept here long enough. I move that we go home to our dinners.” But Dr. Campbell, who saw that Henry had some particular reason for wishing to see this glass stopper, seconded his son. The man went for it; and when he brought it into the room, Henry Campbell looked at it very carefully, and then decidedly said, fixing his eyes upon Archibald Mackenzie, who in vain struggled to keep his countenance from changing. “This glass stopper, Mr. Mackenzie, is the stopper of my father’s vitriolic acid bottle, that was broken the night the cat was killed. This stopper has stained both the bank-notes. And it must have been in the pocket of your waistcoat.” “My pocket!” interrupted Archibald: “how should it come into my pocket? It never was in my pocket, sir.” Henry pointed to the stain on his waistcoat. He wore the very waistcoat in question. “Sir,” said Archibald, “I don’t know what you mean by pointing at my waistcoat. It is stained, it is true, and very likely by vitriolic acid; but, as I have been so often in the doctor’s laboratory, when your chemical experiments have been going on, is it not very natural to suppose that a drop of one of the acids might have fallen on my clothes? I have seen your waistcoats stained, I am sure. Really, Mr. Campbell, you are unfriendly, uncharitable; your partiality for Mr. Forester should not blind you, surely. I know you want to exculpate him from having any hand in the death of that cat: but that should not, my dear sir, make you forget what is due to justice. You should not, permit me to say, endeavour to criminate an innocent person.” “This is all very fine,” said Henry; “and you may prove your innocence to me at once, Mr. Mackenzie, if you think proper, by showing that the waistcoat was really, as you assert, stained by a drop of vitriolic acid falling upon the outside of it. Will you show us the inside of the pocket?” Mackenzie, who was now in too much confusion to know distinctly what Henry meant to prove, turned the pocket inside out, and repeated, “That stopper was never in my pocket, I’ll swear.” “Don’t swear to that, for God’s sake,” said Henry. “Consider what you are saying. You see that there is a hole burnt in this pocket. Now if a drop of acid had fallen, as you said, upon the outside of the waistcoat, it must have been more burnt on the outside than on the inside.” “I don’t know — I can’t pretend to be positive,” said Archibald; “but what signifies all this rout about the stopper?” “It signifies a great deal to me,” said Dr. Campbell, turning away from Mackenzie with contempt, and addressing himself to his ward, who met his approving eye with proud delight —“it signifies a great deal to me. Forgive me, Mr. Forester, for having doubted your word for a moment.” Forester held his guardian’s hand, without being able for some instants to reply. “You are coming home with us, Forester?” said Henry. “No,” said Dr. Campbell, smiling; “you must not ask him to come home with us to-night. We have a little dance at our house to-night. Lady Catherine Mackenzie wished to take leave of her Edinburgh friends. She goes from us to-morrow. We must not expect to see Forester at a ball; but to-morrow morning —” “I see,” said Forester, smiling, “you have no faith in my reformation. Well, I have affairs to settle with my master, the printer. I must go home, and take leave of him. He has been a good master to me; and I must go and finish my task of correcting. Adieu.” He abruptly left Dr. Campbell and Henry, and went to the bookseller’s, to inform him of all that had passed, and to thank him for his kindness. “You will be at a loss to-morrow for a corrector of the press,” said he. “I am determined you shall not suffer for my vagaries. Send home the proof-sheets of the work in hand to me, at Dr. Campbell’s, and I will return them to you punctually corrected. Employ me till you have provided yourself with another, I will not say a better hand. I do not imagine,” continued Forester, “that I can pay you for your kindness to me by presents; indeed, I know you are in such circumstances that you disdain money. But I hope you will accept of a small mark of my regard — a complete font of new types.”

Whilst Forester’s generous heart expanded with joy at the thoughts of returning once more to his friends, we are sorry to leave him, to finish the history of Archibald Mackenzie. He sneaked home after Dr. Campbell and Henry, whose silent contempt he well understood. Dr. Campbell related all that had passed to Lady Catherine. Her ladyship showed herself more apprehensive that her son’s meanness should be made known to the world, than indignation or sorrow for his conduct. Archibald, whilst he was dressing for the ball, began to revolve in his mind certain words which his mother had said to him about his having received the lie direct from Henry Campbell — his not having the spirit of a gentleman. “She certainly meant,” said he to himself, “that I ought to fight him. It’s the only way I can come off, as he spoke so plainly before Mr. W—— and all those people: the banker’s clerk too was by; and, as my mother says, it will be talked of. I’ll get Sir Philip Gosling to go with my message. I think I’ve heard Dr. Campbell say, he disapproved of duels. Perhaps Henry won’t fight. Has Sir Philip Gosling sent to say, whether he would be with us at the ball to-night?” said Archibald to the servant who was dressing his hair. “No, sir,” replied the servant: “Sir Philip’s man has not been here: but Major O’Shannon has been here twice since you were away, to see you. He said he had some message to deliver from Sir Philip to you.” “To me! message to me!” repeated Archibald, turning pale. Archibald knew Major O’Shannon, who had of late insinuated himself into Sir Philip Gosling’s favour, had a particular dislike to him, and had successfully bullied him upon one or two occasions. Archibald had that civil cowardice, which made him excessively afraid of the opinion of the world; and Major O’Shannon, a gamester, who was jealous of his influence over the rich dupe, Sir Philip, determined to entangle him in a quarrel. The major knocked at the door a third time before Archibald was dressed; and when he was told that he was dressing, and could not see any one, he sent up the following note:—

“SIR,

“The last time I met you at the livery-stables, in company with my friend, Sir Philip Gosling, I had the honour of telling you my mind, in terms sufficiently explicit, concerning a transaction, which cannot have escaped your memory. My friend, Sir Philip, declares you never hinted that the pony was spavined. I don’t pretend to be so good a jockey as you, but you’ll excuse my again saying, I can’t consider your conduct as that of a gentleman. Sir Philip is of my mind; and if you resent my interference, I am ready to give you the satisfaction of a gentleman. If not, you will do well to leave Edinburgh along with your mother to-morrow morning; for Edinburgh is no place for cowards, as long as one has the honour of living in it, who calls himself (by courtesy)

“Your humble servant,

“CORNELIUS O’SHANNON.

“P.S. Sir Philip is at your service, after your settling with me.”

Archibald, oppressed with the sense of his own meanness, and somewhat alarmed at the idea of fighting three duels, to retrieve his credit, thought it best to submit, without struggle, in the first instance, to that public disgrace which he had merited. He wrote a shabby apology to Major O’Shannon and Sir Philip, concluding with saying, that rather than lose a friend he so much valued as Sir Philip Gosling, he was willing to forget all that had passed, and even to take back the pony, and to return Sawney, if the matter could, by this means, be adjusted to his satisfaction. He then went to his mother, and talked to her, in a high style, of his desperate intentions with respect to Henry Campbell. “Either he or I must fall, before we quit the ground,” said the artful Archibald — well knowing that Lady Catherine’s maternal tenderness would be awakened by these ideas. Other ideas were also awakened in the prudent mother’s mind. Dr. Campbell was nearly related to a general officer, from whom she looked for promotion for her son. She repented, upon reflection, of what she had hastily said concerning the lie direct, and the spirit of a gentleman; and she softened down her pride, and talked of her dislike to breaking up old family friendships. Thence she digressed into hints of the advantages that might accrue from cultivating Dr. Campbell’s good opinion; admitted that Henry was strangely prejudiced in favour of his rough friend Forester; but observed that Mr. Forester, after all, though singular, was a young man of merit, and at the head of a very considerable estate. “Archibald,” said she, “we must make allowances, and conciliate matters — unless you make this young gentleman your friend, you can never hope to be on an eligible footing with his guardian. His guardian, you see, is glad to get him back again, and, I dare say, has his reasons. I never saw him, and I know him well, in such spirits in my life as he was when he came back to us to announce the probability of his ward’s return to-morrow morning. The doctor, I dare say, has good reasons for what he does; and I understand his ward is reconciled to the idea of living in the world, and enjoying his fine fortune like other people. So I hope you and he, and of course you and the doctor, and Henry Campbell, will be very good friends. I shall leave you at Edinburgh for a few months, till we get our commission; and I shall beg the doctor to introduce you to his friend and relation, General D——. If he can do nothing for you, you may look towards the Church. I trust to your prudence, not to think of Flora Campbell, though I leave you in the house with her; for you can’t afford, Archibald, to marry a girl with so small a fortune; and, you may be sure, her friends have other views for her. Pray let me hear no more of duels and quarrels. And let us go down into the ball-room; for Miss Campbell has been dressed and down-stairs this half hour; and I would not have you inattentive — that might displease as much as the other extreme. In short, I may safely leave you to your own discretion.” Lady Catherine, after this prudent exhortation, entered the ball-room, where all the company soon after assembled. Seated in gay ranges, the well-dressed belles were eager for the dancing to commence. Lady Catherine stood by Dr. Campbell; and as soon as the ball began, when the music played, and she saw every one absorbed in themselves, or in their partners, she addressed herself to the doctor on the subject which was next her heart, or rather next her imagination. “The general is to be with you shortly, I understand,” said she. Dr. Campbell coldly answered in the affirmative. “To be candid with you, doctor, if you’ll sit down, I want to have a little chat with you about my Archibald. He is not every thing I could wish, and I see you are displeased with him about this foolish business that has just happened. For my own part, I think him to blame; but we must pardon, we must make allowances for the errors of youth; and I need not, to a man of your humanity, observe what a cruel thing it is to prejudice the world against a young man, by telling little anecdotes to his disadvantage. Relations must surely uphold one another; and I am convinced you will speak of Archibald with candour and friendship.” “With candour and with truth,” replied Dr. Campbell. “I cannot pretend to feel friendship merely on the score of relationship.”

The proud blood mounted into Lady Catherine’s face, and she replied, “Some consideration of one’s own relations, I think, is not unbecoming. Archibald, I should have thought, had as strong a claim upon Dr. Campbell’s friendship as the son of an utter stranger to the family. Old Mr. Forester had a monstrous fortune, ’tis true; but his wife, who was no grand affair, I believe — a merchant’s daughter, I’m told — brought him the greatest part of it; and yet, without any natural connexion between the families, or any thing very desirable, setting fortune out of the question, you accept the guardianship of this young man, and prefer him, I plainly see, to my Archibald. I candidly ask you the question, and answer me candidly.”

“As you have explicitly asked the question, I will answer your ladyship candidly. I do prefer my ward to your son. I have avoided drawing comparisons between your son and Forester; and I now wish to avoid speaking of Mr. Archibald Mackenzie, because I have little hope of being of service to him.”

“Nay,” said Lady Catherine, softening her tone, “you know you have it in your power to be of the greatest service to him.”

“I have done all I could,” said Dr. Campbell, with a sigh; “but habits of —”

“Oh, but I’m not talking of habits,” interrupted Lady Catherine. “I’ll make him alter his habits. We shall soon turn him into what you like: he’s very quick; and you must not expect every young man to be just cut out upon the pattern of our dear Henry. I don’t want to trouble you to alter his habits, or to teach him chemistry, or any of those things. But you can, you know, without all that, do him an essential service.”

“How?” said Dr. Campbell.

“Why how? I don’t know you this evening, you are so dry. Ken you not what I mean? Speak three words for him to your friend, the general.”

“Your ladyship must excuse me,” said Dr. Campbell.

Lady Catherine was stunned by this distinct refusal. She urged Dr. Campbell to explain the cause of his dislike to her son.

“There is a poor washerwoman now below stairs,” replied Dr. Campbell, “who can explain to you more than I wish to explain; and a story about a horse of Sir Philip Gosling was told to me the other day, by one of the baronet’s friends, which I should be glad Mr. Archibald Mackenzie could contradict effectually.”

“Archibald, come here,” said Lady Catherine: “before the next dance begins, I must speak to you. What is this about a horse of Sir Philip Gosling?”

“Ma’am!” said Archibald, with great astonishment. At this instant one of Dr. Campbell’s servants came into the room, and gave two notes to Archibald, which, he said, two gentlemen had just left, and desired him to deliver to Mr. Mackenzie whilst he was in the ball-room, if possible.

“What is it? — What are they, child?” cried Lady Catherine. “I will see them.” Her ladyship snatched the notes, read, and when she saw that her son, in the grossest terms, was called a coward, for refusing the challenges of two such fashionable men as Sir Philip Gosling and Major O’Shannon, all her hopes of him were at an end. “Our family is disgraced for ever!” she exclaimed; and then, perceiving that she had uttered this unguarded sentence loud enough for several of the company to hear, she endeavoured to laugh, and fell into violent hysterics. She was carried out of the ball-room. A whisper now ran round the room of —“What’s the matter with Lady Catherine Mackenzie?” It was at an unfortunate moment that she was carried out, for all the dancers had just seated themselves, after a brisk country dance; and the eyes of all the young and old were upon her ladyship as she made her exit. A young man, a friend of Major O’Shannon, who was present, whispered the secret to his partner; she, of course, to her next neighbour. Archibald saw that the contents of the notes were made public; and he quitted the apartment, “to inquire how his mother did.”

The buzz of scandal was general for some moments; but a new object soon engrossed the attention of the company. “Pray,” said a young lady, who was looping up Flora Campbell’s gown, “who is this gentleman, who is just coming into the room?” Flora looked up, and saw a well-dressed stranger entering the room, who had much the appearance of a gentleman. He certainly resembled a person she had seen before; but she could scarcely believe that her eyes did not deceive her. Therefore she hesitatingly replied to the young lady’s question, “I don’t know — I am not sure.” But she, an instant afterwards, saw her brother Henry and her father advance so eagerly to meet the stranger, that her doubts vanished; and, as he now directed his steps towards the spot where she was standing, she corrected her first answer to her companion’s question, and said, “Yes, I fancy — it certainly is — Mr. Forester.” Forester, with an open countenance, slightly tinged with the blush of ingenuous shame, approached her, as if he was afraid she had not forgotten some things which he wished to be forgotten; and yet as if he was conscious that he was not wholly unworthy of her esteem. “Amongst other prejudices of which I have cured myself,” said he to Dr. Campbell, “since we parted, I have cured myself of my foolish antipathy to Scotch reels.”

“That I can scarcely believe,” said Dr. Campbell, with an incredulous smile.

“I will convince you of it,” said Forester, “if you will promise to forget all my other follies.”

All!” said Dr. Campbell. “Convince me first; and then it will be time enough to make such a desperate promise.”

Flora was rather surprised when our once cynical hero begged the favour of her hand, and led her to dance a reel. M. Pasgrave would have been in ecstasy if he had seen his pupil’s performance.

“And now, my dear Forester,” said Dr. Campbell, as his ward returned to claim his promise of a general amnesty, “if you do not turn out a coxcomb, if you do not ‘mistake reverse of wrong for right,’ you will infallibly be a very great man. Give me a pupil who can cure himself of any one foible, and I have hope of him. What hope must I not have of him who has cured himself of so many!”

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Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 14:44