That piece of business was done. It was one of the disagreeable things which he had had to do before he could get away to the gold-diggings, and it was done. Now he had to say farewell to his father, and that would be a harder task. As the moment was coming in which he must bid adieu to his father, perhaps for ever, and bid adieu to the old place which, though he despised it, he still loved, his heart was heavy within him. He felt sure that his father had no special regard for him; — in which he was, of course, altogether wrong, and the old man was equally wrong in supposing that his son was unnaturally deficient in filial affection. But they had never known each other, and were so different that neither had understood the other. The son, however, was ready to confess to himself that the chief fault had been with himself. It was natural, he thought, that a father’s regard should be deadened by such conduct as his had been, and natural that an old man should not believe in the quick repentance and improvement of a young one.
He hired a gig and drove himself over from Cambridge to Folking. As he got near to the place, and passed along the dikes, and looked to the right and left down the droves, and trotted at last over the Folking bridge across the Middle Wash, the country did not seem to him to be so unattractive as of yore; and when he recognised the faces of the neighbours, when one of the tenants spoke to him kindly, and the girls dropped a curtsey as he passed, certain soft regrets began to crop up in his mind. After all, there is a comfort in the feeling of property — not simply its money comfort, but in the stability and reputation of a recognised home. Six months ago there had seemed to him to be something ridiculous in the idea of a permanent connection between the names of Caldigate and Folking. It was absurd that, with so wild and beautiful a world around him, he should be called upon to live in a washy fen because his father and grandfather had been unfortunate enough to do so. And then, at that time, all sympathy with bricks and mortar, any affection for special trees or well-known home-haunts, was absurd in his eyes. And as his father had been harsh to him, and did not like him, would it not be better that they should be far apart? It was thus that he had reasoned. But now all that was changed. An unwonted tenderness had come upon his spirit. The very sallows by the brook seemed to appeal to him. As he saw the house chimneys through the trees, he remembered that they had carried smoke from the hearths of many generations of Caldigates. He remembered, too, that his father would soon be old, and would be alone. It seemed to himself that his very mind and spirit were altered.
But all that was too late. He had agreed to the terms proposed; and even were he now to repudiate them, what could he do with Davis, and how could he live for the present? Not for a moment did he entertain such an idea, but he had lost that alacrity of spirit which had been his when he first found the way out of his difficulties.
His father did not come forth to meet him. He went in across the hall and through the library, into a little closet beyond, in which Mr. Caldigate was wont to sit. ‘Well, John,’ said the old man, ‘how have you and Mr. Bolton got on together?’
There seemed to be something terribly cold in this. It might be better that they should part — better even, though the parting should be for ever. It might be right; — nay, he knew that it was right that he should be thrust out of the inheritance. He had spent money that was not his own, and, of course, he must pay the debt. But that his father should sit there in his chair on his entrance, not even rising to greet him, and should refer at once to Mr. Bolton and that business arrangement, as though that, and that alone, need now be discussed, did seem to him to be almost cruel. Of all that his father had suffered in constraining himself to this conduct, he understood nothing. ‘Mr. Bolton made himself very plain, sir.’
‘He would be sure to do so. He is a man of business and intelligent. But as to the terms proposed, were they what you had expected?’
‘Quite as good as I had expected.’
‘Whether good or bad, of course you will understand that I have had nothing to do with them. The matter has been referred to two gentlemen conversant with such subjects; and, after due inquiry, they told Mr. Bolton what was the money value of your rights. It is a question to be settled as easily as the price of a ton of coals or a joint of beef. But you must understand that I have not interfered.’
‘I am quite aware of that, sir.’
‘As for the money, something over a third of it is in my own hands. I have not been extravagant myself, and have saved so much. The remainder will come out of Mr. Bolton’s bank, and will be lent on mortgage. I certainly shall not have cause for extravagance now, living here alone; and shall endeavour to free the estate from the burden by degrees. When I die, it will, in accordance with my present purpose, go to your cousin George.’ As this was said, John thought he perceived something like a quiver in his father’s voice, which, up to that point, had been hard, clear, and unshaken. ‘As to that, however, I do not intend to pledge myself,’ he continued. ‘The estate will now be my own, subject to the claim from Messrs. Bolton’s bank. I don’t know that there is anything else to be said.’
‘Not about business, sir.’
‘And it is business, I suppose, that has brought you here — and to Cambridge. I do not know what little things you have of your own in the house.’
‘Not much, sir.’
‘If there be anything that you wish to take, take it. But with you now, I suppose, money is the only possession that has any value.’
‘I should like to have the small portrait of you — the miniature.’
‘The miniature of me,’ said the father, almost scoffingly, looking up at his son’s face, suspiciously. And yet, though he would not show it, he was touched. Only if this were a ruse on the part of the young man, a mock sentiment, a little got-up theatrical pretence — then — then how disgraced he would be in his own estimation at having been moved by such mockery!
The son stood square before his father, disdaining any attempt to evince a supplicating tenderness either by his voice or by his features. ‘But, perhaps, you have a special value for it,’ he said.
‘No, indeed. It is others, not oneself, that ought to have such trifles — that is, if they are of value at all.’
‘There is none but myself that can care much for it.’
‘There is no one to care at all. No one else that is,’ he added, wishing to avoid any further declaration. ‘Take that or anything else you want in the house. There will be things left, I suppose — clothes and books and suchlike.’
‘Hardly anything, sir. Going so far, I had better give them away. A few books I shall take.’ Then the conversation was over; and in a few minutes John Caldigate found himself roaming alone about the place.
It was so probable that he might never see it again! Indeed it seemed to him now that were he to return to England with a fortune made, he would hardly come to Folking. Years and years must roll by before that could be done. If he could only come back to Cambridge and fetch that wife away with him, then he thought it would be better for him to live far from England, whether he were rich or whether he were poor. It was quite evident that his father’s heart was turned from him altogether. Of course he had himself to blame — himself only; but still it was strange to him that a father should feel no tenderness at parting with an only son. While he had been in the room he had constrained himself manfully; not a drop of moisture had glittered in his eye; not a tone of feeling had thrilled in his voice; his features had never failed him. There had always been that look of audacity on his brow joined to a certain manliness of good-humour in his mouth, as though he had been thoroughly master of himself and the situation. But now, as he pushed his hat from off his forehead, he rubbed his hand across his eyes to dash away the tears. He felt almost inclined to rush back to the house and fall on his knees before his father, and kiss the old man’s hands, and beg the old man’s blessing. But though he was potent for much he was not potent for that. Such expression of tenderness would have been true; but he knew that he would so break down in the attempt as to make it seem to be false.
He got out upon Twopenny Drove and passed over the ferry, meaning to walk across the farm and so out on to the Causeway, and round home by the bridge. But on the other side of the Wash he encountered Mr. Ralph Holt, the occupier of Twopenny farm, whose father also and grandfather had lived upon the same acres. ‘And so thou be’est going away from us, Mr. John,’ said the farmer, with real tenderness, almost with solemnity, in his voice, although there was at the same time something ridiculous in the far-fetched sadness of his tone and gait.
‘Yes, indeed, Holt, I want to travel and see the world at a distance from here.’
‘If it was no more than that, Mr. John, there would be nothing about it. Zeeing the world! You young collegers allays does that. But be’est thou to come back and be Squoire o’Folking?’
‘I think not, Holt, I think not. My father, I hope, will be Squire for many a year.’
‘Like enough. And we all hope that, for there aren’t nowhere a juster man nor the Squoire, and he’s hale and hearty. But in course of things his time’ll run out. And it be so, Mr. John, that thou be’est going for ever and allays?’
‘I rather think I am.’
‘It’s wrong, Mr. John. Though maybe I’m making over-free to talk of what don’t concern me. Yet I say it’s wrong. Sons should come arter fathers, specially where there’s land. We don’t none of us like it; — none of us! It’s worse nor going, any one of ourselves For what’s a lease? But when a man has a freehold he should stick to it for ever and aye. It’s just as though the old place was a-tumbling about all our ears.’ Caldigate was good-natured with the man, trying to make him understand that everything was being done for the best. And at last he bade him good-bye affectionately, shaking hands with him, and going into the farmhouse to perform the same ceremony with his wife and daughters. But to the last Ralph Holt was uncomfortable and dismal, foretelling miseries. It was clear that, to his thinking, the stability of this world was undermined and destroyed by the very contemplation of such a proceeding as this.
Caldigate pursued his walk, and in the course of it bade farewell to more than one old friend. None of them were so expressive as Holt, but he could perceive that he was regarded by all of them as a person who, by his conduct, was bringing misfortune, not only on himself, but on the whole parishes of Utterden and Netherden.
At dinner the Squire conversed upon various subjects if not easily to himself, at least with affected ease. Had he applied himself to subjects altogether indifferent — to the state of politics, or the Game Laws, or the absurdities of a State Church, the unfitness of such matters for the occasion would have been too apparent. Both he and his son would have broken down in the attempt. But he could talk about Babington — abusing the old family — and even about himself, and about New South Wales, and gold, and the coming voyage, without touching points which had been, and would be, specially painful. Not a word had ever been spoken between them as to Davis. There had, of course, been letters, very angry letters; but the usurer’s name had never been mentioned. Nor was there any need that it should be mentioned now. It was John’s affair — not in any way his. So he asked and listened to much about Richard Shand, and the mode of gold-finding practised among the diggings in New South Wales.
When the old butler had gone he was even more free, speaking of things that were past, not only without anger, but, as far as possible, without chagrin — treating his son as a person altogether free from any control of his. ‘I dare say it is all for the best,’ he said.
‘It is well at any rate to try to think so, sir,’ replied John, conscience-stricken as to his own faults.
‘I doubt whether there would have been anything for you to do here — or at least anything that you would have done. You would have had too much ambition to manage this little estate under me, and not enough of industry, I fear, to carry you to the front in any of the professions. I used to think of the bar.’
‘And so did I.’
‘But when I found that the Babingtons had got hold of you, and that you liked horses and guns, better than words and arguments ——’
‘I never did, sir.’
‘It seemed so.’
‘Of course I have been weak.’
‘Do not suppose for a moment that I am finding fault. It would be of no avail, and I would not thus embitter our last hours together. But when I saw how your tastes seemed to lead you, I began to fear that there could be no career for you here. On such a property as Babington an eldest son may vegetate like his father before him, and may succeed to it in due time, before he has wasted everything, and may die as he had lived, useless, but having to the end all the enjoyments of a swine.’
‘You are severe upon my cousins, sir.’
‘I say what I think. But you would not have done that. And though you are not industrious, you are far too active and too clever for such a life. Now you are probably in earnest as to the future.’
‘Yes, I am certainly in earnest.’
‘And though you are going to risk your capital in a precarious business, you will only be doing what is done daily by enterprising men. I could wish that your position were more secure; — but that now cannot be helped.’
‘My bed is as I have made it. I quite understand that, sir.’
‘Thinking of all this, I have endeavoured to reconcile myself to your going.’ Then he paused a moment, considering what he should next say. And his son was silent, knowing that something further was to come. ‘Had you remained in England we could hardly have lived together as father and son should live. You would have been dependent on me, and would have rebelled against that submission which a state of dependence demands. There would have been nothing for you but to have waited — and almost to have wished, for my death.’
‘No, sir; never; never that.’
‘It would have been no more than natural. I shall hear from you sometimes?’
‘It will give an interest to my life if you will write occasionally. Whither do you go to-morrow?’
It had certainly been presumed, though never said, that this last visit to the old home was to be only for one day. The hired gig had been kept; and in his letter the son had asked whether he could be taken in for Thursday night. But now the proposition that he should go so soon seemed to imply a cold-blooded want of feeling on his part. ‘I need not be in such a hurry, sir,’ he said.
‘Of course, it shall be as you please, but I do not know that you will do any good by staying. A last month may be pleasant enough, or even a last week, but a last day is purgatory. The melancholy of the occasion cannot be shaken off. It is only the prolonged wail of a last farewell.’ All this was said in the old man’s ordinary voice, but it seemed to betoken if not feeling itself, a recognition of feeling which the son had not expected.
‘It is very sad,’ said the son.
‘Therefore, why prolong it? Stand not upon the order of your going but go at once — seeing that it is necessary that you should go. Will you take any more wine? No? Then let us go into the other room. As they are making company of you and have lighted another fire, we will do as they would have us.’ Then for the rest of the evening there was some talk about books, and the father, who was greatly given to reading, explained to his son what kind of literature would, as he thought, fit in best with the life of a gold-digger.
After what had passed, Caldigate, of course, took his departure on the following morning. Good-bye said the old man, as the son grasped his hand, ‘Good-bye.’ He made no overture to come even as far as the hall in making this his final adieu.
‘I trust I may return to see you in health.’
‘It may be so. As to that we can say nothing. Good-bye.’ Then, when the son had turned his back, the father recalled him, by a murmur rather than by a word — but in that moment he had resolved to give way a little to the demands of nature. Good-bye my son,’ he said, in a low voice, very solemnly; ‘May God bless you and preserve you.’ Then he turned back at once to his own closet.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01