“Have him here a bit.”
“Oh! But would you like it?”
“Like it?” retorted the Squire. “I know this: if I were a hard-worked London clerk, ill for want of change and rest, and I had friends living in a nice part of the country, I should feel it uncommonly hard if they did not invite me.”
“I’m sure it is very kind of you to think of it,” said Mrs. Todhetley.
“Write at once and ask him,” said the Squire.
They were speaking of a Mr. Marks. He was a relation of Mrs. Todhetley’s; a second or third cousin. She had not seen him since she was a girl, when he used sometimes to come and stay at her father’s. He seemed not to have got on very well in life; was only a clerk on a small salary, was married and had some children. A letter now and then passed between them and Mrs. Todhetley, but no other acquaintanceship had been kept up. About a month before this, Mrs. Todhetley had written to ask how they were going on; and the wife in answering — for it was she who wrote — said her husband was killing himself with work, and she quite believed he would break down for good unless he had a rest.
We heard more about it later. James Marks was clerk in the great financial house of Brown and Co. Not particularly great as to reputation, for they made no noise in the world, but great as to their transactions. They did a little banking in a small way, and had mysterious money dealings with no end of foreign places: but if you had gone into their counting-house in London you’d have seen nothing to show for it, except Mr. Brown seated at a table-desk in a small room, and half-a-dozen clerks, or so, writing hard, or bending over columns of figures, in a larger one. Mr. Brown was an elderly little gentleman in a chestnut wig, and the “Co.” existed only in name.
James Marks had been thrown on the world when he was seventeen, with a good education, good principles, and a great anxiety to get on in life. He had to do it; for he had only himself to look to — and, mind you, I have lived long enough to learn that that’s not at all the worst thing a young man can have. When some friends of his late father’s got him into Brown and Co.‘s house, James Marks thought his fortune was made. That is, he thought he was placed in a position to work up to one. But no. Here he was, getting on for forty years of age, and with no more prospect of fortune, or competency either, than he had had at the beginning.
How many clerks, and especially bankers’ clerks, are there in that City of London now who could say the same! Who went into their house (whatsoever it may be) in the hey-day of youth, exulting in their good luck in having obtained the admission for which so many others were striving. They saw not the long years of toil before them, the weary days of close work, with no rest or intermission, except Sunday; they saw not the struggle to live and pay; they saw not themselves middle-aged men, with a wife and family, hardly able to keep the wolf from the door. It was James Marks’s case. He had married. And what with having to keep up the appearance of gentlepeople (at least to make a pretence at it) and to live in a decent-looking dwelling, and to buy clothes, and to pay doctors’ bills and children’s schooling, I’ll leave you to guess how much he had left for luxuries out of his two hundred a year.
When expenses were coming upon him thick and fast, Marks sought out some night employment. A tradesman in the neighbourhood — Pimlico — a butterman doing a flourishing business, advertised for a book-keeper to attend two or three hours in the evening. James Marks presented himself and was engaged. It had to be done in secrecy, lest offence should be taken at head-quarters. Had the little man in the chestnut wig heard of it, he might have objected to his clerk keeping any books but his own. Shut up in the butterman’s small back-closet that he called his counting-house, Mr. Marks could be as private as need be. So there he was! After coming home from his day’s toil, instead of taking recreation, the home-sitting with his wife, or the stroll in the summer weather, in place of throwing work to the winds and giving his brain rest, James Marks, after snatching a meal, tea and supper combined, went forth to work again, to weary his eyes with more figures and his head with casting them up. He generally managed to get home by eleven except on Saturday; but the day’s work was too much for any man. Better for him (could he have pocketed pride, and gained over Brown and Co.) that he had hired himself to stand behind the evening counter and serve out the butter and cheese to the customers. It would at least have been a relief from the accounts. And so the years had gone on.
A portion of the wife’s letter to Mrs. Todhetley had run as follows: “Thank you very much for your kind inquiries after my husband, and for your hope that he is not overworking himself. He is. But I suppose I must have said something about it in my last letter (I am ashamed to remember that it was written two years ago!) that induced you to refer to it. That he is overworking himself I have known for a long time: and things that he has said lately have tended to alarm me. He speaks of sometimes getting confused in the head. In the midst of a close calculation he will suddenly seem to lose himself — lose memory and figures and all, and then he has to leave off for some minutes, close his eyes, and keep perfectly still, or else leave his stool and take a few turns up and down the room. Another thing he mentions — that the figures dance before his eyes in bed at night, and he is adding them up in his brain as if it were daytime and reality. It is very evident to me that he wants change and rest.”
“And what a foolish fellow he must have been not to take it before this!” cried the Squire, commenting on parts of the letter, while Mrs. Todhetley wrote.
“Perhaps that is what he has not been able to do, sir,” I said.
“Not able! Why, what d’ye mean, Johnny?”
“It is difficult for a banker’s clerk to get holiday. Their work has to go on all the same.”
“Difficult! when a man’s powers are breaking down! D’ye think bankers are made of flint and steel, not to give their clerks holiday when it is needed? Don’t you talk nonsense, Johnny Ludlow.”
But I was not so far wrong, after all. There came a letter of warm thanks from Mr. Marks himself in answer to Mrs. Todhetley’s invitation. He said how much he should have liked to accept it and what great good it would certainly have done him; but that upon applying for leave he found he could not be spared. So there seemed to be an end of it; and we hoped he would get better without the rest, and rub on as other clerks have to rub on. But in less than a month he wrote again, saying he would come if the Squire and Mrs. Todhetley were still pleased to have him. He had been so much worse as to be obliged to tell Mr. Brown the truth — that he believed he must have rest; and Mr. Brown had granted it to him.
It was the Wednesday in Passion Week, and a fine spring day, when James Marks arrived at Dyke Manor. Easter was late that year. He was rather a tall man, with dark eyes and very thin hair; he wore spectacles, and at first was rather shy in manner.
You should have seen his delight in the change. The walks he took, the enjoyment of what he called the sweet country. “Oh,” he said one day to us, “yours must be the happiest lot on earth. No forced work; your living assured; nothing to do but to revel in this health-giving air! Forgive my freedom, Mr. Todhetley,” he added a moment after: “I was contrasting your lot with my own.”
We were passing through the fields towards the Court: the Squire was taking him to see the Sterlings, and he had said he would rather walk than drive. The hedges were breaking into green: the fields were yellow with buttercups and cowslips. This was on the Monday. The sun shone and the breeze was soft. Mr. Marks sniffed the air as he went along.
“Six months of this would make a new man of me,” we heard him say to himself in a low tone.
“Take it,” cried the Squire.
Mr. Marks laughed, sadly enough. “You might as well tell me, sir, to — to take heaven,” he said impulsively. “The one is no more in my power than the other. — Hark! I do believe that’s the cuckoo!”
We stood to listen. It was the cuckoo, sure enough, for the first time that spring. It only gave out two or three notes, though, and then was silent.
“How many years it is since I heard the cuckoo!” he exclaimed, brushing his hand across his eyes. “More than twenty, I suppose. It seems to bring back my youth to me. What a thing it would be for us, sir, if we could only go to the mill that grinds people young again!”
The Squire laughed. “It is good of you to talk of age, Marks; why, I must be nearly double yours,” he added — which of course was random speaking.
“I feel old, Mr. Todhetley: perhaps older than you do. Think of the difference in our mode of life. I, tied to a desk for more hours of the twenty-four than I care to think of, my brain ever at work; you, revelling in this beautiful, healthy freedom!”
“Ay, well, it is a difference, when you come to think of it,” said the Squire soberly.
“I must not repine,” returned Marks. “There are more men in my case than in yours. No doubt it is well for me,” he continued, dropping his voice, with a sigh. “Were your favoured lot mine, sir, I might find so much good in it as to forget that this world is not our home.”
Perhaps it had never struck the Squire before how much he was to be envied; but Marks put it strongly. “You’d find crosses and cares enough in my place, I can tell you, Marks, of one sort or another. Johnny, here, knows how I am bothered sometimes.”
“No doubt of it,” replied Marks, with a smile. “No lot on earth can be free from its duties and responsibilities; and they must of necessity entail care. That is one thing, Mr. Todhetley; but to be working away your life at high pressure — and to know that you are working it away — is another.”
“You acknowledge, then, that you are working too hard, Marks,” said the Squire.
“I know I am, sir. But there’s no help for it.”
“It is a pity.”
“Why it should begin to tell upon me so early I don’t know. There are numbers of other men, who work as long and as hard as I do, and are seemingly none the worse for it.”
“The time will come though when they will be, I presume.”
“As surely as that sun is shining in the sky.”
“Possibly you have been more anxious than they, Marks.”
“It may be so. My conscience has always been in my work, to do it efficiently. I fear, too, I am rather sensitively organized as to nerves and brain. Upon those who are so, I fancy work tells sooner than on others.”
The Squire put his arm within Marks’s. “You must have a bit of a struggle to get along, too, on your small salary.”
“True: and it all helps. Work and struggle together are not the most desirable combination. But for being obliged to increase my means by some stratagem or other, I should not have taken on the additional evening’s work.”
“How long are you at it, now, of an evening?”
“Usually about two hours. On Saturdays and at Christmas-time longer.”
“And I suppose you must continue this night-work?”
“Yes. I get fifty pounds a year for it. And I assure you I should not know how to spare one pound of the fifty. No one knows the expenses of children, except those who have to look at every shilling before it can be spent.”
There was a pause. Mr. Marks stooped, plucked a cowslip and held it to his lips.
“Don’t you think, Marks,” resumed the Squire, in a confidential, friendly tone, “that you were just a little imprudent to marry?”
“No, I do not think I was,” he replied slowly, as if considering the question. “I did not marry very early: I was eight-and-twenty; and I had got together the wherewithal to furnish a house, and something in hand besides. The question was mooted among us at Brown’s the other day — whether it was wiser, or not, for young clerks to marry. There is a great deal to be urged both ways — against marrying and against remaining single.”
“What can you urge against remaining single?”
“A very great deal, sir. I feel sure, Mr. Todhetley, that you can form no idea of the miserable temptations that beset a young fellow in London. Quite half the London clerks, perhaps more, have no home to go to when their day is over; I mean no parent’s home. A solitary room and no one to bear them company in it; that’s all they have; perhaps, in addition, a crabbed landlady. Can you blame them very much if they go out and escape this solitude? — they are at the age, you know, when enjoyment is most keen; the thirst for it well-nigh irrepressible ——”
“And then they go off to those disreputable singing places!” exploded the Squire, not allowing him to finish.
“Singing places, yes; and other places. Theatres, concerts, supper-rooms — oh, I cannot tell you a tithe of the temptation that meets them at every turn and corner. Many and many a poor young fellow, well-intentioned in the main, has been ruined both in pocket and in health by these snares; led into them at first by dangerous companions.”
“Surely all do not get led away.”
“Not all. Some strive on manfully, remembering early precepts and taking God for their guide, and so escape. But it is not the greater portion who do this. Some marry early, and secure themselves a home. Which is best? — I put the question only in a worldly point of view. To commit the imprudence of marrying, and so bring on themselves and wives intolerable perplexity and care: or to waste their substance in riotous living!”
“I’ll be shot if I know!” cried the Squire, taking off his hat to rub his puzzled head. “It’s a sad thing for poor little children to be pinched, and for men like you to be obliged to work yourselves to shatters to keep them. But as to those others, I’d give ’em all a night at the treadmill. Johnny! Johnny Ludlow!”
“You may be thankful that you don’t live in London.”
I had been thinking to myself that I was thankful not to be one of those poor young clerks to have no home to go to when work was over. Some fellows would rather tramp up and down the streets, than sit alone in a solitary room; and the streets, according to Marks, teemed with temptations. He resumed.
“In my case I judged it the reverse of imprudence to marry, for my wife expected a fairly good fortune. She was an only child, and her father had realized enough to live quietly; say three or four hundred a year. Mr. Stockleigh had been a member of the Stock Exchange, but his health failed and he retired. Neither I nor his daughter ever doubted — no, nor did he himself — that this money must come to us in time.”
“And won’t it?” cried the Squire.
Marks shook his head. “I fear not. A designing servant, that they had, got over him after his daughter left — he was weak in health and weak in mind — and he married her. Caroline — my wife — resented it naturally; there was some recrimination on either side, and since then they have closed the door against her and me. So you see, with no prospect before us, there’s nothing for me but to work the harder,” he concluded, with a kind of plucked-up cheerfulness.
“But, to do that, you should get up your health and strength, Marks. You must, you know. What would you do if you broke down?”
“Hush!” came the involuntary and almost affrighted answer. “Don’t remind me of it, sir. Sometimes I dream of it, and cannot bear to awaken.”
We had got to like Marks very much only in those few days. He was a gentleman in mind and manners and a pleasant one into the bargain, though he did pass his days adding up figures and was kept down by poverty. The Squire meant to keep him for a month: two months if he would stay.
On the following morning, Tuesday, during breakfast-time, a letter came for him by the post — the first he had had. He had told his wife she need not write to him, wanting to have all the time for idle enjoyment: not to spend it in answering letters.
“From home, James?” asked Mrs. Todhetley.
“No,” said he, smiling. “It is only a reminder that I am due tomorrow at the house.”
“What house?” cried the Squire.
“Our house, sir. Brown and Co.‘s.”
The Squire put down his buttered roll — for Molly had graciously sent in hot rolls that morning — and stared at the speaker.
“What on earth are you talking of?” he cried. “You don’t mean to say you are thinking of going back?”
“Indeed I am-unfortunately. I must get up to London to-night.”
“Why, bless my heart,” cried the Squire, getting up and standing a bit, “you’ve not been here a week!”
“It is all the leave I could get, Mr. Todhetley: a week. I thought you understood that.”
“You can’t go away till you are cured,” roared the Squire. “Why didn’t you go back the day you came? Don’t talk nonsense, Marks.”
“Indeed I should like to stay longer,” he earnestly said. “I wish I could. Don’t you see, Mr. Todhetley, that it does not lie with me?”
“Do you dare to look me in the face, Marks, and tell me this one week’s rest has cured you? What on earth! — are you turning silly?”
“It has done me a great, great deal of good ——”
“It has not, Marks. It can’t have done it; not real good,” came the Squire’s interruption. “One would think you were a child.”
“It was with difficulty I obtained this one week’s leave,” he explained. “I am really required in the office; my absence I know causes trouble. This holiday has done so much for me that I shall go back with a good heart.”
“Look here,” said the Squire: “suppose you take French leave, and stay?”
“In that case my discharge would doubtless arrive by the first post.”
“Look here again: suppose in a month or two you break down and have to leave? What then?”
“Brown and Co. would appoint a fresh clerk in my place.”
“Why don’t Brown and Co. keep another clerk or two, so as to work you all less?”
Marks smiled at the very idea. “That would increase their expenses, Mr. Todhetley. They will never do that. It is a part of the business of Brown’s life to keep expenses down.”
Well, Marks had to go. The Squire was very serious in thinking more rest absolutely needful — of what service could a week be, he reiterated. Down he sat, wrote a letter to Brown and Co., telling them his opinion, and requesting the favour of their despatching James Marks back for a longer holiday. This he sent by post, and they would get it in the morning.
“No, I’ll not trust it to you, Marks,” he said: “you might never deliver it. Catch an old bird with chaff!”
To this letter there came no answer at all; and Mr. Marks did not come back. The Squire relieved his mind by calling Brown and Co. thieves and wretches — and so it passed. It must be remembered that I am writing of past years, when holidays were not so universal for any class, clerk or master, as they are at present. Not that I am aware whether financiers’ clerks get them now.
The next scene in the drama I can only tell by hearsay. It took place in London, where I was not.
It was a dull, rainy day in February, and Mrs. Marks sat in her parlour in Pimlico. The house was one of a long row, and the parlour just about large enough to turn in. She sat by the fire, nursing a little two-year-old girl, and thinking; and three other children, the eldest a boy of nine, were playing at the table — building houses on the red cloth with little wooden bricks. Mrs. Marks was a sensible woman, understanding proper management, and had taken care to bring up her children not to be troublesome. She looked about thirty, and must have been pretty once, but her face was faded now, her grey eyes had a sad look in them. The chatter at the table and the bricks fell unheeded on her ear.
“Mamma, will it soon be tea-time?”
There was no answer.
“Didn’t you hear, mamma? Carry asked if it would soon be tea-time. What were you thinking about?”
She heard this time, and started out of her reverie. “Very soon now, Willy dear. Thinking? Oh, I was thinking about your papa.”
Her thoughts were by no means bright ones. That her husband’s health and powers were failing, she felt as sure of as though she could foresee the ending that was soon to come. How he went on and did his work was a marvel: but he could not give it up, or bread would fail.
The week’s rest in the country had set Mr. Marks up for some months. Until the next autumn he worked on better than he had been able to do for some time past. And then he failed again. There was no particular failing outwardly, but he felt all too conscious that his overtaxed brain was getting worse than it had ever been. He struggled on; making no sign. That he should have to resign part of his work was an inevitable fact: he must give up the evening book-keeping to enable him to keep his more important place. “Once let me get Christmas work over,” thought he, “and as soon as possible in the New Year, I will resign.”
He got the Christmas work over. Very heavy it was, at both places, and nearly did for him. It is the last straw, you know, that breaks the camel’s back: and that work broke James Marks. Towards the end of January he was laid up in bed with a violent cold that settled on his chest. Brown and Co. had to do without him for eleven days: a calamity that — so far as Marks was concerned — had never happened in Brown and Co.‘s experience. Then he went back to the city again, feeling shaken; but the evening labour was perforce given up.
No one knew how ill he was: or, to speak more correctly, how unfit for work, how more incapable of it he was growing day by day. His wife suspected a little. She knew of his sleepless nights, the result of overtaxed nerves and brain, when he would toss and turn and get up and walk the room; and dress himself in the morning without having slept.
“There are times,” he said to her in a sort of horror, “when I cannot at all collect my thoughts. I am as long again at my work as I used to be, and have to go over it again and again. There have been one or two mistakes, and old Brown asks what is coming to me. I can’t help it. The figures whirl before me, and I lose my power of mind.”
“If you could only sleep well!” said Mrs. Marks.
“Ay, if I could. The brain is as much at work by night as by day. There are the figures mentally before me, and there am I, adding them up.”
“You should see a clever physician, James. Spare the guinea, and go. It may be more than the guinea saved.”
Mr. Marks took the advice. He went to a clever doctor; explained his position, the kind of work he had to do, and described his symptoms. “Can I be cured?” he asked.
“Oh yes, I think so,” said the doctor, cheerfully, without telling him that he had gone on so far as to make it rather doubtful. “The necessary treatment is very simple. Take change of scene and perfect rest.”
“For how long?”
“Twelve months, at least.”
“Twelve months!” repeated Marks, in a queer tone.
“At least. It is a case of absolute necessity. I will write you a prescription for a tonic. You must live well. You have not lived well enough for the work you have to do.”
As James Marks went out into the street he could have laughed a laugh of bitter mockery. Twelve months’ rest for him? The doctor had told him one thing — that had he taken rest in time, a very, very much shorter period would have sufficed. “I wonder how many poor men there are like myself in London at this moment,” he thought, “who want this rest and cannot take it, and who ought to live better and cannot afford to do it!”
It was altogether so very hopeless that he did nothing, except take the tonic, and he continued to go to the City as usual. Some two or three weeks had elapsed since then: he of course growing worse, though there was nothing to show it outwardly: and this was the end of February, and Mrs. Marks sat thinking of it all over the fire; thinking of what she knew, and guessing at what she did not know, and her children were building houses at the table.
The servant came in with the tea-things, and took the little girl. Only one servant could be kept — and hardly that. Mrs. Marks had made her own tea and was pouring out the children’s milk-and-water, when they heard a cab drive up and stop at the door. A minute after Mr. Marks entered, leaning on the arm of one of his fellow-clerks.
“Here, Mrs. Marks, I have brought you an invalid,” said the latter gaily, making light of it for her sake. “He seems better now. I don’t think there’s much the matter with him.”
Had it come? Had what she had been dreading come — that he was going to have an illness, she wondered. But she was a trump of a wife, and showed herself calm and comforting.
“You shall both of you have some tea at once,” she said, cheerfully. “Willy, run and get more tea-cups.”
It appeared that Mr. Marks had been, as the clerk expressed it, very queer that day; more so than usual. He could not do his work at all; had to get assistance continually from one or the other, and ended by falling off his stool to the floor, in what he called, afterwards, a “sensation of giddiness.” He seemed fit for nothing, and Mr. Brown said he had better be taken home.
That day ended James Marks’s work. He had broken down. At night he told his wife what the physician had said; which he had not done before. She could scarcely conceal her dismay.
A twelvemonth’s rest for him! What would become of them? Failing his salary, they would have no means whatever of living.
“Oh, if my father had only acted by us as he ought!” she mentally cried. “James could have taken rest in time then, and all would have been well. Will he help us now it has come to this? Will she let him? — for it is she who holds him in subjection and steels his heart against us.”
Mr. Stockleigh, the father, lived at Sydenham. She, the new wife, had taken him off there from his residence in Pimlico as soon as might be after the marriage; and the daughter had never been invited inside the house. But she resolved to go there now. Saying nothing to her husband, Mrs. Marks started for Sydenham the day after he was brought home ill, and found the place without trouble.
The wife, formerly the cook, was a big brawny woman with a cheek and a tongue of her own. When Mrs. Marks was shown in, she forgot herself in the surprise; old habits prevailed, and she half dropped a curtsey.
“I wish to see papa, Mrs. Stockleigh.”
“Mr. Stockleigh’s out, ma’am.”
“Then I must wait until he returns.”
Mrs. Stockleigh did not see her way clear to turn this lady from the house, though she would have liked to do it. She made a show of hospitality, and ordered wine and cake to be put on the table. Of which wine, Mrs. Marks noticed with surprise, she drank four glasses. “Now and then we used to suspect her of drinking in the kitchen!” ran through Mrs. Marks’s thoughts. “Has it grown upon her?”
The garden gate opened, and Mr. Stockleigh came through it. He was so bowed and broken that his daughter scarcely knew him. She hastened out and met him in the path.
“Caroline!” he exclaimed in amazement. “Is it really you? How much you have changed?”
“I came down to speak to you, papa. May we stay and talk here in the garden?”
He seemed glad to see her, rather than not, and sat down with her on the garden bench in the sun. In a quiet voice she told him all: and asked him to help her. Mrs. Stockleigh had come out and stood listening to the treason, somewhat unsteady in her walk.
“I— I would help you if I could, Caroline,” he said, in hesitation, glancing at his wife.
“Yes, but you can’t, Stockleigh,” she put in. “Our own expenses is as much as iver we can manage, Mrs. Marks. It’s a orful cost, living out here, and our two servants is the very deuce for extravigance. I’ve changed ’em both ten times for others, and the last lot is always worse than the first.”
“Papa, do you see our position?” resumed Mrs. Marks, after hearing the lady patiently. “It will be a long time before James is able to do anything again — if he ever is — and we have not been able to save money. What are we to do? Go to the workhouse? I have four little children.”
“You know that you can’t help, Stockleigh,” insisted Mr. Stockleigh’s lady, taking up the answer, her face growing more inflamed. “You’ve not got the means to do anything: and there’s an end on’t.”
“It is true, Caroline; I’m afraid I have not,” he said — and his daughter saw with pain how tremblingly subject he was to his wife. “I seem short of money always. How did you come down, my dear?”
“By the train, papa. Third class.”
“Oh dear!” cried Mr. Stockleigh. “My health’s broken, Caroline. It is, indeed, and my spirit too. I am sure I am very sorry for you. Will you come in and take some dinner?”
“We’ve got nothing but a bit of ‘ashed beef,” cried Mrs. Stockleigh, as if to put a damper upon the invitation. “Him and me fails in our appetites dreadful: I can’t think what’s come to ’em.”
Mrs. Marks declined dinner: she had to get back to the children. That any sort of pleading would be useless while that woman held sway, she saw well. “Good-bye, papa,” she said. “I suppose we must do the best we can alone. Good morning, Mrs. Stockleigh.”
To her surprise her father kissed her; kissed her with quivering lips. “I will open the gate for you, my dear,” he said, hastening on to it. As she was going through, he slipped a sovereign into her hand.
“It will pay for your journey, at least, my dear. I am sorry to hear of your travelling third class. Ah, times have changed. It is not that I won’t help you, child, but that I can’t. She goes up to receive the dividends, and keeps me short. I should not have had that sovereign now, but it is the change out of the spirit bill that she sent me to pay. Hush! the money goes in drink. She drinks like a fish. Ah, Caroline, I was a fool — a fool! Fare you well, my dear.”
“Fare you well, dear papa, and thank you,” she answered, turning away with brimming eyes and an aching heart.
After resting for some days and getting no better, James Marks had to give it up as a bad job. He went to the City house, saw Mr. Brown, and told him.
“Broken down!” cried old Brown, hitching back his wig, as he always did when put out. “I never heard such nonsense. At your age! The thing’s incomprehensible.”
“The work has been very wearing to the brain, sir; and my application to it was close. During the three-and-twenty years I have been with you I have never had but one week’s holiday: the one last spring.”
“You told me then you felt like a man breaking down, as if you were good for nothing,” resentfully spoke old Brown.
“Yes, sir. I told you that I believed I was breaking down for want of a rest,” replied Marks. “It has proved so.”
“Why, you had your rest.”
“One week, sir. I said I feared it would not be of much use. But — it was not convenient for you to allow me more.”
“Of course it was not convenient; you know it could not be convenient,” retorted old Brown. “D’you think I keep my clerks for play, Marks? D’you suppose my business will get done of itself?”
“I was aware myself, sir, how inconvenient my absence would be, and therefore I did not press the matter. That one week’s rest did me a wonderful amount of service: it enabled me to go on until now.”
Old Brown looked at him. “See here, Marks — we are sorry to lose you: suppose you take another week’s change now, and try what it will do. A fortnight, say. Go to the sea-side, or somewhere.”
Marks shook his head. “Too late, sir. The doctors tell me it will be twelve months before I am able to work again at calculations.”
“Oh, my service to you,” cried Mr. Brown. “Why, what are you going to do if you cannot work?”
“That is a great deal more than I can say, sir. The thought of it is troubling my brain quite as much as work ever did. It is never out of it, night or day.”
For once in his screwy life, old Brown was generous. He told Mr. Marks to draw his salary up to the day he had left, and he added ten pounds to it over and above.
During that visit I paid to Miss Deveen’s in London, when Tod was with the Whitneys, and Helen made her first curtsey to the Queen, and we discovered the ill-doings of that syren, Mademoiselle Sophie Chalk, I saw Marks. Mrs. Todhetley had given me two or three commissions, as may be remembered: one amongst them was to call in Pimlico, and see how Marks was getting on.
Accordingly I went. We had heard nothing, you must understand, of what I have told above, and did not know but he was still in his situation. It was a showery day in April: just a twelvemonth, by the way, since his visit to us at Dyke Manor. I found the house out readily; it was near Ebury Street; and I knocked. A young lad opened the door, and asked me to walk into the parlour.
“You are Mr. Marks’s son,” I said, rubbing my feet on the mat: “I can tell by the likeness. What’s your name?”
“William. Papa’s is James.”
“Yes, I know.”
“He is ill,” whispered the lad, with his hand on the door handle. “Mamma’s downstairs, making him some arrowroot.”
Well, I think you might have knocked me down with a feather when I knew him — for at first I did not. He was sitting in an easy-chair by the fire, dressed, but wrapped round with blankets: and instead of being the James Marks we had known, he was like a living skeleton, with cheek-bones and hollow eyes. But he was glad to see me, smiled, and held out his hand from the blanket.
It is uncommonly awkward for a young fellow to be taken unawares like this. You don’t know what to say. I’m sure I as much thought he was dying as I ever thought anything in this world. At last I managed to stammer a word or two about being sorry to see him so ill.
“Ay,” said he, in a weak, panting voice, “I am different from what I was when with your kind people, Johnny. The trouble I foresaw then has come.”
“You used sometimes to feel then as though you would not long keep up,” was my answer, for really I could find nothing else to say.
He nodded. “Yes, I felt that I was breaking down — that I should inevitably break down unless I could have rest. I went on until February, Johnny, and then it came. I had to give up my situation; and since then I have been dangerously ill from another source — chest and lungs.”
“I did not know your lungs were weak, Mr. Marks.”
“I’m sure I did not,” he said, after a fit of coughing. “I had one attack in January through catching a cold. Then I caught another cold, and you see the result: the doctor hardly saved me. I never was subject to take cold before. I suppose the fact is that when a man breaks down in one way he gets weak in all, and is more liable to other ailments.”
“I hope you will get better as the warm weather comes on. We shall soon have it here.”
“Better of this cough, perhaps: I don’t know: but not better yet of my true illness that I think most of — the overtaxed nerves and brain. Oh, if I could only have taken a sufficient rest in time!”
“Mr. Todhetley said you ought to have stayed with us for three months. He says it often still.”
“I believe,” he said, solemnly lifting his hand, “that if I could have had entire rest then for two or three months, it would have set me up for life. Heaven hears me say it.”
And what a dreadful thing it now seemed that he had not!
“I don’t repine. My lot seems a hard one, and I sometimes feel sick and weary when I dwell upon it. I have tried to do my duty: I could but keep on and work, as God knows. There was no other course open to me.”
I supposed there was not.
“I am no worse off than many others, Johnny. There are men breaking down every day from incessant application and want of needful rest. Well for them if their hearts don’t break with it!”
And, to judge by the tone he spoke in, it was as much as to say that his heart had broken.
“I am beginning to dwell less on it now,” he went on. “Perhaps it is that I am too weak to feel so keenly. Or that Christ’s words are being indeed realized to me: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ God does not forsake us in our trouble, Johnny, once we have learnt to turn to Him.”
Mrs. Marks came into the room with the cup of arrowroot. The boy had run down to tell her I was there. She was very pleasant and cheerful: you could be at home with her at once. While he was waiting for the arrowroot to cool, he leant back in his chair and dropped into a doze.
“It must have been a frightful cold that he caught,” I whispered to her.
“It was caught the day he went into the City to tell Mr. Brown he must give up his situation,” she answered. “There’s an old saying, of being penny wise and pound foolish, and that’s what poor James was that day. It was a fine morning when he started; but rain set in, and when he left Mr. Brown it was pouring, and the streets were wet. He ought to have taken a cab, but did not, and waited for an omnibus. The first that passed was full; by the time another came he had got wet and his feet were soaking. That brought on a return of the illness he had had in January.”
“I hope he will get well.”
“It lies with God,” she answered.
They made me promise to go again. “Soon, Johnny, soon,” said Mr. Marks with an eagerness that was suggestive. “Come in the afternoon and have some tea with me.”
I had meant to obey literally and go in a day or two; but one thing or other kept intervening, and a week or ten days passed. One Wednesday Miss Deveen was engaged to a dinner-party, and I took the opportunity to go to Pimlico. It was a stormy afternoon, blowing great guns one minute, pouring cats and dogs the next. Mrs. Marks was alone in the parlour, the tea-things on the table before her.
“We thought you had forgotten us,” she said in a half-whisper, shaking hands. “But this is the best time you could have come; for a kind neighbour has invited all the children in for the evening, and we shall be quiet. James is worse.”
“At least, weaker. He cannot sit up long now without great fatigue. He lay down on the bed an hour ago and has dropped asleep,” she added, indicating the next room. “I am waiting for him to awake before I make the tea.”
He awoke then: the cough betrayed it. She went into the room, and presently he came back with her. No doubt he was worse! my heart sank at seeing him. If he had looked like a skeleton before, he was like a skeleton’s ghost now.
“Ah, Johnny! I knew you would come.”
I told him how it was I had not been able to come before, going into details. It seemed to amuse him to hear of the engagements, and I described Helen Whitney’s Court dress as well as I could — and Lady Whitney’s — and the servants’ great bouquets — and the ball at night. He ate one bit of thin toast and drank three big cups of tea. Mrs. Marks said he was always thirsty.
After tea he had a violent fit of coughing and thought he must lie down to rest for a bit. Mrs. Marks came back and sat with me.
“I hope he will get well,” I could not help saying to her.
She shook her head. “I fear he has not much hope of it himself,” she answered. “Only yesterday I heard him tell Willy — that — that God would take care of them when he was gone.”
She could hardly speak the last words, and broke down with a sob. I wished I had not said anything.
“He has great trust, but things trouble him very much,” she resumed. “Nothing else can be expected, for he knows that our means are almost spent.”
“It must trouble you also, Mrs. Marks.”
“I seem to have so much to trouble me that I dare not dwell upon it. I pray not to, every hour of the day. If I gave way, what would become of them?”
At dark she lighted the candles and drew down the blinds. Just after that, there came a tremendous knock at the front-door, loud and long. “Naughty children,” she exclaimed. “It must be they.”
“I’ll go; don’t you stir, Mrs. Marks.”
I opened the door, and a rush of wind and rain seemed to blow in an old gentleman. He never said a word to me, but went banging into the parlour and sank down on a chair out of breath.
“Papa!” exclaimed Mrs. Marks. “Papa!”
“Wait till I get up my speech, my dear,” said the old gentleman. “She is gone.”
“Who is gone!” cried Mrs. Marks.
“She. I don’t want to say too much against her now she’s gone, Caroline; but she is gone. She had a bad fall downstairs in a tipsy fit some days ago, striking her head on the flags, and the doctors could do nothing for her. She died this morning, poor soul; and I am coming to live with you and James, if you will have me. We shall all be so comfortable together, my dear.”
Perhaps Mrs. Marks remembered at once what it implied — that the pressure of poverty was suddenly lifted and she and those dear ones would be at ease for the future. She bent her head in her hands for a minute or two, keeping silence.
“Your husband shall have rest now, my dear, and all that he needs. So will you, Caroline.”
It had come too late. James Marks died in May.
It was about three or four years afterwards that we saw the death of Mr. Brown in the Times. The newspapers made a flourish of trumpets over him; saying he had died worth two hundred thousand pounds.
“There must be something wrong somewhere, Johnny,” remarked the Squire, in a puzzle. “I should not like to die worth all that money, and know that I had worked my clerks to the bone to get it together. I wonder how he will like meeting poor Marks in the next world?”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55