Misfortunes, saith the adage, never come singly. There is little doubt tha_roubles are exceedingly gregarious in their nature, and flying in flocks, ar_pt to perch capriciously; crowding on the heads of some poor wights unti_here is not an inch of room left on their unlucky crowns, and taking no mor_otice of others who offer as good resting-places for the soles of their feet,
than if they had no existence. It may have happened that a flight of trouble_rooding over London, and looking out for Joseph Willet, whom they couldn’_ind, darted down haphazard on the first young man that caught their fancy,
and settled on him instead. However this may be, certain it is that on th_ery day of Joe’s departure they swarmed about the ears of Edward Chester, an_id so buzz and flap their wings, and persecute him, that he was mos_rofoundly wretched.
It was evening, and just eight o’clock, when he and his father, having win_nd dessert set before them, were left to themselves for the first time tha_ay. They had dined together, but a third person had been present during th_eal, and until they met at table they had not seen each other since th_revious night.
Edward was reserved and silent. Mr Chester was more than usually gay; but no_aring, as it seemed, to open a conversation with one whose humour was s_ifferent, he vented the lightness of his spirit in smiles and sparklin_ooks, and made no effort to awaken his attention. So they remained for som_ime: the father lying on a sofa with his accustomed air of gracefu_egligence; the son seated opposite to him with downcast eyes, busied, it wa_lain, with painful and uneasy thoughts.
‘My dear Edward,’ said Mr Chester at length, with a most engaging laugh, ‘d_ot extend your drowsy influence to the decanter. Suffer that to circulate,
let your spirits be never so stagnant.’
Edward begged his pardon, passed it, and relapsed into his former state.
‘You do wrong not to fill your glass,’ said Mr Chester, holding up his ow_efore the light. ‘Wine in moderation—not in excess, for that makes me_gly—has a thousand pleasant influences. It brightens the eye, improves th_oice, imparts a new vivacity to one’s thoughts and conversation: you shoul_ry it, Ned.’
‘Ah father!’ cried his son, ‘if—’
‘My good fellow,’ interposed the parent hastily, as he set down his glass, an_aised his eyebrows with a startled and horrified expression, ‘for Heaven’_ake don’t call me by that obsolete and ancient name. Have some regard fo_elicacy. Am I grey, or wrinkled, do I go on crutches, have I lost my teeth,
that you adopt such a mode of address? Good God, how very coarse!’
‘I was about to speak to you from my heart, sir,’ returned Edward, ‘in th_onfidence which should subsist between us; and you check me in the outset.’
‘Now do, Ned, do not,’ said Mr Chester, raising his delicate hand imploringly,
‘talk in that monstrous manner. About to speak from your heart. Don’t you kno_hat the heart is an ingenious part of our formation—the centre of the blood-
vessels and all that sort of thing—which has no more to do with what you sa_r think, than your knees have? How can you be so very vulgar and absurd?
These anatomical allusions should be left to gentlemen of the medica_rofession. They are really not agreeable in society. You quite surprise me,
‘Well! there are no such things to wound, or heal, or have regard for. I kno_our creed, sir, and will say no more,’ returned his son.
‘There again,’ said Mr Chester, sipping his wine, ‘you are wrong. I distinctl_ay there are such things. We know there are. The hearts of animals—o_ullocks, sheep, and so forth—are cooked and devoured, as I am told, by th_ower classes, with a vast deal of relish. Men are sometimes stabbed to th_eart, shot to the heart; but as to speaking from the heart, or to the heart,
or being warm- hearted, or cold-hearted, or broken-hearted, or being al_eart, or having no heart—pah! these things are nonsense, Ned.’
‘No doubt, sir,’ returned his son, seeing that he paused for him to speak. ‘N_oubt.’
‘There’s Haredale’s niece, your late flame,’ said Mr Chester, as a careles_llustration of his meaning. ‘No doubt in your mind she was all heart once.
Now she has none at all. Yet she is the same person, Ned, exactly.’
‘She is a changed person, sir,’ cried Edward, reddening; ‘and changed by vil_eans, I believe.’
‘You have had a cool dismissal, have you?’ said his father. ‘Poor Ned! I tol_ou last night what would happen.—May I ask you for the nutcrackers?’
‘She has been tampered with, and most treacherously deceived,’ cried Edward,
rising from his seat. ‘I never will believe that the knowledge of my rea_osition, given her by myself, has worked this change. I know she is beset an_ortured. But though our contract is at an end, and broken past al_edemption; though I charge upon her want of firmness and want of truth, bot_o herself and me; I do not now, and never will believe, that any sordi_otive, or her own unbiassed will, has led her to this course—never!’
‘You make me blush,’ returned his father gaily, ‘for the folly of your nature,
in which—but we never know ourselves—I devoutly hope there is no reflection o_y own. With regard to the young lady herself, she has done what is ver_atural and proper, my dear fellow; what you yourself proposed, as I lear_rom Haredale; and what I predicted—with no great exercise of sagacity—sh_ould do. She supposed you to be rich, or at least quite rich enough; an_ound you poor. Marriage is a civil contract; people marry to better thei_orldly condition and improve appearances; it is an affair of house an_urniture, of liveries, servants, equipage, and so forth. The lady being poo_nd you poor also, there is an end of the matter. You cannot enter upon thes_onsiderations, and have no manner of business with the ceremony. I drink he_ealth in this glass, and respect and honour her for her extreme good sense.
It is a lesson to you. Fill yours, Ned.’
‘It is a lesson,’ returned his son, ‘by which I hope I may never profit, an_f years and experience impress it on—’
‘Don’t say on the heart,’ interposed his father.
‘On men whom the world and its hypocrisy have spoiled,’ said Edward warmly,
‘Heaven keep me from its knowledge.’
‘Come, sir,’ returned his father, raising himself a little on the sofa, an_ooking straight towards him; ‘we have had enough of this. Remember, if yo_lease, your interest, your duty, your moral obligations, your filia_ffections, and all that sort of thing, which it is so very delightful an_harming to reflect upon; or you will repent it.’
‘I shall never repent the preservation of my self-respect, sir,’ said Edward.
‘Forgive me if I say that I will not sacrifice it at your bidding, and that _ill not pursue the track which you would have me take, and to which th_ecret share you have had in this late separation tends.’
His father rose a little higher still, and looking at him as though curious t_now if he were quite resolved and earnest, dropped gently down again, an_aid in the calmest voice—eating his nuts meanwhile,
‘Edward, my father had a son, who being a fool like you, and, like you,
entertaining low and disobedient sentiments, he disinherited and cursed on_orning after breakfast. The circumstance occurs to me with a singula_learness of recollection this evening. I remember eating muffins at the time,
with marmalade. He led a miserable life (the son, I mean) and died early; i_as a happy release on all accounts; he degraded the family very much. It is _ad circumstance, Edward, when a father finds it necessary to resort to suc_trong measures.
‘It is,’ replied Edward, ‘and it is sad when a son, proffering him his lov_nd duty in their best and truest sense, finds himself repelled at every turn,
and forced to disobey. Dear father,’ he added, more earnestly though in _entler tone, ‘I have reflected many times on what occurred between us when w_irst discussed this subject. Let there be a confidence between us; not i_erms, but truth. Hear what I have to say.’
‘As I anticipate what it is, and cannot fail to do so, Edward,’ returned hi_ather coldly, ‘I decline. I couldn’t possibly. I am sure it would put me ou_f temper, which is a state of mind I can’t endure. If you intend to mar m_lans for your establishment in life, and the preservation of that gentilit_nd becoming pride, which our family have so long sustained—if, in short, yo_re resolved to take your own course, you must take it, and my curse with it.
I am very sorry, but there’s really no alternative.’
‘The curse may pass your lips,’ said Edward, ‘but it will be but empty breath.
I do not believe that any man on earth has greater power to call one down upo_is fellow—least of all, upon his own child—than he has to make one drop o_ain or flake of snow fall from the clouds above us at his impious bidding.
Beware, sir, what you do.’
‘You are so very irreligious, so exceedingly undutiful, so horribly profane,’
rejoined his father, turning his face lazily towards him, and cracking anothe_ut, ‘that I positively must interrupt you here. It is quite impossible we ca_ontinue to go on, upon such terms as these. If you will do me the favour t_ing the bell, the servant will show you to the door. Return to this roof n_ore, I beg you. Go, sir, since you have no moral sense remaining; and go t_he Devil, at my express desire. Good day.’
Edward left the room without another word or look, and turned his back upo_he house for ever.
The father’s face was slightly flushed and heated, but his manner was quit_nchanged, as he rang the bell again, and addressed the servant on hi_ntrance.
‘Peak—if that gentleman who has just gone out—’
‘I beg your pardon, sir, Mr Edward?’
‘Were there more than one, dolt, that you ask the question?—If that gentlema_hould send here for his wardrobe, let him have it, do you hear? If he shoul_all himself at any time, I’m not at home. You’ll tell him so, and shut th_oor.’
So, it soon got whispered about, that Mr Chester was very unfortunate in hi_on, who had occasioned him great grief and sorrow. And the good people wh_eard this and told it again, marvelled the more at his equanimity and eve_emper, and said what an amiable nature that man must have, who, havin_ndergone so much, could be so placid and so calm. And when Edward’s name wa_poken, Society shook its head, and laid its finger on its lip, and sighed,
and looked very grave; and those who had sons about his age, waxed wrathfu_nd indignant, and hoped, for Virtue’s sake, that he was dead. And the worl_ent on turning round, as usual, for five years, concerning which thi_arrative is silent.