« EelmineJätka »
but I am somewhat particular in these respects; and I must have such and such comforts, or it will be impossible for me to stay under your roof."
The old lady felt her patience about to fail; but, looking at the young people, and seeing that anxiety was painted on their young features, she restrained herself, and carelessly remarked, that she hoped her son-in-law would make himself comfortable; remarking, that, having shown him his apartments, she would leave it to his own servants to arrange things to his taste; politely expressing her hope that he would consider himself at home, as long as he remained under her roof.
In reply to this, he bowed half familiarly and half respectfully, thanked her for her hospitality; and, although his valet was present, he ordered his son to pull down the blinds, saying, that he could not endure the glare of the afternoon sun.
The poor old lady, who had long been accustomed to be the mistress of her own quiet and happy mansion, now felt herself so much offended, that, fearing she might break out into some intemperate expression, she arose in haste, informed the ma that she drank tea in her own parlour, at a certain hour, and should be glad to see him, and walked out of the room, leaving her troublesome guest with his children.
The departure of the old lady was but the signal for the unkind father to make more open attacks on his son.
The major was a thoroughly selfish man, an infidel, as I have before said, a man of wit, or of what he supposed to be wit; and, being used to situations of authority, had no idea of the pain he gave to others in the indulgence of this propensity. He had also been accustomed to bestow strong epithets of contempt on his inferiors, and could not live without having some objects against whom to aim his shafts of malice; though he had the cunning to select these objects from among such persons as dared not show any resentment.
During his journey, Wietlesbach, with his broken English and perpetual mistakes, had afforded constant subjects for the raillery of the major; but Monsieur Wietlesbach was not a gentleman of very delicate feelings; he had come to our island to pick up a little money, and he found himself
in a fair way of so doing in his present service; he therefore made up his mind to endure all insults short of a broken head. But poor Christopher had not the nonchalance of Monsieur Wietlesbach. He could not console himself, as the valet did, by grinning and shrugging up his shoulders; and, indeed, that which may be endured from a master, or common acquaintance, is very galling when proceeding from a parent, or a near connexion.
If we suppose that the major was not aware of the acute pain which he inflicted upon his son by the cold and satirical manner in which he constantly thought proper to address him, by making him the constant object of his raillery, yet, had he not been very remote from proper feeling, he must have sooner or later made this discovery, and would surely have refrained from treating his son in a manner which had the most injurious effect on his character. We cannot believe that the worst of fathers can desire the ruin of a son; but, where selfishness preponderates in any character, the individual is often induced to commit acts of cruelty which he would shudder to witness in another. -But, to return to our story.
Mrs. Courtney had scarcely closed the door after her, before the major began to open his battery of dangerous wit against Christopher; at the same time directing his little daughter to take her place by him on the sofa.
He first attacked the cut of his son's coat, inquiring of him how long short backs and long lappets had been in fashion. He then proceeded to inquire of him what he had learned, and whether the old lady had taught him to sew samplers; and concluded by asking him if she made him stand up and say his Catechism every Sunday evening.
There is a certain time of life (and Christopher was precisely at that age) when young people are particularly jealous of being laughed at. We will not ask why or wherefore it is so, or inquire whether they feel in themselves, at that period, a peculiar awkwardness which they think may afford matter of merriment to others, being conscious that they are ceasing to be children, and yet that they are not arrived at the dignity of mature age. Be this as it may, this is the period when boys are most ready to quarrel, and young ladies to complain of neglects and insults; and this is the period when youth are most liable
to be injured by ill-timed merriment; and when they are most ready to renounce all that is good and precious rather than be laughed at. Some few, indeed, there are who can smile again when ridiculed, and who have prudence enough, or rather are divinely assisted, to acquire wisdom from the unkind remarks of a neighbour. But these persons are comparatively few, and poor Christopher was not one of the number. To all his father's curious questions he first gave short answers, and afterwards growing sullen, he made no reply at all, but sat reddening and swelling, now and then giving a certain twitch to his head and shoulders, which was not half so agreeable as the shrug and grin of Monsieur Wietlesbach.
In the mean time, the major seemed either, not to observe the uneasiness of his son, or not to regard it in the smallest degree. For, having amused himself a while with making his remarks, he suddenly turned to Emily, and praising her hair, her complexion, and her features, would soon have succeeded in filling her with conceit, had not the tender heart of this lovely child been provided with an antidote to his poison by her sympathy for her beloved brother, and her dread that he might say something to make their father angry. Accordingly, while her father was thus bestowing his caresses upon her, her gentle eye was now and then turned to her brother; and once she extended her hand to him, unobserved by their common parent, and with one touch of her velvet palm restored peace to his wounded bosom; while such were his feelings on the occasion, that it was with difficulty he could prevent himself from raising it to his lips.
How delightful are the silent expressions of affection which are suggested by a pious and feeling heart! What is there in nature so winning, so attractive, as these and how entirely different are their effects from those which are the product of art or affectation! It is the peculiar province of females, by the use of these engaging and tender qualities, to soften the more violent passions of the other sex; and never does a woman depart so far from all that is amiable, as when she uses her influence with brothers, husbands, and fathers, to irritate and excite rather than to calm and sooth.-But, to leave these reflections, and to proceed to other matters.
Having given my reader one specimen of the manner in which the major conducted himself towards his children and mother-in-law, I shall satisfy myself by merely stating, that he continued to treat Christopher in such a way that the young man could scarcely be restrained, either by his old friend, or his sister, from behaving in a manner wholly unbecoming. From time to time, the youth was, however, held back from open rebellion by the beseeching looks of Emily, and the earnest pleadings of Mrs. Courtney. Nevertheless, a kind of bitterness seized upon his mind, and he became impatient of being at home, and anxious that some plan for his future life might be decided upon, whereby he might be rendered independent of a father whose manner was so peculiarly unwelcome to his feelings.
Neither was the major more agreeable to Mrs. Courtney than to Christopher, though he undoubtedly showed less of his hauteur and selfishness in her presence than in her absence; for she had a few thousands at her disposal, and he was far from being superior to the recollection of this circumstance.
Emily loved her father, notwithstanding the pain she felt in witnessing his conduct towards her brother. The affection, however, which she had for her parent, and the strong regard she had ever felt for her brother, induced her to soften matters or both sides; and, as her father had expressed his determination never more to separate himself from her, she tried to induce Mrs. Courtney to bear with him, dreading lest she should be separated from her beloved grandmother. Neither did Mrs. Courtney lack the same motive for forbearance; and such was the tenderness of this excellent old lady for the children whom she had reared, that she would rather have endured any privation than have seen them removed from under her maternal influence. Nevertheless, she used many arguments to persuade her son-in-law to fix upon some plan for the future life of Christopher. His education was by no means complete; and she lost no opportunity of representing to the major, that more instruction was necessary, if he was to be of a learned profession; and if not, that he should be permitted immediately to choose his line of life, and be conducted to it.
To these arguments the major commonly answered in
his usual satirical style; sometimes saying that he meant to bring up Christopher to be a bishop, or a judge, for he was sure nothing inferior would suit him; and at another time remarking that he meant to apprentice him to a shoemaker, if he could find any one who would take him.More than this he would never add, but seemed anxious to postpone all decision on the subject, either from the deşire of keeping his money in his pocket, or from an indolence natural to all selfish characters.
This ill-assorted family continued to dwell together, in the manner I have described, for some months, during which period some of the individuals of whom it was composed were scarcely restrained from open warfare with the others, by motives of interest, affection, or religion; while Emily was the only one who was heartily cordial with all the rest.
For some weeks the major displayed no other evil qualities but such as I have described, namely, an inordinate love of eating, and similar indulgences, with an entire contempt for the comfort of others. But, after a while, when grown more familiar with Mrs. Courtney, he scrupled not to let it appear that he was an absolute infidel, and capable of casting reflections upon the most sublime and awful truths. He had, during his early life, made himself acquainted with all the sophistries of the continental sceptics, and could, as it suited him best, mock and sneer at religion with much of the false wit indulged by the infidel of Ferney; endeavouring to bewilder the minds of his fellow creatures by artful and deceptive reasonings.
Were not the matter too serious for jest, a stander-by might have been amused at the manner in which this false philosopher would sometimes argue with his good motherin-law, who (excellent woman as she was, and well grounded in the faith, as far as she herself was concerned) had not the smallest notion of stating the reason of the hope that was in her. She believed, and loved, and trusted her Saviour; her heart was full of holy peace; and she was enabled to rely, without a single doubt, upon the merits and promises of God incarnate; but how to state the ground of this confidence to an unbeliever, she had not the most remote idea; and by reason of this, when her opponent used his impious skill, she became angry, and