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Shining Ferry By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 12472

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

From the railway station at Plymouth John Rosewarne walked straight to Lockyer Street, to a house with a brass plate on the door, and on the brass plate the name of a physician famous throughout the West of England.

The doctor had just come to the end of his morning consultations, and received Rosewarne at once. The pair talked for five minutes on indifferent matters, then of Paris, and the terrible doings of the Commune-for this was the month of May 1871. At length Rosewarne stood up.

"Best get it over," said he.

The doctor felt his pulse, took the stethoscope and listened, tapped and sounded him, back and chest, then listened again.

"Worse?" asked Rosewarne.

"It is worse," answered the doctor gravely.

"I knew it. One or two in my family have died in the same way. The pains are sharper of late, and more frequent."

"You keep that little phial handy?"

Rosewarne showed where it lay, close at hand in his watch-pocket.

"How long?" he asked.

"A few months, perhaps." The doctor seemed to hesitate.

"And you won't answer for that?"

"With care. It is folly for a man like you to be overworking."

Rosewarne laughed grimly. "You're right there, and I've often enough asked myself why I do it. To what end, good Lord! But I'm taking no care, all the same. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, my friend." The doctor did not remonstrate further. He knew his man.

From Lockyer Street Rosewarne walked to his hotel, ordered a beef-steak and a pint of champagne, and lunched leisurably. Lunch over, he lit a cigar, and strolled in the direction of the Barbican. The streets were full of holiday-keepers, and he counted a dozen brakes full of workers pouring out of town to breathe the air of Dartmoor on this fine afternoon. He himself was conscious of elation.

"I'll drink it regularly," he muttered to himself. "It's hard if a man with maybe a month more to live cannot afford himself champagne."

The air in Southside Street differed from that of Dartmoor, being stuffy, not to say malodorous. He rapped on the door of a dingy office, and it was opened by his son, Mr. Samuel Rosewarne.

"How d'ye do, Sam?" he nodded, not offering to shake hands. "All alone? That's right. I hope, by the way, I'm not depriving you of a holiday?"

"I seldom take a holiday," Mr. Sam answered.

The old man eyed him ironically. Mr. Sam wore a black suit, with some show of dingy white shirt-front, relieved by a wisp of black cravat and two onyx studs. His coat-cuffs were long and frayed, and his elastic-side boots creaked as he led the way to the office.

In the office the old man came to business at once. "First of all," said he, with a nod toward the safe, "I'd like a glance into your books."

"Certainly, sir," answered Mr. Sam, after a moment's hesitation. He unlocked the safe. "Do you wish to take the books in order? You will find it a long business."

"Man, I don't propose to audit your accounts. If you let me pick and choose, half an hour will tell me all I want."

Well knowing that his son detested the smell of tobacco, he pulled out another cigar and lit it. "You can open the window," said he, "if you prefer the smell of your street. Is this the pass-book?"

For about three-quarters of an hour he ransacked the ledgers, tracking casual entries from one to another apparently at random. His fingers raced through the pages. Now and again he looked up to put a sharp question; and paused, drumming on the table while Mr. Sam explained. Once he said, "Bad debt? Not a bit; the man was right enough, if you had made inquiries."

"I did make inquiries."

"Ay, into his balance. So you pinched him at the wrong moment, and pinched out ninepence in the pound. Why the devil couldn't you have learnt something of the man? He was all right. If you'd done that, you might have recovered every penny, earned his gratitude, and done dashed good business."

He shut the ledger with a slam. "Lock 'em up," he commanded, lighting a fresh cigar, "and come up to the Hoe for a stroll. Where the deuce did you pick up that hat?"

"Bankrupt stock."

"I thought so. Maybe you've invested in a full suit of mourning for me, at the same time?"

"No, sir."

"Why not? The books are all right. You've no range. Still, within your scope you're efficient. You'll get to your goal, such as it is. You wear a hat that makes me ill, but in some way you and your hat will represent the survival of the fittest. What's the boy like?"

"He ails at times, sir-being without a mother's care. I am having him privately instructed. He has some youthful stirrings toward grace."

Old Rosewarne swung round at a standstill. "Grace?" he echoed, for the moment supposing it the name of a girl. Then perceiving his mistake, he broke out into a short laugh; but the laugh ended bitterly, and his face twitched with pain.

"Look here, Sam; I'm going to leave you the money. Don't stare-and don't, I beg, madden me with your thanks."-

"I'm sure, sir."-

"You'll get it because I can't help myself. There's your half-sister's children at home; but of what use to me is a girl or a blind boy? You are narrow-narrow as the grave: but I find that, like the grave, you are inevitable; and, like the grave, you keep what you get. For the kind of finance that was the true game of manhood to your grandfather and me, you have no capacity whatever. No, I cannot explain. Finance? Why, you haven't even a sense of it. Yet in a way you are capable. You will make the money yield interest, and will keep the race going. That is what I look to-you will keep the race going. Now I want to speak about that boy of yours. Do me the only favour I have ever asked you-send him to a public school, and afterwards to college, and let him have his fling."

Sam thought his father must have gone mad. "What, sir! After all you have said of such places! 'Dens of idleness,' 'sinks of iniquity'-I have heard you scores of times!"

"I spoke as a fool. 'Twas my punishment, perhaps, to believe it; but, Lord!"-he eyed his son up and down-"to think my punishment should take this form!" He caught Sam's arm suddenly and wheeled him about in face of a glass shop-front. "Man, look at yourself! Make the boy something

different from that! Do what I'd have done for you if ever you had given me a chance. Turn him loose among gentlemen; don't be afraid if he idles and wastes money; let him riot out his youth if he will-he'll be learning all the time, learning something you don't know how to teach, and maybe when his purse is emptied he'll come back to you a gentleman. I tell you there's no difference in the world like that between a gentleman and a man who's not a gentleman. Money can't buy it; and, after the start, money can't change or hide it. The thing is there, or it isn't."

"Whatever the thing is," said Sam sullenly, "you are asking me to peril my son's soul for it."

They had reached the Hoe by this time. John Rosewarne dropped upon a bench and sat resting both hands on his staff and gazing over the twinkling waters of the Sound.

"Anne married a gentleman," pursued Sam.

"Ay, and a rake. A-ah!" muttered the old man after a moment, drawing a long breath, "if only that boy of hers weren't blind! But he doesn't carry the name, while you."-He broke off with a savage laugh. "What's that you said a moment ago?-something about immortal souls."

"I said there's a world beyond this, and,"-

"Is there? That's what I'm concerned to know just now. And you? What are you proposing to do when you get there?" He withdrew his eyes from the bright seascape and let them travel slowly over his son. "You! sitting there like a blot on God's sunshine! By what right should you expect another world, who have cut such a figure in this one? I have known love and lust, and drink and hard work and hard fighting; I have been down in the depths, and again I have known moments to make a man smack his hands together for joy to be alive and doing. But you? What kind of man are you, you son of mine? What do you live for? Why did you marry? And what did you and your poor woman find to talk about?"

Whatever bullying Sam suffered, he had his revenge in this-that he and no other man could exasperate his father to weakness. He rubbed his thin side whiskers now and muttered something about 'an acceptable sacrifice.'

The old man jabbed viciously at the gravel with his staff. "And your religion?" he broke forth again. "What is it? In some secret way it satisfies you-but how? I look into the Bible, and I find that the whole of religion rests on a man's giving himself away to help others. I don't believe in it myself; I believe in the exact contrary. Still there the thing is, set out in black and white. It upsets law and soldiering and nine-tenths of men's doings in trade: to me it's folly; but so it stands, honest as daylight. When did you help a man down on his luck? or forgive your debtor? You'll get my money because you never did aught of the kind. Yet somehow you're a Christian, and prate of your mean life as an acceptable sacrifice. In my belief you're a Christian precisely because Christianity-how you work it out I don't know-will give you a sanction for any dirty trick that comes in your way. When good feeling, or even common honour, denies you, there's always a text somewhere to oil your conscience."

"I've one, sir, on which I can rely-'Be just, and fear not.'"

"I'll test it. You'll have my money; on which you hardly dared to count, eh? Be honest."

"Only on so much of it as is entailed, sir."

For a while John Rosewarne sat silent, with his eyes on the horizon.

"That," said he at length, "is just what you could not count on." He turned and looked Sam squarely in the face. "You were born out of wedlock, my son."

Sam's hand gripped the iron arm of the bench. The muscles of his face scarcely moved, but its sallow tint changed, under his father's eyes, to a sickly drab.

"Ay," pursued the old man, "I am sorry for you at this moment; but you mustn't look for apologies and repentance and that sort of thing. The fact is, I never could feel about it in that way. I was young and fairly wild, and it happened. One doesn't think of possible injury to someone who doesn't yet exist. But that, I grant you, doesn't make it any the less an injury. Now what have you to say?"

"The sins of the fathers."-

"-Are visited on the children: quite so. Afterwards we did our best, and married. No one knows; no one has ever guessed; and the proof would be hard to trace. In case of accident, I give you Port Royal for a clue."

Sam rose and stood for a moment staring gloomily down on the gravel. "Why did you tell me, then?" he broke out. "What need was there to tell?"

His father winced, for the first time. "I see your point. Why didn't I, you ask, having played the game so far, play it out? Why couldn't I take my secret with me into the last darkness, and be judged for it-my own sole sin and complete? Well, but there's the blind child. By law the house and home estate would he his. I might have kept silence, to be sure, and let him be robbed; but somehow I couldn't. I've a conscience somewhere, I suppose."

"Have you?" Sam flamed out, with sudden spirit. "A nice sort of conscience it must be! I call it cowardice, this dragging me in to help you compensate the child. Conscience? If you had one, you wouldn't be shifting the responsibility on to mine."

"You are mistaken," said his father calmly. "And by the way, I advise you not to take that tone with me. It may all be very proper under the circumstances; but there's the simple fact that I won't stand it. You're mistaken," he repeated. "I mean to settle the compensation alone, without consulting you; though, by George! if 'tweren't for pitying the poor child, I'd like to leave it to you as a religious man, and watch you developing your reasons for giving him nothing."

"And it was you," muttered Sam, with a kind of stony wonder, "who advised me just now to let my son run wild!"

"I did, and I do." John Rosewarne stood up and gripped his staff. "By the way, too," he said, "your mother was a good woman."

"I don't want to hear anything about it."

"I know; but I wanted to tell you. Good-bye." He turned abruptly and went his way down the hill. As he went, his lips moved. He was talking not to himself, but to an unseen companion-

"Mary! Mary!-that this should be the fruit of our sowing!"

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