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might probably be one negative cause of the continuance of his open-heartedness and justice of regard.
Thomas Worbɔise's father had been a friend of his for many years—at least so far as that relation could be called friendship which consisted in playing as much into each other's hands in the way of business as they could, dining together two or three times in the course of the year, and keeping an open door to each other's family. Thomas was an only son, with one sister. His father would gladly have brought him up to his own profession, that of the law, but Thomas showing considerable disinclination to the necessary studies, he had placed him in his friend's counting-house with the hope that that might suit him better. Without a word having been said on the subject, both the fathers would have gladly seen the son of the one engaged to any daughter of the other. They were both men of considerable property, and thought that this would be a pleasant way of determining the future part of their possessions. At the same time Mr. Boxall was not quite satisfied with what he had as yet seen of Tom's business-character. However, there had been no signs of approximation between him and either of the girls, and therefore there was no cause to be particu. larly anxious about the matter.
THE INVALID MOTHER.
To account in some measure for the condition in which we find Tom at the commencement of my story, it will be better to say a word here about his mother. She was a woman of weak health and intellect, but strong character ; was very religious, and had a great influence over her son, who was far more attached to her than he was to his father. The daughter, on the other hand, leaned to her father, an arrangement not uncommon in families.
On the evening of the day on which my story commences, officehours were long over before Tom appeared at home. He went into his mother's room, and found her, as usual, reclining on a couch, supported by pillows. She was a woman who never complained of her sufferings, and her face, perhaps in consequence of her never desiring sympathy, was hard and unnaturally still. Nor were her features merely still—they looked immobile, and her constant pain was indicated only by the absence of all curve in her upper lip. When her son entered, a gentle shimmer of love shone out of her eyes of troubled blue, but the words in which she addressed hiin did not correspond to this shine. She was one of those who think the Deity jealous of the amount of love bestowed upon other human beings, even by their own parents, and therefore struggle to keep down their deepest and holiest emotions, regarding them not merely as weakness but as positive sin, and likely to be most hurtful to the object on which they are permitted to expend themselves.
“Well, Thomas," said his mother, “what has kept you so late ? "
“Oh! I don't know, mother," answered Tom, in whose attempted carelessness there yet appeared a touch of anxiety which caught her eye.
“ You do know, Tom; and I want to know.” “I waited and walked home with Charles Wither." He did not say, “ I waited to walk home.” “How was hé so late ? You must have left the office hours
“ He had some extra business to finish.”
It was business of his own, not office business ; and Tom, find. ing out that he would be walking home a couple of hours later, had arranged to join him that he might have this account to give of himself.
“ You know I do not like you to be too much with that young man. He is not religious. In fact, I believe him to be quite worldly. Does he ever go to church?”
“I don't know, mother. He's not a bad sort of fellow."
“He is a bad sort of fellow, and the less you are with him the better."
“I can't help being with him in the office, you know, mother." “ You need not be with him after office-hours.”
“ Well, no; perhaps not. But it would look strange to avoid him."
“I thought you had more strength of character, Thomas."
“Ah! That alters the case, if you have courage to speak the truth to him.”
At that moment the door opened, and the curate of St. Solomon's was announced. Mrs. Worboise was always at home to him, and he called frequently, both because she was too great an invalid to go to church, and because they supposed, on the ground of their employing the same religious phrases in their conversation, that they understood each other. He was a gentle, abstracted youth, with a face that looked as if its informing idea had been for a considerable period sat upon by something ungenial. With him the profession had become everything, and humanity never had been anything, if not something bad. He walked through the crowded streets in the neighbourhood with hurried steps and eyes fixed on the ground, his pale face rarely brightening with recognition, for he seldom saw any passing acquaintance. When he did, he greeted him with a voice that seemed to come from far-off shores, but came really from a bloodless, nerveless chest, that had nothing to do with life, save to yield up the ghost in eternal security, and send it safe out of it. He seemed to recognize none of those human relations which make the blood mount to the face at meeting, and give strength to the grasp of the hand. He would not have hurt a fly; he would have died to save a malefactor from the gallows, that he might give him another chance of repentance. But mere human aid he had none to bestow; no warmth, no heartening, no hope.
Mr. Simon bowed solemnly, and shook hands with Mrs. Worboise.
“How are you to-night, Mrs. Worboise ?” he said, glancing round the room, however. For the only sign of humanity about him was a certain weak admiration of Amy Worboise, who, if tried by his own tests, was dreadfully unworthy even of that. For she was a merry girl, who made great sport of the little church-mouse, as she called him.
Mrs. Worboise did not reply to this question, which she always treated as irrelevant. Mr. Simon then shook hands with Thomas, who looked on him with a respect inherited from his mother.
“Any signs of good in your class, Mr. Thomas ?” he asked.
The question half irritated Tom-why, he could not have explained even to himself. The fact was that he had begun to enter upon another phase of experience since he saw the curate last, and the Sunday School was just a little distasteful to him at the moment.
"No," he answered, with a certain slightest motion of the head that might have been interpreted either as of weariness or indifference.
The clergyman interpreted it as of the latter, and proceeded to justify his question, addressing his words to the mother.
“ Your son thinks me too anxious about the fruits of his labour, Mrs. Worboise. But when we think of the briefness of life, and how soon the night cometh when no man can work, I do not think we can be too earnest to win souls for our crown of rejoicing when He comes with the holy angels.--First our own souls, Mr. Thomas, and then the souls of others."
Thomas, believing every word that the curate said, made notwithstanding no reply, and the curate went on.
“ There are so many souls that might be saved, if one were only in earnest, and so few years to do it in. We do not strive with God in prayer, Mrs. Worboise. We faint and cease from our prayers and our endeavours together.”
“ That is too true," responded the lady.
“I try to do my best,” said Thomas, in a tone of apology, and with a lingering doubt in his mind whether he was really speaking the absolute truth. But he comforted himself with saying to himself, “I only said 'I try to do my best :' I did not say, 'I try my best to do my best.'"
“I have no reason to doubt it, my young friend,” returned the curate, who was not ten years older than his young friend. “I only fancied—no doubt it was but the foolish fancy of my own anxiety-that you did not respond quite so heartily as usual to my question."
The mother's eyes were anxiously fixed on her son during the conversation, for her instincts told her that he was not quite at his ease. She had never given him any scope, never trusted him, or trained him to freedom ; but, herself a prisoner to her drawing-room and bedroom, sought, with all her energy and contrivance, for which she had plenty of leisure, to keep, strengthen, and repair the invisible cable by which she seemed to herself to hold, and in fact did hold him, even when he was out of her sight, and himself least aware of the fact.
As yet again Thomas made no reply, Mr Simon changed the subject.
"Have you much pain to-night, Mrs. Worboise ?” he asked. “I can bear it,” she answered. “It will not last for ever.”
“You find comfort in looking to the rest that remaineth,” responded Mr. Simon. “It is the truest comfort. Still, your friends would gladly see you enjoy a little more of the present-" world, Mr. Simon was going to say, but the word was unsuitable ; so he changed it," of the present-ah! dispensation," he said.
“The love of this world bringeth a snare," suggested Mrs Wor. boise, believing that she quoted Scripture.
Thomas rose and left the room. He did not return till the curate had taken his leave. It was then almost time for his mother to retire. As soon as he entered he felt her anxious pale-blue eyes upon him.
*“ Why did you go, Thomas ?" she asked, moving on her couch, and revealing by her face a twinge of sharper pain than ordinary. “ You used to listen with interest to the conversation of Mr. Simon. He is a man whose conversation is in Heaven."
“I thought you would like to have a little private talk with him. mamma. You generally do have a talk with him alone."
"Don't call it talk, Thomas. That is not the proper word to use."
6 Communion, then, mother," answered Thomas, with the feeling of aversion a little stronger and more recognizable than before, but at the same time annoyed with himself that he thus felt. And, afraid that he had shown the feeling which he did recognize, he hastened to change the subject and speak of one which he had at heart.
“But, mother, dear, I wanted to speak to you about something. You mustn't mind my being late once or twice a-week now, for I am going in for German. There is a very good master lives a few doors from the counting-house; and if you take lessons in the evening at his own lodgings, he charges so much less for it! And, you know, it is such an advantage now-a-days for any one who wants to get on in business to know German !”
“Does Mr. Wither join you, Thomas?” asked his mother, in a tone of knowing reproof.
"No, indeed, mother," answered Thoinas; and a gleam of satis. faction shot through his brain as his mother seemed satisfied. Either, however, he managed to keep it off his face, or his mother did not perceive or understand it, for the satisfaction remained on her countenance. “I will speak to your father about it,” she answered.
This was quite as much as Thomas could have hoped for : he had no fear of his father making any objection. He kissed his mother on the cheek-it was a part of her system of mortifying the flesh with its affections and lusts that she never kissed him with any fervour, rarely indeed allowing those straight lips to meet his-and they parted for the night.
THOMAS descended to breakfast, feeling fresh and hopeful. The weather had changed during the night, and it was a clear frosty morning, cold blue cloudless sky and cold grey leafless earth reflecting each other's winter attributes. The sun was there, watching from afar how they could get on without him ; but, as if they knew he had not forsaken them, they were both merry. Thomas stood up with his back to the blazing fire, and through the window saw his father walking bare-headed in the garden. He had not returned home till late the night before, and Thomas had gone to bed without seeing him. Still he had been up the first in the house, and had been at work for a couple of hours upon the papers he had brought home in his blue bag. Thomas walked to the window to show him. self, as a hint to his father that breakfast was ready. Mr. Worboise saw him, and came in. Father and son did not shake hands or wish each other a good morning, but they nodded and smiled, and took their seats at the table. As Mr. Worboise sat down, he smoothed, first with one hand, then with the other, two long sidetresses of thin air, trained like creepers over the top of his head, which was perfectly bald. Their arrangement added to the resemblance his forehead naturally possessed to the bottom of a flat iron, set up on the base of its triangle. His eyebrows were very dark, straight, and bushy; his eyes a keen hazel ; his nose straight