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BARONET AND BLACKSMITH.
Richard took Barbara home, and the same night started for London. Barbara prayed him to take what money she had, but he said that by going in the third class he would have something over, and, once there, would begin to earn money immediately.
His aunt was almost beside herself for lack of outlet to her surprise and delight at seeing him. When she heard his story, however, it was plain she took part with his father, though she was too glad to have her boy again to say so. His uncle too was sincerely glad. His work had not been the same thing to him since Richard went; and to have him again was what he had never hoped. He could not help a grudge that Richard should lose his position for the sake of such as the Mansons, but he saw now the principle involved. He saw too that, in virtue of his belief in God as the father of all, his nephew had much the stronger sense of the claim of man upon man.
Richard never disputed with his uncle; he but suggested, and kept suggesting--in the firm belief that an honest mind must, sooner or later, open its doors to every truth. He settled to his work as if he had never been away from it, and in a fortnight or so could work faster and better than before. Soon he had as much in his peculiar department as he was able to do, for almost all his old employers again sought him. His story being now no secret, they wondered he should return to his trade, but no one thought he had chosen to be a workman because he was not a gentleman.
But how changed was the world to him since the time that looked so far away! With how much larger a life in his heart would he now sit in the orchestra while the gracious forms of music filled the hall, and he seemed to see them soaring on the pinions of the birds of God, as Dante calls the angels, or sweeping level in dance divine, like the six-winged serpents of Isaiah's vision high and lifted up--all the interspaces filled with glow-worms and little spangled snakes of coruscating sound! He was more blessed now than even when but to lift his eyes was to see the face of Barbara; she was in his faith and hope now as well as in his love. He had the loveliest of letters from her. She insisted he should not write oftener than once for her twice: his time was worth more, she said, than twice hers. Mr. Wingfold wrote occasionally, and Richard always answered within a week.
As soon as his son was gone, sir Wilton began to miss him. He wished, first, that the obstinacy of the rascal had not made it necessary to give him quite so sharp a lesson; he wished, next, that he had given him time to see the reasonableness of his demand; and at length, as the days and weeks passed, and not a whisper of prayer entered the ears of the family-Baal, he began to wish that he had not sent him away. The desire to see him grew a longing; his need of him became imperative. Arthur, who now tried a little to do the work he had before declined, was the poorest substitute for Richard; and his father kept thinking how differently Richard had served him. He repented at last as much as was possible to him, and wished he had left the rascal to take his own way. He tried to understand how it was that, anxious always to please him, he yet would not in such a trifle, and that with nothing to gain and everything to lose by his obstinacy. There might be conscience in it! his mother certainly had a conscience! But how could the fool make the Mansons a matter of his conscience? They were no business of his!
He pretended to himself that he had been born without a conscience. At the same time he knew very well there were pigeon-holes in his memory he preferred not searching in; knew very well he had done things which were wrong, things he knew to be wrong when he did them. If he had ever done a thing because he ought to do it; if he had ever abstained from doing a thing because he ought not to do it, he would have known he had a conscience. Because he did not obey his conscience, he would rather believe himself without one. I doubt if consciousness ever exists without conscience, however poorly either may be developed.
Fur the first time in his life he was possessed with a good longing--namely, for his son; a fulcrum was at length established which might support leverage for his uplifting. He grew visibly greyer, stooped more, and became very irritable. Twenty times a day he would be on the point of sending for Richard, but twenty times a day his pride checked him.
"If the rascal would make but apology enough to satisfy a Frenchman, I would take him back!" he would say to himself over and over; "but he's such a chip of the old block!--so damned independent!--Well, I don't call it a great fault! If I had had a trade, I should have been just as independent of my father! No, I want no apology from him! Let him just say, 'Mayn't I come back, father?' and the gold ring and the wedding garment shall be out for him directly!"
A month after Richard's expulsion, the baronet drove to the smithy, and accused Simon of causing all the mischief. He must send the boy Manson away, he said: he would settle an annuity on the beggar. That done, Richard must make a suitable apology, and he would take him back. Simon listened without a word. He wanted to see how far he would go.
"If you will not oblige me," he ended, "you shall not have another stroke of work from Mortgrange, and I will use my influence to drive you from the county."
Without waiting for an answer, he turned to walk from the shop. But he did not walk. The moment he turned, Simon took him by the shoulders and ran him right out of the smithy up to his carriage, into which, for the footman had made haste to open the door, he would have tumbled him neck and heels, but that, gout and all, sir Wilton managed to spring on the step, and get in without falling. In a rage by no means unnatural, he called to the coachman to send his lash about the ruffian's ears. Simon burst into a guffaw, which so startled the horses that the footman had to run to their heads. In his haste to do so, he failed to shut the door properly; it opened and banged, swinging this way and that, as the horses now reared, now backed, now pulled, and the baronet, cursing and swearing, was tossed about in his carriage like a dried-up kernel in a nut. Simon at length, with tears of merriment running down his red cheeks, managed, in a succession of gymnastics, to close the door.
"Home, Peterkin?" he shouted, and turning away, strode back to his forge, whence immediately sprang upon the air the merriest tune ever played by anvil and hammer with a horse-shoe between them--the sparks flying about the musician like a nimbus of embodied notes. It seemed to soothe the horses, for they started immediately without further racket. Before the next month was over, the baronet was again in the smithy--in a better mood this time. He made no reference to his former ignominious dismissal--wanted only to know if Simon had heard from his grandson. The old man answered that he had: he was well, happy, and busy. Sir Wilton gave a grunt.
"Why didn't he stay and help you?"
"I begged him to do so," answered Simon, "for he is almost as good at the anvil, and quite as good at the shoring as myself; but he said it would annoy his father to have him so near, and he wouldn't do it."
His boy's good will made the baronet fidget and swear to hide his compunction. But his evil angel got the upper hand.
"The rascal knew," he cried, "that nothing would annoy me so much as have him go back to his mire like the washed sow!"
Perceiving Simon look dangerous, he turned with a hasty good-morning, and made for his carriage, casting more than one uneasy glance over his shoulder. But the blacksmith let him depart in peace.
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