An Accident to the Dover Coach
While Mr Benson lay awake for fear of oversleeping himself, and so being late at Mr Farquhar's (it was somewhere about six o'clock—dark as an October morning is at that time), Sally came to his door and knocked. She was always an early riser; and if she had not been gone to bed long before Mr Bradshaw's visit last night, Mr Benson might safely have trusted to her calling him.
"Here's a woman down below as must see you directly. She'll be upstairs after me if you're not down quick."
"Is it any one from Clarke's?"
"No, no! not it, master," said she, through the keyhole; "I reckon it's Mrs Bradshaw, for all she's muffled up."
He needed no other word. When he went down, Mrs Bradshaw sat in his easy-chair, swaying her body to and fro, and crying without restraint. Mr Benson came up to her, before she was aware that he was there.
"Oh! sir," said she, getting up and taking hold of both his hands, "you won't be so cruel, will you? I have got some money somewhere—some money my father settled on me, sir; I don't know how much, but I think it's more than two thousand pounds, and you shall have it all. If I can't give it you now, I'll make a will, sir. Only be merciful to poor Dick—don't go and prosecute him, sir."
"My dear Mrs Bradshaw, don't agitate yourself in this way. I never meant to prosecute him."
"But Mr Bradshaw says that you must."
"I shall not, indeed. I have told Mr Bradshaw so."
"Has he been here? Oh! is not he cruel? I don't care. I've been a good wife till now. I know I have. I have done all he bid me, ever since we were married. But now I will speak my mind, and say to everybody how cruel he is—how hard to his own flesh and blood! If he puts poor Dick in prison, I will go too. If I'm to choose between my husband and my son, I choose my son; for he will have no friends, unless I am with him."
"Mr Bradshaw will think better of it. You will see that, when his first anger and disappointment are over, he will not be hard or cruel."
"You don't know Mr Bradshaw," said she, mournfully, "if you think he'll change. I might beg and beg—I have done many a time, when we had little children, and I wanted to save them a whipping—but no begging ever did any good. At last I left it off. He'll not change."
"Perhaps not for human entreaty. Mrs Bradshaw, is there nothing more powerful?"
The tone of his voice suggested what he did not say.
"If you mean that God may soften his heart," replied she, humbly, "I'm not going to deny God's power—I have need to think of Him," she continued, bursting into fresh tears, "for I am a very miserable woman. Only think! he cast it up against me last night, and said, if I had not spoilt Dick this never would have happened."
"He hardly knew what he was saying last night. I will go to Mr Farquhar's directly, and see him; and you had better go home, my dear Mrs Bradshaw; you may rely upon our doing all that we can."
With some difficulty he persuaded her not to accompany him to Mr Farquhar's; but he had, indeed, to take her to her own door before he could convince her that, at present, she could do nothing but wait the result of the consultation of others.
It was before breakfast, and Mr Farquhar was alone; so Mr Benson had a quiet opportunity of telling the whole story to the husband before the wife came down. Mr Farquhar was not much surprised, though greatly distressed. The general opinion he had always entertained of Richard's character had predisposed him to fear, even before the inquiry respecting the Insurance shares. But it was still a shock when it came, however much it might have been anticipated.
"What can we do?" said Mr Benson, as Mr Farquhar sat gloomily silent.
"That is just what I was asking myself. I think I must see Mr Bradshaw, and try and bring him a little out of this unmerciful frame of mind. That must be the first thing. Will you object to accompany me at once? It seems of particular consequence that we should subdue his obduracy before the affair gets wind."
"I will go with you willingly. But I believe I rather serve to irritate Mr Bradshaw; he is reminded of things he has said to me formerly, and which he thinks he is bound to act up to. However, I can walk with you to the door, and wait for you (if you'll allow me) in the street. I want to know how he is to-day, both bodily and mentally; for indeed, Mr Farquhar, I should not have been surprised last night if he had dropped down dead, so terrible was his strain upon himself."
Mr Benson was left at the door as he had desired, while Mr Farquhar went in.
"Oh, Mr Farquhar, what is the matter?" exclaimed the girls, running to him. "Mamma sits crying in the old nursery. We believe she has been there all night. She will not tell us what it is, nor let us be with her; and papa is locked up in his room, and won't even answer us when we speak, though we know he is up and awake, for we heard him tramping about all night."
"Let me go up to him," said Mr Farquhar.
"He won't let you in. It will be of no use." But in spite of what they said, he went up; and to their surprise, after hearing who it was, their father opened the door, and admitted their brother-in-law. He remained with Mr Bradshaw about half an hour, and then came into the dining-room, where the two girls stood huddled over the fire, regardless of the untasted breakfast behind them; and, writing a few lines, he desired them to take his note up to their mother, saying it would comfort her a little, and that he should send Jemima, in two or three hours, with the baby—perhaps to remain some days with them. He had no time to tell them more; Jemima would.
He left them, and rejoined Mr Benson. "Come home and breakfast with me. I am off to London in an hour or two, and must speak with you first."
On reaching his house, he ran upstairs to ask Jemima to breakfast alone in her dressing-room, and returned in five minutes or less.
"Now I can tell you about it," said he. "I see my way clearly to a certain point. We must prevent Dick and his father meeting just now, or all hope of Dick's reformation is gone for ever. His father is as hard as the nether mill-stone. He has forbidden me his house."
"Yes; because I would not give up Dick as utterly lost and bad; and because I said I should return to London with the clerk, and fairly tell Dennison (he's a Scotchman, and a man of sense and feeling) the real state of the case. By the way, we must not say a word to the clerk; otherwise he will expect an answer, and make out all sorts of inferences for himself, from the unsatisfactory reply he must have. Dennison will be upon honour—will see every side of the case—will know you refuse to prosecute; the Company of which he is manager are no losers. Well! when I said what I thought wise, of all this—when I spoke as if my course were a settled and decided thing, the grim old man asked me if he was to be an automaton in his own house. He assured me he had no feeling for Dick—all the time he was shaking like an aspen; in short, repeated much the same things he must have said to you last night. However, I defied him; and the consequence is, I'm forbidden the house, and, what is more, he says he will not come to the office while I remain a partner."
"What shall you do?"
"Send Jemima and the baby. There's nothing like a young child for bringing people round to a healthy state of feeling; and you don't know what Jemima is, Mr Benson! No! though you've known her from her birth. If she can't comfort her mother, and if the baby can't steal into her grandfather's heart, why—I don't know what you may do to me. I shall tell Jemima all, and trust to her wit and wisdom to work at this end, while I do my best at the other."
"Richard is abroad, is not he?"
"He will be in England to-morrow. I must catch him somewhere; but that I can easily do. The difficult point will be, what to do with him—what to say to him, when I find him. He must give up his partnership, that's clear. I did not tell his father so, but I am resolved upon it. There shall be no tampering with the honour of the firm to which I belong."
"But what will become of him?" asked Mr Benson, anxiously.
"I do not yet know. But, for Jemima's sake—for his dear old father's sake—I will not leave him adrift. I will find him some occupation as clear from temptation as I can. I will do all in my power. And he will do much better, if he has any good in him, as a freer agent, not cowed by his father into a want of individuality and self-respect. I believe I must dismiss you, Mr Benson," said he, looking at his watch; "I have to explain all to my wife, and to go to that clerk. You shall hear from me in a day or two."
Mr Benson half envied the younger man's elasticity of mind, and power of acting promptly. He himself felt as if he wanted to sit down in his quiet study, and think over the revelations and events of the last twenty-four hours. It made him dizzy even to follow Mr Farquhar's plans, as he had briefly detailed them; and some solitude and consideration would be required before Mr Benson could decide upon their justice and wisdom. He had been much shocked by the discovery of the overt act of guilt which Richard had perpetrated, low as his opinion of that young man had been for some time; and the consequence was, that he felt depressed, and unable to rally for the next few days. He had not even the comfort of his sister's sympathy, as he felt bound in honour not to tell her anything; and she was luckily so much absorbed in some household contest with Sally that she did not notice her brother's quiet languor.
Mr Benson felt that he had no right at this time to intrude into the house which he had been once tacitly forbidden. If he went now to Mr Bradshaw's without being asked, or sent for, he thought it would seem like presuming on his knowledge of the hidden disgrace of one of the family. Yet he longed to go: he knew that Mr Farquhar must be writing almost daily to Jemima, and he wanted to hear what he was doing. The fourth day after her husband's departure she came, within half an hour of the post-delivery, and asked to speak to Mr Benson alone.
She was in a state of great agitation, and had evidently been crying very much.
"Oh, Mr Benson!" said she, "will you come with me, and tell papa this sad news about Dick? Walter has written me a letter at last to say he has found him—he could not at first; but now it seems that, the day before yesterday, he heard of an accident which had happened to the Dover coach; it was overturned—two passengers killed, and several badly hurt. Walter says we ought to be thankful, as he is, that Dick was not killed. He says it was such a relief to him on going to the place—the little inn nearest to where the coach was overturned—to find that Dick was only severely injured; not one of those who was killed. But it is a terrible shock to us all. We had had no more dreadful fear to lessen the shock; mamma is quite unfit for anything, and we none of us dare to tell papa." Jemima had hard work to keep down her sobs thus far, and now they overmastered her.
"How is your father? I have wanted to hear every day," asked Mr Benson, tenderly.
"It was careless of me not to come and tell you; but, indeed, I have had so much to do. Mamma would not go near him. He has said something which she seems as if she could not forgive. Because he came to meals, she would not. She has almost lived in the nursery; taking out all Dick's old playthings, and what clothes of his were left, and turning them over, and crying over them."
"Then Mr Bradshaw has joined you again; I was afraid, from what Mr Farquhar said, he was going to isolate himself from you all?"
"I wish he had," said Jemima, crying afresh. "It would have been more natural than the way he has gone on; the only difference from his usual habits is, that he has never gone near the office, or else he has come to meals just as usual, and talked just as usual; and even done what I never knew him do before, tried to make jokes—all in order to show us how little he cares."
"Does he not go out at all?"
"Only in the garden. I am sure he does care after all; he must care; he cannot shake off a child in this way, though he thinks he can; and that makes me so afraid of telling him of this accident. Will you come, Mr Benson?"
He needed no other word. He went with her, as she rapidly threaded her way through the by-streets. When they reached the house, she went in without knocking, and putting her husband's letter into Mr Benson's hand, she opened the door of her father's room, and saying—"Papa, here is Mr Benson," left them alone.
Mr Benson felt nervously incapable of knowing what to do, or to say. He had surprised Mr Bradshaw sitting idly over the fire—gazing dreamily into the embers. But he had started up, and drawn his chair to the table, on seeing his visitor; and, after the first necessary words of politeness were over, he seemed to expect him to open the conversation.
"Mrs Farquhar has asked me," said Mr Benson, plunging into the subject with a trembling heart, "to tell you about a letter she has received from her husband;" he stopped for an instant, for he felt that he did not get nearer the real difficulty, and yet could not tell the best way of approaching it.
"She need not have given you that trouble. I am aware of the reason of Mr Farquhar's absence. I entirely disapprove of his conduct. He is regardless of my wishes; and disobedient to the commands which, as my son-in-law, I thought he would have felt bound to respect. If there is any more agreeable subject that you can introduce, I shall be glad to hear you, sir."
"Neither you, nor I, must think of what we like to hear or to say. You must hear what concerns your son."
"I have disowned the young man who was my son," replied he, coldly.
"The Dover coach has been overturned," said Mr Benson, stimulated into abruptness by the icy sternness of the father. But, in a flash, he saw what lay below that terrible assumption of indifference. Mr Bradshaw glanced up in his face one look of agony—and then went grey-pale; so livid that Mr Benson got up to ring the bell in affright, but Mr Bradshaw motioned to him to sit still.
"Oh! I have been too sudden, sir—he is alive, he is alive!" he exclaimed, as he saw the ashy face working in a vain attempt to speak; but the poor lips (so wooden, not a minute ago) went working on and on, as if Mr Benson's words did not sink down into the mind, or reach the understanding. Mr Benson went hastily for Mrs Farquhar.
"Oh, Jemima!" said he, "I have done it so badly—I have been so cruel—he is very ill, I fear—bring water, brandy—" and he returned with all speed into the room. Mr Bradshaw—the great, strong, iron man—lay back in his chair in a swoon, a fit.
"Fetch my mother, Mary. Send for the doctor, Elizabeth," said Jemima, rushing to her father. She and Mr Benson did all in their power to restore him. Mrs Bradshaw forgot all her vows of estrangement from the dead-like husband, who might never speak to her, or hear her again, and bitterly accused herself for every angry word she had spoken against him during these last few miserable days.
Before the doctor came, Mr Bradshaw had opened his eyes and partially rallied, although he either did not, or could not speak. He looked struck down into old age. His eyes were sensible in their expression, but had the dim glaze of many years of life upon them. His lower jaw fell from his upper one, giving a look of melancholy depression to the face, although the lips hid the unclosed teeth. But he answered correctly (in monosyllables, it is true) all the questions which the doctor chose to ask. And the medical man was not so much impressed with the serious character of the seizure as the family, who knew all the hidden mystery behind, and had seen their father lie for the first time with the precursor aspect of death upon his face. Rest, watching, and a little medicine were what the doctor prescribed; it was so slight a prescription, for what had appeared to Mr Benson so serious an attack, that he wished to follow the medical man out of the room to make further inquiries, and learn the real opinion which he thought must lurk behind. But as he was following the doctor, he—they all—were aware of the effort Mr Bradshaw was making to rise, in order to arrest Mr Benson's departure. He did stand up, supporting himself with one hand on the table, for his legs shook under him. Mr Benson came back instantly to the spot where he was. For a moment it seemed as if he had not the right command of his voice: but at last he said, with a tone of humble, wistful entreaty, which was very touching:
"He is alive, sir; is he not?"
"Yes, sir—indeed he is; he is only hurt. He is sure to do well. Mr Farquhar is with him," said Mr Benson, almost unable to speak for tears.
Mr Bradshaw did not remove his eyes from Mr Benson's face for more than a minute after his question had been answered. He seemed as though he would read his very soul, and there see if he spoke the truth. Satisfied at last, he sank slowly into his chair; and they were silent for a little space, waiting to perceive if he would wish for any further information just then. At length he put his hands slowly together in the clasped attitude of prayer, and said—"Thank God!"