The Old Squire's Troubles

Affairs were going on worse at the Hall than Roger had liked to tell. Moreover, very much of the discomfort there arose from “mere manner,” as people express it, which is always indescribable and indefinable. Quiet and passive as Mrs. Hamley had always been in appearance, she was the ruling spirit of the house, as long as she lived. The directions to the servants, down to the most minute particulars, came from her sitting-room, or from the sofa on which she lay. Her children always knew where to find her; and to find her, was to find love and sympathy. Her husband, who was often restless and angry from one cause or another, always came to her to be smoothed down and put right. He was conscious of her pleasant influence over him, and became at peace with himself when in her presence; just as a child is at ease, when with some one who is both firm and gentle. But the keystone of the family arch was gone, and the stones of which it was composed began to fall apart. It is always sad, when a sorrow of this kind seems to injure the character of the mourning survivors. Yet, perhaps, this injury may be only temporary or superficial; the judgments so constantly passed upon the way in which people bear the loss of those whom they have deeply loved appear to be even more cruel, and wrongly meted out, than human judgments generally are. To careless observers, for instance, it would seem as though the Squire was rendered more capricious and exacting, more passionate and authoritative, by his wife’s death. The truth was, that it occurred at a time when many things came to harass him, and some to bitterly disappoint him; and she was no longer there to whom he used to carry his sore heart for the gentle balm of her sweet words, if the sore heart ached and smarted intensely; and often, when he saw how his violent conduct affected others, he could have cried out for their pity, instead of their anger and resentment: “Have mercy upon me, for I am very miserable!” How often have such dumb thoughts gone up, from the hearts of those who have taken hold of their sorrow by the wrong end, as prayers against sin! And, when the Squire saw that his servants were learning to dread him, and his first-born to avoid him, he did not blame them. He knew he was becoming a domestic tyrant; it seemed as if all circumstances conspired against him, and as if he was too weak to struggle with them; else, why did everything indoors and out-of-doors go so wrong just now, when all he could have done, had things been prosperous, was to have submitted, in very imperfect patience, to the loss of his wife! But, just when he needed ready money to pacify Osborne’s creditors, the harvest had turned out remarkably plentiful, and the price of corn had sunk down to a level it had not touched for years. The Squire had insured his life at the time of his marriage for a pretty large sum. It was to be a provision for his wife, if she survived him, and for their younger children. Roger was the only representative of these interests now; but the Squire was unwilling to lose the insurance by ceasing to pay the annual sum. He would not, if he could, have sold any part of the estate which he inherited from his father; and, besides, it was strictly entailed. He had sometimes thought how wise a step it would have been, could he have sold a portion of it, and with the purchase-money have drained and reclaimed the remainder; and at length, learning from some neighbour that Government would make certain advances for drainage, &c., at a very low rate of interest, on condition that the work was done, and the money repaid, within a given time, his wife had induced him to take advantage of the proffered loan. But, now that she was no longer there to encourage him, and take an interest in the progress of the work, he grew indifferent to it himself, and cared no more to go out on his stout roan cob, and sit square on his seat, watching the labourers on the marshy land, all overgrown with rushes; speaking to them from time to time in their own strong, nervous country dialect; but the interest to Government had to be paid all the same, whether the men worked well or ill. Then the roof of the Hall let in the melted snow-water this winter; and, on examination it turned out that a new roof was absolutely requisite. The men who had come about the advances made to Osborne by the London money lender had spoken disparagingly of the timber on the estate—“Very fine trees—sound, perhaps, too, fifty years ago, but gone to rot now; had wanted lopping and clearing. Was there no wood-ranger or forester? They were nothing like the value young Mr. Hamley had represented them to be.” The remarks had come round to the Squire’s ears. He loved the trees he had played under as a boy, as if they were living creatures; that was on the romantic side of his nature. Merely looking at them as representing so many pounds sterling, he had esteemed them highly, and had had, until now, no opinion of another by which to correct his own judgment. So these words of the valuers cut him sharp, although he affected to disbelieve them, and tried to persuade himself that he did so. But, after all, these cares and disappointments did not touch the root of his deep resentment against Osborne. There is nothing like wounded affection for giving poignancy to anger. And the Squire believed that Osborne and his advisers had been making

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