Father and Sons

Things were not going on any better at Hamley Hall. Nothing had occurred to change the state of dissatisfied feeling into which the Squire and his eldest son had respectively fallen; and the long continuance merely of dissatisfaction is sure of itself to deepen the feeling. Roger did all in his power to bring the father and son together, but sometimes wondered if it would not have been better to leave them alone; for they were falling into the habit of each making him their confidant, and so defining emotions and opinions which would have had less distinctness if they had been unexpressed. There was little enough relief in the daily life at the Hall to help them all to shake off the gloom; and it even told on the health of both the Squire and Osborne. The Squire became thinner, his skin as well as his clothes began to hang loose about him, and the freshness of his colour turned to red streaks; till his cheeks looked like Eardiston pippins, instead of resembling “a Katherine pear on the side that’s next the sun.” Roger thought that his father sate indoors and smoked in his study more than was good for him; but it had become difficult to get him far afield; he was too much afraid of coming across some sign of the discontinued drainage works, or being irritated afresh by the sight of his depreciated timber. Osborne was wrapt up in the idea of arranging his poems for the press, and so working out his wish for independence. What with daily writing to his wife—taking his letters himself to a distant post-office, and receiving hers there—touching up his sonnets, &c., with fastidious care—and occasionally giving himself the pleasure of a visit to the Gibsons, and enjoying the society of the two pleasant girls there, he found little time for being with his father. Indeed, Osborne was too self-indulgent, or “sensitive,” as he termed it, to bear well with the Squire’s gloomy fits or too frequent querulousness. The consciousness of his secret, too, made Osborne uncomfortable in his father’s presence. It was very well for all parties that Roger was not “sensitive”; for, if he had been, there were times when it would have been hard to bear little spurts of the domestic tyranny by which his father strove to assert his power over both his sons. One of these occurred very soon after the night of the Hollingford charity-ball.

Roger had induced his father to come out with him; and the Squire had, on his son’s suggestion, taken with him his long-unused spud. The two had wandered far afield; perhaps the elder man had found the unwonted length of exercise too much for him; for, as he approached the house, on his return, he became what nurses call in children “fractious,” and ready to turn on his companion for every remark he made. Roger understood the case by instinct, as it were, and bore it all with his usual sweetness of temper. They entered the house by the front door; it lay straight on their line of march. On the old cracked yellow- marble slab there lay a card with Lord Hollingford’s name on it, which Robinson, evidently on the watch for their return, hastened out of his pantry to deliver to Roger.

“His lordship was very sorry not to-see you, Mr. Roger, and his lordship left a note for you. Mr. Osborne took it, I think, when he passed through. I asked his lordship, if he would like to see Mr. Osborne, who was indoors, as I thought. But his lordship said he was pressed for time, and told me to make his excuses.”

“Didn’t he ask for me?” growled the Squire.

“No, sir; I can’t say as his lordship did. He would never have thought of Mr. Osborne, sir, if I hadn’t named him. It was Mr. Roger he seemed so keen after.”

“Very odd,” said the Squire. Roger said nothing, although he naturally felt some curiosity. He went into the drawing-room, not quite aware that his father was following him. Osborne sate at a table near the fire, pen in hand, looking over one of his poems, and dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s, and now and then pausing over the alteration of a word.

“Oh, Roger!” he said, as his brother came in, “here’s been Lord Hollingford wanting to see you.”

“I know,” replied Roger.

“And he’s left a note for you. Robinson tried to persuade him it was for my father, so he’s added a ‘junior’ (Roger Hamley, Esq., junior) in pencil.” The Squire was in the room by this time, and what he had overheard rubbed him up still more the wrong way. Roger took his unopened note and read it.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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