He turned back, and came down to dinner five minutes after the time. At ten minutes before dinner-time Mr. Bolton heard that he was gone out and was offended,—thinking it quite possible that he would not return at all. What might not be expected from a young man who could so easily abandon his inheritance! But he was there, only five minutes after the time, and the dinner was eaten almost in silence. In the evening there was tea, and the coldest shivering attempt at conversation for half an hour, during which he could still at moments catch the glance of Hester’s eyes, and see the moving curve of her lips. Then there was a reading of the Bible, and prayer, and before ten he was in his bed-room.
On the next morning as he took his departure, Mr. Bolton said a word intended to be gracious. ’I hope you may succeed in your enterprise, Mr. Caldigate.’
‘Why should I not as well as another?’ said John, cheerily.
’If you are steady, sober, industrious, self-denying and honest, you probably will,’ replied the banker.
‘To promise all that would be to promise too much,’ said John. ’But I mean to make an effort.’
Then at that moment he made one effort which was successful. For an instant he held Hester’s fingers within his hand.
That piece of business was done. It was one of the disagreeable things which he had had to do before he could get away to the gold-diggings, and it was done. Now he had to say farewell to his father, and that would be a harder task. As the moment was coming in which he must bid adieu to his father, perhaps for ever, and bid adieu to the old place which, though he despised it, he still loved, his heart was heavy within him. He felt sure that his father had no special regard for him;—in which he was, of course, altogether wrong, and the old man was equally wrong in supposing that his son was unnaturally deficient in filial affection. But they had never known each other, and were so different that neither had understood the other. The son, however, was ready to confess to himself that the chief fault had been with himself. It was natural, he thought, that a father’s regard should be deadened by such conduct as his had been, and natural that an old man should not believe in the quick repentance and improvement of a young one.
He hired a gig and drove himself over from Cambridge to Folking. As he got near to the place, and passed along the dikes, and looked to the right and left down the droves, and trotted at last over the Folking bridge across the Middle Wash, the country did not seem to him to be so unattractive as of yore; and when he recognised the faces of the neighbours, when one of the tenants spoke to him kindly, and the girls dropped a curtsey as he passed, certain soft regrets began to crop up in his mind. After all, there is a comfort in the feeling of property—not