I managed not to laugh, and old Isaac added, “There’s a many in this village, sir, would have been glad to have taken the liberty of expressing themselves to the Colonel, and a depitation did get as far as your father’s gates one night, but they turned bashful and come home again. And I know, for one, Master Jack, that if me and my missus had had a room fit to offer one of them poor young gentlemen, I’d have given a week’s wage to do it, and the old woman would have been happy to her dying day.”
“GOD help me! save I take
Of danger on the roaring sea,
A devil rises in my heart,
Far worse than any death to me.”
The fact that my father had sent me back against my will to a school where I had suffered so much and learnt so little, ought perhaps to have drawn us together when he discovered his mistake. Unfortunately it did not. He was deeply annoyed with himself for having been taken in by Snuffy, but he transferred some of this annoyance to me, on grounds which cut me to the soul, and which I fear I resented so much that I was not in a mood that was favourable to producing a better understanding between us. The injustice which I felt so keenly was, that my father reproached me with having what he called “kept him in the dark” about the life at Crayshaw’s. At my age I must have seen how wicked the man and his system were.
I reminded him that I had run away from them once, and had told all that I dared, but that he would not hear me then. He would not hear me now.
“I don’t wish to discuss the subject. It is a very painful one,” he said (and I believe it was as physically distressing to him as the thought of Cripple Charlie’s malformation). “I have no wish to force your confidence when it is too late,” he added (and it was this which I felt to be so hard). “I don’t blame you; you have other friends who suit you better, but you have never been fully open with me. All I can say is, if Mr. Wood was better informed than I have been, and did not acquaint me, he has behaved in a manner which—— There—don’t speak! we’ll dismiss the subject. You have suffered enough, if you have not acted as I should have expected you to act. I blame myself unutterably, and I hope I see my way to such a comfortable and respectable start in life for you that these three years in that vile place may not be to your permanent disadvantage.”
I was just opening my lips to thank him, when he got up and went to his tall desk, where he took a pinch of snuff, and then added as he turned away, “Thank GOD I have one son who is frank with his father!”
My lips were sealed in an instant. This, then, was my reward for that hard journey of escape, with Jem on my back, which had only saved him; for having stifled envy in gladness for his sake, when (in those bits of our different holidays which overlapped each other) I saw and felt the contrast between our opportunities; for having suffered my harder lot in silence that my mother might not fret, when I felt certain that my father would not interfere! My heart beat as if it would have pumped the tears into my eyes by main force, but I kept them back, and said steadily enough, “Is that all, sir?”