I.–THE FAMILY BIBLE
There lived a young man at Tregarrick called Robert Haydon. His father was not a native of the town, but had settled there early in life and became the leading solicitor of the place. At the age of thirty-seven he married the daughter of a county magistrate, and by this step bettered his position considerably. By the time that Robert was born his parents’ standing was very satisfactory. They were living well inside an income of L1,200 a year, had about L8,000 (consisting of Mrs. Haydon’s dowry and Mr. Haydon’s bachelor savings) safely invested, and were on visiting terms with several of the lesser county families.
In other respects they were just as fortunate. They had a sincere affection for each other, and coincident opinions on the proper conduct of life. They were people into whose heads a misgiving seldom or never penetrated. Their religious beliefs and the path of social duty stood as plain before them as their front gate and as narrow as the bridge which Mohammedans construct over hell. They loved Bob–who of four children was their only son–and firmly intended to do their best for him; and as they knew what was best for him, it followed that Bob must conform. He was a light-coloured, docile boy, with a pleasantly ingenuous face and an affectionate disposition; and he loved his parents, and learned to lean on them.
They sent him in time to Marlborough, where he wrote Latin verses of slightly unusual merit, and bowled with a break from the off which meant that there lay a thin vein of genius somewhere inside of him. When once collared, his bowling became futile; success made it deadly, and on one occasion in a school match against the M.C.C. he did things at Lord’s which caused a thin gathering of spectators–the elderly men who never miss a match–to stare at him very attentively as he returned to the pavilion. They thought it worth while to ask, “Which ‘Varsity was he bound for?”
Bob was bound for neither. He had to inherit, and consented to inherit, his father’s practice without question. His consuming desire to go up to Oxford he hinted at once, and once only, in a conversation with his father; but Mr. Haydon “did not care to expose his son to the temptations which beset young men at the Universities”–this was the very text–and preferred to keep him under his own eye in the seclusion of Tregarrick.
To a young man who is being shielded from temptation in a small provincial town there usually happens one of two things. Either he takes to drink or to discreditable essays in love-making. It is to Bob’s credit that he did neither; a certain delicate sanity in the fellow kept him from these methods of killing time. Instead, he spent his evenings at home; listened to his parents’ talk; accepted their opinions on human conduct and affairs; and tumbled honourably into love with his sisters’ governess.
Ethel Ormiston, the governess, was about a year older than Bob, good to look at, and the only being who understood what ailed Bob’s soul during this time. She was in prison herself, poor woman. Mrs. Haydon asserted afterwards that Miss Ormiston had “deliberately set herself to inveigle” the boy; but herein Mrs. Haydon was mistaken. As a matter of fact Bob, having discovered someone obliging and intelligent enough to listen, dinned the story of his aspirations into the girl’s ear with the persistent egoism of a hobbedehoy. It must be allowed, however, that the counsel she gave him would have annoyed his parents excessively.
“But I do sympathise with you,” she said after listening to an immoderately long and peevish harangue; “and I should advise you to go to your father, as a first step, and ask to be paid a very small salary for the work you do–enough to set up in lodgings alone. At present you are pauperising yourself.”