Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 39

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Chapter XXXIX: Nemesis

It was a month or more before I summoned courage to ask after my cousin.

Eleanor looked solemnly at me.

"Did you not know it? He is dead."

"Dead!" I was almost stunned by the announcement.

"Of typhus fever. He died three weeks ago; and not only he, but the servant who brushed his clothes, and the shopman, who had a few days before, brought him a new coat home."

"How did you learn all this?"

"From Mr. Crossthwaite. But the strangest part of the sad story is to come. Crossthwaite's suspicions were aroused by some incidental circumstance, and knowing of Downes's death, and the fact that you most probably caught your fever in that miserable being's house, he made such inquiries as satisfied him that it was no other than your cousin's coat—"

"Which covered the corpses in that fearful chamber?"

"It was indeed."

Just, awful God. And this was the consistent Nemesis of all poor George's thrift and cunning, of his determination to carry the buy-cheap-and-sell-dear commercialism, in which he had been brought up, into every act of life! Did I rejoice? No; all revenge, all spite had been scourged out of me. I mourned for him as for a brother, till the thought flashed across me—Lillian was free. Half unconscious, I stammered her name inquiringly.

"Judge for yourself," answered Eleanor, mildly, yet with a deep, severe meaning in her tone.

I was silent.

* * * * *

The tempest in my heart was ready to burst forth again; but she, my guardian angel, soothed it for me.

"She is much changed; sorrow and sickness—for she, too, has had the fever, and, alas! less resignation or peace within, than those who love her would have wished to see—have worn her down. Little remains now of that loveliness—"

"Which I idolized in my folly!"

"Thank God, thank God! that you see that at last: I knew it all along. I knew that there was nothing there for your heart to rest upon—nothing to satisfy your intellect—and, therefore, I tried to turn you from your dream. I did it harshly, angrily, too sharply, yet not explicitly enough. I ought to have made allowances for you. I should have known how enchanting, intoxicating, mere outward perfections must have been to one of your perceptions, shut out so long as you had been from the beautiful in art and nature. But I was cruel. Alas! I had not then learnt to sympathize; and I have often since felt with terror that I, too, may have many of your sins to answer for; that I, even I, helped to drive you on to bitterness and despair."

"Oh, do not say so! You have done to me, meant to me, nothing but good."