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BALANCING THE BOOKS.-A TALE OF NEW YEAR'S EVE.
BY JONATHAN FREKE SLINGSBY.
Of all the changes that seasons and elements work on the fair face of nature, I know none so complete and so sudden, as that wrought by a snow-fall at night. The last glimpse which we caught yesterday evening of the world without us, as the grey-headed butler closed the shutters and drew the curtains, exhibited to us the lawn of Castle Slingsby, still dressed in the robes of nature, worn out and faded as they were. The long, coarse grass, rotted by the rains, and blanched by the wind, waved in the whistling blast of the evening, while, in another place, a rich sheltered nook continued still to make a very respectable sbow of green, struggling on through the assaults of winter, that it might be able to meet the next spring with an appearance of healthfulness and verdure, just as we see some old beaux about town, making themselves up, and taking all manner of care of themselves, that they may come out strong for the next campaign. More distant still, we caught a peep of the rich, brown mould of the bloughed field, through which the blade of the young corn had not yet come up, and beyond the next hedge lay the yet unbroken ridges, yellow since the preceding autumn ; and, at the other side, were the sheep-pastures, with the grass cropt down short and bare, with here and there a spot round which the sheep were gathered, covered with the green food which the providence of the farmer had treasured up for the time when “ the earth giveth not her increase.” The dregriness of winter, too, was chequered by the unfading green of the various tribes of the fir-trees that still kept up a look of cheeriness and comfort-Mark Taplers in their own way, coming out jolly under their trials. Ilow warm and lasty they looked amid the sapless poles and bare branches of ash, and elm, and beech-tree. The holly, and the myrtles, too, how snug they looked in their lowly estate. never envying their lordly neighbours, when the blast went by and shook their proud heads, and stripped them of their glory. A leaf or two still lingered in seared brightness upon the oak and copper-beech; shrivelled and red, it tivisted upon its stem, and with the next blast fell twirling to the ground amongst its dead companions. Beyond all, and closing in the landscape, as we took our last look at it, stood the far-away blue hills, standing out sharply against the frosty sky. But when the shutters were closed, and the curtains drawn, and we sat in the early night round the blazing hearth, we took little note of what the north-west wind, and the dull, cloudy heavens, were working for me without. When we looked out the next morning, through the same windows, how changed was the scene of the day before! The diinmed sun struggled rainly to pierce the heavy clouds from which the thick snow fell like a Shite mist contracting the view on every side. The varied hues of earth. the chanceful face of nature, light and shadow, cloud and sunshine, all were hidden from the eye. It would seem as though during the night Nature had did and morning's light beheld her arrayed, by unseen spirits, in her pallid deathd Trackless snows lay on all around, concealing pasture, and fallow, and
vering alike with its white mantle green shrubs and bare branches, as Thandiscriminating grave does alike the aged dead and him who falls in the vigour of his manhood.
Snowed up, by Jupiter!" cried old Jonathan Freke. “There'll be nothing VOL. XLVII.-NO. CCLXXVII.
for it I guess, to-day, but cheroots and one's feet on the hobs. Saul, do you know how to make jin-sling or cocktaill? ---capital things in cold weather.”
“ No,” said Saul"; “ but Mrs. Sampson is famous for cherry-bounce. Well, Abigail, there's an end to your projected pilgrimage to the fairy-well.”
"And for my walk to Carrigbawn,” said I.
“ Just the day for the newspapers, or a page of Horace," said Professor Chubble, who, of course, affected classicality. “Vides, ut alta stet nive candi
" Or for a story," said I, remembering the Professor's talent that way. “Yes, provided you tell it," retorted he, somewhat maliciously.
“ A challenge, a challenge !" said Uncle Saul; “ the Professor is entitled to call upon you."
“ Well," said I, “ I accept the challenge. Give me till noon." “ Agreed.”
When noon came, the wind had shifted to the east, the sun broke through the sky, and scattering the humid clouds, shone down brightly on the world's vast and dreary expanse, all white, yet sublime and solemn in its monotony with the hills, standing close around, like white-robed giants. So we all went out for a walk, and, by common consent, I obtained a respite till evening. When the candles were lighted, and we drew round the fire, we all filled our glasses, and I told them this story
" THERE's something in those figures that I can't make out at all,” said Goggles, giving his wig a poke that set it all awry.
“ The devil's in them !" said Kennedy impatiently.
"I don't know as to that, sir,” replied the clerk, who never admitted anything in an account that was not capable of arithmetical demonstration, and not knowing the precise numeri. cal value of Satan, on the debit side of a merchant's books (I don't think he even knew “ the number of the beast"), he contented bimself with saying, “I don't know that, sir; but whatever it be, I'll find it out, with the blessing of God, before I go to bed to-night."
And so he drew down his spectacles once more upon his nose, and fell to work at the rebellious figures, mutterindistinctly to himself in the process of os totting;" while Kennedy, tilting backwards the high stool upon which he sat, till his shoulders rested against the wall behind him, began swinging his pendant legs to and fro. At first the movement was rapid and impa, tient, but by degrees it became slow and regular. One would say it had a tranquillising effect upon the man; for after a little he laid his right hand upon his chin, supporting the elbow with his left palm, and turning his eyes towards the ceiling, with a sigh, he gave bimself up to some reverie or another.
While the merchant is inusing, and the clerk is at his “ tot," let us look
at the picture before us. We shall have time enough to take in all the principal objects, and mark the lights and shades, before Goggles is half-way down that long page of three columns -pounds, shillings, and pence.
You see a square room, not over lofty, and rather dingy. There is a bluish-grey paper, veined and marked into squares in the pattern, to imitate marble ; its continuity is sadly marred by the insertion of a large iron safe in the wall, shelves, filled with account-books, a sheet almanack, and several filasses suspended from nails, upon which are invoices, bills of lading, and such other papers as form the decoration of a merchant's of. fice; against the wall, opposite the fireplace, stands an antique bureau, with drawers beneath and a slanting top, while an old-fashioned leatherbottomed chair flanks it at either side. There is a large, high, double-desk, one end of which is set close to the window; upon the top of it are two heavy brass candlesticks, the lights from which (for it is night) throw a partial illumination over the apartment, and bring out the two men, who are sitting one at each side of the desk, in strong relief. The face of the merchant is upturned, and so it catches all the light; we can read that face as we would read a book. The forehead is broad, and goes sheer up like a wall, till it meets the black hair, now some. what grizzled ; dark hazel eyes, full of restless light, that bespeak a quick, irascible temper; the crow's-feet are gathering around the outward angles of the eye-lids, and the sallow jaws show a wrinkle or two; but the man has a good full chest and muscular limbs. You may affirm that the world bas not gone altogether wrong with him, thougb, perhaps, he has had his cares, too, that have scattered the white in his hair, and traced the wrin kle on his face, ere he had passed his fortieth year. And this is Laurence Kennedy, a thriving export merchant in this our good city of Dublin, such as export merchants were sixty years ago. And now look at his vis-a-vis. What 2 mannikin it is! The little fellow, 28 he sits perched on that high office. stool, in his suit of rusty black, looks Inore like a jackdaw than a reasonable specimen of the genus “homo." His face is bent down over his book, but you can see enough of it to perceive that it bears a strong affinity in colour to the tallow candle just near it. There, however, the resemblance ceases ; the face has none of the smoothness of the candle, for it is diced all over with deep pits, which the smallpox had dis tributed with a lavish and impartial hand upon every feature. His weak, grey, fringeless eyes are protected with a pair of horn-framed green spectacles, the bow of which is cushioned with a wrapping of green worsted ; and as he was never seen without these (it was even said that they mounted guard apon his nose while he slept), Robert Goggin had acquired the sobriquet of “ Bob Goggles," with his equals, shortened into “ Goggles," by his intimate friends and superiors. But who could take upon himself to pronounce upon the age of Goggles. In good faith, you could not venture with in a score years of it. He might be under thirty-he might be over sixty. The lean body, and wiry, thin limbs gave you no clue; they would suit equally a hobbledehoy, whose carcase was not yet filled up, or an old man, who was in process of shrivelling: then you looked in vain to the face--that cuticle of dead parchment showed no flush of young healthy blood, reddening beneath its surface, no wrinkle or seam of years, where, in a few weeks, Disease had done the work of Time, in the way of ruggedness: there were no whiskers-it might be that they had hot come yet, it might be that they had passed away, uprooted by the blight
of the variola : then, as a forlorn hope, you looked at his head; there you were as much at fault as ever, the skull was covered with a bay wig. No doubt, if you chucked off the wig you would find a bald head underneath : but what of that ? - the hair of the head might have shared the fate of the whiskers, and so you may as well give the matter up, or rather come to the conclusion that Bob Goggles is, like all unmarried ladies, just no age in particular. Nevertheless, Bob Goggles has a certain definite age, capable of being expressed by figures, as he would himself demonstrate, and was born upon a particular day and year, more than sixty years before the night upon which we are now looking at him; and for over thirty of those sixty years has he sat upon that self-same stool, in that self-same countinghouse_first as clerk to old William Kennedy, and latterly as clerk to Laurence, his son, all that time looking neither younger nor older than he does at this present moment. And there is nobody now who can tell whether he ever looked younger, and nobody can yet divine whether he will ever look older ; for they who tended him in infancy, and sported with him in childhood, are all passed away; and they who shall stretch out his little limbs, when they are stiffening in death, and gather round him upon the wakenight-God knows who they are at all events they are not here to answer the question.
And so Kennedy went on thinking, and Goggles went on totting; and all was silent around them, save the ticking of the clock in the hall outside, or the bubbling sound of the bright gasjet, which now and then streamed out from the seacoal tire, for 'twas a cold, hard wintry night, and the snow had been falling all the day. At length the tones of the neighbouring clock-bell of St. Nicholas's Church rang out ten peals. The sounds seemed to break the thread of the merchant's thoughts; he hitched himself from the wall, brought the stool again upon its four legs, and, reaching down a folio from the shelf near him, he opened it at a particular page, upon the top of which was writteil. Laurence Kennedy in account with M- L- ."
“ Goggles, how do you make out my account with M- L -? Look at the entry, will you ?"
Goggles made a deprecating move
ment with his hand, while he continued his tot. When he had got safe through the column of figures, he paused, and, turning back a few pages, found the required entry.
“ Seven hundred and fifty pounds in the four per cents., and five hundred in Grand Canals."
“ All right," said the merchant “ Did you bring out the interest ?"
“ Yes; on the stock to this, 31st of December. The canals will give no dividend."
- We'll sell them out, Goggles, and debit myself with the loss. I shouldn't have laid out trust moneys in such security.”
"It's no great matter," said the clerk. “ I fear you'll never be called to give any account of principal or interest.”
“God knows, Goggles-God knows. Ten years—ten long years last mid. summer since I placed that money to that account, and all that time I have turned it to the best advantage; and there it is now, nearly doubled, and no one to claim it.Oh, how heavily that sum weighs down upon my heart, like lead. Oh, that I had never retained it! Oh, how gladly would I render it back this night, and so balance this black account, and wipe it from my books and from my conscience; but it may not be I fear it may not be."
Goggles laid down bis pen gently, and elevated the spectacles from his nose till they rested on his forehead, as a knight of old would throw up the visor of his helmet-'twas a trick he had, when he was about saying or doing anything emphatic—a symbo. lical intimation that he was going to use some other organ than his eyes.
- You must not take it so much to heart, sir-indeed you must not. You have done all that man could do to set things right. Have you not adver. tised everywhere ?--have you not had half the world searched ? "Tis the will of God, sir ; there's no use struggling against the will of God."
The will of God !" repeated Kennedy, bitterly. “No; not the will of God, but the will of my own hasty, ungovernable temper, that resisted the will of God - that sent her forth a beggar, and defrauded her of her right; when the will of God, had I done it, would have made me just, at all events, ay, and merciful and tender - hearted. Ay, 1 thrust her out, and sbe went forth an exile, with
my curse upon herma curse that has returned upon myself tenfold into my bosom. That curse bas blighted iny hearth, and swept away all my little ones-all but that one poor fragile child; so like her, too, that God leaves her to upbraid me with her gentle uncomplaining face. That curse withers my heart through life, and will weigh upon my soul in the hour of death_weighing it down with the curse of Cain the curse of that blood that crieth to God out of the ground !"
The merchant buried his face in his hands, and groaned in the bitterness of his spirit. After a moment's silence Goggles gently ventured a word or two of consolation.
“ You judge yourself too severely, dear sir ; God knows you do. If you withheld the money, you withheld only what no law could compel you to give. Hasty you were, no doubt, and harsh if you will, but no murderer, neither in thought nor in deed ; neither in the sight of God or man."
Kennedy raised his head, and looked fixedly and sadly upon the face of the little man.
“When I refused her the pittance tbat should have been her's — when I swore that I would never see or speak to him again, she took from her pocket her bible_ber Protestant bi. ble - and, sobbing and weeping, she read these words to me :
"Whoso hateth his brother is a murderer,and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him;' and then sbe laid her hand upon me with such solemn and most earnest deprecation, that I shuddered though I did not yield, and she read again :
"But whoso hath this world's goods and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him.'
"I remember every word, for they burnt into my brain; but I grew obdurate and incensed, and again I swore, that he or his should never dwell beneath the same roof with me."
" It was wrong of you, indeed, sir, and not what you would have done if you gave your passion time to cool down ; but you bave repented long and sincerely-you are no murderer, sir. There will be no such debit against you when the books are made up at the great account."
. The merchant shook his head mourn. fully,