He had eaten nothing since the morning, and felt like one in a calm ethereal dream as he walked home to Weelset in the soft dusk of an evening that would never be night, but die into the day. No one saw him enter the house, no one met him on the ancient spiral stair, as, with apprehensive anticipation, he sought the drawing-room.

He had just set his foot on the little landing by its door when a wild scream came from the room. He flung the door open and darted in. His mother rushed into his arms, enveloped from foot to head in a cone of fire. She was making, in wild flight, for the stair, to reach which would have been death to her. Francis held her fast, but she struggled so wildly that he had actually to throw her on the floor ere he could do anything to deliver her. Then he flung on her the rug, the table-cover, his coat, and one of the window-curtains, tearing it fiercely from the rings. Having got all these close around her, he rang the bell with an alarm-peal, but had to ring three times, for service in that house was deadened by frequent fury of summons. Two of the maids — there was no man-servant in the house now — laid their mistress on a mattress and carried her to her room. Gordon's hands and arms were so severely burned 254 that he could do nothing beyond directing: he thought he had never felt pain before.

The doctor was sent for, and came speedily. Having examined them, he said Mrs. Gordon's injuries would have caused him no anxiety but for her habits: their consequences might be very serious, and every possible care must be taken of her.

Disabled as he was, Francis sat by her till the morning; and the night's nursing did far more for himself than for his mother. For, as he saw how she suffered, and interpreted her moans by what he had felt and was still feeling in his own hands and arms, a great pity awoke in him. What a lost life his mother's had been! Was this to be the end of it? The old kindness she had shown him in his childhood and youth, especially when he was in any bodily trouble, came back upon him, and a new love, gathering up in it all the intermittent love of days long gone by, sprang to life in his heart, and he saw that the one thing given him to do was to deliver his mother.

The task seemed, if not easy, yet far from irksome, so long as she continued incapable of resisting; annoying, or deceiving him; but the time speedily came when he perceived that the continuous battle rather than war of duty and inclination must be fought and in some measure won in himself ere he could hope to stir up any smallest skirmish of sacred warfare in the soul of his mother. What added to the acerbities of this preliminary war was, that the very nature of the contest required actions which showed not only unbecoming in a son, but mean and disgraceful in themselves. There was no pride, pomp, or 255 circumstance of glorious war in this poor, domestic strife, this seemingly sordid and unheroic, miserably unheroic, yet high, eternal contest! Now that Francis was awake to his duty, the best of his nature awoke to meet its calls, and he drew upon a growing store of love for strength to thwart the desires of her he loved. "Entire affection hateth nicer hands," and Francis learned not to mind looking penurious and tyrannical, selfish, heartless, and unsympathetic, in the endeavor to be truly loving and lovingly true. He had not Kirsty to support him, but he could now go higher than to Kirsty for the help he needed; he went to the same fountain from which Kirsty herself drew her strength. At the same time frequent thought of her filled him with glad assurance of her sympathy, which was in itself a wondrous aid. He neither saw nor sought to see her: he would not go near her before at least she already knew from other sources what would give her the hope that he was trying to do right.

The gradually approaching strife between mother and son burst out the same moment in which the devilish thirst awoke to its cruel tyranny. It was a mercy to both of them that it re-asserted itself while yet the mother was helpless toward any indulgence of her passion. Francis was no longer afraid of her, but it was the easier because of her condition, although not the less painful for him to frustrate her desire. Neither did it make it the less painful that already her countenance, which the outward fire had not half so much disfigured as that which she herself had applied inwardly, had begun to remind him of the face he had long ago loved a little, but this only 256 made him if possible, yet more determined that not one shilling of his father's money should go to the degradation of his mother. That she lusted and desired to have, was the worst of reasons why she should obtain! A compelled temperance was of course in itself worthless, but that alone could give opportunity for the waking of what soul was left her. Puny as it was, that might then begin to grow; it might become aware of the bondage to which it had been subjected, and begin to long for liberty.

In carrying out his resolution, Francis found it specially hard to fight, along with the bad in his mother, the good in himself: the lower forms of love rose against the higher, and had to be put down. To see the scintillation of his mother's eyes at the sound of any liquid, and know how easily he could give her an hour of false happiness, tore his heart, while her fierce abuse hardly passed the portals of his brain. Her condition was so pitiful that her words could not make him angry. She would declare it was he who set her clothes on fire, and as soon as she was up again she would publish to the world what a coward and sneak he showed himself from morning to night. Had Francis been what he once was, his mother and he must soon have come as near absolute hatred as is possible to the human; but he was now so different that the worst answer he ever gave her was,

"Mother, you know you don't mean it!"

"I mean it with all my heart and soul, Francis," she replied, glaring at him.

He stooped to kiss her on the forehead. She struck him on the face so that the blood sprang. He 257 went back a step, and stood looking at her sadly as he wiped it away.

"Crying!" she said. "You always were a coward, Francis!"

The word had no more any sting for him.

"I'm all right mother. My nose got in the way!" he answered, restoring his handkerchief to his pocket.

''It's the doctor puts him up to it!" said Mrs. Gordon to herself. "We shall soon be rid of him now! If there's any more of this nonsense then, I shall have to shut Francis up again! That will teach him how to behave to his mother!"

When at length Mrs. Gordon was able to go about the house again, it was at once to discover that things were not to be as they had been. Then deepened the combat, and at the same time assumed aspects and occasioned situations which in the eye of the world would have seemed even ludicrously unbecoming. The battle of the warrior is with confused noise and garments rolled in blood, but how much harder and worthier battles are fought, not in shining armor, but amid filth and squalor, physical as well as moral, on a field of wretched and wearisome commonplace!

It was essential to success that there should be no traitor among the servants, and Francis had made them understand what his measures were. Nor was there in this any betrayal of a mother's weakness, for Mrs. Gordon's had long been more than patent to all about her. When, therefore, he one day found her, for the first time, under the influence of strong drink, he summoned them, and told them that, sooner 258 than fail of his end, he would part with the whole household, and should be driven to it if no one revealed how the thing had come to pass. Thereupon the youngest, a mere girl, burst into tears, and confessed that she had procured the whisky. Hardly thinking it possible his mother should have money in her possession, so careful was he to prevent it, he questioned, and found that she had herself provided the half-crown required, and that her mistress had given her in return a valuable brooch, an heirloom, which was hers only to wear, not to give. He took this from her, repaid her the half-crown, gave her her wages up to the next term, and sent Mrs. Bremner home with her immediately. Her father being one of his own tenants, he rode to his place the next morning, laid before him the whole matter, and advised him to keep the girl at home for a year or two.

This one evil success gave such a stimulus to Mrs. Gordon's passion, that her rage which had been abating a little, blazed up at once as fierce as at first. Miserable as the whole thing was, and trying as he found the necessary watchfulness, Gordon held out bravely. At the end of six months, however, during which no fresh indulgence had been possible to her, he had not gained the least ground for hoping that any poorest growth of strength, or even any waking of desire toward betterment, had taken place in her.

All this time he had not been once to Corbyknowe. He had nevertheless been seeing David Barclay three or four times a week. For Francis had told David how he stood with Kirsty, and how, while refusing 259 him, she had shown him his duty to his mother. He told him also that he now saw things with other eyes, and was endeavoring to do what was right; but he dared not speak to her on the subject, lest she should think, as she would, after what had passed between them, be well justified in thinking, that he was doing for her sake what ought to be done for its own. He said to him that, as he was no man of business, and must give his best attention to his mother, he found it impossible for the present to acquaint himself with the state of the property, or indeed attend to it in any serviceable manner; and he begged him, as his father's friend and his own, to look into his affairs, and, so far as his other duties would permit, place things on at least a better footing.

To this petition David had at once and gladly consented.

He found everything connected with the property in a sad condition. The agent, although honest, was weak, and had so given way to Mrs. Gordon that much havoc had been made, and much money wasted. He was now in bad health, and had lost all heart for his work. But he had turned nothing to his own advantage, and was quite ready, under David's supervision, to do his best for the restoration of order, and the curtailing of expenses.

All that David now saw in his intercourse with the young laird, went to convince him that he was at length a man of conscience, cherishing steady purposes. He reported at home what he saw, and said what he believed, and his wife and daughter perceived plainly that his heart was lighter than it had been for many a day. Kirsty listened, said little, 260 asked a question here and there, and thanked God. For her father brought her not only the good news that Francis was doing his best for his mother, but that he had begun to open his eyes to the fact that he had his part in the wellbeing of all on his land; that the property was not his for the filling of his pockets, or for the carrying out of schemes of his own, but for the general and individual comfort and progress.

"I do believe," said David, " the yoong laird wud fain mak o' the lan's o' Weelset a spot whauron the e'en o' the bonny man micht rist as He gaed by!"

Mrs. Gordon's temper seemed for a time to have changed from fierce to sullen, but by degrees she began to show herself not altogether indifferent to the continuous attentions of her inexorable son. It is true she received them as her right, but he yielded her a right immeasurably beyond that she would have claimed. He would play draughts or cribbage with her for hours at a time, and every day for months read to her as long as she would listen — read Scott and Dickens and Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade.

One day, after much entreaty, she consented to go out for a drive with him, when round to the door came a beautiful new carriage, and such a pair of horses as she could not help expressing satisfaction with. Francis told her they were at her command, but if ever she took unfair advantage of them, he would send both carriage and horses away.

She was furious at his daring to speak so to her, and had almost returned to her room, but thought better of it and went with him. She did not, however, speak a word to him the whole way. The next 261 morning he let her go alone. After that, he sometimes went with her, and sometimes not: the desire of his heart was to behold her a free woman.

She was quite steady for a while, and her spirits began to return. The hopes of her son rose high; he almost ceased to fear.

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