BROTHER AND SISTER

The father and mother retired first, then Helen. John seated himself
in the farmer’s large arm-chair, and looked at Rhoda as she sat on the
other side of the fire. These after-supper talks had been a custom with
them in the old days. The sister knew by her brother’s glance that he
understood her mood, and was prepared for a long chat.

It is a trying thing for a woman that a man will seldom begin a
subject, however full his heart may be of it. He will wait, with
indomitable patience, until she speaks the first word, and after
that he will go on glibly enough. Rhoda first learned to understand
something of man’s nature by studying John, and she knew perfectly well
that she should never get a sentence out of him unless she broke the
silence.

“Well,” she said at last, with a little movement of impatience, “this
is a miserable business. I never thought that I should come back to the
old home and find the wife and child of a felon comfortably settled in
it. But there is no end to sin–no limit to the audacity of criminals.
It is not enough for Robert Clarris to rob his employer, he must also
thrust his own lawful burdens on other folks’ shoulders.”

“When one commits a crime,” replied John gravely, “one never foresees
what it entails. When Clarris found that discovery was inevitable, he
came home to his wife and asked her to fly with him. But she would not
go—-”

“How could she go?” interrupted Rhoda indignantly. “Think of her
condition, and of the misery and disgrace of following his fortunes. He
is a base man indeed.”




John moved uneasily in his chair, and kept his eyes fixed on the
burning log in the grate. More than once his lips opened and shut
again.

“I suppose you’ll be very hard on me,” he said at length, “if I own
that I’ve a sort of tenderness for this poor sinner. I don’t mean to
make light of his crime, but I believe that when he took the money he
intended to pay it back.”

“Oh, John,” said Rhoda severely, “I am really ashamed of you! What has
come to your moral perceptions? There is a saying that the way to hell
is paved with good intentions;–of course this man will try to excuse
himself. The world has got into a habit of petting its criminals, and
it is one of the worst signs of the times. As Mrs. Elton used to say,
it would be well if we could have the good old days back again!”

“The good old days when men were hung for sheep-stealing, and starving
women were sentenced to death for taking a loaf!” retorted John with
unusual heat. “How I hate to hear that cant about the good old days!
And when the gallows and the pillory and the stocks were so busy, did
they stop the Mohawks in their fiendish pranks at night? or did they
put down the Gordon riots till the mob had begun to sack and pillage
London? I am glad the world is changed, and I hope it will go on
changing.”

“If we change from over-severity to over-mercy, we shall just have to
go back to over-severity again,” replied Rhoda.

“No, Rhoda,” he said more calmly. “By that time we shall have got to
the days ‘when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as
the waters cover the seas.'”

Rhoda looked at her brother and wondered. These were strange words to
hear from a young man living in a Hampshire village, where everything
seemed to be standing still. There was no more talk that night. It was
evident to Rhoda that John had shot ahead of her in the road of life.
Not being able to say whether he were in a bad way or a good way, she
said nothing and went to bed.

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