Robert Turner's Revenge by Lucy Maud Montgomery
When Robert Turner came to the green, ferny triangle where the station road forked to the right and left under the birches, he hesitated as to which direction he would take. The left led out to the old Turner homestead, where he had spent his boyhood and where his cousin still lived; the right led down to the Cove shore where the Jameson property was situated. Since he had stopped off at Chiswick for the purpose of looking this property over before foreclosing the mortgage on it he concluded that he might as well take the Cove road; he could go around by the shore afterward--he had not forgotten the way even in forty years--and so on up through the old spruce wood in Alec Martin's field--if the spruces were there still and the field still Alec Martin's--to his cousin's place. He would just about have time to make the round before the early country supper hour. Then a brief visit with Tom--Tom had always been a good sort of a fellow although woefully dull and slow-going--and the evening express for Montreal. He swung with a businesslike stride into the Cove road.
As he went on, however, the stride insensibly slackened into an unaccustomed saunter. How well he remembered that old road, although it was forty years since he had last traversed it, a set-lipped boy of fifteen, cast on the world by the indifference of an uncle. The years had made surprisingly little difference in it or in the surrounding scenery. True, the hills and fields and lanes seemed lower and smaller and narrower than he remembered them; there were some new houses along the road, and the belt of woods along the back of the farms had become thinner in most places. But that was all. He had no difficulty in picking out the old familiar spots. There was the big cherry orchard on the Milligan place which had been so famous in his boyhood. It was snow-white with blossoms, as if the trees were possessed of eternal youth; they had been in blossom the last time he had seen them. Well, time had not stood still with him as it had with Luke Milligan's cherry orchard, he reflected grimly. His springtime had long gone by.
The few people he met on the road looked at him curiously, for strangers were not commonplace in Chiswick. He recognized some of the older among them but none of them knew him. He had been an awkward, long-limbed lad with fresh boyish colour and crisp black curls when he had left Chiswick. He returned to it a somewhat portly figure of a man, with close-cropped, grizzled hair, and a face that looked as if it might be carved out of granite, so immobile and unyielding it was--the face of a man who never faltered or wavered, who stuck at nothing that might advance his plans and purposes, a face known and dreaded in the business world where he reigned master. It was a cold, hard, selfish face, but the face of the boy of forty years ago had been neither cold nor hard nor selfish.
Presently the homesteads and orchard lands grew fewer and then ceased altogether. The fields were long and low-lying, sloping down to the misty blue rim of sea. A turn of the road brought him in sudden sight of the Cove, and there below him was the old Jameson homestead, built almost within wave-lap of the pebbly shore and shut away into a lonely grey world of its own by the sea and sands and those long slopes of tenantless fields.
He paused at the sagging gate that opened into the long, deep-rutted lane and, folding his arms on it, looked earnestly and scrutinizingly over the buildings. They were grey and faded, lacking the prosperous appearance that had characterized them once. There was an air of failure about the whole place as if the very land had become disheartened and discouraged.
Long ago, Neil Jameson, senior, had been a well-to-do man. The big Cove farm had been one of the best in Chiswick then. As for Neil Jameson, Junior, Robert Turner's face always grew something grimmer when he recalled him--the one person, boy and man, whom he had really hated in the world. They had been enemies from childhood, and once in a bout of wrestling at the Chiswick school Neil had thrown him by an unfair trick and taunted him continually thereafter on his defeat. Robert had made a compact with himself that some day he would pay Neil Jameson back. He had not forgotten it--he never forgot such things--but he had never seen or heard of Neil Jameson after leaving Chiswick. He might have been dead for anything Robert Turner knew. Then, when John Kesley failed and his effects turned over to his creditors, of whom Robert Turner was the chief, a mortgage on the Cove farm at Chiswick, owned by Neil Jameson, had been found among his assets. Inquiry revealed the fact that Neil Jameson was dead and that the farm was run by his widow. Turner felt a pang of disappointment. What satisfaction was there in wreaking revenge on a dead man? But at least his wife and children should suffer. That debt of his to Jameson for an ill-won victory and many a sneer must be paid in full, if not to him, why, then to his heirs.
His lawyers reported that Mrs. Jameson was two years behind with her interest. Turner instructed them to foreclose the mortgage promptly. Then he took it into his head to revisit Chiswick and have a good look at the Cove farm and other places he knew so well. He had a notion that it might be a decent place to spend a summer month or two in. His wife went to seaside and mountain resorts, but he liked something quieter. There was good fishing at the Cove and in Chiswick pond, as he remembered. If he liked the farm as well as his memory promised him he would do, he would bid it in himself. It would make Neil Jameson turn in his grave if the penniless lad he had jeered at came into the possession of his old ancestral property that had been owned by a Jameson for over one hundred years. There was a flavour in such a revenge that pleased Robert Turner. He smiled one of his occasional grim smiles over it. When Robert Turner smiled, weather prophets of the business sky foretold squalls.
Presently he opened the gate and went through. Halfway down the lane forked, one branch going over to the house, the other slanting across the field to the cove. Turner took the latter and soon found himself on the grey shore where the waves were tumbling in creamy foam just as he remembered them long ago. Nothing about the old cove had changed; he walked around a knobby headland, weather-worn with the wind and spray of years, which cut him off from sight of the Jameson house, and sat down on a rock. He thought himself alone and was annoyed to find a boy sitting on the opposite ledge with a book on his knee.
The lad lifted his eyes and looked Turner over with a clear, direct gaze. He was about twelve years old, tall for his age, slight, with a delicate, clear-cut face--a face that was oddly familiar to Turner, although he was sure he had never seen it before. The boy had oval cheeks, finely tinted with colour, big, shy blue eyes quilled about with long black lashes, and silvery-golden hair lying over his head in soft ringlets like a girl's. What girl's? Something far back in Robert Turner's dreamlike boyhood seemed to call to him like a note of a forgotten melody, sweet yet stirring like a pain. The more he looked at the boy the stronger the impression of a resemblance grew in every feature but the mouth. That was alien to his recollection of the face, yet there was something about it, when taken by itself, that seemed oddly familiar also--yes, and unpleasantly familiar, although the mouth was a good one--finely cut and possessing more firmness than was found in all the other features put together.
"It's a good place for reading, sonny, isn't it?" he inquired, more genially than he had spoken to a child for years. In fact, having no children of his own, he so seldom spoke to a child that his voice and manner when he did so were generally awkward and rusty.
The boy nodded a quick little nod. Somehow, Turner had expected that nod and the glimmer of a smile that accompanied it.
"What book are you reading?" he asked.
The boy held it out; it was an old Robinson Crusoe, that classic of boyhood.
"It's splendid," he said. "Billy Martin lent it to me and I have to finish it today because Ned Josephs is to have it next and he's in a hurry for it."
"It's a good while since I read Robinson Crusoe," said Turner reflectively. "But when I did it was on this very shore a little further along below the Miller place. There was a Martin and a Josephs in the partnership then too--the fathers, I dare say, of Billy and Ned. What is your name, my boy?"
"Paul Jameson, sir."
The name was a shock to Turner. This boy a Jameson--Neil Jameson's son? Why, yes, he had Neil's mouth. Strange he had nothing else in common with the black-browed, black-haired Jamesons. What business had a Jameson with those blue eyes and silvery-golden curls? It was flagrant forgery on Nature's part to fashion such things and label them Jameson by a mouth.
Hated Neil Jameson's son! Robert Turner's face grew so grey and hard that the boy involuntarily glanced upward to see if a cloud had crossed the sun.
"Your father was Neil Jameson, I suppose?" Turner said abruptly.
Paul nodded. "Yes, but he is dead. He has been dead for eight years. I don't remember him."
"Have you any brothers or sisters?"
"I have a little sister a year younger than I am. The other four are dead. They died long ago. I'm the only boy Mother had. Oh, I do so wish I was bigger and older! If I was I could do something to save the place--I'm sure I could. It is breaking Mother's heart to have to leave it."
"So she has to leave it, has she?" said Turner grimly, with the old hatred stirring in his heart.
"Yes. There is a mortgage on it and we're to be sold out very soon--so the lawyers told us. Mother has tried so hard to make the farm pay but she couldn't. I could if I was bigger--I know I could. If they would only wait a few years! But there is no use hoping for that. Mother cries all the time about it. She has lived at the Cove farm for over thirty years and she says she can't live away from it now. Elsie--that's my sister--and I do all we can to cheer her up, but we can't do much. Oh, if I was only a man!"
The lad shut his lips together--how much his mouth was like his father's--and looked out seaward with troubled blue eyes. Turner smiled another grim smile. Oh, Neil Jameson, your old score was being paid now!
Yet something embittered the sweetness of revenge. That boy's face--he could not hate it as he had accustomed himself to hate the memory of Neil Jameson and all connected with him.
"What was your mother's name before she married your father?" he demanded abruptly.
"Lisbeth Miller," answered the boy, still frowning seaward over his secret thoughts.
Turner started again. Lisbeth Miller! He might have known it. What woman in all the world save Lisbeth Miller could have given her son those eyes and curls? So Lisbeth had married Neil Jameson--little Lisbeth Miller, his schoolboy sweetheart. He had forgotten her--or thought he had; certainly he had not thought of her for years. But the memory of her came back now with a rush.
Little Lisbeth--pretty little Lisbeth--merry little Lisbeth! How clearly he remembered her! The old Miller place had adjoined his uncle's farm. Lisbeth and he had played together from babyhood. How he had worshipped her! When they were six years old they had solemnly promised to marry each other when they grew up, and Lisbeth had let him kiss her as earnest of their compact, made under a bloom-white apple tree in the Miller orchard. Yet she would always blush furiously and deny it ever afterwards; it made her angry to be reminded of it.
He saw himself going to school, carrying her books for her, the envied of all the boys. He remembered how he had fought Tony Josephs because Tony had the presumption to bring her spice apples: he had thrashed him too, so soundly that from that time forth none of the schoolboys presumed to rival him in Lisbeth's affections--roguish little Lisbeth! who grew prettier and saucier every year.
He recalled the keen competition of the old days when to be "head of the class" seemed the highest honour within mortal reach, and was striven after with might and main. He had seldom attained to it because he would never "go up past" Lisbeth. If she missed a word, he, Robert, missed it too, no matter how well he knew it. It was sweet to be thought a dunce for her dear sake. It was all the reward he asked to see her holding her place at the head of the class, her cheeks flushed pink and her eyes starry with her pride of position. And how sweetly she would lecture him on the way home from school about learning his spellings better, and wind up her sermon with the frank avowal, uttered with deliciously downcast lids, that she liked him better than any of the other boys after all, even if he couldn't spell as well as they could. Nothing of success that he had won since had ever thrilled him as that admission of little Lisbeth's!
She had been such a sympathetic little sweetheart too, never weary of listening to his dreams and ambitions, his plans for the future. She had always assured him that she knew he would succeed. Well, he had succeeded--and now one of the uses he was going to make of his success was to turn Lisbeth and her children out of their home by way of squaring matters with a dead man!
Lisbeth had been away from home on a long visit to an aunt when he had left Chiswick. She was growing up and the childish intimacy was fading. Perhaps, under other circumstances, it might have ripened into fruit, but he had gone away and forgotten her; the world had claimed him; he had lost all active remembrance of Lisbeth and, before this late return to Chiswick, he had not even known if she were living. And she was Neil Jameson's widow!
He was silent for a long time, while the waves purred about the base of the big red sandstone rock and the boy returned to his Crusoe. Finally Robert Turner roused himself from his reverie.
"I used to know your mother long ago when she was a little girl," he said. "I wonder if she remembers me. Ask her when you go home if she remembers Bobby Turner."
"Won't you come up to the house and see her, sir?" asked Paul politely. "Mother is always glad to see her old friends."
"No, I haven't time today." Robert Turner was not going to tell Neil Jameson's son that he did not care to look for the little Lisbeth of long ago in Neil Jameson's widow. The name spoiled her for him, just as the Jameson mouth spoiled her son for him. "But you may tell her something else. The mortgage will not be foreclosed. I was the power behind the lawyers, but I did not know that the present owner of the Cove farm was my little playmate, Lisbeth Miller. You and she shall have all the time you want. Tell her Bobby Turner does this in return for what she gave him under the big sweeting apple tree on her sixth birthday. I think she will remember and understand. As for you, Paul, be a good boy and good to your mother. I hope you'll succeed in your ambition of making the farm pay when you are old enough to take it in hand. At any rate, you'll not be disturbed in your possession of it."
"Oh, sir! oh, sir!" stammered Paul in an agony of embarrassed gratitude and delight. "Oh, it seems too good to be true. Do you really mean that we're not to be sold out? Oh, won't you come and tell Mother yourself? She'll be so happy--so grateful. Do come and let her thank you."
"Not today. I haven't time. Give her my message, that's all. There, run; the sooner she gets the news the better."
Turner watched the boy as he bounded away, until the headland hid him from sight.
"There goes my revenge--and a fine bit of property eminently suited for a summer residence--all for a bit of old, rusty sentiment," he said with a shrug. "I didn't suppose I was capable of such a mood. But then--little Lisbeth. There never was a sweeter girl. I'm glad I didn't go with the boy to see her. She's an old woman now--and Neil Jameson's widow. I prefer to keep my old memories of her undisturbed--little Lisbeth of the silvery-golden curls and the roguish blue eyes. Little Lisbeth of the old time! I'm glad to be able to have done you the small service of securing your home to you. It is my thanks to you for the friendship and affection you gave my lonely boyhood--my tribute to the memory of my first sweetheart."
He walked away with a smile, whose amusement presently softened to an expression that would have amazed his business cronies. Later on he hummed the air of an old love song as he climbed the steep spruce road to Tom's.