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Pages (PDF): 517
Publication Date: 1883
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Complete 3 Volumes of Hester by Margaret Oliphant, which tells the story of the Vernon banking family.
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The Banking House of the Vernons was known through all the Home Counties as only second to the Bank of England in stability and strength. That is to say, the people who knew about such matters, the business people, the professional classes, and those who considered themselves to be acquainted with the world, allowed that it ought to be considered second: but this opinion was not shared by the greater proportion of its clients, the shopkeepers in Redborough and the adjacent towns, the farmers of a wide district, and all the smaller people whose many united littles make up so much wealth. To them Vernon's bank was the emblem of stability, the impersonation of solid and substantial wealth. It had risen to its height of fame under John Vernon, the grandfather of the present head of the firm, though it had existed for two or three generations before him. But John Vernon was one of those men in whose hands everything turns to gold. What the special gift is which determines this it is difficult to tell, but there can be little doubt that it is a special gift, just as it is a particular genius which produces a fine picture or a fine poem. There were wiser men than he, and there were men as steady to their work and as constantly in their place, ready for all the claims of business, but not one other in whose hands everything prospered in the same superlative way. His investments always answered, his ships always came home, and under his influence the very cellars of the banking-house, according to the popular imagination, filled with gold. At one period of his career a panic seized the entire district, and there was a run upon the bank, by which it was evident anybody else must, nay, ought, to have been ruined; but John Vernon was not ruined. It was understood afterwards that he himself allowed that he did not understand how he had escaped, and nobody else could understand it: but he did escape, and as a natural consequence became stronger and richer, and more universally credited than ever. His son after him had not the same genius for money, but at least he had the genius for keeping what he had got, which is next best.
Edward Vernon, however, was not so fortunate in his family as in his affairs. He had two sons, one of whom died young, leaving a little daughter to be brought up by her grandfather; the other "went wrong." Oh, never-ending family tragedy, never ending, still beginning, the darkest anguish that exists in the world! The younger son went wrong, and died also in his father's lifetime, leaving a helpless little family of children, and a poor wife stupefied with trouble. She did her best, poor soul, to bring up her boy to ways the very opposite of those in which his father had stumbled and fallen, and it was supposed that he would marry his cousin Catherine Vernon, and thus unite once more all the money and prestige of the house. He too was John Vernon, and resembled the golden great-grandfather, and great things were hoped of him. He entered the bank in old Mr. Vernon's time, and gave every promise of being a worthy successor as long as the senior partner, the head of the house, lived. But when the old gentleman died and John Vernon became in his turn the head of the house, there very soon appeared signs of change. In the first place the marriage with his cousin never came to pass; things had seemed to promise fairly so long as the grandfather with whom she lived was alive. But after, there was an immediate cooling of sentiment. Whose fault this was nobody knew. She said nothing on the subject even to her dearest friends; nor did he say anything; but he laughed and waved aside all questions as a man who "could an if he would"——. His mother, for her part, said a great deal. She ran between them like an excited hen, shaking her tail-feathers and cackling violently. What did they mean by it? What was it for? She asked her son how he could forget that if Catherine's money went out of the business it would make the most extraordinary difference? and she bade Catherine remember that it would be almost dishonest to enrich another family with money which the Vernons had toiled for. Catherine, who was not by any means an ordinary girl, smiled upon her, perhaps a little sadly, and entered into no explanations. But her son, as was natural, scoffed at his mother. "What should you know about the business?" he said. Poor Mrs. Vernon thought she had heard enough of it to understand it, or at least to understand the intentions of those who understood it. But what is the use of a mother's remonstrances? The new generation will please itself and take its way. She scolded and wept for years after, poor soul, in vain, and yet could never learn that it was in vain, but began anew day after day weeping, entreating, remonstrating, falling into nervous crises of passion a hundred and a hundred times over. How much better for her to have held her tongue! but how could she help it? She was not of that placid and patient nature which can be wise. And gradually things began to go badly with John. He married a young lady belonging to a county family, but with no money to keep up her pretensions. He had his stables full of horses and his house full of company. "What is it all to come to?" cried his poor, anxious, angry, disappointed, despairing mother, seeking opportunities to have a few words with him, to speak to him seriously, to remind him of his duty. To be sure she did a great deal more harm than good. She drew many a blow upon herself which she might have escaped had she been content to allow that his life had passed far beyond her guidance; but the poor lady would not be taught.
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