STANLEY J. WEYMAN
ACCORDINGLY a week later, discarding the Tilbury and smart man-servant that he
had lately set up, Ovington rode over to Garth, considering as he journeyed the man whom he was going to meet and of whom, in spite of his self-assurance, he stood in some awe.
Round Aldersbury were larger landowners and richer men than the Squire. But his family and his name were old, and by virtue of long possession he stood high among the gentry of the County. He had succeeded at twentytwo to a property neglected and loaded with debt, and his father’s friends—this was far back in the old King’s reign— had advised him to sell; let him keep the house and the home-farm and pay his debts with the rest. But pride of race was strong in him, he had seen that to sell was to lower the position which his forefathers had held, and he had refused. Instead he had set himself to free the estate, and he had pared, he had pinched, he had almost starved himself and others. He had become a by-word for parsimony. In the end, having benefited much by enclosures in the ’nineties, he had succeeded. But no sooner had he deposited in the bank the money to pay off the last charge than the loss of his only son had darkened his success. He had married again—he was by this time past middle age— but only a daughter had come of the marriage.
Withal he was a great aristocrat, a Tory of the Tories. Manufacturers and traders he hated and distrusted, and of late jealousy had been added to hatred and distrust.
He was narrow, choleric, proud, miserly; he had been known to carry an old log a hundred yards to add it to his woodpile, and to travel a league to look for a lost sixpence. But he was honest and he was just. And presently it began to be noticed that the parish was better off than its neighbours. He was a tyrant but he was a just tyrant.
Such was the man whom Ovington was going to meet, and from whose avarice he hoped much. He had made his market of it once, for it was by playing on it that he had lured the Squire from Dean’s, and so had gained one of his dearest triumphs over the old Aldersbury Bank.
The Squire at this juncture, passed through the yard, stalked into the house and passing through it went out by the front door. He intended to turn right-handed, and enter the high-terraced garden facing south in which he was wont to take even in winter a few turns of a morning. Butsomething caught his eye, andhepaused. “Who’sthis?” he muttered, and shading his eyes made out a moment later that the stranger was Ovington. A visit from him
was rare enough to be a portent, and the figure of his bank balance passed through the Squire’s mind. Had he been rash? Ovington’s was a new concern; was anything wrong?
The Squire met his visitor at the gate and raising his voice shouted for Thomas. “I am sorry to trespass on you so early,” Ovington said as he dismounted. “A little matter of business, Mr. Griffin, if I may trouble you.”
The old man did not say that it was no trespass, but he stood aside punctiliously for the other to precede him through the gate. Then, “A glass of Madeira?”
1822 Hit Your Grandfather
—or great-grandfather, just such a surprise blow as 1921 and 1922 have hit many of us to-day. Don't méss this amazing story, which began in the March 15 issue, but which can be easily started to-day, after you read the synopsis on the next pagein 1822 the world was recovering from the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars; the business tide was turning, just like we believe it is turning to-day. England had resumed gold payments; speculation was rife; new industries had bloomed and withered and others were germinating. Private banks were promising investors 25 and 50 per cent, on their money.
"Rash" promoters were prophesying that ere long steam engines would be pulling a fifteenton “goods” train at the astounding speed of twelve miles an hour!
Amazing analogies, interesting and romantic, valuable as historic parallels, showing how our ancestors coped in 1822 with the problems we are facing in 1922, are depicted in this fascinating serial.
"Nothing, Squirt, I thank you. My business will not take long.”
By this time they stood in the room in which the Squire lived and did his business. He pointed courteously to a chair.
“I shouldn’t trouble you, Mr. Griffin,” began Ovington, sitting back with an assumption of ease, while the Squire from his old leather chair observed him warily, “except on a matter of importance. You will have heard that there is a scheme on foot to increase the value of 'the woollen industry by introducing a steam railroad; it is a new invention which, I admit, has not yet been proved. But I have examined it as a business man, and I think that much may be expected from it, A limited company is being formed to carry out the plan, if it prove to be feasible. Sir Charles Woosenham has agreed to be Chairman, Mr. Acherley and other gentlemen of the County are taking part, and I am commissioned by them to ^approach you. I have the plans here—”
‘What do you want?” The Squire’s tone was uncompromising. He made no movement towards taking the plans.
“If you will allow me to explain?”
Pe man sat hack in his chair.
“The railroad will be a continuation of the Birmingham and Aldersbury railroad, which is in strong hands at Birmingham. Such a scheme would be too large for us. That again is a continuation of the London & Birmingham railroad.”
“Oh, no. Not yet, of course.”
“Precisely, projected, the plans approved, the Bill in preparation.”
“But nothing done?”
“Nothing actually done as yet,” the banker admitted, somewhat dashed. “But if we wait until these works are finished we shall find ourselves anticipated.”
“We wish, therefore, to be early in the field. Much has appeared in the papers about this mode of transport, and you are doubtless familiar with it. I have myself enquired into it and the opinion of financial men in London is that these railroads will be very lucrative, paying dividends of from ten to twenty-five per cent.”
The Squire raised his eyebrows.
“I have the plans here,” the banker continued, once more producing them. “Our road runs over the land of six small owners, who have all agreed to the terms offered. It then enters on the Woosenham outlying property, and thence, before reaching Mr. Acherley’s, proceeds over the Garth estate, serving your mills, the tenant of one of which joins our board. If you will look at the plans?” Again Ovington held them out.
But the old man put'them aside. “I don’t want to see them,” he said.
“But, Squire, if you would kindly glance—”
“I don’t want to see them. What do you
Ovington paused to consider the most favourable light in which he could place the matter.
“First, Mr. Griffin, your presence on the Board.
We attach the highest importance to that.
Secondly, a way-leave over your land for which the Company will pay—pay most handsomely, although the value added to your mills will far exceed the immediate profit.”
“You want to carry your railroad over Garth?”
“Not a yard!” The old man tapped the table before him. “Not a foot!”
“But our terms—if you would allow me to explain them?”
“I don’t want to hear them. I am not going to sell my birthright, whatever they are. You don’t understand me? Well, you can understand this.” And abruptly the Squire sat up. “I’ll have none of your d—d smoking, stinking steam-waggons on my land in my time! Oh, I’ve read about them in more places than the papers, sir, and I’ll not sell my birthright and my people’s birthright—of clean air and clean water and clean soil for any mess of pottage you can offer! That’s my answer, Mr. Ovington.”
“But the railroad will not come within a mile of Garth.”
“It will not come on to my land! I am not blind, sir. Suppose you succeed. Suppose you drive the mails and coaches and the stage-wagons off the road. Where shall I sell my coach-horses and hackneys and my tenants their heavy nags ? And their com and their beans? No, by gad,” stopping Ovington who wished to interrupt him. “You may delude some of my neighbours, sir, and you may know more about money-making, where it is no question how the money is made, than I do! But I’ll see that you don’t -delude me ! A pack of navigators upsetting the country, killing game and robbing hen-roosts, raising wages and teaching honest folks tricks? Not here! If Woosenham knew his own business, and Acherley were not up to his neck in défît, they’d not let themselves be led by the nose by—”
“By whom, sir?” Ovington was on his feet by this time, his eyes smouldering, his face paler than usual. They confronted one another. It was the meeting, the collision of two powers, of two worlds, the old and the new.
“By whom, sir?” the Squire replied sternly—he too had risen. “By one whose interests and breeding were wholly different from theirs and who looks at things from another standpoint! That’s by whom, sir. And one word more, Mr. Ovington. You have the name of being a clever man and I never doubted it until to-day. But have a care that you are not over clever, sir. Have a care that you do not lead your friends and yourself into more trouble than you think for!
I read the papers and I see that everybody is to grow rich between Saturday and Monday.
Well, I don’t know as much about money business as you do, but I am an old man, and I have never seen a time when everybody grew rich and nobody was the loser.”
Ovington had controlled himself well; and he still controlled himself but there was a dangerous light in his eyes. “Iamsorry,” he said, “that you can give me no better answer, Mr. Griffin.
We hoped to have, and we set some value on your support.
But there are of course—other
“You may take your railroad any way you like, so long as you don’t bring it over Garth.”
“I don’t mean that. If the railroad is made at all it must pass over Garth—the property stretches across the valley. But the Bill, when presented, will contain the same powers which are given in the later Canal Acts—a single proprietor cannot be allowed to stand in the way
of the public interests,; you must know that, Mr. Griffin.” “You mean—by gad, sir,” the Squire broke out, “you mean, do you, that you will take my land whether I will
“I am not using any threat.”
sive banker of Aldersbury, returns from a business trip to London and promotes in his home town a joint stock company to be known as the Valleys Steam Railroad Company. In that year—1823—business was commencing to recover from the depression that followed the Napoleonic wars. Ovington foresaw coming commercial expansion, through steam railways. Ovington faces two important problems, the one being his son, Clement, who dislikes the bank, and the other, Squire Griffin, who detests trade, over whose estates the new fourteen-mile railroad must go. Ovington plans to win the squire’s favor through the latter’s nephew, Arthur Bourdillon, Ovington’s right-hand man at the bank, who has been made secretary of the new railway company. The squire, however, has ordered his daughter to have nothing to do with Bourdillon.
“But you do use a threat!” roared the Squire, towering tall and gaunt above his opponent. “You do use a threat! You come here—”
“I came here—” the other answered—he was quietly drawing on his gloves—“to put an excellent business investment before you, Mr. Griffin. As you do not think it worth while to entertain it, I can only regret that I have wasted your time and my own.”
“Pish!” said the Squire.
“Very good. Then with your permission I will seek my horse.” •
The old man turned to the window and opened it. “Thomas,” he shouted violently. “Mr. Ovington’s horse.” When he turned again, “Perhaps you may still think better of it,” Ovington said. He had regained command of himself. “I ought to have mentioned that your nephew has consented to act as Secretary to the Company.” “The more fool he!” the Squire snarled. “My nephew! What the devil is he doing in your company? Or for the matter of that in your Bank either?”
“I think he sees more clearly than you that times are changed.”
“Ay, and he had best have a care that these fine times don’t lead him into trouble!” the old man retorted, full of wrath, and well aware that the other had found a joint in his armour.
“I hope not, I hope not. Good-day, Mr. Griffin, I can find my way out. Don’t let me trouble you.”
“I will see you out, if you please. After you, sir.” Then, with an effort which cost him much but which he thought was due to his position, “You are sure that you will take nothing?”
“Nothing, I thank you.”
The Squire saw his visitor to the door, but he did not stay to see him ride away. He went back to his room and
to a side window at which it was his custom to spend much time. It looked on the narrow vale, little more than a glen, which the eminence on which the house stood cut off from the main valley. It was nothing to him. that in fact the railroad would pass up the middle of the broad vale behind him — he ignored that. He saw the hated thing sweep by below him, a long black ugly snake, spewing smoke and steam over green meadows, fouling the waters, darkening the air—and he cursed.
Ovington was too big a man to harbour spite, but as he rode homeward and fumed, a plan which he had already considered, put on a new aspect and by-and-by his brow relaxed and he smote his thigh. Something tickled him and he laughed. He thought that he saw a way to avenge himself and to annoy his enemy; and by the time he reached the bank he was himself again.
The tide of speculation was still rising and even in Aldersbury had reached many a backparlour where the old stocking was scarcely out of date. Thousands sold their three per cents and the proceeds had to go somewhere, and other proceeds — for behind all there was real prosperity in the country. Men’s money poured first into a higher and then into a lower grade of security and raised each in turn, so that fortunes were made with astonishing speed. The banks gave extended credit, everything rose.
The more venturesome hazarded their money afar, buying shares in Steamship Companies in the West Indies, in Diamond Mines in Brazil, or in Cattle Companies in Mexico. The more prudent preferred undertakings which they could see and which their limited horizon could compass, and to these such a local scheme as the Valleys Railroad held out a tempting bait. They knew nothing about a railroad, but they knew that steam had been applied to ocean travel, and they knew Aldersbury and the woollen district.
One of Ovington’s waylayers wished to know if the limit at which he had been advised to sell an investment was likely to be reached. “I sold on Saturday,” the banker answered, “two pounds above your limit, Davies. The money will be in the bank in a week.” He spoke with Napoleonic curtness, and rode on leaving the man, amazed and jubilant, to calculate his gains.
The next wanted advice. He had a hundred in hand if Mr. Ovington would not think it too small. "Call to-morrow—no, Thursday,” Ovington said, hardly looking at him. “I’ll see you then.”
The third ran bare-headed out of a shop. He was a man of more weight, Purslow, the big draper in Bride Hill, who had been twice Mayor of Aldersbury; a tradesman, bald and sleek, whom fortune had raised so rapidly that old subservience was continually at odds with new importance. “Just a word, Mr. Ovington,” he stuttered, “a word, sir, by your leave? I’m a good customer.” He had not laid aside his black apron but merely twisted it round his waist, a sure sign in these days of his greatness that he was flustered.
The banker nodded. “None better, Purslow,” he answered. “What is it?”
“What I says, then—excuse me—is, if Grounds why not me? Why not me, sir?”
“I don’t quite—”
“If he’s to be on the Board, he and his mash-tubs—”
“Oh!” The banker looked
grave “You are thinking of the railroad Mr. Purslow?”
“To be sure! What else?— excuse me. And what I say is, if Grounds why not me? I’ve been mayor twice and him not even in the Council! And I’m not a pauper as none knows better tha you, Mr. Ovington. If it’s only that I’m a tradesman, why then ought to be a tradesman on '1 and I’ll be bound as many will follow my lead as Grounds’.”
“Well I’ll bear it in mind. I can say no more than that,” Ovington rejoined. “I must consult Sir Charles. It’s a responsible position. Purslow. And of course where there are large profits, as we hope there may be, there must be risk. There must lie some risk. Don’t forget that. Still,” touching up his horse with
his Vitei, “I'll she what 1 can At). 1 htost hurry on now.” He gained the Hank without furUrev stay, and there the stir and bustle which his practised eye was quick to mark sustained the note already struck. There were customers coming and going: some paying in and more who wanted bills renewed, or a loan on securities that they might pay calls on them, or accommodation of one kind or another. But with easy money these demands could be granted and many a parcel of Ovington’s notes passed out amid smiling and general content,. The January sun was shining as if March winds would never blow, and credit seemed to be a thing to be had for the asking.
It was only within the last seven years that Ovington’s had ventured on an issue of notes.
Then, a little before the resumption of cash payments, they had put them forth with a tentative, “If you had rather have bank paper it’s here.” Some had had the bad taste to prefer the Abraham Newlands, a few had even asked for Dean’s notes. But borrowers cannot be choosers, the notes had gradually got abroad, and though at first they had returned with the rapidity of a homing pigeon, the readiness with which they were cashed wrought its effect, and by this time the public were accustomed to them.
Dean’s notes bore a big D, and Ovington’s, for the benefit of those who could not read, were stamped with a large C.O., for Charles Ovington.
Alone with his daughter that evening the banker referred to this. “Betty,” he said, after a long silence, “I am going to make a change. I am going to turn C.O. into company.”
She understood him at once, and “Oh, father!” she cried, laying down her work. “Who is it? Is it Arthur?”
“Would you like that?”
She replied by another question. “Is he really so very clever?”
“He’s a gentleman—that’s much. And a Griffin, and that’s more in a place like this. And he’s—yes, he’s certainly clever.”
“Cleverer than Mr. Rodd?”
“Rodd! Pooh! Arthur’s worth two of him.”
“Quite the industrious apprentice!” she murmured, her hands in her lap.
“Well, you know,” lightly, “what happened to the industrious apprentice, Betty?”
She coloured. “He married his master’s daughter, didn’t he? But there are two words to that, father. Quite two words.”
“Well, I am going to offer him a small share. Anything more will depend upon himself—and Clement.”
She sighed, “Poor Clement!”
“Poor Clement!” The banker repeated her words pettishly. “Not poor Clement, but idle Clement! Can you do nothing with that boy? Put no sense into him? He’s good for nothing in the world except to moon about with a gun. Last night he began to talk to me about Cobbett and some new wheat. New wheat indeed! What rubbish!”
“But, I think,” timidly, “that he does understand about those things, father.”
“And what good will they do him? I wish he understood a little about banking! Why, even Rodd is worth two of him. He’s not in the bank four days in the week. Where is he to-day?”
“I am afraid that he took his gun—but it was the last day of the season. He said that he would not be out again. He has been really better lately.” .
“Though I was away!” the banker exclaimed. And he said some strong things upon the subject to which Betty had to listen.
However he had recovered his temper when he sent for Arthur next day. He bade him close the door. “I want to speak to you,” he said, pausing a moment while Arthur waited, his colour rising. “It’s about yourself. When you came to me I did not expect much from the experiment.
I thought that you would soon tire of it, being what you are. But you have stood to it, and you have shown a really considerable aptitude for the business. And I have made up my mind to take you in on conditions, of course.” Arthur’s eyes sparkled. He had not hoped that the offer would be made so soon, and, much moved, he tried to express his thanks. “You may be sure that I shall do my best, sir,” he said gratefully.
“I believe you will, lad. I believe you will. Indeed I am thinking of myself as well as of you. I had not intended to make the offer so soon—you are young and could wait. But you will have, of course, to bring in a certain
sum, and capital can be used at present to advantage. ' Arthur looked grave. “I am afraid, sir ”
“Oh, I’ll make It easy,” Ovington said. “This is my offer: You will put in five thousand pounds, and will receive for three years twelve per cent, upon this in lieu of jour present salary of one hundred and fifty - the hundred you are to be paid as Secretary to the Company is beside the matter. At the end of three years, if we are both satisfied, you will take an eighth share -otherwise you will draw out your money. On my death if you remain in the Bank your share will be increased to a third on your bringing in another five thousand. You know enough about the accounts to know—”
“That it’s a most generous offer,” Arthur exclaimed his face aglow. With the frankness and enthusiasm, the sparkling eye and ready word that won him so many friends, he expressed his thanks.
“Well, lad,” the other answered pleasantly, “I like you. Still you had better take a short time to consider the matter.”
“I want no time,” Arthur declared. “My only difficulty,” candidly, “is about the money. My mother’s six thousand is charged on Garth, you see.”
This wás a fact well known to Ovington, and one which he had taken into his reckoning. Perhaps, butforit,hehad not meant making the offer at this moment. But he concealed his satisfaction, and a smile, and “Isn’t there a provision for calling it up?” he said.
“Yes, there is—at three months. But I am afraid that my mother—”
“Surely she would not object under the circumstances. The increased incom» might be divided between you so that it would be to her profit as well as to your advantage to make the change. Three months, eh? Well, suppose we say the money to be paid and the articles of partnership to be signed four months from now?”
Difficulties never loomed very large in this young man’s eyes. “Very good, sir,” he said gratefully. “Upon my honour, I don’t know how to thank you.”
“It won’t be all on your side,” the banker answered good humouredly. “Your name’s worth something, and you are keen. I wish to heaven you could infect Clement with a tithe of your keenness.”
“I’ll try, sir,” Arthur replied buoyantly. At that moment he felt that he could move mountains.
“Well, that’s settled then. Send Rodd to me, will you? and do you see if I have left my pocket book in the house. Betty may know where it is.”
Arthur went through the bank stepping on air. He gave Rodd his message, and in a twinkling he was in the house. As he crossed the hall his heart beat high. Lord, how he would work! What feats of banking he would perform! How great would he make Ovington’s, so that not only Aldshire but Lombard Street should ring with its fame!
For he felt that he had it in him to work miracles. The greatest things seemed easy at this moment. The age of gold!
He burst into song. He stopped. “Betty!” he cried. “Who is that rude boy?” the girl retorted, appearing on the stairs above him.
He bowed with ceremony, his hand on his heart, his eyes dancing. “You see before you the Industrious Apprentice!” he said. “He has received the commendation of his master. It remains only that he should lay his success at the feet of—his master’s daughter!”
She blushed, despite herself. “How silly you are!” she cried. But when he set his foot on the lowest stair as if to join her, she fled nimbly up and escaped. On the landing above she stood. “Congratulations, sir,” she said, looking over the balusters.
“But a little less forwardness and a little more modesty, if you please !
It was not in your articles that you should call me Betty.”
“They are cancelled! They are gone!” he retorted. “Come down, Betty!
Come down and I will tell you such. -, things—” lis’
But she only made a mocking face at him and vanished. A moment later her voice broke forth somewhere in. the upper part of the house. She, too, was singing.
BETWEEN the village and Garth the fields sank gently, to rise again to the clump of beeches which masked the house. On the farther side the ground fell more sharply into the narrow valley
over which the Squire’s window looked, and which separated the knob whereon Garth stood from the cliffs.
The road leaving the village made a right-angled turn» round Garth and then, ascending, ran through the upper part of the Thirty Acres, skirting the foot of the rocks. Along the lower edge of the covert between wood and water there ran also a field-path, a right of way much execrated' by the Squire. It led by a sinuous course to the Acherley property, and, alas, for good resolutions, along it on the afternoon of the very day which saw the elder Ovington at Garth, came Clement Ovington, sauntering as usual.
He carried a gun but he carried it as he might have carried a stick, for he had long passed the bounds within which he had a right to shoot; and, at all times, his shooting was as much an excuse for a walk among the objects he loved as anything else. He had left his horse at the Griffin Arms in the village, and he might have made his way thither more quickly by the road. .
At a stile which crossed the path he came to a stand. Something had caught his eye. It was a trifle, to which nine men out of ten would not have given a thought, for it was no more than a clump of snowdrops in the wood on his right. But a shaft of wintry sunshine, striking athwart the tiny globes lifted them, star-like, above the brown leaves: about them, and he paused, admiring them—thinkingno evil, and far from foreseeing what was to happen. Hewondered if they were wild—or—and he looked about for any trace of human hands—a keeper’s cottage might have stood here. He saw no trace, but still he stood, entranced by the white blossoms that, virgin-like, bowed meek heads to the sunlight that visited them.
He might have paused longer, if a sound had not brought him abruptly to earth. He turned. To his dismay he saw a girl, three or four paces from him, waiting to cross the stile. How long she had been waiting, how long watching him, he did not know, and in confusion—for he had not dreamed that there was a human being within a mile of him—and with a hurried snatch at his hat, he moved out of the way.
The girl stepped forward, colouring a little, for she foresaw that she must climb the stile under the young man’s eye. Instinctively, he held out a hand to assist her, and in the act—he never knew how, nor did she—the gun slipped from his grasp, or the trigger caught in a bramble. A sheet of flame tore between them, the blast of the powder rent the air.
“O my God!” he cried. He reeled back, shielding his eyes with his hands.
The smoke hid the girl, and for a long moment, a moment of such agony as he had never known, Clement’s heart stood still. What had he done, oh, what had he done at last, with his cursed carelessness? Had he killed her?
Slowly, the smoke cleared away, and he saw—he saw the girl. She was on her feet—thank God she was on her feet! She was clinging with both hands to the stile. Butwas she—“Are you—are you—” he tried to frame words, but his voice was a whistle.
She clung in silence to the rail, her face whiter than the quilted bonnet she wore. But he saw—thank God, he saw no wound, no blood, no hurt, and his own blood moved again, his lungs filled again with a mighty inspiration. “For pity’s sake, say you are not hurt!” he prayed. “For God’s sake, speak!”
But the shock had robbed her of speech, and he feared that she was going to swoon. He looked helplessly at the brook. If she did, what ought he to do? “Oh, a curse on my carelessness!” he cried. “I shall never, never forgive myself.”
It had in truth been a narrow, a most narrow escape, and at last she found words to say so. “I heard the shot—pass,’' she whispered, and shuddering closed her eyes again, overcome by the remembrance.
“But you are not hurt? They did pass! Tell me! say so!” The horror of that which might have been, of that which had so nearly been, overcame him anew, gave a fresh poignancy to his tone. “You are sure—sure that you are not hurt?”
“No, I am not hurt,” she whispered. “But I am very -—very frightened. Don’t speak to me. I shall be right—in a minute.”
“Can I do anything? Get you some water?”
She shook her head and he stood, looking solicitously at her, still fearing that she might swoon, and wondering afresh what he ought to do if she did. But after a minute or so she sighed, and a little colour came back to her face. “It was near, oh so near!” she whispered, and she covered her face with her hands. Presently, and more certainly, “Why did you have it—at full cock?” she asked.
“God knows!” he owned. "It was— unpardonable. But that is what I am!
I am a fool, and forget things. I was thinking of something else, I did not hear you come up, and when I found you there I was startled.”
“I saw.” She smiled faintly. “But it was—careless.”
“Horribly! Horribly careless! It was
wicked!” He simply could not humble himself enough.
She was more herself now, and she looked at him. took him in, and was sorry for him. She removed her hands from the rail and though her fingers trembled she straightened her bonnet. “You are Mr. Ovington?”
“Yes, Clement. And you are Miss Griffin, are you not?” “Yes. You are a friend,” smiling tremulously, “of my cousin’s. I have heard of you from him.”
“Yes. May I help you over the stile. Oh, your basket!” She saw that it lay some yards away, blackened by powder, one corner shot away; so narrow had been the escape! He had a feeling of sickness as he picked it up. “You must not go on alone,” he said. “You might faint.”
“Not now. But I shall not go on. What—•” her eyes strayed to the wood, and curiosity stirred in her. “What were you looking at so intently, Mr. Ovington, that you did not hear me?”
He coloured. “Oh, nothing! It was nothing,” he stammered.
“But it must have been something,” she persisted. Her curiosity was strengthened.
“Well, if you wish to know,” he confessed, shamefacedly, “I was looking at those snowdrops.”
“Don’t you see how the sunlight touches them? What a little island of light they make among the brown leaves?” “How odd!” She stared at the snowdrops and then at him. “I thought that only painters and poets, Mr. Wordsworth and people like that, noticed those things. But perhaps you are a poet?”
“Goodness, no!” he cried. “A poet? But I am fond of looking at things—out of doors, you know. A little way back,” he pointed up-stream, the way he had come, “I saw a rat sitting on a lily leaf, cleaning its whiskers in the sun—the prettiest thing you ever saw. And an old man working at Bache’s told me that he—but, I beg your pardon!
How can I talk of such things when I remember—”
He stopped, overcome by the recollection of that through which they had passed. She ■was inclined to ask him to go on, but she remembered in time that this, all this was very irregular.
What would her father say?
And Miss Peacock? Yet, if this was irregular, so was the adventure itself. She would never forget his face of horror, the appeal in his eyes, his poignant anxiety.
No, it was impossible to act as if nothing had happened between them, impossible to be stiff and to talk at arm’s length, about prunes and prisms, with a person who had all but taken her life—and who was so very penitent. And then it was all so interesting, so out of the common, so like the things that happened in books, like that dreadful fall from the cob at Lyme in Persuasion'. And he was not ordinary, not like other people.
He looked at snowdrops!
But she must not linger now.
Later when she was alone in her room, she could piece it all together and make a whole of it, and think of it,-and compass the full wonder of the adventure.
But she must go now. “Will you kindly give me the basket?” she asked.
“I am going to carry it,” he said. “You must not go alone.
Indeed you must not, Miss 'Griffin. You may feel it more by and by. You may—go off suddenly.” He was still troubled about her.
“Oh,” she replied, smiling,
“I shall not go off, now. as you
“I will only come as far as the mill,” humbly. “Please let me •do that.”
She could not say no, it could hardly be expected of her; and she turned with him. “I shall never forgive myself,” he repeated. “Never! Never! I shall dream of the moment when I lost sight of you in the smoke :and thought that I had killed you.
It was horrible! Horrible!”
He covered his eyes. “It will •come back to me often.”
He thought so much of it that he was moving away without his gun, leaving it lying on the ground. It was she who reminded him: “Are you not going to take your gun?”
He went back for it, covered afresh with confusion. What a stupid fellow she must think him! She waited while he fetched it, and as she waited she had a new and not unpleasant sensation. Never before had she been on these terms, with a man. The men whom she had known had always taken the upper hand with her. Her father, Arthur even, had either played with her or condescended to her. In her experience it was the woman’s part to be ordered and directed, to give way and to be silent. But here the parts were reversed. This man^she had seen how he looked at her, how he humbled himself before her! And he was—interesting. As he came back to her carrying the gun, she eyed him with attention. She took note of him.
Now she had never given much thought to any man’s eyes before, and that she did so now, and criticized and formed an opinion of them— implied a change of attitude, a change in her relations and the man’s; and instinctively she acknowledged this by the lead she took. “It seems so strange,” she said, half-playfully—when had she ever rallied a man before? “that you should think of such things as you do. Snowdrops, I mean. I thought you were a banker, Mr. Ovington.”
“A very bad banker,” he replied ruefully. “To tell the truth, Miss Griffin, I hate banking. Pounds, shillings and perrce—and this!” He pointed to the smiling country about them, the stream, the sylvan path they were treading, the wood beside them with its depths gilded here and there by a ray of the sun. “A desk and a ledger—and this. Oh, I hate them! I would like to live out of doors. I want —” in a burst of candour—“to live my own life! To be able to follow my own bent and make the most of myself.”
“Perhaps,” she said with naïveté, “you would like to be a country gentleman?” And indeed the lot of a country gentleman in that day was an enviable one.
“Oh, no,” he said, his tone deprecating the idea. He did not aspire to that.
“But what then?” She did not quite understand. “Have you no ambition?”
“I’d like to be—” in a burst of candour—“a farmer, if I had my way.”
That surprised as well as dashed her. She thought of her father’s tenants and her face fell. “Oh, birt,” she said,
“a farmer? Why?” He was not like any farmer she had ever seen.
But he would not be dashed. “To make two blades of grass grow where one grew before,” he answered stoutly, though he knew that he had sunk in her eyes. “Just that; but after all isn’t that worth doing? Isn’t that better than burying your head in a ledger and counting other people’s money while the sun shines out of doors, and the rain falls sweetly, and the earth smells fresh and pure? Besides, it is all I am good for, Miss Griffin. I do think I understand a bit about that. I’ve read books about it and I’ve kept my eyes open, and—and what one likes one does well, you know.”
' “But farmers—”
“Oh, I know,” sorrowfully, “it must seem a very low thing to you.”
“Farmers don’t look at snowdrops, Mr. Ovington,” she said, with a gleam of fun in her eyes.
“Don’t they? Then they ought to, and they’d learn a lot that they don’t know now. I’ve met men, labouring men who can’t read or write, and it’s wonderful the things they know about the land and the way plants grow on it and the live things that are only seen at night, or stealing to their homes at daybreak. And there’s a new wheat, a wheat I was reading about yesterday, Cobbett’s corn, it is galled, that I am sure would do about here if anyone would try it. But there,” remembering himself and to whom he was talking, “this can have no interest for you. Only wouldn’t you rather plod home weary at night, feeling that you had done something and with all this,” he waved his hand, “sinking to rest about you, and the horses going down to water, and the cattle lowing to be let into the byres, and—and all that,” growing confused, as he felt her eyes upon him, “than get up from a set of ledgers with your head aching and your eyes muddled with figures?” “I’m afraid I have never tried either,” she said primly. But she smiled. She found him new, his notions unlike those of the people about her, and certainly unlike those of a common farmer. She did not comprehend all his halfexpressed or ill-expressed thought but not for that was she the less resolved to remember them, and to think of them at her leisure. For the present here was the mill and they must part. At the mill, the field-path that they were following fell into a lane, which on the right yjse steeply to the road—on the left crossed a cart-bridge shaken perpetually by the road and splashed by the spray of the great mill-wheel. Thence it wound upwards, rough and stony, to the back premises of Garth.
He, too, knew that this division of the ways meant parting, and humility clothed him. “Heavens, what a fool I’ve been,” he said, blushing ingenuously as he met her eyes. “What must you think of my prating about myself when I ought to have been thinking only of you and asking your pardon.”
“For nearly shooting me?’’ “Yesand thank God. thank God,” with emotion, “that it was no worse.”
“I do," she said gravely.
“I ought nevt r to forgive myself! I ought never to carry a gun again!"
"I won’t exact that penalty, she replied.
Continued on page 42
Continued from page 25
“And you will forgive me? You will do your best to forgive me?”
“I will do my best, if you will not cany off my basket,” she replied, with a smile, for he was turning away with the basket on his arm. “Thank you,” as he restored it and in his embarrassment nearly dropped his gun. “Goodbye.”
"You are sure that you will be safe now?”
“If you have no fresh accident with the gun,” she laughed “Please be careful.” She nodded and turned and tripped away, dreamily reviewing what had happened.
Near the garden door she was roughly brought to earth. Miss Peacock visiting the yard on some domestic errand had discerned her. “Josina!” she cried. “My certy, girl, but you have been quick! I wish the maids were half as quick when they go! A whole afternoon is not enough for them to walk a mile. But you’ve not brought the eggs?” staring.
“I didn’t go,” said Josina mildly. “I was frightened by a gun.”
“And I felt a little faint.”
“Faint ? Why you’ve got the colour of a rose, girl. Faint? Well, when I want galeny eggs again I shan’t send you. Where was it?”
“Under the Thirty Acres—by the stile. I heard a gun, and—”
“Sho!” cried Miss Peacock, vastly contemptuous. “Heard a gun, indeed! At your age, Josina! I don’t know what girls are coming to! If you don’t take care you’ll be all nerves and vapours like your aunt at the Cottage! Go and take a dose of gilly-flower water this minute, and the less said to your father the better. Why you’d never hear the end of it. Afraid because a gun went off!”
Josina agreed that it was very silly and went quietly up to her room. Yes, the less said about it the better!
THE terraced garden at Garth rested to the south and east on a sustaining wall so high that to build it to-day would tax the resources of three Squires. Unfortunately, either for defence or protection from the weather, the wall rose high on the
inner side also, so that he who walked in the garden might enjoy indeed the mellow tints of the old brickwork, but had no view of the country, except through certain loop-holes, gable-shaped, which pierced the wall at intervals, like the port-holes of a battleship. If the lover of landscape wanted more, he must climb half a dozen steps to a raised walk which ran along the south side. Thence he could look, as from an eyrie, on the green meadows below him, or away to the line of hills to westward or, turning about, he could overlook the operations of the gardener at his feet.
More, if it rained or blew there was at the south-west corner, and entered from the raised walk, an ancient Dutch summerhouse of brick, with a pyramidal roof. It had large windows and, with much at Garth that served for ornament rather than utility, it was decayed, time and damp having almost effaced its dim frescoes. But tradition hallowed it, for William of Orange, it was said, after dining in the hall at the oaken table which still bore the date 1691 had smoked his pipe and drunk his Schnapps in this summer-house; and thence had watched the roll of the bowls and the play of the bias on the turf below. For in those days the garden had been a bowling green.
There on summer evenings the Squire would still smoke his pipe or drink his port, but in winter the place was little used, tools desecrated it, and tubers took refuge in it. So when Josina began about this time to frequent it, and, as winter yielded to the first breath of spring, began to carry her work thither of an afternoon, Miss Peacock might have had her suspicions had she taken note of the fact. She took no note of it, however, being a busy woman. Thomas the groom did remark the fact for idle hands make watchful eyes, but for a time he was none the wiser.
“What’s young Miss doing up there?" he asked himself. “Must be tarnation cold. And her looks fine, too! Ay, ’tis well to be them as has nought to do but traipse up and down and sniff the air!”
Naturally it did not at once occur to him that the summer-house commanded a view of the brook side and the path which ran along it; nor did he suppose that Miss had any purpose, when, as might happen once a week perhaps, she would leave her
station at the window and in an aimless fashion wander down to the mill—and beyond it. She might be following a duck inclined to sit, or later—for turkeys will stray—be searching for a turkey’s nest. She might be doing fifty things, indeed— she was sometimes so long awaye Byit thc time did come when, being by'chance at the mill, Thomas saw a second figure on the path beside the water and he laid by the knowledge for future use. He was a sly fellow not much in favour with the other servants.
Presently there came a cold Saturday in March, a wet windy day, when no pretext would serve and when to saunter by the brook would have had too odd an air. But would it have an odd look, Josina wondered, standing before the glass in her room, if she ran across to the Cottage, for ten minutes about sunset? The banks closed early on Saturdays, and men were not subject to the weather as women were. Twice she put on her bonnet, and twice she took it off and put it back in the box— she could not make up her mind. He might think that she followed him. He might think her bold. Or suppose that when they met before the others, she blushed; or that they thought the meeting strange? And, after all, he might not be there— he was no favourite with Mrs. Bourdillon, and his heart might fail him. So in the end the bonnet was put away, but it is to he feared that that evening -Tos was ar,little snappish with Miss Peacock when arraigned for some act of forgetfulness.
Had she gone she might have come off no better than Clement, who, braving all things, did go. Mrs. Bourdillon did not, indeed, say when he entered, “What, here again?” but her manner spoke for her, and Arthur, who had arrived before his time, received the visitor with less than his usual good humour. Clement’s explanation, that he had left his gun, fell flat, and so chilly were they both that he stayed but twenty minutes, then faltered an excuse, and went off with his tail between his legs.
He did not guess that he had intruded on a family difference, a trouble of some standing, which the passage of weeks had but aggravated. It turned on Ovington’s offer, which Arthur, pluming himself on his success and notalittle proud of his prospects, had lost no time in conveying to his mother. He had supposed that she would see the thing with his eyes, and be eaually delighted. To become a partner so early, to share at his age in the rising fortunes of the house! Surely she would believe in him now, if she had never believed in him be-
But Mrs. Bourdillon had been imbued by her husband with the fixed idea that whatever happened she must never touch her caDital: that under no circumstances must she spend it, or transfer it or alienate it. That way lay ruin. No sooner, therefore, had Arthur come to that part of his story than she had taken fright: and nothing that he had been able to say, no assurance that he had been able to give, no gilded future that he had been able to paint, had sufficed to move the good woman from her position.
“Of course,” she said, looking at him piteously for she hated to oppose him, “I’m not saying that it does not sound nice, dear.”
“It is nice! Very nice!”
“But I’m older than you, and oh, dear, dear, I’ve known what disappointment is! Believe me, a bird in the hand—”
“But this is in the hand!” Arthur cried, restraining himself with difficulty. “This is in the hand!”
“Well, I don’t know how that may be. I never was a business woman, whatever your uncle my say when he is in his tantrums. But I do know that your father told me, over and over again—”
“And you’ve told me ten times at least, mother!”
“Well, I’m sure your uncle would say the same, but, indeed, I don’t know what he wouldn’t say if he knew we were thinking of any such thing!”
“The truth is, mother, you are afraid of the Squire.”
“And if I am,” plaintively. “It is all very well for you, Arthur, who are away six days out of seven, but I’m here and he’s here. And I have to listen to him. And if this money is lost—”
“But it cannot be lost, I tell you!”
“Well, if it is lost, we shall both be beggars! Oh, dear, dear, I’m sure if your father told me once he told me a hundred
“Damn!” Arthur cried, fairly losing his
temper at last. “The truth is, mother, that my father knew nothing about money.”
AT THAT, however, Mrs. Bourdillon began to cry and Arthur found himself obliged to drop the matter for the time. He saw, indeed, that he was on the wrong tack, and a few days later under pressure of necessity he tried another. He humbled himself, he wheedled, he cajoled; and when be had by this means got, as he thought, on the right side of his mother he spoke of Ovington’s success.
“In a few years he will be worth a quarter of a million,” he said.
The figure flustered her. “Why, that’s
“A quarter of a million,” he repeated impressively. “And that’s why I consider this the chance of my life, mother. It is such an opportunity as I shall never have again. It is within my reach now, and surely, surely,” his voice shook _ with the fervour of his pleading, “you will not be the one to dash it from my lips?” He laid his hand upon her wrist. “And ruin your son’s life, mother?”
She was shaken. “You know, if I thought it was for your good!”
“It is! It is! Mother.”
“I’d do anything to make you happy, Arthur, but I don’t believe,” with a sigh, “that whatever I did, your uncle would pay the money.”
“He would have to. Is it his money or yours?”
“Why, of course, Arthur, I thought that you knew that it is your father’s.” She was very simple, and her pride was touched.
“And now it is yours. And I suppose that some day—I hope it will be a long day, mother—it will be mine. Believe me, you’ve only to write to my uncle and tell him that you have decided to call it up, and he will pay it as a matter of course. Shall I write the letter for you to sign?” Mrs. Bourdillon looked piteously at him. She was very, very unwilling to comply, but what was she to do? Between love for him and fear of the Squire, what was she to do? Poor woman, she did not know. But he was with her, the Squire was absent, and she was about to acquiesce when a last argument occurred to her. “But you are forgetting,” she said, “if your uncle takes offence, and I’m sure that he will, he’ll come between you and Josina.”
“Well, that is his look-out.” “Arthur!” astonished. “You don’t mean that you’ve changed your mind, and you so fond of her? And the girl heir to Garth and all her father’s money!”
“I say nothing about it,” Arthur declared. “If he chooses to come between us that will be his doing, not mine.” “But, Garth!” Mrs. Bourdillon was altogether at sea. “My dear boy, you are not thinking! Why, Lord ha’ mercy on us, where would you find such another, young and pretty and all, and Garth in her pocket? Why, if it were only on Jos’s account you’d be mad to quarrel with him.”
“I’m not going to quarrel with him,” Arthur replied sullenly. “If he chooses to quarrel with me, well, she’s not the only heiress in the world.”
“Oh dear me,” his mother said wearily. “I give it up. I don’t understand you. But I’m only a woman and I suppose I don’t understand anything.”
He was accustomed to command, she to be guided, he saw that she was wavering and he plied her afresh with all the dexterity he could command. In the end, though not without another outburst of tears, he succeeded. He fetched the pen, he smoothed the paper and before he handed his mother her bed-candle he had got the fateful letter written, and had even by lavishing on her unusual signs of affection brought a smile to her face. “It will be all right, mother, you’ll see,” he cried as he watched her mount the stairs. “It will be all right. You’ll see me a millionaire yet.”
AND then he made his mistake, a mistake that was to cost him dearly. He left the letter on the mantel shelf. An hour later, when he had been some time in bed he heard a door open below and he sat up and listened. Even then, had he acted on the instant, it might have availed. But he hesitated, arguing down his misgivings; and it was only when he caught the sound of footsteps stealthily re-ascending that he jumped out of bed and lit his candle. He slipped hurriedly down stairs, but he was too late. The letter was
He went up to bed again, and though
ho wondered at the queer ways of women he did not doubt the issue. He would get hack the letter in the morning and send it. The end would be the same.
But there he was wrong. Mrs. Bourbillon was a weak woman, but weakness has its own obstinacy, and by the morning, she had reflected.
So, when Arthur ca-.ie down in the morning, and with assumed carelessness asked for the letter she put him off. It was Sunday. She would not discuss business on Sunday, it would not be lucky. On Monday, when, determined to stand no more nonsense, he returned to the subject, she took refuge in tears. It was cruel of him to press her so, when-—when she was not well! She had not made up her mind. She did not know what she should do! She must have time. To tears there is no answer, and, angry as he was, he had to start for Aldersbury, leaving the matter unsettled; much to his disgust and alarm for tim was running on.
And that was the beginning of a tragedy in the little house under Garthmyle. It was a struggle between strength and weakness and weakness, as usual, took refuge in subterfuge. When Arthur came out at the end of the week his mother took care to have company, and he could not get a word with her alone. She had no time for business—it must wait, she said. On the next Saturday she was not well and kept her bed, and on the Sunday met him with the same fretful plea—she would do no business on Sunday! Then, seeing at last that she had made up her mind to thwart him, he hardened his heart though he loved his mother, and to go beyond a certain point did not agree with his easy natture. But he had no option, the thing must be done if his prospects were not to be wrecked. He became hard, cruel, almost brutal; threatening to leave her, threatening to take himself off altogether, harassing her week after week, in what should have been her happiest hours, with pictures of the poverty, the obscurity, the hopelessness to which she was condemning him! And, worst of all, torturing her with doubts that after all he might be right and she might be wrong.
SHE took to bringing in guests as buffers between them, and once or twice she brought in Josina. The girl, who knew them both so well, could not fail to see that there was something wrong, that something marred the relations between mother and son. Arthur’s moody brow, his silence, or his snappish answers, no less than Mrs. Bourdillon’s scared manner left no doubt of that. But she fancied that this was only another instance of the law of man’s temper and woman’s endurance— that law to which she knew but one exception.
And if the girl hugged that exception, trembling and hoping, to her breast, if Arthur’s coldness was a relief to her, if she cared little for any secret but her own, she was no more of a mystery to them than they were to her. When the door closed upon her, and, accompanied by a maid, she crossed the dark fields, she thought no more about them. The two ceased, such is the selfishness of love, to exist for her. Her thoughts were engrossed by another, by one who until lately had been a stranger, hut whose figure now excluded all others from her view. Her secret monopolised her, closed her heart, blinded her eyes. For such is the law of love—at a certain stage in its growth.
Meantime life at the Cottage went on in this miserable fashion until March was past and April had come in and the daffodils were in full bloom in the meadows beside the river. And still Arthur could not succeed in his object, and wondering what the banker thought of the delay and his silence, was almost beside himself with chagrin. Then there came a welcome breathing space. Ovington despatched him to London on an important and confidential mission. He was to be away rather more than a fortnight, and the relief was much even to him. To his mother It had been more, if he had not, with politic cruelty, kept from her the cause of his absence. She feared that he was about to carry out his threat and to make a home elsewhere—that this was the end, and that he was going to leave her. Perhaps, she thought, she had been wrong. Perhaps after all she had sacrificed his love and lost his dear presence for nothing! It was a sad Easter that she passed, lonely and anxious, in the little house.
To be Continued