STANLEY J. WEYMAN
IT WAS in the third week of April that Arthur returned to
Aldersbury. Ovington had not failed to let his correspondents know that the lad was no common mercantile person but came of a county family and had connections; and Arthur had been fêted by the Bank’s agents and made much of by their friends. The negotiation which Ovington had entrusted to him had gone well, as all things went well at this time. He came back, therefore, on the best of terms with himself and more in love than ever with the career which he had laid out. And, but for the money difficulty, and his mother’s obstinacy, he would have seen all things in rose colour.
He returned at the moment when speculation in Aldersbury—and Aldersbury was in this but the mirror of the whole country—was approaching its fever point. The four per cent, consols, which not long before had stood at 72, were 106. The three per cents, which had been 52 had risen to 93. India stock was booming at 280, and t hese prices which would have seemed incredible to a former generation were justified by the large profits accruing from trade and seeking investment. They were, indeed, nothing beside the heights to which more speculative stocks were being hurried. For finding the interest on sound securities small in comparison with the prices at which they now stood, even the prudent looked about for undertakings giving a better return. These were at first limited, with the result that the things most in favour rose by leaps and bounds, were hourly sold at higher prices and still did not lack buyers. Shares in one mine bought at ten pounds changed hands at a hundred and fifty. Shares in another, on which seventy pounds had been paid, were sold at thirteen hundred. An instalment of 5 pounds was paid on a purchase, and ten days later the stock was sold for one hundred and forty!
Under such circumstances new ventures were daily issued to meet the demand. Proposals for thirty companies came out in a week and still there appeared to be money for all, for the banks, tempted by the prevailing prosperity, met their clients’ needs and increased their issues of notes. It seemed an easy thing to borrow at seven per cent., and lay out the money at ten or fifteen, with the certainty of a gain in capital.
All this was nearing its height at the end of April, and Arthur, sanguine and eager, laden with the latest news from Lombard Street, returned to Aldersbury to revel in it. He trod the Cop and the High Street as if he walked on air. He moved amid the excitement like a young god. His nod was confidence, his smile a promise. A few months before he had doubted. He had viewed the rising current of speculation from without and had had his misgivings. Now the stream had caught him, and if he ever reflected that there might be rocks ahead, he flattered himself that he would be among the first to take the alarm,
* ■ 'HË confidence which he owed to youth, the banker drew from a past of unvarying success. But, the elder man did have his moments of mistrust. There were hours when he saw hazards in front, and many a time he pondered over the Bill Book, while the days on which he did not call for the Note Issues were few. But even he found it easier to go with the current, and once or twice, so high was his opinion of Arthur’s abilities, he let himself be persuaded by him.
It was above all when the Railroad scheme was to the fore that the banker realised his own importance. It was his, he had made it, and it was for the railroad scheme that he was disposed to put his hand out farthest. The Board upon Sir Charles’s proposal—the fruit of a hint dropped by Ovington, but credited to the Chairman—had fixed the fourth marketday in April for the opening of the subscription list. Though the season was late the
WHAT'S HAPPENED SO FAR -
Ovington, an aggressive banker of Aldersbury, promotes 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 faces two important problems, his son, Clement, who dislikes the bank, and Squire Griffin, who is antagonistic to the railway project. Ovington goes to visit the squire and is curtly told that he will have nothing to do with the railway scheme, nor give right of way over his property. Later Ovington offers Bourdillon, the nephew of the squire, a partnership in the bank if he will provide certain capital. The latter knows that his mother has such an amount invested in the squire’s property and endeavors to borrow it from her with indifferent success. In the meantime Clement has met the squire’s daughter and a mutual interest has developed.
ploughing would be over, the lambs in the pastures, the farmers at liberty; and as it happened the day turned out to be all that optimist could wish. The sun, rarely seen of late, shone, the public curiosity was tickled, the town was full, men in the streets quoted the tea-kettle and explained the powers of steam; and Arthur as he forged his way through the good-tempered, white-coated throng felt to the full his importance.
His head on a level with the tallest, he seemed success
itself. His careless greeting met everywhere a cheery answer, and more than one threw after him, “There goes the old Squire’s nevvy! See him? He’s a clever un if ever there was one!” They gave him credit for knowing mysteries dark to them, yet withal they owned a link with him. He too belonged to the land. A link with him and some pride in him.
In the parlour where the Board met he had something of the same effect. Sir Charles and Acherley had taken their seats and were talking of county matters, their backs turned on their fellows. Wolley stood before the fire, glowering at them and resenting his exclusion. Grounds sat meekly on a chair within the door. But Arthur’s appearance changed all. He had a word or a smile for each. He set Grounds at his ease, he had a laughing word for Sir Charles and Acherley, he joined Wolley before the fire. Ovington who had left the room for a moment noted the change, and his heart warmed to the secretary. “He will do,” he told himself. And he turned to the business of the meeting.
“Come, Mr. Wolley, come, Mr. Grounds,” he said, “pull up your chairs, if you please. It has struck twelve and the Bank should be open to receive applications at half past. I conveyed your invitation, gentlemen, to Mr. Purslow two days ago and I am happy to tell you that he takes two hundred shares so that over one-third of the capital will be subscribed before we go to the public. I suppose, gentlemen, you would wish him to take his seat at once?”
OIR CHARLES and Acherley nodded, Wolley looked Y* sullen but said nothing, Grounds submitted. Neither he nor Wolley was over-pleased at seeing another share in the honour of sitting with the gentry. But it had to be done. “Bring him in, Bourdillon,” Ovington said.
Purslow, who was in waiting, slid into the room and took his seat, between pride and humility. “I have reason to believe, gentlemen,” Ovington continued, “that the capital will be subscribed within twenty-four hours. It is for you to say how long the list shall remain open.”
“Not too long,” said Sir Charles sapiently.
“Shall I say forty-eight hours? Is that agreed, gentlemen ? Very good. Then a notice to that effect shall be posted outside the Bank at once. Will you see to that, Bourdillon?”
“And what of Mr. Griffin?” Wolley blurted out the question before Ovington could restrain him. The clothier was anxious to show Purslow how much at home he was in that company.
“To be sure,” Ovington answered smoothly. “That is the only point, gentlemen, in which my expectations have not been borne out. The interview between Mr. Griffin and myself was disappointing, but I had hoped to be able to tell you to-day that we were a little more forward.”
“Can’t Arthur get round him?” Acherley asked.
“No,” Arthur replied, smiling. “Perhaps if you—”
“Will you see him, Mr. Acherley?”
“Oh, I’ll see him!” carelessly. “I don’t say I shall persuade him.”
“Still we shall have done what we can to meet his views,” the banker replied. “If we fail we must fall back, on my part most reluctantly, gentlemen, on the compulsory clauses. But that is looking ahead, and we need not consider it at present. I don’t think that there is anything else. It is close on the half hour. Will you see, Bourdillon, if all is ready in the Bank?”
ARTHUR went out
leaving the door ajar, and there came through the opening a murmur of voices, and the noise of shuffling feet. Ovington turned over the papers before him. “In the event of the subscriptions exceeding the sum required what day will
suit you to allot? Thursday,
‘‘Friday would suit me better.”
“Friday be it then, if Mr.
Acherley—good. On Friday at noon, gentlemen.
The young man had returned. He did not sit down. He was smiling.
“It’s something of a sight,” he said. “By Jove it is!
I think you ought to see it.
All of you.”
Ovington nodded, and they rose, some curious, others eager to show themselves in their role of dignity. Arthur opened the door and stood aside. Beyond the door the cashier’s desk with its green curtains formed a screen which masked their presence. Ovington separated the curtains and Sir Charles and Acherley peeped between them.
The others looked round the desk.
The space devoted to the public was full, and hummed with low voices, but above the murmur sharp sentences from time to time rang out. “Here, don’t push!
It’s struck, Mr. Rodd! Hand ’em out!” Then, louder than these, a lusty voice bawled,
“Here, get out o’ my road!
I want money for a cheque, man!”
The two clerks were at the counter, with piles of application forms before them and their eyes on the clock. Clement and Rodd stood in the background.
The impassive attitude of all four contrasted strikingly with the scene beyond the counter where eighteen or twenty persons elbowed and pushed one another, their flushed faces eloquent of the spirit of greed. The crowd gave good-humoured vent to their impatience.
“Let’s have ’em! Let’s have ’em! Hand ’em out!” they murmured. What if there were not enough to go round?
The man with the cheque, hopelessly wedged in, protested. “There, someone hand it on,” he cried at last. “And pass me out the money, d—n you! And let me get out of this.”
The slip was passed from hand to hand, and “How’ll you have it, Mr. Boumphry?” Rodd asked.
“In shares!” cried a wit.
“Notes and a pound in silver,” gasped Boumphry who thought the world had gone mad. “And dunno get on my back,man!” to one behind him. “I’m not a bullock! Here, how’m I to count it when I canna get—”
“A form!” cried a second wit. “Neither can we, farmer! Come, out with ’em, gentlemen. Hullo, Mr. Purslow! That you? Ha’ you turned banker?”
The draper, who had showed himself over-confidently fell back purple with blushes. “Certainly an odd sight,” said the banker quietly. “It promises well, I think, Sir Charles.”
“D—ned well!” said Acherley.
Sir Charles acquiesced. “Er, I think so,” he said. “I certainly think so.” But he felt himself a little out of place.
THE minute hand touched the half hour, and the clerks, roused to action, began to distribute the papers. After watching the scene for a moment, the Board separated, its members passing out modestly through the house door. They parted cheerfully on the pavement, even Sir Charles unbending a little, and the saturnine Acherley chuckling to himself as visions of fools and fat premiums floated before him. It was a vision which they all shared in their different ways.
Arthur was about to join the workers in the bank when Ovington beckoned him into the dining-room. “You can be spared for a moment,” he said. “Come in here. I want to speak to you.” He closed the door. “I’ve been considering the matter I discussed with you some time ago,
and I think that the time has come when it should be settled. But you’ve said nothing about it, lad, and I’ve been wondering if anything was wrong. If so, you had better tell me.”
The banker was shrewd. “Is it the money that is the trouble?”
The moment had come, a moment that Arthur had been anticipating and dreading. He braced himself to meet it. “I’m afraid that there has been some difficulty,” he said, “but I think now—”
“Have you given your uncle notice?”
Arthur hesitated. If he avowed that they had not given his uncle notice, how weak, how inept he would appear in the other’s eyes! A wave of exasperation shook him, as he saw the strait into which his mother’s obstinacy was forcing him. The opportunity which he valued so highly, the opening on which he had staked so much—he must forfeit them through her folly. But he would not, no, he would not! He would not let her ruin him. He hesitated, then, "Yes, we have given it,” he said, “but very late, I’m afraid. My mother had her doubts and I had to overcome them. I’m sorry, sir, for the delay.”
“But the notice has been given now?”
“Then in three months, as I understand—”
“The money will be ready, sir.” He spoke stoutly, for the die was cast now, and he must go through with it. After all it was not his fault but his mother’s; and for the rest if the notice was not already given it should be this very day. “It will be ready in three months, but not earlier, I am afraid.”
Ovington reflected. “Well,” he said, “that must do. And we won’t wait. We will sign the agreement now and
it shall take effect from next Monday, the payment to be made within three months. Go through the articles,” he opened his desk and took a paper from it and gave it to Arthur, “and come in with one of the clerks at five o’clock and we will complete it.”
Arthur hardly knew what to say. “It’s uncommonly kind of you, sir!” he stammered. “You may be sure I shall do my best to repay your kindness.”
“Well, I like you,” the banker rejoined. “And of course I see my own advantage in it. So there, that is settled.”
Arthur went out taking the paper with him, but in the passage he stood awhile, his face gloomy. After all it was not too late. He could go back and tell Ovington that his mother— but no, he could not risk the banker’s good opinion. His mother must do it. She must do it. He was not going to see the chance of a lifetime wasted—for a silly scruple.
HE moved at last, enter ing the Bank so suddenly that he jostled two persons who, sheltered by the cashier’s desk, were watching, as the Board had watched a few minutes before, the scene of bustle and excitement which the bank presented. The one was Betty, the other was Rodd the cashier. It had occurred to Rodd that the girl would like to view a thing so unusual, and he had slid out and fetched her.
They faced about, startled by the contact. “Oh, it’s you!” said Betty.
“Yes,” drily. “What are you doing here, Betty?”
“I came to see the lottery drawn,” she retorted making a face at him. “Mr. Rodd fetched me. No one else thought of me.” “Well, I should have thought that he—aren’t you wanted, Rodd?” There was a new tone in his voice. “Mr. Clement seems to have his hands full.”
Rodd's face reddened under the rebuke. For a moment he seemed about to answer, then he thought better of it. He left them and went to the counter.
“And what would you have thought?” Betty asked pertly reverting to the sentence that he had not finished.
“Only that Rodd might have been better employed at his work. That is just the job he is fit for, giving out forms.” M
“And Clement, too, I suppose? It is his job too? “When he’s here to do it,” with a faint sneer. “That is not too often, Betty.”
“Well,” said Betty, “more often of late, anyway. Do you know what Mr. Rodd says?”
“He says that he has seen just such a crowd as this in a bank before. At Manchester seventeen years ago when he was a boy. There was a run on the Bank in which his father worked, and people fought for places as they are fighting to-day He does not seem to think it—lucky.
“What else does he think? What other rubbish?" Arthur retorted with contempt. “He’d better mind his own business, and do his work. He ought to know more than to say such things to you or to anyone.”
“Dear me,” Betty said, staring, “we are high and mighty to-day! HoityToity!” And turning her shoulder on him, she became absorbed in the scene before her.
But that evening she was more than usually grave and when her father, pouring out his fourth and last glass of port—for he was an abstemious man -told her that the partnership articles had been signed that afternoon, she nodded. “Yes, I knew," she said sagely.
“How, Betty? I didn’t tell you. I have told no one. Did Arthur?”
“No, father, not in so many words. But I guessed it.” And during the rest of the evening site was unusually pensive.
^PRING was late that year. It was the third week in ^ April before the last streak of snow faded from the hills, or the showers of sleet ceased to starve the land. Morning after morning the Squire tapped his glass and looked abroad for fine weather.
One morning as he stood there he saw a man turn off the road and come shambling towards him.
It was Pugh, the man-ofall-work at the Cottage, and in his disgust at things in general, the Squire damned him in his mind for a lazy rascal. “I suppose they’ve nothing to do," he growled, “that they send the rogue trapesing the roads at this hour!” Aloud. “What do you want, my man?” he asked.
Pugh quaked under the Squire’s hard eyes. “A letter from the mistress, your honour,” he said.
Reluctantly Pugh gave up the hope of beer with Calamy the butler. “I’d no orders to wait, sir.”
“Then off you go! I’ve all the idlers here I want, my lad.”
When he had read the letter he neither stormed nor swore. His anger was too deep. Here was folly, indeed, and worse than folly, ingratitude! After all these years, after forty years, during which he had paid them their five per cent, to the day, five per cent, secured as money could not be secured in these harum-scarum days—to demand their pound of flesh and to demand it in this fashion! Without warning, without consulting him, the head of the family! It was enough to make any man swear, and presently he did swear after the manner of the day.
“It’s that confounded young fool!” he thought. “He’s written it and she’s signed it. And if they have their way in five years the money will be gone. Gone, every farthing, and the woman will come begging to me. But no, madam,” with rising passion, “I’ll see you farther before I’ll pay down a penny to be frittered away by that young jackanapes! I’ll go this moment and tell her what I think of her, and see if she’s the impudence to face it out!”
He clapped on his hat and seized his cane. But when he had flung the door open pride spoke and he paused. No, he would not lower himself, he would not debate it with her. He would take no notice—that by Heavens, was what he would do. The letter should be as if it had not been written, and as to paying the money, why if they dared to go to law he would go all lengths to thwart them. He was like many in that day, violent, obstinate men who had lived all their lives among dependents and who could not believe that the law, which they administered to others, applied to them. Occasionally they had a rude awakening.
t)UT in the old Squire there were an underlying shrewdness and a sense of justice, which, obscured in trifles, became apparent in greater matters. Those qualities came to his rescue now, and as he grew cooler his attitude changed. If the woman, silly and scatter-brained as she was, and led by the nose by that impudent son of hers, if she persisted, she should have the money, and take the consequences. The six thousand was a charge; it must be met if she held to it. Little by little he accustomed himself, though he could not reconcile himself to the thought. The money must be paid, and to pay it he must sell some of his cherished securities. He had no more than four hundred, odd—he knew the exact figure in the bank. The rest must be raised bv selling his India Stock, but he hated to think of it. And the demand, made without warning, hurt his pride.
He took his lunch, a hunch of bread and a glass of ale, standing at the side-board in the dining-room.
An hour after his lunch, having determined how he would act, the old man walked across to the Cottage. As he approached the foot-bridge which crossed the river at the foot of the garden he caught a glimpse of a petticoat on the rough lawn. He had no sooner seen it than it vanished, and he was not surprised. His face was grim as he crossed the bridge and walking up to the side-door struck on it with his cane.
She was all of a tremble when she came to him, and for
that he was prepared. That did not surprise him. It was due to him. But he expected that she would excuse herse:f and fib and protest and shift her ground, as in his experience women always did, and pour forth a torrent of silly explanations. But Mrs. Bourbillon took him aback by doing none of these things. She was white-faced and frightened, but, strange thing in a woman, she was dumb or nearly dumb. Almost all she had to say or would say, almost all that he could draw from her was that it was hei
.-i. Miss A^nes Laut’s Mileage Figures
IN MISS AGNES LAUTS Article No. 2 in the March 1 15 issue, comparing the railroad mileage of Canada and the United States, the transposition of two words and the dropping of two noughts rather “pied” the meaning of the sentence. Deducting double trackage and sidings, the statement should stand: the United States has about one mile of railroad to four hundred of population, where Canada has one mile of road to three hundred of population. This will explain the error to the many who have written in to the Editor and to Miss Laut, to point out the mistake, and also to the thousands who no doubt detected the transposition of words.
letter—yes, it was her letter. She repeated that several times. And she meant it?
She meant what she had written? Yes, oh, yes, she did. Certainly she did. It was her letter.
But beyond that she had nothing to say; and at length, harshly, but not as harshly as he had intended, “What do you mean, then?” he asked. “To do with the money Ma’am, eh? I suppose you know that much?”.
“I am putting it into the Bank,” she replied, her eyes averted. “Arthur is—going to be taken in.”
“Into the Bank?” The Squire glared at her. “Into Ovington’s?”
“Yes, into Ovington’s,” she answered with the courage of despair. “Where he will get twelve per cent, for it.”
She spoke in the tone of one who repeated a lesson.
He struck the floor with his cane. “And you think that it will be safe there? Safe, ma’am, safe?” he rapped out.
“I hope so,” she faltered.
“Hope so, by Heavens? Hope so!” he cried, honestly amazed. “And that’s all! Hope so! Well, all I can say is that I hope you mayn’t live to regret your folly. Twelve per cent, indeed! Twelve—”
he said irritably. “And damme it beats me! It beats me. If that is the way you look at it why do you do it? Why do you do it? Of course you’ll have the money. But when it’s gone don’t come to me for more, that’s all! And don’t say I didn’t warn you! There, there, Ma’am,” moved by her grief, “for heaven’s sake don’t go on like that! Don’t—God bless me, if I live to be a hundred, if I shall ever understand women!”
He went away at last, routed by her tears, and almost as much perplexed as he was enraged. He saw, indeed, that it was Arthur who had pushed her to do it; and his anger against him and against Ovington grew. He would take his balance from Ovington’s on the very next market day. He would go back to Dean’s, though it meant eating humble pie. He thought of other schemes of vengeance yet knew that when the time came, he would not act upon them.
He was in a savage mood as he crossed the stable-yard at Garth. He climbed to the raised walk and looked abroad, his brow gloomy, his eyes suspicious.
The day had mended and the sun was trying to break through the clouds. The sheep were feeding along the brook-side below him, the lambs were running races under the hedgerows, or curling themselves up on sheltered banks. But the scene, which usually gratified him, failed to please him to-day, for presently he espied a figure moving near the Mill and made out that the figure was Josina’s. From time to time the girl stooped. Possibly she was picking primroses.
TT WAS the idle hour of the day and there was no reason
why she should not be taking her pleasure. But the Squire’s brow grew darker as he marked her lingering steps and uncertain movements. More than once he fancied that she looked behind her— and by and by with an oath he turned, clumped down the steps, and left the garden.
He had not quite reached the Mill when she saw him descending to meet her. He fancied that he read guilt in
her face, in her eyes, and his old heart sank at the sight.
“What are you doing?” he asked harshly, standing and striking the ground with his cane. “Eh? What are you doing here, girl? Out with it! You’ve a tongue, I suppose?”
She looked as if she could sink into the ground, but she found her voice. “I’ve been gathering—these, sir,” she faltered, holding out her basket.
“Ay, at the rate of one a minute! I’ve watched you.
Now, listen to me. You listen
..................................... to me, young woman. And take
warning. If you’re hanging
about to meet that young fool— more fool or knave I don’t know which—I’ll not have it. Do you hear? I’ll not have it!”
She looked at¿ him piteously, the colour gone from her face. “I—I don’t think—I understand,
"Oh, you understand well enough!” he retorted, his suspicions turned to certainty. “And none of your woman’s tricks with me! I’ve done with Master Arthur, and you’ve done with him too. If he comes about the place he’s to be sent to the right about. That’s my word and that’s all about it. Do you hear?” •.
He was going to say more but the silly woman burst into tears at that point and wept with such self-abandonment * ™t,S,h\fairly ?ilenced himAfter watching her a moment, guided by thèir .eïderaTTf they did notifier themseïv»
Well, there, there, Ma am, it s no good crying like that,” to be guided, they must be brought into line sharply.
She affected to be surprised and a little colour trickled into her cheeks. But he took this for one of her woman’s wiles—they were deceivers, all of them.
“Do you mean, sir,” she stammered, “that I am not to see Arthur?”
“You’re neither to see him nor speak to him nor listen to him,” he said. “There’s to be an end of it. Now are you going to obey me, girl?”
She looked as if butter would not melt in her mouth. Yes, sir,” she answered meekly. “I shall obey you if those are your orders.”
He was surprised by the readiness of her assent, and he looked at her suspiciously. “Umph!” he grunted.
That sounds well, and it will be well for you, girl, if you keep to it. For I mean it. Let there be no mistake about
“I shall do as you wish, of course, sir.”
“He’s behaved badly, d—d badly! But if you are sensible I’ll say no more. Only understand me, you’ve got to give him up.”
“From this day? Now, do you understand?”
After that he had no more to say. He required’obedience, and he should have been glad to receive it. But he was a little non-plussed, to tell the truth. Girls were silly such was his creed—and it behooved them to be
But somewhere, far down in the old man’s heart, and unacknowledged even by himself, lay an odd feeling—a feeling of something like disappointment. In his young days girls had not been so ready, so very ready to surrender their lovers. He had even known them to fight for
them. He was perplexed.
'THEY were standing on that narrow strip of sward between the wood and the stream, which the gun accident had for ever made memorable to them. The stile rose between them, but as his hands rested on hers, and his eyes dwelt unrebuked on her conscious face, the barrier was but as the Equator, which divides but does not separate; the sacrifice to propriety was less than it seemed. Spring had come with a rush, the hedges were everywhere bursting into leaf. In the Thirty Acres which climbed the hill above them, the thrushes were singing their Mayday song, and beside them the brook rippled and sparkled in the sunshine. All Nature rejoiced, and the pulse of youth leapt to the universal rhythm. The maiden’s eyes repeated what the man’s lips uttered, and for the time to love and to be loved was all in all.
“To think,” he murmured, “that if I had not been so awkward we should not have known one another!” And, silly man, he thought this the height of wisdom.
“And the snowdrops!” She was, alas, on the same plane of sapience. “But when—when did you first, Clem?” “From the first moment we met! From the very first, Jos!”
“When I saw you standing here? And looking—” “Oh, from long before that!” he declared. And his eyes challenged denial. “From the hour when I saw you at the Race Ball in the Assembly Room—ages, ages ago!” She savoured the thought and found it delicious, and she longed to hear it repeated. “But you did not know me
then. How could you —love me?”
“How could I not? How could I see you and not love you?” he babbled. "How was it possible I should not? Were we not made for one another? You don’t doubt that? And you.” jealously, “when, sweet, did you first —think of me?”
Alas, she could only go back to the moment when she had tripped heart-whole round the corner of the wood, and seen him standing, solitary, wrapped in thought, a romantic figure.
This was the latest of a dozen meetings, and Love had long ago challenged Love. Many an afternoon had Clement waited under the wood, and with wonder and reverence seen the maid come tripping along the green towards him. Many a time had he thought a seven-mile ride a small price to pay for the chance, the mere chance, of a meeting, for the distant glimpse of a bonnet, ay, even for the privilege of touching the pebble set for a token on the stile. But then, how great had been the temptation, how compelling the lure, how fair the maid!
No, he had not played quite fairly with his father. But the thought of that weighed lightly on him. For whereas this that had come to him, this love that glorified all things, even as Spring the face of Nature, that filled his mind with a thousand images, each more enchanting than the last and inspired his imagination with a magic not its own— whereas this visited a man but once, he would have long years in which he might redeem the time, long years in which he might warm his father’s heart by an attendance at the desk that would shame Rodd himself! Ay, and he would! He would! Even the sacrifice of his own tastes, his own wishes, seemed in his present mood a small surrender and one he owed, and longed to pay.
FOR he was in love with goodness, he longed to put himself right with all.. He longed to do his duty to all, he who walked with a firmer step, who trod the soil with a conquering foot, who found new beauties in star and flower, he, so happy, so proud, so blessed.
But this being his mood, there was a burden which weighed on him, and weighed on him more heavily every day, and that was the part which he was playing towards Josina’s father. It had long galled him, when absent from
her; of late it had begun to mar his delight in her presence. To-day he had come to meet Josina with a fixed resolve, and a mind wound up to the pitch of action; and presently into the fair pool of her content—yet quaking as he did so lest he should seem to hint a fault—he cast a stone.
“And now, Jos,” he said, his eyes looking bravely into hers, “I must see your father.”
“My father!” Fear sprang into her eyes. She stiffened.
“Yes, dear,” he repeated. “I must see your father— and speak to him. There is no other course possible.”
Colour, love, joy, all fled from her face. She shivered. “My father?” she stammered, pale to the lips. “Oh, it is impossible! It is impossible! You would not do it!” She would have withdrawn her hands if he had not held them. “You cannot, cannot mean it! Have you thought what you are saying?”
“I have indeed,” he said, sobered by her fear, and full of pity for her. “I lay awake for hours last night thinking of it. But there is no other course, Jos, no other course— if we would be happy.”
“But, oh, you don’t know him!” she cried panic-stricken. And her voice wrung his heart. “You don’t know him! Or what he will think of me!”
She shuddered. All had been so bright, so new, so joyous; and now she was to pay the price. And the price had a very terrible aspect for her. Fate, a cruel pitiless fate, was closing upon her. She could not speak, but her eyes, her quivering lips, pleaded with him for mercy.
HE HAD expected that, and he stealed himself,showing thereby the good metal that was in him. “Yes,” he said firmly, “we must, Jos. Because if we do not, if we continue to deceive your father, he will have reason to be angry with you, but to despise me; to look upon me as a poor unmanly thing, Jos, a coward who dared not face him, a craven who dared not ask him for what he valued above all the world! Who stole it from him in the dark and behind his back! As it is be will be angry enough. He will look down upon, me, and with justice. And at first he will say no, and I fear he will separate us, and there will be
no more meetings, and we may have to wait. But if we are brave, if we trust one another and are true to one another—and alas, you will have to bear the worst—if we can bear and be strong in the end, believe me, Jos, it will come right.”
“Never,” she cried, despairing. “Never! He will never allow it!”
“Oh,” she prayed, “can we not go on as we are?”
“No, we cannot.” He was firm. “We cannot. By and by you would discover that for yourself, and you, as well as he, would have cause to despise me. For consider, Jos, think, dear. If I do not seek you for my wife, what is before us? To what can we look forward? To what future? What end? Only to perpetual alarms and some day, when we least expect it, to discovery—to discovery that will cover me with disgrace.”
She did not answer. She had taken her hands from him, she had taken herself from him. She leant on the stile, her face hidden. But he dared not give way, nor would he let himself be repulsed: and very tenderly he laid his hand
on her shoulder. “It is natural that you should be frightened,” he said. “But if I, too, am frightened, if, seeing the proper course I do not take it, how can you ever trust me or depend on me? What am I then, but a coward? What is the worth of my love, Jos, if I have not the courage to ask for you?”
“But he will want to know—her shoulders heaved in her agitation, “he will want to know—”
“How we met? I know. And how we loved? Yes, I am afraid so. And he will be angry with you, and you will suffer and I shall be, God knows how wretched? But if I do not go to him how much more angry will he be!”
“But he is so—so hard!” she whispered, her face still hidden.
“I know, dear. And so set in, so firm in his prejudice and his pride. I know. He will think me so far below you; he hates the Bank and all connected with it. He holds me, a mere clerk, not one of his class, and low, dear, I know it. But”—his voice rose a tone—“I am not low,
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Jos, and you have discovered it. And now I must prove it to him. I must prove it. And to make a beginning, I must be no coward. I must not be afraid of him. For you, the times are past when he could ill-treat you. And he loves you.”
“He is very hard,” she murmured. It was his punishment throughout, that though his heart was wrung for her he could not bear her share of the suffering. But he dared not and he would not give way. “He will make'me give you up.”
HE HAD thought of that and he was ready for it. “That must depend upon you,” he said, very soberly. “For my part, dear—but my part is easy—I shall never give you up. Never! But if the trial be too sore for you who must bear the heavier burden, if you feel that our love is not worth the price you must pay, then I will never reproach you, Jos, never. If you' decide on that I will not say one word against it, no, nor think one harsh thought of you. And then we need not tell him. But we must not meet again.” She trembled; and it was natural, it was very natural, that she should tremble, being such as she was. It was an age when discipline was strict and even harsh, and she had been bred up in awe of her father and in that absolute subjection to him, of which the women about her set the example. Children were then to be seen and not heard. Girls were expected to have neither wills nor views of their own. And in her case, this was not all. One thing was known to Josina which was not known to Clement. Garth was entailed upon her. Even the Squire could not deprive her of the estate and in the character of his heir she wore for the old man a preciousness with which affection had nothing to do. What he might have permitted to his daughter was matter for
grim conjecture. But that he would ever let his heiress, she whose hand was weighted with the rents of Garth, and with the wide lands he loved, that he would ever let her wed at her pleasure or out of her class, this appeared to Josina of all things the most unlikely. But......
AT HIS touch, she looked up at last, and with a leap of the heart he read her answer in her eyes. He read there a love and a courage—for after all she was her father’s daughter, she too came of an old proud race—equal to his own. “You shall tell him,” she said, smiling bravely through her tears. “And I will bear what comes of it. But they shall never separate us, Clem, never, never, if you will be true to me.”
“True to you!” he cried, worshipping her, adoring her. “Oh, Jos!”
“And love me a little always?”
“Love you? Oh, my darling.” The words choked him.
“It shall be as you say! It shall be always as you say!” She was clinging to him now. “I will do as you tell me! I will always—oh, but you mustn’t, you mustn’t,” between tears and smiles, for his arms were about her now, and the poor ineffectual stile had ceased to be even an Equator. “But I must tell you. I love you more now, Clement, more, more because I can trust you. You are strong and will do what is right.”
"At your cost!” he cried, moved to the depths, and he thought her the most wonderful, the bravest, the noblest woman in the world. “Ah, Jos, if I could bear it for you!”
“I will bear it,” she answered. “And it will not last. And see I am not afraid now—or only a little! I shall think of you, and it will be nothing.”
Presently. "When will you tell him?” she asked; and she asked it bravely with scarce a quaver in her voice.
“As soon as I can. The sooner the heller This is Saturday. I will see him on Monday morning. There is only one thing I fear—that someone should be before us. That someone should tell him before I do. And he should think us what we are not, Jos—cowards.”
"I see,” she answered thoughtfully. "Yes,” with a sigh. "Then, on Monday. I shall sleep the better when it is over, even if I sleep in disgrace.”
“I know,” he said—-and he saw with a pang that her colour ebbed and that her lips were quivering. But her eyes still met his and were brave and she smiled to reassure him.
"I will nol mind what comes, she whispered, “if only we are not parted.”
“We shall not be parted for ever, he assured her. “If we are true to one another, not even your father can partus— in the end.”
J OSINA had put a brave face on the matter, but when the time came to go down to breakfast on the Monday she was almost sick with apprehension. Her hands were cold, and as she sat at table she •could not raise her eyes from her plate. The habit of years is not to be overcome in an hour, and that which the girl had to face was beyond doubt formidable.
Through all, she who was so weak, so timid, so subject, must be firm. She must not flinch.
As she sat at table she was conscious of her pale cheeks, and trembled lest the others should notice them. She fancied that already her father’s face wore an ominous gloom. “If you’ve orders for town you’ll need be quick with them, he flung at Miss Peacock as he rose. “I’m going in at ten.”
Miss Peacock was all of a flutter. “But I thought, sir, that the Bench did not sit until half past—”
“You’d best not think,” he retorted. “Ten, I said.”
That seemed to promise a blessed respite, and the colour returned to Josina’s cheeks. Clement could hardly arrive before eleven, and for this day she might be safe. But on the heels of relief followed reflection. The respite meant another sleepless night, another day of apprehension, more hours of fear; the girl was glad and she was sorry. The spirit, gallant enough, warred with the flesh. She did not know what she wished.
And after all Clement might appear before ten. She watched the clock and watched her father and in returning suspense hung upon his movements. How he lingered, now hunting for a lost paper, now grumbling over a seed-bill, now drawing on his boots with the old horn-handled hooks which had been his father’s. And the clock—how slowly it moved! It wanted eight, it wanted five, it wanted two minutes of ten. The hour struck. And still the Squire loitered outside, ranting at old Fewtrell—when at any moment Clement might ride up.
THE fact was that Thomas was late, and the Squire was saying what he thought of him. “D—n, he thinks because he’s going, he can do what he likes!” he fumed. “But I’ll learn him! Let me catch him in the village a week after he leaves and I’ll jail him for a vagrant! Such impudence as he gave me the other day I never heard in my life! I wasted no time in giving him his month’s notice. He’ll go wide of here for a character!” Then, fortunately or unfortunately, the curricle came round and the Squire, turning his wrath upon the groom, called him a lazy scoundrel, and cursed him up hill and down dale.
The Squire rattled the horses down the steep drive with the confidence of one who had done the same thing a thousand times. Turning to the left a furlong beyond the gate he made for Garthmyle where, at the bridge, he fell into the highway. He had driven a mile along this when he saw a horseman coming along the road to meet him, and he fell to wondering who it was. His sight was good at a distance, and he fancied that he had seen the young spark before, though he could not put a name to him. But he saw that he rode a good nag and he was not surprised when the other reined up, and, raising his hat, showed that he wished to speak.
It was Clement, of course, and with a little more wisdom or a little less courage, he would not have stopped the old man. He would have seen that the moment was not propitious, and that his business could hardly be done on the highway. But in his intense eagerness to set himself right, and his anxiety lest chance should forestall him, he snatched at the opportunity, and his hand was raised before he had well considered what he would say.
The Squire pulled up his horses. “D’you want me?” he said, civilly enough.
“If I may trouble you, sir,” Clement answered as bravely as he could. “It’s on important business, or—or I wouldn’t detain you.” Already, his heart in his mouth, he saw the difficulty in which he had placed himself. How could he speak before the man? Or on the road?
THE Squire considered him. “Business, eh?” he said. “With me? Well, I know your face, young gentleman, but I can’t put a name to you.”
“I am Mr. Ovington’s son, Clement Ovington, sir.”
All the Squire’s civility left him. “The devil you are!” he exclaimed. “Well, I’m going to the Bank. I like to do my business on the spot. Across the counter, young sir, to be plain, and not on the highway.”
“But this is business of a different sort, sir,” Clement stammered, painfully aware of the change in the other’s tone, as well as of the servant who was all a-grin behind his master’s shoulder. He wished with all his heart now that he had not stopped the Squire. “If I could have a word with you apart, sir? Or perhaps—if I called at Garth to-morrow?”
“It is upon private business, Mr. Griffin,” Clement explained, his face burning. “Did your father send you?”
“Then I don’t see,” the Squire replied scowling at him from under his bushy eyebrows, “what business you can have with me. There can be none, young man, that can’t be done across the counter. It is only upon business that I know your father, and I don’t know you at all, I don’t know why you stopped me.”
Clement was scarlet with mortification. “If I could see you for a few minutes alone, sir, I think I could explain what it is.”
“You will see me at the Bank in an hour,” the old man retorted. “Anything you have to say you can say there. As it is, I am going to close my account with your father, and after that the less I hear your name the better I shall be pleased. At present you’re wasting my time. I don’t know why you stopped me. Good morning,” and in a lower tone but one that was perfectly audible to Clement, “d—d
oung counterskipper!” he muttered, as e started the horses. “Business with me, indeed! Confound his impudence!”
He drove off at speed, leaving Clement seated on his horse in the middle of the road, a prey to feelings that may be imagined.
He had—he had certainly made a mess of it. His ears burned, as he sat his horse, and recalled the other’s words.
MEANWHILE the Squire drove on, and with the air and movement he recovered his temper. As he drew near to the town the market-traffic increased, and sitting high on his seat he swept by many a humble gig and plodding farm-cart, and acknowledged with a flicker of his whiphand many a bared head and hasty obeisance. He was not loved; men who are bent on getting a pennyworth for their penny are riot loved. But he was respected and feared, and known to be just, and if a despot, to be a despot for good ends. He was regardful of his own people and owned a duty to them, and in all companies he was fearless and could hold his own. Men did not love him, but they trusted him, knowing exactly what they might expect from him. And he was Griffin of Garth, one of the few in whose hands were all county power and all county influence.
From the bridge the town, girdled by the shining river, climbs pyramid-wise, up. the sides of a cleft hill, an ancient castle guarding the one narrow pass by which a man may enter it on foot. The smiling plain, in the midst of which it rises, is itself embraced at a distance by a ring of hills, broken at one point only which happens to correspond with the guarded isthmus; on which side, and some four miles away, was fought many centuries ago a famous battle. It is a proud town, looking over
a proud county, a county sti.l based | on ancient tradition, on old names and great estates, standing solid and four! square against the invasion that even in j the Squire’s day threatened it—the invaj sion of new men and new money, of Birmingham and Liverpool and Manchester. The airy streets and crowded Shuts—so they call their alleys in Aldersbury—run down on all sides from the Market Place to the green meadows and leafy gardens that the river laps, green meadows on which the chapels and quiet cloistei*s of religious houses once nestled under the shelter of the walls.
The Squire passed by many a quaint old house with beetling roof and two-storied porch, as he drove up Maerdol. His first and most pressing business was at the Bank, and he would not be himself until he had got it off his mind. He would show that d—d Ovington, what he thought of him! He would teach him a lesson— luring away that young man and pouching his money, bye begad he would!
BUT as the Squire turned to the left by the Stalls he saw his lawyer, Frederick Welsh—rather above most lawyers were the two Welshes, by-blows it was said of a great house—and Welsh stopped him. “You’re wanted at the bench, Squire, if you please,” he said. “His lordship is there, and they are waiting for you.”
“But it’s not time—by an hour, man!” “No, Squire, but it’s a special case, and will take all day, I’m afraid. His lordship says that he won’t begin until you come. It’s that case of—” the lawyer whispered a few words. “And the Chief Constable does not quite trust—you understand? He’s anxious that you should be there.”
The Squire resigned himself. “Very well, I’ll come,” he said.
He could go to the Bank afterwards, but he might not have complied so readily— lordship or no lordship—if his vanity had not been tickled.
In all bodies it is on the shoulders of one or two that the onus falls. Of the one or two in Aldershire the Squire was one. My lord might fill the Chair, Sir Charles might assent, but it was to Griffin that their eyes wandered when an unpleasant decision had to be taken, or the public showed its teeth. And the old man knew that this was so, and was proud of it.
But to-day, as he watched the short hand move round the clock he had less patience than usual. Because he must be at the Bank before it closed,' everything seemed to work against him. The witnesses were sullen, the evidence dragged, Acherley went off on a false scent, and, being whipped back, turned crusty. The Squire fidgeted and scowled, and then, twenty minutes before the Bank closed, and when with his eyes on the clock he was growing desperate, the chairman suggested that they should break off for a quarter of an hour. “Confound me, if I can sit any longer,” he said. “I must have a mouthful of something, Griffin.”
The Squire seldom took more than a hunch of bread at midday and could do without that, but he was glad to agree, and a minute later he was crossing the Market Place towards the Bank. It happened that business was brisk there at the moment. Rodd at a side desk was showing a customer how to draw a cheque. At the main counter a knot of burly farmers were producing, with protruding tongues and hunched shoulders, something which might pass for a signature. Two clerks were aiding them, and for a moment the Squire stood unseen and unregarded. Impatiently he tapped the counter with his stick, on which Rodd saw him, and, deserting his task, came hurriedly to him.
The Squire thrust his cheque across the counter. “In gold,” he said.
The cashier scanned the cheque, his hand in the till. “Four, seven, six-ten,” he murmured. Then his face grew serious, and without glancing at the Squire he consulted a book which lay beside him. “Four seven, six-ten,” he repeated, “I am afraid —one moment if you please, sir!” and breaking off he made two steps to a door behind him and disappeared through it.
HE RETURNED a moment later, followed by Ovington himself. The banker’s face was grave, but his tone retained its usual blandness. “Good day, Mr. Griffin,” he said. “You are drawing the whole of your balance, I see. I trust that that does not mean that you are— making any change?”
“That is what it does mean, sir,” the Squire answered.
“Of course, it is entirely your affair-—”
“But we are most anxious to accommodate you. If there is anything that we can put right, any cause of dissatisfaction—”
“No,” said the Squire grimly. “There'is nothing that you can put right. It is only that I don’t choose to do business with my family.”
The banker bowed with dignity. The incident was not altogether unexpected. “With most people, a connection of the kind would be in our favour.”
“Not with me. And as my time is short—”
The banker bowed. “In gold, I think? May we not send it for you? It will be no trouble.”
“No, I thank you,” the Squire grunted, hating the other for his courtesy. “I will take it, if you please.”
“Put it in a strong bag, Mr. Rodd,” Ovington said. “I shall still hope, Mr. Griffin, that you will think better of it.” And bowing, he wished the Squire, “Good day,” and retired.
Rodd was a first class cashier, but he felt the Squire’s eyes burning into him, and he was twice as long in counting out the gold as he should have been. The consequence was that when the Squire left the bank, the hour had struck, Dean’s was closed, and the Bench was waiting for him. He paused on the steps considering what he should do. He could not leave so large a sum unguarded in the Justices’ room, nor could he conveniently take it with him into the Court.
At that moment, his eyes fell on Purslow, the draper, who was standing at the door of his shop, and he crossed over to him. “Here, man, put this in your safe and turn the key on it,” he said, "I shall call for it in an hour or two.”
“Honoured, I am sure,” said the gratified tradesman: as he took the bag. But when he felt its weight and guessed what was in it,“Excuse me, Sir. Hadn’t you better seal it, sir?” he said. “It seems to be a large sum.”
“No need, I shall call for it in an hour. Lock it up yourself, Purslow. That’s all.”
“You may consider it done, sir." Purslow was as pleased, indeed, as if the Squire had given him a large order, and the terms in which he would tell the story at the Gullet that evening, already rose to his mind.
Meanwhile, the old man stalked across to the Court, where business kept him, fidgeting and impatient, until hard on seven. Nor did he get away then without unpleasantness.
FOR unluckily Acherley, who had been charged to approach him about the Railroad, had been snubbed in the course of the day. Always an ill-tempered man, he saw his way to pay the Squire out, and chose this moment to broach the subject, doing so not only in the presence of the others—which was foolish—but in a spirit more in consonance with his own irritation than likely to effect his object.
“ ’Pon my honour, Griffin, you know— about this Railroad,”he said, tackling the old man abruptly, as they were putting on their coats. “I want a word with you. You really must open your eyes, man, and move with the times. The devil’s in it if we can stand still always. You might as well go back to your old tie-wig, you know. You are blocking the way, and if you won’t think of your own interests, you ought to think of the town. I can tell you,” bluntly, “you are making yourself d—d unpopular there.”
Very seldom of late had anyone spoken to the Squire in that tone, and his temper was up in a minute. “Unpopular? I don’t understand you,” he snapped.
“Well, you ought to!”
“Unpopular? What’s that? Unpopular, sir? What the devil have we in this room to do with popularity? I make my horse go my way, I don’t go his, nor ask if he likes it. Damn your popularity!”
Acherley had his answer on his tongue, but Woosenham interposed. “But after all, Griffin,” he said mildly, “we must move with the times—even if we don’t give way to the crowd. There’s no man whose opinion I value more than yours, as you know, but—”
“You’d do better if you thought less of the opinions of others—and stood by your own, man!”
“Oh, come, my friend. You do me an
“An injustice?” the Squire sneered. "Not I! The fact is, Woosenham, you are-
letting others use you for a stalking horse. Some are fools, and some—I leave you to put a name to them! If you’d give two thoughts to this Railroad yourself, you’d see that you have nothing to gain by it, except money that you can do without! While you stand to lose more than money, and that’s your good name!”
Sir Charles changed colour. “My good name?” he said, bristling feebly. “I don’t understand you, Griffin.”
One of the others, seeing a quarrel in prospect, intervened. “There, there,” he said, hoping to pour oil on the troubled waters. “Griffin doesn’t mean it, Woosenham. He doesn’t mean—”
“But I do mean it,” the old man retorted.. “I mean every word of it.” He felt that the general sense was against him, but that was nothing to him. Wasn’t he the oldest present, and wasn’t it his duty to stop this folly if he could! “I tell you plainly, Woosenham,” he continued, “it isn’t only your affair—if you lend your name to this business. Y ou take it up and a lot of fools who know nothing about it, who know less, by God, than you do, will take it up too! And will put their money in it and go daundering up and down quoting you as if you were Solomon! And that tickles you! But what will they say of you if the affair turns out to be a swindle, another South Sea Bubble? And half the town and half the country are ruined by it! Eh?” bending his angry brow on the offender. “What’ll they say of you then? And of us?”
ACHERLEY could be silent no longer.
“Nobody’s going to be ruined by it!” he cried angrily—he saw that Sir Charles looked woefully disturbed. “Nobody!
If you ask me I think what you’re saying is d—d nonsense.”
“It may be,” the Squire said sternly. “But just another word, please. I repeat and I want you to understand, Woosenham, that this is not your affair only. It touches every one of us. What are we in this room? If we are those to whom the administration of this county is entrusted, let us act as such—and keep our hands clean. But if we are a set of money-changers and bill-mongers,” with contempt, “stalking horses for such men as Ovington the banker, dirtying our hands with all the damned tricks of the money market— that’s another matter. But I warn you— you can't be both. Mark me, you can’t be both! And for my part—we don’t any longer wear swords to show we’re gentlemen, as I did when I was young—but I’m damned if I’ll wear an apron or have anything to do with this business. A Railroad? Faugh! As if horses’ legs and Telford’s roads aren’t good enough for us, or as if tea-kettles will ever beat the Wondercoach to London!”
Acherley had been restrained with difficulty and he now broke loose. “Griffin!” he cried, “you’re damned offensive! Yes, sir, you are! If you wore a sword as you used to—”
“Pooh! Pooh!” said the Squire and shrugged his shoulders contemptuously: while Sir Charles, terribly put out both by the violence of the scene and by the picture which the Squire had drawn, put in a feeble protest. “I must say,” he said, “I think this uncalled for, Griffin, I do indeed.
I think you might have spared us this. You may not agree with as—”
“But damme if he shall insult us!” Acherley cried, trembling with passion.
“Pooh, pooh!” said the Squire again. “I’m an old man, and it is useless to talk to me in that strain. I’ve spoken my mind and the plain truth, and—”
“Ay, and you horse two of the coaches!” Acherley retorted. “And make a profit by that, dirty or no! But where’d your profit be, dirty or clean, if your father, who rode post to London, had stood pat where he was? And set himself against coaches as you set yourself against the Railroad?”
THAT was a shrewd hit and the Squire did not meet it. Instead, “Well, right or wrong,” he said, “that’s my opinion. And right or wrong, no Railroad crosses my land and that’s my last word!”
“We’ll see about that,” Acherley answered, bubbling with rage. “There are more ways than one of cooking a goose.” “Just so. But—” with a steady look at him, “which is the cook and which is the goose, Acherley? Perhaps you’ll find that out some day. Meantime, do you bear this in mind, Woosenham, and think it over.” And the Squire clapped on his hat —he had already put on his shabby old driving coat. But he had still a word to
say "I’m the oldest man here,” he sad, looking round upon them, “and Í may take a liberty and ask no man’s pleasure. You, Wooseriham, and you, gentlemen, let this railroad alone. If you are goingto move, as you say, at twenty-five miles an hour then, depend upon it, more things will move than you wot of, and more than you’ll like. Ay, you’ll have movementmovement enough and changes enough if you go on! So I say, leave it alone, gentlemen. That’s my advice.”
He went out with that and stamped down the stairs. He had not sought the encounter and, now that he was alone, his knees shook a trifle under him. But he had held his own and spoken his mind—d—n that puppy, Acherley! He shouldn’t dictate to him!and on the whole he was content with himself.
The same could not be said of those whom he had warned. Acherley, indeed, abused him freely and one or two joined in, but the majority were impressed, and Sir Charles, who respected his opinion, was rudely shaken.
Sir Charles went home an unhappy man. He wished that Griffin had not warned him or that he had warned him earlier. Of what use was a warning when his lot was cast and he was the head and front of the matter, president of the company, chairman of the board ?
Meanwhile the Squire stood on the steps of the Court House, cursing his man. The curricle was not there, Thomas was not there, it was growing dark, and a huge pile of clouds looming above the roofs to westward, threatened tempest. The shopkeepers were putting up their shutters, the packmen binding up their bundles, stall-keepers hurrying away their trestles, and the Market Place, strewn with the rubbish and débris of the day, showed dreary by the failing light. In the High Street there was still some traffic and in the lanes and alleys around candles began to shine out. A one-legged sailor, caterwauling on a crazy fiddle, had gathered a small crowd before one of the taverns.
“P—n the man! Where is he?”the Squire muttered, looking about him with a disgusted eye and wishing himself at home. “Where is the rogue?”
Then Thomas, driving slowly and orating to a couple of men who walked beside the carriage, came into view. The Squire roared at him and Thomas taken by surprise whipped up his horses so sharply that he knocked over a hawker’s basket. Still storming at him the old man climbed to his seat, and took the reins. He drove round the corner into Bride Hill and stopped at Purslow’s door.
THE draper was at the carriage wheel before it stopped. He had the bag in his hand but he did not at once hand it up: “Excuse me, excuse the liberty, sir,” he said, lowering his voice, and glancing at Thomas, “but it’s a large sum, sir, and it’s late. Hadn’t I better keep it till morning?”
The Squire snapped at him. “Morning? Rubbish, man! Put it in.” He made room for the bag at his feet.
But the draper still hesitated. “It will be dark in ten minutes, sir, and the road—it’s true no one has been stopped of late, but—”
“I’ve never been stopped in my life,” the Squire rejoined. “Put it in, man, and don’t be a fool. Who’s to stop me between here and Garth?”
Purslow muttered something about the safe side, but he complied. He handed in the bag, which gave out a clinking sound as it settled itself beside the Squire’s feet. The old man nodded his thanks, and started his horses.
He drove down Bride Hill, and by the Stalls, where the taps were humming, and the inns were doing a great business, their lights twinkling through the leaded panes of the low casements. Passing one or two belated carts, he turned to the right and descended to the bridge, the old houses with their galleries and gables looming above him as for three centuries they had loomed above the traveller by the Welsh road. He rumbled over the bridge, the wide river flowing dark and silent below him. Then he trotted sharply up Westwell, passing by the inns that in old days had served those who arrived after the gates were closed.
Now he faced the open country and the wet west wind and he settled himself down in his seat and shook up his horses. As he did so his foot touched the bag and again the gold gave out a chinking sound. To be Continued