STANLEY J. WEYMAN
THE SQUIRE raised himself on his elbow and secreted the bag where he
could assure himself of its presence by a touch. Then he sank back with a grunt of relief and his hand went to the keys which also had their home under his pillow. He clung to them, they were his badge of
authority, of power. While he had them, sightless as he was, he was still master. About his room, the oak-panelled chamber, spacious but shabby, with the uneven floor and the low wide casement , the life of the house still circled. “Good lad!” he muttered. “Good lad! Jos!”
“Yes, father.” She rose and came towards him. “Where’s Arthur?”
"He went out with your message.”
“To be sure! To be sure! I’m forgetting.”
But once started on the road to recovery, he did not forget much. From his high, four-post bed with the drab hangings in which his father and grandfather had died, he gripped house and lands in a firm grasp. Morning by morning he would have his report of the lambs, of the wheat, of the hay-crops, of the ploughing on the eight acres where the Swedish turnips were to go. He would know what corn went to the mill, what mutton to the house.
Only in one or two points was a change apparent. He reverted, unconsciously it seemed, to an older and ruder form of speech familiar to him when George the Third was young, but which of late he had only used when talking with his tenants. He said ‘Dunno you do this,’ and T wunt ha’ that!’ Used ‘ship’ for sheep, and ‘goold’ for gold, called Thomas a ‘gallus bad rascal’ and the like.
And in another and more important point he was changed. For eyes he must now depend on someone, and though he shewed that he liked to have Jos about him and bore with her when the other women’s fussiness drove him to bad words, it was soon clear that the person he chose was Arthur. Arthur was restored and more than restored to favour. It was, .“Where’s Arthur?” a score of times a day. Arthur must come, must go, must be ever at his elbow. He must check such and such an account, see the overseers about such an one, speak to the constable about another, go into Aldersbury about the lease. Even when Arthur was absent the Squire’s thoughts ran on him,
and often he would mutter “Good lad! Good lad!” when he thought himself alone.
It was a real bouleversement, but Josina, supposing that Arthur had saved her father’s life at his own risk, and had then added to his merit by recovering the lost money, found it natural enough. For the full details of the robbery had never been told to her. “Better leave it alone, Jos,” Arthur had said when some days later she had shown a desire to know more. “It was a horrid business and you won’t want to dream of it. Another minute and that d—d villain' would have—but there, I’d advise you to leave it alone.”
CO JOSINA knew no particulars except that Arthur ^ had saved his uncle’s life, and Clemeqt—she shuddered as she thought of it—had come up in time to be of service. And no one at Garth knew more. But, knowing so much, it was not surprising to her that Arthur should be restored to favour, and, lately forbidden the house, should now rule it as a master. And clearly Arthur, also, found the position natural, so easily did he fall into it.
Miss Peacock adored him. He put Josina’s nose out of joint.
Of the young fellow, whose moodiness had of late perplexed his companions in the bank, and puzzled Betty, not a trace remained. Had they or she seen him as he now was, they might have been tempted to think that a heavy weight had been lifted from him. But he seemed, for the time, to have forgotten the bank. He rarely mentioned the Ovingtons.
There was one at Garth, however, who had not forgotten either the bank or the Ovingtons; and proved it presently to Arthur’s surprise. “Jos!” said the Squire one afternoon; and when she had replied that she was there,
"Where is Arthur?” “I think he has just come in, sir.” “Prop me up. And send him to me. Do
send him to me. Do you leave us.” She went, wondering a little, for she had not been dismissed before. She sent Arthur, who, after his usual fashion, scaled the stairs at three bounds. He found the
at bounds. He found the old man sitting up in the shadow of the curtains, a grotesque figure with his bandaged head. The air of the room was not so much musty as ancient, savouring of wormeaten wood and long-decaying lavender, and linen laid by in presses.. On each side of the drab tester hung a dim flat portrait, faded and melancholy, in a carved wooden frame, unglazed; under each hung a sampler. "You sent for me, sir?”
“Ay. When’s that money due?” The question was so unexpected that for a moment Arthur did not take it in. Then the blood rushed to his face. “My mother’s money, sir?” “What else? - What other money is there, that’s due? I forget things but I dunno forget that.” “You don’t forget much, sir,” Arthur replied cheerfully. “But there’s no hurry about that!" “When?” “Well, in two months from the twenty-first, sir. But there is not the least hurry.” “This is the seventeenth?” “Yes, sir.” • “Well, I’ll pay and há' done with it. But I’ll ha’ to sell stock. East India Stock it is. What are they at, lad?” "About two hundred and seventy odd, I think, sir. Somewhere about that.”
“ A ND how do you sell ’em?” The Squire knew a good T* deal about buying stock but little about selling it, and he winced as he put the question. But he bore the pang gallantly, for had not the boy earned his right to the money and to his own way? Ay, and earned it by a service as great as one man could perform for another? For the Squire had no more reason than those about him to doubt that he owed his life to his nephew. He had found him beside his bed when he recovered his senses.
and putting together this and certain words that had fallen from those about him, and adding his own hazy impressions of the happenings of that night and of thé man on whose shoulder he had leant, he had never questioned the fact. “How do you go about to sell ’em?” he repeated. “I suppose you know?” “Oh, yes, sir, it’s my business,” Arthur replied. “You have to get a transfer—they are issued at the India House. You’ve only to sign it before two witnesses. It is quite simple, sir.” “Well, I can do that. Do you see to it, lad.” “You wouldn’t wish to do it through Ovington’s?” “No!” the squire rapped out. “Do it yourself.” “You wouldn’t mind if I did it through their brokers? I can trust them.” “Do it as you please, as long as you don’t bring in—that man,” grumpily. “But lose no time; write at once.” “Very well, sir. I suppose you have the certificates?" “’Course I have,”annoyed. “Isn’t the stock mine?” “Very good, sir. I’ll see to it.”
It was not until he found himself standing at a window outside the room, and staring with unseeing eyes over the green vale that he brought his thoughts to a head, and knew that even at this, the eleventh hour, he hesitated. The thing that he had so much desired, that had presented itself to him in such golden hues, that had dazzled his ambition and absorbed his mind, was his now; was within his grasp, ready to be garnered, all difficulties past — and yet he hesitated. Ovington was a just man and beyond doubt would release him and cancel the partnership agreement, if he desired to have it cancelled. And he was very near to desiring it at this moment.
t'OR HE saw that there were other things to be garnered —Garth, its broad acres, its fine rent-roll, the old man’s savings, Josina. Secure of the Squire’s favour he had but, it seemed to him, to stretch out his hand, and all these things might be his; might certainly be his if he gave up the Bank and his prospects there. That step, if he took it, would remove his uncle’s last objection to him; it would bind him to him by a triple bond.
He hesitated, standing at the window, looking on the green vale and the hillside beyond it. Yes, he might do it. But what if he repented later? And what security had he for those other things? His uncle might live for years, long years, might live to quarrel with him and discard him. Did not the proverb say that it was ill-work, waiting for dead men’s shoes? And Josina? Doubtless he might win Josina, for the wooing; he had no doubt about that. But he was not sure that he wanted Josina.
He decided at last that the question might wait. Until he had written the letter to the brokers, until then at any rate, either course was open to him.
He went downstairs. In the wainscoted hall, small and square, with a high narrow window on each side of the door, his mother and Josina were sitting on one of the window seats. The door stood open, the spring air and the sunshine poured in. “I’m telling her that she’s not looking well,” his mother said, as he joined them.
“She spends too much time in that room,” he answered. Then, after a moment’s thought, rattling the money in his fob,
“Is Farmer coming to-day?”
“No.” It was Josina who answered. The girl spoke listlessly. “I don’t think he is.”
“He’s made a wonderful recovery,” his mother observed.
"Yes—if it’s a real recovery,” doubtfully.
“At any rate the doctor hopes that he may come downstairs in ten days. And then, I’m afraid we shall have Josina to nurse.”
The girl protested that she was well, quite well, but her heavy eyes and the shadows under them belied her words.
“Well, I’m off to town,” he said. “I have to do some business for him.
TE LEFT them and ten minutes later he was on the road to Aldersbury, still undecided, still uncertain what course he would pursue. He rode with his eyes fixed on Ids horse’s ears, and only came to himself when he saw the very man he wished to see coming to meet him. It was Mr. Farmer, in the mahogany-topped boots, the frilled shirt, and the old black coat—shaped as are our dress coats but buttoned tightly round the waist—which the dust of a dozen summers and every road in the district had whitened.
“Hallo, doctor!” Arthur cried as they met. “Are you
going up to the house to-day?”
“No, Mr. Bourdillon,” Farmer answered, reining up. “But I can if necessary. How is he?”
“That is what I want you to tell me. One can’t talk freely at the house and I have a reason for wishing to know. How is he, doctor?”
“Do you mean—”
“Has this really shaken him? Will he be the same man again?”
“I see.” Farmer rubbed his chin with the horn-handle of his riding crop. “Well—I see no reason at present why he should not be. He’s one in a hundred, you know. Sound heart, good digestion, a little gouty— but tough. Tough! You never know, of course. There may be some harm we haven’t detected, but I should say that he had a good few years of life in him yet.”
“Of course, an unusual recovery — from such injuries. And I say nothing' about the sight. I’m not hopeful of that.”
“Good!” said Arthur. “I’ll tell you why I asked. There’s a question arisen about a
lease for lives—his is one. But you won’t talk, of course.” Farmer nodded. He found it quite natural. Leases for lives were still common and doctors were often consulted as to the value of those which survived or which it was proposed to insert. With another word or two they parted and Arthur rode on.
gUT HE no longer doubted.
To wait for eight or ten years, dependent on the whims of an arbitrary and crochety old man? No! Only in a moment of imbecility could he have dreamed of resigning for this the golden opportunities that the new world, opening before him, offered to all who had the courage to seize them. He had been mad to think of it, and now he was sane. Garth was worth a mass. He might have served a year or two for it. But seven, or it might be ten? No. Besides, why should he not take the Squire at his word and make the best of both worlds, and availing himself of the favour he had gained, employ the one to exploit the other? He had his foot in at Garth and he was no fool, he could make himself useful. Already, he was well aware, he had made himself popular.
It was noon when he rode into Aldersbury, the town basking in the first warmth of the year, the dogs lying stretched
the sunshine. Arthur rode up the street, alert and smiling; many eyes followed him, followed him with envy. He worked at the bank, he had his rooms on the Town Walls, he chatted freely with this townsman and that. He was not proud. But they never forgot who he was. They did not talk to him as they talked even to Ovington. Ovington had risen and was rich, but he came, as they came, of common clay. But this young man, riding up the street in the sunshine, smiling and nodding this way and that, his hand on his thigh, belonged to another order. He was a Griffin—a Griffin of Garth. He might lose his all, his money might fly from him, but he would still be a Griffin, one of the caste that ruled as well as reigned, that held in its grasp power and patronage.
He belonged to the county. They looked him with envy. ■> çt 1922 CHAPTER XIX o 'T'HE week in early June which witná^ff^ Arthur’s return to his seat at the bank_ that and the following week which saw his mother’s five thousand pounds paid over for his share in the concern—saw the tide of prosperity which during two years had been
been constantly swelling, reach its extreme point.
point. The commerce and wealth of the country, as they rose higher and higher in this flood-time of fortune astonished even the casual observer. Their increase seemed to be without limit; they answered to every call. Mills and mines, potteries and ironworks, changed hands from day to Pay, at ever-rising Prices. Men who had never invested before, save in the field at their gate, or the house under their eyes, rushed eagerly to take shares in ventures at home and abroad and, in thousands of offices and parlours, conned their securities, summed up the swelling total of their gains, and rushed to buy and buy again, with a confidence and command of credit
which seemed to have no bottom.
To provide that credit the banks widened their operations, increased, on the security of stocks ever rising in value, their overdrafts, and issued batch after batch of fresh notes. The most cautious admitted that accommodation must keep step with trade, and the huge strides which this was making, the changed conditions, the wider outlook—all seemed to demand a corresponding advance, an advance which promised to be as profitable as it was warranted. To the ordinary eye the sun of prosperity shone in an unclouded sky. Even the experienced, though they scanned the heavens with care, saw nothing to dismay them. Only here and there an old fogey whose memory went back to the crisis of ’93 or to the famous Black Monday of twenty years earlier, uttered anote of warning; or some mechanical clerk, of the stamp of Rodd, sunk in à rut of routine, muttered of Accommodation Bills where his employer saw only legitimate trade. But their croakings, feeble at best, were lost in the joyous babble of an Exchange enriched by commissions, and drunk with success.
It was a new era. It was the age of gold. It was the fruit of conditions long maturing. Men’s labour, aided by machinery, was henceforth to be so productive that no man need be poor, all might be rich. Experts, reviewing the progress which had been made and the changes which had been wrought during the last fifty years, said these things; and the vulgar took them up and eagerly repeated them. The Bank of England acted as if they were true. The rate of discount was low.
A ND WHILE all men thus stretched out their hands -^Mo catch the golden manna, Aldersbury was not idle. The appetite for gain grows by what it feeds upon and Aldersbury appetite had been whetted by early successes in its own field. The Woollen Mills, sharing in the general prosperity of the last two years, had done well, and more than one mill had changed hands at extreme prices. The Valleys were said to be full of money which, or part of it, trickled into the town, improving a trade already brisk.' Men had made large profits by outside speculation imd had boasted of them. Report had multiplied their gains, and others had joined in and they too had gained and their gains had fired the greed of their neighbors. Some had followed up their first successes. Others were preparing to extend their businesses, began to build new premises, put in new-fangled glass windows, and by their action gave an impetus to subordinate trades, and spread still farther the sense of well-being.
On the top of all this had come the Valleys Railroad Scheme, backed *by Ovington's Bank, and offering everyone a chance of speculating on his door-step: a scheme which, while it appealed to local pride, had a specie us look of safety, since the railway was to be built under their own
WHAT'S HAPPENED SO FAR.—It is the year 1823.
Ovington, an aggressive banker, is promoting one of the earliest steam railroads. He faces two problems, his son Clement, who dislikes the bank, and Squire Griffin, who is antagonistic to the railroad project; and is using every influence to prevent it going over his land. Later Ovington gives Bourdillon, the nephew of the squire, a partnership in the bank. Meanwhile Clement had met the squire’s daughter and a mutual interest develops. He endeavors to secure the squire's good wishes without success. The breach between the squire and Ovington widens; and the former withdraws his deposit at the bank. On the way home the squire is robbed, and only saved from death by the timely arrival of Clement, who later recovers the money,
eyes, across the fields they knew, and by men whom they saw going in and out every day.
There was a great run on it. Some of the county gentry, following the old Squire’s example, held aloof, but others put their hundreds into it, not much believing in it but finding it an amusing gamble. The townsfolk took it more seriously, with the result that a week after allotment the shares were changing hands at a premium of thirty shillings and there was still a busy market in them.
To the majority it seemed a short and easy way to fortune, and they wondered that they had been so simple as to know nothing of it before. It was by this way, they nowsaw, that Ovington had risen to wealth, while they, poor fools, not yet admitted to the secret, had gaped and wondered. And what a secret it was. To rise in the morning richer by fifty pounds than they had gone to bed! To retire at night with another fifty as good as in the bank, or in the old and now despised stocking! The slow increment of trade seemed small and despicable beside their hourly growdng profits, made while men slept or dined, made, as a leading tradesman pithily said, while they wore out their breeches on their chairs! Few troubled themselves about the Bill, or the cutting
of the first sod, or considered how long it would be before the railroad was at work! Fewer still asked themselves whether this untried scheme would ever pay. It was enough for them that the shares were rising, ever rising, that men were always to be found to buy them at the current price, anq that they themselves were growing richer day by day,
FOR THE Directors and the few said to be in their confidence these were great days! They walked Bride Hill and the Market Place with their heads high and their toes turned out. They talked in loud voices in the streets. They got together in corners and whispered, their brows heavy with the weight of affairs. They were great men. The banker, it is true, did not like the pitch to which the thing was being carried, but it was his business to wear a cheerful face, and even he had no misgivings to speak of though he. knew that success was a long way off. And even on him the prosperity of the venture had some effect. Sir Charles and Acherley, too, were not of those who openly exulted; nay, it is possible that the latter sold a few shares, or even a good many shares.
But Purslow and Grounds and Wolley? Who shall describe the importance which sat upon their brows, the dignity of their strut, the gravity of their nod, the mock humility of their reticence? Never did they go in or go out without the consciousness that the fingers of passers-by pointed at them! Their’s to make men’s fortunes by a hint—and their bearing betrayed that they knew it. Purslow’s apron was discarded, no longer did he come out to customers in the street; if he still rubbed one hand over the other ft was in self-content. Grounds was dazzled, and wore his Sunday clothes on week-days. Wolley, always a braggart, swaggered and talked, closed his eyes to his commitments and remembered only his gains. He put his hand out farther and farther, he talked of buying another mill, he even entered into a negotiation to that end. He was convinced that safety lay in daring and that this was the golden moment, if he would free himself from the net of debt that for years had been weaving itself about him.
HE ASSUMED the airs of a rich man, but he was not the worst. The draper, if more honest, had less brains, and success threw him off his balance. “A little country ’ouse,” he said, speaking among his familiars. “I’m thinking of buying a little country ’ouse. Two miles from town. A nice distance.” He recalled the fact that the founder of Sir Charles’ family had been mayor of Aldersbury in the days of Queen Bess, and had bought the estate with money made in the town. “Who knows,” with humility—“my lad’s a good lad—what may come of it?”
But a man cannot talk big without paying for the luxury. In the draper’s case the effect was that his foreman asked for a rise in his wages; his second hand also. Purslow gave the rise but, reminded that their pay was in arrears, “No, Jenkins, no,” he said, “you must wait. Hang it, man, do you think I’ve nothing better to do with my money in these days than pay you fellows to the day? ’Ere! ’Ere’s a pound on account. Let it run! Let it run! All in good time, man. All in good time. Fancy my credit’s good enough?”
And instead of meeting the last acceptance that he’d given to his cloth-merchant, he took it up with another bill at two months—a thing he had never done before. “Credit! Credit’s the thing in these days,” he said winking. “Cash? Excuse me. Out of date, man, with them that
knows! Credit’s the ’orse!” And so he deceived himself.
Arthur Bourdillon, as became him, wore his honours more modestly and courted the mean with success. But even he felt the intoxication of this noon-tide prosperity. At Garth he had doubted and suffered scruples to weigh with him. But no sooher had he returned to the bank than the atmosphere of money enveloped him, and discerning that it was now in his power to make the best of two worlds, hitherto inconsistent, he plunged with gusto into the business. As secretary of the company he was a person to be courted; as a partner, now recognized in the Bank, he was more. He felt himself capable of all, for had not all succeeded with him? And awake to the fact that the times were abnormal-though he did not perhaps deduce from this the lesson he should have drawn— he thanked his stars that he was thereto profit by them, and to make the most of them.
HE WAS beyond doubt an asset to the Bank. His birth, his manners, his good looks, the infection of his laugh made him a favourite, with gentle and simple. And then he worked. He had energy, he was tireless, no task was too hard, or too long for him. But he laboured under one disadvantage, though he did not know it. He had had experience of the rise, not of the fall. As far back as he had been connected with Ovington’s, trade had been expanding, things had been going well, and by nature he was sanguine and leant towards the bold policy. He threw his weight on that side and, able and self-confident, he made himself felt. Even Ovington yielded to the thrust of his opinion, was swayed by him, was even at times, perhaps, put a little out of his course.
Not that Arthur was quite without his troubles. Naturally and inevitably, a cloud had fallen on the relations, friendly hitherto, between him and Clement. Clement had grown cool to him, and the change was unwelcome, for it was in Arthur’s nature to love popularity and to thrive and bask in the sunshine of it. But it could not be helped. He must put up with it, he told himself ; without breaking eggs one could not make omelettes. Clement blamed him, he knew, feeling, and with reason, that what he had done deserved acknowledgment, and it lay with Arthur to see that justice was done. And Arthur, for his part, would have gladly acquitted himself of the debt and done him justice had it coincided with his own interests. But it did not.
Had he suspected the tie between Clement and Josina he might have adted otherwise. He might have foreseen the possibility of Clement’s gaining the old man’s ear, might have scented danger, and played a more cautious game. But he knew nothing of this. Garth and Clement stood apart in his mind, Clement and Josina were as far as he knew barely acquainted. He was aware, therefore, of no special reason why Clement should desire to stand well at Garth, while he felt sure that his friend was the last person to thrust himself uninvited on the Squire’s gratitude.
BETTY was another matter. Betty was behaving ill and showing temper, in league apparently with her brother and sympathising with him. She was changed from the Betty of old days. He had lost his hold upon her, and though this fell in well enough with the change in his own views—or the possible change, for he had not quite made up his mind—it pricked his conceit as much as it surprised him. Moreover, the girl had a sharp tongue and was not above using it, so that more than once he smarted under its lash. The new importance he enjoyed seemed to exasperate her—and a little, perhaps, her father’s apathy in Clement’s cause.
“Fine feathers make fine birds!” she said, as Arthur came bounding into the house one day and all but collided with her. “Only they should be your own, Mr.
“Oh I give your father all the credit,” he replied. “Only I do some of the work! But you used not to be so critical, Betty.”
“No? Well, I’ll tell you why if you like.”
“Oh, I don’t want to know.”
“No, I don’t think you do! But I’ll tell you.
I thought your feathers were your own then.
Now—I should be uneasy if I were you.”
“You might fall among crows and be plucked.
I can tell you, you’d be a sorry sight in your own feathers!”
He turned a dusky red. The shaft had gone home, but he tried to hide the wound. “A dull bird, eh?” he said, affecting to misunderstand her. “Well, I thought you liked dull birds.
I couldn’t be duller than Rodd, and you find no fault with him.”
It was a return shot, aimed only to cover his retreat; for the idea of the cashier as a serious rival had not entered his head. But the shot told in a way that surprised him. Betty reddened to her hair, and her eyes snapped. “At any rate Mr. Rodd is what he seems!” she cried. "Oh! Oh!”
“He’s not hollow!” savagely.
"No! Certainly he’s not hollow! A most witty, bright, amusing gentleman, the pink of fashion, and—what is it— the mould of form! Hollow? Oh, no, Betty, very solid, I should say—and stolid!” with a grin. “Not a roaring blade perhaps—I could hardly call him that, but a sound, substantial, wooden gentleman! I am sure that your father values him highly as a clerk, and would value him still more highly as—”
“What?” Betty’s tone was threatening.
“I need not put it into words—but it lies with you to qualify him for the post. Rodd? Well, times are changed, Betty! But we live and learn.”
“You have a good deal to learn,” Betty cried, bristling with anger, “about women!”
HE GOT away then, retiring in good order and pleased that he had not had the worst of it; hoping, too, that he had closed the little spitfire’s mouth. But there he found himself mistaken. The young lady was of a high courage—and perhaps had been a little spoiled. Where she once felt contempt she made no bones about showing it and whenever they met, her frankness, sharpened by » woman’s intuition', kept him on tenter-hooks. “You seem to think very ill of me,” he said once. “And yet you trouble yourself a good deal about me.”
“You make a mistake!” she replied. “I am not troubling myself about you. I’m thinking of my father.”
“Ah! Now you are out of my reach. That’s beyond me.”
“I wish he were!”
“He knows his own business.”
“I hope he does!” she riposted. And though it was the memory of Rodd’s warning, that supplied the dart, the animosity that sped it had another source. The truth was that Clement had at last taken her into his confidence.
For as long as the Squire lay bedridden and ill—and precisely how ill he was, it was difficult to learn—Clement could not go to him. Even when the report came that he was mending, but would probably lose his sight, Clement hesitated. To go to him, basing his claim on what had happened, to go to him and tell the stpry, as he must tell' it, with his own lips—this presented difficulties from which a man with delicate, perhaps over-delicate, feçlings might well shrink!
Meanwhile a veil had fallen between him and Josina. He had sworn that he would not see her again until he could claim her, and he supposed her to be engrossed by her father’s illness and tied to his bedside. He even with-a lover’s insight inferred the remorse which she had felt and her recoil from a continuance of their relations: Mean-
time he did not know what to do. He did not see any outlet. He was in an impasse with no prospect of immediatedelivery. And while he felt that Arthur had behaved1 ungenerously, and he even suspected that his friend had taken the credit which was his own due, he had no clue to his motives or his schemes.
It was Betty who first saw into the dark place. For one day, in a fit of despondency, and longing as lovers long for a. confidante, he told her all from the first meeting with Josina to his final parting from the girl by the brook, and hi* brief and unfortunate interview with her father on the road.
The romance charmed Betty, the audacity of it dazzled her; for, a woman, she perceived more clearly than Clement the gulf between the town and the county, the new and the old. v
And, shrewdly, in her own mind she put things together.. “Arthur is off with the old love,” she thought, “and on with the new.” He had changed sides. That explained many things. So, with hardly any premises, she jumped to a conclusion so nearly correct that could Arthur haveread her mind, he would have winced even more than he did under the keen thrusts of her satire.
BUT she did not tell Clement. Her suspicions were not founded on reason and they would1 only alarm him, and he was gloomy enough as it was. Instead she cheered him and bade him be patient. Something might turn up, and in no case could much be done until the Squire was well enough to leave his room.
At bottom she was not hopeful. She saw arrayed between Clement and his love a host of difficulties, apart from Arthur’s machinations. The pride and prejudice of class, the old man’s obstinacy, the young girl’s timidity, Josina’s wealth — these were obstacles, formidable and hard to surmount. And Arthur was on the spot ready to raise new barriers, should these be overcome.
THE money for Arthur’s share in the bank had been paid over, in the early part of June, but the transaction had not gone through with the smoothness which he had anticipated. He found himself up against a thing which he had not taken into his reckoning; the jealousy with which the old and the rich are apt to guard the secret of their wealth, a jealousy in the Squire’s case aggravated by his blindness—for to be blind is to be suspicious. Arthur felt the check and was forced to own, with some alarm, that, high as he stood in favour, a little thing might upset him.
He had written to the brokers, requesting them to sell sufficient India Stock to bring in a sum of six thousand pounds. They replied that they could not carry out the order unless they had the particulars of the Stock and of the amount standing in the Squire’s name at the India House.
But when Arthur took the letter to the Squire’s room and read it to him, the outcome surprised him. The old man sat up in bed and confounded him by the vigour of his answer. “Want to know bow much I hold?” he cried.
“D—n their impudence! Then they’ll not know! Want to look at my books and see what I’m worth? What next? What is it to them what I hold? You bid ’em sell—” beating the counterpane with his stick—“You bid ’em sell two thousand, two hundred pounds—at two hundred and seventy-five, that’s near the •nark—and be hanged to them!
That’s all they’ve got to do,'the impudent puppies! Do you write d’ you hear,and tell ’em to do it!”
Arthur cursed the old man’s unreasonableness, and wondered what he was to do. If there was going to be all this difficulty about the particulars, what about the certificates? How was he to get them? For the Squire as he sat erect, thrusting forward his bandaged head, and clutching the stick which lay beside him, seemed almost threatening. He was in arms in defence of his moneybags and his secrets and his nephew saw that it would take a bolder man than himself to cross him.
He hesitated. “I am afraid, sir,” he ventured at last, "there’s a difficulty here that I had not foreseen. The certificates!”
“They don’t want the certificates—yet! Don’t they say so?
Plain as a pikestaff!”
“Perhaps, sir,” doubtfully,
“If Welshes have got them—”
“Welshes have not got them!’*
Arthur did notknow what to say to that. At last in a tone as reasonable as he could compass“I am afraid the difficulty is, sir,” he said, "that they cannot make out a transfer until they have the particulars; which I fancy we can only get from the certificates.”
“Then they may go to blazes!” the Squire replied, and he lay down with his face to the wall. Not he! There might be officials at the India House who knew this or that, and Welshes who had acted for him in making one purchase or another might know a part. But to no living man had he ever entrusted the secret of his fortune, or the result of those long years of stinting and sparing and saving that had cleared the mortgaged estate, and had been continued because habit was strong and age is penurious. No, to no man living! That was his secret while the breath was in him. Afterwards—but he was not going to give it up yet.
DRESENTLY he bade Arthur go, and Arthur went, 1 troubled in his mind and much less assured of his position than he had been an hour before. He thanked his stars that he had not given way to the temptation to cut loose from the bank, which had for a brief hour assailed him. It would never have done, he saw that now. And how was he going to extract his money, his six thousand, from this unreasonable old dotard—for so he styled him in his wrath?
However, the riddle solved itself before many hours had passed. The Squire attempted, alone, to get up, but collapsed by the bed, and Calamy, hearing the crash, rushed in, and helped him back.
The Squire sighed, and turned himself to the wall, perhaps to hide the tear that helplessness forced from old eyes. He could not be sufficient unto himself any longer. It was a sad thought but apparently he made up his mind toit for twenty-four hours later, when Jos and Arthur were with him, he sent the girl away. When she had gone he sought under the pillow for his keys and after hand’ing
them for a time; “Is the door shut? Ay? And no one herè but you? Are you sure?”
“We are quite alone, sir.”
“No one within hearing, lad?”
“Not a soul, sir.”
“It’s not that I distrust the wench,” the Squire muttered. “She’s a Griffin and a good girl, agooA girl. But she’s a tongue like other women.” By this time he had found what he wanted, and holding the bunch by one of the keys he offered it to Arthur. “That’s the key. Now you listen to me. Go down to the dining-room, and don’t you do anything till you’ve locked the door and seen there’s no one at the windows. The panel, right side of the fireplace—are you minding me? Ay? Well, pass your hand down the moulding next the hearth and you’ll feel a crack across it, and, an inch below, another. They’re so small you as good as can’t see them, when you know they’re there. Twist that bit, top part to the right, and you’ll see a key-hole. Turn the key and pull, and the panel comes open, and you’ll see a cupboard door behind it. Same key unlocks it. Are you minding me?”
“I am, sir. I quite understand.”
“Well, on the middle shelf—you'll see a box. The key to that box is the next on the bunch. Open it and you
will have the India Stock Certificates.” The Squire sighed and for a moment was silent. “There’s one for two thousand two hundred, which will do it. Bring it here. You needn’t,” drily, “go routing among the others, once you’ve found it. This bag of money—I’ve taken out what I want—you put that there too—there’s four hundred in it. Then lock up all, and slip the moulding into place. But be sure, lad, before you do aught, see that the door is locked.”
“I will be careful. I quite understand, sir.”
There, precisely corresponding with the almanack which he had removed, hung an old-fashioned silver sconce with a flat back serving for a reflector. A pair of snuffers flanked the candle-holder on one side, an extinguisher on
“It’s not that I distrust Jos,” the Squire repeated__
as if he defended himself against an accusation, “but tell a secret to a woman, and you tell it to the parish.”
“Shall I do it now, sir?” “Aye. I don’t know rightly how that money was got back, but you got it, and—”
“Yes, I have it, sir.” This was a subject Arthur did not wish to discuss.
“Umph! Well, bring back the keys. Don’t let ’em out of your hands.”
/» lunun went downstairs.
As he descended the shallow steps he smiled. Men, even the sharpest of men, were easy to manage if you had patience.
Arthur slipped into the dining-room and, locking himself in, looked round the room. He glanced at the windows to make sure that he was unseen, then he stepped to the hearth and felt for and found the bit of moulding; in front of which, though he had forgotten to mention it, the Squire had hung an old almanack. Arthur twisted the upper end to the right, uncovered the key-hole, and within a minute had the inner door open.
It masked a cupboard, contrived in the thickness of the chimney-breast, perhaps at the time when the open shaft had been closed and a smaller fireplace had been inserted. Inside, two shelves formed three receptacles. In the uppermost were parcels of old letters and papers secured with dusty and faded ribands, and, piled at random one on another, the relics of the love-letters—or law-letters—of past generations. In the lowest compartment were bigger bundles secured with straps, which Arthur judged to contain leases and the farm agreements, and the like. Some were of late date— he took up one or two bundles and looked at the endorsements —none of. them appeared to be very old.
The middle shelf displayed a row of old ledgers and farm books, and standing alone before them a small iron box. It was with this no doubt that his business lay and he tried his key in it. It fitted. He opened the box.
It contained three certificates and, though he had been bidden not to rout among them, he felt it his duty to ascertain—for he would probably have to inform the brokers —what was the total of the Squire’s holding. They all three represented India Stock and Arthur’s eyes glistened as he noted the amount and figured up the value in his mind. One, as the Squire had said, was for two thousand two hundred, the other two were for two thousand five hundred each. Arthur calculated that at the price of the day they were worth little short of twenty thousand pound. He withdrew the smaller certificate and. locking the box, he laid the bag of money beside it. He hud done his errand, but as he went about to close the cupboarddoor he paused. He had seen old letters, and modern agreements and the like. But no old deeds. Where did the Squire keep the title deeds of Garth? They were not here. At Welshes? Perhaps.
ARTHUR glanced at the other side of the fireplace.
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the other. It was a piece which Arthur had admired for its age but had never seen in use. He stared at it, and as he closed the cupboard and panel by which he stood, and replaced the bit of moulding—he hesitated. With the keys in his hand he cast a glance at the windows, then, he crossed the hearth, took down the sconce, and ran his fingers down the moulding.
Yes, here were the cracks, barely to be discovered by the fingers, and not at all by the eye. The bit of moulding, when he twisted it, moved stiffly, but it moved. With another glance over his shoulder he inserted the key, then he listened. All was quiet in the house. Outside, a woodpigeon coo’d in a neighbouring tree while a solitary rook uttered a shrill “Bah-doo Bah-doo!’ not the common caw, but a cry that he had often heard.
Something in -the stealthiness of his movements and the stillness of the house, whispered a warning to him, and he paused—his arm raised. Yet—why not?
What could come of it? Knowledge was always useful, and if his business had lain with this second cupboard his uncle would have sent him to it as freely as to the other. With an effort he shook off his scruples and satisfying himself that he was doing no wrong, he laughed. He turned the key and swung back the panel. He unlocked and opened the inner door.
Here there were but two divisions. The lower one was piled high with plate; with a part, if not the whole, of a dinner-service, cups, bowls, candlesticks, wine-jugs, salt-cellars—a collection that, tarnished and dull as the pieces were, made Arthur’s mouth water. Among them lay half a dozen leather cases which he fancied held jewelry, and more than a dozen bulky parcels—spoons and forks and the like. They had not been disturbed, it was plain, for years, and he dared not touch them.
ON THE upper shelf were two iron boxes and arrayed before them four parcels of deeds, old and discolored with ends of green riband hanging from them, and here and there a great seal—one seal was of lead. They gave out a damp, sour smell, the odour of slowly decaying sheepskin. Three of the parcels related to farms which the Squire had bought within Arthur’s memory. The fourth and largest bundle in a coarse wrapper, neatly bound about with straps, had a label attached to it, “The Title Deeds of the Garth Estate,” and thrust under one of the straps was a folded slip of parchment. Arthur opened this and saw that it was a memorandum, dated fifty years before, of the deposit of the deeds to secure the repayment of thirty-eight thousand pounds and interest. Below were receipts for instalments repaid at intervals of years, and opposite the last receipt appeared in the Squire’s hand “Cancelled and deeds returned.—Thank God for His Mercies!” Arthur felt a thrill of sympathy as he read the words. He returned the slip to its place and softly closed the door, he swung back the panel and secured it. He replaced the silver sconce.
But though two thicknesses of wood now intervened, he retained the vision of the bundle of deeds. It was not large, he eould have carried it under his arm. But it meant, that little parcel, power, wealth, position, the Garth Estate! It spoke to Arthur the banker—for whom wealth lay in pieces of paper not in gold and silver —as eloquently as the broad acres themselves, the farms and water-mills, the coverts and dingles, the wide-flung hillside that he loved, spoke to the Squire. For the first time Arthur coveted Garth, valuing it not as the Squire did for what it was, hill and dale spread under heaven, but for what it was worth, for what might be made of it, for the uses to which it might be put.
“He has added to it. One could raise fifty thousand on it now,” he thought. And with fifty thousand what could one not do ? With fifty thousand pounds, free money, added to the bank’s resources, what might not be done? It was a golden vision that he had, as he stood in the evening stillness with the scent of roses stealling into the room, and the wood-pigeon cooing softly in the tree outside.
\ Ay, what might he not do?
\ . But the Squire might be growing suspicI ióus! He roused himself, saw that all was las he had found it, and unlocking the door 'he went upstairs.
“You’ve been a long time about it, young man,” the Squire grumbled. “What’s amiss?”
But Arthur was ready with his answer. “You told me to go about it quietly, sir, so I waited until the coast was clear. It’s a capital hiding-place. It’s not to be found in a minute even when you know where it is.”
“Ay, ay. It would take a clever rogue to find it,” complacently.
“I suppose it’s old, sir?”
“My grandfather put it in when the Scots were at Derby. And, mark ye, no one knows of it but Frederick Welsh— and now you. D’you be careful and keep your mouth shut, lad. You ha’ got the certificate?”
“Well, go about the business and get it done. And now do you send Jos to me.”
ARTHUR made a mental note that the old man was changing at last—was losing that hard grip on all about him which he had maintained for half a century; and he was confirmed in this idea by the ease with which the India Stock transaction presently went through. The brokers shewed themselves unusually complaisant. They wrote that, as the matter was personal to him,'they were anxious that nothing should go wrong, and, as his customer was blind, they were forwarding with the transfer on which the particulars had been inserted, a duplicate in blank; in order that if the former were spoiled in the execution, delay might be avoided. This was irregular, but if the duplicate were not needed, it would be returned and no harm done.
Arthur thought this polite of them, and was flattered; he felt that he was a client of value. But as it turned out the duplicate was not needed, the Squire made nothing of the formality. His hand once directed to the proper place, he signed his name boldly and plainly—as he did most things; and Arthur and Jos added their signatures as witnesses. Ten days later the money was received, and five-sixths of it was paid over to the bank. The duplicate transfer, overlooked at the moment, lay on the Squire’s bureau until it did not seem worth while to return it, when Arthur, tired of coming upon it every day, thrust it out of sight in a pigeon-hole.
He had other things to think of at the bank.
Wolley losing his head had been behaving ill. Ignoring the bank’s claim he had assigned a number of his railway shares to meet a bill discounted elsewhere. The natural course would have been to insist on the lien and to retain the shares. But the consequences, as Ovington saw, might be serious. The step might not only involve the bank in a loss, which he still hoped to avoid, but it might imply taking over the Mill—and it is not the business of bankers to run mills. Arthur, on the other hand, who did not like the man, would have cut the knot at once, and sent him to the devil..
IN THE END Ovington had decided against Arthur; and on grounds that had taken the latter rather aback. “We must be careful,” the banker had said. “Credit is like a house of cards. You take one card away, you do not know how many may fall.”
“But if we don’t teach him a lesson now?”
“Quite true, lad. But—well, I will see him. If, as Rodd thinks, he is drawing bills on men of straw, whose acceptances are worthless—”
“That would be the devil!”
“There will be an end of him—but not of him only. We must go warily, lad. To throw him down now—” the banker shook his head. “No, we will give him one more chance. I will talk to him.”
“I should not have the patience.”
“That is one of the things you have to learn.”
Arthur reviewed the conversation as he rode, and retail ed his own opinion. He thought Ovington too easy, too apprehensive. He would have played a bolder game and cut Wolley and his losses, if losses there must be. Then, shrugging his shoulders, he dismissed the matter and allowed his thoughts to turn to Garth, to the old man, to his favour, and the path it opened to him. to Josina. Yes, Josina.
He was not doing much there, but there was no hurry, and despite the charms of Garth he had not quite made up hv» mind. When he did, he anticipated no difficulty.
Still something was due to her, were it only as a matter of form; and she was pale and sweet and appealing. A little love-making would not be unpleasant these summer evenings, though he had so far held off, haunted by a foolish hankering after Betty; Betty with her sparkle and colour, her wit and high spirit, ay, and her very temper, mutinous little rebel as she was—her temper which manlike he longed to tame and make his own.
Ten minutes later saw him in the Squire’s room, entertaining him with scraps of county gossip and the latest news from town. Into that dull room, with its drab hangings and shadowy portraits, where the old man sat by his fireless grate, he came like a gleam of sunshine, his laugh lighting up the dim places, his voice expelling the ennui of the long day. He had a joke for Josina and a teasing word for Miss Peacock—who idolised him. _
He was the universal favourite. He had taken the length of the Squire’s foot; it had been an easier matter than he had anticipated. But even in his cup there was a sour drop. He had his occasional misgivings and now and then suffered a shock. One day it was, “What about your coat, lad?”
“Mÿ coat?” Arthur stared at the old man. He did not understand.
“Ay. You thought that I’d forgotten it. But I’m not that shaken. What about it?”
Now between the darkness of the night and the confusion Arthur had not noticed the damage done to Clement’s overcoat. Consequently he could make nothing of the Squire’s words and he tried to pass the matter off. “Oh, it’s all right, sir,” he said. He waited for something to enlighten him.
“Can you wear it?”
“The deuce you pan!” The Squire was surprised. “Then all I can say is, you’ve found a d—d good cleaner, lad. If you got that blood off—but as you did, all’s well. I was afeared I’d owe you a new coat, my boy. I’d not forgotten it but I knew that you’d not be wearing it this weather, and I thought in another week or two I’d be getting this bandage off. Then I’d see how it was, and what we could do with it.”
Arthur understood then, and a thrill of alarm ran through him. What if the Squire began—but no, the danger was over, and as quickly as possible he rid himself of his fear. He was not a fool to start at shadows. Things were going so well with him that he had no mind to spare for trifles, and no time to look aside.
JULY HAD passed into August. Who was it who whispered the first word of doubt? Of misgiving? Where was felt the first shiver of distrust? What lips first let drop the fatal syllables, a fall? Who, in the secrecy of some bank-parlour or some discounter’s office, sitting at the centre of the spider’s web of credit, felt a single filament, stretched it may be across half a world, shiver and relax? And, refusing to draw the unwelcome inference, sceptical of danger, felt perhaps a second shock, ever so slight and ever so distant; and then, reading the message aright, began to narrow his commitments, to draw in his resources, to call in his money, to turn into gold his paper wealth? And so, from that dark office or parlour in Fenchurch Street or Change Alley, set in motion, obscurely, imperceptibly at first, the mighty impetus that was to reach to such tremendous ends?
Who? Probably no one knew then, and certainly no one can say now.
At any rate there came a check, unmarked by the vast majority, but of which a whisper began to pass round the inner recesses of Lombard Street; a fall, such as there had been a few months earlier, but which then had been speedily made good. Aldersbury lay far beyond the warning, or if a hint of it reached Ovington, it did not go beyond him. He did not pass it on, even to Arthur, much less did it reach others. Sir Charles, secluded within his park walls, was not in the way of hearing such things, and Acherley and his like were busy with preparations for autumn sport, getting out their guns and seeing that their pink coats were aired and their mahogany tops were brought to the right
colour. Wolley had his own troubles and dealt with them after his own reckless fashion, which was to retire one bill after another; he found it all he could do to provide for to-day without thinking what tomorrow might bring forth should his woollen goods become on a sudden unsaleable, or his bills fail to find discounters. And the generality, Grounds and Purslow and their followers, were happy, secure in their ignorance, foreseeing no evil.
This was the state of things at Aldersbury, as summer passed into autumn. Men still added up their investments, their growing investments, and reckoned the amount of their fortunes and chuckled over what they had made, and added to the sum what they were sure of making, when the shares of this mine or that Canal Company rose another five or ten points. Their wealth on paper was still, to them, solid, abiding wealth, to be garnered and laid by and enjoyed when it pleased them. And trade seemed to flourish, though not quite so briskly. There was still a demand for goods though not quite so urgent a demand—and the price stuck a little. The railway shares still stood at the high premium to which they had risen, though for the moment they did not seem to be inclined to go higher.
BUT ABOUT the end of September— perhaps some one in London or Birmingham or Liverpool had twitched the filament which connected it with Aldersbury—Ovington called Arthur back as he was leaving the room after the day’s business had been discussed. “Wait a moment,” he said, “I have been thinking things over. I am not quite comfortable about them.”
i “Is it Wolley?” Wolley’s case had been before them that morning and some sharp things had been said about his trading methods.
“No, it’s not altogether Wolley.” Having got this far Ovington paused, and Arthur noticed that he was looking grave. "No, though Wolley is a part of it. I am always uneasy about him. But—”
“What is it, sir?”
“It is the general situation, lad. I don’t ^together like it. I’ve an impression that things have gone farther than they ihould. There is a good deal of inflation, ¡hat’s certain. If things go smoothly, it irill be gradually reduced and no harm lone. But at the same time we have a arge sum of money out”—he touched the >ile of papers before him—“and I should ike to see it lessened. I hardly know why, »ut I do not feel this morning that the josition is healthy.”
“But our money is well covered.”
“As things are.”
“And we are as solvent, sir, as—”
"As need be with the ordinary time to neet the calls that may be made upon us. We are. But in the event of a sudden fall, >f one big failure, leading to another—in he event of a sudden rush to present our lotes?”
“Even then, sir, we are well secured. We should have no difficulty in finding iccommodation.”
“In ordinary circumstances, no. And f we alone needed it. We could go to A. ir B. or C., and therewould be no difficulty. We have the money’s worth and a good nargin. But if A. and B. and C. were ¡bo short, what then, lad?”
Arthur felt something approaching ontempt. The banker seemed to him to » inventing bogies, imagining dangers, Ireaming of difficulties where none exited. He saw him in a new light, and liscovered him to be timorous. “But hat state of things is not likely to occur,” íe said.
“Perhaps not. But if it did?”
“Have you had any hint?”
_ “No. But I see that iron is down— ince Saturday. And the Manchester aarket was flat yesterday.”
“Things that have happened before,” Lrthur said. “I think sir, it is really Volley’s affair that is troubling you.”
“If it ended with Wolley it would be a mall matter. No, I am not thinking i that.” He looked before him and .rummed upon the table with his fingers. We must raise our reserves, if possible. )o you see that we do not discount a ingle bill without recourse to me—though 1 course you will let nothing be noticed n the other side of the counter.”
"Very good,” Arthur said. But he bought that the other’s caution was unning away with him. The sky seemed tear to him. He could discern no signs of I storm, and he did not reflect that as he
had never been present at a storm, the signs might escape him. “Very good,” he said, “I’ll tell Rodd. I am sure it will please him,” and with that tiny sting, as Ovington said nothing more, he went out.
THE conversation had been held behind closed doors, yet it had its effect. A chill seemed to fall upon the bank. The air grew less genial. Ovington’s face was both keen and watchful. Arthur, perplexed and puzzled, grew more brusque, his speech shorter. Rodd’s face reflected his superiors’ gravity. Only Clement, going about his branch of the work with his usual stolid indifference, perceived no change in the temperature, and, depressed before, was only a degree nearer to the mean level.
Poor Clement! There are situations in which it is hard to play the hero, and he found himself in one of them. He had vowed that there should be no more meetings and no more love-making until he had faced and conquered his dragon. But meanwhile the dragon lay sick and blind at the bottom of its den, out of reach, and guarded by its very weakness from attack, while every hour and every day that saw nothing done seemed to remove him farther from his mistress, seemed to set a greater distance between them, and to blacken his face in her eyes.
Yet what could he do? The spell of vigour, which had, for a few days, lifted him out of himself, and given him the force to meet and to impress his fellows, had not only failed to win any real advantage, but failing, it had left him less self-reliant than before. For he saw now where he had failed. He saw that with the winning-card in his hand he had allowed himself to be defeated by Arthur, and to be jockeyed out of all the fruits of his labour, simply because he had lacked the moral courage, the hardness of fibre, the stiffness to stand by his own!
And he feared that it would be ever so. Arthur had got the better of him, and the knowledge depressed him to the ground. He was not a man. He was a weakling, a dreamer, good for neither one thing nor another! As useless outside the bank as at his desk, below and not above the daily tasks that he secretly despised.
OF COURSE in his impatience and his humility Clement exaggerated both the delay and its results. The days seemed weeks to him, the weeks months. He fancied it a year since he had seen Josina. He did not bethink himself that she was no stranger to his difficulties, nor reflect that though his silence might try her, and his absence cause her unhappiness, she might still approve the one and the other. As a fact, the lesson which he had taught her at their last meeting had been driven home by the remorse that had tortured her on that dreadful night; and lonely hours in the sick room, much watching, and many a thought of what might have been, had strengthened the impression.
But Clement did not know this. He pictured the girl as losing all faith in him, and as the weeks ran on, the time came when he could bear the delay no longer, when he felt that he must either act, that he must either do something, or write himself down a coward. So one day, after hearing in the town that the Squire was able to leave his room, he wrote to Josina. He told her that he should call on the morrow and see her father.
And on the morrow he rode over, wound up to action, blind for once to the changes of nature, of landscape and cloudscape that surrounded him. But he never reached the house, for at the little bridge at the foot of the drive Josina met him, and eager as he had been to see his sweetheart and to hear her voice, he was checked by the change in her. It was a change which went deeper than mere physical alteration, though that too was there. The girl was paler, finer, more spiritual. Trouble and anxiety had laid their mark on her. He had left her girl, he found her woman. A new look, a look of purpose, of decision, gave another cast to her features.
She was the first to speak, and her words bore out the change in her. “You must come no farther, Clement,” she said, And then for a moment, as their hands met and their eyes, the colour flamed in her cheeks, her head drooped flower-like, she was for an instant the old Josina, the girl he had wooed by the brook, who had many a time clung to him. But for a moment only. Then "You cannot see him yet,”
she announced, “not yet, for a long time, Clem. I met you here that I might stop you, and that there might be no misunderstanding—and no more secrets.”
This last she had certainly secured, for the place which she had chosen for their meeting was overlooked, though at a distance, by the doorway of the house, and by all the walks about it.
BUT HE WAS not to be so put off “I must see him,” he said steadily—and he told himself that he must not be moved by her pleadings. It was natural that she should fear, but he must not fear— and indeed he had passed beyond fear. “No, dear,” as she began to protest, “you must let me judge of this.” He held her hands firmly in his grasp as he looked at her. “I have suffered enough, I have suffered as much as I can bear. I have had no sight of you and no word of you for months, and I cannot endure that longer. Every hour of every day I have felt myself a coward, a deserter, a do-nothing! I have had to bçar this, and I have borne it. But now—now that your father is downstairs—”
“You can still do nothing,” she said, “Believe, believe me, you can do nothing. Dear Clement,” and the tenderness which she strove to suppress, betrayed itself in her tone, “you must be guided by me, you must indeed. I am with my father and I know, I know that he could not bear it now. I know that it would be cruel to tell him now. He is blind. Blind! And he trusts me, he has to-trust me. To tell him now would be to destroy his faith in me, to shock and to frighten him— irreparably. You must go back now, now at once.”
“What? And still do nothing? And lose you?” he cried. The pathos of her appeal had passed him by, and only his love and his jealousy spoke.
“No,” she answered soberly, “if you have patience."
“But have you patience?”
“T must have.”
"And I—I am to do nothing?” he spoke with energy, almost with anger. “To go on doing nothing? I am to stand by and—and play the coward still—go on playing it?”
Her face quivered, for he hurt her. He was selfish, he was cruel; yet she understood, and loved him for his cruelty. But she answered him firmly. “Nothing until I send for you.” she said. “You do not think, Clem. He is blind, blind! Think of it! He is dependent on me for everything. If I told him in his weakness that I have deceived him, he would lose faith in me, he would distrust me, he would distrust everyone. He would be alone in his darkness.”
It began to come home to him. “Blind?” he repeated.
“But for good? Do you mean—quite blind, Jos?”
“Ah, I don’t know!” she cried, unable to control her voice. “I don’t know. Farmer does not know, the physician who came from Birmingham to see him does not know. They say that they have hopes—and I don’t know! But I fear.”
HE WAS silent then, impressed with pity, feeling at length the pathos of it, feeling it almost as she felt it. But after a pause, during which she stood before him watching his face, “And if he does not recover his sight?”
“I say God forbid too,” he replied, “with all my heart. But if he does not— what then? When may I—”
“When the time comes,” she answered, “and of that I must be the judge. Yes, Clement, don’t stop me,” with resolution. “I must be the judge, for I alone know how he is, and can choose the occasion.” The delay she imposed upon him was very bitter to him. He had ridden out determined to put his fate to the test, to let nothing stand between him and his love, to over-ride excuses; and he could not in a moment make up his mind to be thwarted. “And I must wait? I must go on waiting? Eating my heart out— doing nothing?”
"There is no other way. Indeed, indeed there is not.”
“But it is too much. It is too much, Jos, you ask!”
“Well? Well, Josina?”
“You must give me up,” she spoke firmly, but her lips quivered and there were tears in her eyes.
He was silent. At last, “Do you wish me to give you up?” he said cruelly.
She looked at him for answer, and his doubts, if he had doubted her, his distrust, if it had been possible for him to distrust her, vanished. His heart melted.
“Forgive me, oh, forgive me, dear!r he cried. “But mine is a hard task, a bitter task. You do not know what it is to wait, to wait and to do nothing!”
“Do I not?” Her eyes were swimming. “Is it not that which I am doing every day Clem? But I have faith in you, and ] believe in you. I believe that all will come right in the end. If you trust me, as I trust you, and have to trust you—”
“I will, I will,” he cried, repentant, remorseful, recognising in her a new decision, a new sweetheart, and doinf; homage to the strength that trial ant; suffering had given her. “I will heed you, trust you wholly—and wait.”
HER EYES thanked him, and her hands, and after this there was little more to be said. She was anxious that he should go. They parted. Herode back to Aldersbury.
In the bank he grew more taciturn, doing his business with less spirit than before, suspecting Arthur and avoiding speech with him, meeting his careless smile with a stolid face. His father, Rodd too, deemed him jealous of the new partner, and his father, growing in these days a little sharp in temper, spoke to him about it.
“You took no interest in the business, he said, “and I had to find some one who would take an interest and be of use to me. Now you are making difficulties, and causing unpleasantness. You are behaving ill, Clement.”
But Clement only shrugged his shoulders. He had become indifferent. He had his own burden to bear.