STANLEY J. WEYMAN
VERY different was the scene inside the bank,
Atthecounter, indeed, discipline failed the
moment the door fell to behind the last customer. The clerks sprang to their feet, cheered, danced a dance of triumph, struck a hundred attitudes of scorn and defiance.
They cracked silly jokes, and flung paper darts at the public-side; they repaid by every kind of monkey trick the alarms and exertions from which they had suffered during three days. They roared ‘Oh, dear, what can the matter be!’ in tones that reached the street. They challenged the public to come on—to come on and be hanged! They ceased to make a noise only when breath failed them.
But in the parlour whither Clement, followed after a moment’s hesitation by Rodd, had hastened, to join and to congratulate his father, there was nothing of this. The danger had been too pressing, the margin of safety too narrow to admit of loud rejoicing. The three met like ship-wrecked mariners drawn more closely together by the ordeal through which they had passed; like men still shaken by the buffeting of the waves. They were quiet, as men amazed to find themselves alive. The banker, in particular, sat sunk in his chair, overcome as much by the scene through which he had passed as by a relief too deep for words. For he knew that it was by no art of his own, and through no resources of his own that he survived, and his usual self-confidence, and with it his aplomb, had deserted him. In a room vibrating with emotion, they gazed at one another in thankful silence and it was only after a long interval that the older man let his thoughts appear.
Then “Thank God!” he said unsteadily, “and you, Clement! God bless you! If we owe this to any _,ne we owe it to you, my boy! If you had not been beside me God knows what I might not have
“Pooh, pooh, sir,” Clement said—yet he did but disguise deep feeling under a mask of lightness.
“You don’t do yourself justice.
And for the matter of that if we have to thank any one it is Rodd, here.” He clapped the cashier on the shoulder with an intimacy that brought a spark to Rodd’s eyes. “He’s not only stuck to it like a man, but if he had not paid in his four hundred and fifty—”
“No, no, sir, we weren’t drawn down to that—quite.”
“We were mighty near it, my lad! And easily might have been.”
“Yes,” said the banker. “We shall not forget it, Rodd, but after all,” with a faint smile, “it’s Bourdillon we have to thank.”
And he explained the motives which, on the surface at least, had moved the Squire to intervene.
“If I had not taken Bourdillon in when I did—”
“Just so,” Clement assented drily. “And if Bourdillon had
“Umph! Yes. But—where is he? Do you know?”
“I don’t. He may be at his rooms, or he may have ridden out to his mother’s. I’ll look round presently and if he is not in town I’ll go out and tell him the news.”
“You didn’t quarrel?”
/ELEMENT shrugged his shculders. “Not more than we can make up,” he said lightly, “if it is to his interest.”
The banker moved uneasily in his chair. “What is to be done about him?” he asked.
“I think, sir, that that’s for the Squire. Let us leave it to him.
It’s his business. And now— come! Has any one told Betty!”
The banker rose, conscience stricken. “No, poor girl, and she must be anxious. I quite forgot,” he said.
“Unless Rodd has,” Clement replied, with a queer look at his fathe". For Rodd had vanished while they were talking of Arthur, whom it was noteworthy that neither of them now called by his Christian name.
“We’ll go and tell her,” said Ovington, reverting to his every day tone. And he turned briskly to the door which led into the house. He opened it, and was crossing the hall, followed by Clement who was anxious to relieve his sister’s mind, when both came to a sudden stand. The banker uttered an exclamation—and so did Betty. As for Rodd, he melted with extraordinary rapidity through a convenient door, while Clement, the only one of the four who was not taken completely by surprise, laughed softly.
“Betty!” her father cried sternly. “What is the meaning of this?”
“Well, I thought—you would know,” said Bet*,'', blushing furiously. “I think it’s pretty plain.” Th a, • throwing her arms round her father’s neck, “Oh, father, I’m so glad, I’m so glad, I’m so glad!”
“But that’s an odd way of showing it, my
“Oh, he quite understands. In fact—” still hiding her face. “We’ve come to an understanding, father. And we want you —’’ half laughing and half crying “to wit-
“I’m afraid I did witness it,” gravely. “But you’re not going to be angry? Not to-day? Not to-day, father.” And in a small voice, “He stood by you. You know how he stood by you. And you .said you’d never forget it.”
“But. I didn’t say that I should give him my daughter,
“No, father, she gave herself.”
“Well, there!” He freed himself from her. "That’s enough now, girl. We’ll talk about it another time. But I’m not pleased, Betty.” ÿ ^
“No?” said Betty gaily, but dabbing her eyes at the same time. “He said that. He said that you would not be pleased. He was dreadfully afraid of you. And I said you wouldn’t be, too.; But—”
“I said you’d come to it, father, by and by. In good
“Well, I’m—” But what the banker was, was lost in the hearty peal ; of laughter that Clement could no longer restrain.
ARTHUR, after he had dropped from the postchaise that morning, did not at once move away. He stood on the crown of the East Bridge, looking down the river, the turmoil of his feelings such as to render thought of the future impossible, and even for a time to hold despair at bay. The certainty that his plan would have succeeded, if it had not been thwarted by the very persons who would have profited by it, and the knowledge that but for their scruples all that he had at stake in the bank would have been saved—this certainty and this knowledge, with the fact that, while they left him to bear the obloquy, they had denied him 'he prize for which he had sinned, so maddened him that for a full minute he stood, grasping the stone balustrade of the bridge and whispering curses at the gleaming current that flowed smoothly.
The sunshine and the fair scene did but mock him. The green meadows, and the winding river, and the crescent of stately buildings, spire-crowned, that, curving with the stream, looked down upon it from the site of the ancient walls, did but deride his misery. For how many a time had he stood on that spot and looked on that scene in days when he had been happy and care-free, his future as sunny as the landscape before him! And now—oh, the cowards! The cowards! Who had not had the courage even to pick up the fruit his daring had shaken from the bough.
Ay, his daring and his enterprise! For what else was it? What had he done, after all, at which they need make mouths? It had been but a loan he had taken, the use for a few weeks of money, which was useless where it lay and of which not a penny would be lost! And again he cursed the weakness of those who had rendered futile all that he, the bolder spirit, had done, who had consigned themselves and him to beggary and to failure! He had bought their safety at his own cost, and they had declined to be saved. He shook with impotent rage as he thought of it.
Presently a man passing over the bridge behind him, looked curiously at him, paused and went on again, and the incident recalled him to himself. He remembered
that he was in a place where all knew him, where his movements, and his looks, would be observed, where every second person who saw him would wonder why he was not at the bank. He must be going. He composed his face and walked on.
But whither? The question smote him with a strange and chilling sense of loneliness. Whither? To the bank certainly, if he had courage, where the battle was even now joined. He might fling himself into the fray, play his part as if nothing had happened, smile with the best, ignore what he had done and, if challenged, face it down. And there had been a time when he could have done this. There had been a time, when Clement had first alighted on him in town, when he had decided with himself to play that rôle, and had believed that he could carry it off with a smiling face. And now, now, as then, he maintained that he had done nothing that the end did )ot justify, since the means could harm no one.
BUT at that time he had believed that he could count on the complicity of others, he had believed that they would at least accept the thing that he had done, and throw in their lot with his, and the failure of that belief, brag as he might, affected him. It had sapped his faith in his own standards.
Theview Clement had taken had gradually eclipsed his view, until now when he must face the bank with a smile, he could riot muster up the smile. He began to see that he had committed not a crime, but a blunder. He had been found out!
He walked more and more slowly, and when he came, some eighty yards from the Bridge, and at the foot of the rise, to a lane on his left which led by an obscure short-cut to his rooms, he turned into it. He did not tell himself that he was not going to the bank. He told
himself that he must change his clothes, and wash, and eat something before he could face people. That was all.
He reached his lodgings, beneath the shadow of an old tower, and looking over the meadows to the river, without encountering any one. He stole upstairs, unseen even by his landlady, and found the fire alight in his sitting-room, and some part of a meal laid ready on the table. He' washed his hands and ate and drank, but instinctively, as he did so, he hushed his movements and trod softly. When he had finished his meal, he stood for a moment, his eyes on the door, hesitating. Should he or should he not go to the bank? He knew that he ought to go. But the wear and tear of three days of labour and excitement, during which he had hardly slept as many hours, had lowered his vitality and sapped his will, and the effort required was now too much for him. With a sigh of relief he threw up the sponge, he owned himself beaten. He sank into a chair, and moody and inert sat gazing at the fire. He was very weary, and presently his eyes closed and he slept.
Two hours later his landlady discovered him and the cry which she uttered in her astonishment, awoke him. “Mercy on us!” she exclaimed. “You here, sir! And I never heard a sound, and no notion you were come! But I was expecting you, Mr. Bourdillon. He won’t be long, I says to myself, now that that plaguey bank’s gone and closed, worse luck to it!”
“Closed, has it?” he said dully.
“Ay, to be sure, this hour past.” Which of course was not true, but many things that were not true were being said in Aldersbury that day. “And nothing else to be expected, I am told, though there’s nobody blames you, sir. You can’t put old heads on young shoulders, asking your pardon, sir, as I said to Mrs. Brown no more than an hour ago. It was her Johnny told me—he came that way from school and stopped to look. Such a sight of people on Bride Hill he said as he never saw in his life, ’cept on Show Day, and the shutters going up just as he came away.”
He did not doubt the story—he knew that there was no
other end to be expected. “I am only just from London,” he said, feeling that some explanation of his ignorance was necessary. “I had no sleep last night, Mrs. Bowles, and I sat down for a moment and I suppose I fell asleep in my chair.”
“Indeed and no wonder. From London, to be sure! Can I bring you anything up, sir?”
“No, thank you, Mrs. Bowles. I shall have to go out presently. And until I go out, don’t let me be disturbed. I’m not at home if any one calls. You understand?”
“I understand, sir.”
And on the stairs, as she descended, a pile of plates and dishes in her arms, “Poor young gentleman,” she murmured, “it’s done him no good. And some in my place would be thinking of their Mil. But his people will see me paid. That’s where the gentry come in—they’re never the losers, whoever fails.”
FOR a few minutes after she had retired he dawdled about the room, staring through the window without seeing anything, revolving the news, and telling himself, but no longer with passion, that the game was played out. And gradually the idea of flight grew upon him, and the longing to Be in some place where he could hide his head; where he might let himself go, and pity himself un watched. Had his pockets been full he would have returned to London and lost himself in its crowds, and presently, he thought—for he still believed in himself—he would have shown the world what he could do.
But he had spent his loose cash on the journey— he was almost without money, and instinct, as well as necessity, turned his thoughts towards his mother’s. The notion, once accepted, grew upon him, and he longed to be at the cottage. He felt that there no one would watch him, and stealthily, on fire to be gone now that he had made up his mind, he sought for his hat and coat and let himself out of the house.
There was no one in sight, and descending from the Town Wall by some steps, he crossed the meadows to the river. He passed this water by a ferry, and skirting the foot of the rising ground on the other side he presently struck into the Garthmyle road, a little beyond the West Bridge.
When he had left the town two or three miles behind him he breathed more freely. He lessened his pace. Presently he heard on the road behind him the clip-clop of a trotting horse, and not wishing to be recognised, he plunged into the mouth of a lane, and by-and-by saw Clement Ovington ride by. He flung a vicious curse
after him and returning to the road went on more slowly, chewing the sour cud of reflection, until he came to the low, sedgy tract, where the Squire had met with his misadventure—and where in earlier days the old man had many a time heard the bittern’s note.
He was in no hurry now, for he did not mean to reach the Cottage until Clement had left it, and he stood leaning against the old thorn tree, viewing the place and thinking bitterly of the then and the now. And presently a spark of hope was kindled in him. Surely all was not lost—even now! The Squire was angry—angry for the moment, and with reason. But could he maintain his anger against one who had saved his life at the risk of his own? Could he refuse to pardon one, but for whom he would be already lying in his grave? With a quick uplifting of the spirit Arthur thought that the Squire could not. No man could be so thankless, so unmindful of a benefit, so ungrateful.
Strange, that he had not thought of that before! Strange that under the pressure of difficulties he had let that claim slip from his mind. It had restored him to his uncle’s favour once. Why should it not restore him a second time? Properly handled— and he thought that he could trust himself to handle it properly—it should avail him. Let him once get speech of his uncle, and surely he could depend on his own dexterity for the rest.
OPE awoke in him, and confidence. He squared his shoulders, he threw back • his head, he strode on, he became once more the jaunty, gallant, handsome young fellow, whom women’s eyes were wont to follow as he passed through the streets. But steady, not so fast. There was still room for management. He had no mind to meet Clement, whom he hated for his interference, and he went a little out of the way, until he had seen him pass by on his return. Then he went on. But it was now late, and the murmur of the river came up from shadowy depths, the squat tower of the church was beginning to blend with the dark sky, lights shone from cottage doors, when he passed over the bridge. He hastened on, through the dark, opened the garden-gate, and saw his mother standing in the lighted doorway. She had missed Clement, but had gathered from the servant who had seen him that Arthur might be expected at any moment, and she had come to the door with a shawl about her head, that she might be on the look-out for him.
Poor Mrs. Bourdillon! She had passed a miserable day. She had her own, her private grounds for anxiety on Arthur’s account, and that anxiety had been strengthened by her last talk with Josina. She was sure that something was wrong with him, and this had so weighed on her spirits and engrossed her thoughts, that the danger that menaced the Bank and her little fortune had not at first disturbed her. But as the tale of village gossip grew, and the rumours of disaster became more insistent, she had been forced to listen, and her fears once aroused, she had not been slow to wake to her position. Gradually Arthur’s absence and her misgivings on his account had taken the second place. The prospect of ruin, of losing her all and becoming dependent on the Squire’s niggard bounty, had closed her mind to other terrors.
SO AT noon on this day, unable to bear her thoughts alone, she had walked across the fields and seen Josina. But Josina had not been able to reassure her. The girl had said as little as might be about Arthur and on the subject of the Bank was herself so despondent, that she had no comfort for another. The Squire had gone to town—for the first time since he had been laid up—in company with Sir Charles, and Josina fancied that it might be upon the bank business. But she hardly dared to hope that good could come of it, and Mrs Bourdillon, who flattered herself that she knew the Squire, had no hope. She had returned from Garth more wretched than she had gone, and had she been a much wiser woman than she was, she would have found it hard to meet her son with tact. Continued on page 38
Continued from page 25
When she heard his footsteps on the road “Is it you?” she cried. And as he came forwardintothe light ,“Oh, Arthur!” she wailed, “What have you brought us to? What have you done? And the times and times I’ve warned you! Didn’t I tell you that those Ovingtons—”
“Well, come in now, mother,” he said. He stooped and kissed her on the forehead. He was very patient with her—let it be said to his credit.
“But, oh dear, dear!” She had lost control of herself and could not stay her complaints if she would. “You would have your way! And you see what has come of it! You would do it! And now—what am I to say to your uncle?”
“You can leave him to me,” Arthur replied doggedly. “And for goodness sake, mother, come in and shut the door. You don’t want to talk to the village, I suppose? Come in.”
HE SHEPHERDED her into the parlour and' closed the door on them. He was cold and he went to the fire and stooped over it, warming his hands at the
“But the bank?”
“Oh, the bank’s gone,” he said.
She began to cry. “Then, I don’t know what’s to become of us!” she sobbed. “It’s everything we have to live upon! And you know it wasn’t I signed the order to— to your uncle! I never did. It was you—
wrote my name. And now—it has ruined us! Ruined us!”
His face grew darker. “If you wish to ruin us,” he said, “at any rate if you wish to ruin me, you’ll talk like that! As it is you’llnotlose yourmoney, oronlyapart of it. The bank can pay everyone, and there’ll be something over. A good deal, I fancy,” putting the best face on it. “You’ll get back the greater part of it.” Then, changing the subject abruptly, “What did Clement Ovington want?”
“I don’t —know,” she sobbed. But already his influence was mastering her; already she was a little comforted. “He asked for you. I didn’t see him—I could not bear it. I suppose he came to—to tell me about the bank.”
“Well, ’ ungraciously, “he might have spared himself the trouble.” And under his breath te added a curse. “Now let me have seme tea, mother, I’m tired— dog-tired. I had no sleep last night. And I want to see Pugh before he goes. He must take a note for me—to Garth.”
“I’m afraid the Squire—”
“Oh, hang the Squire! It’s not to him,’ impatiently, “it’s to Josina, if you must know.”
She perked up a little at that—she had always some hope of Josina; and the return to every day life, the clatter of the tray, as it was brought in, the act of giving him his tea and seeing that he had what he liked, the mere bustling about
him, did more to restore her. The lighted room, the blazing fire, the cheerful board —in face of these things it was hard to believe in ruin, or to fancy that life would not be always as it had been. She began again to have faith in him.
AND he, whose natural bent it was tobe sanguine, whose spirits had already repounded from1 the worst, shared the feeling which he imparted. That she knew the worst was something: that at any rate was over. Confidently, he began to build his house again. “You won’t lose,’’ he said, casting back the locks from his forehead with the gesture peculiar to him. “Or not more than a few hundreds at worst, mother. That will be all right. I’ll see to that. And my uncle—you may leave him to me. He’s been vexed with me before, and I’ve brought him round. Oh, I know him. I’ve no doubt that I can manage him.”
“But Josina?” timidly. “D’you know she was terribly low, Arthur—about something to-day. She wouldn’t tell me, but there was something. She didn’t seem to want to talk about you.”
He winced, and for a moment his face fell. But he recovered himself, and, “Oh, I’ll soon put that right,” he answered confidently. “I shall see her in the morning. She’s a good soul is Josina. I can count on her. Don’t you fret, mother. You’ll see, it will all come right—with a little management.”
“Well, I know you’re very clever, Arthur. But Jos—”
“Jos is afraid of him, that’s all." And laughing, “Oh, I’ve an arrow in my quiver, yet, mother. We shall see. But I must see Jos in the morning. Is Pugh there? I’ll write to her now and ask her to meet me at the stile at ten o’clock. Nothing like striking while the iron is hot.”
On the morrow he did not feel quite so confident. The sunshine and open weather of the day before had given place to rain and fog, and when, after crossing the plank-bridge at the foot of the garden, he took the field path which led to Garth, mist hid the more distant hills, and even the lime-stone ridge which rose to them. The vale had ceased to be a vale, and he walked In a plain, sad and circumscribed, bounded by ghostly hedges, which in their turn vanished in grey space. That the day should affect his spirits was natural, that his position should appear less hopeful was natural, too, and he told himself to, and strove to rally his courage. He strode along, swinging his stick and swaggering, though there was no one to see him. And from time to time he whistled to prove that he was free from care.
AFTER all, the fact that it rained did not alter matters. Wet or dry he had saved the squire’s life, and a man’s life was his first and last and greatest possession and not least valued when near its end. He who saved it had a claim, and much—much must be forgiven him. Then, too, he reminded himself that the old man was no longer the hard, immovable block that he had been. The loss of sight had weakened him; he had broken a good deal in the last few months. He could be cajoled, persuaded, made to see things, and surely with Josina’s help it would not be impossible to put such a colour on the—loan of the securities as might make it appear a trifle. Courage! A little courage and all would be well yet.
He was still hopeful when he saw Josina’s figure muffled in a cloak and pokebonnet grow out of the mist before him. The girl was waiting for him on the farther side of the half-way stile which had been their trysting-place from childhood; and what little doubt he had felt as to her willingness to help him, died away. He whistled a little louder, and swung his stick more carelessly, and he spoke before he came up to her.
“Hallo, Jos!” he cried cheerfully. “You’re before me. But I knew that I could count on you, if I could count on any one. I only came from London last night, and—” his stick over his shoulder and his head thrown back— “I knew the best thing I could do was to see you. and get your help. Why?” In spite of himself his voice fell a tone. “What’s the matter?”
“Oh, Arthur!” she said. And the two words finished what her look had begun. His eyes dropped. “How could you? How could you do it?”
’’Why—why surely you’re not going to turn against me?" he exclaimed
“And he was blind! Blind! And he
trusted you. He trusted you, Arthur.” “The devil!" roughly—for how could he meet this save by bluster. “If we’re going to talk like that but you don’t understand, Jos. ft was business and you don’t understand, I tell.you.”
Two words only, but they rang a knell in his ears. They gripped him in the moment of his swagger, left him bare before her. a culprit, dumb.
“He has felt it terribly! Terribly,” she continued. “He was blind and you deceived him. Whom can he trust now, A rt hur?”
HF, STROVE to rally his confidence.
He could not meet her gaze, but he tapped a rail of the stile with his stick. “Oh, but that’s nonsense!” he said. “Nonsense! But of course, if you are against me, if you are not going to help me—” “How can I help you? He will not hear your name.”
“I can tell you how -quite easily, if you will let me explain?”
She shook her head.
“But you can. If you are willing, that is. Of course, if you are not?”
“What can I do? He knows all.”
“You can remind him of what I did for him,” he answered eagerly. “I saved his life. He would not be alive now but for me. You can tell him that. Remind him of that, Jos. Tell him that, sometime after dinner when he is in a good humour. He owes his life to me, and that’s not a small thing—is it? Even he must see that he owes me something. What’s a paltry thousand or two thousand—and I only borrowed them, he won’t lose a penny by it—not a penny!” earnestly. “What’s that in return for a man’s life? He must
“He does know!” she cried, and the honest indignation in her eyes, the indignation that she could no longer restrain, scorched him. For this was too much, this was more than even she, gentle as she was, could bear. “He does know all—all, Arthur!” she repeated severely. “That it was not you—not you but Clement, Mr. Ovington, who saved him! And fought for him— that night! Oh, Arthur, for shame! For shame! I did not think so meanly of you as this! I did not think that you would rob another—”
“What do you mean?” He tried to bluster afresh, but the stick shook in his hand. “Confound it, whatdoyou mean?” “What I say,” she answered firmly. “And it is no use to deny it, for my father knows it. He knows all. He has seen Clement—”
“Clement, eh?” bitterly. “Oh, it’s Clement now, is it?” He was white with rage and chagrin, furious at the failure of his last hope. “It’s that way, is it? You have gone over to that prig, have you? And he’s told you this?”
“And you believe him?”
“You believe him against me?”
“Yes,” she said. “For it is the truth, Arthur. I know that he would not tell me anything else.”
“And I? Do you mean to say that I would?”
She was silent.
It was check and mate, the loss of his last piece, the close of the game—and he knew it. With all in his favour he had made one false move, then another and a graver one, and this was the end.
HE COULD not face it out. There was no more to be said, nothing more to be done, only shame and humiliation if he stayed. He flung a word of passionate, incoherent abuse at her, and before she could reply he turned his back on her and strode away. Sorrowfully Jos watched him as he hurried along the path, cutting at the hedge with his stick, cursing his luck, cursingthetrickery of others, cursing, cursing at last, perhaps, his own folly. She watched him until the ghostly hedges and the misty distances veiled him from sight.
Ten minutes later he burst in upon his mother at the Cottage and demanded twenty pounds. “Give it me and iet me go!” he cried. “Do you hear, I must have it! If you don’t give it me, I shall cut ray
Scared by' his manner, his haggard ey'es, his look of misery, the poor woman did not even protest. She went upstairs and fetched the sum he asked for. He took it. kissed her with lips still damp with rain, and bidding her send his clothes as he
should direct—he would write to her—he hurried out.
“T WUN’T do it! I wun’t do it!” the 1 Squire muttered stubbornly. “Mud and blood’ll never mix. Shape the chip as you will ’tis part of the block! Girls’ whimsies are women’s aches, and they that’s older must judge for them. She’d only repent of it when ’twas too late, and I’ve paid my debt and there’s an end of it.” « ’
From the hour of that scene at Ovington's he had begun to recover. From that moment he began to wear a stiff upper lip and to give his orders in hard, sharp tones, as he had been wont to give them in days when he could see; as if, in truth, his irruption into the life of the town and his action at the bank had re-established him in his own eyes. Those about him were quick to see the change—he had taken, said they, a new lease of life. “May be ’tis just a flicker,” Calamy observed cautiously; but even he had to admit that the flame burned higher for the time, and privately he advised the new man who filled Thomas’s place to “hop it when the master spoke,” or he’d hop it to some purpose.
The result was that there was a general quickening up in the old house. The Master’s hand was felt, and things moved to a livelier tune. To some extent, pride had to do with this, for the rumour of the Squire’s doings in Aldersbury had flown far and wide and made him the talk of the county. He had saved the bank. He liad averted ruin from hundreds. He had saved the country-side. He had paid in thirty, forty, fifty thousand pounds. Naturally his people were proud of him.
And doubtless the bold part he had played had given the old man a fillip; others had stood by while he, blind as he was, had asserted himself, and acted, and rescued the country-side from a great misfortune. But the stiffness he showed was not due to this only. It was assumed to protect himself. “I wun’t do it! I wun’t do it! It’s not i’ reason,” he told himself over and over again; and in his own mind he fought a perpetual battle. On the one side contended the opinions of a life-time and the prejudices of a caste, the beliefs in which he had been brought up and a pride of birth that had come down from an earlier day; on the other the girl’s tremulous gratitude, her silence, the touch of her hand on his sleeve, the sound of her voice, the unceasing appeal of her presence.
Ay, and there were times when he was so hard put to it that he groaned aloud. No man was more of a law to himself, but at these times he fell back on the views of others. What would Woosenham say of it? How would he hold up his hands? And Chirbury—whose peerage he respected, since it was as old as his own family, if he thought little of the man? And Uvedale and Cludde, ay, and Acherley, who, rotten fellow as he was, was still Acherley of Acherley? They had held the fort so stoutly in Aldshire, they had repelled the moneyed upstarts so proudly, they had turned so cold a shoulder on Manchester and Birmingham! They had found in their Peninsula hero, and in that remote country churchyard where the maker of an empire lay sleeping after life’s fever, so complete a justification for their own claims to leadership and to power! And no one had been more steadfast, more dogged, more hide-bound in their pride and exclusiveness than he.
"VIOW, if he gave way, what would they IN say? What laughter would there not be, from one end of the county to the other, what sneers, what talk of an old man’s folly, and an old man’s weakness! For it was not even as if the man’s father had been a Peel or the like, a Baring or a Smith! A small country banker, a man just risen from the mud—-not even a stranger from a distance, or a merchant prince from God knows where! Oh, it was impossible. Impossible! Garth, that had been in the hands of gentlefolk, of Armigeri from Harry the Eighth, to pass into the hands, into the blood of—no, it was impossible! All the world of Aldshire would jeer at it, or be scandalised by it.
“I wun’t do it!” said the Squire for the hundredth time. It was more particularly at -the thought of Acherley that he squirmed. He despised Acherley, and to be despised by Acherley —that was too much!
“Of course,” said a small voice within
him, “he would take the name of Griffin, and in time—”
“Mud’s mud,” replied the Squire silently. “You can’t change it.”
“But he’s honest,” quoth the small
“And I ha’ paid him! Damme, I ha’ paid him! Ha’ done!” And then “It’s that blow on the head has moithered me.” Things went on in this way for a month, the Squire renewing his vigour and beginning to tramp his fields again, oj with the new man at his bridle-hand to ride the old grey from point to point, learning what the men were doing, inquiring after gaps, and following the manure to the clover ley, where the oats and barley would presently go in. Snow lay on the upper hills, grizzling the brown sheets of bracken, and dappling the green velvet of the sloping ling; the valley below was frost-bound. But the Squire had a fire within him, a fire of warring elements, that kept his blood running. He was very sharp with the men and scolded old Fewtrell. As for Thomas’s successor, the lad learned to go warily and kept his tongue between his teeth.
THE girl had never complained; it seemed as if that which he had done for her had silenced her, as if she, too, had taken it for payment. But one day she was not at table, and Miss Peacockcut up his meat She did not do it to his mind—no hand but Jos’s could do it to his mind—and he was querulous and dissatisfied.
“I’m sure it’s small enough, sir,” Miss Peacock answered, feebly defending herself. “You said you liked it small, Mr. Griffin.”
“I never said I liked mince-meat! Where is the girl? What ails her?”
“It’s nothing, sir. She’s been looking a little peaky the last week or two. That’s all. And to-day—”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s only a headache, sir.' She’ll be well enough when the spring comes. ^ Josina was always nesh—like her mother.” .
The Squire huddled his spoon and fork together, and pushed his plate away, muttering something about d—d sausage meat. Her mother? How old had her mother been when she—he could not remember— but certainly a mere child beside him. Twenty-five or so, he thought. And she was nesh, was she? He sat, shaving his chin with unsteady fingers, eating nothing; and when Calamy, hovering over his plate, hinted that he had not finished, he blew the butler out of the room with a blast of language that made Miss Peacock, hardened as she was, hold up her hands. And though Jos was at breakfast next morning, and answered his grumpy questions, as if nothing were amiss, a little seed of fear had been sown in the Squire’s mind that grew as fast as Jonah’s gourd and before noon threatened to shut out the sun.
A silk purse could not be made out of a sow’s ear. But a good leather purse, that might pass in time—the lad was stout and honest. And his father, mud, certainly, and mud of the pretentious kind that the' Squire hated; mud that affected, by the aid of gilding, to pass for fine clay. But honest? Well, in his own way, perhaps: it remained to be seen. And times were changing, changing for the worse; but he could not deny that they were changing. So gradually, slowly, unwelcome at the best, there grew up in the old man’s mind the idea of surrender. If the money were paid back, say in three months, say in six months—well, he would think of it. He would begin to think of it. He would begin to think of it as possible some day, at some very distant day—if there were more peakiness. The girl did not whine, did not torment him, did not complain; and he thought the more of her for that. But if she ailed, then, failing her, there was no one to come after him at Garth, no one of his blood to follow him—except that Bourdillon whelp and by G-^d he should not have an acre or a rod of it, or a pound of it. Never! Never!
FAILING her? The Squire fejt the air turn cold and he hung, shivering, over the fire. What if, while he sought to preserve the purity of the old blood, the old traditions, he cut the thread? And the name of Griffin passed out of remembrance, as in his long life he had known so many, many old names pass away— pa^s into limbo?
Ay, into limbo. He saw his own funeral
procession crawl, a long black snake, down the winding drive, here half-hidden by the sunken banks, there creeping forth into view again. He saw the bleak sunshine falling on the pall that draped the farm wagon, and heard the slow heavy note of the Garthmyle bell, and the scuffling of innumerable feet that alone broke the solemn silence. If she were not there, at the window or door to see it go, or in the old curtained pew to await its coming; if the church vault closed on him, the last of hls race and blood!
He sat long, thinking of this. And one day, nearly two months after his visit to the hank—in the meantime he had been twice into town at the Bench—he was riding on the land with Fewtrell at his stirrup, when the bailiff told him that there was a stranger in the field.
“Which field?” he asked.
Where they had just lifted the turnips, the man said.
“Oh!” said the Squire. “Who is it? What’s he doing there?”
“Well, I’m thinking,” said Fewtrell, “as it’s the young gent I’ve seen here more’n once. Same as asked me one day why we didn’t drill ’em in wider.”
“The devil, he did!” the Squire exclaimed, kicking up the old mare, who was leaning over sleepily.
“Called ’em Radicals,” said Fewtrell, grinning. “ ‘Them there Radical Swedes,’ says he. Dunno what he meant. ‘If you plant Radicals best plant ’em Radical fashion, says he’.”
“Devil he did!” repeated the Squire. “Said that, did he.”
“Ay, to be sure. He used to come across with a gun field-way from Acherley, oh, as much as once a week I’d seen him. And he’d know every crop as we put in, a’most same as I did. Very spry he was about it. I’ll say that.”
“Is it the banker’s son?” asked the Squire on a sudden suspicion.
“Well, I think he be,” Fewtrell answered, shading his eyes. “He be going up to the House now.”
“Well, you can take me in,” to the groom, “I’ll go by the gap.”
The groom demurred timidly; the grey might leap at the gap. But the Squire was obstinate, and the old mare, who knew he was blind as well as any man upon the place, and knew, too, when she could indulge in a frolic and when not, bore him out delicately, stepping over the thornstubs, as if she walked on eggs.
HE WAS at the door in the act of dismounting, when Clement appeared. “D’you want me?” the old man asked bluntly.
“If you please, sir,” Clement answered. He had walked all the way from Aldersbury, having much to think of, and one question which lay heavy on his mind. That was—how would it be with him when he walked back?
“Then come in.” And feeling for the door-post with his hand, the Squire entered the house and turned with the certainty of long practice into the diningroom. He walked to the table as firmly as if he could see, and touching it with one hand drew up with the other his chair. He sat down. “You’d best sit,” he said grudgingly. “I can’t see, but you can. Find a chair.”
“My father sent me with the-money,” Clement explained. “I have a cheque here, and the necessary papers. He would have come himself, sir, to renew his thanks for aid as timely as it was generous, and—and necessary. But—” Clement boggled a little over the considered phrase—he was nervous and his voice betrayed it—he thought-—“I am also to say—”
“It’s all there?”
“Yes, sir, principal and interest.” “Have you drawn a receipt?”
“Yes, sir, I’ve brought one with me. But if you would prefer that it should be paid to Mr. Welsh—my father thought that that might be so?”
“Umph! All there, is it?”
The old man did not speak for awhile. He seemed to be at a loss and Clement, who had other and more serious business on his mind, and had his own reasons for feeling ill at ease, waited anxiously. He was desperately afraid of making a false
Suddenly, “Who was your grandfather?” the Squire asked.
Clement started and coloured. “He had the same name as my father,” hesaid. “He was a clothier in Aldersbury.”
“Ay, I mind him. I mind him now. And his father, young man?”
“His name was Clement.” And foreseeing the next question, “He was a yeoman at Easthope.”
“And his father?”
Clement reddened painfully. He saw only too well to what these questions were tending. “I don’t know, sir,” he
“And you set up—you set up,” said the Squire leaning forward and speaking very slowly, “to marry my heiress?”
“No, sir, your daughter!” Clement said, his face burning. “If she’d not a penny-” “Pho! Don’t tell me!” the old man growled, and to Clement’s surprise— whose ears were tingling—he relapsed into silence again. It was a silence very ominous. It seemed to Clement that no silence had ever been so oppressive, that no clock had ever ticked so loudly as the tall clock that stood between the windows behind him. “You know,” said the old man at last, “you’re a d—d impudent fellow. You’ve no birth, you’re nobody, and I don’t know that you’ve much money. You’ve gone behind my back and you’ve stole my girl. You’ve stole her! My father’d ha’ shot you, and good reason, before he’d ha’ let it come to this. But it’s part my fault,” with a sigh. “She’ve seen naught of the world and don’t know the difference between silk and homespun or what’s fitting for her. You’re nobody, and you’ve naught to offer—I’m plain, young gentleman, and it’s better—but I believe you’re a man and I believe you're honest.”
“And I love her!” Clement said softly, his eyes shining.
AY,” DRILY, “and may be it would ■ be better for her if herfather didn’t! But there it is. ' There it is. That’s all that’s to be said for you.” He sat silent, looking straight before him with his sightless eyes, his hands on the knob of his stick. “And I dunno as I make much of that—’tis easy for a man to love a maid— but the misfortune is that she thinks she loves you. Well, I’m burying things as have been much to me all my life, things I never thought to lose or part from while I lived. I’m burying ’em deep, and God knows I may regret it sorely. But you may go to her. She’s somewhere about the place. But—” arresting Clement’s exclamation as he rose to his feet—“you 11 ha’ to wait. You’ll ha’ to wait till I say the word, and may be ’tis all moonshine and she’ll sëe it is. May be ’tis all a girl s whimsy and when she knows more of you, she’ll find it out.”
“God bless you, sir!” Clement cried. “I’ll wait. I’m not afraid. I’ve no fear
ofthat. And if I can make myself worthy
“You’ll never do that,” said the old man sternly, as he bent lower over his stick. He heard the door close and he knew that Clement had gone—gone on wings, gone on feet lighter than thistledown, gone young and strong, his pulses leaping, to his love.
The Squire was too old for tears, but his lip trembled. It was not alone the sacrifice that he had made that moved him the sacrifice of his pride, his prejudices, his traditions. It was not only the immolation of his own will, his own hopes and plans—his cherished plans for her. But he was giving her up. He was resigning that of which he had only just learned the worth, that on which in his blindness he depended every hour, that which made up all of youth and brightness and cheerfulness that was left to him between this and the end. He had sent the man to her, and they would think no more of him. And in doing this he had belied every belief in which he had been brought up and the faith which he had in* herited from an earlier day—and may be he had been a fool!
But, by and by, it appeared that they had not forgotten him, or one at any rate had not. He had not been alone five minutes before the door opened behind him, and closed again, and he felt Josina s arms round his neck, her head on his breast. “Oh, father, I know, I know, she cried. “I know what you have done for me! And I shall never forget it, never! And he is good. Oh, father, indeed, indeed, he is good!”
“There, there,” he said, stroking her head. “Go back to him. But, mind you,” hurriedly, “I don’t prpmise anything yet. In a year may be I’ll talk aboutit.”