STANLEY J. WEYMAN
THE SQUIRE had not in his inmost heart derived much satisfaction from his visit to the bank. He had left the place with an uneasy feeling that the step he had taken had not produced the intended effect. Ovington had accepted
the loss of his custom, not indeed with indifference, but with dignity, and in a manner which left the old man little upon which to plume himself. The withdrawal of his custom wore in the retrospect too much of the look of spite, and he came very near to regretting it, as he drove along.
Had he been present at an interview which took place after he had retired he might have been better pleased. The banker had not been many minutes in the parlour, chewing the end of the affair, before he was interrupted by his cashier. In itself there was nothing unusual in this. Routine'required Rodd’s presence in the parlour several times in the day. But his manner at the present occasion, his look and the way he closed the door prepared Ovington for something unusual, and “What is it, Rodd?” he asked, leaning back in his chair.
“Can I have a word with you, sir?”
"Certainly.” The banker’s face told nothing. Rodd's was that of a man who had made up his mind to a plunge. [“What is it?”
1 “I have been wishing to speak for some time, sir,” Rodd ¡blurted out. “This—” Ovington understood at once that he referred to the Squire’s matter—“I must say I don’t like it, sir. I have been with you ten years, and I feel—I ought to speak.”
Ovington shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t like it either,” he said. “But it is of less importance than you think, Rodd. I know why Mr. Griffin did it. And we E:? not now where we were. The withdrawal of a few hundreds and the loss of a customer—”
“No,” Rodd said gravely. "If nothing more follows.” “Why should anything follow? I know his reasons.” “But the town doesn’t.' And if it gets about, sir?” r( “It won’t do us much damage. We’ve lost customers ibefore, yet always gained more than we lost. But there, Rodd, that is not what you came in to say. What is it?”
WHAT’S HAPPENED SO FAR —
Ovington, an aggressive banker of Aldersbury, promotes an undertaking to be known as the Valleys Steam Railroad Company. In that year—1823 — Ovington faces two important problems, his son, Clement, who dislikes the bank, and Squire Griffin, who is antagonistic to the railway project. Ovington goes to visit the squire and is curtly told that he will have nothing to do with the railway scheme, nor give right of way over his property. Later Ovington gives Bourdillon, the nephew of the squire, a partnership in the bank. In the meantime Clement has met the squire’s daughter and a mutual interest has developed. He endeavors to secure her father’s consent to an engagement, but the squire will not listen to him. In the days that follow the breach between the squire and the advocates of the new railroad widens, and the squire sets them at open defiance.
He spoke lightly, but he felt more surprise than he showed. Rodd was a model cashier, performing his duties in a precise, plodding fashion that had often excited Arthur’s ridicule, but hitherto he had never ventured an opinion on the policy of the bank, nor betrayed the least curiosity respecting its secrets. "What is it?” Ovington repeated. “What has frightened you, man?”
“ We’ve a lot of notes out. sir.” The banker looked thoughtfully at the glasses he held in his true. hand. But “True,” trade he said, is “quite brisk, and the demand for credit is large. We must meet the demand, Rodd, as far as we can with safety. That’s our business.”
“And we’ve a lot of money out—that could not be got in in a hurry, sir.”
“Yes, but that is our business, too. If we did not put our money out we might close the Bank to-morrow. That much of the money cannot be got in at a minute's notice is a thing we cannot avoid.”
'"pHE perspiration stood on Rodd’s forehead but he per*■ sisted. “If it were all on bills, sir, I would not say a word. But there is a lot on overdraft.”
“While things are up. But if things went down, sir? There’s Wolley’s account. I suspect that the last bills we discounted for him were accommodation. Indeed, I am pretty sure of it. And his overdraft is heavy.”
“We hold the lease of his mill.”
“But you don’t want to run the mill!” Rodd replied, putting his finger on the weak point.
The banker reflected. “That’s the worst account we have. The worst, Rodd, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes. There might be a sounder account than that. But what is it?” He looked directly at the other. “I want to know what has opened your mouth? Have you heard anything? What makes you think that things may be going down?”
“No.” The banker shook his head. “That won’t do, Rodd. You had this in your mind before he came in. You are pat with Wolley and Mr. Acherley; bad accounts both, as all banks have bad accounts here and there. Rut it’s true—we’ve been giving our customers n>i>e, and they have bought things that may fall. Still, they’ve made money on the whole, a good deal of money: and we’ve
kept a fair margin and obliged them at the same time. All legitimate business. There must be something in your mind besides this, I’m sure. What is it, lad?”
The cashier turned a dull red, but before he could answer the door behind him opened, and Arthur came in. He looked at the banker and from him to Rodd, and apparently his suspicions were aroused. 'Tt s four o’clock, sir,” he said and he looked at Rodd, as if to ask what he was doing there.
But Rodd held his ground, and the banker explained.
“Rodd is a little alarmed for us,” he said—it was difficult to be sure whether he spoke in jest or in earnest. “He thinks we’re going too fast.
Putting our hand out too far.
He mentions Wolley's account and Acherley’s.”
“I was speaking generally,”
Rodd muttered. He looked sullen.
Arthur shrugged his shoulders. “I stand corrected,” he said. “I didn’t know that Rodd ever went beyond his ledgers.”
“Oh, he’s quite right to speak his mind. We are all in the same boat—though we do not all steer.”
“Well, I’m glad of that, sir,” contemptuously.
“Still it is a good thing to have an opinion.”
“If it be worth anything.”
“If opinions are going—”
Betty had opened the door behind the banker’s chair and was standing on the threshold—“Wouldn’t you like to have mine, father?”
“To be sure,” Arthur said.
“Why not, indeed? Let us have it. Why not have everybody’s. And send for the cook, sir, and the two clerks-— to advise us?”
Betty dropped a curtsy.
“Thank you,” she said, “I am flattered.”
“Betty, you’ve no business here,” the banker said. * ‘ Y ou mustn’t stop unless you can keep your opinions to yourself.”
“But what has happened?” she asked, looking round.
“Mr. Griffin has withdrawn his account.”
“And Rodd thinks that we had better put up the shutters!” Arthur added, with more heat than the occasion seemed to demand.
“No, no,” the banker said. “We must do him justice. He thinks that we are going a little too far, that’s all. And that the loss of Mr. Griffin’s account is a danger signal. That's what you mean, man, isn’t it?”
RODD nodded, his face stubborn. He stood alone, divided from the other three by the table, for Arthur had passed round it and placed himself at Ovington’s elbow.
“His view,” the banker continued, polishing his glasses with his handkerchief and looking thoughtfully at them, “is that if there came a check in trade and a fall in values, the bank might find its resources strained—I’ll put it that way.”
Arthur sneered. “Singular wisdom! But a fall— a serious fall at any rate—what sign is there of it?” He was provoked by the banker’s way of taking it. Ovington seemed to be attaching absurd weight to Rodd’s suggestion. “None!” contemptuously. “Not a jot.”
“There’s been a universal rise,” Rodd muttered. “In a moment? Without warning?”
“But fiddlesticks!” Arthur retorted. Of late it seemed as if his good humour had deserted him, and this was not the first sign he had given of an uncertain temper. Still, the phase was so new thattwo of those present looked curiously at him, and his consciousness of this added to his irritation. “Rodd’s no better than an old woman,” he continued. “Five per cent., and a mortgage in a strong box is about his measure. If you are going to listen to every croaker who is frightened by a shadow, you might as well close the bank, sir, and put the money out on Rodd’s terms!”
“Still Rodd means us well,” the banker said thoughtfully, “and a little caution is never out of place in a bank.
What I want to get from him is has he anything definite to tell us? Wolley? Have you heard anything about Wolley, Rodd?”
“Then what is it? What is it, man?”
But Rodd, brought to bay, only looked more stubborn. "It's no more than I’ve .told you, sir,” he muttered, “it’s just a feeling. Things must come down some day.” “Oh, damn!” Arthur exclaimed, out of patience, and
thinking that the banker was making altogether too much of it—and of Rodd. “If he were a weather-glass—”
“Or a woman!” interjected Betty, who was observing all with inscrutable eyes.
“But as he isn’t either,” Arthur continued impatiently, “I fail to see why you make so much of it! Of course, things will come down some day, but if he thinks that with your experience you are blind to anything he is likely to see, he’s no better than a fool! Because my uncle, for reasons which you understand, sir, has drawn out four hundred pounds, he thinks every customer is going to leave us, and Ovington’s must put up the shutters! The truth is, he knows nothing about it, and if he wishes to damage the bank he is going the right way to do it!”
“Would you like my opinion, father?” Betty asked. “No, certainly not, child. Where’s Clement?”
“Well, I’m afraid he’s away.”
“Again? Then he is behaving very badly.”
“That was the opinion I was going to give, father,” the girl answered. “That some were behaving better than others—I mean.”
“If,” Arthur cried, “you mean me—”
“There, enough,” said her father. “Be silent, Betty. You’ve no business to be here.”
“Still people should behave themselves,” she replied, her eyes sparkling.
Arthur had his answer ready, but Ovington forestalled him. “Very good, Rodd,” he said. “A word on the side of caution is never out of place in a bank. But I am not blind and all that you have told me is in my mind. Thank you. You can go now.”
IT WAS the first word, the first hint, the first presage of evil; of a fall, of bad weather, of a storm, distant as yet and seen even by the clearest eyes only as a cloud no
bigger than a man's hand. But the word had been spoken. The hint had been given, and to Arthur, who had paid a high price for prosperity—how high only he could say— the presage seemed an outrage. The idea that the prosperity he had bought was not a certainty, that the craft on which he had embarked his fortune was, like other ships, at the mercy of storm and tempest, that like other ships it might founder with all its freight, was entirely new to him. So new that for a moment his face betrayed the impression it made. He looked . disturbed. Then he told himself that this thing was incredible, that he started at shadows, and his natural confidence rebounded. “Oh,— damn Rodd!” he cried—and he said it with all his heart. “He’s a croaker by nature!”
■ “Still, we won’t damn him,” the banker answered mildly. “On the contrary, we will profit by his warning. But go now, I have a letter to write. And do you go, too, Betty, and make tea for us.” He turned to his papers, and Arthur, after a moment’s hesitation, followed Betty into the house. Overtaking her in the hall, “Betty, what is the matter?” he said. And when the girl took no notice but went on with her chin in the. air as if he had not spoken, he seized her arm. “Come,” he said, “I am not going to have this. What is it?”
“What should it be! I don’t know what you mean,” she retorted.
“Oh, yes, you do. What took you—to back up that ass in the bank just now?” Then Betty astonished him. “I didn’t think he wanted any backing,” she said, her eyes bright. “He seemed to me to talk sense, and someone else nonsense.”
“But you’re not—”
“A partner in Ovington’s? No, Mr. Bourdillon, I am net— thank Heaven! And so my head is not turned, and I cab keep my temper and mind my manners.”
“Oh, it’s Mr. Bourdillon now, is it?”
“Yes—if you are going to behave to my friends as you did this afternoon.”
“Your friends?” scornfully. “You include Rodd, do you? Rodd, Betty?”
“Yes, I do and I am not too proud to do so. Nor too proud to be angry when I see a man ten years younger than he is slap him in the face! I am not so spoiled that I think everyone beneath me!”
“It’s as much Rodd now,” she answered, her cheeks hot, her eyes sparkling, “as it was anyone else before! Just as much and just as little. You flatter yourself, sir!” “But Betty,”1 in a lower tone, “little spit-fire that you are! Can’t you guess why I was short with Rodd just now? Can’t you guess why I don’t particularly love him? But you do guess. Rodd is what he is—nothing! But when he lifts his eyes above him—when he dares to make eyes at you—I am not going to be silent.”
“Now you are impertinent!” she said coldly. ‘‘As impertinent as you were mean before. Yes, mean, mean! When you knew he could not answer you! Mean!”
And without waiting for a reply she ran up the stairs. Arthur decided that he would let her temper cool, and that he would not stay to tea. Instead, he would by-and-by ride his new horse out to the Cottage. He had not been home for the week-end; he had left Mrs. Bourdillon tc come to herself and recover her good humour in solitude Now he would make it up with her and while he was then he might as well get a peep at Josina—it was a long timt since he had seen her. If Betty chose to take up this unpleasant line, why, she could not blame him if he amusec himself.
FOR A TIME after the Squire had driven away Clemen’ had sat staring after him, and in his rage had wishec him dead. He had prepared himself for opposition, hi had looked to be repulsed—he had expected nothing else but in the scene which his fancy had pictured his part hat been one of dignity; he had owned his aspirations lik!
a man, he had admitted his insufficiency with modesty, he had pleaded the power of love with eloquence, he had won even from the Squire a mead of unwilling approbation.
But the scene, as played, had run on other lines. The old man had crushed him. He had sworn at him, refused to listen to him, had insulted him, had treated him as no better than a shop-boy. All of which had cut to the quick. For Clement, born after Ovington had risen from the ranks, was college-bred; he was not a poor man, he had his pride and he had his ambitions, and, humiliated, he cursed with all his soul the prejudice and hide-bound narrowness of the Squire and all his caste. For the time he was more than a radical, he was a republican. If by gesture he could have swept away King and Commons, lords and justices, he would not have held his hand.
It was some time before he recovered his temper, and it was only when he found himself, he hardly knew how, upon the bridge at Garthmyle, that he could think with coolness. Even then he was not quite himself. He had vowed that he would not see Josina again, until he had claimed her from her father, but the Squire’s treatment, he now felt, had absolved him from this, and the temptation to see her was great. He longed to pour out his mind to her and to tell her how he had been insulted, how he had been treated. Perhaps, even, he must say farewell to her—he must give her up.
For he was not all hero, and the task before him seemed for the time too prodigious, the labour too little hopeful. The Hydra had so many heads, and roared so fearfully that for a moment his courage sank before it—and his love. He feared that he must yield, that he must see his mistress and tell her so. At any rate she ought to know what had happened, and accordingly he put up his horse at the inn and made by a roundabout road for their meeting-place by the brook......
He lingered there, savouring his melancholy, until the sun went down behind the hills, and then, attacked by the pangs of hunger, he made his way back to the village inn. There he satisfied his appetite on such home-baked bread and yellow butter and nut brown ale as are not in these degenerate times; and for well-nigh an hour he sat brooding in the sanded parlour surrounded by china cats and dogs—such as they, too, would be of no value nowadays. At length with a heavy heart—for what was he to do next —he rode out of the yard, and crossing the bridge under the shadowy bulk of the squat church-tower, he .set his horse’s head for home. It was nearly dark.
What was he to do next? He did not know but as he rode through the dark, the solemn hills falling back on either side and the darkening plain widening before him, he took courage, he began to consider with some return of hope what lay before him, and how he must proceed— if he were not to give up. Clearly he must face the Squire, but it must be in the Squire’s own house, where the Squire must hear him. He might insult him, rave at him, order him out, but before he was put out, he would speak, and ask for Josina, though the roof fell. There should be no further mistake. And, he would let the Squire know, if it came to that, that he was a man, as good as other men. By heaven he would.
He was not all hero. But there were some heroic parts about him, and he determined that the very next morning he would ride out and would beard the Hydra in its den, be its heads ever so many. He would win his lady-love or perish!
By the time he had come to his decision, he was half-way home. The market traffic on the road had ceased, the moon had not yet risen, the night lay quiet and dark about him. Presently as he crossed a wet rushy flat, one of the loneliest parts of the way, he saw the lights of a vehicle coming towards him. The road at this point had been not long enclosed, and a broad strip of common still survived on the other hand, so that riding on this his horse’s hoofs made no sound save a soft plop-plop where the ground was wettest. He could hear therefore, while still afar off, the steady tramp of a pair of horses driven at a trot in his direction, and it occurred to him that this might be the Squire returning late. If he could have avoided the meeting he would have done so, though it was unlikely that the Squire would recognize him in the dark. But to turn aside would be foolish. “Hang me if I am going to be afraid of him!” he thought. And he touched up his horse with his heel.
THEN an odd thing happened. While the carriage was still some fifty yards from him, one of the lights went out. His eyes missed it, but his brain had barely taken in the fact, when the second vanished also, as if the vehicle had sunk into the ground. At the same moment a cry, hoarse and half-stifled, reached his ears, followed by a clatter of hoofs on the hard road as if the horses were being sharply pulled up.
Clement took his horse by the head and bent forward striving to make out what was passing. As he did so a dull sound,as of a heavy bodystrikingtheroad.reachedhim, followed by a silence that seemed ominous. Even the wind appeared to have hushed its whisper through the rushes.
“Hallo! What is it?” he shouted. “Is anything the matter?” He urged his horse forward.
His cry was lost in the loud crack of a whip, he heard the horses break away, and without farther warning they came thundering down upon him at a gallop, the carriage bounding wildly behind them. He had just time to thrust his nag to the side and they wereon him and past him, and whirling down the road—a mere shadow, but as perilous and almost as noisy as a thunder-bolt. There was no doubt now that an accident had happened, but before he could give help he had to master his horse \\ hich had wheeled about scared by the runaways: and so a few seconds elapsed before he reached the scene reached it with his heart in his mouth—for who could say with what emergency he might not have to deal?
Certainly with a tragedy he saw at once, for the first thing he made out was the form of a man stooping over another who lay in the road. Clement drew a breath of relief as he slipped from his saddle—he would not have to deal with the crisis alone. But as his foot touched the ground, he saw the stooping man raise his hand with something in it, and he knew instinctively that it was raised not to help but to strike.
He shouted, and the blow hung in the air. The striker, taken by surprise, straightened himself, looked aside and saw Clement at his elbow. He hesitated, then with an oath and quick as thought he turned his blow on the newcomer.
Clement parried it, rather by instinct than with intention and so weakly that the other’s heavy weapon beat down his guard, and cut his cheek-bone. He staggered back and the villain raised his cudgel again. Had the second blow fallen where it was aimed it would have finished the business. But Clement, roused by the pain, and aware now that he fought for his life, sprang within the other’s guard, and before the cudgel alighted, gripped him by the neckcloth. The man gave ground, tripped backwards over the body that lay behind him, and in a twinkling the two were rolling together on the road, Clement striving to beat in the ruffian’s face with the butt-end of his whip, while the man tried vainly to shorten his weapon and use if to purpose.
IT WAS a desperate struggle. in the mire, in the darkness, a struggle for life carried on in a
silence that was broken only by the combatants' breathing, and a rare oath. Twice the two rolled over one another and once Clement, having the upper hand for a moment, was aware of the third present at the fight—of a ghastly face, one side of which had been mangled by a murderous blow, glaring at them with its remaining eye. He guessed, rather than saw, that the man lying in the road had raised himself on an elbow, he heard a gasping, "At him, lad! Well done, lad!” Then in a turn of the struggle he lost the vision. His opponent had him by the throat, he was undermost again—and desperate. His one thought now was to kill—to kill the brute beast whose teeth threatened his cheek, whose hot breath burned his face, whose hands gripped his throat. He struck again and again, and eventually, supple and young, and perhaps the stronger, he freed himself and staggered to his feet, raising his whip to strike.
But the same thing happened to him which had happened to his assailant. As he stepped back to give power to the blow, he fell over the third man. He came down heavily and for a moment lay at the mercy of his opponent. Fortunately the rascal’s courage was at an end. The man got to his feet but instead of pursuing his advantage, he snatched up something that lay on the ground, and sped away down the road, as quickly as his legs could carry
Clement recovered his feet but more slowly for the fall had shaken him. But his desire for vengeance was unslaked and his blood hot, and he set off in pursuit. The man had a good start, however, and presently leaving the road and leaping the ditch the rogue made off across the open common. To follow farther promised little, for in a few seconds his figure, already dim and shadowy, melted into the darkness of the fields. Clement turned back, panting and out of breath.
The injured man seemed to be aware of his presence for he made an attempt to rise, but he failed, and groaning would have fallen back on the road, if Clement dropping on one knee had not sustained his head and shoulders on the other. It was the Squire. So much he saw, dark as it was; but it was a Squire past not only scolding but speech, whom he held in his arms, and whose head he supported. To all Clement’s questions he made no answer, and apparently he did not hear him. It was much if he still breathed: even now it might be a corpse that the young man held in his arms.
Clement glanced about him, and his confidence began to leave him.
What was he to do? He could not go for help—he might have to go far—leaving the old man lying in the road; to ascertain the extent of the Squire’s hurt, or to use means to staunch it. The moon had not yet risen, the country’ stretched dark and black about them, no sound except the melancholy whisper of the wind in the rushes reached him. There was no house near and it was growing late. No one might pass for
Fortunately when he had reached this stage he remembered that he had his tinder box and matches in his pocket, and he fumbled for them with his disengaged hand. With an effort, still supporting the old man’s head, he got them out. But to strike a light and catch it in the huddled posture in which he knelt was a task, and it was only after a score of attempts that the match caught the flame. Even so the light it gave was faint, and he had to shield it carefully, but it revealed the Squire's face, and Clement saw with an involuntary shudder that the left eye and temple
Covthwrd ov page 38
Oving ton’s Bank
Continued from page 31
were terribly battered. What was he to do?
Help he must get, and speedily, if he would save the Squire’s life, but his horse, which in the heat of the struggle he had forgotten, was gone, and to walk away for help, leaving the old man lying in the mud of the way seemed inhuman. He must at least carry him to the side of the road.
The task was no light one, for the Squire was a heavy man; and before Clement ventured to attempt it he cast' a last look round. But darkness and silence still wrapped all, and he was actually stooping and gathering his strength to lift the dead weight, when a sound caught his ear, and he raised himself. A moment, and joy! He caught the far-off beat of hoofs on the turf. Someone was coming, riding on the side of the road, approaching him from the direction of Aldersbury. He shouted, shouted his loudest and waited. Yes, thank heaven, he was not mistaken. The soft plop of hoofs grew louder, two fonns loomed out of the darkness, a horse shied, a man swore.
“Here!” Clement cried. “Here! Take care! There’s a man in the road.” “Where?” Then, “Confound you, you nearly had me down! Are you hurt?” “No, but—”
“I’ve got your horse. I met him a couple of miles this side of the town. What —”
CLEMENT broke in. “There’s bad work here!” he cried, his voice shaky. Now that help was at hand and the peril was over, he began to feel what he had gone through. “For God’s sake get down and help me. Your uncle’s man has robbed him and, I fear, murdered
Arthur uttered an exclamation. Then, “The Squire?”
“Yes, yes. He’s lying here half dead. We must get him to the side of the road, at once.”
Arthur slipped from his saddle, and holding the reins of the two horses approached the group as nearly as the frightened animals would let him. “Quiet, fools!” he cried angrily. And then, “Good God!” in a whisper, as he peered awe-stricken at the injured man. “Is he dead?”
“No, but he’s terribly mauled. And we must get help. Help, man, and quickly, too—if it is to be of any use. Shall I go?”
“No, no, I’ll go,” Arthur answered, recoiling. What he had seen had given
him no desire to take Clement’s place. “Garthmyle is the nearer, and I shall not be Jong.^ I’ll tie up your horse—that’ll be
There was an old thorn-tree standing solitary in the waste not many yards away; a tree, destined to be pointed out for years to come as marking the spot where the old Squire was robbed. Arthur tied Clement’s horse to this, then together they lifted the old man, and carried him to the side of the road. The moment that this was done, Arthur sprang on his horse and started off. “Back soon,” he shouted.
Clement had not seen his way to object, but it was with a heavy heart he resigned himself to another period of painful waiting. He was cold, his face smarted, and at any moment the old man might die on his hands. Meantime he could do nothing but wait. Or yes, he could do something; chilled as he was, he took off his coat, and rolling it up, he slipped it under the insensible head.
He was thinking of Josina, when long before he had dared to expect relief, he heard a sound that quickly resolved itself into the rattle of wheels. Yes, there was a carriage coming along the road.
NO ONE could deny that Arthur was capable. He had come upon the Squire’s horses, which had been brought to a stand with the near wheel of the curricle wedged in the ditch. He had found them greedily feeding, and he had let his own nag go, and had captured the runaways. He had drawn the carriage out of the ditch and here he was.
“Thank God!” Clement cried, going a few steps to meet him, "I think that he is still alive.”
It was a job, and not an easy one. But they tied up the horses to a thorn-tree— they were pretty quiet by this time— and lifting the old man between them they carried him with what care they might to the carriage, raised him, heavy and helpless as he was, to the step, and then, while one maintained him there, the other climbed in, and lifted him to the front seat. Clement got up behind and supported his shoulders and head, while Arthur, first tying the two hacks behind the carriage, released the horses, and with the reins in his hands scrambled to his place.
The thing was done and cleverly done, and they set off. But they dared not
travel at more than a walk, and never had the three miles to Garthmyle seemed so long or so tedious.
They were both anxious, and both excited. But while in Clement’s mind pity, a sense of the tragedy before him, and thought for Josina contended with an honest pride in what he had done, the other, as they drove along, was already calculating chances, and busy with contingencies. The Squire’s death—if the Squire died—would work a great change, an immense change. Things which had yesterday been too doubtful and too distant to deserve much thought would be brought within reach, would be his for the asking. And he was the more inclined to consider this because Betty—dear little creature as she was—had shown a •spint that day, not at all to his liking, whereas Josina, mild and docile—it might be that after all she would suit him better. And Garth, Garth with its wide acres and its rich rent-roll would be hers. Garth that would give any man a position to be envied. Its charms, while uncertain and distant, dependent on the whim and caprice of an arbitrary old man, had not much attracted him; at any rate they had not fixed him, for to attain to them he must give up other things, equally to his mind. But now the case was or might be altered. He must wait and watch events, and keep an open mind. If the Squire died:—
A WORD or two passed between the couple, but for the most part they were silent. Once and again the Squire moaned, and so proved that he still lived. At last where the road to Garth branched off, at the entrance to the village, they saw a light before them, and old Fewtrelï, carrying a lanthorn, met them. The Squire’s absence had alarmed the house, and he had come thus far in quest of news.
“Oh, Lord ha’ mercy! Lord ha’ mercy!” the old fellow quavered as he lifted his lanthorn, and the light disclosed the group in the carriage, and his master’s huddled form and ghastly visage. “Miss Jos said ’twas so! Said as summat had happened him! Beside herself, she be! She’ve been down at the' gate this half hour awaiting on him. ”
“Don’t let her see him," Clement cned. “Go, man, and send her back."
But, “That’s no good,” Arthur objected, with more sense but less' feeling. “She must see him, This is woman’s work, we can do nothing. Let Fewtrell take your place and do you go for the Doctor. You know where he lives and you’ll go twice as quick as he will, and there’s no more that you can do. Take your horse.” Clement was unwilling to go, unwilling to have no farther part in the matter. But he could not refuse. Things were as they were; in spite of all that he had done and suffered, he had no place there, no standing in the house, no right beside his mistress or call to think for her. He was a stranger, an outsider, and when he had fetched the doctor, there would, as Arthur had said, be nothing more that he could do.
Nothing more, though as he rode over the bridge and trotted through the village his heart was bursting with pity for her whom he could not comfort, could not see. From whose side in her troubles and her self-arraignment—for he knew that she would reproach herself—he must be banished. It was hard. It was very hard.
THE SQUIRE was late. A hundred years ago night fell more seriously. It closed in on a countryside less peopled, on houses and hamlets more distant, and divided by greater risks of flood and field. The dark hours were longer and haunted by graver apprehensions. Every journey had to be made on horses or behind them, and the roads were rough and miry, fords were plenty, bridges scarce. Sturdy rogues abounded, footpads were not lacking, and to double every peril it was still the habit of most men to drink deep. Few returned sober from market, fewer from fair or merry-making.
At Garth, Josina was standing in the darkness before the door, listening and uneasy. The Squire was seldom late; it could not be that Clement had met him and there had been a—but no, Clement was not the man to raise his hand against his elder—the thought was dismissed as soon as formed. Yet why did not the Squire come? Lights began to shine through the casements, she saw the candles
brought into the dining-room, the darkness thickened about her, trees and shrubs lost their shapes, only the trunks of the nearer beei hes gave back a gleam. And the girl felt that if anything had happened to him. she should never forgive herself. Shivering, iess with cold than apprehension, she peered down the drive. He had been later t han this before, but then her conscience had been quiet, she had not deceived him, she had had nothing with which to reproach herself on his account.
Presently, “Josina, what are you doing there?” Miss Peacock cried. She had come to the open door and discovered the girl. She began to scold. “Come in this minute, child! Do you think I am going to be left alone, and the door open. Jos! Jos!”
BUT JOSINA was gone, groping her way down the drive. When Fewtrell went past with his lanthorn he came on her sitting on the bridge and he got a rare start, thinking it was a ghost. “Lord a Mighty!” he cried as the light fell on her pale face. “Aren’t you afraid to sit there by yourself, Miss?”
But Josina was not afraid and after a word or two he shambled away, the lanthorn swinging in his hand. The girl watched the light go bobbing along as far as the highway fifty yards on, saw it travel to the left along the road, lost it for some moments, then marked it again, a faint blur of light, moving towards the village.
Presently it vanished and she was left alone with her fears, ^he strained her ears to catch the first sound of wheels.
Doubtless she would not have taken things so hardly had she not been overwrought, and as it was, the first sound that reached her from the Garthmyle road brought her to her feet. A light showed, moving from that direction, travelling slowly through the darkness. It vanished and she held her breath. It came into view again, and she groped her way forward until she stood in the road. The light was close at hand now though viewed from the front it moved so little that her worst forebodings were confirmed. But now, now that she saw her fears justified, the woman’s fortitude, that in enduring is so much greater than man’s, came to her aid, and it was with a calmness that surprised herself that she awaited .the slow procession, discerned by the lanthorn-light her father’s huddled form, and^in a trembling voice asked if he still
“Yes, yes!” Arthur cried, and hastened to re-assure her. “He will do yet, but he is hurt. Go back, Jos, and get his bed ready, and hot water and some linen. The doctor will be here in a minute.”
His voice, firm and collected, struck the right note, and the girl answered to it bravely. She made no lamentation, and no tear —there would be time for those later—but gathering up her skirts she sped up the drive and before the carriage had passed the bridge she had given the alarm in the house. There, in a moment, all was confusion. Miss Peacock, whatever fears she had expressed, was ill prepared for the fact, and it was Josina who stilled the outcry of the maids, gave the needful orders, and seconded Calamy in carrying them out, had candles placed on the stairs, and with her own hand brought out a stout wooden chair. When the carriage, the lanthorn gleaming sombrely, on the dark shining trunks, drew slowly out of the darkness to the door, she was there with lights and brandy. For her the worst was over. The scared faces of the women, their stifled cries and confused hovering, were but a background to her steady courage.
STILL, even she yielded the first place to Arthur, who had had time to think out his course, and to settle the part he must play. Whatever pity or horror he had felt, he had been able to overcome, and to think both of the present and the future. And he rose to the occasion. He directed, arranged, and was himself the foremost worker. By the time Mr. Farmer, the village doctor, arrived, he had done much which had to be done. The Squire had been carried upstairs, and lay, breathing stentoriously, on his great four-post bed with the dingy drab curtains and the two watch-pockets at the head and everything which could be of use had been brought to hand.
The doctor shut out the frightened maids and shut out Miss Peacock. But Arthur was only at the beginning of his resources. His nerve was good and he
aided Farmer in his examination, while Jos, standing out of sight behind the curtain, calm but quivering in every nerve, handed to him or to Calamy, the old servitor, what they needed, linen and hot water and the like. But even then and while he was thus employed Arthur found occasion to whisper a cheering word to the girl, to reassure her and give her hope. He forced her to take a glass of wine, and when Calamy, shaking his head, muttered that he had known a man who had been worse hurt to recover—but he was a strong young fellow!—he damned the butler for an old fool, regardless of the fact that coming from Calamy this was a remarkably cheerful prognostic.
Presently he made her go downstairs. “Nothing more can be done now,” he said. “The doctor thinks well of him so far. He and I will stay with him to-night. You must save yourself, Jos. You will be needed to-morrow.”
Whether there was a fracture, Farmer could not say at present. He had seen in a long life and a country practice many such cases, and he was not unskilled in treating them. But—no active measures. “Dr. Quiet,” he said, “Dr. Quiet, the best of the faculty, my dear. If he does not always effect a cure, he makes no mistakes. We must leave it to him.”
So morning came and passed, and noon; and still nothing more could be done. With the afternoon reaction set in; the house resigned itself to rest. Two or three stole away to sleep. Arthur dozed in an arm-chair. The clock struck with abnormal clearness, the cluck of a hen in the yard was heard in the attics. S.o the hours passed until sunset surprised a yawning house, and in the parlour they pressed one another to éat, and in the kitchen unusual luxuries were consumed with a ghoulish enjoyment, and no fear of the housekeeper. And still Farmer could say no more. They must wait and hope. Dr. Quiet! He praised him afresh in the same words.
Some hours earlier, and before Josina, after much scolding by Miss Peacock, had been ordered to go to her room and lie down, Arthur had told his story.
He did not go into details. “It would only shock you, Jos,” he said, “it was Thomas, of course, and I hope to heaven he’ll swing for it. I suppose he knew that your father was carrying a large sum of money, and he must have struck him, possibly as he turned to say something, and then thrown him out. We must set the hue and cry after him, but Clement will see to that; it was lucky that he turned up when he did.”
SHE DREW a sharp breath—this was the first she had heard of Clement. And in her surprise “Clement?” she exclaimed, then covering her confusion as well as she could, “Mr. Ovington? Do you mean—he was there, Arthur?”
“By good luck he was, and when he was wanted. Poor chap, I can tell you it knocked him fairly out of time. . All the same I don’t know what might not have happened if he had not come up. I sent him for Farmer, and it saved time, you seé.”
“I did not know that he had been there,” she murmured. She was too selfconscious to ask more about him.
“Well, you wouldn’t, of course. He’d been fishing I fancy and came along just when it made all the difference. I don’t know what I should have done without him.”
“And Thomas?” anxiously. “You are sure that it was Thomas? What became of' him?”
“He made off across the fields. It was dark and useless to follow him—we had other things to think of, as you may imagine. Ten to one he has made for Manchester, but Clement will see to that. Oh, we’ll have him! But there,” considerately, “I won’t tell you any more. You look ill as it is, and it will only spoil your sleep, and you must sleep. Do go upstairs, Jos, and lie down, or you will never be able to go on.” And, Miss Peacock fussily seconding his advice, Jos consented and went.
Arthur’s manner had been kind, and Jos thought him kind. A brother could not have been of more use, or more anxious to spare her unpleasant details. But, told as he had told it, the story left her under the impression that Clement’s part had been slight only and fortuitous and that if there were a person to whom she owed the preservation of her father’s life, it was Arthur, and Arthur only.
Which the girl was the more ready to believe, in view of the masterly way in which he had managed all at the house, had taken the upper hand in all, and saved her, and spared her.
Yet Arthur had stated no facts, he had been careful to state no facts, which could be contradicted by evidence, should the whole come out—at the inquest, for instance. He had foreseen the possibility of that, and had been careful. Indeed it was with that in his mind that he had— well, that he had not gone into details.
CLEMENT had walked with the doctor to the door and had even secured a last word with Arthur outside, but he had not ventured to enter the house, much less to ask for Josina. He knew how heavily the shock would fall on her, and his heart was wrung for her. But he knew also, or he guessed, that the poignancy of her grief would be sharpened by remorse, and he felt that in the first outburst of self-reproach, his presence would perhaps be the last she would welcome.
It was not a pleasant thought for a lover; but then how much worse, he reflected, would it have been for her, had she never made up her mind to confession. And in his own person how much better he now stood. He had that to comfort him. He had saved the Squire’s life, and had saved it in circumstances that must do him credit. He had run his risks, and been put to the test, and he had come manfully out of it; and he still felt that elation of spirit, that readiness to do and dare, to meet fresh ventures, which attends on a crisis successfully encountered.
He was not in a mood to be dashed by trifles therefore, or Arthur, when he came out to speak to him, would have dashed him, for Arthur was rather short with him. “You can do nothing here,” he said. “We are tumbling over one another. Get after that rascal. He has got away with four hundred in gold and we must recover it. Watkins at the Griffin may kno\y where he’ll make for.”
“He’s in livery, isn’t he?”
“Begad, so he is! I’d not thought of that! I’ll have his place watched in case he steals back to change. But do you see Watkins.”
Clement took his dismissal in good part, and went to Watkins. He soon learned all that the inn-keeper knew, which amounted to no more than a conviction that Thomas would make for Manchester. Watkins shook his head over the livery. The rascal was no fool; he’d have got rid of that, he felt sure. “Oh, he’s a clever one sir, and a gallus bad one,” he continued.
“I’ll find him,” Clement said. And he meant it. His blood was up, he had tasted of adventure and had found it more to his liking than bank ledgers. And already he had made up his mind that it was his business to pursue Thomas. He was angered by the rascal’s cowardly attack upon an old man and, were it only for that, he would take him. But apart from that he saw that if he recovered the Squire’s money it would be another point to his credit if the Squire recovered. If the old man did not live, well, still he would have done something. As he rode home, passing the scene of the robbery, he laid his plans.
He would leave the search in that district to the Head Constable at Aldersbury. But he expected little from this. In those days if a man were robbed it was the man’s own business and that of his friends to follow the thief and seize him if they could. In London the Bow Street Runners saw to it, and in one or two of the big cities there were police officers, organizations on similar lines. But in the country there were only parish constables, elderly men, often chosen because they were past work.
CLEMENT knew, then, that he must rely on himself, and he tried to imagine what Thomas would do, and what route he would take if he made for Manchester. Not through Aldersbury, for there he would run the risk of being recognized. Nor would he probably venture into either of the direct roads thence—through Congleton or by Tarporley; for it was along these roads that he would be likely to be followed. How then. Through Chester, Clement fancied. The man was already on' the Chester side of Aldersbury and he could make at once for that place, while in the full stream of traffic
between Chester and Manchester his traces would be lost. Travelling on foot and by night, he might reach Chester about ten in the morning, and probably having money and being footsore he would take the first Manchester coach that left after ten.
At this point Clement found himself crossing the West Bridge, the faint scattered lights of the town rising to a point before him. His first business was to knock up the constable and tell his tale. This done, he made for the Bank, where he found the household awaiting his coming in some alarm, for it was close on midnight. Here he had to tell his story afresh, amid expressions of wonder and pity, while Betty fetched sponge and water and bathed his cheek; nor, modestly as he related his doings, could he quite conceal the part that he had played. The banker listened, approved, and for once experienced a new sensation. He was proud of his son. Moreover, as an unlooked-for sequel to the Squire’s withdrawal of the money, the story touched him home.
Then Clement, as he ate his supper, came to his point.
“I’m going after him,” he said.
The banker objected. “Its’ not your business, my lad,” he said. “You’ve done enough, I’m sure.”
“But the point is it’s bank money, sir,” Clement replied. He had grown cunning.
“It was this morning.”
“And he was a client this morning— and may be to-morrow, sir.”
The banker considered. There was something in that; and this sudden interest in the bank was gratifying.
“Anyway I’m going to do it, sir,” Clement asserted with unexpected independence. “I shall go by the Nantwich coach at half-past five, drop off at Altringham, and catch him as he goes through. True, if he goes by Frodsham, I may miss him, but I fancy that the morning coach by Frodsham leaves Chester too early for him. And after all, I can’t stop every bolt hole.”
OVINGTON wondered anew. He was seeing his son in a new light. This was not the idler with his eyes on the ledger and his thoughts abroad, whom he had known in the bank, but a young man with purpose in his glance and a cut on his cheek-bone, who looked as if he could be ugly if it came to a pinch. A quite new Clement—or new at any rate to him.
He reflected. Certainly, the affair would be talked of, and it would be a feather in the bank’s cap if the money which the Squire had withdrawn, were recovered through the bank’s exertions. Viewed in that light there was method in the lad’s madness—whatever had bitten him. “Well, I think it is a dangerous business,” he said at last, “and it is not your business. But go, if you will.” “But your face?” Betty said, “Isn’t it painful? It’s turning black, and—” “I’ll bet that villain’s is as black!” he retorted, “I know I got home on him once. Only let me be called at five.”
But his father saw that, as he passed through the hall, he took one of the bank pistols out of the case in which they were kept, and slipped it into his pocket. The banker wondered anew, and felt, perhaps, more anxiety than he showed. At any rate, it was he who called the lad at five and saw that he drank the coffee that Betty had prepared, and that he ate something. At the last, indeed, Clement feared that his father might offer to accompany him, but he did not. Possibly he had decided that if his son were bent on proving his mettle in this odd business, it was wisest not to baulk him.
The sun was rising, as Clement’s coach rattled down the Foregate between the old Norman towers that crowned the Castle Hill and the long austere front of the School, with its wide casements twinkling in the first beams. Early milk carts drew aside to give the coach passage, white-eyed sweeps gazed enviously after it, mob-caps at windows dreamt of holidays and sighed to be on it and away. Soon it burst merrily from the crowded houses and met the morning freshness and the open country and the rolling fields. The mists were rising from the valley behind, as the horses breasted the ascent above the old battlefield, swept down the farther slope, and at eight miles an hour climbed up Armour Hill between meadows sparkling with dew and coverts. flickering with conies.
Down the hill it went at a canter which presently carried it rejoicing into Wem.
There the first relay was waiting, and away again they went, bowling over the barren gorse-clad heath that brought them presently through narrow twisting streets to the White Lion at Whitchurch. Again, “Horses on!” and merrily they travelled down the gentle slope to the Cheshire plain, where miles of green country spread themselves in the sunshine, a land of fatness and plenty, of cheese and milk and slow-running brooks. The clock on Nantwich church was showing a half after eight, as with a long flourish from the bugle, they passed below it, and halted for breakfast at the Crown, in that stubborn old Roundhead
HALF an hour to refresh, topping up with a glass of famous Nantwich ale, and away again. But now the sun was high, the world abroad, the roads alive with traffic. Onwards from Nantwdch, where they began to run alongside the Ellesmere Canal, with its painted barges and gay market boats, the road took on a new importance, and many a smiling wayside house, Lion or Swan, cheered, the travellers on their way. Spanking four-in-hands, handled by lusty coachmen, the autocrats of the road, chaises-andfour with postboys in green or yellow, white-coated farmers and clergymen on hackneys, commercials in gigs, and fighting publicans in tax-carts, pedlars, packmen, the one-legged sailor, and Punch and Judy—all these met or passed them; and huge wains laden with Manchester goods and driven by teamsters in smocks with long whips on their shoulders.
And Clement saw it all and rejoiced in it all, though his eyes never ceased their search for a dour-looking man with. a bruised face. He rejoiced in the cantering horses and the abounding life about him, in the freedom of it and the joyousness of it, his pulses leaping in tune with it; and not the less in tune, so splendid a thing is it to be young, and in the twenties and in love, because he had fought a' fight and slept only three hours. He watched it all pass before him and if he had ever believed in his father’s scheme of an iron way and iron horses he lost faith in it now. For it was impossible to believe that any iron road running . across fields and waste places, could vie with this splendid highway, this orderly procession of coaches, travelling and stopping and meeting with the regularity of a weaver’s shuttle, these long lines of laden waggons, these swift chaises horsed at every stage. He saw stables that sheltered a hundred roadsters and were not full; ostlers to whom a handful of oats in every peck gave a gentleman’s income; teams that were clothed and curried as tenderly as children ; mighty caravanserai full to the attics. A whole machinery of transport passed under his wondering eyes, and the railway, the Valleys Railway—he smiled at it as at the dream of a visionary.
They swept through Northwich something before noon, and an hour later Clement dropped off the coach in front of the Bowling Green Inn at Altringham, and knew that his task lay before him. The little town had no church, but it boasted for its size more traffic than he had expected, and as he eyed its busy streets and its flow of traffic, his spirits sank; it did not call itself one of the gates of Manchester for nothing. However, he had not come to stand idle and the first step, to seek out a constable, was easy. But to secure that worthy’s aid— he was but a deputy, a pot-bellied spectacled shoemaker—was another matter. The man rolled up his leather apron, and pushed his horn-riaimed glasses on to his forehead, but he shook his head. “A very desperate villain,” he said, “a very desperate villain! But lor’, master, a dark sullen chap with a black eye and legs a little bandy? Why, I be dark and I be bandy; and for black eyes—I’m afeard there’s more than one o’ that cut on the road.”
“But not to-day,” Clement urged. “He’ll come through to-day or to-night.” “Ay, and more likely night than day. But how be I to see if he’s a blackened peeper in the dark! I can’t hail a gentleman off a coach to ask the colour of his
"Well, anyway, do your best,” Clement said.
“We might bill him and cry him?”
“That’s it! Do that!” Clement said. He saw that that was about the extent of the help he would get in this quarter.
“Send the crier to me at the Bowling Green, and I’ll write a bill—Five pounds reward for information.”
The constable’s eyes twifikled. “Now you’re on a line, master,” he said. “Now we’ll do summat, may be!”
Clement took the hint and bettered the line with a crown for the constable, and hastening back to his inn took possession of a seat in the window of the coffee room which commanded the main street. Here he wrote out a bill, and bribed a waiter to keep the place for him; and in it he sat patiently, scanning every person who passed. But so many passed that an hour had not elapsed before he judged his task hopeless, though he continued to perform it. The constable had undertaken to go round the inns and to set a watch on a side street; and the bill might do something. But his fancy pictured half a dozen byeways through the town; or the man might avoid the town, or he might go by another route. Altogether it began to seem a hopeless task, his fancied sagacity a silly conceit. But he had undertaken the task, and as he had told his father he could not close all holes. He could only set his snare across the largest and hope for the best and persist.
PRESENTLY he heard the crier ring his bell and cry his man. “Oh yes! Oh yes! Oh yes!” and the rest of it ending with “God save the king!” And that cheered him for a while. That was something. But as hour after hour went by and coaches, carriages and postchaises stopped and started before the door, and pedestrians passed by, and still no Thorp as appeared, though half a dozen times he ran out to take a nearer view of some traveller, or inspect ’some slumberer in a hay-cart, he began to despair. There were so many, so many chances against him. So many straws floated by, but half seen in the current.
It was in one of the slack intervals, when the street was tolerably empty, that his eyes fell on a man who was loitering on the other side of the way. The man had his hands in his pockets and a straw in his mouth, and he seemed to be a mere idler; but as his eyes met Clement’s he winked. He did so more than once. Then with an almost imperceptible gesture of the head he lounged away in the direction of the inn yard.
Clement doubted if anything was meant, but grasping at every chance he hurried out and found the man standing in the yard, his hands still in his pockets, the straw in his mouth. He was staring at an object, which to judge from his aspect, could have no possible interest for him—a pump. “Do you want me?” Clement asked.
“Mebbe, mister. Do. you see that
“D’you go in there and I’ll—mebbe I’ll join you.”
But Clement was suspicious. “I am not going out of sight of the street,” he*
“Lord!” contemptuously. “Your man’s gone these six hours'. He’s many a mild on by now! You come into the stable.” The fellow’s appearance did not commend him. He was blear-eyed, and under-sized, wearing a mangy rabbit skin waist-coat and no coat. He had the air of a postboy run to seed. Still Clement thought it better to go with him, and in the stable, “Be you the gent that offered five pounds?” the man asked, turning upon him.
“Then fork out, squire. Open you! purse, and I’ll open my mouth.”
“If you’ll come with me to the con« stable—” j
“Not I. I ben’t sharing with no con« stable. That is flat.”
“Well, what do you know?” Clement asked.
“What you want to know. Howsumdever, if you’ll give me your word you'll act the gentleman?”
“Who are you, my lad?”
“Ostler at the Barley Sheaf in Malt* house Lane. You’re on? Right. I see you’re a gentleman. Well, your chap come in ’bout eleven last night on I empty dray from Chester. He hac four sacks of corn with him.”
“Oh, but that can’t be the man I want!* Clement exclaimed, his face falling.
“You listen, mister. He had four sacks of corn with him and waggoner, he’d bargained to carry him to Manchester. But they had quarrelled, and t’other chucked off his sacks in our yard, and there was pretty nigh a fight. Waggoner he went off and left him cursing, and he offered me a shilling to find him a lift to Manchester first thing i’ the morning. ’Bout daylight there come in a hay cart, but driver’d only take the man and not the forage. Howsumdever he said at last he’d take one sack, and your chap up and asked me would I take care of t’other three till he sent for ’em. I see he was mighty keen to get on, and I sez no, sez I, but I’ll buy ’em cheap. Right, sez he, and surprising little bones about it; and lets me have ’em cheap! So thinks I, who’s this as chucks away money, and as he climbed up I managed to knock off his tile and see his eye was painted, and he the very spit of your bill! I’d half a mind to stop him, but he was over-weight for me—I’m a little chap—and I let him go.” He added some details that satisfied Clement that the traveller was really Thomas.
“Did you hear where he was going to in Manchester?”
“Five pound, mister!” The man held out his grimy paw.
Clement did not like the cunning in the bleary eyes, but he had gone so far that he could hardly draw back. He counted out four one-pound notes “Now then?” he said, showing the fifth, but keeping a firm hold on it.
“The lad that took him is Jerry Stott of the Apple Inn in Fennel Street. You go to him, mister. One of these will do it.”
Clement gave him the other note. “He didn’t tell you where he was going?” he asked.
“He very partic’lar did not. But I’m thinking you’ll net him at Jerry’s. Do you take one of Nadin’s boys. He’s a desperate-looking chap. He gave you that punch in the face I guess?” with interest.
“Ah, well, you marked him. But you get one of Nadin’s boys. You’ll not take him easy.”
CLEMENT did not let the grass grow under his feet. An hour later he was rattling over the stony pavements and through the crowded streets of the busy town, that had grown in a short hundred years from something that was little more than a village to be the second centre of wealth and population, of poverty and crime within the seas ; a centre on which the eye of Government rested with unwinking vigilance, for unrepresented in Parliament and with half of its citizens deprived of civic rights—since half were Nonconformists—it was at this time the focus of all the discontent in the countiy. There, if anywhere, flourished the agitation against the Test Acts and the meyement for Reform. Thence had started the famous Blanketeers, there six years before had taken place the Peterloo massacre, thence, as by the million filaments of some great web, was roused or calmed the vast industrial world of Lancashire. The thunder of the power-loom that had created it, the roar of the laden drays that shook it, deafened the wondering stranger; but more formidable and momentous than either, had he known it, was the halfheard murmur of an under-world, striving to be free.
Clement had never visited the cotton town before, and on a more commonplace errand he might have allowed himself to be daunted by a turmoil and bustle as unwonted as it was uncongenial. But with his mind set on one thing, he heeded his surroundings only as they threatened to baulk his aim and he had himself driven directly to the Police Office, over which the notorious Nadin had so lately presided, that for most people, it still went by his name. Fearless, resolute, and not too scrupulous, the man had through twenty troublous years combated, and in the main quelled, the forces alike of disorder and of liberty; and before London had yet acquired an efficient police, he had gathered round him a body of men equal at least to the Bow Street Runners. He had passed, but his methods survived; and half an hour after Clement had entered the office he issued from it accompanied by a hardbitten, sharp-eyed man in a tall beaver hat and a long wide-skirted coat.
“The Apple Tree? Umph! The Apple Tree’s on the square,” he informed Clement. “And Jerry Stott? No harm in him, sir, either. He’ll speak when he sees me.”
“You don’t think we need another
“There’s one following. No use to go in a hunch. He’ll watch the front, and we’ll go in hy the yard. Got a barker, sir?”
“’Fraid so. Well, don’t use it—show it if you like. Law’s law, and a live dog’s worth more than its hide. Ay, that’s Chetham’s. Queer old place, and—here we are,” as they turned off Long Mill Gate, and entered the yard of an oldfashioned house, over the door of which* hung the sign of an apple-tree. The place was quiet, in comparison with the street they had left, and “Here’s Jerry,” the officer added, as they espied a young fellow, who in a corner of the enclosure was striving to raise to his shoulder a truss of hay much larger than himself. He ceased his efforts when he saw them and his face fell.
“We want a word with you, Jetry,” said the cffVer.
The man eyed them with dismay. “I never thout ’at he’d come to thee,” he
“The chap you broughtin this morning?”
“Happen yes and happen no,” the policeman replied. “What’s it all about?”
“If he says I took his' eauts he be a leear. I wurna wi’ the sack, not to say alone ’at is, not five minutes, and yo’ may look at t’ sack and see all’s theer as ever was! Never a handfu’ missing, tho’ the chap he cursed and swore an’ took on the mout ha’ been eauts o’ gowd’! He’s a leear iv he says I tetched ’em, but I never thout he’d t’ brass to come to thee.”
“Why not, lad?”
“’Cause i’ the end he let up and steared at t’ sack leek a steck pig, and then he fell a shriking i’ worse shap than ever, and away he goes as iv a dor had bit him and down t’ Long Gate hell for leather!”
“■yVhich way? I see, did he take the oats?”
“Not he, nor t’ bag. An after mekking setch a din about his eauts! I war no wi’ ’em five minutes.”
The officer declined to commit himself. “Let us see them,” he said.
JERRY turned towards a tumble-down, black and white buil ing at the rear of the yard, with lattice work in its crazy windows and an old date over the door. They followed him up a ¡adder and into a loft, where were a frowsy bed or two, some old pack-saddles, and two or three stools made out of casks sawn in two. On the floor in one place lay a heap of oats trampled this way and that and beside the heap an empty sack. The officer picked up the sack and examined it.
"What do you make of it?” Clement asked.
“I don’t know what to make of it. Here, you, Jerry, fetch me a corn measure!” And when he had thus rid them of the lad, “He may be carrying out orders and telling a flash tale to put us off. Or he may be telling the truth, and in that case it looks as if someone had been a mite brighter than your man and cleared his stuff.”
“But which is it?”
“Ah! Just so. I’d like to know,” shaking his head. “Yes, Jerry, measure it back into the sack. How much is there?”
The lad began to gather up the oats and • replace them in the bag, while the two men looked on, perplexed and undecided. Suddenly Clement stooped—a scrap of cord, doubtless the cord that had tied the neck of the sack, had caught his eye. He picked it up, looked at it, then with a word, he handed it to the officer. “I think that settles it,” he said, his1 eyes shining. There was a tiny twist of straw plait, like a rosette knotted about the cord and still adhering to it.
Nadin’s man looked at the plait and for a moment did not understand. Then his face cleared. “By Joseph! You’re right, sir!” he exclaimed, and slapped his thigh. “And sharp, sharp too. You’d ought to be one of us! That settles it, it’s the back-track we’ve to look to, but I’ll take no chances.” And turning to the lad and addressing him in his harshest voice, “See here, in an hour we shall know if you’ve told us the truth. If you’ve
not it will be the New Bailey and a pair of iron garters for you. So if you’ve aught to add, out with it! It’s your last chance, Jerry Stott.”
But the lad protested that he’d told all the truth. It had happened just as he had told them.
The officer turned to Clement.^ “I think he's on the square,” he said, “but I’ll have him watched.” And he led the way down the ladder. When they reached the street, he stepped out smartly making nothing of the crowd and bustle, the lumbering drays and over-hanging cranes through which they had to thread their way. “We’ll catch the Altringham stage at the Cross if we’re sharp,” he said. “It’ll be quicker than getting out a po’chay and a lot cheaper.”
They caught the stage, and alighted in Altringham before five. A walk of as many minutes brought them to the Barley Sheaf, a waggoners’ house at the corner of a lane in the poorest part of the town. The ostler from whom Clement had parted so lately, stood leaning against a post at the entrance to the yard, his hands still in his pockets and the straw still in his mouth. When he saw them a grin broke up his ugly face. “He’ve been here," he cried, “but,” triumphantly, “I’ve routed him, Mister! I sent him all ways!”
THE OFFICER did not respond.
“Why the devil didn’t you seize him?” he growled.
“What, me? And him double my size? And a desperate villain? ’Deed, I’d to save my skin, mister, and only yon lad and a couple of children in the yard when he come. I see him first, speaking a look round this yere post, and thinks I, it’ll be a knife in the back or a punch in the face for me if he’s heard I’ve rapped. So, first’s better than last, thinks I, and seeing as he hung back I up to him bold as brass but with one eye on the lad too, an sez I, ‘Can you read?’ sez I. He looked at me s’if he’d have my blood, but there was the lad and the childer a-staring, so, ‘Ay, I can,’ sez he, ‘and can read you you thieving villian!’ ‘Well, if you can read, read that,’sez I, and pointed to a bill as was posted on the gate. T can’t’ sez I ‘and happen you can tell me what Tis all about.’ He looks, and he sees ’tis the bill about he, and painting him to the life. Anyways he turns the colour o’ whey and he gives me a look as if he’d cut out my innards, but he sees it’s no good for there was the lad and the childer, and he slinks off. Ay, I routed him, I did, little as I be, mister!”
“Right!” said Nadin’s man. “And, now do you show us the sack as you changed for his.”
The man’s face fell amazingly, but Clement noted that he looked surprised rather than frightened. “Eh?” he exclaimed. “Lord now, who told you, mister? He didn’t know.”
“Never mind who told us. We know, and that’s enough. There was a twist o’ plait round the cord?”
“You said nothing about it before. But out with it now, and do you take care, my
“Say nothing?” the man replied. “Well, who axed me? Exchange is no robbery and I ain’t afeard. ’Twas just this way. He sold me three sacks ’s I told you, Squire, and I was hauling ’em off to stable, when ‘Not that one!’ says he sharp. So then I looked at t’one he was so set on keeping, and when his back was turned I hefted it sly-like, and it seemed to me a good bit heavier than t’others. Then I spied the bit o’ plait about the cord, and thinks I, being no fule, ’tis a mark. And when he went in for a squib o’ cordial we’ Jerry Stott I shifted t’ mark to another sack an kep that sack, and off he goes and he none the wiser, and no harm done. Exchange is no robbery and you can’t do nowt to me for that.”
“I don’t know,” said the officer darkly. “Let us see the sack.”
“You’re not agoing—”
“Do you hear? Jump, unless you want to get into trouble. You shew us that sack and be quick about it.” Grumbling, but not daring to refuse the old man led the way into the stables and there in an empty stall the three sacks stood upright. “Which is the one you filched?” asked the man from Manchester.
Reluctantly the ostler pointed it out. “Then you get me a horse-cloth.”
“You’re not going—well, a wilful man must have his way. Will that serve you? But if my oauts is spilled and spiled—”
NADIN’S man paid no heed to his remonstrance, but in a trice cut the cord that tied the sack’s mouth, tipped it on its side, and let the grain pour out in a golden stream.
A golden stream it proved to be, for in a twinkling something sparkled amid the corn and here and there a sovereign glittered. To Clement and the officer, who had read the riddle, this was no great surprise though they viewed it with smiling satisfaction. But the old man struck dumb by the sight of the treasure that had been for a time in his power turned a dirty white. He stood gazing at the visión of wealth, greed in his eyes, his hands working convulsively; and presently in a choked voice “Oh, Lord, Oh, Lord!” he muttered. “You’ll not take t’all! You’ll not take t’all! It war mine. I bought it.”
“You came nigh to buying a pair o’ bracelets,” the officer replied grimly. “You with stolen property in your possession to talk o’—Thank your stars your neck’s not to answer for it! No, we don’t need your help. You sheer off. We can count it without you. Yôu’ve done pretty well as it is. Sheer off unless you want the handcuffs on you!”
The old hostler went: measuring the five pounds which he had made by the treasure he had lost, and finding no comfort in the possession of that which only an hour before had been a fortune to gloat over. But there was no help for it. He had to swallow his rage. The officer called after him to bring a sieve. He brought it sullenly, and his part was done. All that was left to him was a vision of gold that grew more dazzling with each telling of the tale. And very, very often he told it.
When he was gone they gathered up the oats and riddled them through the sieve and recovered four, hundred and thirty pounds. Thomas had taken a mere handful for his spending. As Clement counted it sovereign by sovereign into a knotted handkerchief which the other held, he, too, gloated over it, for it spelled success. But the money reckoned and the handkerchief knotted up, “And now for the man,” he said.
But Nadin’s man shook his head. “We’d be Weeks and not get him,” he said. “You’d best leave him to us, sir. We’ll bill him in Manchester and make the flash kens too hot for him. But there’s no knowing which way he’ll turn. May be to Liverpool, or as like as not back to Aldersbury. Chaps like him are pigeons for homing. Back they go though they know they’ll be taken.”
In the end Clement decided to stand content, and having given his assistant a liberal fee he took his seat next-morning on the Victory coach, travelling by Chester to Aldersbury. He was not vain, but it was with some exultation that he began his journey; that he faced again the free-blowing winds and the open pastures, heard the cheery notes of the horn, and viewed the old-fashioned market-places and roistering inns, some of which he had passed three days before. He had not failed. He had done something; and he thought of Jos and he thought of the Squire, and he thanked Providence that had put it in his power to turn tables on the old man. Surely after what he had done the Squire must consider him. Surely after services so notable—and Lord, what luck he had had —the Squire would be willing to listen to him? He recalled the desperate struggle in the road, and the old man’s “At him, good lad! At him!” and he thought of the sum—no small sum and the old man was avaricious—which his promptness had recovered; and his hopes ran hjgh.
OF COURSE there was another side, to it. The Squire might not recover and then—but he refused to dwell on that contingency. No, the Squire must recover, must receive and recognize and reward him, must own that after all he was something better than a clerk or a shop-boy. And all things would be well, all roads be made smooth, all difficulties be cleared away. And in time he and Jos —his eyes shone.
Of course in the elation of the hour his fancy ran riot. Of course, flushed by success, he ignored facts which he would have been wiser to remember, and over-leapt obstacles that were not small.
I A lit lie thought would have taught him ! that the Squire was not the man to ( hange his views in an hour, or to swallow ¡ the prejudices of a life-time because a young chap had done him a service. To he beholden to a man, and togivehim. ! however ineligible he may be, your j daughter, are things far apart.
I And this Clement should have seen.
and in cooler moments would have seen.
I But he was young and in love and he had i done something: ar.d the sun shone and I the air was sweet, and if, as the coach, the leaders cantering, swung gaily up the Foregate between School and Castle, his heart beat high and he already foresaw a triumphant issue, who shall blame him? At any rate his ease was altered, and in comparison with his position a few days before, he stood well.
He alighted at the door of the Liorj and by a coincidence which was to have its consequences the first person he met as he hurried along the High Street was Arthur Bourdillon. “Hallo!” Arthur cried, his face lighting up. “Back already, man? Have you done anything?”
“I’ve got the money,” Clement waved the small bag he carried.
“No, he gave us the slip for the time, worse luck! But I've got the money except a dozen pounds or so.”
"The deuce you have!” the other answered—and it was not quite clear whether he were pleased or not. “How did you do it? Tell us all about it?” he drew Clement aside on to some steps at the foot of St. Juliana’s Church.
Clement ran briefly over his adventures. When he had done, “Deuced sharp of you, begad.” Arthur exclaimed. “Devilish sharp, I must say! And now if you’ll hand over I’ll take it out to Garth. I am on my way there now, just starting and I haven’t a moment to spare. If you’ll hand over—”
But Clement made no move to hand over. Instead “How is he?” he asked.
"Oh, pretty bad.”
“Will he get over it?”
“Farmer thinks so. But there’s ’ no hope for the eye, and he doubts about the other eye. He’s not to use it for six weeks at least.”
“He’s in bed?” ’
“Lord, yes, and will be in bed for heaven knows how long—if he ever gets up from it. Whv, man, he’s had the deuce of a shake. The wonder is that he’s alive and it’s long odds that he’ll never be the same man again. Farmer can’t think why, at his age, he did not have a stroke there and then.”
“That’s bad,” Clement said gravely. “And how is—”he was going to enquire after Miss Griffin, but Arthur broke in on him.
“Ask the rest another time,” he said. “I can’t stay now. I’m taking out things that are wanted in a hurry and the curricle is waiting for me. This is the first day I’ve been in the town or left the house, for there’s no one there to do anything except my cousin and the old Peahen. So hand over, old chap, and I’ll take the stuff out. It will do the old man more good than all the doctor’s medicine.”
CLEMENT hesitated. If he had not been carrying the money in his hand he might have made some excuse. He might at any rate have delayed the act. But the money was not his, he could give no reason for taking it to the bank, and he had not that hardness of fibre, that indifference to the feelings of others which was called for if he was to say boldly that it was he who had recovered the money and that he preferred to hand it over himself. Still he did hesitate, something telling him that the demand was unreasonable, and might have consequences if he complied with it. Then Arthur’s coolness, his assumption that what he proposed was the natural course
did ¡is work. Clement handed over the bag
“Right,” Arthur weighed it in his hand “You counted it. I suppose? Four hundred and thirty, or thereabouts?’’ “That’s it,” Clement spoke heavily. “Good! See you soon. Good-bye!” And well pleased with himself, chuckling a little -for the other’s discomfiture had not escaped him Arthur hurried away And Clement went his way. But reality liad touched his golden dreams, and they had melted. The sun still shone, but it did not shine for him, and he no longer walked with his head in the air. It was not only that, by resigning the money and entrusting its return to another, he had lost the advantage on which he had counted. But he had been worsted. He had failed, in the contest of wits and wills, and, abuse his ill-luck as he might, he owed the failure to himself— to his own weakness. He saw it.
It was possible, of course, that Arthur had acted in pure innocence, and only taken the step that occurred to him at the moment as the right step. But Clement doubted this, and he doubted it more, the longer he thought of it. He fancied that he recognized a thing which had happened before, and that this was not the only time that Arthur had taken the upper hand with him and jockeyed him into the worst position. As he crossed the threshold of the Bank, his self-confidence fell from him, he felt himself slip into the old atmosphere, he became once more the inefficient.
NOR WAS it any comfort to him that his father saw the matter in the same light, and after listening with an appreciative face and some surprise to his earlier adventures, made no effort to hide the chagrin that he felt at the dénouement.
“But why—why in the world did you do that?” he exclaimed. “Give up the money after you had done the work? And to Bourdillon who had no more right to it than you had? Good heavens, lad, it was the act of a fool! I’d not be surprised if old Griffin never heard your name in connection with it!”
“Oh, I don’t think Arthur—”
“WeH, I do.” The banker was vexed. “It’s clear that Arthur is a deal sharper than you. As for the Squire, I hear that he is only half-conscious, and what he hears, if he ever hears the tale at all, will make little impression on him. Now if he had seen you, and you’d handed over the money—if he had seen you, then the Bank and you would have got the credit.”
“Still Clem did recover it,” Betty said
“-Ay, but who will ever know that he did?”
“Still he did, and I believe that he’ll get a message from Garth to-morrow. Now, see if you don’t, Clem. Or the next day.”
But no message came on the morrow, or on the next day. No message came at all; and though it was possible to attribute this to the Squire’s condition— for he was reported to be very ill—and Clement did his best to attribute it to that and to keep up his spirits, the tide of time wears away even hope, and presently he began to see that he had built on the sand.
At any rate no message and no acknowledgement came, unless a perfunctory word dropped by Arthur counted as such. And Clement had soon to recognize that what he had done, he might as well, for any good it was likely to do him, have left undone. His father, who had no thought of anything but his son’s credit, and judged that he had failed at the critical moment, was merely chagrined. But naturally with Clement, who had built high hopes upon the event, hopes of which his father and Betty little dreamed, the wound went far deeper.
To be Continued