STANLEY J. WEYMAN
ARTHUR, on the other hand, felt that things were going very well with him now. A few months earlier he had decided that a partnership in Ovington’s would be cheaply bought at the cost of a
rupture with his uncle. Now he had the partnership, he could look forward to the wealth and importance which it would bring—and he had not to pay the price. On the contrary his views now took in all that he had been prepared tb resign as well as all that he had hoped to gain. They took in Garth, and he saw himself figuring not only as the financier whose operations covered many fields, and whose riches were ever increasing, but as the landed Squire, the man of family, whose birth and acres must give him a position in the county and in society, which no mere wealth could confer. The unlucky night which had cost the old man so much, had been for Arthur the birth-night of fortune. He could date from it a favour, proof as he now believed, against chance and change, a favour upon which it seemed unlikely that he could ever overdraw.
For ever since his easy victory on the question of the India Stock, he had become convinced that the Squire was failing. Arthur had read the signs and drawn the conclusion, and was now sure that, blind and shaken, the old man would never be again the man he had been, or assert himself against an influence which a subtler brain would know how to weave about him.
Arthur was thinking of this as he rode into town one morning in November, his back turned to the hills and the romance of them, his face to the plain. It was early in the month. St. Luke’s summer, prolonged that year, had come to an end a day or two before, and the air was raw, the outlook sombre.
Rarely in these days did he enter Aldersbury without a feeling of elation. The very air of the town inspired him.
THIS morning, however, he did not reach the bank in his happiest mood. Purslow, the irrepressible Purslow, stopped him, with a long face and a plaint to match. “Those Antwerp shares, Mr. Bourdillon! Excuse me, have you heard?” he complained, his pendulous cheeks quivering. “They’re down again—down twenty-five since Wednesday! And that’s on to five 'as they fell the week before! Thirty down, sir! I’m in a regular stew about it! Excuse me, sir, but if they fall much more—” “You’ve held too long, Purslow,” Arthur replied coolly. “That’s where it is, man. I told you it was a quick shot. A fortnight ago you’d have got out with a gobd profit. Why didn’t you?”
“But they were rising—rising nicely. And I thought, sir”— “You thought you’d hold them for a bit more? That was the long and short of it, wasn’t it? Well, my advice to you now is to get out while you can make a profit.”
“Sell? Now?” the draper exclaimed. It is hard to say what he had expected, but something more than this. “But I should not clear more than a—why, I shouldn’t make—”
“Better make what you can,” Arthur replied curtly, and rode on a little more cavalierly than he would have ridden a few months before.
Arthur left his horse at the stables and let himself into the bank by the house-door. As he laid his hat and whip on the table in the hall, he caught the sound of an angry voice issuing from the Bank parlour. He hesitated an instant, then he made up his mind, and stepping that way he opened the door.
The voice was Wolley's. The man
'HAT’S HAPPENED SO FAR.—-It is the year 1823. Ovington, an aggressive banker, is promoting one of the earliest steam railroads. He faces two problems, his son Clement, who dislikes the bank, and Squire Griffin, who is antagonistic to the railroad project, and is using every influence to prevent it going over his land. Later Ovington gives Bourdillon, the nephew of the squire, a partnership in the bank. Meanwhile Clement had met the squire’s daughter and a mutual interest develops. He endeavors to secure the squire’s good wishes without success. The breach between the squire and Ovington widens; and the former withdraws his deposit at the bank. On the way home the squire is robbed, and only saved from death by the timely arrival of Clement, who later recovers the money. Bourdillon receives the money from Clement and returns it to the squire, leaving the impression that it was he who had saved the latter’s life, and the squire learns to lean on Arthur in consequence. He entrusts him with his affairs and even tells him of a secret panel in which are concealed the deeds to the squire’s estates. was on his feet, angry, protesting, gesticulating. Ovington, his lips set, the pallor of his handsome face faintly tinged with colour, sat behind his table, his elbows on the arms of his chair, his finger tips meeting.
Arthur took it all in. Then. \ ou don t want me?” he said., and he made as,if he would close the door again. “I thought that you were alone, sir.”
“No, stay, ’ Ovington answered. “You may as well hear what Mr. Wolley has to say, though I have told him already—”
“What?” the clothier cried rudely. “Let's have it in plain words!”
“That we can discount no more bills for him until the acceptances we hold have been met. You know as well as I do, Mr. Wolley, that you have been drawing more bills and larger bills than your trade justifies.”
“But I have to meet the paper I’ve accepted for wool, haven’t I? And if my customers don’t pay cash—as you know it is not the custom to pay— where am I to get the cash to pay the woolmen?”
GPHE Banker took up one of two bills that lay _ on the table before him. “Draw cn Samuel Willis, Manchester,” he said. “That’s a new name. Who is he?”
“A customer. Who should he be?”
“That’s the point,” Ovington replied coldly.
“Is he? And this other bill. A new name too. Besides, we’ve already discounted your usual bills—No, v hen I say usual, they are larger. These bills are additional. My own opinion is that they are accommodation bills, and that you, and not the acceptors, will have to meet them. In any case,” dropping the slips on the table, “we are not going to take them.”
“You won’t cash them? Not on no terms?”
“No, we are going no farther, Wolley,” the banker replied firmly. “If you like I will send for the Billbook and Ledger and tell you exactly how you stand, on bills -and overdraft. I know it is a large amount, and you have made, as far as I can judge, no effort to reduce it. The time has come when we must stop the advances.”
“And you’ll not discount these bills?”
“Then by Heaven, it’s not I will be the only one to be ruined!” the man exclaimed, and he struck the table with his fist. The veins on his forehead swelled, his coarse mottled face showed, disfigured with rage. He glared at the banker. But even as Ovington met his gaze, there came a change. The perspiration sprang out on the man’s forehead, his face turned pale knd flabby, he seemed to shrink and wilt. The ruin, which recklessness and improvidence had hidden from him, rose before him, certain and imminent. He saw his mill, his house, his all gone from him, saw himself a drunken, ruined, shiftless loafer, cadging about public houses! "For God’s sake!” he pleaded. “Do it this once, Mr. Ovington. Meet just these two, and I’ll swear they'll be the last. Meet these!”
“No,” the Banker said. “WTe go no farther.”
PERHAPS the thought that lie and Ovington had risen from t he ranks together, that for years they had been equals and that now the one refused his help t o t he «U her, rose and mocked the unhappy man. At any rate his rage flared up anew. He swore violently. “Well, there’s more than I will go down, then!” he said. “And more than will suit your hook, Ranker! Wise as vou think yourself there’s more bills out than you know of!”
"I am sorry to hear it.”
“Ay, and you’ll be more sorry by-and-by!” viciously. “Sorry for youreelf and sorry that you did not give me a little more help, d-n you! Are you going to? Best think twice about it before you say no!”
“Not a penny," Ovington rejoined sternly. "After what you have admitted I should be foolish indeed to do so. You’ve had my last word, Mr. Wolley.”
“Then d—n your last word and you too!” the clothier retorted, and went out, cursing, into the bank, shouting aloud as he passed through it, that they were a set of blood-suckers and that he d have the law of them! Clement from his desk eyed him steadily. Rodd and the clerks looked startled. The customers—there were but two, but they were two too many for such a scene— eyed each other uneasily. A moment and Clement, after shifting his papers uncertainly, left his desk and went into the parlour.
Ovington and Arthur had not moved.
"What’s the matter?” Clement asked.
The occurrence had roused him from his apathy. He looked from one to the other, a challenge in his eyes.
"Only what we’ve been expecting for some time,” his father answered.
“Wolley has asked for further credit and I’ve had to say no. I’ve given him too much rope as it is, and we shall lose by him. He’s an ill-conditioned fellow, and he is taking it ill.”
“He wants a drubbing,” said Clement.
“That is not in our line,” Ovington replied mildly. “But,” he continued— for he was not sorry to have the chance of taking his son into his confidence—
“we are going to have plenty to think of that is in our line. Wolley will fail, and we shall lose by him; and I have no doubt that he is right in saying that he will bring down others. We must look to ourselves and draw in, as I’ve been telling Bourdillon. That noisy fellow may do us harm, and we must be ready to meet it.”
Arthur looked thoughtful. “Antwerps have fallen,” he said.
“I wish it were only Antwerps!” the Banker answered. “You haven’t seen the mail? Or Friday’s prices? There’s a fall in nearly everything. True,” looking from one to the other, “I’ve expected it—sooner or later; and it has come, or is coming. Yes, Rodd? What is it?”
The cashier had opened the door. “Hamar,” he said in a low voice, “wants to know if we will buy him fifty of the Railroad Shares and advance him the face value on the security of the shares. He’ll find the premium himself. He thinks they are cheap after the drop last week.”
The Banker shook his head. “No,” he said. “We can’t do it, tell Mr. Hamar.”
“It would support the shares,” Arthur suggested. “With our money. Yes! But we’ve enough locked up in them already. Tell him, Rodd, that I am sorry, but it is not convenient at present.”
“They are still at a premium of thirty shillings,” Arthur put in. He was inclined to differ.
“Is the door shut, Rodd?”
“Thirty shillings? And that might run off in a week, Mr. Secretary. No, Bourdillon, the time is come when we must not shilly-shally. I see your view and the refusal may do harm. But we have enough money locked up in the railway, and with the outlook such as it is, I will not increase the note-issues. They are already too large as we may discover. We must say ‘No,’ Rodd, but tell him to come and see me this evening, and I will explain.”
The cashier nodded and went out.
OVINGTON gazed thoughtfully at his joined fingertips. “Is the door closed?” he asked again, and, assured that it was, he looked thoughtfully from one to the other of the young men. He seemed to be measuring them, considering how far he could trust them, how far it would be well to take them into his confidence. Then, “We are going to meet a crisis,” he said. “I have now no doubt about that. All over the country the banks have increased their issues of notes and hold a vast quantity of pawned stock. If the fall in values is continued beyond a point the banks must throw the stock on the market and there will be a general, and perhaps disastrous fall. At the same time we shall be obliged to restrict credit and refuse discounts, which will force traders to throw goods on the market to meet their obligations. Prices of goods as well as of stocks will fall, and deposits will be reduced. Alarm will follow and presently there will be a run on a weak bank and it will close its doors. Then there will be a panic, and a run on other banks, a run proportioned in
violence to the amount of credit granted in the last two years. We may have to meet a run on deposits at the same time that we may be called upon to cash every note that we have issued.” . it
"Impossible!” Arthur cried. “We could not do it. ’
"If you mean that the run is impossible,” the banker answered quietly, “I fear—I much fear that events will confute you. If you mean that we could not meet our obligations, well, we must strain every nene to do so. We
must retain all the cash that comes in, and we must issue no more notes, create no more credit. But even this we must do with discretion, and above all not a whisper must pass beyond this roof. I will speak to Rodd. Hamar I will see this evening, and do what I can to sweeten the refusal. We must wear confident faces however grave the crisis. We are solvent, amply solvent, if time is given us to realize our resources; but time may not be given us, and we may have to make great sacrifices. You may be inclined to blame me—” he paused, and looked from one to the other—Arthur stood frowning, his eyes on the carpet— “that I did not take the alarm earlier? Well, I ought to have done so, perhaps. But—”
“Nobody blames you, sir!” It was Clement who spoke for both, and the change which the last few minutes had made in him was marked. His dullness and listlessness had fallen from him, he stood upright and alert. The imagination which had balked at the routine of banking, faced a crisis with alacrity, and conscious that he had hitherto failed his father he welcomed with zest the opportunity of proving his loyalty. ‘ ‘Nobody blames you, sir!” he repeated firmly. “We are here to stand by you, and I am confident that we shall win through. If any bank can stand, Ovington’s will stand. And if we don’t win through, if the public insists on cutting its own throat, well”—a little ashamed of his own enthusiasm—“we shall still believe in you, sir, you may be sure of that!”
“But isn’t—isn’t all this a little premature?” Arthur asked, his tone cold and business-like. “I don’t understand why you think that all this is coming upon us at a moment’s notice, sir? Without warning?”
NOT QUITE without warning,” the banker rejoined with patience. Clement’s declaration of faith had moved him more deeply than he shewed, and, having that, he could bear a little disappointment. “I have hinted more than once, Arthur, and pretty plainly that I was uneasy. But why, you ask, this sudden alarm—now? Well, look at Richardson’s list of last Friday’s prices! A ou have not seen it. Exchequer Bills, that a week ago were at par, are at a discount, India Stock are down five points on the day—a large fall for such a stock. New Four per cents, have fallen three, Bank Stock that stood at 224 ten days ago is 214. These are not panic falls, it is true, but they are serious figures. With Bank Stock falling
ton points in as many days— what will happen to the immense mass of speculative securities held by the public and on much of which calls are due? It will go down this week; next week the banks will have to throw it out to save their margins, and customers to pay their calls. It will fall, and fall. The week after, perhaps, panic! A rush to draw deposits, or a rush to cash notes, or most probably, both.”
"And the Railway Shares?”
“We must think of the bank first. When things right themselves we can look to that and at the proper time support the market. At present we cannot afford to do so; we must look to ourselves.”
“Then you think—you must think”— Arthur’s voice was not entirely under his control—“that there i» danger?”
“It would be as foolish in me to deny it here,” the Banker replied gravely,, “as it would be reckless in me to affirm it outside. There is danger. We shall run a risk, but I believe that we shall win through, though, it may be, by a narrow margin.”
Arthur’s next words were eminently practical.
“How much—I mean, what extra amount of reserve,” he asked, “would make us safe?”
JUST SO,” and in the banker’s eyes there shone a gleam of relief. “Well, if we had twelve thousand pounds, beyond and in addition to our exiting assets, I think—nay, I am confident that that would place us out of danger.” “Twelve thousand pounds.”
“Yes. It is not a large sum. But it might make all the difference if it came to a pinch.”
“In gold, or Bank paper. Or in such securities as could be realized even in a crisis. Twelve thousand added to our reserve—I think I may say with confidence that with that we could meet any run that could be made upon us.” “There is no doubt that we are solvent, sir?”
“You should know that as well as I.” “We could realise the twelve thousand eventually?”
“Of course, or we should not be solvent without it.” For once Ovington spoke a little impatiently.
“Then could we not,” Arthur asked, “by laying our accounts before your London Agents obtain the necessary help, sir?”
“If we were the only Bank likely to be in peril, of course we could. And even as it is—you are right, Arthur; you are so far right, that I had already determined to try that. It is the obvious course, and my bag is being packed in the house—I shall go to town by the afternoon coach. And now”—rising to his feet—“we have been together long enough—we must be careful to cause no suspicion. Do you, Clement, see Massey, the wine-merchant, to-day, and tell him that I will take to lay down, the ten dozen of ’20 port that he offered me. And ask the two Welshs to dine with me on Friday—I shall return on Thursday. And get some oysters from Hamar’s—two barrels and have one or two people to dine while I 'am away. And, cheerful faces, boys—and still tongues. Keep both! And now go. I must put into shape the accounts that I shall need in town.”
He dismissed them with calmness, but he did not at once fall to work upon the papers. As he sat, he thought of his rise, of his struggle, of his success, of step won after step; of the praise of men and the jealousy of rivals that wealth had won for him; and of the great machine that he had built up—Ovington’s. And he knew that if fate went against him, there might in a very short time be an end of all. Yesterday he and Wolley had been equals. They had risen from obscurity together. Today Wolley was a bankrupt. To-morrow—they might be equal again in their fall, and Ovington’s a thing to wonder at.
He thought of Betty. How would she bear it? He had made much of her and spoiled her. she had been the apple of his eye. She had known only the days of his prosperity. How would she bear it, how take it? He sighed.
He turned at last to the papers.
TT WAS WITH a firmer tread that Clement went back Ato his desk in the bank. He had pleased his father and he was pleased with himself. Here at last was something to do. Here at last was something to fight. Here at last was mettle in the banking business that suited him; and not a mere counting of figures and reckoning of pennies, and taking in at six per cent, and putting out at eight. His gaze, passing over the ledger that lay before him, focussed itself on the unconscious customers beyond the counter. He had the air of challenging them, of defying them, They were the enemy. It was their folly, their greed, their selfishness, their insensate desire to save themselves, let who would perish, that menaced the bank, that threatened the security, the well-being, the happiness of better men. It was a battle and they were the enemy. He scowled at them. His eyes shot scorn at them. Supposing them to have sense, patience, unselfishness, there would be no battle and no danger. But he knew that they had it not in them. No, they would rush in at the first alarm like a flock of silly sheep, and thrusting and pushing and trampling one another down, would run, each bent on his own safety, blindly on ruin.
From this moment the bank became to him a place of interest and colour, instead of that which it had been. Where there was danger there was romance. Even Rodd adding up a customer’s pass-book, his face more thoughtful than usual, wore a halo, for he stood in peril. If the shutters went up Rodd would suffer with his betters. He would lose his place, he would be thrown on the world. He might lose even the trifle which Clement believed that he had on deposit in the bank. And even Rodd might ■have his plans and aims and ambitions, might be hoping for a rise, might be looking to marry some day—and some one!
Pheugh! Clement’s mouth opened, he stared aghast— stared at the wire blind that obscured the lower half of the nearer window, as if all his faculties were absorbed in reading the familiar legend knaB s’notgnivO that shewed darkly upon it. Customers, Rodd, the Bank, all vanished. For he had forgotten! He had forgotten Josina! In contemplating what was exciting and what was pleasurable in the struggle before him he had forgotten that his stake was greater than the stake of others— that it was immeasurably greater. For it was Josina. He stood far enough below her as it was; separated from her by a height of pride and prejudice and convention, which he must scale if he would reach her. But he had one point in his favour—as things were. His father was wealthy, and standing a-tiptoe on his father’s money-bags he might possibly—as things were— aspire to her hand. So uplifted, so advantaged he might hope, he had hoped, that he might grasp that hand, and in the end, by boldness and resolution, might make it his own.
That was the position as long as all went well at the bank; and it was a position difficult enough at best. But if the money-bags crumbled, and sank beneath his feet? If in the crisis that was coming they toppled over, and his father failed as he might fail? If he lost the footing, the one footing that money now gave him? Then her hand would be altogether out of his reach, she would be far above him. He could not hope to reach her, could not hope to gain her, could not in honour even aspire to her!
HE SAW that now. His stake was Josina, and, the battle lost, he lost Josina. He had been brave enough until he thought of that, reckless even, welcoming the trumpet call. But seeing that, and seeing it suddenly, he groaned.
The sound recalled him to himself, and he winced, remembering his father’s injunction to show a cheerful front. That he should have failed so soon! He looked guiltily at Arthur. Had he heard?
But Arthur had not heard. He was standing at a desk attached to the wall, his back towards Clement, his sideface to the window. He had not heard, because his
thoughts had been elsewhere, and, strange to say, the subject which had engaged them had been also Josina. The banker’s warning had been a sharp blow to him.
Prudently he reviewed the resources that would remain to him in the event of defeat, and like a cautious general
he determined beforehand his possible line of retreat.
That line was plain. If the Bank failed, if a thing so cruel and incredible could happen, he still had Garth. He still had Garth to fall back upon, its lands, its wealth, its position.
Only he must be quick. He must not lose a day or an hour. If he*waited too long, a word of the bank’s embarrassments might reach the old man, re-awaken his prejudices, warp his mind, and all might be lost. He would ride out that very day, and gain, as he did not doubt that he would gain, the Squire’s permission to speak to Josina. He would leave no room for accidents, and, setting these aside, he did not doubt the result.
He carried out his intention in spite of some demur on Clement’s part; who in his new-born zeal hinted that in his father’s absence the other ought to remain on the spot. But Arthur had got the habit of the upper hand, and with a contemptuous fling at Clement’s own truancies, took it now. He was at Garth before sunset of the short November day, and he had not sat in the Squire’s room ten minutes before chance gave him the opening he desired.
THE OLD man had been listening to the town news and apparently had been engrossed in it, but suddenly, in a momentary pause, he leant forward, and poked Arthur with the end of his stick. “Do you tell me!” he said. “What ails the girl, lad? I’ve no eyes, but I’ve ears and there’s something. What’s amiss with her, eh?”
“Do you mean Josina, sir?”
“Who else, man? I asked you what’s the matter with her. D’you think I don’t know that there is something? I’ve all my senses but one, thank God, and I can hear if I can’t see! What is it?”
Arthur saw in a moment that here was the very opportunity he sought, and he made haste to seize it. “The truth is, sir—I was going to speak to you about Josina,” he said with a candour which was very attractive. “I have been wishing to do so for some time, but I’ve put it off—”
“Till I could see, eh? Yes?—”
“I have said nothing to her. But it is possible that she may be aware of my feelings.”
“Oh, that’s it, is it? Umph!” It was impossible to say whether the Squire was pleased or not.
“If I had your permission to speak to her, sir?” Arthur continued. He felt now that he had come to the point just the amount of nervousness which was becoming. "We have been brought up more or less together, and I don’t think that I can be taking you by surprise.”
“And you think it will be no surprise to her?” “Well, sir,” modestly. “I think it will not.”
“More ways of killing a cat than drowning it, eh? That’s it, is it? Haven’t spoken, but let her know? And you want my leave?”
“Yes, sir, to ask her ¡to be my wife,” Arthur said frankly.
It has been my wish for some time, but I have hesitated. Of course, I am no great match for her, but I am of her blood, and—”
He paused. He did not know what to add, and the Squire did not help him, and for the first time Arthur felt a pang of uneasiness; which was not lessened when the old man asked, “How long has this been going on, eh?”
“Oh, for a long time, sir—on my side,” Arthur answered. He did not know what to think. The Squire might be taking it well or ill—it was impossible to judge. He had not changed his attitude, and still sat leaning forward, his hands on his stick, impenetrable behind his bandages. It struck Arthur with a little chill that he might have been premature; that he might have put his favour to too high a test. It might have been wiser to work upon Josina, and wait and see how things turned out.
There was an ominous silence. The old man was once more become formidable. What were his thoughts?
At last, “She’ll not go out of this house,” he said. And he sighed in a way unusual with him, even when he had been at his worst. “That’s understood. There’s room for you here, and any brats you may have. That’s understood, eh?” sharply.
“Willingly, sir,” Arthur answered. A great weight had been lifted from him.
“And you’ll take her name, do you hear?”
“Of course, sir. I shall be proud to do so. I shall wish to do whatever you think best for her happiness.”
The Squire sighed, and again he was silent.
“Then—then I may speak to her, sir?” Arthur ventured after a time.
“Wait a bit! Wait a bit!” The Squire had more to say, it was evident. “You’ll leave the bank, of course?”
A RTHUR’S mind, attuned to rapid calculation, -¿^■reviewed the position. Most heartily he wished— although he thought that Ovington’s views were unnecessarily dark—that he could leave the bank. But he could not. The moment when Ovington might have released him, when the cancellation of the articles had been possible, was past. The banker could no longer afford to cancel them, or to lose the five thousand pounds that Arthur had brought in.
He hesitated, and the old man read his hesitation, and was wroth. “You heard what I said?” he growled, and he struck his stick upon the floor. “Do you think I am going to have my daughter’s husband counterskipping in Aldersbury? Cheek by jowl with every grocer and linendraper in the town? Bad enough as it is, bad enough, but when you’re Jos’s husband—no, by Heavens, that’s flat! You’ll leave the Bank and you’ll leave it at once, or you’re no son-in-law for me. I’ll not have the name of Griffin dragged in the dirt!”
Arthur had not anticipated this, though he might easily have foreseen it; and he cursed his folly. He ought to have known that the old question would be raised, and that it would revive the Squire’s antagonism. He was like a fox caught in a trap, nay, like a fox that had put its own foot in the trap; and he had no time to give any but a candid answer. “I am afraid, sir,” he said, “I mean—I am quite willing to comply with your wishes,
But unfortunately there’s a difficulty. I am tied to the Bank for three years. At (he end of three years—” “Three years be d—d!” In a passion the Squire struck his stick on the floor. “Three years! I’m to sit here for three years while you go in and out, partner with Ovington! Then my answer is, no! No! D’you hear? I'll not have it!” The perspiration stood on Arthur’s brow. Here was a débâcle. An end, crushing and complete, to all his hopes! Desperately he tried to defend himself, and mend matters. “If I could help myself, sir,” he said. "I would leave the bank to-morrow. But the agreement—”
“Agreement? Don’t talk to me of agreements! You could ha’ helped yourself!" the Squire snarled. “YOU could ha’ helped yourseif. Only you would go out! You went in against my advice! And for the agreement, who but a fool would ha’ signed such an agreement. No, you may go, my lad. As you ha’ brewed you may bake! You may go! If I’d known this was going on, I’d not ha’ seen so much of you, you may be sure of that! As it is, Good-day! Goodday to you!”
HE COULD think of no further plea at the moment—he must wait and hope for the best; and he moved towards the door, cursing his folly, his all but incredible folly, but finding no remedy. His hand was on the latch of the door, when “Wait!” the old man said.
Arthur turned and waited, wondering, even hoping. The Squire sat looking straight before him, if that might be said of a blind man, and presently he sighed. Then, “Here, come back!” he ordered. But again for awhile he said no more, and Arthur stood, and waited completely in the dark as to what was working in the other’s mind. At last, “There, maybe I’ve been hasty,” the old man muttered, "and not thought of all. Will you leave the bank when you can, young man?”
“Of course, I will, sir!” Arthur cried heartily, hope leaping up in his breast.
“Then—then you may speak to her,” the Squire said reluctantly, and marked the reluctance with another sigh.
And so, as suddenly as he had raised the objection, he withdrew it, to Arthur’s intense astonishment. Yet the relief was great, and coming on Miss Peacock, who was crossing the hall with a bowl in her hand, he seized her by the waist and whirled her round, bowl and all. “Hallo, Peacock! Hallo! Peacock!” he cried in the exuberance of his j oy. ‘ ‘Where’s Jos? ” “Let go!” she cried. “You’ll have it over! What’s come to you?”
“Where’s Jos? Where’s Jos?”
“Good gracious, how should I know? There, be quiet, what’s come to you?” in pretended anger, though she likea it well enough. “If you must know she’s moping in her room. It’s where I find her most times when she’s not catching cold in the garden-house, and her father’s noticed it at last. He’s in a pretty steW about her, and if you ask me, I don’t think that she’s ever got over that night.”
"I’ll cure her!” Arthur cried in a glow, and he gave Miss Peacock another twirl.
BUT HE had no opportunity of trying his case that evening, for Jos, when she came downstairs, kept close to her father, and it was not until after breakfast on the morrow that he saw her go out through the side-door, a relic of the older house that had stood there. So he followed buoyantly.
Jos was leaning on the wall, a shawl about her shoulders, her eyes bent on the Mill and the Thirty Acres.
“Jos!” he cried, while'some paces still separated them. “I’ve seen your father! And I’ve spoken to him!” He waved his hand as one proclaiming a victory.
But what victory? Jos was as much in the dark as if he had never paid her his court in those far-off days. “Is anything the matter?” she exclaimed. And startled, she turned as if she would go back to the house.
But he barred the way. “Nothine.” he said. “Why should there be? Nothing! On the contrary my dear. Don’t I tell you, dear, that I’ve spoken to the Squire? And he says that—I may speak to you.” “To me?” She looked at him candidly and still with no inkling in her mind of what he meant.
"Yes! My dear girl, don’t you understand? He has given me leave to speak to you—to ask you to be my wife?” And as her lips parted and she gazed at him in something like terror, he took possession of her hand. Their position was all in favour of a lover for the parapet was behind her, and she could not escape from him if she would; while the ordeal through which he had passed gave this lover an ardour that he might otherwise have lacked. “Jos, dear,” he continued, looking into her eyes, “I’ve waited— waited patiently, knowing that it was useless to speak until he gave me leave, nut now—” after all lovemaking with that pretty startled face before him, that trembling hand in his, was not unpleasant —"I come to you—for my reward.”
“But, Arthur,” she protested, almost too much surprised for words, “I had no idea—”
“Come, don’t say that! Don’t say that, my dear? No idea? Why, hasn’t it always been this way with us?” clasping her hand in both of his. "Since the day that we cut our names on the old pew? Haven’t I seen you blush like a rose when you looked at it—many and many a time? And if I haven’t dared to make love to you of late, while your father looked crossly at me, surely you have known what was in my mind? Have we not always been meaning this—you and I?”
SHE WAS thunder-struck. Had it been really so? Could he be right? Had she been blind and had he been feeling all this while she guessed nothing of it? She looked at him in great and increasing distress. “But indeed, indeed,” she said, “I have not been meaning it, Arthur, I have not, indeed!”
“Not?” incredulously. “You’ve not known that I—”
“No! And I don’t think that it has always been so with us,” she protested. Then, collecting herself and in a firmer voice, “No, Arthur, not lately, I am sure. I don’t think that it has been so on your side, I don’t, indeed; and I’m sure that I have not thought of this, myself.” “Jos!”
“No, Arthur, I have not indeed.”
“You haven’t seen that I loved you?” in astonishment.
"No.” And, looking him steadily in the face, “I am not sure that you do.”
“Then let me tell you that I do. I do,” he protested. And he tried to possess himself of her other hand, and there was a little struggle between them. "Dear, dear girl, I do love you,” he swore. “And I want you, I want you for my wife. And your father permits it. Do you understand—I don’t think you do? He sanctions it.”
He would have put his arm around her then, thinking to overcome her bashfulness, thinking that, this was but maidenly pride, waiting to be overcome. But she freed herself with unexpected vigour, and slipped from him. "No, I don’t wish it!” she said. And her attitude and her tone were so resolute, that he could no longer deceive himself. “No! Listen, Arthur.” She was pale, but there was a surprising firmness in her face. “Listen! I do not believe that you love me. You have given me no cause to think so these many months. Such a boy and girl affection as was once between us might have grown to love in time, and had you wished it. But you did not seem to wish it, and it has not. What you feel is not love.”
“You know so much about love!” he scoffed, chagrined, but trying to laugh, trying to pass it off.
“But I know what love is,” she answered firmly. And then, without apparent cause, a burning blush rose to her very hair. Still, and in spite of this, she repeated her words. “I know what love is, and I do not believe that you feel it for me. And I am sure, quite sure, Arthur,” in a lower tone, “that I do not feel it for you. I could not be your wife.”
“Jos! You are joking! Surely you are joking!”
“No, I am not joking. I do not wish to hurt you. I am grieved if I do hurt you. But that is the truth. I do not want to marry you.”
HE STARED at her. At last she had compelled him to believe her, and he reddened with anger; only to turn pale a moment later with mortification, as a picture of himself humiliated and rejected, his plans spoiled by the fancy of this foolish girl, rose before him. He could not understand it; it seemed incredible. And there must be some reason? Desperately he clutched at the thought that she was afraid of her father. She had not grasped the fact that the Squire had sanctioned his suit. In dismay but controlling his voice as well as he could, “Are you really in earnest, Jos?” he said. “Do you understand that your father is willing? That it is indeed his wish that we should marry?”
“I cannot help it.”
“But—love?” Though he tried to keep his temper his voice was growing sharp “What after all do you know of love dear?” And rapidly his mind ran over the possibilities. No, there could be no one else. She knew few, and among them no one who could have courted her without his knowledge. For, strange as it may seem, no inklings of the meetings between Clement and his cousin had reached him. They had all taken place within a few weeks, they had ceased some months back, and though there were probably some in the house who had seen things and drawn their conclusions, the favourers of young love are many, and no one save Thomas had tried to make mischief. No, there could be no one, he decided; it was just a silly girl’s romantic notion. “And how can you say,” he continued, “that mine is not real love? What do you know of it? Believe me, Jos, you are playing with your happiness. And with mine.”
“I do not think so,” she said gravely. “As to my own, I am sure, Arthur. I do not love you and I cannot marry you.” “And that is your answer?”
“Yes, it must be.”
HE FORCED a laugh. “Well, it will be news for your father,” he said. “A clever game you have played, Miss Jos! Never tell me that it is not a woman’s nature to be a coquette after this. Why if I had treated you as you have treated me —and made a fool of me! Made a fool of me!” he reiterated passionately, unable to control his chagrin—“I should deserve to be whipped!”
And afraid that he would break down before her and disgrace his manhood, he turned about, sprang down the steps and savagely spurting, savagely trampling under foot the shrivelled leaves he strode across the garden to the house. “The little fool!” he muttered, and he clenched his hands as if he could have crushed her within them. “The little fool!”
He was angry. But his wrath was no match for the disappointment that warred with it and presently, as passion waned, overcame it. He had to face and to weigh the consequences. The loss of Jos meant much more than the loss of a mild and biddable wife with a certain charm of her own. It meant the loss of Garth, of the influence that belonged to it, the importance that flowed from it, the position it conferred.
There, in that loss, was the true pinch! He avoided seeing his uncle, and muttering a word to Miss Peacock he had his horse saddled. He mounted in the yard and descended the drive at his usual pace. But as soon as he had gained the road, he lashed his nag into a canter, and set his face for town. At worst the bank remained; and he must see that it did remain. He must not let himself be scared by Ovington’s alarms. _ If a crisis came he must tackle the business as he alone could tackle business, and all would be well. He was sure of it.
Withal he was spared one pang, the pang of disappointed love.
ARTHUR was at the bank by noop, and up to that time nothing had occurred of a nature to justify the Banker’s apprehensions or to alarm the most timid. Business seemed to be a little slack, the Bank door had a rest, and there was less coming and going. But in the main, things appeared to be moving as usual, and Arthur, standing at his desk in an atmosphere as far removed as possible from that of Garth, had time to review the check that he had received at Josina’s hands and to consider coolly whether, with the Squire’s help, it might not still be repaired.
But an hour or two later a thing occurred which might have passed unnoticed at another time, but that day had a meaning for three out of the five in the bank; for before he went the banker had taken Rodd into his confidence. The door opened a little more abruptly than usual and a man pushed his way in. He was a publican in a fair way of business in this town, a smug, ruddy-gilled man who, in his younger days, had. been a pugilist at Birmingham and still ran a cock-pit behind the Spotted Dog, between the Foregate and the River. He stepped to the counter, his small, shrewd eyes roving slyly from one to the other.
Arthur went forward to attend to him. “What is it, Mr. Brownjohn?” he asked. But already his suspicions were aroused.
“Well, sir,” the man answered bluntly “what we most of us want, sir, the rhino!” “Then you’ve come to the right shop for that,” Arthur rejoined, falling into his humour. “How much?”
“How's my account, sir?”
Arthur consulted a book which he took from a ledge below the counter. To-day he would have scribbled the sum on a scrap of paper and passed the paper over in silence. But in those days many customers would have been little the wiser for that, for they could not read. So, “One, four, two and three and sixpence,” he said.
“Well, I’ll take it,” the publican announced, gazing straight before him.
Arthur understood, but not a muscle of his face betrayed his knowledge. “Brewer’s day?” he said lightly. “Mr Rodd, draw a cheque for Mr. Brownjohn. One, four, two, three and six. Better leave five pounds to keep the account open?”
“Oh, well!” Mr. Brownjohn was a little taken aback. “Yes, sir, very well.” And while the customer, laboriously and with a crimsoning face, scrawled his signature on the cheque, Arthur opened a drawer and counted out the amount—in Ovington’s notes. “Twenty-seven fives and two, three, six,” he murmured, pushing it over. “You’ll find that right, I think.” Brownjohn had had his lesson from Wolley, who put up at his house; but he had not learnt it perfectly. He took the notes, thumbed them over, wetting his thumb as he turned each, and he found the tale correct. “Much obliged, gentlemen,” he muttered, and with a perspiring brow he effected his retreat. Already he doubted—so willingly had his money been paid—if he had been wise. He was glad that he had left the five pounds.
But the door had hardly closed on him before Arthur asked the cashier how much gold he had in the cash drawer.
“The usual, sir,” Rodd answered. “One hundred and fifty and thirty-two, thirtyfour—one hundred and eighty-four.” “Fetch up two hundred more before Mr. Brownjohn comes back,” Arthur said quietly. “Don’t lose time.”
Rodd did not like Arthur, but he did silent homage to his sharpness. He hastened to the safe and was back in two minutes with twenty rouleaux of sovereigns. “Shall I break them, sir?” he asked.
“Yes, I think so. Ah!” as the door swung open and one of the Welsh brothers entered. It was Mr. Frederick. Arthur nodded. “Good-day, Welsh, I was thinking of you. I fancy Clement wants to see you.”
“Right—in one moment,” the lawyer replied. “Just put that—”
But Arthur, seeing that he had a cheque to pay in—he banked at Dean’s but had clients’ accounts with them— broke in on his business. “Clement,” he said, “here’s Welsh. Just give him your father’s message.”
Clement came forward with his father’s invitation—oyster and whist at five on Friday—and his opinion on a glass of ’20 he was laying down? He kept the lawyer in talk for a minute or two, and then, as Arthur had shrewdly calculated, the door opened and Brownjohn slid in. The man’s face was red, and he looked heartily ashamed of himself, but he put down his notes on the counter and was going to speak when, “In a moment, Brownjohn,” Arthur said, “What is it, Mr. Welsh?” “Just put this to the Hobday’s account,” the lawyer answered, recalled to his business. “Fifty-four pounds two shillings and five pence. And by the way, are you $oing to Garth on Saturday?”
’ “On Saturday, or Sunday, yes. Can I do anything for you?”
“Will you tell the Squire that that lease will be ready for signature on Saturday week. If you don’t mind I’ll send it over by you. It will save me a journey.” “Good. I’ll tell him. He has been fretting about it. Good-day! Now, Mr. Brownjohn?”
“I’d like cash for these,” the innkeeper mumbled, thrusting forward the notes, but looking thoroughly ill at ease. G “Man alive, why didn’t you say so?” Arthur answered, good-humouredly. “And save yourself the trouble of two journeys? Mr. Rodd, cash for these, please. I’ve forgotten something, I must tell Welsh!” And flinging the cashdrawer wide open, he raised the counter-flap, and hurried after the lawyer.
Rodd knew what was expected of him, and he took out several fistsful of gold and rattled it down before him. Rapidly, as if he handled so many peas, he counted out ánd thrust aside Mr. Brownjohn’s
portion, swiftly reckoned it a second tipie, then swept the balance back into the open drawer. “I think you’ll find that right,” he said. “Better count it. How’s your little girl that was ailing, Mr. Brownjohn?” Brownjohn muttered something, his face lighting up. Then he counted his gold and sneaked out, impressed, as Arthur had intended that he should be, with his own unimportance and more inclined than before to think that he had made a mistake in following his friend Wolley’s advice.
But before tlie bank closed that day two other customers came in and drew out the greater part of their balances. They were both men connected in one way or another with the clothier, and the thing stopped there. The following day was uneventful, but the drawings had been unusual, and the t&o young clerks might have exchanged notes upon the subject if their elders had not appeared so entirely unconscious. As it was it was impossible for them to think that anything out of the common had happened.
WORSE, and far more important, than this matter, was the fact that Stocks and Shares continued to fall all that week. Night after night the arrival of the famous ‘Wonder,’ the fast coach which did the journey from London in sixteen hours, was awaited by men who thought nothing of the wintry weather, if they might have the latest news. Afternoon after afternoon the journals brought by the mail were fought for and opened in the street by men whose faces grew longer as the week ran on.
Once possessed of the paper with the news that they had come to seek they behaved in different ways, according as they were of a sanguine or despondent nature. Some tore the sheet open at once, devoured a particular column and stamped or swore or sometimes even flung the paper underfoot. Others sneaked off to the church-yard or to some neighbouring nook, and there unable to wait longer opéned the journal with shaking fingers; while a few—and these perhaps had the most at stake—dared not trust themselves to learn the news where they might by any chance be overlooked, but hurried homewards through ‘shuts’ and by-lanes, and locked themselves in their offices, afraid to let even their wives come near them.
For the news was very serious to very many; the more so as, inexperienced in speculation, they clung for the most part to the hope of a recovery and could not bring themselves to sell at a lower figure than that which they might have got a week before. Much less could they bring themselves to sell at an actual loss.
For a time men kept their troubles to themselves, jealous lest they should get abroad, and few suspected how common was their plight or how many shared it. Men talk of their gains but not of their losses, and the last thing desired by a business man on the brink of ruin is that his position should be made public. But those behind the scenes feared only the more for the morrow; for with this ferment of fear and suspense working beneath the surface it was impossible to say at what moment an eruption might not take place nor where the ruin would stop. One thing was certain. It would not be confined to the speculators; for many a sober trader, who had never bought shares in his life, would fail, beggared by the bankruptcy of his debtors.
Ovington returned on the Friday and Arthur met him at the Lion, as he had met him eleven months before. They played their parts well; so well that even Arthur did not learn the news until the door of the bank had closed behind them and they were closeted with Clement in the dining-room. Then they learned that the news was bad, almost as bad as it could be.
THE BANKER retained his composure and told his story with calmness, but he looked very weary. Williams’s—Williams & Co. were Ovington’s correspondents in London—would do nothing, he told them. “They would not re-discount a single bill nor hear of an acceptance. My own opinion is that they cannot.”
Arthur looked much disturbed. “As bad as that,” he said, “is it?”
“Yes, and I believe, nay, I am sure, lad, that they fear for themselves. I saw the younger Williams. He gave me good words, but that was all; and he looked ill and harassed to the last degree. There was a frightened look about them all. I told them that if they would re-discount fifteen thousand pounds of sound short bills, we should need no farther help, and might by-and-by be able to help others. But he would do nothing. I said I should go to the Bank. He let out—though he was very close—that others had done so, and that the Bank would do nothing. He hinted that they were short of gold there, and saw nothing for it but a policy of restriction. However I went there, of course. They were very civil, but they told me frankly that it was impossible to help all who came to them; that they must protect their reserve. They were inclined to find fault and said it was credit recklessly granted that had produced the trouble and the only cure was restriction.”
“But surely,” Arthur protested, “where a Bank is able to show that it is solvent?
“I argued it with them. I told them that I agreed that the cure was to draw in, but they should have entered on that path earlier; that to enforce it on us suddenly and without discrimination after a period of laxity was the way to bring on the worst disaster the country had ever known; that to give help where it could be shown that moderate help would suffice, and support the sound and let the rotten go was the proper policy, and would limit the trouble. But I could not persuade them. They would not take the best bills, would in fact take nothing, discount nothing; would hardly advance even on government securities. When I left them—” “Yes?” For the banker had paused, his face betraying emotion.
“I heard a rumour about Pole’s.” “Pole’s? Pole’s!” Arthur cried, astounded; and he turned a shade paler. “Sir Peter Pole & Co.? You don’t mean it, sir? Why if they go scores of country banks will go! Scores! They are agents for sixty or seventy, aren’t they?”
The banker nodded. He looked weary and despondent. “Yes, Pole’s,” he said gloomily. “And I heard it on good authority. The truth is—it has not extended to the public yet—but in the banks there is panic already. They do not know where the first crash will come, or who may be affected. And any moment the scare may spread to the public. When it does it will run through the country like wildfire. It will be here in twenty-four hours. It will shake even Dean’s. It will shake us down. My God! When I think that for the lack of ten or twelve thousand pounds— which a year ago we could have raised three times over with the stroke of a pen— just for the lack of that, a sound business like this!”
THEY told him what had happened and described the state of feeling in the town. Rodd had been going about, gauging it quietly. He could do so more easily, and with less suspicion, than the partners. People were more free with him.
Ovington held his glass before him by the stem and looked thoughtfully at it. “That reminds me,” he said, “Rodd has some money with us—three hundred on deposit, I think. He had better have it. It will make no difference one way or the other, and he cannot afford to lose it.” Arthur looked doubtful. “Three hundred,” he said, “might make all the difference.”
“Well, it might, of course,” the banker admitted wearily. “But he had better have it. I should not like him to suffer.” “No.” Clement said positively. “He must have it. Shall I see to it now? The sooner the better.”
No one demurred, and he left the room. When he had gone Arthur rose and walked to the window. He looked out. Presently he turned. “As to that twelve thousand?” he said. “That you said would pull us through? Is there no way of getting it? Can’t you think of any way, sir?” *
“I am afraid not,” Ovington answered, shaking his head. “I see no way. I’ve strained our resources, I’ve tried every way. I see no way unless—”
“Yes, sir? Unless?”
“Unless—and I am afraid that there is no chance of that—your uncle could be induced to come forward and support us— in your interest.”
Arthur laughed aloud; but there was no mirth in the sound. “If that is your hope, if you have any idea of that kind, sir,” he said, “I am afraid you don’t know him yet. I know nothing less likely.”
“I am afraid that you are right. Still, you see, your future is at stake. I am sorry that it is so, lad, but there it is.
And if it could be made clear to him that he ran no risk?”
“But could it? Could it?”
“He would run no risk.”
“But could he be brought to see that?” Arthur spoke sharply, almost with contempt “Of course he could not! If you knew what his attitude is towards banks generally, and bankers, you would see the absurdity of it! He hates the very name of Ovington’s.”
The other yielded. “Just so,” he answered. Even to him the idea was unpalatable. “It was only a forlorn hope, a wild idea, lad, and I’ll say no more about it. It comes to this, that we must depend on ourselves, show a brave face, and hope for the best.”
But Arthur, though he had scoffed at the suggestion which Ovington had made, could not refrain from turning it over in his mind. He had courage enough for anything, and it was not the lack of that which hindered him from entertaining the project. The storm that was gathering ahead, and that threatened the shipwreck of his cherished ambition and his dearest hopes was terrible to him, and to escape from its fury he would have faced any man, had that been all. But that was not all. He had other interests. If he applied to the Squire and the Squire took it amiss, as it was pretty certain that he would, then not only would no good be done and no point be gained, but the lifeboat, on which he might himself escape, if things came to the worst, would be shipwrecked also.
For that life-boat consisted in the Squire’s influence with Josina. The Squire’s word might still prevail with the girl, silly, and unpractical as she was. It was a chance, no more than a chance, Arthur recognised that. But at Garth the old man’s will had always been law, and if he could be brought to put his foot down, Arthur could hot believe that Josina would resist him. And amid the wreck of so many hopes and 30 many ambitions, every chance, even a desperate chance, was of value.
But if he was to retain the Squire’s favour, if he was to fall back on his influence, he must do nothing that he could avoid, to forfeit that favour. Certainly be must not hazard it by acting on a suggestion as ill-timed and hopeless as that which the banker had put forward. Not to gave the bank, not to save Ovington, not to save anyone! The more, as he felt pure that the application would do none of these things.
Ovington did not know the old man. He lid, and he was not going to make his ;raft, crank and frail as it already was, mseaworthy by taking in passengers.
WHILE the leaven of uneasiness fermenting into fear, and liable at pny moment to breed panic, worked in Aldersbury, turning the sallow bilious told the sanguine irritable, and clouding [he faces of all—while the contents of the nail-bag and the arrival of the Gazette were awaited with growing apprehension, told inklings of the truth, leaking out, were 'aiming to water the hearts of those who depended on the speculators, who took jtaeir wages or lived on their bounty, life it Garth was proceeding after its ordinary fashion. No word of what was impending or might be impending travelled so ífaí. No echo of the alarm that Shrieked tV-the ears of terrified men, forced on a Hidden to face unimagined disaster, broke A® silence of the drab room, where the Squire sat brooding; or the garden where footia spent hours pacing the raised walk Old looking down on that strip of sward »eside the stream, where the water skirtid' the Thirty Acres wood.
'That strip of sward where she had met dm, that view from the garden were |Jl that now remained to her of Clement, 11 that proved to her that the past was tot a dream; and they did much to keep liope alive in her breast, and to hold her inn in her resolve. So precious indeed fere the associations they recalled, that fhile, with the hardness of a woman who ivee elsewhere, she felt little sympathy fith Arthur in his disappointment, she ctually resented the fact that he had hosen to address her there, and so had proaned the one spot on which, with some pproach to nearness, she could dream of Element.
?INCE the attack which had consigne J him to darkness, the Squire had grow ▼en more taciturn. He had not repelle
sympathy; he had rendered it impossible by ignoring the existence of a cause for it. While all about him had feared for his sight and, as hope faded, had dreaded the question which they believed to be trembling on his lips, he had either never hoped, or, drawing his own conclusions, had abandoned hope. At any rate he had never asked. Instead he had sat—when Arthur was not there to enliven him or Fewtrell to report to him—wrapped in his own thoughts, too proud to complain or too insensible to feel, and silent. What he thought, what he feared, if he still hoped, he hid all behind an impenetrable mask; and whether pride or patience or resignation were behind that mask, none knew. Complaint, pity, sympathy, these, he seemed to say, were for the herd. He had ruled; darkness and helplessness had come upon him, but he was still the Master.
Arthur might think that he failed, but those who were always about him saw few signs of it. The day after Ovington’s return, when Josina entered his room, she found him on his feet, one hand resting on the table, the other on his cane. “Get your hat and cloak,” he said. “I am going up the hill.”
So far his longest excursion had been to the Mill and Josina thought that she ought to remonstrate. “Won’t it be too far, sir?” she said.
“Do as I say, girl. And tell Calamy to bring my hat and coat.”
She obeyed him, and a minute later they left the house by the yard door. He walked with a firm step, his hand sometimes on her shoulder, sometimes on her arm; but aware how easily she might forget to warn him of an obstacle, or to allow for his passage, she accompanied him with her heart in her mouth. Yet she owned a certain sweetness in his dependence on her, in the weight of his hand on her shoulder, in his nearness.
Before they left the yard he halted. “Look in the pigstyes,” he said. “Tell me if that idle dog has cleaned them?”
She went and looked, and assured him that they were in their usual state. He grunted, and they moved on. Passing beneath the gable end of the summer-house they descended the steep rutted lane which led to the Mill. “The first day of the year was such a day,” the Squire muttered, and raised his face that the sun might fall upon it.
T1 THEN they came to the narrow bridge VV beside the Mill, with its roughened causeway eternally shaken by the roar and wet with the spray of the overshot wheel, she trembled. There was no parapet and the bridge was barely wide enough to permit them to pass abreast. But he showed no fear, he stepped on to it firmly. They ascended the lane which, on the farther side of the brook, led to the highroad and, crossing the road, began to climb the rough track that wound up through that part of the covert which was above the road.
Here and there a clump of hollies, a spreading yew, patch of young beech to which the leaves still clung, blocked the view, but for the most part the eye passed unobstructed through trees stripped of foliage, and disclosing here a huge boulder, there a pile of moss-grown stones. A climb of a third of a mile, much of it steep, brought them without mishap—though a hundred times she trembled lest he should trip— to the steep glacis of sward that fringed and in places ran up into the lime-stone face.
It was broken by huge stones, precariously stayed in their descent, or by outcrops of rock from which sprang slender birches, light, graceful, their white bark shining.
_ ‘‘Are we clear of the wood?” he asked, lifting his face to meet the breeze.
He turned leftwards. “There’s a flat stone with a holly to north of it. D’you see it? I’ll sit there.”
She led him to it and he sat down on the stone, his stick between his knees, the sunshine on his face. She sat beside him and as she looked over the expanse of pleasant vale and the ring of hills that encompassed it, the sense of his blindness moved her almost to tears. At their feet Garth, its red walls, its buildings and yards and policies, lay as a plan. Beyond, the tower of Garthmyle Church rose in the middle distance, a few thatched roofs peeping through the half-leafless trees about it. Leftwards the valley narrowed as the Welsh hills closed in, while to their right it melted into the smiling plain with its nestling villages, its rows of poplars, its shining streams. She fancied that he had been in the habit of coming to this place and the thought that he saw no more from it now than when he sat in his room below, that he viewed nothing of the bright landscape spread beneath her own eyes, swelled her breast with pity. She could have cast lier arms about him and wept as she strove to comfort him— could have sworn to him that while he lived her eyes should be his! Ay, she could have done this, all this—if he had been other than he was!
PERHAPS it was as well—or perhaps it was not so well—that she did not give way to the impulse. For presently in a voice as dry as usual, “Do you see the gable of Wolley’s Mill, girl? Carry your eyes right of the hill, over the coppice at the corner of Archer’s Leasow'?”
She told him that she could see it. “That’s two miles away. It’s the farthest I own in that direction, but there’s a slip of Acherley’s land between us and it. Now look down the valley—d’you see five poplars in a row?”
“Yes, sir, I see them.”
“That’s our (boundary towards the town. Behind us we march with the watershed. Facing us—the boundary is the far fence of Whittall’s farm at the foot of the hills.”
“The black and wrhite house, sir?” “Ay. Well, look at it, girl. There’s five thousand acres and a bit over; and there’s two hundred and ninety people living on it—there’s barely one of them I don’t know. I’ve looked after them, but I’ve not cosseted them, and don’t you cosset them. And it’s not only the people; there’s not a field I don’t know nor a bit of coppice that I can’t see, nor a slate roof that I have not slated, and the Lord knows how much of it I’ve drained. It’s been ours, the heart of it since Queen Bess, and part of it since Mary; sometimes logged with debt, and then again cleared. I came into it logged and I’ve cleared it. It’s come down sometimes straight, sometimes sideways but always in a man’s hands. Well, it will soon be in a girl’s. In two or three years, more or less, it will be yours,my girl. And do you mark what I say to you this day. You’re the heir of tail, and I couldn’t take it from you, if I would—but do you mark me!” He found her hand and gripped it so hard as to give her pain, but she would not wince. “Don’t you part with an acre of it! Not with an acre of it! Not with an acre of it! Do you hear me, girl, or I think I’ll turn in my grave! If you are bidden to do it when your son comes of age, you think of me and of this day, and don’t put your hand to it! Hold to the land, hold to the land, and they as come after you shall hold up their heads as we have held ours! It isn’t money, it isn’t land bought with money, it’s the land that’s come down, that will keep Griffins where Griffins have been. When I am gone do you mark that! Whatever betide, let ’em say what they like, don’t you be one of those that sell theirbirth-right, the right to govern, for a mess of pottage!” “I will remember, sir!” she said with tears. “I will, I will indeed!”
“Ay, never forget it, don’t you forget this day. I ha’ brought you up the hill on purpose to shew you that. For fifty years I have spared and lived niggardly and put shilling to shilling to clear that land and to drain it and round it—and may be, for Acherley is a random spendthrift, I’ll yet add that strip of his to it! I’ve lived for the land; that those who come after me may govern their corner as Griffins have governed it time out of mind. I’ve done my duty by the people and the land. Don’t you forget to do yours’!”
SHE told him earnestly that she never would—she never would. After that he was silent awhile. He let her hand go. But presently, and without warning, “Why don’t you há’ the lad?”
Josina was surprised and yet not surprised; or if surprised at all, it was at her own calmness. Her colour ebbed, but she neither trembled nor faltered. She had not even to summon up the thought of Clement. The charge to which she had just listened clothed her with a dignity which the prospect, spread out before her eyes and insensibly raising her mind to higher issues, helped to support. “I couldn’t, sir,” she said quietly. “I do not love him.”
“Couldn’t. Don’t love him?” the Squire repeated—yet not half so angrily as she expected. “What’s amiss with him?” “Nothing—sir. But I do not love him.” “Love? Bah! Love’ll come! Maids ha’ naught to do with love! When they’re married love’ll come fast enough, I’ll warrant! The lad’s straight and comely and a proper age—and what else do you want? What else do you want, eh? He’s of your own blood, and if he’s wild ideas 'tis better than wild oats, and he’ll give them up. He’s promised me that or I’d never ha’ said yes to him! Why, girl!” with sudden exasperation “’twas only the other day you were peaking and puling for him! Peaking and puling like a sick sparrow, and I saying no! And now— why damme, what do you mean by it?” “It was all a mistake, sir,” she said. “I never did think of him, or wish for him. ít was a mistake.”
“A mistake! What do you mean?” “You bade me think no more of him, and I obeyed. But—but I never had had any thought of him.”
That did irritate the old man; it seemed to him that she played with him. Andina rage, he struck his cane on the ground. “Damme!” he exclaimed. “That’s womanlike all over! Give her what she wants and she doesn’t want it. But, see here, I’ll not have it, girl. I know your flimsies, and you’ve got to have him! Do you hear?”
He was enraged by this queer twist in her, and he blustered. But his anger— and he felt it—lacked something of force. It had not the power it should have had. He did not know how to bring it to bear. And when she did not reply to him at once, “Do you forget that he saved my life?” he cried, dropping to a lower level. “D’you forget that,you ungrateful wench?” “But he did not save mine, sir!” she answered, with astonishing spirit. “Yet it is mine that you ask me to give him. And indeed, indeed, sir, he does not love me.”
“Then why should he want you?” he retorted. “Eh? But he’ll soon make you sure of that if you’ll let him. And you’ve got to take him. You’ve got to take him. Let’s ha’ not more words about it. I’ve said the word.”
“But I’ve not, sir,” she replied, with that new and astonishing courage of hers. “And I cannot say it. I am grateful to him, I shall ever be grateful to him for saving you—and he is my cousin. But he does not love me, he has never made love to me. And am I, your daughter, toto accept him, the moment it suits him to marry me?”
THAT touched the Squire’s pride and gave him to think. “Never made love to you?” he exclaimed. “What do you mean, girl?”
“Until he came to me in the garden on Tuesday he nèver—he never gave me reason to think that he would come. Am I,” with a tremor of indignation in her voice, “of so little account as that which ou have just told me, that I may some day ring him so little, that I must put all in Ms hand, the moment he chooses to lift it?” The Squire was bothered by that, and “You are like all women!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know where to ha’ you. That’s
where it is. You twist and you turn, and you fib—”
“I am not fibbing, sir.”
“And you’ve so many quirks—as—as a hunted hare. There’s no holding you! My father would ha’ locked you up with bread and water till you did what you were told, and my mother’d ha’ boxed your ears till she put some sense into you. But we’re a d—d silly generation. We’re too soft.”
She minded this little, as long as he did not put her to the supreme test; as long as he did not ask her if there was any one else, any other lover. But his mind was now busy with Arthur. Was it true that the young spark was thinking more of Garth than of the girl? More of the heiress than of the sweetheart, more of lucre than of love? If so, d—n his impudence! He deserved what he had got! From which point, it was but a step to thoughts of the bank. Ay, Arthur was certainly one who had his plans for getting on, and getting on in ways to which no Griffin had stooped before. Was this of a piece with them?
The doubt had a cooling effect upon him. While Josina trembled lest the fateful question should still be put, and clenched her little hands as she summoned up fortitude to meet it—while she tried to still the fluttering of her heart, the old man relapsed into thought, muttered inarticulately, fell silent.
SHE would have given much to know the direction of his thoughts.
At last, “Well, you’re so clever you must settle your own affairs,” he grumbled. “I’m d—d if I understand either of you, girl or man. Now get me home. Where’s your arm? I’ll go down through the new planting.”
“But it’s not so safe, sir,” she remonstrated. “There’s the stone stile, and—” "When I canna get over the stone stile I’ll not come up the hill. I want to see the planting. D’you take me that way and tell me if the rabbits ha’ got in. March, girl!”
She obeyed him, but in fear and trembling. Her heart went out to him, and her eyes were dim with tears, when at length they stood again on the high road, and viewed, on a level with themselves, but divided from them by the trough of green meadows in which the brook ran, the gables and twisted chimneys, the buttressed walls that gave to Garth its air of a fortress.
The girl gazed at it, the old man’s hand still on her shoulder. It was her home, she knew no other, she had never been fifty miles from it. It stood for peace, safety, protection. She loved it—never more than now, and never as much as now. And never as much as now had she loved her father; never before had she understood him so well. The last hour had wrought a change, dimly suspected by both, in their relations. They stood on a level—more on a level at any rate with no gulf between them but the natural interval of years, a green valley as it were, which the eyes of understanding and the light foot of love could cross at will.