STANLEY J. WEYMAN
WHAT’S HAPPENED SO FAR.—It is the year 1823. Ovington, an aggressive banker, is promoting one of the earliest steam railroads. He faces two problems, his son Clement, who dislikes the bank, and Squire Griffin, who is antagonistic to the railroad project, and is using every influence to prevent it going over his land. Later Ovington gives Bourdillon, the nephew of the squire, a partnership in the bank. Meanwhile Clement had met the squire’s daughter and a mutual interest develops. He endeavors to secure the squire’s good wishes without success. The breach between the squire and Ovington widens ; and the former withdraws his deposit at the bank. On the way home the squire is robbed, and only saved from death by the timely arrival of Clement, who later recovers the money. 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. Bourdillon takes advantage of this improved feeling to appeal for the hand of the squire’s daughter. The squire agrees, but the daughter will not consider the proposal. Meanwhile Ovington s Bank stands on the brink of a financial crisis, that threatens its existence.
A WEEK and a day went by after the banker’s return and there was no run upon the bank. But afar off in London and Manchester and Liverpool, and even in Birmingham, there were shocks and upheavals, failures and talk of failures, fear in high places, ruin in low. For there was no doubt about the crisis now. The wheels of trade, which had for some time beenrunning sluggishly, stopped. It was impossible to sell goods, for the prudent and foreseeing had already flung their products upon the market, and glutted it. Later, others had come in and, forced to find money, had sold down and down, procuring cash at any sacrifice. N ow it was impossible to sell at all. Men with the shelves of their warehouses loaded with goods, men whose names in ordinary times were good for thousands, could not find money to meet their trade bills, to pay their wages, to discharge their household accounts.
And it was still less possible to sell shares, for shares, even sound shares, had on a sudden become waste paper. The bubble companies, created during the frenzy of the past two years, were bursting on every side, and the public, unable to discriminate, no longer put faith in anything. Rudely awakened they opened their eyes on reality. They saw that they had dreamed, and been helped to dream. They discovered that skates and warming-pans were in no great request in the Tropics, and could not be exported thither at a profit of five hundred per cent. They saw that churns and milkmaids freighted to lands where the cattle ran wild on the Pampas and oil was preferred to butter, were no certain basis on which to build a fortune. Their visions of South American Argosies melted into thin air. The silver from La Plata which they had pictured as entering the Mouth of the Thames, or at worst as within sight from the Lizard, was discovered to be reposing in the darkness of unopened seams. The pearling ships were yet to build, the divers to teach, and, for the diamonds of the Brazils which this man or that man had seen, lying in skin packages at the door of the Bank of England— they now twinkled in a cold and distant heaven, as unapproachable as the Seven Stars of Orion. The Canals existed on paper, the Railways were in the air, the Harbours could not be found even on the map.
’ I 'HE shares of companies which had passed from hand to hand at four-fold and ten-fold their facevalue fell with appalling rapidity. They fell and fell until they were in many cases worth no more than the paper on which they were printed. And the bursting of these shams, which had never owned the smallest chance of success, brought about the fall of ventures better founded. The good suffered with the bad. Presently no man would buy a share, no man would look at a share, no bank advance on its security. Men saw their fortunes melt day by day as snow melts under an April sun.
They saw themselves stripped, within a few weeks or even days, of wealth, of a competence, in too many cases of their all.
And the ruin was wide-spread. It reached many a man who had never gambled or speculated. Business runs on the wheels of credit and those wheels are connected by a million unseen cogs. Let one wheel stop and it is impossible to say where the stoppage will cease, or how many will be affected by it. So it w7as now. The honest tradesman, and the manufacturer, striving to leave a competence to a family nurtured in comfort, were involved in one common ruin with the spendthrift and the speculator. The credit of all was suspect, from all alike the sources of accommodation were cut off. Each in his turn involved his neighbour, and brought him down.
There was a great panic. The centres of commerce and trade were convulsed. The kings of finance feared for themselves and closed their pockets. The Bank of England would help no one. Men who had never sought aid before, men who had held their heads high, waited, vain petitioners, at its doors.
Fortunately, for Ovington’s, Aldersbury lay at some distance from the centres of disturbance, and for a time, though the storm grumbled and crackled on the horizon, the town remained calm. But it was such a calm as holds the tropic seas in a breathless grip before the typhoon, breaking from the black canopy overhead, whirls the doomed barque away, as a leaf is swept before our temperate blasts. Throughout those six days though little happened, anything, it was felt, might happen. The arrival of every coach was a thing to listen for, the opening of every mail-bag a terror, the presentation of every bill a pang, the payment of every note a thing at which to wince; while the sense of danger, borne like some infection on the air, spread mysteriously from town to village, and village to hamlet, to penetrate at last wherever one man depended on another for profit or for subsistence. And that was everywhere.
A storm impended, and no man knew where it would break, or on whom it would fall. Each looked in his neighbour’s face and, seeing his fear reflected, wondered and perhaps suspected. If so-and-so failed would not sueh-an-one be in trouble? And if such-an-one "went” what of Blank—with whom he himself had business.
The feeling which prevailed did not in the main go beyond uneasiness and suspicion. But in quarters where the facts were known, and the peril was clearly discerned these days of waiting were days—nay, every day was a week—of the most poignant anxiety. In banks, where those behind the scenes knew that not only their own stability, and their own fortunes were at stake, but that if they failed there would be lamentation in a score of villages and loss in a hundred homes, endurance was strained to the breaking point. To show a cheerful face to customers, to chat over the counter with an easy air, to smile on a visitor who might be bringing in the bowstring, to listen unmoved to the murmur in the street
that might presage bad news—these things made demands on nerve and patience which could not be met without distress. And every hour that passed, every post that came in, added to the strain.
Under this burden Ovington’s bearing was beyond praise. The w'ork of his life—and he was over-old to begin it again, was in danger, and doubtless he thought of his daughter and his son. But he never faltered. He had, to support him, it is true, the sense of responsibility, which steels the heart of the born leader, even as it turns to water that of the pretender: he knew, and doubtless he was strengthened by the knowledge, that all depended on him, on his calmness, his judgment, his resources; that all looked to him for guidance and encouragement, watched his face, and marked his demeanour. But even so he was the admiration of those in the secret.
Not even Napoleon, supping amid his Marshals, and turning over to sleep beside the watch-fire on the night before a battle, was more w'onderful. His son swore fealty to him a dozen times a day. Rodd, who had received his money in silence, and now stood to lose no more than his place, followed him with worshipping eyes and, perhaps, an easier mind. The clerks, who perforce had gained some inkling of the position, were relieved by his calmness, and spread abroad the confidence they drew from him. Even Arthur, who bore the trial less well, admired his leader, suspected at times that he had some secret hope or some undisclosed resources, more than once suffered himself to be plucked from depression by his example.
The truth was that while financial ability was common to both, their training had been different. The elder man had been always successful, but he had been fored to strive and struggle, he had climbed but slowly at the start, and there had been more than one epoch in his career when he had stood face to face with defeat. He had won through, but he had never shut his eyes to the possibility of failure, or to the fact that in a business which in those days witnessed every twenty years a disastrous upheaval, no man could count on, though with prudence he might anticipate, a lasting success. He had accepted his profession with its drawbacks as well as its advantages. He had not closed his eyes to its risks. He had viewed it whole.
Arthur, on the other hand, plunging into it with avidity at a time when all smiled and the sky was cloudless, had supposed that if he were once admitted to the bank, his fortune was made, and his future secured. He knew indeed, and if challenged he would have owned, that banking was a precarious enterprise; that banks had broken. He knew that many had closed their doors in
'16, still more on one black day in ’93. He was aware that in the last forty years scores of bankers had failed, that some had taken their own lives, that one at least had suffered the last penalty of the law. But he had taken these things to be exceptions, things which might indeed recur but not within his experience; just as in our day, though railway accidents are not uncommon, no man for that reason refrains from travelling.
At any rate the thought of failure had not entered into Arthur’s mind, and mainly for this reason he who in fair weather had been most confident and whose ability had shone most brightly, now cut an indifferent figure. It was not that his talent or his judgment failed: in these he still threw Clement and Rodd into the shade. But the risk, suddenly disclosed, was too much for him. It depressed him. He grew crabbed and soured, his temper flashing out on small provocation. He sneered at Rodd, he snubbed the clerks. When it was necessary to refuse a request for credit—and the request arose a dozen -times a day—his manner lacked the suavity that makes the best of a bad thing.
In very truth they were trying times. Men who had bought shares through Ovington’s, and might have sold them at a profit but had not, could not understand why the Bank would not now advance money on the security of the shares, would not even pay calls on them, and had only advice, and that unpalatable, at their service. They came to the parlour and argued, pleaded, threatened, stormed. They would close their accounts, they would remove them to Dean’s, they would publish the treatment that they had received! Again, there were those who had bought Railway shares, which were now at a considerable discount, and looked like falling farther; the bank had issued them, they looked to the Bank to take them off their hands.
More trying still were the applications of those who, suddenly pressed for money, came pallid and wiping their foreheads with bandanna handkerchiefs, to plead desperately for a small over-draft, for twenty, forty, seventy pounds—just enough to pay the weekly wage-bill, or to meet their household outgoings, or to settle with some pressing creditor.
For all creditors were now pressing.
No man gave time, no man trusted another, and for those within, the question was, how long would they trust Ovington’s. For every man who left the doors of the bank disappointed, every man who went away with his request declined, became a potential enemy, whose complaint or even his chance word might breed suspicion.
“Still, every day is a day gained,” the banker said as he dropped his mask on the Friday afternoon, and sank wearily into a chair. It was closing time and the clerks could be heard moving in the outer room, putting away books, counting the cash, locking the drawers. Another day had passed without special pressure. “Time is everything.”
Arthur shrugged his shoulders.
“It would be, if it were money.”
“Well, I think that we are doing capitally—so far,” said Clement.
“I am glad you are satisfied,”
Arthur retorted. “We are four hundred down on the day? I can’t think, sir,” peevishly, “why you let Purslow have that seventy pounds.”
“Well, he is a very old customer,” the banker replied patiently, “and he’s hard hit—he wanted it for wages and I fear that he’s behindhand with them. And if we withhold all b'vp, my boy, we shall certainly precipitate a run. On Monday those bills of Badger’s fall due and I think will he met. We shall receive eleven hundred from them.
On Tuesday another bill for three hundred and fifty matures and I think is good. If we, can go on till Wednesday we shall be a little stronger to meet the crisis than we are to-day. And we can only live from day to day,” wearily. “If Pole’s bank goes—” he glanced doubtfully at the door, “I fear that Williams’s will follow. And then—”
“There will be the devil to pay!”
“Well, we must try to pay him!”
“Bravo, sir!” Clement cried. “That’s the way to talk.”
“Yes, it is no use to dwell on the dark side." his father agreed. “All the same—” he was silent a moment reviewing the position and making calculations which he had made a hundred times before—“all the same it would make all the difference if we had that twelve thousand pounds in reserve.”
“By Jove, yes!” Arthur exclaimed. For a moment hope animated his face. “Can you think of no way of getting it, sir?”
The banker shook his head. “I have tried every quarter,” he said, “and strained every resource. I cannot. I’m afraid we must fight our battle as we are."
Arthur gazed at the floor, the elder man looked at him and thought again of the Squire. But he would not renew his suggestion. Arthur knew better than he what was possible in that quarter, and if he saw no hope, there, doubtless, was no hope. At best the idea had been fantastic, in view of the prejudice which the Squire entertained against the bank.
WThile they pondered, the door opened, and all three looked sharply round, the movement betraying the state of their nerves. But it was only Betty who entered— a little graver and a little older than the Betty of eight or nine months before, but with the same gleam of humour in her eyes. “What a conclave!” she cried. She looked round on them.
“Yes,” Arthur answered drily. “It wants only Rodd to be complete.”
“Just so.” She made a face. “How much you think of him lately.”
“And unfortunately he’s taken his little all and left
The shot told. Her eyes sparkled, and she coloured with anger. “What do you mean? Dad," brusquely, “what does he mean?”
“Only that we thought it better,” the banker explained, “to make Rodd safe by paying him the little he has with
“And he took it—of course?”
The banker smiled. “Of course he took it,” he said. “He W'ould have been very foolish if he had not. It was only a deposit, and there w'as no reason why he should risk it with us—as things are.”
“Oh, I see. Things are as bad as that, are they? Any other rats?” with a withering look at Arthur.
“I am afraid that there is no one else who can leave,” her father answered. “The gangway is down now, my dear, and wre sink or swim together.”
“Ah! Well, I fancy there is one of that kind in the dining-room now. That is w'hat I came to tell you. He wants to see you, Dad.”
“Who is it?”
Ovington shrugged his shoulders. “Well, it is after hours,” he said, “but—I’ll see him.”
That broke up the meeting. The banker w-ent out to interview his visitor who had been standing for some minutes at one of the wdndows of the dining-room, looking out on the slender stream of traffic that passed up and doivn the pavement, or slid round the opposite corner into the Market Place.
Acherley was not of those who go round about when a direct and more brutal approach will serve. Broken fortunes had soured rather than tamed him, and though, when there had been something to be gained by it, he had known how to treat the banker with an easy familiarity, the contempt in which he held men of that class made it more natural to him to bully than to fawn. Before he had turned to the street for amusement, he had surveyed the furniture of the room with a morose eye, had damned the upstart’s impudence for setting himself up with such things, and consoled himself with the reflection that he would soon see it all under the hammer. “And a d—d good job, too!” he had muttered. “What the blazes does he want with a kidney wine-table and a plate-chest! It will serve Bourdillon right for lowering himself to such people!”
When the banker came to him he made no apology for the lateness of his visit, but “Hallo!” he said bluntly, “I want a little talk with you. But short’s the word. Fact is I find I’ve more of those Railway Shares than it suits me to keep, Ovington, and I want you to take a hundred off my hands. I hear they’re fetching two ten.”
“One ten,” the banker said. “They are barely that.”
“Two, ten,” Acherley repeated, as if he had not spoken. “And that’s my price. I suppose the Bank will accommodate me by taking them?” Ovington looked steadily at him. “Do you mean the shares you pledged with us? If so, I am afraid that in any event we shall have to put them on the market soon. The margin has nearly run off.”
“Oh, hang those!” lightly. “You may as well account for them at the same price—two and a half. I’ll consider that settled. But I’ve a hundred more that I don’t want to keep, and it’s those I am talking about. You’ll take them, 1 suppose—for cash, of course. I’m a little hard pressed at present, and want the money.”
“I am afraid that I must say no,” Ovington said. “We are not buying any more, even at thirty shillings. As to those we hold, if you wish to sell them at once, and I am inclined to think we ought to—” “Steady, steady! Not so fast!" Acherley let the mask fall, ami drawing himself to his full height— and tall and lean, in his long ridingcoat shaped to the figure, he looked imposing and insolent enough— he tapped his teeth with the handle of his riding-whip. “Not so fast, man! Think it over!” with an ugly smile, “I’ve been of use to you. It is your turn to be of use to me.
I want to be rid of these shares.”
"Naturally. But we don’t wish to take them, Mr. Acherley.”
Acherley glowered at him. "You mean,” he said, “that the bank can’t afford to take them? If that’s
your meaning—He paused, glaring at the banker. “It does not suit us to take them.”
"But, by Heavens, you’ve got to take them! D'you hear, sir? You’ve got to take them, or take the consequences! I went into this to oblige you.”
"Not at all,” Ovington said. “You came into it with your eyes open, and with a view to the improvement of your property if the enterprise proved a success. No man came into it with eyes more open! To be frank with you—’’
But Acherley cut him short. “Oh d—n all that!” he cried. “I did not come here to palaver. The long and short of it is, you’ve got. to take the shares, or, by gad, I go out of this room and I say what I think! And you’ll take the consequences! There’s talk enough in the town already—you know that. It only needs another punch, one more good punch, and you’re out of the ring, and in the sponging-hou.se, and your beautiful bank you know where. You know that as well as I do, my good man. And if you want a friend instead of an enemy you’ll oblige me, and no words about it. That’s flat!” The room was growing dark. Ovington stood facing such light as there was. He looked very pale. “Yes, that’s quite flat,” he said.
“Very good. Then what do you say to it?”
“What I said before, No! No, Mr. Acherley!” “What? Do you mean it? Why, if you are such a fool as not to know your own interests—”
“I do know' them—very well,” Ovington said resolutely taking the word. “I know what you want and I know what you offer. It is, as you say, quite flat, and I’ll be equally—flat! Your support is not worth the price. And I warn you, Mr. Acherley, and I beg you to take notice, that if you say a word against the solvency of the bank after this—after this threat—you will be held accountable to the law. And more than that, I can assure you of another thing. If, as you believe, there is going to be trouble, it is you and such as you who wi' i be the first to suffer. Your creditors—”
“The devil take them! And you!” the gentleman cried, stung to fury. “Why, you swollen little frog!” losing all control over himself, “you don’t think my support worth buying, don’t you? You don’t think it’s worth a dirty hundred or two of your scrapings? Then 1 tell you I’ll put my foot on you, by Heavens I will! Yes, I’ll tread you down into the mud you sprang from. If you were a gentleman I’d shoot you on the flash at eight o’clock to-morrow and eat my breakfast afterwards. You to talk to me! You, you little spawn from the gutter! I’ve a good mind to thrash you within an inch of your life, but there ’ll be those ready enough to do that for me by and by! Ay, and plenty, by God!”
He towered over the Banker, and he looked threatening enough, but Ovington did not flinch. He went to the door and threw it open. “There’s the door, Mr. Acherley!” he said.
For a moment the gentleman hesitated. But the banker’s firm front prevailed and with a gesture, half menacing, half contemptuous, Acherley stalked out. “The worse for you!” he said. “You’ll be sorry for this! By George, you will be sorry for this next week!” “Good evening,” said the banker; he was trembling with passion. “I warn you to be careful what you say, or the law will deal with you.” And he stood his ground until the other, shrugging his shoulders and flinging behind him a last curse, had passed through the door. Then he closed the door and went back to the fire-place. He sat down.
The occurrence was no surprise to him.
He knew his man and neither the demand nor the threat were unexpected. But he knew, too, that Acherley was shrewd, and that the demand and the threat were ominous signs. They brought before him, more forcibly than anything that had yet occurred, the desperate nature of the crisis, and the likelihood that before a week went by, the worst would happen. He would be compelled to put up the shutters. The bank would stop. And with the bank would go all that he had won by a life of continuous labour; the position that he had built up, the status that he had gained, the reputation that he had achieved, the fortune which he had won and which had so much exceeded his early hopes. The things with which he had surrounded himself, they too, tokens of his success, the outward and handsome signs of his rise in life, the acquisition of some of which had been landmarks, milestones on his path of triumph—they too would go. He looked sadly on them. He saw them, he too, under the hammer, saw the mocking, heedless crowd, handling them, dividing them, jeering at his short-lived triumph, gibing at his folly in surrounding himself with them.
Ay, and one here and there would have cause to say more bitter things. For some, not many he hoped, but some would be losers with him. Some homes would be broken up, some old men beggared, and all would be laid at his door. His name would be a byword. There would
be little said of the sufferers’ own imprudence or folly or rashness; he would be the scapegoat for all, he and the bank he had founded. Ovington’s Bank! They would tell the story of it through years to come, would smile at its rise, deride its fall, make of it a town-tale, the tale of a man’s arrogance, and of the speedy Nemesis which had punished it!
He was a proud man and the thought of these things, the visions that they called up, tortured him. At times, perhaps, he had borne himself a little too highly, had presumed on his success, had said a word too much. Well, all that would be repaid to him now—with interest, ay, with compound interest.
The room was growing dark, as dark as his thoughts. The fire glowed, a mere handful of red embers, in the grate. Now and again men went by the windows, talking; talking, it might be, of him; anxious, suspicious, greedy, ready at a word to ruin themselves, and him, to cut their own throats in their selfish panic. They had only to use common sense, to control themselves, and no man would lose a penny. But they would have no common sense. They would rush in and destroy all, their own and his. For no tank called upon to pay in a day all thac it owed could do so. any more than an Insurance office could at any moment pay all its lives. But they would not blame themselves. They would blame him. And his!
He groaned as he thought of his children. Clement, indeed, might and must fend for himself. And he would, he had proved it of late days by his courage and cheerfulness; and the father’s heart warmed to him. But Betty? Gay, fearless, laughing Betty, the light of his home, the joy of his life! Who, born when fortune had already begun to smile on him, had never known poverty or care or mean shifts! For whom he had been ambitious, wrhom he had thought to see well married, married into the County it might be! P~ci Betty! There would be an end of that now. Past his prime and discredited, he could not hope to make more than a pittance, happy if he could earn some two or three pounds a week in some such situation as Rodd’s. And she must sink with him and accept such a home as he could support, in place of this spacious old town-house, with its oaken wainscoats and its wide, shallow stairs, and its cheerful garden at the back.
His love suffered equally with his pride.
He was thinking so deeply that he did not hear the door open, or a light foot cross the room. He did not suspect that he was not alone until a pair of warm young arms slid round his neck and Betty’s curls brushed his cheek. “In the dumps, father?” she said. “And in the dark—and alone? Poor father! Is it as bad as that? But you have not given up hope? We are not ruined yet?”
“God forbid!” he said, hardly able, on finding her so close to him, to control his voice. “But we may be, Betty.”
“And what then?” She clasped him more closely to her. “Might not worse things happen to us? Might you not die and I be left alone? Or might I not die, and you lose me? Or Clement? You are pleased with Clement, father, aren’t you? He may not be as clever as—as some people. But you know he’s there when you want him. Suppose you lost us?”
“True, child. But you don’t know what poverty is—after wealth, Betty. How narrowing, how irksome, how it galls at every point! You don’t know what it is to live on two or three pounds a week in two or three rooms!”
“They will bring us the closer together,” said Betty.
“And to be looked down upon by those who have been your equals, and shunned by those who have been your friends?”
“Nice friends! We shall do better without them!”
“And things will be said of me, things it will be hard to listen to!”
“They won’t say them to me,” said Betty. “Or look out for my nails, Ma’am! Besides, they won’t be true and who cares, father? Lizzie Clough said yesterday I’d a cast in one eye, but does it worry me? Not a scrap. And we’ll shut the door on our two or three rooms and let them—go hang. As long as we are together we can face anything, father—we can live on two pounds or two shillings or two pence. And consider! You might never have known what Clement was, how lively, how brave, how,” with a funny little laugh, “like me,” hugging him to her, “if this had not happened— that’s not going to happen after all.”
He sighed. He dealt with figures, she with fancy. T hope not,” he said. “At any rate I’ve got two good children, and if it does come to the worst—”
“We’ll lock ourselves in and our false friends out!”
she said; and for a moment after that she was silent Then, “Tell me, father, why did Mr. Rodd take that money? When you need all that you can get together, and he knows it? For he’s taking the plate to Birmingham to pledge, isn’t he? So he must know it.”
“He is, if—”
“If it comes to the worst? I know. Then why did he take his money when he knew so well how things stood?” “Why did he take his own when we offered it?” the banker replied. “Why shouldn’t he, child? It was his own, and business is business. He would have been very foolish if he had not taken it. He’s not a man who could afford to lose it.”
“Oh!” said Betty. And for some minutes she said no more. Then she aroused herself, poked the fire, and rang for the lamp.
”\X^ELL,”saidtheSquiro peevishly, “I ' ’ can do no more. Ci rís ha’ their whimsies and it’s much if you can hinder ’em running after Mr. Wrong without forcing ’em to take Mr. Right. At any rate I’ve said what I could for you, lad, and the end was as if 1 hadn’t. You must fight your own battle. Jos hasn’t—” this would c' rtainly never have occurred to the Squ re in his seeing days—“too gay a life of it, and if you’re not man enough to get on the soft side of her, with a clear field, why, damme, you don’t deserve tc have her.”
I was well enough with her,” Arthur said resentfully, “till lab ly. But she is changed, sir.”
“Well, like enough. Girls are like that.”
“There may be—some one else.”
The Squire snorted. “W’ho?” he said. “Who?” more roughly. “You’re talking nonsense.”
Arthur could not say. He could not name any one. So far as he knew there could not be any one. But his temper, chafed by a week passed at the bank in suspense and anxiety, was not smoothed by the old man’s refusal to do more. And then to fail with Josina! To be rejected by Josina, the simple girl, whom, in his heart, he had regarded as a pis aller, on whom he had deigned to confer a half contemptuous affection, on w'hose youthful fancy he had played for his pastime! This was enough to try him, apart from the fact that things in Aldersbury looked black, and that, losing her, he lost the consolation prize to which he had looked forward to make all good. So, taken to task by the Squire, he did not at once assent.
Who? ’ he repeated gloomily. “Ah, I don’t know.” Nor I!” the Squire retorted. “There is nobody. Truth is, my lad, the man who has been robbed sees a face in every^ bush. However, there ’tis; I’ve said my say, and I’ve done with it. Did you bring those deeds from W’elsh’s?”
Arthur swallowed his mortification as best he might— fortunately the old man could not see his face. “Yes,” he said, “I left them downstairs.” The Squire had caught cold, sitting out on the hill on the Saturday, and had been for some days in his bedroom.
“Well, I’m going to pay u'ages now,” he rejoined. “Bring ’em up after dinner and I’ll sign ’em. You or the girl or Peacock can witness them. And hark you—■ here, wait a minute!” irascibly, for Arthur, giving as much rein to his temper as he dared, had turned on his heel and was marching off, “Take my keys and open the safe-cupboard downstairs and bring me up the agreement. I’ve got to compare it with the lease—I shan’t sign it without! Lock the door, d’you hear, before you open the cupboard, and have a care no one sees you.” “Very well,” Arthur said, and was half way to the door when again, as if to try his patience, the old man stopped him. “What’s this they’re saying about Ovington’s, eh? ’Bout the bank? Pretty thing, if he’s let you in and your money too! But I’m not surprised. I told you, you were a fool, young man, to dirty your hands in that bag, whatever you thought to get out of it. But if you’re not going to get anything out of it but to leave your own in, as I hear talk of—what then? Come, let’s hear what you have to say about it? I’d like to know.” “I don’t know what you’ve heard, sir,” Arthur answ'ered, sparring for time. For self-control, provoking as the old man w-as, he had no longer need to fight. For it had struck him the moment the old man spoke, that here, here if he chose to avail himself of it, was his chance of the twelve thousand! Here was an opening, if he had the courage to seize it. Granted, the chance was desperate and the opening unpromising—a poorer or less promising could hardly have been. And the courage necessary was great. But there it was. The Squire himself had brought up the subject. He knew of the rumours, he had broken the ice. There it was, and for a moment, uncertain, wavering, giddy with the swift interchange of pros and cons, Arthur tried for time—time to think. “What was it? What did you hear, sir?” he asked.
“What did I hear?” the Squire answered. “W’hy, that
they’re d—d suspicious of them in the town. And I don’t wonder. Up in a night and cut off in a day, like a rotten mushroom!” Hè spoke with gusto, forgetting for the moment what this might mean to his listener; who on his side hardly heeded the brutality, so absorbed w'as he in the question which he must answer—the question whether it would be wise or foolish, ruin or salvation, to ask the Squire for help. “He’ll be another Fauntleroy, ’fore he’s done,” the old man went on with relish. “He’ll stretch a rope, you’ll see if he won’t! I told you as much myself, I told him as much in those very words the day he came here about his confounded, silly toy of a railroad. He might take in Woosenham and a lot of other fools, I told him, but he did not deceive me. Now I hear that he’s going to burst up, and where’ll you be, my lad? Where’ll you be? By gad, you may be in the dock with him!”
Certainly he might speak on that. The old man was harsh and hard-fisted, but he was also hard-headed and very shrewd; and conceivably the case might be so put to him that he might see his profit in it. Certainly it might be so put, that he might see a fair prospect of saving his nephew’s five thousand at no great risk to himself. The books might be laid before him, the figures be taken out, the precise situation made clear.
There was—it could not be put higher than this—just a slender chance that he would listen, prejudiced as he was.
But twelve thousand! It was such a stupendous sum to name. It needed such audacity to ask for it.
And yet it was that or nothing, Arthur knew. Less might not serve, while to ask for less, to ask for anything at all might cost the petitioner the favour he had won, his standing in the house, all the advantages which the Squire's support might still gain for him And then it was such a forlorn hope, such a desperate, reckless venture! No, he would be a fool to risk it. He dare not. He had not the face.
Yet, for a few seconds after the Squire had ceased to speak, Arthur still hesitated, confession trembling on his lips. The twelve thousand would make all good, save all, redeem all, aye, and bind Ovington to him in bonds of steel. But no, he dared not. He would be a fool to speak. And instead of the words that had risen to his lips, “I think you mistake, sir,” he said coldly.
“I think you’ll find that this is all cry and little wool. Of course money is tight, and there is trouble in the City. I’ve heard talk of two or three weak banks being in difficulties, and I should not wonder if one or two of them stopped payment between this and Christmas. We are told that it is likely. But we are perfectly solvent. It will take more than talk to bring Ovington’s
“Umph!” the Squire grumbled.
“Well, may be, may be. You talk as if you knew and you ought to know. I hope you do know. After all—I don’t want you to lose your money—gad, a pretty fool you’d look, my lad! A pretty fool, indeed! But as for Ovington, a confounded rascal, who thinks himself a gentleman because he has filled his purse at some poor devil’s expense—I’d see him break with pleasure.”
“I don’t think you’ll have the pleasure this time!” Arthur retorted with a bitterness that he could not repress; a bitterness, caused as much by his own doubts as by the other’s harshness. But he left the room without more, the keys in his hand, and went downstairs.
It wanted about an hour of the Squire’s dinner time, but Calamy had laid the table early, and the dining-room was dark. Arthur carried in a lamp from the hall, and himself closed the shutters. He locked the door. Then he opened the nearer panel and the cupboard behind it and sought for and found the agreement; but all mechanically, his mind still running on the Squire’s words, and, now approving of the course he had himself taken, now doubting if he had not missed his opportunity. The agreement in his hand, his errand done, he closed the cupboard door, and was preparing to close the panel when, with his hand on it, he paused. More clearly than when his bodily eyes had rested upon them he saw the contents of the cupboard.
And one thing in particular, a small thing, but it was on this that his mind focussed itself—the iron box containing the India Stock. He saw it before him; it stood
out dark, its every outline sharp. And with equal clearness he saw its contents, the two certificates that remained in it. He recalled the value of them, and almost against his will he calculated their worth at the price of the day. India Stock, sound and safe security as it was, had fallen more than thirty points since the Squire had sold. It stood to-day, he thought, at two hundred and forty or a little over—a little under—somewhere about that. At the lowest figure five thousand pounds would fetch just twelve thousand, he calculated.
He stood staring at the door, and even by the yellow light of the lamp his face looked pale. Twelve thousand! And upstairs in a pigeon-hole of the old bureau, where he had carelessly thrust it when it was no longer needed, was the blank transfer.
It seemed providential. It seemed as if the Stock— Stock to the precise amount he required—had been placed there for a purpose. Twelve thousand! And realisable, no matter what the pinch. If he borrowed it for a month what harm would there be? Or what risk? The bank was solvent, he knew that; give it time and it would stand as strong as ever. Within a month, or two months
at the most, he could replace the Stock and no one would be the wiser. And the bank and his own fortune would be saved.
Whereas—whereas, if the Bank failed, he lost everything. And what was it his uncle had said? “A pretty fool you will look!” It was true, it was horribly true. He would be the laughing stock of the county. Men of his own class would say with a sneer that it served him right. And the Squire—what would he say? His life would be a hell!
Still he hesitated, though he told himself that it was not by boggling at trifles that men arrived at great ends. Nor by poltroonery. And who would be the loser? No one. It would be all gain. The Squire if he had common sense would be the first to wish it done.
Yet, as he felt through the bunch, with fingers that shook a little, for the small key that opened the box, he glanced fearfully over his shoulder. But the door of the room was locked, the windows were shuttered, no one could see him. No one could ever say what he had done in that room. And he was lawfully there, at the Squire’s own request, on his errand.
Five minutes later he closed the door, closed the panel. He took up the lamp with a steady hand, and left the room. He went into the Squire’s bedroom to return the keys, loitered a minute or two at the bureau, then he
went to his own bedroom. On the table lay the lease and the counterpart that he had brought from Aldersbury for the old man’s signature. He closed and locked the door.
It was some hour and a half later that, having finished dinner—and he had talked more fluently at the meal, and with less restraint than of late—he rose from the table with Miss Peacock and Josina. “I’ll come with you,” he said, “I shall have my wine upstairs.” And then,” turning to Miss Peacock, “the Squire will want you to witness his signature,” he said. “Will you come? He has to sign some deed that Welsh’s have sent.”
Miss Peacock bewailed herself. She was in a flurry already at the prospect. “Oh dear, dear,” she said, “I wish he didn’t! I am all of a twitter, and then he scolds me. I am sure to put my name in the wrong place, or write his or something!”
Josina laughed. “What will you give me to go instead?” she asked. “Come? But, there, I’ll go. In fact he told me before dinner that I was to go.” She moved towards the door.
But Arthur did not move. He looked disturbed. “I don’t think that that will do,” he said slowly. “Considering what it is—I think the Peahen would be the better.” “But if she doesn’t like it?” Jos objected. “And I must go, Arthur, for he told me to go. So the sooner the better. We have sat longer than usual, and though Calamy is with him he won’t like to be kept waiting.” Arthur seemed to consider it. “Oh, very well,” he said at last. He followed her from the room.
The Squire was sitting before the fire, at the small round table at which he had eaten his meal. A decanter of port and a couple of glasses stood at his elbow. Two candles in tall silver candlesticks shed a circle of light on the table, and showed up his white head and his hands, but failed to illumine the larger part of the room. The great bed with its drab hangings, the lofty talboys with its brass handles, the dark Windsor chairs, now lurked in, and now sprang from the shadows, as the fire flickered up or sank. On the verge of the circle of light the butler moved mysteriously, now appearing, now disappearing; now coming forward to set an inkstand and goosequills beside the decanter, now withdrawing to pile unseen plates up on an unseen tray.
The Squire was tapping impatiently on the table when they entered. “Well, you’re in no hurry for your wine to-night,” he said. “Have you brought the papers? You might have a’most written them in the time you’ve been.” “Sorry, sir,” said Arthur. “They are here. Will you sit here, Jos?” “Nay, nay, she must be near by,” the old man objected. His hearing was still good. “Close up! Close up, girl! I want her eyes. And do you fill your glass. Now have you all ready? Then do you read me the agreement first that I may see if the lease tallies. And read slowly, lad, slowly. Calamy?”
“I am here, sir,” lugubriously. “Where we’ll be tomorrow.”
“D—n you, don’t whine, man, but snuff the candles. And then get out. Do you hear?”
Calamy mumbled that it would be all the same at the latter end. He went out with his tray, and closed the door behind him.
“Now!” said the Squire, and obediently to the word Arthur began to read. Once or twice his voice seemed to fail him, and he had to clear his throat. Josina would have thought that he was nervous, had she ever known him nervous. Fortunately the document was not of great length, as legal documents go, and some five minutes, during which the Squire sat listening intently, saw it at an end.
“Umph! Sounds all right,” he commented. “Sight o’ words! But, there, they’ve got to charge. Now do you give the girl the counterpart, and do you read the lease, lad, and read it slowly so as I may understand. And hark, you, Jos, speak up if there is any differ - nail it like a rat, girl, and don’t go to sleep over it! Don t you let me be cheated. Welsh is as honest, arid I d as iief trust him, as another, but if aught’s amiss its not lie that will suffer, nor the confounded scamp of a clerk Continued on page 49
Continued from page 27
that made the mistake. And see you there’s no erasures, I’m lawyer enough to know that. Now, slow, lad, slow,” he commanded, “so that I can take it in.”
Arthur complied, and began to read slowly and carefully. But again he had more than once to stop, his voice failing. He explained it by saying that the light was not good, and he rose to snuff the candles. The lease, too, was longer than the agreement, and was full of verbiage, and it took some time to read, and some patience. But at long last the delivery clause was reached. No discrepancy or erasure had been discovered, and the Squire whose attention had never faltered—he was an excellent man of affairs—declared himself satisfied.
“Well, there,” he said in a tone of relief, “that’s done! Drink up, lad, and wet your throttle.” He turned himself squarely to the table. “Give me the pen I used last,” he continued. “And do you guide my hand to the right place.”
“I am afraid your pen was left to dry,” Arthur said. “And the nib has opened. You’ll have to use a new one, sir, and try it first. And—the sand? We shall want that. I am afraid it is downstairs. If Josina would not mind running down for it?”
“Pooh! Pooh! Never mind the sand! Let ’em dry o’ themselves. Less chance of blotting. Where’s the pen?” holding oat his hand for it.
“Here, sir. 'Will you try it on this? If you’ll write your name in full as if you were signing the deeds—” he guided the Squire’s hand to the place—“I shall see if it is right—‘and straight.”
"Ay, ay, best be careful.” the Squire agreed,squaring himself to his task. “ ’Twon’t do to spoil ’em. Here?” ’
“Yes—just as you are now.”
The old man bent over the table, his white hair shining in the centre of the little circle of light, cast by the candles. Slowly and laboriously, in a tense silence, while Arthur, leaning over his shoulder, followed each movement of the pen, and Josina, half in light, half in shadow, watched them both from the farther side of the table, he wrote his name.
It was a perfect signature, though rather bolder and larger than usual, and “Excellent!” Arthur cried in a tone of relief which betrayed the anxiety he had felt. “Good? It could not be better! Well done, sir!” He removed the paper as he spoke, but in the act looked sharply across at Josina. The girl’s eyes were Upon him, but her face was in shadow ánd he could not read its expression. He hesitated a moment, the paper in his hand, then he laid it on the table beside him—and out of her reach.
: “Right!” said the Squire. "Then, now for business. Let’s have the lease. My hand's in now.”
; Arthur laid it before him, and guided His hand to the place. “Is there ink enough jn the pen?” the old man asked.
I “Quite enough, sir. It won’t do to blot it....”
I “Right, lad, right!” The Squire wrote his name. “Now the counterpart?” he said briskly, holding the quill suspended, j Arthur put it before him. He signed ijt, steadily and clearly. “All right?” tye asked.
¡ “Quite right. Couldn’t be better,
; “Then, thank God that’s done!” He sjank back in his chair, and raised his Hand; to take off his glasses, then remem-
bered himself. “Pheugh!” he said, “it’s a job when you can’t see.” But it was plain that he was pleased with himself.
Arthur turned to Josina. “Your turn i next,” he said; and he gave her the pen.
He put the lease before her, and pointed i out the place where she was to sign.
She was not as nervous as Miss Peacock, but she was anxious to make no mistake. “Here?” she asked.
“Yes, there. Be careful.” Arthur snuffed the candles, and as he did so, he glanced over his shoulder, his eyes searching the shadows. Then he leant over her, watching her pen.
She wrote her name, slowly, carefully. “Good!" he said and he removed the document. He set another before her, and silently shewed her with his finger where to write. She wrote her name.
“Now here,” he said. “Here! But wait! Is there enough ink in the pen?”
She dipped the pen in the inkpot to make sure, and shook it that there might be no danger of a blot. Again she wrote her name.
“Capital!” he said. His voice betrayed relief. “That’s done and well done? Couldn’t be better. Now it’s my turn.”
“But—” Josina looked up in doubt, the pen still in her hand—“but I’ve signed three, Arthur! I thought there were but two.”
“Three!” exclaimed the Squire, turning his head, his attention caught. “Damme,” peevishly, “what mess has the girl made now?” It was part of his creed that in matters of business no woman was to be trusted to do the smallest thing as it should be done.
But Arthur only laughed. “No mess, sir,” he said. “Only a goose of herself! She has witnessed your trial signature as well as the others. That’s all, I thought I would make her do it and she did it as solemnly as you like!” He ; laughed a little boisterously. “I shall ! keep that, Jos.”
The Squire, pleased with himself and ! glad that the business was over, was in a good humour and he joined in the laugh.
I “It will teach you not to be too free with your signature, my girl,” he said. “When you come some day to have a cheque book, you’ll find that that won’t do! Won’t do, at all! Well, thank God, that’s done."
Arthur, who was stooping .over the table, adding his own name, completed his task. He stood up, “Yes, sir, that’s done. Done!” he repeated in an odd, rising tone. “And now—the lease goes back to Welsh’s. Shall I lock up the counterpart—downstairs, sir?”
“No, lad,” the Squire announced. “I’ll do that myself o’ Monday.”
“But it’s no trouble, sir.” He held out his hand for the keys. “And perhaps the sooner it’s locked up—the tenant’s signed it and it is complete now—the safer."
But “no, no, time enough!” the Squire persisted. “I’ll put it back on Monday. I am not so helpless now 1 can’t manage that, and I shall be downstairs o’ Mon-
For a moment Arthur hesitated. He looked as if something troubled him. But in the end, “Very good, sir. Then that’s all?” he said.
“Ay, put the counterpart in the old bureau there. ’Twill be safe there till Monday. How’s the wine? Fill my glass and fill your own, lad. You can go, Jos. Tell Calamy to come to me at half-past nine.”
THE next day, Sunday, was raw and wet. Mist blotted out the hills and beneath it the vale mourned. The. trees dropped sadly, pools gathered about the roots of the beeches, the down-spouts of the eaves gurgled softly in the ears of those who sat near the windows. Miss Peacock alone ventured to church in the afternoon, Arthur walking with her as far as the door, and then going on to the cottage to have tea with his mother. Josina stayed at home in attendance on her father, but ten minutes after the others had left the house, he dismissed her with a fractious word.
She went down to the dining-room, where she could hear his summons, if j he tapped the floor. She poked up the smouldering logs, and looked through the windows at the dreary scene—the day was already drawing in—then settling herself before the fire, she opened ! a book. But she did not read, indeed
she hardly pretended to read; for across the page of the Sunday volume, in black capitals blotting out the type, forcing itself on her brain, insistent, inexorable, unavoidable, the word ‘When?’ presented itself.
Ay, when? When was she going to summon Clement, and give him leave to speak? When was she going to keep her word, to make a clean breast of it, to face her father’s anger, and confront the storm, the violence of which her worst fears could not picture or exaggerate?
With every day of the past fortnight the question had pressed upon her with growing weight. Now, in this idle hour, with the house silent about her, with nothing to distract her thoughts, it rose before her, grim as the outlook. It would not be denied, it came between her and the page, it forced itself upon her, it called for, nay, it insisted upon an answer. When?'
There was no longer any hope that the Squire would regain his sight, no longer any fear for his general health. H.e was as well as he ever would be, as well able to bear the disclosure. Delay on that ground was a plea which could no longer avail her or deceive her. Then, when? Or rather, why not now? Her conscience told her, it had told her often of late, that she was playing the coward, proving false to her word, betraying Clement— Clement whom she loved, and whom, craven as she was, she feared to acknowledge.
Then, when? Surelv now, or not at all?
Alas, the longer she dwelt on the avowal she must make, the more appalling the ordeal appeared. Her father, indeed, had been more gentle of late; that walk on the hill had brought them closer together, and since then, he had shown himself more human. Glimpses of sympathy, even of affection, had peeped through the chinks of his harshness. But how difficult was the position! She must own to stolen meetings, to underhand practices, to things disreputable; she must proclaim, maid, as she was, her love! And her love for whom? A stranger, and worse than a stranger, a nobody. For apart from her father’s contempt for the class to which Clement belonged—and with which he was less in sympathy than with the peasants on his lands, his prejudice against the Ovingtons was itself a thing to frighten her! Hardly a day passed that he did not utter some jibe at their expense, or some word that betrayed how sorely Arthur’s defection rankled. And then his blindness —that added the last touch of deceit to her conduct. It made worse and more clandestine what had been bad enough before. As she thought of it, as she thought of it all, and imagined the avowal and the way in which he would take it, the colour left her cheeks and she shivered with sheer fright. She did not know how she could do it, or how she could live through it. He would lose all faith in her; he would pluck from his heart even that affection for her which she had begun to discern under the mask of his sternness—to discern and to prize and to cher-
Yet time pressed, she could no longer palter with her love, she must be true to Clement now or false, she must suffer for him now or play the coward. She had given him her word. Was she to go back on it?
Oh, never! never! she thought, and pressed her hands together. Those spring days when she had walked with him beside the brook, when his coming had been sunshine, and her pulses had leapt at the sound of his footsteps, when his eyes had lured the heart from her, and the touch of his hand had awakened the woman in her, when she had passed whole days and nights in sweet musings on him—oh, never!
No, hp had taught her to be brave, to be true, to be worthy of him; and she must be. She would face all for him. And it would be but for a time. He had said that her father might separate them, and would separate them: but if they
were true to one another—
“Miss! Miss Josina!”
She turned, her dream cut short, to see Molly, the kitchen maid, standing in the doorway. She was surprised, for the stillness of a Sunday afternoon held the house, it was the servants' hour, and one at which they were seldom to be found even when wanted. “What is it?”
she asked, and stood up, alarmed. “Has my father called?’ He might have rapped, and deep in thought she might not have heard him.
“No, Miss,” Molly answered—and Heaven knows if Molly had an inkling of the secret, but certainly her face was ! bright with mischief. “There is a gentle; man asking for you, if you please, Miss. ; He bid me give you this.” She held out a ] three-cornered note.
Josina’s face burned. “A gentleman?” she faltered.
“Yes, Miss, a young gentleman," Molly answered demurely.
Josina took the note—what else could she do?—and opened it with shaking fingers. For a moment, such was her confusion, she failed to read the few words it contained. Then she collected herself, the words became plain. “Very urgent — forgive me and see me for ten minutes—C.”
Very urgent? It must be urgent indeed, or after all she had said, he would not come to her, unbidden. She hesitated, looking doubtfully and shamefacedly at Molly. But the eyes of young kitchenmaids are sharp, and it seems probable that this was not the first glimpse Molly had had of the young mistress’s lovestory—or of the young gentleman. “You can slip out easy, Miss,” she said, “and not a soul the wiser! They are all off about their business.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s under the garden wall, Miss— j down the lane.”
Jos took her courage iñ her hands. 1 She snatched up a shawl from the hall table, and with hot cheeks she went out through the back regions, Molly accompanying her as far as the yard. “I’ll be about the place, Miss,” the girl said— if no one else was enjoying herself, she was. “I’ll rattle the milk-pail if—if you’re wanted.”
Josina drew the shawl about her head, and went down the yard passing on her right the old stable which bore over its door the same date as the table in the hail—1691. A moment, and she saw Clement waiting for her under the eaves of the Dutch summerhouse, the sustaining wall of which overhung the lane, and with the last of the opposing outhouses, framed a sort of entrance to the yard.
She had been red enough under Molly’s gaze, resenting the confederacy which she could not avoid. But the colour left her face and her heart sank as her eyes met her lover’s, and she saw how sad and downcast he looked, and how changed from the Clement of her meetings. He was shabby too—he had always been so neat, so that even before he spoke she divined that there was much amiss, and knew at last, too, that there was nothing that she would not do, no risk that she would not run, no anger or storm that she would not face for this man before her. The mother in her awoke and longed to comfort him and shield him, to give all for him! “Clement!” she cried, and, trembling, she held out her hands to him. “Dear Clement! What is it? What is it?”
He took her hands and held them, and if he had taken her in his arms she would have forgiven him and clung to him. But he did not. He seemed even to hold her away from him. “Forgive me, dear, for sending for you,” he said. “I thought to catch you going to church, but you were not there, and there was nothing for it but this. Jos, I have bad news ”
“Bad news?” she exclaimed. “What? Tell me quickly! Don’t keep me waiting, Clement? What bad news?”
“The worst for me,” he said. “For we must part. I have come to say goodbye.”
Goodbye? Oh, it was impossible! It was not, it could not be that! “What do you mean?” she cried, and her eyes pleaded with him to take it back. “Tell me! You cannot mean that—that we must part.”
“I do,” he said soberly. “Something has happened, dear, something that must divide us. Be brave and I will tell you.”
“You must,” she said.
He told his story rapidly, in clear short phrases which he had rehearsed many times as he covered the seven miles from Aldersbury on his dreary errand. He told her all, that which no one else must know, that which she must not reveal. They expected a run on the bank. They were sure indeed that a run must come, and though the issue was not yet quite certain, though his father still had hope, he had, himself, no hope. Within a week
he would be a poor man, little better than a beggar, dependent on his own exertions; with no single claim, no possible pretensions to her hand, no ground on which he could appeal to her father. It. must be at an end between them, and he had preferred to let her know now rather than to wait until the blow' had fallen. He thought himself bound in honour, to release her w'hile he still had some footing, some show’ of equality with her. , , , , , .
She smiled, when she bad heard him out; she smiled in his face. “But if I w ill not be released?” she said, and then before he could answer her, she bade him tell her more. What was this run? What did it mean? She did not underlie told her patiently, and while he told her they stood, two pathetic figures in the mist and rain, that dropped slowly and sadly from the eaves of the Dutch summerhouse. She stood, pressing her hands together, trying to comprehend. And he hid nothing; telling her even of the ten or twelve thousand that, did they possess it, would save them, telling her that which had decided him to see her and to bid her farewell—an item of news which had reached the bank on the previous evening after Arthur had left for Garth. The great house of Pole’s with a wide connection among country banks, had closed its doors; and not only that, but Williams’s, Ovington’s Agents, had followed suit within six hours. The tidings had come by special messenger, but would be known in the town in the morning, and would certainly cause a panic and a run on both banks. That news had been the last straw, he said. It had pushed him to a decision. He had felt that he must give her back her word, and, without the loss of a day, must put it in her power to say that there was nothing between them.
Once and again, as he told his tale, she put in a question or uttered a pitying exclamation. But for the most part, she listened in silence, controlling herself, suppressing the agitation which shook her. When he had done, she put a question, but it was one so irrelevant, so unexpected, so far from the mark, that it acted on him like a douche of cold water. “What have you done to your coat?” she asked. “My coat?”
“Yes.” She pointed to his shoulder. He glanced down at his coat—but he felt the check. Surely the ways of women were strange, their manner of taking things past finding out. He explained—but he could not hide his chagrin: “Oh! I wasn’t thinking, and took
the first that came to hand,” he said. “An old one. Does it matter?”
Still she continued to stare at it. He was wearing a riding coat, high in the collar, long in the skirts, shaped to the figure. On the light buff of the cloth a stain spread downwards from shoulder to breast. The right arm and cuff too were discoloured, and it said much for the disorder of his thoughts that he had ridden from town without, noticing it. She eyed the stain with distaste, with something like a shudder. “It is blood,” she said, “isn’t it?”
He shrugged his shoulders yet himself viewed it askance. “Yes,” he said. “I don’t know how you knew. I wore it that night, you know? I did not mean to wear it again, but in my hurry—” “Do you mean the night that my father was hurt?”
“You held him up in the carriage?” “Yes, but”—squinting at it—“I
don’t think that it was done then. I believe it was done when I was picking him up in the road, Jos, before Bourdillon came. Indeed I remember that your father noticed it—before he fainted, you
“My father noticed it?”
“Well, oddly enough, he did.”
“While you were supporting him?” There was a strange light in her eyes, and the blood had come back to her cheeks. “But where was Thomas'— the man—then?”
“Oh, he had gone off, across the fields.” “Before Arthur came up, you mean?” she urged.
“To be sure, some time before. How-
But “No, Clement, I want to understand this,” she insisted, breaking in on him. Her voice betrayed her excitement, and to hold him to the point she laid her hands on his shoulders, standing
before him and close to him. ‘‘Tell me again and clearly. Do you mean that it was you who drove Thomas off? Before Arthur came up?”
He stared in some surprise. “Well, of course it was.” he said. “Didn’t you know that? Didn’t Arthur tell you?” She avoided the question, and instead, “Then it was your coat that was spoiled?” she said. “This coat?”
“To he sure, it was. You can see that.”
She looked at him, her cheeks flushed, her pride in him shewing in her eyes. He had, indeed, justified her choice in him, her belief in him, her confidence in him. He had done this and had said nothing! The day was cold and she was not warmly clad, but she felt no cold—now. It was raining, but she was no longer aware of it. There had sprung up in her heart, not only courage, hut a faint, a very faint hope. He had come to dash her down, to fill her cup of sorrow to the brim, to leave her lonely in the world and comfortless—for never, never, could she love another. And instead he had given her hope. A hope forlorn and far off, gleaming faint as the small stars in distant Cassiopeia, and often doubt, like an evening mist would veil it. But it sparkled, she saw it, she drew courage from it.
Meanwhile, surprised by the turn her thoughts had taken, he was still more surprised by the change in her looks, by the colour in her cheeks, the light in her eyes. He did not understand, and for a moment, seeing himself no hope but only sorrow and parting, he was tempted to think that she trifled. What mattered it what coat he wore, or what' had stained it, or the details of a story old now, and which he supposed to be as well known to her as to him? Perhaps she did not comprehend, and “Jos,” he said, inviting her to be serious, “do you understand that this is our parting?”
But “No, no,” she said resolutely “We are not going to part.” j
“But don’t you see,” sadly, “that t cannot go to your father now? Tha next week, we may be beggars, and my father a ruined man. I could ask no man, even a poor man, for his daughter now. I must work to live, work as a clerk, as I don’t know what, Jos, but in some position far removed from your life, and far removed from your class. I could not speak to your father now, and it is that which has brought me to you to—to say good-bye, dearest! To part, Jos. The gates are closed, we must go out of the garden, dear. And you,” he looked at her with yearning eyes, “must forgive me, before we part.”
“Perhaps we are not going to part,” she said stoutly.
He shook his head. He could not deceive her. “Nothing else is possible,” he said.
“Perhaps, and perhaps not. At any rate,” putting her hands in his and looking at him with brave, loving eyes, “I would not undo one of those days—in the garden! No, nor an hour of them. They are precious to me. And for forgiving, I have nothing to forgive and nothing to regret, if we never meet again, Clement. But we shall meet. What if you have to begin the world again? We are both young. You will work for me. And do you think that I will not wait for you, wait until you have climbed up again, or until something happens to bring us together? Do you not know' that I love you more now, far more, in your unhappiness, that you are more to me. a thousand times more to-day, than in your prosperity?”
“Oh, Jos!” He could say no more, but his swimming eyes spoke for him.
“But you must leave it to me now,” she continued. “After all, things may turn out better than you think. You may not be ruined, people may not be so foolish as to want all their money at once. Have hope, and—and remember that I am alw ays here, though you do not see me or hear from me. That I api alw'ays here, thinking of you, waiting for you, loving you, always yours, Clement, till you come—though it be ten years hence.”
“Oh, Jos!” his eyes were overflowing
“You believe me, you do believe me, don’t you?” she said. “And now you must go. But kiss me first. No, I do not mind who sees us, or who knows that I am yours now. I am past that.” He took her in his arms and kissed
her, not as he would have kissed her an hour before, with passion, but in reverence and humility, in love too sacred for words.. Never till now had he known what a woman’s love was, how much it gave, how little it asked, how pure, in its highest form, it would be—and how strong! Nor ever till now had he known her, this girl to whom he had once presumed to teach firmness, whose weakness he had taken on himself to guide, whom
he had thought to encourage, to strengthen,
to arm—he who had not been worthy to kiss the hem of her robe!
Oh, the wonderful power of love, which had transformed her. Which had made her what she was, and now laid him in the dust before her.
Work for her, wait for her, live for her? Ah, would he not, and deem himself happy though the 'years brought him no nearer, though the memory of her, transfiguring his whole life, proved his only and full reward.
To be Continued