STANLEY J. WEYMAN
AN HOUR after Arthur had left the house on the Monday morning Josina went slowly up the stairs to her father’s room.
She was young and the stairs were shallow, but the girl’s knees shook under
her as she mounted them, one by one, and her hand trembled on the banister. Before now the knees of brave men, going on forlorn hopes, have shaken under them, but, like these men, Josina went on, she ascended step by step.
And for her on this forlorn hope were no shouting comrades, no tramp of marching feet, no watching eyes of thousands, no bugle note to cheer her. Only Clement’s shade—waiting.
She might still draw back. But when she had once spoken, there could be no drawing back. A voice whispered in her ear that she had better think it over—just once more, better wait a little longer to see if aught would happen, revolve it once again in her mind. Possibly there might be some other, some easier, some safer way.
But she knew what that whisper meant. She paused a while on the shabby landing, her hand to her heart, then went bravely on and grasped the handle of the door. She went in. Her father was sitting beside the fire. His back was towards her, he was smoking his after-breakfast pipe. She might still retreat, or—or she might say what she liked, ask perhaps if he wanted anything. He would never suspect, never conceive in his wildest moments the thing that she had come to confess. It was not too late even now—to draw back.
She went to the other side of the table on which his elbow rested, and she stood there, steadying herself by a hand on the edge of the table. She was sick with fear, her tongue clung to her mouth, her very lips were white. But she forced herself to speak. “Father. I have something—to tell you,” she stammered,
“Eh?” He turned sharply. “What’s that?”
She had not been able to control her voice, and he knew in a moment that something was wrong.
“What ha’ you been doing?”
Now! Now, or never! The words she had so often repeated to herself rang in her ears.
“Do you know who it was.” she said, “saved you that night, sir? The night you were—hurt?”
He turned himself a little more towards her.
“Who? Who it was?” he repeated. “What art talking about, girl? Why, the lad. to be sure. Who else?”
“No, sir,” she said, shaking from head to foot., so that the table rocked audibly under her hand.
“It was Mr. Ovington’s son. And—and I love him. And he wishes to marry me.”
The Squire did not say a word. He sat, his head erect, still as a stone.
“And I want—to help him,” she added, her voice dying away with the words. Her knees were so weak, that but for the support of the table, she must have sunk on the floor.
Still the Squire did not speak. His jaw had
fallen. He sat arrested in the attitude of listening, his face partly turned from her, his pipe held stiffly in his hand. At last, “Ovington’s son wants to marry you?” he repeated, in a tone so even that it might have deceived
“He saved your life.” She clung desperately to that. “And you love him?”
“Oh, I do! I do!”
HE PAUSED as if he still listened, still expected more.
Then in a low voice, “The girl is mad,” he muttered. “My Heavens, the girl is mad! Or I am mad! Blind and mad, like the old king! Ay, blind and mad!” He let the pipe fall from his hand to the floor, and he groped for his stick that he might rap and summon assistance. But in his agitation he could not find the stick.
Then, as he still felt for it with a flurried hand, nature or despair prompted her, and the girl who had never caressed him in her life, never taken a liberty with him, never ventured on the smallest familiarity, never gone beyond the morning and evening kiss, timidly given and frigidly received, sank on the floor and clasped his knees, pressed herself against him. “Oh, father, father! I am not mad,” she cried, “I am not mad. Hear me! Oh, hear me!” A pause, and then, “I have deceived you, I am not worthy, but you are my father! I have only, only you, who can help me! Have mercy on me, for I do love him. I do love him! I—” her voice failed
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. One night the squire is robbed of a large sum, but 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. Bourdillon proposes to the daughter but she will not consider the proposal. Meanwhile Ovington’s Bank stands on the brink of a financial crisis, that threatens its existence. In getting certain papers from the squire’s wall safe, Bourdillon abstracts certain stock sufficient to safeguard the bank’s interests and secures the blind squire’s signature to their transfer. In an interview between Clement and the squire’s daughter, she discovers that he, and not Bourdillon, was instrumental in saving her father.
her but she continued to cling to him, to press her head against his body, mutely to implore him, and plead with him.
“My God!” he ejaculated at last. And he sat upright, stiff, looking before him with sightless eyes; as far as he could withholding himself from her, but not actively repelling her. After an interval, “Tell me,” he muttered.
That, even that, was more than she had expected from him. He had not struck her, he had not cursed her, and she took some courage. She told him in broken words, but with sufficient clearness, of her first meeting with Clement, of the gun-shot by the brook, of her narrow escape and the meetings that had ensued. Once, in a burst of rage, he interrupted her. “The rascal! Oh, the d—d rascal!” he cried, and she flinched. But she went on, telling him of Clement’s resolve that he must be told, of that unfortunate meeting with him on the road, and then of that second encounter the same night, when Clement had come to his rescue. There he stopped
“How do you know?” he asked hoarsely. “How do you know? How dare you say—” and now he did make a movement as if to repel her and put her from
BUT SHE would not be repulsed. She clung to him, telling him of the coat, of the great stains that she had seen upon it; and at last, “Why did you hide this?” broke from him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
She told him that she had not known, that the part which Clement had taken on that night was new to her also. That—
“But you see him?” he snarled, speaking a little more like himself. “You see him!”
“Twice only—twice only since that night,” muni she vowed. “Indeed, indeed, sir, only twice.
Once he came to speak to you and tell you, but you were ill, and I w'ould not let him. And yesterday he came to—to give me up, to say goodbye. Only twice, sir, as God sees me! Fie would not. He show'ed me that we had been wrong. He said,” sobbing bitterly, “that we must be open or—or we must be nothing—■ nothing to one another!”
“Open? Open!” the Squire almost shouted. “D—d open! Shutting the stable door when the horse is gone. D—n his openness!” And then “Good Lord! Good Lord!” with almost as much amazement as anger in his voice. That all this should have been going on and he know nothing about it! That his girl, this child as he had deemed her, should have been doing this under his very eyes! Under his very eyes! “Good Lord!” But then rage once more got the upper hand and he cursed Clement with passion, and again made as if he would rise and throw her off. “To steal a man’s child! The villain!”
“Oh, don’t call him that!” she cried. “He is good, father. Indeed, indeed, he is good. And he saved your life!”
He sat back at that, as if her words shifted
his thoughts to another matter. “Tell me again,” he said sternly, but more calmly. "He told you this tale yesterday, did he! Well, tell me as he told you, do you hear. And mind you, if you’re lying, you slut, he or you, ’twill come up! I am blind and you may think to deceive me now as you have deceived me before—” “Never, never again, sir!” she vowed. Then she told him afresh from point to point, what she bad learned on the Sunday.
“Then the lad didn’t come up til! after?”
“Arthur? No, sir. Not till after Thomas was gone. And it was Clement who followed Thomas to Birmingham and got the money back.” For Clement had told her that also.
When she had done, the Squire leant forward and felt again for his stick as if he were now prepared for action. “Well, you begone,” he said, harshly, “you begone, now. I'll see to this.”
But, “Not till you forgive me,” she entreated, holding him close, and pressing her face against his unwilling breast. “And there’s more, there’s more, sir,” in growing agitation, “I must tell you. Be good to me. Oh, be good to me! Forgive me and help him.”
“Help him!” the Squire cried and now he was indeed amazed. “I help him! Help) the man who has gone behind my back, and stolen my girl! Help the man who— let me go! Do you hear me, girl! Let me get up, you shameless hussy!”—growing moment by moment more and more himself, as he recovered from the shock of her disclosure, and could measure its extent. “How do I know what you are? Or what he mayn’t have done to you? Help, indeed? Help the d—d rascal who has robbed me? Who has dared to raise his eyes to my girl— a Griffin? «Why—”
“He saved your life,” she cried, pleading desperately with him, though he strove to free himself. “Oh, father, he saved your life! And I do love him! I love him! If you part us I shall die!”
He could not struggle against her young strength and he gave up the attempt to free himself. He sank back in his chair. “D—n the girl!” he cried. And he sat silent, breathing hard.
A ND she—she had told him, and she still XX lived! She had told him and he had not cursed her, he had not struck her to the ground.
He had not even succeeded in putting her from him! She had told him, and HIP \yorld still moved about her, his gold watch, which lay on the table on a level with her head, still ticked, the dog still barked in the field below. Miss Peacock’s voice could still be heard, invoking Calamy’s presence. She had told him, and he was still her father, nay, if she was not deceived— he was more truly her father, nearer to her, more her own, than he had ever been before.
Presently, “Ovington’s son! Ovington’s son!” he muttered in a tone of wonder.
“Good God! Couldn’t you find a man?”
“He is a man,” she pleaded, “indeed, indeed, he is!”
“Ay, and you are a woman!” bitterly.
“Fire and tow! A few kisses and you are aflame for him. For shame, girl, for shame! And how am I to be sure it’s no worse? Ain’t you ashamed of yourself?”
She shivered, but she was silent.
“Deceiving your father when he was blind!”
She clung to him. He felt her trembling convulsively.
After that he sat for a long time as if exhausted, suffering her embrace, and silent save when at rare intervals an oath broke from him, or, in a gust of passion, he struck his hand on the arm of his chair. Once,
“My father would há' spurned you from the house,” he cried, “you jade!” She did not answer and, a new idea striking him, he sat up sharply. “But what? What the devil is all this about? What’s all this, if it’s over and—and done with?” His tone was almost jubilant. “If he’s off with it? Maybe, girl, I’ll forgive you, bad as you’ve been—if that's so? Do you say it’s over?” “No, no, no!” she cried. “He came—”
“You told me -”
“He came yesterday to say goodbye to me, because—” and then in words the most moving that she could find, words sped from her heart, winged by her love, she explained Clement’s errand, the position at the bank, the crisis, the menace of ruin, the need of help.
”1 'HE Squire listened—listened in seeming patiénce, A his business instincts aroused, until he grasped her meaning. Then he struck his hand on the table. “And he thought that I should help!” he cried, with grim satisfaction. “He thought that, did he?” And he would not listen to her protests that it was not Clement,
that it was not Clement, it was she v. ho“He thought that? I see it now, I see it all! But the fool, the fool, to think that! Why, I wouldn’t stretch out my little finger to save his father from hell! And he thought that? He took me for as big a fool as the silly girl he had flattered and lured, and thought he could use to save them from perdition? As if he had not done me harm enough! As if he hadn’t stolen my daughter from me. he’d steal my purse! Why he must be the most dd impudent, cunning thief that ever trod shoe leather. He must be a cock of a pretty hackle indeed. He should go far with the nerve he has! I should think so! My daughter first and my purse afterwards! This son of an upstart whose grandfather would have sat in my servant’s hall, he’d steal my—”
“No, no!” she protested.
“Yes, yes! Yes, yes! But he’ll find ihat; he’s got not a g’rl to deal with now! Help him? Save his bank? Pi nek him from the debtor’s prison he’s due to rot in? Why, I’ll see him—in hell first!”
She had risen and moved from him. She was standing on the other side of the table now. “He saved your life!” she said. And she, too, was changed. She spoke with something of his passion. “He saved your life!”
she repeated, and she stamped her foot on the floor.
“Well, the devil thank him fo • it!” the Squire cried with gusto. “And you,” with fiesh anger, “do you begone, girl! Get out of my room, before you try my patience too far!” He waved his stick at her. Go, or 1 11 call up Calamy and have you put out! Do you hear! Do you hear? You ungrateful, shameless girl1 Go!
She had fancied victory, incredible, unhoped-for victory to be almost within her grasp; and lo, it was dashed from her hand, it was farther from her than ever. And she could do no more. Courage, strength, hope were spent, shaken as she was by the emotions of the past hour. She could do no more; a little more and he might strike her. She crept out weeping, and went, blinded by her tears, up the stairs, up, stair by stair, to hide herself in her room. There had been a moment when she had fancied that he was melting, but all had heen in vain. She had come close to him, but in the end he had put her from him. He had thrust her farther from him than before. Her only consolation, if consolation she had, was that she had spoken, that the truth was known, that
she had no longer she had failed.
any secret to weigh her down. But
A/fEANWHILE the old man, left to himself, sat for a A’A time, deeply moved. He breathed quickly, wiping his brow from time to time, with a hand that trembled. For some minutes it was upon the last and the least unwelcome aspect of the matter that he dwelt. So that was the point of it all. was it? That was the end and the aim of this clandestine, this disgraceful intrigue. This conspiracy! They had made this silly woman-child, soft like all her sex, their puppet. And using her, they had thought that he. too. might be drawn into their game and used and exploited for their profit. But they had been mad, mad, as they would learn, to think it. They must have been mad to dream of it. Or desperate. Ay, that must be it. Desperate!
BUT as he grew cooler, and the first instinct, so natural in him, to pin his enemies and shake them, began to lose its force, less pleasant aspects of the matter rose before him. For the girl and her nonsense and her bad. bad behaviour—he did not tell himself, he would not allow, that it was that which hurt him most. On the contrary he affected to put that from him—for the time. He told himself and strove to believe that he could deal with it easily, when it pleased him. He could put an end to that folly. Girls were only girls and she’d forget. He would deal with that later.
But Arthur’s five thousand, that would be lost, confound it, if the girl’s story were true. Five thousand! It was a fine sum and a d—d pity! The Squire's avarice rose in arms as he thought of it. Five thousand! And that silly woman. Arthur's mother—he would have to provide for her. She would be penniless, almost penniless.
And Arthur himself? Confound him, what had the lad been doing? Why had he been silent about the Bank’s difficulties, and the peril in which his money stood? Why, it was only two days ago that he had denied the existence of any peril. And then again what was this story about that unlucky night which had cost him his sight? If it really was young Ovington who had come to his rescue and beaten Thomas off, why had not Arthur said so? Why had he never let fall a single word about him, never mentioned the young fellow’s name, never given him the credit that—that was certainly due to him, rogue though he was, if this story were true. There was something odd about that; the Squire moved uneasily in his chair. Something underhand and—and fishy! He had a glimpse of Arthur in a new light, and he did not like what he saw’.
He liked it almost less, if that were possible, than he liked another thing—the idea that this young Ovington’s silence was creditable to him. If it were indeed he who had done the thing, why had he kept quiet all this time, and never even said “I did it?” If a gentleman had behaved after that fashion, —the Squire would have known what to think of it. But that, this low-bred young cub, «'ho had behaved so disgracefully to his daughter, should bear himself in that way—no, he was not. going to believe it. After all, the world wasn’t turned up-side down to that extent.
No! For in his association with the girl, the young scamp had shown what he was—a sneaking, underhand, interloping puppy. As he thought of it, the veins swelled on the Squire’s forehead and he shook with rage. His girl! Again and again he cursed the man who had dared to raise his eyes to a Griffin— who had stolen his child’s heart from him. No fate, no punishment, no lot was too bad for such a one. Help him! Help him, indeed!
The Squire laughed mirthlessly at the notion.
A ETER that there only remained his daughter to XX think of, and as he came back to her and to her share in this, more, far more than he wished, recurred to his memory; her prayers and her pleading, her caresses, her clinging arms, the tears that had fallen on hls hands, her warm, slender body pressed against him. He could not get the sound of her voice out of his ears, nor the touch of her hand, nor the feel of her body from his memory. Words that she had used returned and beat on his old heart, and beat and beat again, tormenting him. trying him, softening, ay, softening him. Hr thought of the boy, dead these many years at Alexandria, and. yes, she was all he had, all. And he must thwart her, he must make her unhappy. It was his duty. She no« not what she asked. And she hud behaved ill, ay. vor>
But on that, with a vividness, which the reflection had never assumed before for the old man like other old men, did not feel old he saw that he had but a wry short snan to live a year or two. or it might he three or four. The last page of his life was nil hut turned, the book was
near its end. Two or three years and all that he treasured would be hers. Even now he was dependent on her for care and affection, and to the last he must be dependent. A little while and she would be alone, her own mistress; and he who had ruled his lands and his people for more than half a century would be a memory. A memory of what?
Again, and yet again, ho felt her arms about his knees, her little head pressed against his breast. Again and yet again her Lears, her prayers beat upon his heart. She was a silly woman-child, a fool; but a dear fool, made dear to him in the very hour of her misbehaviour. It vais his duty to deny her. It was for him to order, for her to obey. And yet “He saved your life!” that cry so oft repeated, so often dinned into his ears, that, too, came back to him. And before he was aware of it he w'as wondering what manner of man this young fellow was, what spell he had wrought about the girl, whence his power over her.
And why had the man been silent about that night? And had he in truth intended to beard him and claim her in the road that morning? When they met? He remembered it.
The son of that man, Ovington! It could hardly be worse. And yet “He saved your life!” The Squire could not get over that—if it W'ere true. If it were really true.
He thought long upon it, forced out of the usual current of his life. Miss Peacock, bringing up his frugal luncheon, found him silent, sunk low in his chair, his chin upon his breast. So he appeared when any one stole in during the next two hours, to attend to the fire or to light his pipe.
Calamy, safe outside the door, uttered his misgivings. “It’s the torpor,” he told Miss Peacock, shaking his head. “That’s how it takes them before the end, Miss.
I’ve seen it often. The torpor! He’ll not be long now!”
Miss Peacock scolded the butler, but was none the less impressed, and presently she sought Josina, who w'as lying down in her room with a headache. She imparted her fears to the girl, and Jos rose unwillingingly, and bathed her face and tidied her hair, and by and by came out. She must take up the burden of life again.
D Y THAT time Miss Peacock had disappeared,
AJ and Josina went down alone. Half way dow'n the upper flight, she halted; she heard a slow, heavy step descending the stairs below her.
She looked down the well of the staircase, and to her astonishment she saw her father going down before her, stair by stair, his hand on the rail, a paper and his stick in the other hand. It was not the first time that he had done such a thing, but hitherto some one had always gone with him, to aid him should aid be necessary.
Josina’s first impulse was to hurry after him, but seeing the paper in his hand and recognising, as she fancied, the agreement that he had signed on the Saturday, she followed him softly, without: letting him know that she was there. He reached the foot of the staircase and with an accustomed hand he groped for and found the door of the dining-room. He pushed open the door and went in. He closed the door behind him, and distinctly the house was very quiet, it was the dead of the afternoon—she heard him turn the key in the lock.
1 hat alarmed her, for if he fell or met with an accident, there would be a difficulty in assisting him. She moved to the door and listened. She heard him passing slowly and carefully across the floor, and heard the table creak under his hand, as he reached it. A moment later her ear caught the jingle of a bunch of keys.
His visit had a purpose then. He might be going to deposit the lease, but she could not imagine where. His papers were in his own room or in his bedroom. And Calamy had the wine, it could not be that he wanted. For a moment her thoughts reverted to her own trouble and she sighed his errand could hardly have to do with that. Then she caught again the jingle of keys, and disturbed and anxious she listened, her head bent low. What could he be doing? And would he be able to find the door again?
Presently the silence was broken by an oath, followed by a rustling sound -apparently he was handling papers. This lasted for quite a minute, and then there came from the room a strange, half-strangled cry, inexpressibly painful, a cry that stopped the beating of her heart. Instantly she seized the handle of the door and turned it! shook it. But the door, as she had supposed, was locked and terrified, she cried “Father! Father! What is it? What is it?” She beat on the door.
He did not answer, but she heard him coming towards her, hastily, at random, striking against the table, overturning a chair. She trembled for him; he might fall, he might fall at any moment, and the door was locked! But he did not fall. He reached the door, and turned the
key. The door opened. She saw him, and turned white.
Her fears had not been baseless. The light in the doorway was poor on that cheerless December day, but it was enough to show her the Squire’s face distorted and drawn, altered bysomestrangeshoek. And he was shaking in all his limbs. The moment that she touched him he gripped her arm, and "Come here!” he ordered, his voice hoarse “Lock the door, girl!” And, when she had done this, “You see that cupboard?
You see it?”
CHE was alarmed, for, whatever might be its cause, ^ she felt that the excitement under which he laboured was dangerous for him. But she had her wits about her, and she nerved herself to do what he wanted. She saw the open cupboard, of the existence of which she had had no knowledge, but in her alarm on his account, she showed no surprise. “Yes, I see it, sir,” she said. She put his arm through hers, striving to calm him by her pre-
He drew her across the room till they stood before the cupboard. “Do you see a box? Do you see a box?” he demanded, hardly able to articulate the words in his haste. “Ay? Then do you look in it, girl! Look in it. What is there in it? Tell me, girl. Tell me, quick! What is in it?”
The box, its lid thrown open, stood on the shelf before him, and he laid his trembling hand on it. She looked into it—it was of no great size. “It is empty, sir,” she said.
“Empty? Quite empty?” His voice rose on the words.
“Yes, sir, quite empty.”
“Nothing in it?” desperately. “Are you sure, girl? Can you see nothing? Nothing?”
“Nothing, sir, I am quite sure,” she said. “There is nothing in it.”
“No, sir, no papers.”
An idea seemed to strike him. “They may ha’ fallen on the floor,” he gasped. “Look! Look all about, girl' Look! Ah,” and there was something like agony in the cry, “Curse this blindness! I am helpless, helpless as a child! Can you see no papers—on the floor, wench? Thin papers they are? No’ Nor on the shelv-
There is the lease you signed on Saturday.
“For God’s sake, make no mistake, make no mistake, prl!” he cried in irrepressible agitation. “Look! Look em over. Two papers—thin papers—no great size they are.”
No, sir, I can see none.”
Convinced at last, he uttered an exceeding bitter cry,
a cry that went to the girl’s heart. “Then he has robbed me!” he said. “He has robbed me! A Griffin, and he has robbed me! Get—get me a chair, girl.”
Horrified, she helped him to a chair and he sank into it, and with a shaking hand he sought for his handkerchief and wiped the moisture from his lips. Then his hands fell until they rested on his lap, his chin sank on his breast. Two tears ran down his withered cheeks. “A Griffin!” he whispered. “A Griffin. And he has robbed
TN ALDERSBURY there had been a simmer¡ng of excitement through all the hours of that Monday. At the corner of the Market Place on which the little statue of the ancient Prince looked down, in the shops on Bride Hill, in the High street, under the shadow of St. Juliana’s, knots of people had gathered, discussing, some with scared faces and low voices, others with the gusto of unconcern, the rumours of troubles that came through from Chester, from Manchester, from the capital; that fell from the lips of guards at inn-yards, and leaked from the boots of coaeh; ; ’ es before the Lion.
Gibbon’s, one of the chief banks at Birmingham, had closed its doors, Garrard’s had stopped payment at Hereford, there was panic on the stones in Manchester, a bank had failed at Liverpool. It was reported that a director had hanged himself, a score had fled to Boulogne, dark stories of ’15 and ’93 wrere revived. It was asserted that the Bank of England had run out of gold, that cash payments would be again suspended. In a dozen forms these, and wilder statements, ran from mouth to mouth, gathered weight as they went, blanched men’s faces and turned traders’ hearts to water. But the worst, it was agreed, would not be known until the afternoon coaches came in and brought the mails from London. Then—ah, then, people would see what they would see!
Idle men, with empty pockets, revelled in news which promised to bring all to their level. And malice played its part. Woiley, who knew that he would be sold up within the fortnight and had little but a debtor’s prison in prospect, was iii town and talking, bent on revenge. The few who had already withdraw» their accounts from Ovington’s were also busy; foxes who had lost their tails, they felt themselves marked men until others followed their example. Meanwhile, Purslow, and such as were in his case, lay low, sweated in their shop-parlours, conned their ledgers with haggard faces, or snarled at their women-folk. Gone now was the pride in stock and scrip and bounding profits! Gone even the pride in a directorship.
Purslow, perhaps, more than anyone, was to be pitied. A year before he had been prosperous, purse-proud, free from debt, with a good business. Now his every penny was sunk in unsaleable securities, his credit was pledged to the bank, his counter was idle, while trade creditors, whom in the race for wealth he had neglected,.were pressing him hard. Worst of all, he did not know where he was to turn to obtain even the small sum needed to pay the next month’s wages.
But though the pot was boiling in Aldersbury as elsewhere, it did not at once boil over. The day passed without any serious run on either of the banks. Men were alarmed, they got together in corners, they whispered, they marked with jealous eyes who entered and who left the banks. They muttered much of what they would do on the morrow, or when the London mail came in, or when they had made up their minds. But to walk into the bank, and face the clerks and do the deed required courage; and for the most part they were not so convinced of danger, or fearful of loss, as to be ready to face the ordeal. They might draw their money, and look foolish afterwards. Consequently they hung about, putting off the act, waiting to see what others would do. The hours slipped by, and the excitement, grew, but still they waited, watching one another; doing nothing but prepared at any moment to rush in and trample one another down in their panic.
Dl r though this was the general attitude and the Monday passed without a run of any consequence, a. certain number of accounts were closed, apd the excitement abroad boded ill for the morrow. It waxed, rather than waned, as the day wore on and Ovington's heart would have been heavy and his apprehensions keen if the one had not been lightened and the other dispersed by the good news which Arthur had brought from Garth that morning—the almost incredibly good news!
Aldersbury, however, was in ignorance of that news, nearly as it affected it, and when Clement issued from the, bank a few minutes after the doors had dosed, there were still knots of people hanging about the corners of
the Market Place. He viewed them with a sardonic eye, and could afford to do so; for his heart was light like his father’s, and he could smile at that -which, but for the good news of the morning, would have chilled him with apprehension. He turned from the door, intending to seek the river-bank, and late as it was to get a breath of air after the confinement of the day. But his intention was never carried out, for he had not gone half-a-dozen yards down the street, before his ear caught the sound of a horse breasting the hill at unusual speed; and something in the pace at which it approached warned him of ill. He waited, and his fears were confirmed, for the vehicle, a rapidly driven gig, drew up at the door of the Bank, and the driver, a country lad, began to get down. Clement retraced the half-dozen steps that he had taken.
The horse’s flanks were heaving, it hung its head. It had been driven hard.
“Who is it you want?’’ he asked.
The lad sat down again in his seat. “Be Mr. Arthur here, sir?” he inquired.
“Ay, sure, sir.”
“No, he is not.”
“Well, I be to follow ’ee wheresomever he be, axing your pardon!”
“I’m afraid you can’t do that, my lad,” Clement explained. “He’s gone to London. He went by coach this morning.”
The lad scratched his head. “O lord!” he said. “What be I to do? I was to bring him back whether or no. Squire’s orders.”
“Ay, sure, sir. He’s in a taking, and mun see him, whether or no! Mortal put about he were!”
Clement thought rapidly, the vague alarm which he had felt taking solid shape. What if the Squire had repented of his generosity? What if the help, heaven-sent, beyond hope and beyond expectation, which had removed their fears, were to fail them after all? Clement’s heart sank. “Who sent you?” he asked. “The young lady?”
“Ay, sure. And she were in a taking, too. Crazy she were.”
Clement leapt to a decision. He laid his hand on the rail of the gig. “Look here,” he said. “You’d better take me out instead, and at any rate I can explain.”
“But it were Mr. Arthur—”
“I know, but he’s half way to London, by now. And he won’t be back till Thursday.”
HE CLIMBED up, the lad accepted his decision and turned the horse. They trotted down the hill between the dimly lighted shops, past observers who recognised the Garth gig, by groups of men who loitered and shivered before the tavern doors.
They swung sharply into Maerdol, where the peaks of the gables on either hand rose against a pale sky, and a moment later they were crossing the bridge and felt the cold waft of the river breeze on their faces. Two minutes saw them trotting steadily across the open country, the lights of the town left behind
Clement sat silent, lost in thought, wondering if in going he were doing right, and fearing much that the Squire had repented of his generosity and was minded to recall it. If that were so, the awakening from the hopes that he had raised, and the dream of security in which they had lost themselves, would be a cruel one. Clement shrank from thinking what its effect would be on his father, whose relief h'ad betrayed the full measure of his fears.
And his own (asp was hardly better, for it was not only his fortune that was at stake, and that he had thought 8aved. He had given
rein also to his hopes. He had let them carry him far, very far; into a roseate country where the sun shone and Josina smiled, and—
But here they were at the bridge. The cottages of the hamlet showed here and there a spark of light. They turned to the left and five minutes later, the horse quickening its pace as they approached its stable, they were winding up the sunken drive under the stark limbs of the beeches. The house stood above them, a sombre pile, its chimneys half obscured by the trees.
Heavily Clement let himself down, to find Calamy at his elbow. The man had been waiting for him in the dimly-lighted doorway. “Mr. Bourdillon has gone to London,” Clement explained. “I have come instead if I can be of any use.” Then he saw that the butler did not know him, and “I am Mr. Clement Ovington,” he added. “You’d better ask your master if he would like to see me?”
“There’s times when the devil’d be welcome,” the man replied bluntly. “It’s tears and lamentations and woe in the house this night, but God knows what it’s all about, for I don’t. Come in, come in, sir, in Heaven’s name, but I’m fearing it’s little good. The devil has us in his tail, and if the master goes through the night—but this way, sir. This way!”
HE OPENED a door on the left of the hall, pushed the astonished Clement into the room, and, over his shoulder, “Here’s one from the Bank, at any rate,” he proclaimed. “Maybe he’ll do.”
Clement took in the scene as he entered, and drew from it an instant impression of ill. The room was lighted only by a pair of candles, the slender flames of which were reflected, islanded in blackness, in the two tall windows that stared bald and uncurtained on the night. The fire, a mere pile of wood ashes, neglected or forgotten, was almost out, and beside it, a cupboard-door gaped wide open. A chair lay over-turned on the floor, and in another sat the Squire, gaunt and upright, muttering to himself and gesticulating with his stick, while over him, her curls falling about her neck, her face tragic and tear-stained, hung Josina, her shadow cast grotesquely on the wall behind her. She had a glass in her hand, and by her on the table, from which the cover had fallen to the floor, stood water and a medicine bottle.
In their absorption neither of the two had heard Calamy’s words, or noticed his entrance; and for a moment Clement stood in doubt, staring at them, and feeling that he had been wrong to come. The trouble, whatever it was, could not be what he had feared. Then, as he moved, half-minded to withdraw before he had been seen, Josina heard him, and turned. In her amazement, “Clement!” she cried. “You!”
The Squire turned in his chair. “Eh, what?” he ex-
claimed. “Who’s there? Who is it? Has he come?” The girl hesitated. The hand that rested on the old man’s shoulder trembled. Then—oh, bravely, she took her courage in her hands, and “It is Clement, who has come,” she said—acknowledging him so firmly that Clement marvelled to hear her.
“Clement?” the old man repeated the word mechanically; and for a moment, it was plain, he sought in his mind, who Clement might be. Then he found the answer, and “One of them, eh?” he muttered—but not in the voice that Clement had anticipated. “So he won’t face me, eh? Cow’ard as well as rogue, is he? And a Griffin! My God, a Griffin! So he’s sent him?” “Where is Arthur?” Josina asked.
“He left for London this morning. By the coach.” “Ay, ay,” the Squire said. “That’s it.”
Clement plucked up courage. “And hearing that you wanted him,” he.continued, “and as he could not come, I came to explain. I feared from what the messenger said that there was something amiss.”
“Something amiss!” the Squire muttered in an indes. cribable tone. “That’s what he calls it! Something
CELEMENT looked from one to the other. “If there ; is anything I can do?”
“You? Why you be one of them!”
“No!” Josina interposed, almost sharply. “No, father. He has no part in it! I swear he has not!”
But, “One of them! One of them!” the Squire repeated in the same stubborn tone, yet without lifting his
“No!” Josina repeated as sharply as before. And the hand that rested on her father’s shoulder slid round his neck. She held him half embraced. “But he may tell you what has happened. He may explain, sir?”
“Explain!” the Squire muttered. Contempt could go no farther.
“Shall I tell him, sir?”
“You’re a fool, girl! The man knows.”
“I am sure he does not!” she said.
Again Clement thought that it was time to interpose. “Indeed, I do not, sir,” he said. “I am entirely in the dark.” In truth, hearing the girl call him so boldly by his name, and seeing before him the unfamiliar room, the dark, staring windows, and the old man so unlike himself, and so like King Lear or some figure of tragedy, he was tempted to think the scene a dream. “If you will tell me what is the matter, perhaps I can help? Arthur left this morning for London. He went to raise the money with which he was entrusted—”
“Entrusted?” the Squire cried with something of his old energy. He raised his head and struck the floor with his stick. “Entrusted? That’s what you call it, is it?”
Clement stared. “I don’t understand,” he
"What did he tell you?” Josina asked impatiently. “For heaven’s sake speak, Clement. Tell us what he told you?”
“Ay,” the Squire chimed in. “Tell us how you managed it. Now it’s done, let’s hear it.” For the time scorn, a weary kind of scorn, had taken the place of anger and subdued him to its level.
But Clement was still at sea. “Managed it?” he repeated. “What do
“Tell us, tell us! From the beginning!” Jos cried, at the end of her patience. “About this money? What did Arthur tell you? What did he tell you -this morning?” **
MpHEN for the first A time Clement saw what was in question. His troubled eyes took in the open cupboard door, and he braced himself to meet the shock which he foresaw’. “He told us,” he said, “what Mr. Griffin had consented to do. That he' had Continued on page 44
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given him securities for twelve thousand pounds for the use of the bank and to support its credit. He had the Stock with him, and he received from the bank, in return for it, an undertaking to replace the amount two months after date with interest at seven per cent. It was thought best that he should take it to London himself, as it was so large a sum and time was everything; and he went by the coach this morning—to realise the money.”
Josina shivered. “He took it without authority,” she said, her voice low.
“He stole it,” the Squire said, “out of that cupboard.”
“Oh, but that’s impossible, sir!” Clement replied with eagerness. He was relieved for he thought that he saw light. He recognised the Squire’s condition, and he fancied that his memory, if not his mind, had given way. He had forgotten what he had done. That was it. “That’s impossible, sir,” he repeated firmly. “He had a proper transfer of the stock— India Stock it was—signed and witnessed and all in order.”
_ “Signed and witnessed?” the Squire ejaculated. “Signed and — signed your grandmother! So that’s your story, is it? Signed and1 witnessed, eh?”
But Clement was beginning to be angry. “Yes, sir,” he said. “That, is our story and it is true.” He thought that he had hit. on the truth and he clung to it. The Squire had signed and the next minute had forgotten the whole transaction--Clement had heard of such cases. “He had the transfer with him,” he continued, “signed by you and witnessed by himself and—and Miss Griffin. I saw it myself. I saw the signatures and I have seen yours, sir, often enough on a cheque to know it. The transfer was perfectly in order.”
“In whose favour, young man?” “Our brokers, sir.”
The Squire flared up. “I did not sign it!” he cried. “It’s a lie, sir, I signed nothing! Nothing!”
But Josina intervened. She saw, poor girl, light. “Yes,” she said, “my father did sign something—on Saturday
after dinner. But it was a lease. 1 and Arthur witnessed it.”
“And what has that to do with it?” the Squire asked with passion. “What the devil has that to do with it? I signed a lease and—and a counterpart. I— I signed no transfer of stock, never put hand to it! Never! What has the lease to do with it?”
But Josina was firrn. “I am afraid I see now, sir,” she said. “You remember that you signed a paper, as well, to try your pen? And I signed it too, father, by mistake? You remember? Ah!” with a gesture of despair, “if I had only not signed it!”
The Squire groaned. He, too, saw it now. He saw it, and his head sank on his breast. “Forger as well as thief!” he muttered. “And a Griffin!”
CLEMENT’S heart sank too, as he met the girl’s anguished eyes, and he contemplated the Squire’s bowed head and the shame and despair that clothed themselves in an apathy so unlike the man. He saw that here was a tragedy indeed; a tragedy fitly framed in that desolate room with its windows staring on the night, and its air of catastrophe; a tragedy passing bank failures or the loss of fortune. And in his mind he cursed the offender.
But even as the words rose to his lips, doubt stayed them. There was, there must be some mistake. The thing could not be. He knew Arthur, he thought that he knew Arthur; he knew even the darker side of him, his selfishness, his lack of thought for others, his desire to get on and to grow rich. But this thing, Arthur never could have done! Clement recalled his gay, smiling face, his frank bearing, his care-free eyes, the habit he had of casting back a lock from his brow. No, he could not have done this thing. “No, sir, no,” he cried impulsively. “There is some mistake! I swear there is! I am sure of it.” “You’ve the securities?”
“Yes, but I am sure—”
“You’re all in it,” the Squire said drearily. And then with returning energy and in a voice quivering with rage, “He’s learned this at your d—d counter, sir! That’s where it is. It's like to like, that’s where it is! Like to like! I might ha’known it when the lad sethis mind on leaving our ways and taking up with yours! I might ha’ known that that was the blackest day our old house has ever seen -when he left the path his fathers trod and chose yours. You can’t touch pitch and keep your hands clean. You ha’ stole my daughter—damn you, sir! And you ha’ taught him to steal my money. I mind me I bid your father think o’ Fauntleroy, but I never thought he was breeding up a Fauntleroy in my house.” And striking the table with a spurt of his old vitality, “You are thieves! Thieves; all o’ you! And you ha’ taught my lad to thieve!”
“That is act true!” Clement cried. “Not a word of that is true!”
“You ha’ stole my daughter!” Clement winced and was silent. She had told him, then.
“And now you ha’ stole my money!” “That at least is not true!” He held up his head. He stepped forward and laid his hand on the table. “That is not true,” he repeated firmly. “You do not know my father, Mr. Griffin, though you may think you do. He would see the Bank break a hundred times, he would see every penny pass from him before he would do this that you say has been done. Your nephew told us what I have told you, and we believed him—naturally we believed him. We never suspected. Not a suspicion crossed my father’s mind or mine. We saw the certificates, we saw the transfer, we knew your handwriting. It was in order, and —”
“And you thought -you ha’ the impudence to tell me that you thought that I should throw thousands, ay, thousands upon thousands into the gutter —to save your bank?”
“We believed what we were told,” Clement maintained. “Why not as you put the question, sir? Your nephewhad five thousand pounds at stake. His share in the Bank was at stake. He knew as well as we did that with this assistance the Bank was secure. We supposed that for his sake and the sake of his prospects—”
“I don’t believe it!” the Squire retorted. “I’ll never believe it. Your father’s a trader! I know ’em and what
their notion of honesty is. And you tell
“I tell you that a trader is nothing if he be not'honest!” Clement cried hotly. “Honesty is to him what honour is to you, Mr. Griffin. But we’ll leave my father’s name out of this, if you please, sir. You may say what you like of me. I have deserved it.”
“No,” said Josina.
“Yes, I have deserved it, and I am ashamed of myself—and proud of myself. But my father has done nothing and known nothing. And for this money, when he learns the truth, Mr. Griffin, he will not touch one penny of it with one of his fingers. It shall be returned to you, every farthing of it, as soon as we can lay our hands on it. Every penny of it shall be returned to you at once!” “Ay,” drily, “when you have had the use of it!”
“No, at once! Without the loss of an
“You be found out,” said the old man bitterly. “You be found out! That’s it!”
CLEMENT read an appeal in Josina’s eyes and he stayed the retort that rose to his lips. “At any rate the money shall be restored,” he said. “At once. I will start for town to-night and if I can overtake—” he paused, unwilling to utter Arthur’s name—“if I can overtake him before he transfers the stock, the securities shall be returned to you. In that case no harm will be done.” “No harm!” the Squire ejaculated. He raised his hand and let it fall in a gesture of despair. “No harm?”
But Clement was determined not to dwell on that side of it. “If I am not able to do that,” he continued “the proceeds shall be placed in your hands with out the delay of an hour. In that case you must let the signature pass—as good,
“Never!” the old man cried, and struck his hand on the table.
“But after all it is yours,” Clement argued. “And you must see, sir—” “Never! Never!” the Squire repeated passionately.
“You will not say that in cold blood.” And from that moment Clement took a higher tone, as if he felt that, strange as the call was, it lay with him now to guide this unhappy household. “You have not considered, Mr. Griffin,” he continued, “before you do that, what the consequence may be. If you deny your signature, and any one, the India House or any one who stands to lose, steps may be taken which may prove fatal. Fatal! A point may be reached beyond which even your influence, sir, and all you may then be willing to do, may not avail to save your nephew.”
THE Squire groaned. Clement’s
words called up before him and before Josina not only the thing which Arthur had done but the position in which he had placed himself. In this room, in this very room in which men of honour, dull and prejudiced, perhaps, but always men of honour, and proud of their honour, had lived and moved for generations, he, their descendant, had done this thing. The beams had stood, the house had not fallen on him. But to Josina’s eyes the candles seemed to burn more mournfully, the windows to stare more darkly on the night, the ashes on the hearth to speak of desolation and a house abandoned and forlorn.
Clement hoped that his appeal had succeeded, but he was disappointed. The old man in his bitterness and unreason was not to be moved at any rate at once. He would listen to no arguments, and he suspected those who argued with him. "I’ll never ucknowledge it!” he said. “No, I’ll never acknowledge it. I’ll not lie for him, come what may! He has done the thing and disgraced our blood, and what matter who knows it—he has done it! He has made his bed and must lie on it! He went into your Bank and learned your tricks, and now you’d have me hush it up. But I won’t, damn you! I’ll not lie for you, or for him!”
Clement had a retort on his lips— for what could be more unfair than this? But again Josina’s eyes implored him to be silent and he crushed hack the words. He believed that the Squire would see the thing differently by and by, but for the moment he could do no more, and he turned to the door. There, in the doorway and for one
I moment, Josina’s hands met his, she had one word with him. “You will save him if you can, Clement?’’ she breathed.
“I will save him,” he promised her, "if I can.”
IK THE news which Arthur had conveyed to the bank on that Monday morning had been much to Clement, it had been more to his father. It had brought to Ovington immense relief, at the moment when he had least reason to expect it.
It was relief, it was salvation. And that evening as the Banker sat after his five o’clock dinner and sipped his fourth and last glass of port—for as the times went he was abstemious—and basked in j the genial heat of the fire, while his daughter knitted on the farther side of j the hearth, he owned himself a happy man. He measured the danger, he winced at the narrow margin by which he had escaped it, but he had escaped!
Dean’s, staid, long established, slowgoing Dean’s, which had viewed his notes askance, had doubted his stability and predicted his failure, Dean’s, which had slyly put many a spoke in his wheel, would not triumph. Nay, after this would not he, too, rank as sound and staid and well-established, he who had also ridden out the storm? For in crises men and banks aged rapidly; they were measured rather by events than by years. Those who had mistrusted him would mistrust him no longer, those who had dubbed him new would now count him old. As he stretched his legs to meet the genial heat, and sank lower in his chair he could have purred in his thankfulness. Things had fallen out well, after all; he saw rosy visions in the fire. Ten years would hardly have gained for him the confidence that he might look to gain from this. Schemes which had lain dormant in his mind, awoke. His London agents had failed, but others would compete for his business, and on better terms.
The Squire who had so marvellously come to his aid would bring back his account, and his example would be followed. He would extend, ay, he would extend, opening branches at Bretton and Monk’s Castle and Blankminster. The railroad? He was not quite sure what he would do about the railroad; possibly he might decide that the time was not ripe for it, and in that case he might wind up the company, return the money and himself meet the expenses already incurred. The loss would not be great, and the effect would be prodigious. It would be a Napoleonic stroke—he would consider it. He lost himself in visions of prosperity.
A ND it would all be for Clement and ■C*Betty; not for himself. He looked across the hearth at the girl who sat knitting under the lamp-light, and his eyes caressed her, his heart loved her. She would make a great match. Failing Arthur—and of late Arthur and she had not seemed to hit it off—there would be others. There would be others, well-born, who would be glad to take her and her dowry. He saw her driving into town in her carriage, with a crest on the panels. She—
It was she who cut short his thoughts! She looked at the clock. “I can’t think where Clement is,” she said. “You don’t tjdnk that there is anything wrong, dad?” Wrong? No,” he answered. “Why /„mould there be?”
“But he disappeared so strangely. He said nothing about missing his dinner.” “He was to check some figures with Rodd this evening. He may have gone to his rooms.”
“But—without his dinner?” she demurred.
The banker, however, was not in the mood to trouble himself about trifles. The lamp shone clear and mellow, the fire crackled pleasantly, a warm comfort wrapped him round, the port had a flavour that he had not perceived in it of late. Instead of replying to Betty’s question he measured the decanter with his eye, der-v?ej it was a special occasion and tilled himself another glass. “Ovington’s Bank” he said as he raised it to his lips. But that to which he really drank was the home that he saw about him, saved from ruin, made secure once more.
Betty smiled. “You’re relieved tonight, dad?” she said.
“Well, I am, Betty,” he admitted. “Yes.
“And that queer old man! I wonder,” as she turned her knitting on her knee,
“why he did it.”
“Yes, 1 wonder. I suppose for Arthur’s sake. He’d have lost pretty heavily—for
“But you didn’t expect that Mr. Griffin would come forward?”
The banker allowed it. “No, indeed,” he said, “I don’t know that lever expected anything less. Such things don’t happen, my girl, very often. But he will be no loser, and 1 suppose Arthur convinced him of that. He is shrewd, and, once convinced, he would see that it was the only thing to do.”
“But not many people would have been
“No, that’s true.”
Betty knitted awhile. “I thought that he hated the bank?”.she said presently; and she paused to rub her chin with a needle.
"He does—and me. But he loves his money, my dear.”
“Still it isn’t his. It is Arthur’s.”
“True. But he’s a man who cannot bear to see money lost. He thinks a good deal of it.”
“He is not alone in that,” Betty said. “Sometimes I feel that I hate money! People grow so fond of it. They think only of themselves, even when you’ve been ever so good to them, dad.”
“Well, it’s human nature,” the banker replied equably. “I don’t know who it is that you have in your mind, but it applies to most people.” He was going to say more when the door opened.
“Mr. Rodd is here, asking for Mr. Clement, sir,” the maid said. “He was to meet him at half after six, and—”
“Ask Mr. Rodd to come in.”
THE cashier entered shyly. In his dark suit, with his black stock and stiff carriage, he made no figure, where Arthur, or even Clement, would have shone. But there were women in Aldersbury who said that he had fine eyes, eyes with something of a dog’s gentleness in them; and Arthur so far agreed that he dubbed him a dull, mechanical dog, and often made fun of him, as such. But perhaps Arthur did not always see to the bottom of things.
Ovington pushed the decanter and a glass towards him. “A glass of wine, Rodd,” he said genially. He was not of those who under-valued his cashier, though he knew his limitations. “The Bank!” he said.
“And those who have stood by it!” Betty added softly.
Rodd drank the toast with a muttered
“Mr. Rodd has not the same reason to be thankful that we have,” Betty continued carelessly, holding her knitting up to the lamp.
“Why not?” Her father did not under-
“Why,” innocently, as she lowered the knitting again, “he does not stand to lose anything, does he?”
“Except his place,” the cashier objected,
his eyes on his glass.
“Just so,” Ovington rejoined. “And then,” moved to unusual frankness, “we should have been all out together. And Rodd might not have been the worst off, my girl.”
“Exactly,” Betty said. “I’m sure that he would take care of that.”
The cashier opened his mouth to speak, but checked himself and drank off his wine. Then, as he rose, “If you know where Mr. Clement is, sir—”
“I don’t. I can’t think what has become of him,” the banker explained. “He went out about, four, and since then— hallo! That’s some one in a hurry. It sounds like a fire.”
A vehicle had burst in on the evening stillness and was clattering at a reckless pace up Bride Hill. It passed the bank, it rattled noisily round the corner of the Market Place, and pounded away down the High Street.
“More likely some one hastening to get out of danger,” said Betty. “A sauve qui peut, Mr. Rodd—if you know what that means.”
The clerk, a flush on his cheek, avoided the question. “It might be some one trying to catch the seven o’clock coach, sir,” he said.
“Very likely, and if so he’s failed, for he’s coming back again. Ay, here he comes. He’s stopping here, by Jove! I hope that nothing’s wrong.”
The vehicle had stopped abruptly before the house, and Ovington rose. They heard someone alight on the pavement, a latch-key was thrust into the door. “It’s Clement!” the banker exclaimed, his eyes on the door. “I hope he does not bring bad news! Well, lad?” as Clement in his overcoat, his hat on his head, appeared in the doorway. “What is it? Is anything
“Very much wrong!” Clement replied curtly, and he closed the door behind him. He was pale and his splashed coat and his neckshawl tied awry, no less than his agitated face, confirmed their fears.
“Out with it, lad! What is it?” his father said, fearing he knew not what.
“Bad news, sir!” was the answer. “I’m sorry to say I bring bad news! Very bad'”
“That loan of Mr. Griffin’s—”
“The twelve thousand? Yes?” anxiously. “Well?”
“It’s a fraud, sir. A cursed fraud!”
There was a tense silence. Then “Impossible!” Ovington exclaimed. But he grasped a chair to steady himself. His face had turned grey.
^ “The Squire knows nothing of it!” Clement said, striking his open hand on the back of a chair. “He never signed the transfer! He never gave any authority for the loan!”
“Oh, no, that’s impossible!” Ovington straightened himself with a sigh of relief. What mare’s nest, what bee in the bonnet was this? The lad was dreaming, must be dreaming. “Impossible!” he repeated, “I saw it, man, and read it! And I know' the old man’s signature as wel! as I knowmy own. You must be dreaming.”
“I am not, sir!” Clement answ'ered, and added bitterly, “It was Arthur was dreaming! Dreaming or worse, d—n him!” the pent up excitement of the evening finding vent at last, and the sight of his father’s stricken face whetting his rage. “He has robbed—ay, robbed his uncle, and dishonoured us! That is what he has done, sir. I am not dreaming! I w>ish to Heaven I were!”
The Banker no longer protested. “Well —tell us!” he said weakly.
“It’s hard on you— sir—” k “Never mind me! Tell me w’hat you
They stood about Clement, amazed, and shocked, fearing the worst and yet incredulous, while he, his weary face and travel-stained figure at odds with the lighted room and the comfort about him, told his story. The banker listened. He still hoped, hoped to detect some flaw, to perceive some misunderstanding—so
much, so very much hung upon it. But even on his mind the truth at last forced itself, and monstrous as the story, incredulous as Arthur’s action still appeared, he had at least to accept it and its consequences—its consequences!
He seemedto grow years older, as he listened, and when Clement had done, and the w-hole shameful story w-as told, he made no comment. The position, indeed, was no worse than it had been twentyfour hours before. He might still hope, against hope, that by putting a bold face on matters, and by a dexterous use of his resources he might ride out the storm. But the reaction from a triumphant confidence was so sudden, the failure of his recent expectations so overwhelming, that even his firm spirit yielded. He sank into his chair. Betty laid her hand on his shoulder and w'hispered some word of comfort in his ear, but he said nothing.
TT WAS Clement w-ho spoke the first JW'ord. “I am going after him,” he said, his tone hard and practical. “I have thought it out, and by postingall night I may be in London by noon tomorrow and I may intercept him either at the brokers’ or at the India House before he has sold the Stock. In that case I may be in time to stop him.”
“Why?” the Banker asked, looking up. “What have wre to do with him? Why should we stop him?”
“For our own sakes as well as his,” Clement answered. “For our own good name which is bound up with his. Think, think, sir, of the harm it will do us, if there is a prosecution—and the old man swears that he will not acknowledge the signature. Besides,” looking away, “I have promised to stop him—if I can. If I am too late to do that, and he has sold the stock, I can get possession of the money, and it must be our business to return it to the owner without the loss of an hour. Of
an hour, sir'“ Clement repeated earnestly. “We must repudiate this transaction from the outset. We must wash our hands of it at once, if it be only to clear our own name."
The banker looked dazed. “But,” he said as if his mind were beginning to work again, “why should we—take all this trouble?” He hesitated, then he began again. “We have done nothing. We are innocent. Why should we—"
“Ay, or be in such a hurry to return the money? It is no fault of ours, if it does come to our hands. And, remember, if it lies with us only a week,” he looked at his son, his face troubled, “only a week, the position is such—”
But, “No, no, no!” Clement cried, and for once he spoke peremptorily. “Not for a day, father, not for an hour! And when you have thought it over as I have, when you have had time to think it over, you will see that. You’ll be the first, the very first to see that. And to say that we must have no part or share with Bourdillon in this; that if we must go down we will go down with clean hands. To avail ourselves of this money, even for a day, and though it would save the bank twice over, would be to make us accomplices—” The Banker stood up. “Right!” he said. “You are right, lad!” He drew a deep breath, the colour returned to his face. He laid his hand on Clement’s shoulder. “You are quite right, my boy, and I wasn’t myself when I said that. You shall have no reason to blush for your father. You are quite right. We will repudiate the transaction from the first. We will have neither act nor part in it. We will return the money at once the moment it comes into your hands!”
"Thank God, sir,” Clement said, “that you see it as I do.”
"I do, I do! The money shall be paid over at once, though the shutters go up in the next hour. And we must fight our battle as we must have fought it, if this had never happened.”
“With clean hands at any rate, sir.” “Yes, lad, with clean hands, at any rate.”
“Oh, father, that’s splendid!” Betty cried, and she pressed herself against him. “But as for Clement going, he must be worn out. Could not Mr. Rodd go?” “Rodd will be of more use to you here,” Clement said 'You will be short-handed
“We shall pay out the more slowly,” the banker answered, with rather grim humour.
“And I doubt besides,” said Clement, “if Bourdillon would listen to Rodd.”
“Will he listen to you?”
“He will have to, or face the consequences!” And Clement looked as if he meant it; a hard Clement this with a new note in his voice. “From the India House to Bow Street is not very far and he will certainly go to Bow Street—or the Mansion House—if he does not see reason. But he will.”
“He will, or he may, if you are with him before he parts with the securities. But from this to noon to-morrow—sixteen hours? You will not do it in that, lad, at night? Winter time, too? You’ll never
BUT Clement averred that he would— in thirteen hours with good luck. It was for that reason he bad gone straight to the Lion and ordered a chaise for eight o’clock and sent on word by the seven o’clock coach for a relay to be ready at the Heygate Inn. He had also asked them at the Lion to pass on word by any chaise starting in front of him. “So I hope for two or three stages I shall find the horses ready,” he concluded. “Betty, pack up some food for me, that’s a good girl. I’ve only twenty minutes.”
“And your travelling cloak?” she cried. “I’ll air it.”
“You must eat something now,” said his father.
“Yes, I will. And, Rodd, do you get me the Bank pistols, and see that they are loaded!”
The banker nodded. “Yes, you’d better take them,” he said. “It’s an immense sum—if you bring it back. Tt. would be a terrible business if you were robbed.”
“Ay, for then we should share the blame,” Clement said drily. “That wouldn’t do, would it? But let me get the money, and I’ll not be robbed, sir.” They broke up, hurrying to and fro on their several errands, the banker fetching
money for the journey, Rodd loading the pistols, Betty setting food before the traveller and cutting sandwiches for the journey, Clement himself making some change in his dress. For ten minutes a cheerful stir reigned in the house. But Ovington, though he yielded to this and watched his son at his meal and filled his glass, and played his part, did but feign. He knew that within a few minutes the door would close on Clement, the house would relapse into silence, the lights would go out, and he would be left to face the failure of all the hopes and plans and expectations which he had entertained through the day. The odds against him, which had not seemed overwhelming twenty-four hours before, now appeared invincible and not to be resisted. He felt that the fates were against him. He had had his chance, and it had been withdrawn. As he climbed the stairs to bed, climbed them slowly and with heavy feet, he read ruin in the flame of his candle: as he undressed he heard the voices of revellers passing the house at midnight on their way from the Raven or The Talbot, and he caught derision in their tones. He fancied them talking of him, gibing at him, jeering at him, rejoicing in his fall. In bed he lay long awake, calculating, and trying to make of four, five. Could he hold out till Wednesday? Till Thursday? Or would panic running through the town on the morrow, like fire amid tinder, kindle the crowd and hurl it, inflamed with greed and fear, upon his slender defences?
He was buying honesty at a great price. But he thought of Clement and Betty and towards morning he fell asleep.
FOR a time all went well with Clement.
He found his relay waiting for him at the Heygate Inn by Wellington, where the name of the Lion was all powerful; and after covering the short stage that followed at top speed, he drove, still full of warmth and courage, into Wolverhampton, at a quarter before eleven. More than thirty miles in three hours! He met with a little delay there; the horse had to be fetched from another stable, in another street, but he got away well in the end, and ten minutes later he was driving over a land most desolate by day but by night lurid with the flares of a hundred furnace fires. He rattled up to the Castle at Birmingham by half an hour after midnight, found the house still lighted and lively, and by dint of scolding and bribing was presently on the road again with a fresh team, and making for Coventry, with every inclination to think that the difficulties of posting by night had been much exaggerated.
But here his good luck left him; at the half-way stage he met with disaster. He had passed the up-coach half an hour before, and no orders anticipated him. When he reached the Stone Bridge there were no horses; on the contrary there were three travellers already waiting there and all clamorous to get on to Birmingham. Unwarily he jumped out of his chaise, and “No horses?” he cried! “Impossible! There must be horses!”
But the ostler gave him no more than a stolid stare. “Nary a nag!” he replied coolly. “Nor like to be, master, wi’ every Quaker in Birmingham gadding up and down as if his life ’ung on it! Why if I’ve
“Quakers? What the devil do you mean?” Clement cried angrily, thinking that the man was reflecting on him.
“Well, Quakers or drab-coated gentry like yourself!” the man replied, unmoved. “And every one wi’ pistols and a moneybag! Seems that’s what they’re looking for—money, so I hear. Such a driving and foraging up and down the land these days, it’s a wonder the horses’ hoofs bean’t worn off.”
“Then,” said Clement, turning about, “I’ll take these on to Meriden.”
But the waiting travellers had already climbed into the chaise, and were in possession, and the post-boy had turned his horses. And, “No, no, you’ll not do that,” said the ostler, “custom of the road, master. Custom of the road! You must change and wait your turn.”
“But there must be something on,” Clement cried desperately, seeing himself detained here, perhaps for the whole
“Nought! Nary a hoof in the yard, nor a lad!” the man replied. “You’d best take a bed.”
“But when will there be horses?”
“May be something ’ll come in by daylight. Like enough.”
“By daylight! Oh, confound you,” cried Clement, enraged. “Then I’ll walk to Meriden.”
“Walk? Walk to—” the ostler couldn’t voice his astonishment. “Walk?”
“Ay, walk and be hanged to you!” Clement cried, and without another word, plunged into the darkness of the long straight road, his bag in his hand. The road ran plain and wide before him, he couldn’t miss it; the distance, according to Paterson which he had in his hand-bag, was no more than two miles, and he thought that he could do it in half an hour.
; DUT, once away, under the trees, -*-* under the midnight sky, in the silence and darkness of the country-side, the fever of his spirits made the distance seem intolerable. As he tramped along the lonely road, doubtful of the wisdom of his action, the feeling of strangeness and homelessness, the sense of the uselessness of what he was doing, grew upon him. At this rate he might as well walk to London! What if there were no horses at Meriden? Or if he were stayed farther up the road? He counted the stages between him and London, and he had time and enough to despair of reaching it, before he at last, at a pace of four miles an hour, strode out of the night into the semi-circle of light which fell upon the road before the Bull’s Head at Meriden. Thank • Heaven there were lights in the house, and people awake, and some hope still. Ay, more than hope, for almost before he had crossed the threshold a sleepy Boots came out of the bar and met him, and “Horses? Which way, sir, up? I’ll ring the Ostler’s bell, sir.”
Clement could have blessed him. “Double money to Coventry if I leave the door in ten minutes!” he cried, taking out his watch. And ten minutes later— or in so little over that time as didn’t count—he was climbing into a chaise and driving away—so well organised after all, and all defects counted, was the posting system that at that time covered England. To be sure he was on one of the great roads, and the Bull’s Head at Meriden was a house of fame.
I_I E HAD availed himself of the interval 11 to swallow a snack, and a glass of brandy and water, and he was the warmer ] for the exercise and in better spirits;
I pluming himself a little, too, on the resolution which had plucked him from his difficulty at the Stone Bridge. But he had lost the greater part of an hour and the docks at Coventry were close on three when he rattled through the narrow twisted streets of that city. Here, early as w-as the hour, he caught rumours of the panic, and hints were dropped by the night-men in the inn-yard—in sly reply perhaps to his injunctions to be quick—of desperate men hurrying to and fro, and buying with gold the speed that meant fortune and life to them. Something was said of a banker who had shot himself at Northampton—or was it Nottingham? Of London runners who had passed through in pursuit of a defaulter. Of a bank that had stopped, “up the road.” “And there’ll be more before all’s over,” said his informant darkly. “But it’s well to be them while it lasts! They’ve money i to hurn it seems.”
.j 'Clement wondered if this was an ally fusion to the crown-piece that he had - offered. At any rate the ill-omened tale haunted him, as he left the city behind him, and after passing under the Cross on Knightlow Hill, and over the Black Heath about Dunsmoor, committed himself to the long monotonous stretch of road, which, unbroken by any striking features and regularly dotted with small towns that hardly rose above villages, extended dull mile after mile to London, j The rumble of the chaise and the exerj tions he had made began to incline him to sleep, but the cold bit into his bones, his feet were growing numb, and as often as he nodded off in his corner, he slid down and woke himself. Sleet too was beginning to fall, and the ill-fitting windows leaked, and it was a very morose person who turned out in the rain at Dunchurch.
However, luck was with him, and he got on without delay to Daventry, and had to be roused from sleep when his post-boy pulled up before the famous old Wheat-sheaf that, wakeful and alight, was ready with its welcome. Here cheer-
ful fires were burning and everything was done for him. A chaise had just come in from Towcester. The horses’ mouths were washed out while he swallowed a crust and another glass of brandy and water, the horses were turned round, and he was away again. He composed himself, shivering, in the warmer corner and, thanking his stars that he had got off, was beginning to nod, when the chaise suddenly tilted to one side and he slid across the seat. He sat up in alarm and felt the near wheels clawing at the ditch, and thought that he was over. A moment of alarm, and through the fog that dimmed the window-panes, bright lights blazed above him and, it seemed, on the top of him, and the down Mails thundered by, coach behind coach, three coaches, the road quivering beneath them, the horses cantering, the -guards replying with a volley of abuse to the post-boy’s shout of alarm. Huge lighted monsters, by night the bullies of the road, they were come and gone in an instant, leaving him staring with dazzled eyes into the darkness. But the shave had not bettered his temper, the stage seemed a long one, the horses slow, and he was fretting and fuming mightily, and by no means as grateful as he should have been for the luck that had hitherto attended him, when at last he jogged into Towcester.
ALAS, the Inn here was awake, indeed, in a somnolent, grumpy fashion, but there were no horses. “Not a chance of them!” said the sleepy Boots, flicking a dirty napkin towards the Coffee Room. “There are two business gents waiting already to get on—life and death, ’cording to them! They’re going up same way as you are and they’ve first call. And there’s a gentleman and his servant for Birmingham—down, they are, and been waiting since eleven o’clock and swearing tremendous.”
“Then I’ll take mine on!” Clement said, and whipped out into the night and ran to his chaise. But he was too late. The gentleman’s servant had been on the watch, he had made his bargain and stepped in, and his master was hurrying out to join him. “The devil!” cried Clement, now wide awake and very angry. “That’s pretty sharp!”
“Yes, sir, sharp’s the word,” said the Boots flippantly. It was evident that night work had made him a misanthrope or something else had soured him. “They be no good for Brickhill, anyway. It’s a long stage. You’ll take a bed?”
“Bed, be hanged!” said Clement, wondering what he should do. This seemed to be a dead stop and very black he looked. At last, “I’ll go to the yard,” he said.
“There’s nobody up. You’d best—” and again the Boots advised a bed.
“Nobody up? Oh, hang it!” said Clement, and stood and thought, very much at a standstill. What could he do? There was a clock in the passage. He looked at it. It was close on six and he had nearly sixty miles to travel. Save for the delay at the Stone Bridge, he had done well. He had kept his post-boys up to the mark, he had spared neither money nor prayers, nor,-it must be added, curses. He had done a very considerable feat, the difficulties of night posting considered. But he had still fifty-eight miles before him, and if he could not get on now, he had done nothing. He had only wasted money. “Any up-coach due?”
“Not before eight o’clock,” said the Boots cynically. “Reaches the Saracen’s Head, Snowhill, at three-thirty. You are one of these moneyed gents, I suppose? Things is queer in town, I hear, crashes and what not, something terrible, I am told. Blue ruin and worse. The master here,” becoming suddenly confidential, “he’s for it. It’s U-p with him! They seized his horses yesterday. That’s why?” he winked mysteriously towards the silent stables. “Wouldn’t trust him and couldn’t send a bailiff with every team. That’s why?”
“Who seized them?” Clement asked, listlessly. But he awoke a second later to the meaning of his words.
“Hollins, Church-farm yonder. Bill for hay and straw. D’you know him?” “No, but—here! d’you see this?” Clement plucked out a crown-piece, his eyes alight. “Is there a post-boy here? That’s the point? Asleep or awake? Quick, man?”
“A post-boy? Well! there’s old Sam, he can ride. But what’s the use of a postboy when there’s no horses?”
“Wake him! Bring him here,” Clement
retorted, on fire with an idea, and waving the crown-piece. “D’you hear? Bring him here and this is yours. But sharp’s the word. Go, go, and get him, man—it will be worth his while. Haul him out! Tell him he must come! It’s money, tell
'T'HE Boots caught the infection and 1 went, and for three or four minutes Clement stamped up and down in a fever of anxiety. By and by the post-boy came, half dressed; sulky and rubbing his eyes. Clement seized him by the shoulders, shook him, pounded him pounded his idea into him, bribed him. Five minutes later they were hurrying towards the Church, passing here and there a yawning labourer plodding through tie darkness to his work. The farmer a* Hollins’ was dressing and opened his window to swear at them, and at th no’se the dogs were making But, “Three pounds! Three pounds for horses to Brickhill!” Clement cried. The proper charge was twenty-six shillings at the eighteen-penny night scale, and the man listened. “You can come with me and keep possession!” Clement urged, seeing that he hesitated. “You run no risk! I’ll be answerable.” Three pounds was money, much money in those days. It was good interest on his unpaid bill and Mr. Hollins gave way. He flung dowm the key of the stables, and hurrying down after it, helped to harness the horses by the light of a lanthorn. That done, however, the good man took fright at the novelty, almost the impudence of the thing, and demanded his money. “Half now, and half at Brickhill,” Clement replied, and the sight of the cash settled the matter. Mr. Hollins opened the yard gate and two minutes later they were off, the farmer’s wife staring after them from the door-way, and, with a leaning to the safe side, shrilly stating her opinion that her husband was a fool and would lose his nags.
“Never fear,” Clement said to the man. “Only don’t spare them! -Time is money to me this morning.”
Fortunately, the horses had done no work the previous day and had been well fed. They were fresh, and the old postboy feeling himself in luck and exhilarated by what he called “as queer a start as ever was,” was determined to merit the largest possible fee. The farmer, as they whirled down Wind-Mill Hill at a pace that carried them over the ascent and past Plum Park, fidgeted uneasily in his seat, fearing broken knees, and what not; but seeing that, the postboy steadied his pair and knew his business, he grew reconciled. As far as Stony Stratford the road was with them, and thence to Fenny Stratford they pushed on at a good pace.
It was broad daylight by now, the road was full of life and movement, they met and passed other travellers.
THE daylight completed the reassurance of Mr. Hollins. He could see his man now and, judging him to be good for the money, he gave way to greed and proposed to run the horses on to Dunstable. Clement thought that he might do worse and agreed, merely halting for five minutes at the George at Brickhill, to administer a quart of ale apiece to the nags, and to take one themselves. Then they pressed on to Dunstable which they reached at half-past eight.
Even so, Clement had still thirty miles to cover. But the post-boy, a good fellow with his heart in the game, had ridden in, waving his whip and shouting for horses, and his good word spread like magic. Two minutes let the yard know that here was a golden customer, an out-and-outer; and almost before Clement could swallow a cup of scalding coffee, and pocket a hot roll, he had wrung the man’s hand, fee’d old Sam to his heart’s content, and was away again, on the ten mile down-hill stage to St. Albans. They cantered most of the way, the postboy’s whip in the air and the chaise running after the horses, and did the distance triumphantly in forty-three minutes. Then on, with the reputation of a good paymaster, to Barnet —Barnet that seemed to be almost as good as London.
Luck could not have stood by him better, and now the sun shone, they raced with taxed-carts, and flashed by sober clergymen, jogging along on their hacks. The midnight shifts to which he had been put, the despairing struggle about Meriden and Dunchurch, were a dream. He
was in the fair-way now, though the pace was not so good, and the hills, with windmills atop, seemed to be placed on the road at intervals on purpose to delay him. Still he was near the end of his journey and he began to consider all the alternatives to success, all the various ways in which he might still fail. He might miss Bourdillon; he began to be sure that he would miss him. Either he would be at the India Office when Bourdillon was at the brokers’, or at the brokers’ when he was at the India Office; and, failing the India Office or the brokers’, he had no clue to him. Or his quarry would have left town already with the treasure in his possession. Or they might pass one another in the streets, or even on the road. He would be too late and he would fail, after all his exertions. He began to feel sure of it.
At the Green Man at Barnet he got into his last chaise, and they pounded down five miles of a gentle slope, then drove stoutly up the hill to Highgate. By this time the notion that Bourdillon would pass him unseen had got such hold upon him—though it was the unlikeliest thing in the world that Arthur arriving in town by the coach at nine o’clock, could have got through his business thus early—that his eyes raked every chaise they met, and a crowded coach by which they sped, as it lumbered up the southern side of the hill, filled him with the darkest apprehensions. Had he given a moment’s thought to the state of the Market, to the pressure of business which it must cause, and to the crowd, gr edy for transfers, in which Arthur must take his turn, he would have seen that this fear was groundless.
T_T OWEVER, the true state of things was presently brought home to his mind. He had directed the post-boy to take him direct to the brokers in the City, and he had hardly penetrated the streets, exchanging the pleasant country roads of Highbury and Islington, with their villas and cow-farms, for the noisy, dirty thoroughfares of North London,before he was struck by the evidences of excitement that met his eyes. Lads, shouting raucously, ran about the busier streets, selling broad-sheets, which were fought for and bought up with greedy haste. A stream of walkers, with their faces set one way, hastened along almost as fast as his post chaise. Busy groups stood at the street corne's, debating and gesticulating. As he advanced still farther and crossed the boundary and began to thread the narrow streets of the City—it wanted a few minutes of noon—he found himself hampered, and almost stopped by the crowd that thronged the roadway, and seemed in its preoccupation to be insensible to the obstacles that barred its way and into which it cannoned at every stride.
And still, with each yard that he advanced, the press increased. The signs of ferment became more evident. Distracted men, hatless and red-hot with haste, regardless of everything but the errand on which they were bent, sprang from offices, hurled themselves through the press, leaped on their fellows’ backs, tore on their way; while those whom they had maltreated did not even look round, but continued their talk, unaware of the outrage. Some pushed through the press, so deep in thought that they saw no one and might have walked a country lane; while others, meeting as by appointment, seized one another, shook one another, bawled in each other’s faces as if both had become suddenly deaf. And now and again the whole tormented mass, seething in the narrow lanes or narrower alleys, swayed this way or that under the influence of some unknown, mysterious impulse, some warning, some call to action.
Clement had never seen anything like it and he viewed it, appalled, his ears deafened by the babel, or pierced by the shrill cries of the news-sellers, who constantly bawled “Panic! Great panic in the City! Panic! List of Banks closed!” He had heard, as he changed at Barnet, that fourteen banks in the City had shut their doors but he had not appreciated the fact. Now he was to see with his owp eyes shuttered windows and barred doors, with great printed bills affixed to them, and huge crowds at gaze before them, groaning and hooting. Even the shops bore singular and striking witness to the crisis, for in Cheapside every other window exhibited a card stating that they would accept bank-notes to any extent and for goods to any amount—a courageous attempt to restore public confidence, which deserv-
ed more success than it had; while there, and on all sides, he heard men execrating the Bank of England and loudly proclaiming—though this was not the fact— that it had published a notice that it could no longer pay cash.
HERE was panic, indeed, here was an appalling state of things! And very low his heart sank, as the chaise made a few yards, stopped, and advanced again. What chance had Ovington’s, what hope of survival had their little venture, when the very credit of the country tottered, and here in the heart of London age-long institutions with vast deposits and forty or fifty branches were toppling down on all sides? When merchant princes with tens of thousands in sound but unsaleable securities could do nothing to save themselves, and men of world-wide fame, the giants of finance, went humbly, hat in hand, to ask for time?
Stranded, or moving at a snail’s pace, he caught scraps of the talk about him. Smith’s in Mansion House Street had closed its doors. Everett and Walker’s had followed Pole’s into bankruptcy. Wentworth’s at York had failed for two hundred thousand pounds. Telford’s at Plymouth had been sacked by an angry mob. The strongest bank in Norwich was going or gone. The Bank of England had paid out eight millions in gold within the week—and had no more. They were paying in one pound notes now, a set found God knows how, in the cellars it was said. The tellers were so benumbed with terror that they could not separate them or count them.
For the moment he forgot Arthur and Arthur’s business, and thought only of his father and of their own plight. “We are gone!” he reflected, his face almost as pale as the faces in the streets. “We are ruined. There is no hope. When this reaches Aldersbury we must close!” And he could not longer bear the inaction. He could not sit still. He paid off the chaise —with difficulty owing to the press—and pushed forward on foot. But his mind still ran on Aldersbury, was still busy with the fate of their own bank.
HE HAD by this time fought his way as far as the end of Cheapside and here, where the roar was loudest and the contending torrents mingled their striving masses, where the voices of the news-boys were shrillest and the timid stood daunted while even strong men paused, before the human whirlpool into which they must plunge, Clement’s eye was caught by a side-scene which was passing in the street beside the Mansion House. Raised above the crowd on the steps of a large building a haggard man was making an announcement—but in dumb show for no word could be heard even by those who stood beside him, and his meaning could be deduced only from his gestures of appeal. The lower windows of the house were shuttered, and the upper exhibited many broken panes; but behind these and the cornice of the roof, showed here and there a pale frightened face peering down at the proceedings below. From the crowd, collected before the haggard man, rose a continuous roar of protest, a forest of menacing hands, shrill cries and curses, and now and again a missile, which falling absurdly short—for in that press no man could swing his arm—still bore witness to the malice that urged them. Nearer to Clement on the skirts of the throng, where they could see little and were perpetually elbowed by impatient passers-by, loitered a few who at a first glance, seemed to be uninterested—so apathetic were their attitudes, so absent was their gaze. But a second glance disclosed the truth. They were men whom the tidings of ruin, sudden and unforeseen, had stunned, spiritless and despairing, seeing only the home they had forfeited and the dear ones they had beggared, they stood in the street, blind and deaf to what was passing about them, and only by the mute agony of their eyes, betrayed the truth.
The sight wrung Clement’s heart with pity, and he seized a newslad by the arm. “What is that place?” he shouted in his ear. In that babel no man could make himself heard without shouting.
The man looked at him suspiciously. “Yar! Yer kidding!” he said. “Yer know as well as me!”
Clement shook him in his impatience. “No, I don’t,” he shouted. “I’m a stranger! What is it, man? A bank?” “Where d’yer come from?” the lad retorted as he twisted himself free. "It’s
Everett’s, that’s what it is! They closed an hour ago! Might as well ha’ never
He went off hurriedly, and Clement went too, plunging into the maelstrom that divided him from Cornhill. But as he buffeted his way through the throng, the faces of the ruined men went with him, coming between him and the street; and with a sinking heart he fancied that he read written on them, the fate of Ovington’s.
IT WAS to Clement’s credit that, had his object been to save his father’s bank, instead of to do that which might deprive it of its last hope, he could not have struggled onward through the press more stoutly than he did. But though the offices for which he was bound, situate in one of the small courts north of Cornhill, were no more than a third of a mile from the point at which he had dismissed his chaise, the city-clocks had struck twelve when at last, wresting himself from the human flood, which panic and greed were driving through the streets, he turned into this quiet backwater.
He stood a moment to take breath and adjust his dress, and even in that brief interval he discovered that the calm was but comparative. Many of the windows which looked on the court were raised, as if the pent-up emotions of their occupants craved air and an outlet even on that December day; and from these and from the open doors below, issued a dropping fire of sounds, the din of raised voices, of doors recklessly slammed, of feet thundering on bare stairs, of harsh orders. Clerks rushing into the court, hatless and demented, plunged into clerks rushing out equally demented, and flew on their course without look or word, as if unconscious of the impact. From a lighted windowmany were lit up for the court was small and the day foggy— a hat, even as Clement stood, flew out and bounded on the pavement. But no one heeded it or followed it, and it was a mere clerk, who came hurrying out a little less recklessly than his fellows, whom Clement, after a moment’s hesitation, seized by the arm. “Mr. Bourdillon here?” he asked imperatively—for it was clear that in no other way could he gain attention.
“Mr. Bourdillon!” the man snapped. “Oh, I don’t know! Here, Cocky Sands! Attend to this gentleman! Le’ me go! Le’ me go, do you hear!”
He tore himself free, and was gone while he spoke, leaving Clement to climb the stairs. At their head he encountered another clerk whom he supposed to be “Cocky Sands,” and he attacked him. “Mr. Bourdillon? Is he here?” he asked.
But Mr. Sands eluded him, shouted over his shoulder for ‘ ‘Tom!’ ’ and clattered down the stairs. “Can’t wait!” he flung behind him. “Find some one!”
However, Clement lost nothing by this, for the next moment one of the partners appeared on the landing. Clement knew him, and “Is Mr. Bourdillon here?” he cried for the third time, and he seized the broker by the button-hole. He, at any rate, should not escape him.
“Áír. Bourdillon?” The broker stared, in the attempt to recall his thoughts; and from the way in which he wiped his bald and steaming head with a yellow bandanna it was plain that he had just got something of moment off his mind. “Pheugh! What times!” he ejaculated, fanning himself and breathing hard. “What a morning! You’ve heard, I suppose? Everett’s are gone. Gone within the hour, d—n them! Oh, Bourdillon? It was Bourdillon, you asked for? To be sure it’s Mr. Ovington, isn’t it? I thought so, I never forget a face, but he didn’t tell me that you were here. By Jove!” He raised his hands— he was a portly gentleman, in a satin under-vest and pins and chains innumerable, all at this moment a little out of place and awry. “By Jove, what a find you have there! Slap, bang, and up to the mark, and no mistake! Hard and sharp as nails! I take off my hat to him! There’s not afirm,” mopping his heated face anew, “within half a mile of us that wouldn’t be glad to have him! I’ll take my Davy there are not ten men in country practice could have pushed the deal through, and squeezed eleven thousand in cash out of Snell & Higgins on such a day as this! He’s a marvel, Mr. Ovington! You can tell your father I said so, and I don’t care who—” “But is he here?” Clement cried, dancing with impatience. “Is he here, man?” “Gone to the India House this—” he looked at his watch—“this half hour, to
complete. He had to drop seven per cent, for cash on the nail—that, of course! But he got six thousand odd in Bank paper, and three thousand in gold, and I'm damned if any one else would have got that to-day, though the stuff he had was as good as the ready in ordinary times. My partner’s gone with him to Leadenhail Street to complete—glad to oblige you, for God knows how many clients we shall have left after this—and they’ve a hackney coach waiting in Bishopsgate and an officer to see them to it. You may catch him at the India House, or he may be gone. He’s not one to let the grass grow under his feet. In that case—” “Send a clerk with me to show me the office!” Clement cried. “It’s urgent, man, urgent! And I don’t know my way inside the House. I must catch him.” “Well, with so much money—here, Nicky!” The broker stepped aside to make room for a flustered client who came up the stairs three at a time. “Nicky, go with this gentleman! Shew him the way to the India House. Transfer—Letter G! Sharp’s the word. Don’t lose time, Coming! Coming!” to some one in the office. “My compliments to your father. He’s one of the lucky ones, for I suppose this will see you through. It’s Boulogne or this—” he made as if he held a pistol to his head—“for more than I care to think of!”
DUT Clement had not waited to hear -*-* the last words. He was half way down the stairs with his hand on the boy’s collar. They plunged into Cornhill, but the lad, a London-bred urchin, did not condescend to follow the street for more than twenty yards or so. Then he dived into a court on the same side of the way, crossed it, threaded a private passage through some offices and came out in Bishopsgate Street. Stemming the crowd as best they could, they got over this and by another alley and more offices the lad convoyed his charge into Leadenhall
Street. A last rush saw them landed, panting and with their coats well-nigh torn from their backs, on the pavement on the south side of the street; in front of the pillared entrance and beneath the colossal Britannia, that far above their heads and flanked by figures of Europe and Asia, presided over the fortunes of the greatest trading company that the world has ever seen. Through the doors of that building, now, alas, no more, had passed all the creators of an Oriental empire, statesmen, soldiers, merchant princes, Clive, Lawrence, Warren Hastings, Cornwallis. Yet to-day the mention of it calls up as often the humble figure of a black-coated, white cravated clerk with spindle legs and a big head; who worked within its walls and whom Clement, had he come a few months earlier, might have met issuing from its doors.
Here Clement, had he been without a guide, would have wasted precious minutes. But the place had no mysteries for the boy, even on this day of confusion and alarm. Skilled in every twist and turning, he knew no doubt. “This way,” he snapped, hurrying down a long passage which faced the entrance, and appeared to penetrate into the bowels of the building. Then, “No! Not that way, stupid! What are you doing?”
But Clement’s eyes, as he followed his leader, had caught sight of a party of three, who, issuing from a corridor on the right at a considerable distance before them, had as quickly disappeared down another on the left. The light was not good, but Clement recognised one of them, and, “There he is!” he cried in excitement. “He has gone down there! Where does that lead to?”
“Lime Street entrance!” the lad replied curtly, and galloped after the party, Clement at his heels. “Hurry!” he threw over his shoulder, “or they’ll be out, and by gum, you’ll lose him! Once out and we’re done, Sir!”
To be Continued