A PERILOUS SECRET
BY CHARLES READE
AUTHOR OF "HARD CASH" "PUT YOURSELF IN HIS PLACE" "GRIFFITH GAUNT" "IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO MEND" ETC., ETC.
CHAPTER I. THE POOR MAN'S CHILD
CHAPTER II. THE RICH MAN'S CHILD
CHAPTER III. THE TWO FATHERS
CHAPTER IV. AN OLD SERVANT
CHAPTER V. MARY'S PERIL
CHAPTER VI. SHARP PRACTICE
CHAPTER VII. THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE
CHAPTER VIII. THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE
CHAPTER IX. LOVERS PARTED
CHAPTER X. THE GORDIAN KNOT
CHAPTER XI. THE KNOT CUT.—ANOTHER TIED
CHAPTER XII. THE CLANDESTINE MARRIAGE
CHAPTER XIII. THE SERPENT LET LOOSE
CHAPTER XIV. THE SERPENT
CHAPTER XV. THE SECRET IN DANGER
CHAPTER XVI. REMINISCENCES.—THE FALSE ACCUSER.—THE SECRET EXPLODED
CHAPTER XVII. LOVERS' QUARRELS
CHAPTER XVIII. APOLOGIES
CHAPTER XIX. A WOMAN OUTWITS TWO MEN
CHAPTER XX. CALAMITY
CHAPTER XXI. BURIED ALIVE
CHAPTER XXII. REMORSE
CHAPTER XXIII. BURIED ALIVE.—THE THREE DEADLY PERILS
CHAPTER XXIV. STRANGE COMPLICATIONS
CHAPTER XXV. RETRIBUTION
CHAPTER XXVI. STRANGE TURNS
CHAPTER XXVII. CURTAIN
A PERILOUS SECRET.
THE POOR MAN'S CHILD.
Two worn travellers, a young man and a fair girl about four years old, sat on the towing-path by the side of the Trent.
The young man had his coat off, by which you might infer it was very hot; but no, it was a keen October day, and an east wind sweeping down the river. The coat was wrapped tightly round the little girl, so that only her fair face with blue eyes and golden hair peeped out; and the young father sat in his shirt sleeves, looking down on her with a loving but anxious look. Her mother, his wife, had died of consumption, and he was in mortal terror lest biting winds and scanty food should wither this sweet flower too, his one remaining joy.
William Hope was a man full of talent; self-educated, and wonderfully quick at learning anything: he was a linguist, a mechanic, a mineralogist, a draughtsman, an inventor. Item, a bit of a farrier, and half a surgeon; could play the fiddle and the guitar; could draw and paint and drive a four-in-hand. Almost the only thing he could not do was to make money and keep it.
Versatility seldom pays. But, to tell the truth, luck was against him; and although in a long life every deserving man seems to get a chance, yet Fortune does baffle some meritorious men for a limited time. Generally, we think, good fortune and ill fortune succeed each other rapidly, like red cards and black; but to some ill luck comes in great long slices; and if they don't drink or despair, by-and-by good luck comes continuously, and everything turns to gold with him who has waited and deserved.
Well, for years Fortune was hard on William Hope. It never let him get his head above-water. If he got a good place, the employer died or sold his business. If he patented an invention, and exhausted his savings to pay the fees, no capitalist would work it, or some other inventor proved he had invented something so like it that there was no basis for a monopoly.
At last there fell on him the heaviest blow of all. He had accumulated L50 as a merchant's clerk, and was in negotiation for a small independent business, when his wife, whom he loved tenderly, sickened.
For eight months he was distracted with hopes and fears. These gave way to dismal certainty. She died, and left him broken-hearted and poor, impoverished by the doctors, and pauperized by the undertaker. Then his crushed heart had but one desire—to fly from the home that had lost its sunshine, and the very country which had been calamitous to him.
He had one stanch friend, who had lately returned rich from New Zealand, and had offered to send him out as his agent, and to lend him money in the colony. Hope had declined, and his friend had taken the huff, and had not written to him since. But Hope knew he was settled in Hull, and too good-hearted at bottom to go from his word in his friend's present sad condition. So William Hope paid every debt he owed in Liverpool, took his child to her mother's tombstone, and prayed by it, and started to cross the island, and then leave it for many a long day.
He had a bundle with one brush, one comb, a piece of yellow soap, and two changes of linen, one for himself, and one for his little Grace—item, his fiddle, and a reaping hook; for it was a late harvest in the north, and he foresaw he should have to work his way and play his way, or else beg, and he was too much of a man for that. His child's face won her many a ride in a wagon, and many a cup of milk from humble women standing at their cottage doors.
Now and then he got a day's work in the fields, and the farmer's wife took care of little Grace, and washed her linen, and gave them both clean straw in the barn to lie on, and a blanket to cover them. Once he fell in with a harvest-home, and his fiddle earned him ten shillings, all in sixpences. But on unlucky days he had to take his fiddle under his arm, and carry his girl on his back: these unlucky days came so often that still as he travelled his small pittance dwindled. Yet half-way on this journey fortune smiled on him suddenly. It was in Derbyshire. He went a little out of his way to visit his native place—he had left it at ten years old. Here an old maid, his first cousin, received Grace with rapture, and Hope pottered about all day, reviving his boyish recollections of people and places. He had left the village ignorant; he returned full of various knowledge; and so it was that in a certain despised field, all thistles and docks and every known weed, which field the tenant had condemned as a sour clay unfit for cultivation, William Hope found certain strata and other signs which, thanks to his mineralogical studies and practical knowledge, sent a sudden thrill all through his frame. "Here's luck at last!" said he. "My child! my child! our fortune is made."
The proprietor of this land, and indeed of the whole parish, was a retired warrior, Colonel Clifford. Hope knew that very well, and hurried to Clifford Hall, all on fire with his discovery.
He obtained an interview without any difficulty. Colonel Clifford, though proud as Lucifer, was accessible and stiffly civil to humble folk. He was gracious enough to Hope; but, when the poor fellow let him know he had found signs of coal on his land, he froze directly; told him that two gentlemen in that neighborhood had wasted their money groping the bowels of the earth for coal, because of delusive indications on the surface of the soil; and that for his part, even if he was sure of success, he would not dirty his fingers with coal. "I believe," said he, "the northern nobility descend to this sort of thing; but then they have not smelled powder, and seen glory, and served her Majesty. I have."
Hope tried to reason with him, tried to get round him. But he was unassailable as Gibraltar, and soon cut the whole thing short by saying: "There, that's enough. I am much obliged to you, sir, for bringing me information you think valuable. You are travelling—on foot—short of funds perhaps. Please accept this trifle, and—and—good-morning." He retreated at marching pace, and the hot blood burned his visitor's face. An alms!
But on second thoughts he said: "Well, I have offered him a fortune, and he gives me ten shillings. One good turn deserves another." So he pocketed the half-sovereign, and bought his little Grace a neck-handkerchief, blue with white spots; and so this unlucky man and his child fought their way from west to east, till they reached that place where we introduced them to the reader.
That was an era in their painful journey, because until then Hope's only anxiety was to find food and some little comfort for his child. But this morning little Grace had begun to cough, a little dry cough that struck on the father's heart like a knell. Her mother had died of consumption: were the seeds of that fatal malady in her child? If so, hardship, fatigue, cold, and privation would develop them rapidly, and she would wither away into the grave before his eyes. So he looked down on her in an agony of foreboding, and shivered in his shirt sleeves, not at the cold, but at the future. She, poor girl, was, like the animals, blessed with ignorance of everything beyond the hour; and soon she woke her father from his dire reverie with a cry of delight.
"Oh, what's they?" said she, and beamed with pleasure. Hope followed the direction of her blue eyes, open to their full extent; and lo! there was a little fleet of swans coming round a bend of the river. Hope told her all about the royal birds, and that they belonged to sovereigns in one district, to cities in another. Meantime the fair birds sailed on, and passed stately, arching their snowy necks. Grace gloated on them, and for a day or two her discourse was of swans.
At last, when very near the goal, misfortunes multiplied. They came into a town on a tidal river, whence they could hope to drift down to their destination for a shilling or two; but here Hope spent his last farthing on Grace's supper at an eating-house, and had not wherewithal to pay for bed or breakfast at the humble inn. Here, too, he took up the local paper, praying Heaven there might be some employment advertised, however mean, that so he might feed his girl, and not let the fiend Consumption take her at a gift.
No, there was nothing in the advertising column, but in the body of the paper he found a paragraph to the effect that Mr. Samuelson, of Hull, had built a gigantic steam vessel in that port, and was going out to New Zealand in her on her trial trip, to sail that morning at high tide, 6.45 A.M., and it was now nine.
How a sentence in a newspaper can blast a man! Bereavement, Despair, Lost Love—they come like lightning in a single line. Hope turned sick at these few words, and down went his head and his hands, and he sat all of a heap, cold at heart. Then he began to disbelieve in everything, especially in honesty. For why? If he had only left Liverpool in debt and taken the rail, he would have reached Hull in ample time, and would have gone out to New Zealand in the new ship with money in both pockets.
But it was no use fretting. Starvation and disease impended over his child. He must work, or steal, or something. In truth he was getting desperate. He picked himself up and went about, offering his many accomplishments to humble shop-keepers. They all declined him, some civilly. At last he came to a superior place of business. There were large offices and a handsome house connected with it in the rear. At the side of the offices were pulleys, cranes, and all the appliances for loading vessels, and a yard with horses and vans, so that the whole frontage of the premises was very considerable. A brass plate said, "R. Bartley, ship-broker and commission agent"; but the man was evidently a ship-owner and a carrier besides; so this miscellaneous shop roused hopes in our versatile hero. He rapidly surveyed the outside, and then cast hungry glances through the window of the man's office. It was a bow-window of unusual size, through which the proprietor or his employees could see a long way up and down the river. Through this window Hope peered. Repulses had made him timid. He wanted to see the face he had to apply to before he ventured.
But Mr. Bartley was not there. The large office was at present occupied by his clerks; one of these was Leonard Monckton, a pale young man with dark hair, a nose like a hawk, and thin lips. The other was quite a young fellow, with brown hair, hazel eyes, and an open countenance. "Many a hard rub puts a point on a man." So Hope resolved at once to say nothing to that pale clerk so like a kite, but to interest the open countenance in him and his hungry child.
There were two approaches to the large office. One, to Hope's right, through a door and a lobby. This was seldom used except by the habitues of the place. The other was to Hope's left, through a very small office, generally occupied by an inferior clerk, who kept an eye upon the work outside. However, this office had also a small window looking inward; this opened like a door when the man had anything to say to Mr. Bartley or the clerks in the large office.
William Hope entered this outer office, and found it empty. The clerk happened to be in the yard. Then he opened the inner door and looked in on the two clerks, pale and haggard, and apprehensive of a repulse. He addressed himself to the one nearest him; it was the one whose face had attracted him.
"Sir, can I see Mr. Bartley?"
The young fellow glanced over the visitor's worn garments and dusty shoes, and said, dryly, "Hum! if it is for charity, this is the wrong shop."
"I want no charity," said Hope, with a sigh; "I want employment. But I do want it very badly; my poor little girl and I are starving."
"Then that is a shame," said the young fellow, warmly. "Why, you are a gentleman, aren't you?"
"I don't know for that," said Hope. "But I am an educated man, and I could do the whole business of this place. But you see I am down in the world."
"You look like it," said the clerk, bluntly. "But don't you be so green as to tell old Bartley that, or you are done for. No, no; I'll show you how to get in here. Wait till half past one. He lunches at one, and he isn't quite such a brute after luncheon. Then you come in like Julius Caesar, and brag like blazes, and offer him twenty pounds' worth of industry and ability, and above all arithmetic, and he will say he has no opening (and that is a lie), and offer you fifteen shillings, perhaps."
"If he does, I'll jump at it," said Hope, eagerly. "But whether I succeed with him or not, take my child's blessing and my own."
His voice faltered, and Bolton, with a young man's uneasiness under sentiment, stopped him. "Oh, come, old fellow, bother all that! Why, we are all stumped in turn." Then he began to chase a solitary coin into a corner of his waistcoat pocket. "Look here, I'll lend you a shilling—pay me next week—it will buy the kid a breakfast. I wish I had more, but I want the other for luncheon. I haven't drawn my screw yet. It is due at twelve."
"I'll take it for my girl," said Hope, blushing, "and because it is offered me by a gentleman and like a gentleman."
"Granted, for the sake of argument," said this sprightly youth; and so they parted for the time, little dreaming, either of them, what a chain they were weaving round their two hearts, and this little business the first link.
THE RICH MAN'S CHILD.
The world is very big, and contains hundreds of millions who are strangers to each other. Yet every now and then this big world seems to turn small; so many people whose acquaintance we make turn out to be acquaintances of our acquaintances. This concatenation of acquaintances is really one of the marvels of social life, if one considers the chances against it, owing to the size and population of the country. As an example of this phenomenon, which we have all observed, William Hope was born in Derbyshire, in a small parish which belonged, nearly all of it, to Colonel Clifford; yet in that battle for food which is, alas! the prosaic but true history of men and nations, he entered an office in Yorkshire, and there made friends with Colonel Clifford's son, Walter, who was secretly dabbling in trade and matrimony under the name of Bolton; and this same Hope was to come back, and to apply for a place to Mr. Bartley; Mr. Bartley was brother-in-law to that same Colonel Clifford, though they were at daggers drawn, the pair.
Miss Clifford, aged thirty-two, had married Bartley, aged thirty-seven. Each had got fixed habits, and they soon disagreed. In two years they parted, with plenty of bitterness, but no scandal. Bartley stood on his rights, and kept their one child, little Mary. He was very fond of her, and as the mother saw her whenever she liked, his love for his child rather tended to propitiate Mrs. Bartley, though nothing on earth would have induced her to live with him again.
Little Mary was two months younger than Grace Hope, and, like her, had blue eyes and golden hair. But what a difference in her condition! She had two nurses and every luxury. Dressed like a princess, and even when in bed smothered in lace; some woman's eye always upon her, a hand always ready to keep her from the smallest accident.
Yet all this care could not keep out sickness. The very day that Grace Hope began to cough and alarm her father, Mary Bartley flushed and paled, and showed some signs of feverishness.
The older nurse, a vigilant person, told Mr. Bartley directly; and the doctor was sent for post-haste. He felt her pulse, and said there was some little fever, but no cause for anxiety. He administered syrup of poppies, and little Mary passed a tranquil night.
Next day, about one in the afternoon, she became very restless, and was repeatedly sick. The doctor was sent for, and combated the symptoms; but did not inquire closely into the cause. Sickness proceeds immediately from the stomach; so he soothed the stomach with alkaline mucilages, and the sickness abated. But next day alarming symptoms accumulated, short breathing, inability to eat, flushed face, wild eyes. Bartley telegraphed to a first-rate London physician. He came, and immediately examined the girl's throat, and shook his head; then he uttered a fatal word—Diphtheria.
They had wasted four days squirting petty remedies at symptoms, instead of finding the cause and attacking it, and now he told them plainly he feared it was too late—the fatal membrane was forming, and, indeed, had half closed the air-passages.
Bartley in his rage and despair would have driven the local doctor out of the house, but this the London doctor would not allow. He even consulted him on the situation, now it was declared, and, as often happens, they went in for heroic remedies since it was too late.
But neither powerful stimulants nor biting draughts nor caustic applications could hinder the deadly parchment from growing and growing.
The breath reduced to a thread, no nourishment possible except by baths of beef tea, and similar enemas. Exhaustion inevitable. Death certain.
Such was the hopeless condition of the rich man's child, surrounded by nurses and physicians, when the father of the poor man's child applied to the clerk Bolton for that employment which meant bread for his child, and perhaps life for her.
William Hope returned to his little Grace with a loaf of bread he bought on the road with Bolton's shilling, and fresh milk in a soda-water bottle.
He found her crying. She had contrived, after the manner of children, to have an accident. The room was almost bare of furniture, but my lady had found a wooden stool that could be mounted upon and tumbled off, and she had done both, her parent being away. She had bruised and sprained her little wrist, and was in the depths of despair.
"Ah," said poor Hope, "I was afraid something or other would happen if I left you."
He took her to the window, and set her on his knee, and comforted her. He cut a narrow slip off his pocket handkerchief, wetted it, and bound it lightly and deftly round her wrist, and poured consolation into her ear. But soon she interrupted that, and flung sorrow to the winds; she uttered three screams of delight, and pointed eagerly through the window.
"Here they be again, the white swans!"
Hope looked, and there were two vessels, a brig and a bark, creeping down the river toward the sea, with white sails bellying to a gentle breeze astern.
It is experience that teaches proportion. The eye of childhood is wonderfully misled in that matter. Promise a little child the moon, and show him the ladder to be used, he sees nothing inadequate in the means; so Grace Hope was delighted with her swans.
But Hope, who made it his business to instruct her, and not deceive her as some thoughtless parents do, out of fun, the wretches, told her, gently, they were not swans, but ships.
She was a little disappointed at that, but inquired what they were doing.
"Darling," said he, "they are going to some other land, where honest, hard-working people can not starve, and, mark my words, darling," said he—she pricked her little ears at that—"you and I shall have to go with them, for we are poor."
"Oh," said little Grace, impressed by his manner as well as his words, and nodded her pretty head with apparent wisdom, and seemed greatly impressed.
Then her father fed her with bread and milk, and afterward laid her on the bed, and asked her whether she loved him.
"Dearly, dearly," said she.
"Then if you do," said he, "you will go to sleep like a good girl, and not stir off that bed till I come back."
"No more I will," said she.
However, he waited until she was in an excellent condition for keeping her promise, being fast as a church.
Then he looked long at her beautiful face, wax-like and even-tinted, but full of life after her meal, and prayed to Him who loved little children, and went with a beating heart to Mr. Bartley's office.
But in the short time, little more than an hour and a half, which elapsed between Hope's first and second visit, some most unexpected and remarkable events took place.
Bartley came in from his child's dying bed distracted with grief; but business to him was the air he breathed, and he went to work as usual, only in a hurried and bitter way unusual to him. He sent out his clerk Bolton with some bills, and told him sharply not to return without the money; and whilst Bolton, so-called, was making his toilette in the lobby, his eye fell on his other clerk, Monckton.
Monckton was poring over the ledger with his head down, the very picture of a faithful servant absorbed in his master's work.
But appearances are deceitful. He had a small book of his own nestled between the ledger and his stomach. It was filled with hieroglyphics, and was his own betting book. As for his brown-study, that was caused by his owing L100 in the ring, and not knowing how to get it. To be sure, he could rob Mr. Bartley. He had done it again and again by false accounts, and even by abstraction of coin, for he had false keys to his employer's safe, cash-box, drawers, and desk. But in his opinion he had played this game often enough, and was afraid to venture it again so soon and on so large a scale.
He was so absorbed in these thoughts that he did not hear Mr. Bartley come to him; to be sure, he came softly, because of the other clerk, who was washing his hands and brushing his hair in the lobby.
So Bartley's hand, fell gently, but all in a moment, on Monckton's shoulder, and they say the shoulder is a sensitive part in conscious rogues. Anyway, Monckton started violently, and turned from pale to white, and instinctively clapped both hands over his betting book.
"Monckton," said his employer, gravely, "I have made a very ugly discovery."
Monckton began to shiver.
"Periodical errors in the balances, and the errors always against me."
Monckton began to perspire. Not knowing what to say, he faltered, and at last stammered out, "Are you sure, sir?"
"Quite sure. I have long seen reason to suspect it, so last night I went through all the books, and now I am sure. Whoever the villain is, I will send him to prison if I can only catch him."
Monckton winced and turned his head away, debating in his mind whether he should affect indignation and sympathy, and pretend to court inquiry, or should wait till lunch-time, and then empty the cash-box and bolt.
Whilst thus debating, these words fell unexpectedly on his ear:
"And you must help me."
Then Monckton's eyes turned this way and that in a manner that is common among thieves, and a sardonic smile curled his pale thin lip.
"It is my duty," said the sly rogue, demurely. Then, after a pause, "But how?"
Then Mr. Bartley glanced at Bolton in the lobby, and not satisfied with speaking under his breath, drew this ill-chosen confidant to the other end of the office.
"Why, suspect everybody, and watch them. Now there's this clerk Bolton: I know nothing about him; I was taken by his looks. Have your eye on him."
"I will, sir," said Monckton, eagerly. He drew a long breath of relief. For all that, he was glad when a voice in the little office announced a visitor.
It was a clear, peremptory voice, short, sharp, incisive, and decisive. The clerk called Bolton heard it in the lobby, and scuttled into the street with a rapidity that contrasted drolly enough with the composure and slowness with which he had been brushing his hair and titivating his nascent whiskers.
A tall, stiff military figure literally marched into the middle of the office, and there stood like a sentinel.
Mr. Bartley could hardly believe his senses.
"Colonel Clifford!" said he, roughly.
"You are surprised to see me here?"
"Of course I am. May I ask what brings you?"
"That which composes all quarrels and squares all accounts—Death."
Colonel Clifford said this solemnly, and with less asperity. He added, with a glance at Monckton, "This is a very private matter."
Bartley took the hint, and asked Monckton to retire into the inner office.
As soon as he and Colonel Clifford were alone, that warrior, still standing straight as a dart, delivered himself of certain short sentences, each of which seemed to be propelled, or indeed jerked out of him, by some foreign power seated in his breast.
"My sister, your injured wife, is no more."
"Dead! This is very sudden. I am very, very sorry. I—"
Colonel Clifford looked the word "Humbug," and continued to expel short sentences.
"On her death-bed she made me promise to give you my hand. There it is."
His hand was propelled out, caught flying by Bartley, released, and drawn back again, all by machinery it seemed.
"She leaves you L20,000 in trust for the benefit of her child and yours—Mary Bartley."
"Poor, dear Eliza."
The Colonel looked as less high-bred people do when they say "Gammon," but proceeded civilly though brusquely.
"In dealing with the funds you have a large discretion. Should the girl die before you, or unmarried, the money lapses to your nephew, my son, Walter Clifford. He is a scapegrace, and has run away from me; but I must protect his just interests. So as a mere matter of form I will ask you whether Mary Bartley is alive."
Bartley bowed his head.
Colonel Clifford had not heard she was ill, so he continued: "In that case"—and then, interrupting himself for a moment, turned away to Bartley's private table, and there emptied his pockets of certain documents, one of which he wanted to select.
His back was not turned more than half a minute, yet a most expressive pantomime took place in that short interval.
The nurse opened a door of communication, and stood with a rush at the threshold: indeed, she would have rushed in but for the stranger. She was very pale, and threw up her hands to Bartley. Her face and her gesture were more expressive than words.
Then Bartley, clinging by mere desperate instinct to money he could not hope to keep, flew to her, drove her out by a frenzied movement of both hands, though he did not touch her, and spread-eagled himself before the door, with his face and dilating eyes turned toward Colonel Clifford.
The Colonel turned and stepped toward him with the document he had selected at the table. Bartley went to meet him.
The Colonel gave it to him, and said it was a copy of the will.
Bartley took it, and Colonel Clifford expelled his last sentences.
"We have shaken hands. Let us forget our past quarrels, and respect the wishes of the dead."
With that he turned sharply on both heels, and faced the door of the little office before he moved; then marched out in about seven steps, as he had marched in, and never looked behind him for two hundred miles.
The moment he was out of sight, Bartley, with his wife's will in his hand and ice at his heart, went to his child's room. The nurse met him, crying, and said, "A change"—mild but fatal words that from a nurse's lips end hope.
He came to the bedside just in time to see the breath hovering on his child's lips, and then move them as the summer air stirs a leaf.
Soon all was still, and the rich man's child was clay.
The unhappy father burst into a passion of grief, short but violent. Then he ordered the nurse to watch there, and let no one enter the room; then he staggered back to his office, and flung himself down at his table and buried his head. To do him justice, he was all parental grief at first, for his child was his idol.
The arms were stretched out across the table; the head rested on it; the man was utterly crushed.
Whilst he was so, the little office door opened softly, and a pale, worn, haggard face looked in. It was the father of the poor man's child in mortal danger from privation and hereditary consumption. That haggard face was come to ask the favor of employment, and bread for his girl, from the rich man whose child was clay.
THE TWO FATHERS.
Hope looked wistfully at that crushed figure, and hesitated; it seemed neither kind nor politic to intrude business upon grief.
But if the child was Bartley's idol, money was his god, and soon in his strange mind defeated avarice began to vie with nobler sorrow. His child dead! his poor little flower withered, and her death robbed him of L20,000, and indeed of ten times that sum, for he had now bought experience in trade and speculation, and had learned to make money out of money, a heap out of a handful. Stung by this vulgar torment in its turn, he started suddenly up, and dashed his wife's will down upon the floor in a fury, and paced the room excitedly. Hope still stood aghast, and hesitated to risk his application.
But presently Bartley caught sight of him, and stared at him, but said nothing.
Then the poor fellow saw it was no use waiting for a better opportunity, so he came forward and carried out Bolton's instructions; he put on a tolerably jaunty air, and said, cheerfully, "I beg your pardon, sir; can I claim your attention for a moment?"
"What do you want?" asked Bartley, but like a man whose mind was elsewhere.
"Only employment for my talent, sir. I hear you have a vacancy for a manager."
"Nothing of the sort. I am manager."
Hope drew back despondent, and his haggard countenance fell at such prompt repulse. But he summoned courage, and, once more acting genial confidence, returned to the attack.
"But you don't know, sir, in how many ways I can be useful to you. A grand and complicated business like yours needs various acquirements in those who have the honor to serve you. For instance, I saw a small engine at work in your yard; now I am a mechanic, and I can double the power of that engine by merely introducing an extra band and a couple of cogs."
"It will do as it is," said Bartley, languidly, "and I can do without a manager."
Bartley's manner was not irritated but absorbed. He seemed in all his replies to Hope to be brushing away a fly mechanically and languidly. The poor fly felt sick at heart, and crept away disconsolate. But at the very door he turned, and for his child's sake made another attempt.
"Have you an opening for a clerk? I can write business letters in French, German, and Dutch; and keep books by double entry."
"No vacancy for a clerk," was the weary reply.
"Well, then, a foreman in the yard. I have studied the economy of industry, and will undertake to get you the greatest amount of labor out of the smallest number of men."
"I have a foreman already," said Bartley, turning his back on him peevishly, for the first time, and pacing the room, absorbed in his own disappointment.
Hope was in despair, and put on his hat to go. But he turned at the window and said: "You have vans and carts. I understand horses thoroughly. I am a veterinary surgeon, and I can drive four-in-hand. I offer myself as carman, or even hostler."
"I do not want a hostler, and I have a carman."
Bartley, when he had said this, sat down like a man who had finally disposed of the application.
Hope went to the very door, and leaned against it. His jaw dropped. He looked ten years older. Then, with a piteous attempt at cheerfulness, he came nearer, and said: "A messenger, then. I'm young and very active, and never waste my employer's time."
Even this humble proposal was declined, though Hope's cheeks burned with shame as he made it. He groaned aloud, and his head dropped on his breast.
His eye fell on the will lying on the ground; he went and picked it up, and handed it respectfully to Bartley.
Bartley stared, took it, and bowed his head an inch or two in acknowledgment of the civility. This gave the poor daunted father courage again. Now that Bartley's face was turned to him by this movement, he took advantage of it, and said, persuasively:
"Give me some kind of employment, sir. You will never repent it." Then he began to warm with conscious power. "I've intelligence, practicability, knowledge; and in this age of science knowledge is wealth. Example: I saw a swell march out of this place that owns all the parish I was born in. I knew him in a moment—Colonel Clifford. Well, that old soldier draws his rents when he can get them, and never looks deeper than the roots of the grass his cattle crop. But I tell you he never takes a walk about his grounds but he marches upon millions—coal! sir, coal! and near the surface. I know the signs. But I am impotent: only fools possess the gold that wise men can coin into miracles. Try me, sir; honor me with your sympathy. You are a father—you have a sweet little girl, I hear."—Bartley winced at that.—"Well, so have I, and the hole my poverty makes me pig in is not good for her, sir. She needs the sea air, the scent of flowers, and, bless her little heart, she does enjoy them so! Give them to her, and I will give you zeal, energy, brains, and a million of money."
This, for the first time in the interview, arrested Mr. Bartley's attention.
"I see you are a superior man," said he, "but I have no way to utilize your services."
"You can give me no hope, sir?" asked the poor fellow, still lingering.
"None—and I am sorry for it."
This one gracious speech affected poor Hope so that he could not speak for a moment. Then he fought for manly dignity, and said, with a lamentable mixture of sham sprightliness and real anguish, "Thank you, sir; I only trust that you will always find servants as devoted to your interest as my gratitude would have made me. Good-morning, sir." He clapped his hat on with a sprightly, ghastly air, and marched off resolutely.
But ere he reached the door, Nature overpowered the father's heart; way went Bolton's instructions; away went fictitious deportment and feigned cheerfulness. The poor wretch uttered a cry, indeed a scream, of anguish, that would have thrilled ten thousand hearts had they heard it; he dashed his hat on the ground, and rushed toward Bartley, with both hands out—"FOR GOD'S SAKE DON'T SEND ME AWAY—MY CHILD IS STARVING!"
Even Bartley was moved. "Your child!" said he, with some little feeling. This slight encouragement was enough for a father. His love gushed forth. "A little golden-haired, blue-eyed angel, who is all the world to me. We have walked here from Liverpool, where I had just buried her mother. God help me! God help us both! Many a weary mile, sir, and never sure of supper or bed. The birds of the air have nests, the beasts of the field a shelter, the fox a hole, but my beautiful and fragile girl, only four years old, sir, is houseless and homeless. Her mother died of consumption, sir, and I live in mortal fear; for now she is beginning to cough, and I can not give her proper nourishment. Often on this fatal journey I have felt her shiver, and then I have taken off my coat and wrapped it round her, and her beautiful eyes have looked up in mine, and seemed to plead for the warmth and food I'd sell my soul to give her."
"Poor fellow," said Bartley; "I suppose I ought to pity you. But how can I? Man—man—your child is alive, and while there is life there is hope; but mine is dead—dead!" he almost shrieked.
"Dead!" said Hope, horrified.
"Dead," cried Bartley. "Cut off at four years old, the very age of yours. There—go and judge for yourself. You are a father. I can't look upon my blasted hopes, and my withered flower. Go and see my blue-eyed, fair-haired darling—clay, hastening to the tomb; and you will trouble me no more with your imaginary griefs." He flung himself down with his head on his desk.
Hope, following the direction of his hand, opened the door of the house, and went softly forward till he met the nurse. He told her Mr. Bartley wished him to see the deceased. The nurse hesitated, but looked at him. His sad face inspired confidence, and she ushered him into the chamber of mourning. There, laid out in state, was a little figure that, seen in the dim light, drew a cry of dismay from Hope. He had left his own girl sleeping, and looking like tinted wax. Here lay a little face the very image of hers, only this was pale wax.
Had he looked more closely, the chin was unlike his own girl's, and there were other differences. But the first glance revealed a thrilling resemblance. Hope hurried away from the room, and entered the office pale and disturbed. "Oh, sir! the very image of my own. It fills me with forebodings. I pity you, sir, with all my heart. That sad sight reconciles me to my lot. God help you!" and he was going away; for now he felt an unreasoning terror lest his own child should have turned from colored wax to pale.
Mr. Bartley stopped him. "Are they so very like?" said he.
"Wonderfully like." And again he was going, but Bartley, who had received him so coldly, seemed now unwilling to part with him.
"Stay," said he, "and let me think." The truth is, a daring idea had just flashed through that brain of his; and he wanted to think it out. He walked to and fro in silent agitation, and his face was as a book in which you may read strange matter. At last he made up his mind, but the matter was one he did not dare to approach too bluntly, so he went about a little.
"Stay—you don't know all my misfortunes. I am ambitious—like you. I believe in science and knowledge—like you. And, if my child had lived, you should have been my adviser and my right hand: I want such a man as you."
Hope threw up his hands. "My usual luck!" said he: "always a day too late." Bartley resumed:
"But my child's death robs me of the money to work with, and I can't help you nor help myself."
Bartley hesitated. But after a moment he said, timidly, "Unless—" and then stopped.
"Unless what?" asked Hope, eagerly. "I am not likely to raise objections my child's life is at stake."
"Well, then, unless you are really the superior man you seem to be: a man of ability and—courage."
"Courage!" thought Hope, and began to be puzzled. However, he said, modestly, that he thought he could find courage in a good cause.
"Then you and I are made men," said Bartley. These were stout words; but they were not spoken firmly; on the contrary, Mr. Bartley's voice trembled, and his brow began to perspire visibly.
His agitation communicated itself to Hope, and the latter said, in a low, impressive voice, "This is something very grave, Mr. Bartley. Sir, what is it?"
Mr. Bartley looked uneasily all round the room, and came close to Hope. "The very walls must not hear what I now say to you." Then, in a thrilling whisper, "My daughter must not die."
Hope looked puzzled.
"Your daughter must take her place."
Now just before this, two quick ears began to try and catch the conversation. Monckton had heard all that Colonel Clifford said, that warrior's tones were so incisive; but, as the matter only concerned Mr. Bartley, he merely grinned at the disappointment likely to fall on his employer, for he knew Mary Bartley was at death's door. He said as much to himself, and went out for a sandwich, for it was his lunch-time. But when he returned with stealthy foot, for all his movements were cat-like, he caught sight of Bartley and Hope in earnest conversation, and felt very curious.
There was something so mysterious in Bartley's tones that Monckton drew up against the little window, pushed it back an inch, and listened hard.
But he could hear nothing at all until Hope's answer came to Bartley's proposal.
Then the indignant father burst out, so that it was easy enough to hear every word. "I part with my girl! Not for the world's wealth. What! You call yourself a father, and would tempt me to sell my own flesh and blood? No! Poverty, beggary, anything, sooner than that. My darling, we will thrive together or starve together; we will live together or die together!"
He snatched up his hat to leave. But Bartley found a word to make him hesitate. He never moved, but folded his arms and said, "So, then, your love for your child is selfish."
"Selfish!" cried Hope; "so selfish that I would die for her any hour of the day." For all that, the taunt brought him down a step, and Bartley, still standing like a rock, attacked him again. "If it is not selfish, it is blind." Then he took two strides, and attacked him with sudden power. "Who will suffer most if you stand in her light? Your daughter: why, she may die." Hope groaned. "Who will profit most if you are wise, and really love her, not like a jealous lover, but like a father? Why, your daughter: she will be taken out of poverty and want, and carried to sea-breezes and scented meadows; her health and her comfort will be my care; she will fill the gap in my house and in my heart, and will be my heiress when I die."
"But she will be lost to me," sighed poor Hope.
"Not so. You will be my right hand; you will be always about us; you can see her, talk to her, make her love you, do anything but tell her you are her father. Do this one thing for me, and I will do great things for you and for her. To refuse me will be to cut your own throat and hers—as well as mine."
Hope faltered a little. "Am I selfish?" said he.
"Of course not," was the soothing reply. "No true father is—give him time to think."
Hope clinched his hands in agony, and pressed them against his brow. "It is selfish to stand in her light; but part with her—I can't; I can't."
"Of course not: who asks you? She will never be out of your sight; only, instead of seeing her sicken, linger, and die, you will see her surrounded by every comfort, nursed and tended like a princess, and growing every day in health, wealth, and happiness."
"Health, wealth, and happiness?"
"Health, wealth, and happiness!"
These words made a great impression on the still hesitating father; he began to make conditions. They were all granted heartily.
"If ever you are unkind to her, the compact is broken, and I claim my own again."
"So be it. But why suppose anything so monstrous; men do not ill-treat children. It is only women, who adore them, that kill them and ill-use them accordingly. She will be my little benefactress, God bless her! I may love her more than I ought, being yours, for my home is desolate without her; but that is the only fault you shall ever find with me. There is my hand on it."
Hope at the last was taken off his guard, and took the proffered hand. That is a binding action, and somehow he could no longer go back.
Then Bartley told him he should live in the house at first, to break the parting. "And from this hour," said he, "you are no clerk nor manager, but my associate in business, and on your own terms."
"Thank you," said Hope, with a sigh.
"Now lose no time; get her into the house at once while the clerks are away, and meantime I must deal with the nurse, and overcome the many difficulties. Stay, here is a five-pound note. Buy yourself a new suit, and give the child a good meal. But pray bring her here in half an hour if you can."
Then Bartley took him to the lobby, and let him out in the street, whilst he went into the house to buy the nurse, and make her his confidante.
He had a good deal of difficulty with her; she was shocked at the proposal, and, being a woman, it was the details that horrified her. She cried a good deal. She stipulated that her darling should have Christian burial, and cried again at the doubt. But as Bartley conceded everything, and offered to settle a hundred pounds a year on her, so long as she lived in his house and kept his secret, he prevailed at last, and found her an invaluable ally.
To dispose of this character for the present we must inform the reader that she proved a woman can keep a secret, and that in a very short time she was as fond of Grace Hope as she had been of Mary Bartley.
We have said that Colonel Clifford's talk penetrated Monckton's ear, but produced no great impression at the time. Not so, however, when he had listened to Bartley's proposal, Hope's answer, and all that followed. Then he put this and Colonel Clifford's communication together, and saw the terrible importance of the two things combined. Thus, as a congenital worm grew with Jonah's gourd, and was sure to destroy it, Bartley's bold and elaborate scheme was furnished from the outset with a most dangerous enemy.
Leonard Monckton was by nature a schemer and by habit a villain, and he was sure to put this discovery to profit. He came out of the little office and sat down at his desk, and fell into a brown-study.
He was not a little puzzled, and here lay his difficulty. Two attractive villainies presented themselves to his ingenious mind, and he naturally hesitated between them. One was to levy black-mail on Bartley; the other, to sell the secret to the Cliffords.
But there was a special reason why he should incline toward the Cliffords, and, whilst he is in his brown-study, we will let the reader into his secret.
This artful person had immediately won the confidence of young Clifford, calling himself Bolton, and had prepared a very heartless trap for him. He introduced to him a most beautiful young woman—tall, dark, with oval face and glorious black eyes and eyebrows, a slight foreign accent, and ingratiating manners. He called this beauty his sister, and instructed her to win Walter Clifford in that character, and to marry him. As she was twenty-two, and Master Clifford nineteen, he had no chance with her, and they were to be married this very day at the Register Office.
Manoeuvring Monckton then inclined to let Bartley's fraud go on and ripen, but eventually expose it for the benefit of young Walter and his wife, who adored this Monckton, because, when a beautiful woman loves an ugly blackguard, she never does it by halves.
But he had no sooner thought out this conclusion than there came an obstacle. Lucy Muller's heart failed her at the last moment, and she came into the office with a rush to tell her master so. She uttered a cry of joy at sight of him, and came at him panting and full of love. "Oh, Leonard, I am so glad you are alone! Leonard, dear Leonard, pray do not insist on my marrying that young man. Now it comes to the time, my heart fails me." The tears stood in her glorious eyes, and an honest man would have pitied her, and even respected her a little for her compunction, though somewhat tardy.
But her master just fixed his eyes coldly on his slave, and said, brutally, "Never mind your heart; think of your interest."
The weak woman allowed herself to be diverted into this topic. "Why, he is no such great catch, I am sure."
"I tell you he is, more than ever: I have just discovered another L20,000 he is heir to, and not got to wait for that any longer than I choose."
Lucy stamped her foot. "I don't care for his money. Till he came with his money you loved me."
"I love you as much as ever," said Monckton, coldly.
Lucy began to sob. "No, you don't, or you wouldn't give me up to that young fool."
The villain made a cynical reply, that not every Newgate thief could have matched. "You fool," said he, "can't you marry him, and go on loving me? you won't be the first. It is done every day, to the satisfaction of all parties."
"And to their unutterable shame," said a clear, stern voice at their back. Walter Clifford, coming rapidly in, had heard but little, but heard enough; and there he stood, grim and pale, a boy no longer. These two skunks had made a man of him in one moment. They recoiled in dismay, and the woman hid her face.
He turned upon the man first, you may be sure. "So you have palmed this lady off on me as your sister, and trapped me, and would have destroyed me." His lip quivered; for they had passed the iron through his heart. But he manned himself, and carried it off like a soldier's son:
"But if I was fool enough to leave my father, I am not fool enough to present to the world your cast-off mistress as my wife." (Lucy hid her face in her hands.) "Here, Miss Lucy Monckton—or whatever your name may be—here is the marriage license. Take that and my contempt, and do what you like with them."
With these words he dashed into Bartley's private room, and there broke down. It was a bitter cup, the first in his young life.
The baffled schemers drank wormwood too; but they bore it differently. The woman cried, and took her punishment meekly; the man raged and threatened vengeance.
"No, no," said Lucy; "it serves us right. I wish I had never seen the fellow: then you would have kept your word, and married me."
"I will marry you now, if you can obey me."
"Obey you, Leonard? You have been my ruin; but only marry me, and I will be your slave in everything—your willing, devoted, happy slave."
"That is a bargain," said Monckton, coolly. "I'll be even with him; I will marry you in his name and in his place."
This puzzled Lucy.
"Why in his name?" said she.
He did not answer.
"Well, never mind the name," said she, "so that it is the right man—and that is you."
Then Monckton's fertile brain, teeming with villainies, fell to hatching a new plot more felonious than the last. He would rob the safe, and get Clifford convicted for the theft; convicted as Bolton, Clifford would never tell his real name, and Lucy should enter the Cliffords' house with a certificate of his death and a certificate of his marriage, both obtained by substitution, and so collar his share of the L20,000, and off with the real husband to fresh pastures.
Lucy looked puzzled. Hers was not a brain to disentangle such a monstrous web.
Monckton reflected a moment. "What is the first thing? Let me see. Humph! I think the first thing is to get married."
"Yes," said Lucy, with an eagerness that contrasted strangely with his cynical composure, "that is the first thing, and the most understandable." And she went dancing off with him as gay as a lark, and leaning on him at an angle of forty-five; whilst he went erect and cold, like a stone figure marching.
Walter Clifford came out in time to see them pass the great window. He watched them down the street, and cursed them—not loud but deep.
"Mooning, as usual," said a hostile voice behind him. He turned round, and there was Mr. Bartley seated at his own table. Young Clifford walked smartly to the other side of the table, determined this should be his last day in that shop.
"There are the payments," said he.
Bartley inspected them.
"About one in five," said he, dryly.
"Thereabouts," was the reply. (Consummate indifference.)
"You can't have pressed them much."
"Well, I am not good at dunning."
"What are you good at?"
"Should be puzzled to say."
"You are not fit for trade."
"That is the highest compliment was ever paid me."
"Oh, you are impertinent as well as incompetent, are you? Then take a week's warning, Mr. Bolton."
"Five minutes would suit me better, Mr. Bartley."
"Oh! indeed! Say one hour."
"All right, sir; just time for a city clerk's luncheon—glass of bitter, sandwich, peep at Punch, cigarette, and a chat with the bar-maid."
Mr. Walter Clifford was a gentleman, but we must do him the justice to say that in this interview with his employer he was a very impertinent one, not only in words, but in the delivery thereof. Bartley, however, thought this impertinence was put on, and that he had grave reasons for being in a hurry. He took down the numbers of the notes Clifford had given him, and looked very grave and suspicious all the time.
Then he locked up the notes in the safe, and just then Hope opened the door of the little office and looked in.
"At last," said Bartley.
"Well, sir," said Hope, "I have only been half an hour, and I have changed my clothes and stood witness to a marriage. She begged me so hard: I was at the door. Such a beautiful girl! I could not take my eyes off her."
"The child?" said Bartley, with natural impatience.
"I have hidden her in the yard."
"Bring her this moment, while the clerks are out."
Hope hurried out, and soon returned with his child, wrapped up in a nice warm shawl he had bought her with Bartley's money.
Bartley took the child from him, looked at her face, and said, "Little darling, I shall love her as my own;" then he begged Hope to sit down in the lobby till he should call him and introduce him to his clerks. "One of them is a thief, I'm afraid."
He took the child inside, and gave her to his confederate, the nurse.
"Dear me," thought Hope, "only two clerks, and one of them dishonest. I hope it is not that good-natured boy. Oh no! impossible."
And now Bartley returned, and at the same time Monckton came briskly in through the little office.
At sight of him Bartley said, "Oh, Monckton, I gave that fellow Bolton a week's notice. But he insists on going directly," Monckton replied, slyly, that he was sorry to hear that.
"Suspicious? Eh?" said Bartley.
"So suspicious that if I were you—Indeed, Mr. Bartley, I think, in justice to me, the matter ought to be cleared to the bottom."
"You are right," said Bartley: "I'll have him searched before he goes. Fetch me a detective at once."
Bartley then wrote a line upon his card, and handed it to Monckton, directing him to lose no time. He then rushed out of the house with an air of virtuous indignation, and went to make some delicate arrangements to carry out a fraud, which, begging his pardon, was as felonious, though not so prosaic, as the one he suspected his young clerk of. Monckton was at first a little taken aback by the suddenness of all this; but he was too clear-headed to be long at fault. The matter was brought to a point. Well, he must shoot flying.
In a moment he was at the safe, whipped out a bunch of false keys, opened the safe, took out the cash-box, and swept all the gold it contained into his own pockets, and took possession of the notes. Then he locked up the cash-box again, restored it to the safe, locked that, and sat down at Bartley's table. He ran over the notes with feverish fingers, and then took the precaution to examine Bartley's day-book. His caution was rewarded—he found that the notes Bolton had brought in were numbered. He instantly made two parcels—clapped the unnumbered notes into his pocket. The numbered ones he took in his hand into the lobby. Now this lobby must be shortly described. First there was a door with a glass window, but the window had dark blue gauze fixed to it, so that nobody could see into the lobby from the office; but a person in the lobby, by putting his eye close to the gauze, could see into the office in a filmy sort of way. This door opened on a lavatory, and there were also pegs on which the clerks hung their overcoats. Then there was a swing-door leading direct to the street, and sideways into a small room indispensable to every office.
Monckton entered this lobby, and inserted the numbered notes into young Clifford's coat, and the false keys into his bag. Then he whipped back hastily into the office, with his craven face full of fiendish triumph.
He started for the detective. But it was bitter cold, and he returned to the lobby for his own overcoat. As he opened the lobby door the swing-door moved, or he thought so; he darted to it and opened it, but saw nobody, Hope having whipped behind the open door of the little room. Monckton then put on his overcoat, and went for the detective.
He met Clifford at the door, and wore an insolent grin of defiance, for which, if they had not passed each other rapidly, he would very likely have been knocked down. As it was, Walter Clifford entered the office flushed with wrath, and eager to leave behind him the mortifications and humiliations he had endured.
He went to his own little desk and tore up Lucy Mailer's letters, and his heart turned toward home. He went into the lobby, and, feeling hot, which was no wonder, bundled his office overcoat and his brush and comb into his bag. He returned to the office for his penknife, and was going out all in a hurry, when Mr. Bartley met him.
Bartley looked rather stern, and said, "A word with you, sir."
"Certainly, sir," said the young man, stiffly.
Mr. Bartley sat down at his table and fixed his eyes upon the young man with a very peculiar look.
"You seem in a very great hurry to go."
"Well, I am."
"You have not even demanded your salary up to date."
"Excuse the oversight; I was not made for business, you know."
"There is something more to settle besides your salary."
"Premium for good conduct?"
"No, sir. Mr. Bolton, you will find this no jesting matter. There are defalcations in the accounts, sir."
The young man turned serious at once. "I am sorry to hear that, sir," said he, with proper feeling.
Bartley eyed him still more severely. "And even cash abstracted."
"Good heavens!" said the young man, answering his eyes rather than his words. "Why, surely you can't suspect me?"
Bartley answered, sternly, "I know I have been robbed, and so I suspect everybody whose conduct is suspicious."
This was too much for a Clifford to bear. He turned on him like a lion. "Your suspicions disgrace the trader who entertains them, not the gentleman they wrong. You are too old for me to give you a thrashing, so I won't stay here any longer to be insulted."
He snatched up his bag and was marching off, when the door opened, and Monckton with a detective confronted him.
"No," roared Bartley, furious in turn; "but you will stay to be examined."
"Searched, then, if you like it better."
"No, don't do that," said the young fellow. "Spare me such a humiliation."
Bartley, who was avaricious, but not cruel, hesitated.
"Well," said he, "I will examine the safe before I go further."
Mr. Bartley opened the safe and took out the cash-box. It was empty. He uttered a loud exclamation. "Why, it's a clean sweep! A wholesale robbery! Notes and gold all gone! No wonder you were in such a hurry to leave! Luckily some of the notes were numbered. Search him."
"No, no. Don't treat me like a thief!" cried the poor boy, almost sobbing.
"If you are innocent, why object?" said Monckton, satirically.
"You villain," cried Clifford, "this is your doing! I am sure of it!"
Monckton only grinned triumphantly; but Bartley fired up. "If there is a villain here, it is you. He is a faithful servant, who warned his employer." He then pointed sternly at young Bolton, and the detective stepped up to him and said, curtly, "Now, sir, if I must."
He then proceeded to search his waistcoat pockets. The young man hung his head, and looked guilty. He had heard of money being put into an innocent man's pockets, and he feared that game had been played with him.
The detective examined his waistcoat pockets and found—nothing. His other pockets—nothing.
The detective patted his breast and examined his stockings—nothing.
"Try the bag," said Monckton.
Then the poor fellow trembled again.
The detective searched the bag—nothing.
He took the overcoat and turned the pockets out—nothing.
Bartley looked surprised. Monckton still more so. Meantime Hope had gone round from the lobby, and now entered by the small office, and stood watching a part of this business, viz., the search of the bag and the overcoat, with a bitter look of irony.
"But my safe must have been opened with false keys," cried Bartley. "Where are they?"
"And the numbered notes," said Monckton, "where are they?"
"Gentlemen," said Hope, "may I offer my advice?"
"Who the devil are you?" said Monckton.
"He is my new partner, my associate in business," said the politic Bartley. Then deferentially to Hope, "What do you advise?"
"You have two clerks. I would examine them both."
"Examine me?" cried Monckton. "Mr. Bartley, will you allow such an affront to be put on your old and faithful servant?"
"If you are innocent, why object?" said young Clifford, spitefully, before Bartley could answer.
The remark struck Bartley, and he acted on it.
"Well, it is only fair to Mr. Bolton," said he. "Come, come, Monckton, it is only a form."
Then he gave the detective a signal, and he stepped up to Monckton, and emptied his waistcoat pockets of eighty-five sovereigns.
"There!" cried Walter Clifford, "There! there!"
"My own money, won at the Derby," said Monckton, coolly; "and only a part of it, I am happy to say. You will find the remainder in banknotes."
The detective found several notes.
Bartley examined the book and the notes. The Derby! He was beginning to doubt this clerk, who attended that meeting on the sly. However, he was just, though no longer confiding.
"I am bound to say that not one of the numbered notes is here."
The detective was now examining Monckton's overcoat. He produced a small bunch of keys.
"How did they come there?" cried Monckton, in amazement.
It was an incautious remark. Bartley took it up directly, and pounced on the keys. He tried them on the safe. One opened the safe, another opened the cash-box.
Meantime the detective found some notes in the pocket of the overcoat, and produced them.
"Great heavens!" cried Monckton, "how did they come there?"
"Oh, I dare say you know," said the detective.
Bartley examined them eagerly. They were the numbered notes.
"You scoundrel," he roared, "these show me where your gold and your other notes came from. The whole contents of my safe—in that villain's pockets!"
"No, no," cried Monckton, in agony. "It's all a delusion. Some rogue has planted them there to ruin me."
"Keep that for the beak," said the policeman; "he is sure to believe it. Come, my bloke. I knew who was my bird the moment I clapped eyes on the two. 'Tain't his first job, gents, you take my word. We shall find his photo in some jail or other in time for the assizes."
"Away with him!" cried Bartley, furiously.
As the policeman took him off, the baffled villain's eye fell on Hope, who stood with folded arms, and looked down on him with lowering brow and the deep indignation of the just, and yet with haughty triumph.
That eloquent look was a revelation to Monckton.
"Ah," he cried, "it was you."
Hope's only reply was this: "You double felon, false accuser and thief, you are caught in your own trap."
And this he thundered at him with such sudden power that the thief went cringing out, and even those who remained were awed. But Hope never told anybody except Walter Clifford that he had undone Monckton's work in the lobby; and then the poor boy fell upon his neck, and kissed his hand.
To run forward a little: Monckton was tried, and made no defense. He dared not call Hope as his witness, for it was clear Hope must have seen him commit the theft and attempt the other villainy. But the false accusation leaked out as well as the theft. A previous conviction was proved, and the indignant judge gave him fourteen years.
Thus was Bartley's fatal secret in mortal peril on the day it first existed; yet on that very day it was saved from exposure, and buried deep in a jail.
Bartley set Hope over his business, and was never heard of for months. Then he turned up in Sussex with a little girl, who had been saved from diphtheria by tracheotomy, and some unknown quack.
There was a scar to prove it. The tender parent pointed it out triumphantly, and railed at the regular practitioners of medicine.
AN OLD SERVANT.
Walter Clifford returned home pretty well weaned from trade, and anxious to propitiate his father, but well aware that on his way to reconciliation he must pass through jobation.
He slipped into Clifford Hall at night, and commenced his approaches by going to the butler's pantry. Here he was safe, and knew it; a faithful old butler of the antique and provincial breed is apt to be more unreasonably paternal than Pater himself.
To this worthy, then, Walter owed a good bed, a good supper, and good advice: "Better not tackle him till I have had a word with him first."
Next morning this worthy butler, who for seven years had been a very good servant, and for the next seven years rather a bad one, and would now have been a hard master if the Colonel had not been too great a Tartar to stand it, appeared before his superior with an air slightly respectful, slightly aggressive, and very dogged.
"There is a young gentleman would be glad to speak to you, if you will let him."
"Who is he?" asked the Colonel, though by old John's manner he divined.
"Can't ye guess?"
"Don't know why I should. It is your business to announce my visitors."
"Oh, I'll announce him, when I am made safe that he will be welcome."
"What! isn't he sure of a welcome—good, dutiful son like him?"
"Well, sir, he deserves a welcome. Why, he is the returning prodigal."
"We are not told that he deserved a welcome."
"What signifies?—he got one, and Scripture is the rule of life for men of our age, now we are out of the army."
"I think you had better let him plead his own cause, John; and if he takes the tone you do, he will get turned out of the house pretty quick; as you will some of these days, Mr. Baker."
"We sha'n't go, neither of us," said Mr. Baker, but with a sudden tone of affectionate respect, which disarmed the words of their true meaning. He added, hanging his head for the first time, "Poor young gentleman! afraid to face his own father!"
"What's he afraid of?" asked the Colonel, roughly.
"Of you cursing and swearing at him," said John.
"Cursing and swearing!" cried the Colonel—"a thing I never do now. Cursing and swearing, indeed! You be ——!"
"There you go," said old John. "Come, Colonel, be a father. What has the poor boy done?"
"He has deserted—a thing I have seen a fellow shot for, and he has left me a prey to parental anxieties."
"And so he has me, for that matter. But I forgive him. Anyway, I should like to hear his story before I condemn him. Why, he's only nineteen and four months, come Martinmas. Besides, how do we know?—he may have had some very good reason for going."
"His age makes that probable, doesn't it?"
"I dare say it was after some girl, sir."
"Call that a good reason?"
"I call it a strong one. Haven't you never found it?" (the Colonel was betrayed into winking). "From sixteen to sixty a woman will draw a man where a horse can't."
"Since that is so," said the Colonel, dryly, "you can tell him to come to breakfast."
"Am I to say that from you?"
"No; you can take that much upon yourself. I have known you presume a good deal more than that, John."
"Well, sir," said John, hanging his head for a moment, "old servants are like old friends—they do presume a bit; but then" (raising his head proudly) "they care for their masters, young and old. New servants, sir—why, this lot that we've got now, they would not shed a tear for you if you was to be hanged."
"Why should they?" said the Colonel. "A man is not hanged for building churches. Come, beat a retreat. I've had enough of you. See there's a good breakfast."
"Oh," said John, "I've took care of that."
When the Colonel came down he found his son leaning against the mantel-piece; but he left it directly and stood erect, for the Colonel had drilled him with his own hands.
"Ugh!" said the Colonel, giving a snort peculiar to himself, but he thought, "How handsome the dog is!" and was proud of him secretly, only he would not show it. "Good-morning, sir," said the young man, with civil respect.
"Your most obedient, sir," said the old man, stiffly.
After that neither spoke for some time, and the old butler glided about like a cat, helping both of them, especially the young one, to various delicacies from the side table. When he had stuffed them pretty well, he retired softly and listened at the door. Neither of the gentlemen was in a hurry to break the ice; each waited for the other.
Walter made the first remark—"What delicious tea!"
"As good as where you come from?" inquired Colonel Clifford, insidiously.
"A deal better," said Walter.
"By-the-bye," said the Colonel, "where do you come from?"
Walter mentioned the town.
"You astonish me," said the Colonel. "I made sure you had been enjoying the pleasures of the capital."
"My purse wouldn't have stood that, sir."
"Very few purses can," said Colonel Clifford. Then, in an off-hand way, "Have you brought her along with you?"
"Certainly not," said Walter, off his guard. "Her? Who?"
"Why, the girl that decoyed you from your father's roof."
"No girl decoyed me from here, sir, upon my honor."
"Whom are we talking about, then? Who is her?"
"Her? Why, Lucy Monckton."
"And who is Lucy Monckton?"
"Why, the girl I fell in love with, and she deceived me nicely; but I found her out in time."
"And so you came home to snivel?"
"No, sir, I didn't; I'm not such a muff. I'm too much your son to love any woman long when I have learned to despise her. I came home to apologize, and to place myself under your orders, if you will forgive me, and find something useful for me to do."
"So I will, my boy; there's my hand. Now out with it. What did you go away for, since it wasn't a petticoat?"
"Well, sir, I am afraid I shall offend you."
"Not a bit of it, after I've given you my hand. Come, now, what was it?"
Walter pondered and hesitated, but at last hit upon a way to explain.
"Sir," said he, "until I was six years old they used to give me peaches from Oddington House; but one fine day the supply stopped, and I uttered a small howl to my nurse. Old John heard me, and told me Oddington was sold, house, garden, estate, and all."
Colonel Clifford snorted.
Walter resumed, modestly but firmly:
"I was thirteen; I used to fish in a brook that ran near Drayton Park. One day I was fishing there, when a brown velveteen chap stopped me, and told me I was trespassing. 'Trespassing?' said I. 'I have fished here all my life; I am Walter Clifford, and this belongs to my father.' 'Well,' said the man, 'I've heerd it did belong to Colonel Clifford onst, but now it belongs to Muster Mills; so you must fish in your own water, young gentleman, and leave ourn to us as owns it.' Till I was eighteen I used to shoot snipes in a rushy bottom near Calverley Church. One day a fellow in black velveteen, and gaiters up to his middle, warned me out of that in the name of Muster Cannon."
Colonel Clifford, who had been drumming on the table all this time, looked uneasy, and muttered, with some little air of compunction: "They have plucked my feathers deucedly, that's a fact. Hang that fellow Stevens, persuading me to keep race-horses; it's all his fault. Well, sir, proceed with your observations."
"Well, I inquired who could afford to buy what we were too poor to keep, and I found these wealthy purchasers were all in trade, not one of them a gentleman."
"You might have guessed that," said Colonel Clifford: "it is as much as a gentleman can do to live out of jail nowadays."
"Yes, sir," said Walter. "Cotton had bought one of these estates, tallow another, and lucifer-matches the other."
"Plague take them all three!" roared the Colonel.
"Well, then, sir," said Walter, "I could not help thinking there must be some magic in trade, and I had better go into it. I didn't think you would consent to that. I wasn't game to defy you; so I did a meanish thing, and slipped away into a merchant's office."
"And made your fortune in three months?" inquired the Colonel.
"No, I didn't; and don't think trade is the thing for me. I saw a deal of avarice and meanness, and a thief of a clerk got his master to suspect me of dishonesty; so I snapped my fingers at them all, and here I am. But," said the poor young fellow, "I do wish, father, you would put me into something where I can make a little money, so that when this estate comes to be sold, I may be the purchaser."
Colonel Clifford started up in great emotion.
"Sell Clifford Hall, where I was born, and you were born, and everybody was born! Those estates I sold were only outlying properties."
"They were beautiful ones," said Walter. "I never see such peaches now."
"As you did when you were six years old," suggested the Colonel. "No, nor you never will. I've been six myself. Lord knows when it was, though!"
"But, sir, I don't see any such trout, and no such haunts for snipe."
"Do you mean to insult me?" cried the Colonel, rather suddenly. "This is what we are come to now. Here's a brat of six begins taking notes against his own father; and he improves on the Scotch poet—he doesn't print 'em. No, he accumulates them cannily until he is twenty, but never says a word. He loads his gun up to the muzzle, and waits, as the years roll on, with his linstock in his hand, and one fine day at breakfast he fires his treble charge of grape-shot at his own father."
This was delivered so loudly that John feared a quarrel, and to interrupt it, put in his head, and said, mighty innocently:
"Did you call, sir? Can I do anything for you, sir?"
"Yes: go to the devil!"
John went, but not down-stairs, as suggested—a mere lateral movement that ended at the keyhole.
"Well, but, sir," said Walter, half-reproachfully, "it was you elicited my views."
"Confound your views, sir, and—your impudence! You're in the right, and I am in the wrong" (this admission with a more ill-used tone than ever). "It's the race-horses. Ring the bell. What sawneys you young fellows are! it used not to take six minutes to ring a bell when I was your age."
Walter, thus stimulated, sprang to the bell-rope, and pulled it all down to the ground with a single gesture.
The Colonel burst out laughing, and that did him good; and Mr. Baker answered the bell like lightning; he quite forgot that the bell must have rung fifty yards from the spot where he was enjoying the dialogue.
"Send me the steward, John; I saw him pass the window."
Meantime the Colonel marched up and down with considerable agitation. Walter, who had a filial heart, felt very uneasy, and said, timidly, "I am truly sorry, father, that I answered your questions so bluntly."
"I'm not, then," said the Colonel. "I hold him to be less than a man who flies from the truth, whether it comes from young lips or old. I have faced cavalry, sir, and I can face the truth."
At this moment the steward entered. "Jackson," said the Colonel, in the very same tone he was speaking in, "put up my race-horses to auction by public advertisement."
"But, sir, Jenny has got to run at Derby, and the brown colt at Nottingham, and the six-year-old gelding at a handicap at Chester, and the chestnut is entered for the Syllinger next year."
"Sell them with their engagements."
"And the trainer, sir?"
"Give him his warning."
"And the jockey?"
"Discharge him on the spot, and take him by the ear out of the premises before he poisons the lot. Keep one of the stable-boys, and let my groom do the rest."
"But who is to take them to the place of auction, sir?"
"Nobody. I'll have the auction here, and sell them where they stand. Submit all your books of account to this young gentleman."
The steward looked a little blue, and Walter remonstrated gently. "To me, father?"
"Why, you can cipher, can't ye?"
"Rather; it is the best thing I do."
"And you have been in trade, haven't ye?"
"Then you will detect plenty of swindles, if you find out one in ten. Above all, cut down my expenditure to my income. A gentleman of the nineteenth century, sharpened by trade, can easily do that. Sell Clifford Hall? I'd rather live on the rabbits and the pigeons and the blackbirds, and the carp in the pond, and drive to church in the wheelbarrow."
So for a time Walter administered his father's estate, and it was very instructive. Oh! the petty frauds—the swindles of agency—a term which, to be sure, is derived from the Latin word "agere," to do—the cobweb of petty commissions—the flat bribes—the smooth hush-money!
Walter soon cut the expenses down to the income, which was ample, and even paid off the one mortgage that encumbered this noble estate at five per cent., only four per cent. of which was really fingered by the mortgagee; the balance went to a go-between, though no go-between was ever wanted, for any solicitor in the country would have found the money in a week at four per cent.
The old gentleman was delighted, and engaged his own son as steward at a liberal salary; and so Walter Clifford found employment and a fair income without going away from home again.
Whilst Mr. Bartley's business was improving under Hope's management, Hope himself was groaning under his entire separation from his daughter. Bartley had promised him this should not be; but among Hope's good qualities was a singular fidelity to his employers, and he was also a man who never broke his word. So when Bartley showed him that the true parentage of Grace Hope—now called Mary Bartley—could never be disguised unless her memory of him was interrupted and puzzled before she grew older, and that she as well as the world must be made to believe Bartley was her father, he assented, and it was two years before he ventured to come near his own daughter.
But he demanded to see her at a distance, himself unseen, and this was arranged. He provided himself with a powerful binocular of the kind that is now used at sea, instead of the unwieldy old telescope, and the little girl was paraded by the nurse, who was in the secret. She played about in the sight of this strange spy. She was plump, she was rosy, she was full of life and spirit. Joy filled the father's heart; but then came a bitter pang to think that he had faded out of her joyous life; by-and-by he could see her no longer, for a mist came from his heart to his eyes; he bowed his head and went back to his business, his prosperity, and his solitude. These experiments were repeated at times. Moreover, Bartley had the tact never to write to him on business without telling him something about his girl, her clever sayings, her pretty ways, her quickness at learning from all her teachers, and so on. When she was eight years old a foreign agent was required in Bartley's business, and Hope agreed to start this agency and keep it going till some more ordinary person could be intrusted to work it.
But he refused to leave England without seeing his daughter with his own eyes and hearing her voice. However, still faithful to his pledge, he prepared a disguise; he actually grew a mustache and beard for this tender motive only, and changed his whole style of dress; he wore a crimson neck-tie and dark green gloves with a plaid suit, which combination he abhorred as a painter, and our respected readers abominate, for surely it was some such perverse combination that made a French dressmaker lift her hands to heaven and say, "Quelle immoralite!" So then Bartley himself took his little girl for a walk, and met Mr. Hope in an appointed spot not far from his own house. Poor Hope saw them coming, and his heart beat high. "Ah!" said Bartley, feigning surprise; "why, it's Mr. Hope. How do you do, Hope? This is my little girl. Mary, my dear, this is an old friend of mine. Give him your hand."
The girl looked in Hope's face, and gave him her hand, and did not recognize him.
"Fine girl for her years, isn't she?" said Bartley. "Healthy and strong, and quick at her lessons; and, what's better still, she is a good girl, a very good girl."
"Papa!" said the child, blushing, and hid her face behind Bartley's elbow, all but one eye, with which she watched the effect of these eulogies upon the strange gentleman.
"She is all a father could wish," said Hope, tenderly.
Instantly the girl started from her position, and stood wrapt in thought; her beautiful eyes wore a strange look of dreamy intelligence, and both men could see she was searching the past for that voice.
Bartley drew back, that the girl might not see him, and held up his finger. Hope gave a slight nod of acquiescence, and spoke no more. Bartley invited him to take an early dinner, and talk business. Before he left he saw his child more than once; indeed, Bartley paraded her accomplishments. She played the piano to Hope; she rode her little Shetland pony for Hope; she danced a minuet with singular grace for so young a girl; she conversed with her governess in French, or something very like it, and she worked a little sewing-machine, all to please the strange gentleman; and whatever she was asked to do she did with a winning smile, and without a particle of false modesty, or the real egotism which is at the bottom of false modesty.
Anybody who knew William Hope intimately might almost recognize his daughter in this versatile little mind with its faculty of learning so many dissimilar things.
Hope left for the Continent with a proud heart, a joyful heart, and a sore heart. She was lovely, she was healthy, she was happy, she was accomplished, but she was his no longer, not even in name; her love was being gained by a stranger, and there was a barrier of iron, as well as the English Channel, between William Hope and his own Mary Bartley.
It would weary the reader were we to detail the small events bearing on the part of the story which took place during the next five years. They might be summed up thus: That William Hope got a peep at his daughter now and then; and, making a series of subtle experiments by varying his voice as much as possible, confused and nullified her memory of that voice to all appearance. In due course, however, father and daughter were brought into natural contact by the last thing that seemed likely to do it, viz., by Bartley's avarice. Bartley's legitimate business at home and abroad could now run alone. So he invited Hope to England to guide him in what he loved better than steady business, viz., speculation. The truth is, Bartley could execute, but had few original ideas. Hope had plenty, and sound ones, though not common ones. Hope directed the purchase of convertible securities on this principle: Select good ones; avoid time bargains, which introduce a distinct element of risk; and buy largely at every panic not founded on a permanent reason or out of proportion. Example: A great district bank broke. The shares of a great district railway went down thirty per cent. Hope bade his employer and pupil observe that this was rank delusion, the dividends of the railway were not lowered one per cent. by the failure of that bank, nor could they be: the shareholders of the bank had shares in the railway, and were compelled to force them on the market; hence the fall in the shares. "But," said Hope, "those depreciated shares are now in the hands of men who can hold them, and will, too, until they return from this ridiculous 85 to their normal value, which is from 105 to 115. Invest every shilling you have got; I shall." Bartley invested L30,000, and cleared twenty per cent. in three months.
Example 2: There was a terrible accident on another railway, and part of the line broken up. Vast repairs needed. Shares fell twenty per cent.
"Out of proportion," said Hope. "The sum for repairs will not deduct from the dividends one-tenth of the annual sum represented by the fall, and, in three months, fear of another such disaster will not keep a single man, woman, child, bullock, pig, or coal truck off that line. Put the pot on."
Bartley put the pot on, and made fifteen per cent.
Hope said to Bartley:
"When an English speculator sends his money abroad at all, he goes wild altogether. He rushes at obscure transactions, and lends to Peru, or Guatemala, or Tierra del Fuego, or some shaky place he knows nothing about. The insular maniac overlooks the continent of Europe, instead of studying it, and seeking what countries there are safe and others risky. Now, why overlook Prussia? It is a country much better governed than England, especially as regards great public enterprises and monopolies. For instance, the directors of a Prussian railway can not swindle the shareholders by false accounts, and passing off loans for dividends. Against the frauds of directors, the English shareholder has only a sham security. He is invited to leave his home, and come two hundred miles to the directors' home, and vote in person. He doesn't do it. Why should he? In Prussia the Government protects the shareholder, and inspects the accounts severely. So much for the superior system of that country. Now, take a map. Here is Hamburg, the great port of the Continent, and Berlin, the great Continental centre; and there is one railway only between the two. What English railway can compare with this? The shares are at 150. But they must go to 300 in time unless the Prussian Government allows another railway, and that is not likely, and, if so, you will have two years to back out. This is the best permanent investment of its class that offers on the face of the globe."
Bartley invested timidly, but held for years, and the shares went up over 300 before he sold.
"Do not let your mind live in an island if your body does," was a favorite saying of William Hope; and we recommend it impartially to Britons and Bornese.
On one of Hope's visits Bartley complained he had nothing to do. "I can sit here and speculate. I want to be in something myself; I think I will take a farm just to occupy me and amuse me."
"It will not amuse you unless you make money by it," suggested Hope.
"And nobody can do that nowadays. Farms don't pay."
"Ploughing and sowing don't pay, but brains and money pay wherever found together."
"What, on a farm?"
"Why not, sir? You have only to go with the times. Observe the condition of produce: grain too cheap for a farmer because continents can export grain with little loss; fruit dear; meat dear, because cattle can not be driven and sailed without risk of life and loss of weight; agricultural labor rising, and in winter unproductive, because to farm means to plough and sow, and reap and mow, and lose money. But meet those conditions. Breed cattle, sheep, and horses, and make the farm their feeding-ground. Give fifty acres to fruit; have a little factory on the land for winter use, and so utilize all your farm hands and the village women, who are cheaper laborers than town brats, and I think you will make a little money in the form of money, besides what you make in gratuitous eggs, poultry, fruit, horses to ride, and cart things for the house—items which seldom figure in a farmer's books as money, but we stricter accountants know they are."
"I'll do it," said Bartley, "if you'll be my neighbor, and work it with me, and watch the share market at home and abroad."
Hope acquiesced joyfully to be near his daughter; and they found a farm in Sussex, with hills for the sheep, short grass for colts, plenty of water, enough arable land and artificial grasses for their purpose, and a grand sunny slope for their fruit trees, fruit bushes, and strawberries, with which last alone they paid the rent.
"Then," said Hope, "farm laborers drink an ocean of beer. Now look at the retail price of beer: eighty per cent. over its cost, and yet deleterious, which tells against your labor. As an employer of labor, the main expense of a farm, you want beer to be slightly nourishing, and very inspiriting, not somniferous."
So they set up a malt-house and a brew-house, and supplied all their own hands with genuine liquor on the truck system at a moderate but remunerative price, and the grains helped to feed their pigs. Hope's principle was this: Sell no produce in its primitive form; if you change its form you make two profits. Do you grow barley? Malt it, and infuse it, and sell the liquor for two small profits, one on the grain, and one on the infusion. Do you grow grass? Turn it into flesh, and sell for two small profits, one on the herb, and one on the animal.
And really, when backed by money, the results seemed to justify his principle.
Hope lived by himself, but not far from his child, and often, when she went abroad, his loving eyes watched her every movement through his binocular, which might be described as an opera-glass ten inches long, with a small field, but telescopic power.
Grace Hope, whom we will now call Mary Bartley, since everybody but her father, who generally avoided her name, called her so, was a well-grown girl of thirteen, healthy, happy, beautiful, and accomplished. She was the germ of a woman, and could detect who loved her. She saw in Hope an affection she thought extraordinary, but instinct told her it was not like a young man's love, and she accepted it with complacency, and returned it quietly, with now and then a gush, for she could gush, and why not? "Far from us and from our friends be the frigid philosophy"—of a girl who can't gush.
Hope himself was loyal and guarded, and kept his affection within bounds; and a sore struggle it was. He never allowed himself to kiss her, though he was sore tempted one day, when he bought her a cream-colored pony, and she flung her arms round his neck before Mr. Bartley and kissed him eagerly; but he was so bashful that the girl laughed at him, and said, half pertly, "Excuse the liberty, but if you will be such a duck, why, you must take the consequences."
Said Bartley, pompously, "You must not expect middle-aged men to be as demonstrative as very young ladies; but he has as much real affection for you as you have for him."
"Then he has a good deal, papa," said she, sweetly. Both the men were silent, and Mary looked to one and the other, and seemed a little puzzled.
The great analysts that have dealt microscopically with commonplace situations would revel in this one, and give you a curious volume of small incidents like the above, and vivisect the father's heart with patient skill. But we poor dramatists, taught by impatient audiences to move on, and taught by those great professors of verbosity, our female novelists and nine-tenths of our male, that it is just possible for "masterly inactivity," alias sluggish narrative, creeping through sorry flags and rushes with one lily in ten pages, to become a bore, are driven on to salient facts, and must trust a little to our reader's intelligence to ponder on the singular situation of Mary Bartley and her two fathers.
One morning Mary Bartley and her governess walked to a neighboring town and enjoyed the sacred delight of shopping. They came back by a short-cut, which made it necessary to cross a certain brook, or rivulet, called the Lyn. This was a rapid stream, and in places pretty deep; but in one particular part it was shallow, and crossed by large stepping-stones, two-thirds of which were generally above-water. The village girls, including Mary Bartley, used all to trip over these stones, and think nothing of it, though the brook went past at a fine rate, and gradually widened and deepened as it flowed, till it reached a downright fall; after that, running no longer down a decline, it became rather a languid stream.
Mary and her governess came to this ford and found it swollen by recent rains, and foaming and curling round the stepping-stones, and their tops only were out of the water now.
The governess objected to pass this current.
"Well, but," said Mary, "the other way is a mile round, and papa expects us to be punctual at meals, and I am, oh, so hungry! Dear Miss Everett, I have crossed it a hundred times."
"But the water is so deep."
"It is deeper than usual; but see, it is only up to my knee. I could cross it without the stones. You go round, dear, and I'll explain against you come home."
"Not until I've seen you safe over."
"That you will soon see," said the girl, and, fearing a more authoritative interference, she gathered up her skirts and planted one dainty foot on the first stepping-stone, another on the next, and so on to the fourth; and if she had been a boy she would have cleared them all. But holding her skirts instead of keeping her arms to balance herself, and wearing idiotic shoes, her heels slipped on the fifth stone, which was rather slimy, and she fell into the middle of the current with a little scream.
To her amazement she found that the stream, though shallow, carried her off her feet, and though she recovered them, she could not keep them, but was alternately up and down, and driven along, all the time floundering. Oh, then she screamed with terror, and the poor governess ran screaming too, and making idle clutches from the bank, but powerless to aid.
Then, as the current deepened, the poor girl lost her feet altogether, and was carried on toward the deep water, flinging her arms high and screaming, but powerless. At first she was buoyed up by her clothes, and particularly by a petticoat of some material that did not drink water. But as her other clothes became soaked and heavy, she sank to her chin, and death stared her in the face.
She lost hope, and being no common spirit, she gained resignation; she left screaming, and said to Everett, "Pray for me."
But the next moment hope revived, and fear with it—this is a law of nature—for a man, bare-headed and his hair flying, came galloping on a bare-backed pony, shouting and screaming with terror louder than both the women. He urged the pony furiously to the stream; then the beast planted his feet together, and with the impulse thus given Hope threw himself over the pony's head into the water, and had his arm round his child in a moment. He lashed out with the other hand across the stream. But it was so powerful now as it neared the lasher that they made far more way onward to destruction than they did across the stream; still they did near the bank a little. But the lasher roared nearer and nearer, and the stream pulled them to it with iron force. They were close to it now. Then a willow bough gave them one chance. Hope grasped it, and pulled with iron strength. From the bough he got to a branch, and finally clutched the stem of the tree, just as his feet were lifted up by the rushing water, and both lives hung upon that willow-tree. The girl was on his left arm, and his right arm round the willow.
"Grace," said he, feigning calmness. "Put your arm around my neck, Mary."
"Yes, dear," said she, firmly.
"Now don't hurry yourself—there's no danger; move slowly across me, and hold my right arm very tight."
She did so.
"Now take hold of the bank with your left hand; but don't let go of me."
"Yes, dear," said the little heroine, whose fear was gone now she had Hope to take care of her.
Then Hope clutched the tree with his left hand, pushed Mary on shore with his right, and very soon had her in his arms on terra firma.
But now came a change that confounded Mary Bartley, to whom a man was a very superior being; only not always intelligible.
The brave man fell to shaking like an aspen leaf; the strong man to sobbing and gasping, and kissing the girl wildly. "Oh, my child! my child!"
Then Mary, of course, must gulp and cry a little for sympathy; but her quick-changing spirit soon shook it off, and she patted his cheek and kissed him, and then began to comfort him, if you please. "Good, dear, kind Mr. Hope," said she. "La! don't go on like that. You were so brave in the water, and now the danger is over. I've had a ducking, that is all. Ha! ha! ha!" and the little wretch began to laugh.
Hope looked amazed; neither his heart nor his sex would let him change his mood so swiftly.
"Oh, my child," said he, "how can you laugh? You have been near eternity, and if you had been lost, what should I—O God!"
Mary turned very grave. "Yes," said she, "I have been near eternity. It would not have mattered to you—you are such a good man—but I should have caught it for disobedience. But, dear Mr. Hope, let me tell you that the moment you put your arm round me I felt just as safe in the water as on dry land; so you see I have had longer to get over it than you have; that accounts for my laughing. No, it doesn't; I am a giddy, giggling girl, with no depth of character, and not worthy of all this affection. Why does everybody love me? They ought to be ashamed of themselves."
Hope told her she was a little angel, and everybody was right to love her; indeed, they deserved to be hanged if they did not.
Mary fixed on the word angel. "If I was an angel," she said, "I shouldn't be hungry, and I am, awfully. Oh, please come home; papa is so punctual. Mr. Hope, are you going to tell papa? Because if you are, just you take me and throw me in again. I'd rather be drowned than scolded." (This with a defiant attitude and flashing eyes.)
"No, no," said Hope. "I will not tell him, to vex him, and get you scolded."
"Then let us run home."
She took his hand, and he ran with her like a playmate, and oh! the father's heart leaped and glowed at this sweet companionship after danger and terror.
When they got near the house Mary Bartley began to walk and think. She had a very thinking countenance at times, and Hope watched her, and wondered what were her thoughts. She was very grave, so probably she was thinking how very near she had been to the other world.
Standing on the door-step, whilst he stood on the gravel, she let him know her thoughts. All her life, and even at this tender age, she had very searching eyes; they were gray now, though they had been blue. She put her hands to her waist, and bent those searching eyes on William Hope.
"Mr. Hope," said she, in a resolute sort of way.
"My dear," said he, eagerly.
"YOU LOVE ME BETTER THAN PAPA DOES, THAT'S ALL."
And having administered this information as a dry fact that might be worth looking into at leisure, she passed thoughtfully into the house.