YOUNG MR. BARTER'S REPENTANCE
By David Christie Murray
Author Of 'Aunt Rachel,' 'The Weaker Vessel,' Etc.
Mr Bommaney was a British merchant of the highest rectitude and the most spotless reputation. He traded still under the name of Bommaney, Waite, and Co., though Waite had been long since dead, and the Company had gone out of existence in his father's time. The old offices, cramped and inconvenient, in which the firm had begun life eighty years before, were still good enough for Mr. Bommaney, and they had an air of solid respectability which newer and flashier places lacked. The building of which they formed a part stood in Coalporter's Alley, opposite the Church of St. Mildred, and the hum of the City's traffic scarcely sounded in that retired and quiet locality.
Mr. Bommaney himself was a man of sixty, hale and hearty, with a rosy face and white whiskers. He was a broad-shouldered man, inclining to be portly, and he was currently accepted as a man of an indomitable will. There was no particular reason for the popular belief in his determination apart from the fact that it was a favourite boast of his that nothing ever got him down. On all occasions and in all companies he was wont to declare that no conceivable misfortune could really break a man of spirit. He confessed to a pitying sympathy for mealy-willed people (and everybody knew that Bommaney, in spite of his own strength of mind, was one of the kindliest creatures in the world); but, whenever he met a man in trouble, he would clip him by the shoulder, and would say, in his own hearty fashion, 'You must look the thing in the face, my boy. Look it in the face. I'd never let anything break me down.'
Since his reputation for fortitude was as solid and as old-fashioned amongst the people who knew him as his business character itself, it would have come as something of a shock upon any of his friends if he could but have been seen by them, or any credible man amongst them, on a certain afternoon in the April of 1880. He had locked himself in his own room, and, sitting there in a big chair before a businesslike desk, with a great number of docketed papers in pigeon-holes, and a disordered mass of papers strewn before him, the determined Mr. Bommaney, the decided Mr. Bommaney, the Mr. Bommaney whom no misfortune could subdue, was crying, very feebly and quietly, and was mopping his rosy cheeks, and blowing his nose in an utter and unrestraining abandonment to trouble.
There was another fact which would have come upon his friends with an equal shock of surprise if they could but have had it brought home to them. The man who sat unaffectedly crying in the big chair in helpless contemplation of the scattered papers was a hopeless bankrupt, and had seen himself sliding towards bankruptcy for years. When men who knew him wanted business advice, they went to him by preference, and nobody came away empty. He knew the City and its intricacies like a book. He knew who was safe and who was shaky, as if by a kind of instinct, and he knew where and when to invest, and where and when not to invest, as few men did. 'You can't get at me,' he would say; for, old-fashioned as he was, he used a little of the new-fashioned slang to give spice and vigour to his conversation. 'There isn't a move on the board that I don't know.' He advised his friends excellently, and there were perhaps half a score of fairly well-to-do speculative people who had to thank him, and him alone, for the comfort they lived in and the consideration they enjoyed. He had been wise for others all his life, and in his own interests he had always acted like a greenhorn. He talked loudly, he spent freely, he paid his way, he expressed the soundest business maxims, and was as shrewd in detail as he was wise in generalities, and these things made a natural reputation for him: whilst he traded for years at the expense of his capital, and went steadily and surely towards the bottomless gulf of insolvency. Now he was on the very verge of it, and to-morrow he would be in it. It lent a feeble sting to his sufferings to know how surprised people would be, and how completely men would find him out.
He had not very profoundly involved other people in his own ruin, but he had gone a little farther than a man altogether brave, and honourable, and clearsighted would have ventured, and he knew that some would suffer with him. He might have made arrangements to go a little farther still if he had been courageous, clear-sighted, and dishonest, and might have held his head up for another matter too, perhaps. But he had lacked the nerve for that, and had never consciously been a rogue. He felt even now a pride of honesty. He had been unfortunate, and his creditors would have everything—everything.
He thanked God that Phil's mother had tied her money on her only son, and that the boy at least had enough to begin the world with. How should he face Phil when he came home again? How should he send the news to him? The lad was away enjoying himself, travelling all round the world with a wandering Baronet, who owned a yacht and had an unappeasable taste for the destruction of big game. He would have to surrender his fashionable and titled acquaintance now, poor fellow, and begin the world with a disgraced and broken frame to be a drag and hindrance to him. The more Mr. Bommaney thought of these things, the more unrestrainedly he cried; and the more he cried, the less he felt able or inclined to control his tears.
He wept almost silently, only an occasional sniff betraying his emotion to his ear. He had always held his head so high, and had been so believed in. It was very bitter.
Whilst he was in the midst of this childish abandonment to his grief a set of knuckles softly and hesitatingly tapped the door from without, and directly afterwards a hand made a tentative respectful sort of attempt upon the handle.
'Who's there?' cried Mr. Bommaney, steadying his voice as best he could.
'A gentleman to see you, sir,' answered a smooth voice outside.
Mr. Bommaney pushed back his chair, rose to his feet, and retiring to a smaller room consulted a little square looking-glass which hung upon the wall above his washing-stand. His blue eyes were very tearful and a little swollen, his cheeks and nose looked as if they had been scalded.
'Wait a moment,' he said aloud, and his voice betrayed him by a break. He blushed and trembled, thinking that Mr. Hornett, his confidential clerk, would know how he was breaking down, and would speak of his want of courage and self-command hereafter. The reflection nerved him somewhat, and he sluiced his face with water, making a little unnecessary noise of splashing to tell the listener how he was engaged. He polished his face with the towel, and, consulting the mirror again, thought he looked a little better.
Then he re-entered his business room, and turning the key in the lock opened the door slightly, a mere inch or two.
'Who is it?'
'A Mr. Brown, sir,' said the smooth voice outside. The clerk insinuated a card through the space between the door and door-jamb, and Mr. Bommaney took it from his fingers without revealing himself. He had some difficulty in making out its inscription, for his eyes were newly tearful, and, whilst he peered at it, a reflex of his late emotions brought a sniffling sob again. He was freshly ashamed at this, and said hastily,
'Five minutes' time. I will ring when I am ready. Ask the gentleman to wait.'
Mr. James Hornett softly closed the door, and stood on the landing with long lean fingers scraping at his lantern jaws. He was a little man, short of stature, and sparely built. His skin was vealy in complexion, and he had wiry hair of a russet-red. Even when he was clean shaven his fingers rasped upon his hollow cheeks with a faint sound. His nose and chin were long and pointed, and his manner was meek and self-effacing even when he was alone. There was a tinge of wonder in his face, at war with an habitual smile, in which his eyes had no part.
'Something wrong?' he said, under his breath. He went creeping softly down the stairs. 'Something wrong? Mr. Bommaney in tears? Mr. Bommaney!'
Could anything have happened to Mr. Phil? That was the only thing Mr. Hornett could think of as being likely to affect his employer in that way.
Now Mr. Hornett had been in his present employ for thirty years, man and boy, and he was human. Therefore, when at the expiration of a little more than five minutes' time Mr. Bommaney's bell rang, he himself ushered the visitor upstairs, and in place of retiring to his own pew below stairs, lingered in a desert little apartment rarely used, and then stole out upon the landing and listened. He was the more prompted to this because the visitor, who had a bucolic hearty aspect, and was very talkative, had told him downstairs that Mr. Bommaney and himself were old friends and schoolfellows, and had been in each other's confidence for years.
'I am afraid, sir,' Mr. Hornett had said, when the visitor first presented himself, 'that Mr. Bommaney may not be able to see you at present. He gave orders not to be disturbed.'
'Not see me?' said the visitor with a laugh. 'I'll engage he will.' And then followed the statement about his old acquaintanceship with Mr. Hornett's employer.
If there were anything to be told at all, it seemed not unlikely that this visitor might be the recipient of the intelligence, and Mr. Hornett lingered to find if haply he might overhear. He heard nothing that enlightened him as to the reasons for his employer's disturbance, but heard most that passed between the two.
Bommaney had succeeded in composing himself and in washing away the traces of his tears. Then he had taken a stiffish dose of brandy and water, and was something like his own man again. He received his visitor cordially, and in his anxiety not to seem low-spirited was a little more boisterous than common.
'I'm busy, you see,' he said, waving a hand at the papers scattered on the desk, and keeping up the farce of prosperous merchandise to the last, 'but I can spare you a minute or two, old man. What brings you up to town?'
'I've come here to settle,' said the visitor. He was a florid man with crisp black hair with a hint of gray in it, and he was a countryman from head to heel. He seemed a little disposed to flaunt his bucolics upon the town, his hat, his necktie, his boots and gaiters, were of so countrified a fashion, and yet he looked somehow more of a gentleman than Bommaney.
'Yes,' he said, 'I've come to settle.' He rubbed his hands and laughed here, not because there was anything humorous and amusing in his thoughts, but out of sheer health and jollity of nature. Bommaney, still distrustful of his own aspect, and afraid of being observed, sat opposite to him with bent head and fidgeted with his papers, blindly pretending to arrange them.
'To settle,' he said absently. Then, rousing himself with an effort, 'I thought you hated London?'
'Ah, my boy,' said his visitor, 'when you're in the shafts with a whip behind you, you've got to go where you are driven.'
'Yes,' said Bommaney mechanically, 'that is so. That is so.'
The visitor was laughing and rubbing his hands again in perfect happiness and self-contentment, and had no eye for Bommaney's abstraction.
'Yes,' he said, 'it's Patty's doing. I've sold up every stick and stone, and I've taken a house in Gower Street. Do you know, Bommaney,' he added, with an air and voice suddenly serious and confidential, 'the country's going to the devil. Land's sinking in value every year. I've been farming at a growing loss these six years, and rents don't come in as they used to do. I got my chance and I took it. Lord Bellamy wanted to join the Mount Royal and the three estates. My little bit o' land lay between 'em, and I sold it to him. Sold it, too, begad, as well as I could have done half a dozen years ago.'
Then he laughed once more with great heartiness, and unbuttoning his overcoat, groped in an inner pocket. After a struggle, in the course of which he grew very red in the face, he drew forth a pocket-book of unusual dimensions, and slapped it on the desk so vigorously that his companion started.
'I got a tip the other day,' he went on; 'that old bank at Mount Royal, Fellowes and Fellowes, is going to crack up, my boy. There's something very queer in the commercial atmosphere just now, Bommaney. There are lots of old-fashioned solid people breaking up.'
To Bommaney's uneasy fancy there was in his visitor's voice an accent which sounded personal.
'I—I hope not,' he answered, somewhat feebly, 'so much depends——' (he tried hard to rally himself), 'so much depends upon a spirit of commercial confidence.'
'Exactly,' cried the visitor, laying hands' upon the pocket-book and opening it. 'I went to the bank and saw young Fellowes myself. "Look here, Fellowes," I told him, "I want my daughter's money." He stuck to it, sir; like a dog holding on to a bone. He growled about it, and he whined about it, said it wasn't fair to withdraw the money on short notice. Said I couldn't do better with it anywhere, and at last I told him, "Look here, Fellowes, I shall begin to think by and by there's something wrong." He went as red as a turkey-cock, begad, and drew a note on their London agent like a lord, and here I am with the money. Eight thousand pounds.'
By this time he had drawn a bundle of bank-notes from the pocket-book, and now sat flicking the edges of the notes with the tips of his great broad fingers. Bommaney heard the crisp music, and looked up with a momentary glance of hunger in his eyes.
'That's Patty's little private handful,' the visitor continued, opening the packet of notes, and smoothing it upon his knee. 'Eighty notes of a hundred. Pretty little handful, isn't it? They don't look,' he added, with his head reflectively on one side and his eyebrows raised a little, 'they don't look as they'd buy as much as they will.'
Bommaney tried to find a commonplace word by answer, and an inaudible something died drily in his throat. When his companion began to speak again, the bankrupt merchant wondered that he made no comment on his ghastly face—he knew his face was ghastly—or his shaking hands. There was an intuition in his mind so strong and clear that he trembled at its prophecy.
'Patty,' said the visitor, 'will have everything in time, and a pretty good handful, too. But she's bent on being independent, and she wants to have her own money in her own hands. She pretends it's all because she wants to pay her milliner's bills, and that kind of thing, herself; but I know better. The fact is'—he lowered his voice and chuckled—'the fact is, she doesn't want me to know how much she spends in charity. You look here, Bommaney'—the merchant's heart seemed to stand still, and then to beat so wild an alarum that he wondered the other did not hear it The intuition multiplied in strength. He heard beforehand the spoken words, the very tones which marked them. 'You're a safe man, you're a smart man. I suppose there isn't anybody in London who can lay out money to more advantage than you can. I know it's a great favour to ask, but I think you'll do it for Patty's sake and mine, if I do ask you. Take this, and invest it for her. Will you, now?'
He stood up with the bundle of notes outstretched in his hand. The merchant rose and accepted it, and looked him, with a sudden curious calm and steadiness, straight in the face.
Mr. Bommaney was alone again, and if it had not been for the actual presence of the bundle of bank-notes upon the table, he could well have thought that the whole episode had been no more than a dreadful and disturbing dream. It was very hard, he thought complainingly, that a man should come and put so horrible a temptation in his way. He would not yield to it—of course he would not yield to it. He had been an honest and honourable man all his life long, and had never so much as felt a monetary temptation until now. It was humiliating to feel it now—it was horrible to have his fingers itching for another man's money, and his heart coveting it, and his brain, in spite of himself, devising countless means of use for it. It was quite unbearable to know that the money might tide him over his troubles and land him in prosperity again, if he could only dare to use it, and risk engulfing it with the lost wreckage of his own fortunes.
But no, no, no. He had never meant to use it. His only reason for accepting it had been that he had not found the courage to declare his true position to his old friend and school companion. Perhaps, he told himself (trying to silence and cajole that inward monitor and accuser who would not be silenced or cajoled), perhaps if Brown had been less confident and truthful—if he had had less faith in his old companion's powers as a man of business—it would have come easier to tell the truth. And how futile a thing it was to stave off discovery for a single day! How doubly ashamed he would have to feel after that poor pretence of responsible solidity! If he had only been disposed to be tempted at all—here surely was an added reason for yielding to temptation.
Obviously the first, and, indeed, the only thing to be done, was to bank this money in Brown's name, and so have done with it; and yet any feeling of haste in that respect would seem to imply a fear of temptation, which he was, of course, quite resolute not to feel. He was not going any more to run away from his own suspicion of himself than he would have run from another man's. So, in and out, and up and down, contradicting himself at every turning, with an underlying surety in his mind so fast rooted and so dreadful that he did not dare to look at it.
When the adieux were being said between the old friends, Mr. James Hornett had slid noiselessly downstairs, his mind inflated by pride. He was not proud of having played the eavesdropper, for even in Mr. Hornett's economy of things, that was an act to be proud of; but he was very proud, indeed, to be associated with a gentleman so magnificently respected as Mr. Bommaney. There were not so very many people, he told himself, even in the City of London, which was full of wealth and probity, into whose hands so large a sum would be placed with so little a sense of the necessity of precaution. He felt as if he himself had been treated in this majestic manner, and the feeling warmed his heart. He bowed Mr. Brown from the office door with an empressement which he feared a moment later might almost have betrayed him, and he went about his duties for the rest of the day in a mood of unusual contentment. The earlier memory of his employer's disturbance crossed him sometimes, and always excited his curiosity; but the later feeling dominated him. He was delighted by his association with a concern so eminently respectable as that of Bommaney, Waite, and Co.
Meanwhile Mr. Hornett's employer, with that dreadful rooted secret in his mind, which he did not dare to look at, sat alone, looking with staring eyes before him, and drumming in a regular tune upon the topmost note of the terrible little pile. He had locked the notes away before Brown's departure, but they had seemed to draw him to the safe with almost a physical compulsion, and he had brought them out again to look at them, to handle them, to count them, to resolve in his own mind that he did not hanker after them, and was honourable to the core. It was so new a thing to be tempted, that at times his own self-deception was made easy to him. It did not occur to him to reflect that the need and the means had never so presented themselves together until now, or that his life-long honour had depended upon their absence.
When he had sat in silence for a while he awoke to the fact that the interview had been nothing but a succession of shocks to him, and that he was bodily exhausted. He rose, and, walking feebly to the inner room, applied himself anew to the brandy bottle he kept there. He had gone much too often to that deceptive solace lately, and he knew it; but each successive visit carried its own excuses with it, and it had never in any individual instance been worth while to resist a habit which it was always easy to condemn in the main.
The brandy enlightened him and opened new sluices of emotion. Perhaps for the moment he was a better man because of it. He seemed to wake to a more determined sense of the enormity of the temptation which lay before him. He thought of his own son, and a shadow took him from head to foot as, in a brandified nervous vision, he beheld some shadowy supposititious creature in the act of telling the tale to Phil. The vice of drink has had the creation of many other vices laid to its charge, but for once in the world's history the obfuscated vision was clearer than the natural, and Philip drunk a better man, and a more righteous and honourable, than Philip sober.
At bottom, Philip Bommaney knew himself too well to be at all sure that this phase of feeling would endure with him; and in a half-conscious dread of the return of that baser self, whose first appearance in his history had so affrighted him, he hurriedly attired himself for out-of-doors, crammed the bundle of notes into an inner pocket of his overcoat, and, after a final appeal to the decanter, left his room with a somewhat hysteric sense of courage and self-approval. He had been tempted—he was ready to recognise that the temptation was over, that he had well-nigh succumbed to it—but he had triumphed! He was a man again. He had been weighed in the balances and not found wanting. There were some tears in his eyes compounded of brandy and nerves and affections and remorses as he hurried into the street. Phil should never be ashamed of his father. Old Brown, who had trusted him like a brother, should never learn to shun and hate him. He had to go under—the thing was inevitable, unescapable, but he would at least go under like a man. His heart beat to the tune of the 'Conquering Hero,' where it might have beat to the 'Rogue's March,' but for that friendly nip of brandy and the all-covering mercies of Heaven.
Quickly as his resolution had been taken, he had fully arranged for the details of the task which lay before him. With the notes he had thrust into his pocket a little handful of business papers involving a knotty and delicate point of business, and he intended that the discussion of the point they raised should act as the prelude to the disclosure and the restitution he desired to make. He could not, even in his newfound heroism, and with whatever hysteric hardihood he was prepared to meet the stroke of fate, he could not as yet encounter Brown, and lay bare before him the plot of the melancholy farce he had played an hour ago. But there was an old friend of his, and an old friend of Brown's into the bargain, a solicitor, keen as a needle and kindly as sunshine, one Barter, whose business chambers were in Gable Inn, and who was of all men the man he could confide in with least shame and best hope of help. He hailed a cab, and bade the driver drive his fastest. Gable Inn lay tranquil, the afternoon shadows already settling deeper on the little quadrangle than on the broad and roaring thoroughfare without. There was no light in the windows of the rooms in which Messrs. Fellowship, Freemantle, and Barter had done business and received their clients fifty years ago, and in which the sole surviving member of the firm still maintained its old-established reputation for honour and astuteness.
Bommaney was chilled by the silence and darkness of the rooms, and he shivered to see the temptation he had conquered looming again before him. He knocked loudly with a trembling hand, and the noise of iron on iron went rolling and echoing up the staircase and came back in a hollow, lonely, sounding murmur from the rooms within. His heart sank, and a horrible fear of himself got hold of him. He had actually conquered, and here was the fight to be fought over again with almost a certainty of defeat at the end of it. Indeed, the defeat in that bare moment of time had grown so certain, that he was conscious of a distinct state of disappointment when a sudden footstep within the rooms answered his noisy summons.
The door opened, and a young man stood before him, peering at him with half-closed uncertain eyes through the dark. He was a young man of the fleshly school, something too stout for his years, very pallid, and more than commonly personable, with a fine broad forehead, fine frank eyes, and features modelled with an engaging regularity. When he recognised his visitor his pale and handsome face glittered with a sudden smile of welcome, teeth and eyes gleaming quite brightly, and the whole face lighting up in the pleasantest and friendliest fashion conceivable.
This agreeable expression faded into one of almost mechanical dolor, and the personable young man shook hands with Mr. Bommaney sadly, and sighed as if he suddenly recalled an idea that sighing was a duty.
'Come in, Mr. Bommaney,' he said. 'Come in, sir. I have sent home all the clerks, and was just about to lock up for the night. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? Let me light the gas.'
Bommaney, the door being closed behind him, stumbled along the darkened passage after the more assured and accustomed steps of young Mr. Barter, and the inner office being gained, and the gas being lighted, allowed himself to be motioned to a chair. What with having been too much agitated by the contemplation of his troubles to be able to eat at all that day, and what with the fight he had had with his temptations, and the too frequent applications he had made to the brandy, it happened that for the moment he was by no means certain of his purpose. He sat for a little while wondering rather hazily what had brought him there. As often happens with absent-minded people, his hands remembered what had been required of them before his brain began to act again, and by and by the fact that he had unbuttoned his overcoat, and had taken a bundle of papers from his pocket, recalled him to his purpose.
'I wanted,' he said, emerging from his haze, and holding the bundle of papers nervously in both hands, 'I wanted to see your father upon very special and urgent business.'
'My father?' the young man answered, with a look and accent of pained surprise. 'Do you mean to say, sir, that you haven't heard the news?'
'The news?' cried Bommaney, feeling blindly as if some new misfortune threatened him. 'What news?'
'My father, sir,' said young Mr. Barter, with a certain blending of professional airs, something of a legal impress mingled with something of the manner of a medical man conveying mournful intelligence to the relatives of a patient, 'my father, sir, was struck down by an omnibus in the street this morning. He is terribly injured, and not expected to recover.'
'God bless my soul!' Bommaney cried out. His chin fell upon his breast, and his eyes stared at the floor, seeing nothing. He felt like a man upon a raft, who sees the bindings of the frail thing break apart. Shipwrecked already, and now the last hope gone! He hardly knew, if he could have asked himself the question clearly, why he so particularly desired to see Barter. He hardly knew what Barter could have done for him, except to listen to his troubles and take charge of the eight thousand pounds which tempted him, and yet the disappointment seemed as heavy and as hard to bear as anything he had hitherto endured. He sat staring forlornly before him, with tears in his eyes, and young Mr. Barter, in much astonishment at his susceptibility and tenderness, sat watching him. Something slid from Bommaney's hands with a rustle, and dropped upon the floor. Young Mr. Barter made a mere hint or beginning of a movement, as if he would have picked it up for him. Bommaney made no movement at all, but stared before him with his blue-gray eyes filling more and more with tears, until two or three brimmed over and trickled down his cheeks. He said, 'God bless my soul!' once more, mechanically, and restored what remained of his bundle of papers to his pocket. Young Mr. Barter looked with one swift and vivid glance from the fallen bundle to his guest's face, then back again. Bommaney rose from his seat, buttoned his overcoat with awkward and lingering fingers, and put on his hat. He was evidently unconscious of his own tears, and made no attempt to disguise them, or to wipe them away. He said, 'God bless my soul!' a third time, and then, shaking young Mr. Barter by the hand, murmured that he was sorry, very sorry, and so went stupidly away. Young Mr. Barter accompanied him to the door, casting a strange backward glance at the papers as he left the room, and was curiously voluble in his dismissal of his visitor. Anything he could do—Mr. Bommaney might rest perfectly assured—the clerks would be back to-morrow in any case—he would advise Mr. Bommaney of his father's condition by that night's post—he himself was naturally most profoundly anxious. In this wise he talked Bommaney from the chambers, and when once he had closed the door behind him, went back along the dark little corridor with an unnecessarily catlike tread. He could hardly have been other than certain that he was alone, yet when he reached the inner room he looked about him with a keen quick darting suspicion, and for half a minute ignored the fallen papers on the floor.
'Dear me!' he said, when at length he suffered his eyes to rest upon them. 'What can that be? How did that come here?'
He stooped, picked up the papers, laid them upon his desk, and smoothed them out, making a fold lengthways to counteract the creases into which they had already fallen. He saw a crisp clean Bank of England note for a hundred pounds, and, lifting it, found another. Then he lifted half the bundle, and, finding a note of the same value, gave an inward gasp, and expelled his breath slowly after it. Then he looked at the last note of all, and sat down with the whole bundle in his hands. His pale and fleshy features had taken an unusual colour, and his breathing was a good deal disturbed. A watcher might have guessed that he was profoundly agitated from the swift unintermittent rustle the paper made in his hands. He seemed to sit as steady as a rock, and yet the crisp paper rustled noisily.
Mr. Brown's bank-notes had been a fruitful source of emotion that day already, and, in Bommaney's mind at least, had raised very dreadful doubts and perplexities. There were doubts and perplexities in the mind of young Mr. Barter, but they were altogether of another order. Young Mr. Barter was perfectly aware that he was being tempted, and felt that, in its way, the temptation wets a kind of godsend. He even said as much in a low murmur to himself. His perplexities related to other things than the fear of any fall from honour. Bommaney had evidently been very queer. Bommaney had been horribly cut up about something, even before he heard the news the young solicitor had to give him. But was he so disturbed as to be likely to forget where he had last secured so considerable a sum of money? This mental inquiry naturally set young Mr. Barter to work to discover how considerable the sum of money actually was. He laid the notes upon the table, and tried to wet his thumb upon his lips. There was no moisture there, and his mouth was as dry as touchwood. He drank a little water, and then began to count the notes. He made them eighty-one at first; and then, recounting, made them seventy-nine. Counting them a third time, he made them eighty.
'Damn it all!' said young Mr. Barter, 'can't I count? I suppose the old buffer will come back for them.' He tried a fourth time, and confirmed his third counting. 'They'll get stopped at the Bank,' he said. 'They'll be no use to anybody.' He sat for a while thinking, with his eyes half-closed, drumming out a tune upon the table with the tips of his fat white fingers, then he folded the notes with great precision and delicacy, put them into his pocket, found his hat, overcoat, and walking-stick, and made ready for the streets. In the quiet of these legal chambers many chance noises from without had from time to time been clearly audible. He heard now a hurrying step upon the pavement of the quadrangle, and, with a palpitation at the heart, he moved swiftly to put out the light, and listened. The step stumbled at the entrance to the staircase, at the foot of which the outer door stood closed. Young Mr. Barter's heart beat, if possible, faster than before; and the veins in his head so throbbed, that only the confining rim of his hat seemed to keep his head itself from bursting. There came an eager summons at the door, an imperative rapping with the head of a stout walking-stick. He set his teeth, and, drawing back his lips with a horrible smile in the dark, breathed noiselessly. The rapping grew more and more imperative and urgent, and then came a preternatural silence, with an undercurrent of distant sound in it, and the sudden blare of a cornet in the street, which sounded to his nerves like the trumpet of the herald of the day of judgment He heard the hurrying feet plunge down the steps again, and cross the quadrangle, and listened until their sound merged into the dull noises of the London night. He stood in the dark after this for what seemed a long time, learning that his features twitched, and teaching himself to control them. Then he left his chambers with great secrecy, and broke into a cold sweat to think, as he stood half through the doorway, how narrowly he had escaped from slamming the door behind him. This was an act which might have been suicidal in its stupidity; for to give any sign of his presence there after that thundering summons at the door would have been to betray himself beyond redemption. He inserted his latch-key noiselessly, and, crouching to escape imagined observers, drew the door gently after him, and turned the key slowly in the lock. As he did this he heard a footstep and a cough together close at hand, and, turning with a start, beheld a pale and slender man of brief stature, who scraped his lantern jaws with apologetic thumb and finger, and looking at him with a startled meekness, as if he would fain propitiate anger for a possible intrusion, sidled to the foot of the stairs, mounted the stairway with a backward glance and a second cough of apology, and so disappeared.
Young Mr. Barter, with his nerves already shaken by this small episode, walked into the main thoroughfare and merged with the crowd, bearing Mr. Bommaney's eight thousand pounds with him. When he had walked for a while he hailed a cab, and was driven home. He had, or prided himself on having, an exceptional eye for horseflesh, but it was not his faculty in this direction which had led him to choose a cab horsed by a brute of unusual symmetry and swiftness. This was an accident, but, like other accidents in this perplexed world, it served its purpose. It landed him at the paternal door in Harley Street almost at the instant at which Bommaney arrived there in pursuit of him.
Now, although young Mr. Barter had not calculated on meeting Bommaney so soon, and although the meeting was naturally something of a shock to him, he had already schooled himself for interview and inquiry. He went a little paler than common as he grasped his father's old friend by the hand for the third time that evening, and trembled ever so little as he spoke.
'I half expected to find you here,' he said. 'I could see how moved you were by the news of my father's illness.' The door stood open, and the old-fashioned man-servant within had been in the act of closing it upon Bommaney's retreating figure when cab number two had driven up, and the young master of the house had alighted from it. 'Is the news worse or better?' He laid both hands upon Bommaney's arms as he put this question.
The elderly servitor, who had never had reason given to him to believe that young Mr. Barter was above the reasonable attached to his father, was a little surprised to see the young man so moved. He drew the door gently after him, and came out upon the steps.
'I'm afraid, Mr. John,' he murmured sympathetically, 'that it's practically all over, sir. The poor gentleman's quite unconscious, and the doctor don't expect him to last till morning.'
Young Mr. Barter's mind was active, and accustomed to rapid movement. He knew at once that the old servant read the signs of disturbance in his face and manner, and how far he misread them. So, to insure the misreading, he took out his handkerchief, and groaned at this melancholy intelligence.
'I——,' began Bommaney, stammering and speaking a little thickly, 'I didn't come to ask about your father.' Young Barter's heart at this, though he was perfectly prepared for it, began to beat like a sledgehammer. 'I've had a dreadful loss. I have called nowhere but at your office since I left my own, and I have lost eight thousand pounds. I am convinced that I must have left it there.'
'I can't think so, Mr. Bommaney,' said Barter, with a face of innocence.' We can go back together, if you like, and look for it.' Bommaney's driver lingered for him; the other cabman was already jingling leisurely down the street.
'Johnson,' said young Barter, addressing the domestic, 'you hear what Mr. Bommaney says. This is a matter of the most urgent importance, and must be looked into at once. Tell my mother that I have been home, and that I have been called suddenly back on urgent business.' Bommaney stood in a kind of stupid trance, and the young man, taking him by the arm, had some ado to secure his attention. 'Come! Come, sir,' he said; 'we will look into this at once. You must not remain in suspense about such a matter.'
They rustled together through the straw which had been laid down upon the roadway, and had been scattered by the feet of passers-by upon the pavement, and, mounting the cab, drove in a ghastly silence for a score of yards, and then, with a clatter which made conversation difficult, Bommaney, rousing himself at intervals, shouted his certainty that the notes would prove to have been left at Barter's chambers. Barter, growing curiously inured to the circumstances of the case, shouted back that he dared to say they would be; that it was very likely; that he really did not see where else Mr. Bommaney could possibly have left them, furtively pressing the notes against his breast meanwhile, and once, at a quiet interval, when Bommaney had sunk into his former stupor, venturing to steal a hand to the pocket in which the stolen money lay, caressing the edges of the notes with the tips of his fingers.
'I'm sure,' said Bommaney, as the cab pulled up at the gate of the quadrangle, 'that we shall find them here.' He spoke with a tremulous uncertainty, and so obviously appealed for a confirmation of his hope, that Barter felt constrained to answer,
'Oh, we are bound to find them.'
The striking of a wax vesta at the door of the chambers, the shaky hunt for the key, the well-known obstinacy of the lock, the opening of the door, the fevered working of Bommaney's fingers, and the flushed eagerness of his face, were all memorable to young Barter for many and many a day. They entered together the room in which their interview had taken place; and Barter, nursing the remnant of the flaming vesta, lit the gas with it, and then, dropping it on the floor, set his foot upon it, and looked at his companion.
'Where do you think you left the notes, sir?' he asked. 'Have you any idea? I think you took out some papers here. You wanted to consult my father about them, I fancy, and, if I remember, you returned them to your pocket.'
Bommaney stood looking about him on the floor, trailing the point of his walking-cane purposelessly hither and thither; and it was at this moment, seeing how confused and broken his victim seemed, that young Mr. Barter tasted the first flavour of safety.
'I don't see anything,' he said.
'Did you,' Bommaney asked him, with both trembling hands grasping the knob of his walking-cane, and shaking in appeal before the unsuspected thief—' did you lock any papers away before you left?'
As a matter of fact, young Barter had not had any papers to lock away that evening after Bommaney's departure; but he thought the trick worth playing, and, producing his keys again, opened the heavy iron safe which stood against the wall.
'Yes,' he said, with an air of hopeful alacrity. 'By Jove, I did!' He stood aside, with an outstretched hand, and motioned Bommaney to examine the contents of the safe. There was a parchment there, there were half a dozen bundles of documents tied in pink tape and docketed; but there were no bank-notes.
'You know,' said Bommaney, with a fretful wail, 'I must have left them here; I couldn't have left them anywhere else. I put it to you—could I?'
Barter looked at him mournfully, with raised eyebrows. There was just a hint of expostulation in his raised eyebrows, and in the expression of his voice.
'You see, sir,' he said, waving his white hands—' you see for yourself, there's nothing here.'
Bommaney walked to a chair, and, sitting down there, lifted up his voice and wept. 'I've been an honest man, by God! all my life long; and now I'm not merely ruined, but I shall be taken for a thief.' He cried bitterly after this outburst, with his head between his hands. His hat fell off, and his walking-stick tumbled noisily to the floor. Mr. Barter picked them up, and, having set them on the table, looked at the shaking shoulders, and listened to the ruined man's sobs and wailings. It was a pity—of course it was a pity—but young Mr. Barter really did not see how it was in his power to help it.
On a chill spring evening the sunset over London gave a brief radiance of colour to the dull gray roof and smoke-stained chimneys of many thoroughfares. Shadows thickened in the eastern skies as if fold after fold of finest crape were drawn over the field of watery and opalescent light the fallen sun had left behind it. In one great thoroughfare running east and west the sky-line of the houses stood distinct, and bathed in light of many colours; whilst down below there was a wall of shadow. Two parallel walls of shadow rose from a shadowy level, and the dusk had a thousand indistinguishable voices.
The shadowy lines became accented by twin rows of flickering fire, the rear jets seen with a blurred halo of mist round each of them, the halo crawling feebly within itself, tormented by a feeble wind. The long vista of pavement became chequered like a chessboard, with patches of light from shop windows. Gable Inn, staring at the growing darkness with a single fiery eye, looked like a Rip Van Winkle. It had been old when Chaucer and the knights and ladies of whom he sang were young; and its hoary stunted angles and squat chimney cowls had the grave and impassive aspect proper to great age. It has stood there now for over seven hundred years hoarding a growing store of secrets. It is roughly picturesque in every detail, and its every chamber is a triumph of narrowness, obscurity, and inconvenience.
In the quadrangle the shadows climbed the sturdy walls as if they were an exhalation from the paving-stones. The dim staircase sent down all manner of muffled and echoing voices. Footsteps sounded, and the clang of doors, and the shriek of unwilling keys in rusty locks, and the hurrying traffic of the street without, softened by the moist atmosphere, was like the fading echo of following feet upon the stairs.
Lights sprang up in the basement windows, telling of protractive legal labours. Lights twinkled in the garrets, telling of lonely study or noisy conviviality in the coming hours of darkness. At length one side of the quadrangle viewed by a solitary watcher from a third-floor window of the opposing side, winked with a hundred windows through the wet air and deepening shadow like a blear-eyed Argus.
This watcher, lounging at his own window, was Mr. Philip Bommaney, recently self-entitled the 'Solitary of Gable Inn.' He was eight-and-twenty years of age or thereabouts, a broad-shouldered, deep-chested, manly-looking fellow, with curling brown hair, and a face expressive of pugnacity, good-humour, and many capacities. He was a little weary now, after a long day of satisfactory work. He watched the mounting shadows, and listened to the weird gamut of the wind among the telegraph lines, until the outer voices made his own dull room seem homely. One ruddy tongue of flame from the expiring fire in the grate played on the narrow walls and low ceiling, and woke twinkling reflections in the spare and battered furniture. A man's dwelling-place is always an index to his character when its arrangement depends upon himself; and signs of Philip Bommaney's nature and pursuits were visible in plenty here. There were symmetrical rows of books on the shelves flanking the fire-place. An orderly stack of newspapers occupied one corner of the room, and a set of boxing-gloves lay on top of the pile, and a pair of dumb-bells beside it. A shaded reading-lamp stood upon the table in the midst of a great litter of papers. The barrels of a huge elephant gun flashed dimly from the wall as the firelight played upon them, and two or three lighter weapons were ranged together lower down.
He turned from the window and lit the lamp, and, wheeling round, held up the light to a photograph, and studied it with a pleased face. It was the portrait of a pretty girl, very sweetly grave, and looking as if it could be very sweetly vivacious. When he had looked at it for a longish time he nodded and smiled, as if the pictured lips had actually spoken to him. There was a tumbler standing beside the photograph with a bunch of hothouse flowers in it, the one bright spot of colour in the dingy chamber. He took this in his disengaged hand, and nodding and smiling anew at the pretty girl's portrait, he turned about again, and walked into a bedroom beyond a narrow and inconvenient little window. The strident voice of the clock over the entrance of the old Hall, answered or anticipated from multitudinous spires in the City far and near, sounded as Philip entered his bedroom. He stood and listened, counting six jarring strokes. The bedroom was a microscopic apartment, with as many corners in it as any room of its size in London, and the bed itself was a perfect triumph of littleness, so tucked under the sloping roof, and so surrounded by projecting corners, as to make the entry to it or the exit from it a gymnastic performance of considerable merit. The room was not over-light at the best of times, the fourth part of the space of one small window in the sloping wall was filled by its own heavy framework, and for half its height it was shielded by a parapet, which had at least its uses in hiding the occupant of the room from the too-curious observation of those who dwelt in the upper stories of the houses opposite. These houses opposite, compared with Gable Inn, are of a mushroom modernness, and yet are old enough (having begun with a debauched and sickly constitution) to have fallen into an almost complete decrepitude. Their stately neighbour seems to be less grimy with the London smoke than they are, has always been less susceptible to outside evil influences, even of that unescapable sort, and drives them to an added shabbiness of senility by contrast with its own hale old age. The bedroom window was already open for the admission of such fresh air as, disguised in London blacks, the exhalations of moist spring pavements, and the reeking odours of the cuisine of Fleeter's Rents, might choose to wander thither. Philip, with the lamp in one hand and the tumbler of flowers in the other, put out his head and looked into the squalid depths below him, and having gazed there a while absently and with no object, drew back with a vague touch of pity upon him for the people who dwelt in so much squalor so near to healthy effort and reasonable competence. He could hardly have told as much, perhaps, but one pallid countenance, shining very dimly at an open window, was very much answerable for that vague touch of pity. The face in the darkness started away from the window as he looked at it, as if his own robust health and the light that dwelt about him startled its pinched shabbiness into solitude. He set the tumbler of flowers upon the window-ledge, and closing the window, made his toilet and returned to the sitting-room. Then, having banked up the fire, and set the matches in such a position that he could easily find them, he blew out the lamp, left his chambers, and ran down the tortuous stairs. As he turned the last corner a door clanged noisily, and the next thing of which he was conscious was that he was struggling in the embrace of a stranger whom he had doubled up in an angle of the wall.
'I beg your pardon,' he said gaspingly; 'I stumbled.'
'You did,' responded the stranger, gasping also. 'Rather heavily. It was lucky you had something soft to fall on.'
Philip began to make apologies. The stranger, breathless still, but jovially polite, begged him not to mention it. He was a tallish young man, broad set, and a little too fleshy for his years. He had a cleanshaven face, healthily pallid, the whitest of teeth, and a most frank, engaging, and contagious smile.
'Pray don't say anything more about it,' he said in answer to Philip's reiterated apologies. 'You are not hurt, I hope?'
'No, thanks; but I'm afraid you are.'
'Not at all. It was sharp for a minute; but I am all right now. The stairs are very inconvenient, especially to strangers.'
'I haven't even that excuse for my clumsiness, said Philip; 'for I am living here.'
'Indeed; then we are neighbours, and should know each other. Rather an informal kind of introduction, eh?' The stranger said this with a mellow laugh and a flash of his white teeth. He opened his overcoat as he spoke, and produced a card-case, Philip catching the gleam of a gold-studded shirt-front as he did so. 'That's my name, John Barter; and these are my offices.' The outer oak, cracked and blistered to the likeness of an ancient tar-barrel, bore an inscription, dim with long years—'Fellowship, Freemantle, and Barter'—and the names were repeated on the doorpost at the entrance.
'I have no card,' said Philip, accepting the stranger's. 'My name is Bommaney—Philip Bom-maney;' Mr. Barter's smiling face was unchanged, though he gave a slight but perceptible start at the name, and repeated it.
'Do you know it?' asked Philip. To the ears of his companion there was something of a challenge in the tone. 'It is not a common name.'
'No. Not a common name. I think I have heard it somewhere.'
They were under the archway by this time, in the brief shelter of which the sanguine-faced, red-waist-coated lodge-keeper was taking his nightly constitutional. They answered the touch of the hat with which he saluted them.
'Which is your way?' asked Mr. Barter.
'Westward,' said Phil.
'Mine is east,' said Barter, 'so we part here. We are bound to meet again before long. Good-night.'
'Good-night, and many thanks for taking my clumsiness in such good part.'
Barter's ready smile beamed out again. They shook hands before parting like old acquaintances, and Philip walked on, through the incessant noise of Holborn into quieter Bloomsbury Street, along the eastern side of Bedford Square, where the bare trees were shivering in a bath of fog, and into Gower Street. Half way down that hideous thoroughfare he came upon a house, one of the few which still retain the old lamp-iron and extinguisher before their doors, and knocking, was admitted by a trim maid, with the smiling alacrity due to a frequent and favoured visitor, and by her conducted to the drawing-room, where sat a young lady engaged in a transparent pretence of being absorbed in a novel. The pretence vanished as the door closed behind the handmaiden, and the young lady jumped up and ran forward to meet him, with such a glad welcome in her face as answered the appeal in his own. It does not need that we should look at her with Philip's eyes to pronounce her charmingly pretty, or to admire the face, at once shy and frank, with which she nestled beside him.
'I thought you were never coming,' she said.
'Am I so late, then?'
'It seemed so, and now you are come, tell me what you have been doing.'
'Working, and thinking of you.'
'You work too much, Phil.' She did her best to ignore the second item of his day's occupation, but the deepened flush and her avoidance of her lover's eyes answered it more effectively than words could have done. 'You are getting quite pale and thin. No wonder, sitting all alone all day long in those musty old chambers.'
'Well, you see, Patty, the more I work, the sooner I shall cease to be all alone.' The flush deepened again, and the hand trembled in his like a caught bird. 'And as for working too much, I don't believe that's possible. Work never killed anybody yet, and idleness has killed a good many. It's better to work than sit still and wait for briefs which never corns. There's no sensation more delightful than that of looking at a good day's work, and thinking that every line and word has brought me nearer to you.'
His tenderness conquered her shyness, and she nestled closer still, looking up at him with a wholehearted admiration and affection. He felt a little sad and unworthy under it, as almost any honest fellow would have been sure to do, and yet it was wonderfully sweet to him, and more than reward enough for any effort.
'I wish I could help you, Phil. I wish I could do something for you, when you have given up so much for me.'
'Hush!' he said, laying his hand lightly upon her lips. 'We made up our minds long ago that no more was to be said about that.' He was tender still—he could be nothing else with her—but there was a touch of sternness in his manner, too—as if the theme pained him.
'But I can't help thinking of it. It was so noble of you, Phil.'
'It was the only thing to be done—the only thing possible. It was——' he paused for a second, and then went on resolutely—'it was my father's act by which you suffered. I should have been a scoundrel if I had done otherwise.'
'And are you to do all? and am I to do nothing? It is selfish to keep all the generosity to yourself.'
He laughed as if he found this female paradox a pleasant fancy, but she was not to be put off so.
'If the subject pains you, as I know it does, dear, please understand why I speak of it I don't want you to think I take your sacrifice as you pretend to take it. It isn't a matter of course, as you pretend it is; and you may say what you like, Phil, but it isn't a thing that everybody would have done. Don't grudge me my gratitude; you did it for the love of me.'
'I didn't do it for the love of you,' said Phil, laughing tenderly; 'how often am I to tell you that, you little mountain of obstinacy? I did it because it was the right thing. I don't say, mind you, that it wasn't easier to do it for you than it might have been for somebody I didn't know or care for; but that—as you will see quite clearly if you'll bring your naturally logical mind to bear upon it—makes the thing so much the less creditable, provided there was any credit due to it at all.'
The loving feminine scorn of this masculine process of reasoning was expressed in a single glance, and was delightful to see.
'It only means waiting a little longer before I claim you.'
The girl would fain have asked, 'Why should you wait when I have enough for both by your gift? What does it matter which of us it is who has the money—you or I?' But this question went unspoken, for obvious reasons. A woman is tongue-tied by the countless conventionalities of education. She must often let her thoughts lie silent in her heart, though she burns to express them, and find what answer she can to questions she dare not offer. Philip had repaired her loss by beggaring himself. That was noble. But now he persisted in deferring their marriage, and had buried himself in that lofty sarcophagus in Gable Inn, resolved only to claim her, though she was all his own already, when he had reinstated his fortunes by his labour. That was noble also, perhaps, but in her own heart she thought it a trifle foolish—say Quixotic, not to be too severe. She would rather have seen his ardour find a more commonplace expression. She had a general sort of belief that whatever Philip did was bound to be right, and yet this actual experience rather jarred with that assumption.
They found other themes in a while, and talked of the future and the happiness it would bring. That Philip was going to be rich and famous was a prime article in Patty's creed, and he himself, though he had soberer hopes, was not likely to miss any chance of success which labour might bring him. He was more than modest enough in his conception of his own powers, and was often doubtful as to the fulfilment of the higher ambitions which are the necessary fuel of all artistic fires. Without those fires the chill of modesty will fall to the frost of cowardice, and in Art cowardice means indolence. In his moments of exultation—and these came generally at their strongest when he was in his sweetheart's society—success looked easy enough. The memory of her undoubted belief in him came upon him often with a glow reflected from those magnificently hopeful moments. But then at times of depression it grew to look no more than a foolish unattainable dream. All young artists have times when they are going to be great—when the glory proper to white hairs makes a halo round un-wrinkled fronts and curls, brown or golden. They have times when the smartest turn of verse, the most delightful inventions of narrative, the most exquisite contrast of colour or mould of form their genius can compass are stricken through and through with the horror of commonplace. But when a man of the artistic genus has once so far learned his own nature he has made a great advance towards the fulfilment of his ambitions. He has to learn that just as the hot fit is followed by the cold the cold fit is succeeded by the hot. He knows how intermittent he is. He learns to mistrust his own mistrust of himself. The periods of depression grow less frequent, and the depression grows less lasting. And then, just as the cold fit becomes less chilling to the one, the fit of exultation grows less intoxicating. The halo beams less bright—loss near.
Yet Philip, with the girl's eyes worshipping him, and her sweet voice cooing hope and praise, and her hands knitted on his shoulder, and her warm breath fanning his cheek, gave himself up to the vision, and felt his heart warm with a world's welcome as yet far away from him.
The prose of life will assert itself, even to visionary eight-and-twenty and sweet eighteen in love with one another. On this occasion it came as a summons to supper. The summoner was a stout and jovial elderly gentleman, about whose somewhat commonplace British exterior there was, to Philip's mind, a reflection of the nimbus which glorified Patty to his mind, for he was Patty's father. He had been called Old Brown at school when he was young—he had been called Old Brown in the country, and the prefix had found him out in town without the need for anybody to breathe a whisper of it. He was Old Brown to his new acquaintances in London before a month had gone by. The name suggests a beverage which is not unlike Old Brown himself—being mild and nutty to the taste as he to the mental palate—ripe and genial. He had a moist twinkle of the eye,—the look which bespeaks the kindly humorist,—and his slightly protruding under lip seemed covertly to taste the flavour of unspoken jokes. Old Brown's jokes were mainly left unspoken, but he spent a good part of his life in laughing without any very apparent reason for laughter, and may have been internally the way he looked to be.
He shook hands with Philip, and chucked Patty under the chin with a waggish aspect, which called an appealing blush into the girl's face. Perhaps the blush stayed the intended quip, but any way the old gentleman contented himself with a beaming laugh, and led the way to the supper table, rubbing his hands and chuckling.
The meal was quietly jovial, and if, after it, Old Brown was not quite so fast asleep as he pretended to be, at least his patience gave the lovers the shelter they needed. He snored in mellow murmurs from behind his bandanna, and they sat and talked together in low tones lest they might awaken him, until the time came for parting.
Outside the mist had given place to a dull persistent rain, and a peevish wind was complaining in area and chimney cowl. Philip turned to the street with a pleasantly haunting vision of Patty's vivacious face outlined against the warmth and brightness of the hall. The touch of her good-night kiss lingered on his lips like live velvet, and he carried warmth and brightness enough within him to defy all the rain that ever rained, and all the wind that ever blew on smoky London.
The rain had cleared the streets, and the occasional gleam of a policeman's cape or a furtive figure seeking the shelter of a doorway against the drifting showers was all he saw as he bored his way against the rising wind to the corner of Holborn. He was so absorbed by that fancy of music to which his own quick tread kept time that a shuffling step behind him rapidly drawing nearer failed to reach his sense. But as he came to the corner, a hand clutched his arm.
He turned, with the quick defensive gesture natural to a man so accosted at such a time, and faced the unexpected figure. An old man, clad in filthy fluttering rags, stood staring at him, with both hands stretched out. The rags shook as much with the horrible cough that tore him as with the cruel wind. He was a dreadful creature, with watery eyes, and a head and moustache of dirty gray. His long and unvenerable hairs strayed loose beneath the dunghill relic which crowned them. The rain was in his hair and beard, and had so soaked his tattered dress that it clung to him like the feathers of a drenched fowl. He shook and wheezed and panted, and gripped the air with tremulous fingers, and through the rents in his clothing his white flesh gleamed in the gaslight.
The look of surprise and pity which Philip bent upon this unclean apparition was startled into one of sudden fear and horror. In the very instant when these emotions struck him, they were reflected in the other's face. The man made a motion to run, but Philip clutched his arm, and he stood cowering and unresisting.
'You! Here in London?'
'Phil,' said the spectre imploringly, 'for God's sake help me. I didn't know it was you, when I followed you. I thought——' his voice trailed into silence.
'You have come to this?'
'Yes, Phil; this is what I've come to.' The cough took him here again, and tore him so that he was fain to lean against the shutters of a shop near at hand.
'Why do you come back here? Are you mad?'
'I am—almost. What could I do? I'm as safe here as I am anywhere. Who would know me? or, if they did, who would hurt a wretch like me? I haven't slept in a bed for weeks, Phil. I haven't eaten a morsel for three days. For God's sake! give me some money. I'll—I'll go away; I'll never trouble you again.'
'I'll give you all I can. But you must go away from London.'
Philip thrust his hand into his pocket and brought up all the pocket's contents. He took his keys and an unvalued trifle or two from the handful, and held the rest out towards his father. The old man shrunk from him with a terrible appeal and shamefaced gratitude which cut the son's heart like a knife.
'Where can I go to?'
'Anywhere out of London. You are not—safe here. Go away. Write to me here.' He thrust an envelope on which his name and address were written into the old man's dirty trembling hand. 'You must never come to see me. Promise me that.'
'I promise,' he said; and, thrusting the money and the envelope somewhere among his rags, stood silent for a while. 'I'm afraid,' he said, 'I acted very foolishly and very——'
Then his voice trailed away again.
'God help you!' said Philip with a choking voice.
'You'll shake hands, won't you, Phil? 'said the old man. Phil took the proffered hand. 'It's something,' said Bommaney the elder, clinging to him, 'to feel an honest man's hand again, God bless you, Phil!—God bless you!'
Philip stood silent, and the old man, with another shame-stricken glance upon him, moved away. His son watched him for a second or two, as he slunk, coughing and shivering, along the gleaming pavement, and then turned and went his own way heavily.
Bommaney senior, discerning the welcome beacon of a public-house, shuffled eagerly towards it, hugging beneath his rags the money his son had given him.
'I beg your pardon, Mr. Bommaney; if you please, sir.' He started at the sound of a voice which had been familiar to him for years. 'I should like a word with you, sir; if you please.'
James Hornett was less changed than his old employer, but it was evident that he too had fallen upon evil times. For a mere second the familiar tones of his voice were no more than familiar to Bommaney, whose mind was confused by long misery and hunger and sleeplessness, and the shock of his late encounter. But when he turned and saw Hornett's long thumb and finger scraping at his stubbly jaws, the gesture and the attitude of apology brought him back to mind at once. Hornett's coat sleeve was torn, and showed his arm half way down to the elbow, but revealed no hint of linen, The collar of his frock-coat was buttoned tightly about his neck, and there was a sparkling metallic rime upon his cheeks and chin and upper lip. Bommaney was ashamed before him, and afraid of him, and only some faint reminder of self-respect and the pride of earlier days held him back from the impulse to run away.
'You're not afraid of me, sir?' said James Hornett. He had always smiled, and was smiling even now. The smile was no more than a contortion of the muscles of the face, which made a long mirthless crease on either cheek, and left the eyes untouched by the least light of sympathy. It gave him a propitiatory dog-like look, and there was a hint of fawning in his attitude which matched it perfectly and carried out the likeness. 'You remember me, sir?' he went on, for Bommaney stared at him so wildly that there seemed room for reasonable doubt on that point. 'Hornett, sir. James Hornett Your faithful servant for thirty years, sir.' Bommaney looked at him with haggard watering eyes, and said nothing as yet 'It's a bit of a surprise, sir, at first, isn't it?' Hornett went on, with his unchanging smile. There was a good deal of hunger and even triumph in his small soul, but they found no other outward expression, and his attitude and voice were as apologetic and retiring as of old. 'It was rather a surprise to me, sir, when I recognised you. Isn't it a little dangerous for you to be here, Mr. Bommaney?'
They both started, and each looked about him at this mention of the fugitive's name.
'Hush!' said Bommaney. 'Don't call me by that name. Come away from here.'
A policeman strolled along the street, with an echoing tread, and as the two slunk past him he turned a casual glance upon them. The glance touched them like a galvanic shock, and they would have run if they had had courage for such an indiscretion.
'What do you want with me?' asked Bommaney, when the policeman was out of sight and hearing; Hornett walking beside him, with his lean, propitiatory fingers at his chin, looked up with hesitating meekness.
'Well, you see, sir,' he responded, 'your fall was mine, sir; I was supposed'—he coughed behind his hand here to indicate apology for the introduction of a theme so necessarily disagreeable to the other's feelings—' I was supposed, sir, to have been in your confidence. I made many applications for employment, and nobody would employ me. Young Mr. Weatherall, sir, promised, personally, that if I called again, he'd kick me down the steps.'
'What do you want with me?' he asked again.
They were standing by this time outside the doors of a public-house, and the wind-driven rain was pelting down heavily.
'I thought, sir——' said Hornett; 'I'm very hard pressed, sir.' The dog-like, propitiatory smile never varied. 'I was following Mr. Phil myself, sir, in the hope that his kindness might run to a trifle.'
'Come in,' said Bommaney; and Hornett eagerly accepting the invitation, they entered the house together. There was an odour of frying in the room, and a hissing noise proceeded from a soft of metal caldron which stood over a row of gas-jets on the pewter counter. A printed legend, 'Sausage and Mashed, 3d.' was pasted on the wooden partition at the side of the box they entered, and on the mirror which faced them, and displayed their own squalid misery to themselves. A year ago the fare would have seemed uninviting to either at his hungriest moment, but now Bommaney called for it with a dreadful suppressed eagerness, and, the barman serving them with a tantalising leisure, they watched every movement with the eyes of famine.
'I've got a little place, sir, of my own,' whispered Hornett, when the pangs of hunger were appeased. 'It's very humble, but you could put up for the night there.' Bommaney made no answer, but the two set out again together through the rain, and, pausing once only for the purchase of a flat pint bottle of whisky, made straight for Fleeter's Rents.
All that nine hundred and ninety-nine in a thousand of the many thousands who pass it every day could tell you of Fleeter's Rents is that it makes a narrow black gash in the walls of the great thoroughfare, and that it neighbours Gable Inn. It is slimy in its very atmosphere all winter through, and its air in summer time is made of dust and grit and shadow. The old Inn elbows it disdainfully on one side, and on the other a great modern stuccoed pile overtops it with a parvenu insolence. It is the home naturally of the very poor; for no hermit or hater of the world, however disposed to shun his fellows, would hide in its dingy solitudes whilst he had but a mere shilling a day for lodging and bodily sustenance elsewhere.
Hornett led the way up a set of narrow and broken stairs, and having reached the uppermost story of the house, pushed open a broken door, which, depending from a single hinge, scratched, noisily upon the uneven flooring of the room. His guest stood shivering in the doorway until a match sputtered and fizzed in Hornett's fingers. Then, guided by that precarious light, he advanced. Hornett lit a candle which adhered by its own grease to the filthy wall and had already made a great cone of smoke with a tremulous outline there. There was a small grate, with a mere double-handful of shavings, chips, and coal behind its rusty bars. Hornett applied the match to the shavings, and, as the fire leapt up, the two men knelt together, coughing and choking in the smoke, and bathing their chilled hands in the flame. Bommaney drew the flat bottle from a pocket hidden somewhere in his multitudinous rags, and drank. Hornett watched him greedily, with hands involuntarily and unconsciously extended. Then when he had drunk in turn, they each shivered over the fire again, stealing furtive glances at each other, each mightily disconcerted when he met the other's eye. Bommaney had aged dreadfully during his year of hiding, and Hornett, who had drunk his employer's health upon his birthdays often enough to know his age to a day, could yet scarce believe that the dreadful spectre who knelt beside him numbered less than fourscore years.
One question perplexed Hornett's mind. How came it, he asked himself over and over again, that in the space of a mere twelvemonths a man who started with at least eight thousand pounds could have fallen into such a depth of poverty? Eight thousand pounds, if absolutely nothing were done with it for its own increase, meant royal living for a score of years for an unencumbered man. Hornett longed to satisfy his own curiosity upon this point, and felt as if he dared not ask the question for his life. He framed a score of ways by which he might approach it, with a road of retreat behind him, and at last, as if in spite of himself, he said, with apologetic impudence,
'You don't seem to have made the money last long, sir.'
'The money,' cried Bommaney, turning furiously upon him. 'What money?'
Hornett edged away upon his knees, and his thumb and fingers traced the creases of his smile up and down his stubbly cheeks.
'Do you think,' the old man demanded passionately, 'that I took away a penny?'
Hornett was afraid to rise. There was such a despair and so much fury in the other's looks that he could do nothing but crouch at his feet with his mean meek face turned fearfully towards Bommaney, and his body cowering.
'You think I took that eight thousand pounds?' Bommaney quavered, with a voice of bitter disdain.
He had never in his life regretted anything so profoundly as he had regretted his resistance of that temptation. To have had all the blame and shame, and to endure all the miseries a convicted thief might earn for himself, to have been an outcast and a pauper, only because he had been resolute against temptation! It is easy enough for a man whom circumstances keep honest to think himself honourable beyond the chance of temptation. But misery has the virtue of Ithuriel's spear, with a difference. As the one touched the beast and transformed him to the seeming of a high intelligence, so will the other touch a seemingly impregnable armour of bright honour, and turn it into tinder, leaving the poor beast revealed and unprotected from his own base natural longings. The poor Bommaney was maddened to think he had not done what the other's thoughts charged him with, even though he passionately rebelled against the accusation.
'When did you ever know me to be a rogue, James Hornett?' he asked, with an air and voice to which his passion lent something like dignity. 'When did you ever know me defraud a man of a farthing?'
'Never, sir, I'm sure,' Hornett responded, not doubting in his own mind that Bommaney was guilty. 'But——'
'But what?' cried Bommaney. 'My own son, my own flesh and blood, would hardly shake hands with me. My clerk—I took him out of the gutter, you know that, Hornett! I took you out of the gutter and made a man of you, and lavished kindness on you. Nobody has a minute's trust in me—nobody thinks of misfortune or disaster. I was right to run away and hide myself, for nobody would have believed me if I had stayed and told the truth.'
Hornett looked more frightened than before after this outburst, but Bommaney read incredulity in his face, and answered it with an added passion.
'What good would it do me to tell lies to you? Suppose I made you believe me, am I such a fool as to, think your pity could set me on my legs again?'
He turned away, moved by his own wrath and anguish, and Hornett, rising, made himself as small as he could in the corner beside the grate. Bommaney, in his pitiful broken boots, went shuffling up and down the room.
'What became of the money, sir?' the clerk asked with a shaky voice.
He was ready to run for his life, and he was more than half afraid that the old man was mad—his eyes blazed so, and his voice and gestures were so tempestuous.
'It was lost,' said Bommaney. 'I lost it, Heaven knows how. I've thought a thousand times,' he said, through his clenched teeth, 'that that young Barter must have had it.'
'Young Barter, sir?' said Hornett.
Then Bommaney told all he knew of the story of his own loss, and at a certain point in the narrative Hornett started and made a step forward. He remembered the night well enough—he had reason to remember it. An appointment for the theatre that evening had led him to call upon a brother clerk in Gable Inn, and he had seen young Mr. Barter leaving his chambers in what had struck him at the time as being an odd and stealthy fashion. He had remarked it for the moment, and had forgotten it afterwards, as men forget a thousand things of the sort which have no interest personal to themselves. But now he saw young Mr. Barter's figure with a singular distinctness, and the face turned round in the gaslight was again as visible as it had been at the moment. He thought he read a meaning in it now. But for this slight confirmation of his employer's story he would probably have disbelieved it, but the accidental character of the clue weighed with him, an apparent touch of romance in it gave it a value beyond its merits.
'Could you tell me, sir,' he asked, 'exactly what time it was when you left Mr. Barter's office?'
'No,' said Bommaney, suddenly weary after his outburst of self-exculpation, 'I don't know. It was after banking hours. It was dark; he had to light the gas. What if I could? What would that have to do with it?'
'Well, you see, sir,' Hornett answered, 'I'm not likely to forget that evening. Of all the evenings of my life, sir, I made a call at Gable Inn myself, sir, at Number One. If young Mr. Barter had found the notes he wouldn't care to face you again, and he mightn't have answered your knock at the door, though he might have heard it.'
'Any fool could tell me that,' said Bommaney roughly. 'What do you mean?'
'I've noticed, sir,' said Hornett, with marked humility, as if he apologised for having said anything, 'that young Mr. Barter is a gentleman who goes about in rather a large way, and noisy way, sir. He's a biggish man, as it is, and to look at him at first you'd fancy that he was bigger than he is. He talks very loud and cheery, sir, and he bangs things about a good deal.'
'Well?' said Bommaney, irritated by these slow preliminaries, 'what about it all?'
He could see that his late clerk was leading to a point of some sort, and listened with a growing impatience.
'He was leaving his rooms that night, sir,' said Hornett, 'as sly as a cat. I was just on the ground-floor of Number One as he was locking the door behind him. Locking it, don't you see, sir,' said Hornett, beginning to be fired by his imagination, and speaking eagerly, 'so as not to make a noise in pulling it to behind him. I suppose I made some sort of a noise in going behind him, but any way, he looked up at me—I can see him now!' he cried, with a swift conviction, 'as if he was here at this very minute, white and cowardly. That's what he was, sir. White and cowardly, I can see him now.'
Bommaney grasped him by the wrist.
'Do you remember the time?' he asked, passing one hand confusedly through the tumbled and disgraceful old locks of his hair. 'Do you remember when I left the office? Do you remember when you left it?'
'Almost directly, sir, after you. But you drove, sir, and I walked. I stopped, and had a little conversation with a friend, and just a social glass that might have kept me back five minutes, sir. I was going to dine with Mr. Marshall (White and Fielding's Mr. Marshall, sir) before the theatre.'
Bommaney released his wrist, and dropping on his knees before the fire again, warmed his hands absently and stared into the blaze.
'The notes were all hundreds, James,' he said, after a pause. 'They were stopped at the Bank, I know, because I saw the advertisement. It wouldn't be easy to get rid of them.'
'There are ways and means, sir,' said Hornett. 'They'd have to be disposed of at a loss, of course—a heavy loss—and kept quiet for a considerable time.'
'Have you heard of any of them coming into circulation?' asked Bommaney.
'I haven't been in the way to hear of anything, sir,' the clerk answered mournfully, 'but,' with a sidelong look at his old employer, 'if I could only get to look a bit respectable, I could make inquiries in an hour. I have no doubt I could find out, sir.'
'My boy believes I'm guilty, like the rest,' said the old man, moaning and shivering and coughing again. The passion of his protest and the warmth of heart which Hornett's returning confidence had taught him had all died away, and he was his bankrupt, disgraced, and broken self again, old and maudlin, and strickenly conscious of his miseries.
'Phil might help me,' he said shakily. 'He 'could, but he won't. He's got plenty of money. If I'd been a rogue, James Hornett,' and there he flashed up again, ever so little, 'I could have robbed my own flesh and blood with safety. A rogue would have done it. I was his sole trustee, and I could have had nine thousand by a stroke of the pen at any minute.'
'Mr. Phil, sir,' said Hornett 'Mr. Phil hasn't got much money left'
'Why not?' the old man asked, staring round at him with his watery eyes.
'He paid Mr. Brown the eight thousand in full, sir, and divided the rest, as far as it would go, amongst the poorest of the creditors.'
Bommaney turned back towards the fire, and drooped there. He seemed very impassive under this intelligence, but he was deeply moved by it all the same. The sense of his son's high feeling of honour gave him a keen throb of pride, and then he thought bitterly that his own ill-luck pursued his offspring.
The loss was double. It had disgraced and ruined him, and had robbed his son of his inheritance.
'Hornett,' he said, 'James Hornett.'
'I was brought up,' the old man said, in a muffled voice, advancing and retiring his hands before the fire, and chafing them automatically, 'I was brought up by Christian parents. I never did a dishonourable act in all my days. I have been a God-fearing man and a—a steady church-goer. I give it all up. I renounce it. I don't believe in God. I don't believe in religion. I don't believe in being honest. It's a—it's a vile wicked world, Hornett, and it's my belief the devil rules it.'
'Oh, sir,' cried Hornett,' you mustn't talk like this, sir. You must excuse me speaking free, sir, but I can't stand by and hear you talk like that. I can't listen to it, sir—I can't really. I've never said a disrespectful word to you, Mr. Bommaney, but I really must speak out now, sir. It isn't respectable, sir, to talk like that.'
After this there was a long silence, and Bommaney, who had repouched the bottle after his last application to it, consulted it again, and handed it wordlessly to Hornett, without looking at him.
'Phil might,' he murmured in a while—' he might be brought to believe me. He's an honest man himself, James—a very honest high-minded man indeed. I must look where he lives,' he murmured, seeking for the envelope his son had given him. 'He gave me his address.'
'His address, sir,' said Hornett. 'You could almost lay your hand on him. He lives there. That's his window with the light in it.' Bommaney moved to the window, and followed with his glance the direction of Hornett's outstretched finger. There was a window a few feet higher than the one at which he stood, and half-hidden from observation by a stone parapet. A shadow obscured the light, and moved about the ceiling, visible from below.
'I saw him there to-night, sir,' said Hornett 'I saw his face at the window. He put a glass of flowers outside. That's his shadow moving about there now.'
'Phil!' groaned the wretched father, straining his dirty wasted hands together. 'Phil!'
'I'm not the figure, sir,' said Hornett, 'to call upon a gentleman like Mr. Phil; nor yet are you, sir, if you'll excuse my saying so. But if you'd let me go, sir, and put the case to him, he might come and see you here, sir, and you might set yourself straight with him, sir, which would at least,' the seedy man added, somewhat moved by the old man's tears and tremblings, 'be an advantage to a father's heart.'
Bommaney stood in silence, looking upward. The moving shadow settled itself upon the ceiling in a huge silhouette, distinctly traceable. There was no doubting it was Phil's dear head that threw the shadow, himself invisible, so near, so far. The foolish outcast's heart ached bitterly, and he stretched both hands towards the shadow, not knowing that he moved.
'Shall I venture, sir?' asked Mr. Hornett, more moved than ever, and coughing to clear a little huskiness in the throat. 'Shall I venture, sir, to look in on Mr. Phil in the morning?'
'Yes, go, James,' said Bommaney, sobbing outright by this time. 'Perhaps—perhaps he may believe me.'
When young Mr. Barter took time to think about things, he began, for more reasons than one, to be sorry. It is necessary for the due development of this history to go back a little, and to take up Mr. Barter on the day following the commission of his crime. The young man felt that he was unable to afford candour, and discreetly avoided the naming of his own action. Eight thousand pounds is a sum which most people would find tempting. Young Mr. Barter would never have found it tempting in the criminal way (though, if he had given his mind to the consideration, he could at any time have seen how enviable its unencumbered possessor might be) if he had not at the moment felt himself under considerable pressure. Mr. Barter's fleshy and well-formed fingers were somewhat too familiar with the feel of cards. These fingers of his were peculiarly dexterous to look at, and had even an unnecessary braggadocio air of dexterity when he was engaged in his favourite occupation. Experienced people watched his shuffling and dealing with great care. In Mr. Barter's frank and engaging countenance, and in that ready smile in which the faultless teeth shone so conspicuously, there was no hint of danger to the most unwary. Even the wariest, listening to his genial mellow laughter, and seeing the jolly shoulders shake with mirth, were inclined to think him a loyal honest-hearted fellow. His loud swagger, his frank rollicking gait, his hail-good-fellow-well-met shake of the hand, the other hand clapped upon the shoulder, the noisy greeting, and that unfailing smile, not merely disarmed suspicion, but made the mere fancy of it impossibly absurd. But young Mr. Barter had accustomed himself to associate with people whose experiences had forced them to be observant, and to these the dexterous caressing fingers with which he manipulated all instruments employed in games of chance seemed to justify a fairly constant watchfulness. The fingers handled the cards as if they loved them, as if they had been accustomed to them from the cradle. The tips turned back a good deal, and the nails hooked a little forward. There were little bulbs of tact at every tip, the hands were made for a gambler, and could by no possibility have belonged to anybody else.
The chief ground for the young man's sorrow may be very easily and briefly stated. The packet which the unfortunate cruelly-tempted Bommaney had let fall in his half-drunken abstraction on the floor of young Mr. Barter's private room was made up exclusively, as we know already, of notes for one hundred pounds.
Now Bank of England notes for one hundred pounds, though valuable, and easily enough employed in all civilised countries when honestly come by, are only to be got rid of when dishonestly acquired at great risk and loss. A note for a mere five pounds may pass through scores of hands before being stopped at the bank. Tens, so the experienced in such matters will tell you, are a little difficult. Twenties are inquired into rather carefully. Fifties are positively dangerous to handle in this way. Hundreds are, except after great lapse of time, almost impossible; and as for a thousand, a man might almost as well steal a white elephant as a bank-note of that value, except that it will cost him nothing for keep, unless you count the tremor of soul and nerve, which is surely worth something, in which a man criminally possessed of another's property is almost certain to live.
Mr. Barter, then, had eight thousand pounds in ready money, was liable, if discovered, to penal servitude, and was unable to touch a farthing of his ill-got gains. There are many men in the world, the world's experience proves it hourly, who set so small a price upon their self-respect, that they will sell it for a shilling, for a drink, for a word. But there is hardly any man so lost to the natural human desire for self-approval that he will actually give away his self-respect for nothing. Now this absurd transaction young Mr. Barter, when he took time to think about things, appeared to himself to have made.
He was not, and never had been, a great reader; he gave up his mind to pursuits which he found more attractive than the tranquil fields and lanes of literature. Yet he remembered, in a dim sort of way, either that he had read somewhere in his schoolboy days, or that a fanciful old nurse had told him, a story of a person somewhere, who, being possessed of a great chest of money, went one day to look at it, and found that his hard cash had changed to withered leaves. Precisely such a transformation had overtaken that eight thousand pounds, at the moment when it had fallen from the hands of a man who might have made an honest use of it. The fable was, and was not, true, so far as he remembered, and his fancy dwelt curiously about the history. There was no possibility of turning back the withered leaves to gold, and making them jingle and glitter again as only one's own ready money can jingle and glitter. But, useless as these crisp and rustling leaves of paper were to him, they held still all their old potentialities, and in the hands of honest men or courageous rascals each leaf might still transmute itself into a hundred golden emblems of sovereignty and power. He was neither that honest man nor that courageous rascal, and the money grew to be a sort of devilish tantalising fetish to him. Before he had owned it a fortnight, he had felt a hundred times he could have burned it out of the exasperation of mere spite against it.
He heard, of course, of Bommaney's flight, and of the failure of the old-established business house. People talked about these things a good deal for a time, and he himself listened to and took part in many speculations as to Bommaney's whereabouts, and the means he would take to get rid of the notes and make them available for his own purposes. He found it at first a little trying to the nerves. There was nothing, since Bommaney had accepted his own disgrace and run away, to connect young Mr. Barter with the lost eight thousand pounds, yet it took much courage, and a considerable amount of inward spurring, to bring himself to talk about the business. When a man carries a secret of a quite harmless nature, it happens often, as almost everybody knows, that casual words and quite innocent glances startle him with hints of understanding and participation. What is it when the detection of the secret involves open shame and penal servitude? Can a man of genuine courage be a thief? Is not courage after all at the very bottom of all manly honour, of all sound honesty, all true self-respect? How shall a thief be other than a lurking cur, whose whole soul, such as it is, is bent to a mean suspicion that he is suspected, a continuous terror-stricken watchfulness, a sleeping and waking dread of an awful hand-clap on the shoulder? There are constitutional differences in thieves, no doubt, as there are in other people, but the key-note of the dishonest man's whole thought is fear. When, after a day or two, young Mr. Barter had accustomed himself to speak of Bommaney and the lost eight thousand, and had often spoken of them, he began to look out for suggestions that might be useful to himselt He even led the way at times, and speaking to solicitors and barristers of extensive criminal experience, he asked often, for example, how could a scoundrel get rid of such a clumsy handful? Why didn't the fool cash the notes, he would ask contemptuously, before he left town, and before he was suspected? Everybody knew of course that the notes had not been presented, and their numbers were advertised in all the daily papers. Now what could a fellow do who had them, by Jingo? What could he do? There was no way open, so far as young Mr. Barter could see, and he was wonderfully engaging and innocent of the world's wickeder ways as he talked thus with the ablest of his fellow professionals.
The fellow professionals cited cases. There was Rosenthal, a noted receiver in his day, to whom a dishonest clerk had sold five thousand pounds for five hundred. Rosenthal had held the notes for six years, and had then put them cautiously on the Continental market. He was an old hand, was Rosenthal, and very clever and leary, but they had bowled him out. The clerk was wanted on another charge, and turned Queen's evidence against the receiver. Almost all the stories had this kind of termination, because the legal gentlemen whom young Mr. Barter consulted remembered mainly cases in which they or their friends had been engaged, or cases which had resulted in criminal proceedings. Others there certainly were, but they were vague and necessarily without those guiding particulars which he desired.