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A Perilous Secret by Charles Reade

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A PERILOUS SECRET

BY CHARLES READE

AUTHOR OF "HARD CASH" "PUT YOURSELF IN HIS PLACE" "GRIFFITH GAUNT" "IT IS
NEVER TOO LATE TO MEND" ETC., ETC.

1884

CONTENTS.

CHAPTER I.
THE POOR MAN'S CHILD

CHAPTER II.
THE RICH MAN'S CHILD

CHAPTER III.
THE TWO FATHERS

CHAPTER IV.
AN OLD SERVANT

CHAPTER V.
MARY'S PERIL

CHAPTER VI.
SHARP PRACTICE

CHAPTER VII.
THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE

CHAPTER VIII.
THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE

CHAPTER IX.
LOVERS PARTED

CHAPTER X.
THE GORDIAN KNOT

CHAPTER XI.
THE KNOT CUT.--ANOTHER TIED

CHAPTER XII.
THE CLANDESTINE MARRIAGE

CHAPTER XIII.
THE SERPENT LET LOOSE

CHAPTER XIV.
THE SERPENT

CHAPTER XV.
THE SECRET IN DANGER

CHAPTER XVI.
REMINISCENCES.--THE FALSE ACCUSER.--THE SECRET EXPLODED

CHAPTER XVII.
LOVERS' QUARRELS

CHAPTER XVIII.
APOLOGIES

CHAPTER XIX.
A WOMAN OUTWITS TWO MEN

CHAPTER XX.
CALAMITY

CHAPTER XXI.
BURIED ALIVE

CHAPTER XXII.
REMORSE

CHAPTER XXIII.
BURIED ALIVE.--THE THREE DEADLY PERILS

CHAPTER XXIV.
STRANGE COMPLICATIONS

CHAPTER XXV.
RETRIBUTION

CHAPTER XXVI.
STRANGE TURNS

CHAPTER XXVII.
CURTAIN

A PERILOUS SECRET.

CHAPTER I.

THE POOR MAN'S CHILD.

Two worn travellers, a young man and a fair girl about four years old,
sat on the towing-path by the side of the Trent.

The young man had his coat off, by which you might infer it was very hot;
but no, it was a keen October day, and an east wind sweeping down the
river. The coat was wrapped tightly round the little girl, so that only
her fair face with blue eyes and golden hair peeped out; and the young
father sat in his shirt sleeves, looking down on her with a loving but
anxious look. Her mother, his wife, had died of consumption, and he was
in mortal terror lest biting winds and scanty food should wither this
sweet flower too, his one remaining joy.

William Hope was a man full of talent; self-educated, and wonderfully
quick at learning anything: he was a linguist, a mechanic, a
mineralogist, a draughtsman, an inventor. Item, a bit of a farrier, and
half a surgeon; could play the fiddle and the guitar; could draw and
paint and drive a four-in-hand. Almost the only thing he could not do was
to make money and keep it.

Versatility seldom pays. But, to tell the truth, luck was against him;
and although in a long life every deserving man seems to get a chance,
yet Fortune does baffle some meritorious men for a limited time.
Generally, we think, good fortune and ill fortune succeed each other
rapidly, like red cards and black; but to some ill luck comes in great
long slices; and if they don't drink or despair, by-and-by good luck
comes continuously, and everything turns to gold with him who has waited
and deserved.

Well, for years Fortune was hard on William Hope. It never let him get
his head above-water. If he got a good place, the employer died or sold
his business. If he patented an invention, and exhausted his savings to
pay the fees, no capitalist would work it, or some other inventor
proved he had invented something so like it that there was no basis for
a monopoly.

At last there fell on him the heaviest blow of all. He had accumulated
L50 as a merchant's clerk, and was in negotiation for a small independent
business, when his wife, whom he loved tenderly, sickened.

For eight months he was distracted with hopes and fears. These gave way
to dismal certainty. She died, and left him broken-hearted and poor,
impoverished by the doctors, and pauperized by the undertaker. Then his
crushed heart had but one desire--to fly from the home that had lost its
sunshine, and the very country which had been calamitous to him.

He had one stanch friend, who had lately returned rich from New Zealand,
and had offered to send him out as his agent, and to lend him money in
the colony. Hope had declined, and his friend had taken the huff, and
had not written to him since. But Hope knew he was settled in Hull, and
too good-hearted at bottom to go from his word in his friend's present
sad condition. So William Hope paid every debt he owed in Liverpool, took
his child to her mother's tombstone, and prayed by it, and started to
cross the island, and then leave it for many a long day.

He had a bundle with one brush, one comb, a piece of yellow soap, and two
changes of linen, one for himself, and one for his little Grace--item,
his fiddle, and a reaping hook; for it was a late harvest in the north,
and he foresaw he should have to work his way and play his way, or else
beg, and he was too much of a man for that. His child's face won her many
a ride in a wagon, and many a cup of milk from humble women standing at
their cottage doors.

Now and then he got a day's work in the fields, and the farmer's wife
took care of little Grace, and washed her linen, and gave them both clean
straw in the barn to lie on, and a blanket to cover them. Once he fell in
with a harvest-home, and his fiddle earned him ten shillings, all in
sixpences. But on unlucky days he had to take his fiddle under his arm,
and carry his girl on his back: these unlucky days came so often that
still as he travelled his small pittance dwindled. Yet half-way on this
journey fortune smiled on him suddenly. It was in Derbyshire. He went a
little out of his way to visit his native place--he had left it at ten
years old. Here an old maid, his first cousin, received Grace with
rapture, and Hope pottered about all day, reviving his boyish
recollections of people and places. He had left the village ignorant; he
returned full of various knowledge; and so it was that in a certain
despised field, all thistles and docks and every known weed, which field
the tenant had condemned as a sour clay unfit for cultivation, William
Hope found certain strata and other signs which, thanks to his
mineralogical studies and practical knowledge, sent a sudden thrill all
through his frame. "Here's luck at last!" said he. "My child! my child!
our fortune is made."

The proprietor of this land, and indeed of the whole parish, was a
retired warrior, Colonel Clifford. Hope knew that very well, and hurried
to Clifford Hall, all on fire with his discovery.

He obtained an interview without any difficulty. Colonel Clifford, though
proud as Lucifer, was accessible and stiffly civil to humble folk. He was
gracious enough to Hope; but, when the poor fellow let him know he had
found signs of coal on his land, he froze directly; told him that two
gentlemen in that neighborhood had wasted their money groping the bowels
of the earth for coal, because of delusive indications on the surface of
the soil; and that for his part, even if he was sure of success, he would
not dirty his fingers with coal. "I believe," said he, "the northern
nobility descend to this sort of thing; but then they have not smelled
powder, and seen glory, and served her Majesty. _I have_."

Hope tried to reason with him, tried to get round him. But he was
unassailable as Gibraltar, and soon cut the whole thing short by
saying: "There, that's enough. I am much obliged to you, sir, for
bringing me information you think valuable. You are travelling--on
foot--short of funds perhaps. Please accept this trifle,
and--and--good-morning." He retreated at marching pace, and the hot
blood burned his visitor's face. An alms!

But on second thoughts he said: "Well, I have offered him a fortune, and
he gives me ten shillings. One good turn deserves another." So he
pocketed the half-sovereign, and bought his little Grace a
neck-handkerchief, blue with white spots; and so this unlucky man and his
child fought their way from west to east, till they reached that place
where we introduced them to the reader.

That was an era in their painful journey, because until then Hope's only
anxiety was to find food and some little comfort for his child. But this
morning little Grace had begun to cough, a little dry cough that struck
on the father's heart like a knell. Her mother had died of consumption:
were the seeds of that fatal malady in her child? If so, hardship,
fatigue, cold, and privation would develop them rapidly, and she would
wither away into the grave before his eyes. So he looked down on her in
an agony of foreboding, and shivered in his shirt sleeves, not at the
cold, but at the future. She, poor girl, was, like the animals, blessed
with ignorance of everything beyond the hour; and soon she woke her
father from his dire reverie with a cry of delight.

"Oh, what's they?" said she, and beamed with pleasure. Hope followed the
direction of her blue eyes, open to their full extent; and lo! there was
a little fleet of swans coming round a bend of the river. Hope told her
all about the royal birds, and that they belonged to sovereigns in one
district, to cities in another. Meantime the fair birds sailed on, and
passed stately, arching their snowy necks. Grace gloated on them, and for
a day or two her discourse was of swans.

At last, when very near the goal, misfortunes multiplied. They came into
a town on a tidal river, whence they could hope to drift down to their
destination for a shilling or two; but here Hope spent his last farthing
on Grace's supper at an eating-house, and had not wherewithal to pay for
bed or breakfast at the humble inn. Here, too, he took up the local
paper, praying Heaven there might be some employment advertised, however
mean, that so he might feed his girl, and not let the fiend Consumption
take her at a gift.

No, there was nothing in the advertising column, but in the body of the
paper he found a paragraph to the effect that Mr. Samuelson, of Hull,
had built a gigantic steam vessel in that port, and was going out to New
Zealand in her on her trial trip, to sail that morning at high tide, 6.45
A.M., and it was now nine.

How a sentence in a newspaper can blast a man! Bereavement, Despair, Lost
Love--they come like lightning in a single line. Hope turned sick at
these few words, and down went his head and his hands, and he sat all of
a heap, cold at heart. Then he began to disbelieve in everything,
especially in honesty. For why? If he had only left Liverpool in debt and
taken the rail, he would have reached Hull in ample time, and would have
gone out to New Zealand in the new ship with money in both pockets.

But it was no use fretting. Starvation and disease impended over his
child. He must work, or steal, or something. In truth he was getting
desperate. He picked himself up and went about, offering his many
accomplishments to humble shop-keepers. They all declined him, some
civilly. At last he came to a superior place of business. There were
large offices and a handsome house connected with it in the rear. At the
side of the offices were pulleys, cranes, and all the appliances for
loading vessels, and a yard with horses and vans, so that the whole
frontage of the premises was very considerable. A brass plate said, "R.
Bartley, ship-broker and commission agent"; but the man was evidently a
ship-owner and a carrier besides; so this miscellaneous shop roused hopes
in our versatile hero. He rapidly surveyed the outside, and then cast
hungry glances through the window of the man's office. It was a
bow-window of unusual size, through which the proprietor or his employees
could see a long way up and down the river. Through this window Hope
peered. Repulses had made him timid. He wanted to see the face he had to
apply to before he ventured.

But Mr. Bartley was not there. The large office was at present occupied
by his clerks; one of these was Leonard Monckton, a pale young man with
dark hair, a nose like a hawk, and thin lips. The other was quite a young
fellow, with brown hair, hazel eyes, and an open countenance. "Many a
hard rub puts a point on a man." So Hope resolved at once to say nothing
to that pale clerk so like a kite, but to interest the open countenance
in him and his hungry child.

There were two approaches to the large office. One, to Hope's right,
through a door and a lobby. This was seldom used except by the habitues
of the place. The other was to Hope's left, through a very small office,
generally occupied by an inferior clerk, who kept an eye upon the work
outside. However, this office had also a small window looking inward;
this opened like a door when the man had anything to say to Mr. Bartley
or the clerks in the large office.

William Hope entered this outer office, and found it empty. The clerk
happened to be in the yard. Then he opened the inner door and looked in
on the two clerks, pale and haggard, and apprehensive of a repulse. He
addressed himself to the one nearest him; it was the one whose face had
attracted him.

"Sir, can I see Mr. Bartley?"

The young fellow glanced over the visitor's worn garments and dusty
shoes, and said, dryly, "Hum! if it is for charity, this is the
wrong shop."

"I want no charity," said Hope, with a sigh; "I want employment. But I do
want it very badly; my poor little girl and I are starving."

"Then that is a shame," said the young fellow, warmly. "Why, you are a
gentleman, aren't you?"

"I don't know for that," said Hope. "But I am an educated man, and I
could do the whole business of this place. But you see I am down in
the world."

"You look like it," said the clerk, bluntly. "But don't you be so green
as to tell old Bartley that, or you are done for. No, no; I'll show you
how to get in here. Wait till half past one. He lunches at one, and he
isn't quite such a brute after luncheon. Then you come in like Julius
Caesar, and brag like blazes, and offer him twenty pounds' worth of
industry and ability, and above all arithmetic, and he will say he has no
opening (and that is a lie), and offer you fifteen shillings, perhaps."

"If he does, I'll jump at it," said Hope, eagerly. "But whether I succeed
with him or not, take my child's blessing and my own."

His voice faltered, and Bolton, with a young man's uneasiness under
sentiment, stopped him. "Oh, come, old fellow, bother all that! Why, we
are all stumped in turn." Then he began to chase a solitary coin into a
corner of his waistcoat pocket. "Look here, I'll lend you a
shilling--pay me next week--it will buy the kid a breakfast. I wish I
had more, but I want the other for luncheon. I haven't drawn my screw
yet. It is due at twelve."

"I'll take it for my girl," said Hope, blushing, "and because it is
offered me by a gentleman and like a gentleman."

"Granted, for the sake of argument," said this sprightly youth; and so
they parted for the time, little dreaming, either of them, what a chain
they were weaving round their two hearts, and this little business the
first link.

CHAPTER II.

THE RICH MAN'S CHILD.

The world is very big, and contains hundreds of millions who are
strangers to each other. Yet every now and then this big world seems to
turn small; so many people whose acquaintance we make turn out to be
acquaintances of our acquaintances. This concatenation of acquaintances
is really one of the marvels of social life, if one considers the
chances against it, owing to the size and population of the country. As
an example of this phenomenon, which we have all observed, William Hope
was born in Derbyshire, in a small parish which belonged, nearly all of
it, to Colonel Clifford; yet in that battle for food which is, alas! the
prosaic but true history of men and nations, he entered an office in
Yorkshire, and there made friends with Colonel Clifford's son, Walter,
who was secretly dabbling in trade and matrimony under the name of
Bolton; and this same Hope was to come back, and to apply for a place to
Mr. Bartley; Mr. Bartley was brother-in-law to that same Colonel
Clifford, though they were at daggers drawn, the pair.

Miss Clifford, aged thirty-two, had married Bartley, aged thirty-seven.
Each had got fixed habits, and they soon disagreed. In two years they
parted, with plenty of bitterness, but no scandal. Bartley stood on his
rights, and kept their one child, little Mary. He was very fond of her,
and as the mother saw her whenever she liked, his love for his child
rather tended to propitiate Mrs. Bartley, though nothing on earth would
have induced her to live with him again.

Little Mary was two months younger than Grace Hope, and, like her, had
blue eyes and golden hair. But what a difference in her condition! She
had two nurses and every luxury. Dressed like a princess, and even when
in bed smothered in lace; some woman's eye always upon her, a hand always
ready to keep her from the smallest accident.

Yet all this care could not keep out sickness. The very day that Grace
Hope began to cough and alarm her father, Mary Bartley flushed and paled,
and showed some signs of feverishness.

The older nurse, a vigilant person, told Mr. Bartley directly; and the
doctor was sent for post-haste. He felt her pulse, and said there was
some little fever, but no cause for anxiety. He administered syrup of
poppies, and little Mary passed a tranquil night.

Next day, about one in the afternoon, she became very restless, and was
repeatedly sick. The doctor was sent for, and combated the symptoms; but
did not inquire closely into the cause. Sickness proceeds immediately
from the stomach; so he soothed the stomach with alkaline mucilages, and
the sickness abated. But next day alarming symptoms accumulated, short
breathing, inability to eat, flushed face, wild eyes. Bartley telegraphed
to a first-rate London physician. He came, and immediately examined
the girl's throat, and shook his head; then he uttered a fatal
word--Diphtheria.

They had wasted four days squirting petty remedies at symptoms, instead
of finding the cause and attacking it, and now he told them plainly he
feared it was too late--the fatal membrane was forming, and, indeed, had
half closed the air-passages.

Bartley in his rage and despair would have driven the local doctor out of
the house, but this the London doctor would not allow. He even consulted
him on the situation, now it was declared, and, as often happens, they
went in for heroic remedies since it was too late.

But neither powerful stimulants nor biting draughts nor caustic
applications could hinder the deadly parchment from growing and growing.

The breath reduced to a thread, no nourishment possible except by baths
of beef tea, and similar enemas. Exhaustion inevitable. Death certain.

Such was the hopeless condition of the rich man's child, surrounded by
nurses and physicians, when the father of the poor man's child applied to
the clerk Bolton for that employment which meant bread for his child, and
perhaps life for _her_.

William Hope returned to his little Grace with a loaf of bread he
bought on the road with Bolton's shilling, and fresh milk in a
soda-water bottle.

He found her crying. She had contrived, after the manner of children, to
have an accident. The room was almost bare of furniture, but my lady had
found a wooden stool that _could_ be mounted upon and tumbled off, and
she had done both, her parent being away. She had bruised and sprained
her little wrist, and was in the depths of despair.

"Ah," said poor Hope, "I was afraid something or other would happen if I
left you."

He took her to the window, and set her on his knee, and comforted her. He
cut a narrow slip off his pocket handkerchief, wetted it, and bound it
lightly and deftly round her wrist, and poured consolation into her ear.
But soon she interrupted that, and flung sorrow to the winds; she uttered
three screams of delight, and pointed eagerly through the window.

"Here they be again, the white swans!"

Hope looked, and there were two vessels, a brig and a bark, creeping
down the river toward the sea, with white sails bellying to a gentle
breeze astern.

It is experience that teaches proportion. The eye of childhood is
wonderfully misled in that matter. Promise a little child the moon, and
show him the ladder to be used, he sees nothing inadequate in the means;
so Grace Hope was delighted with her swans.

But Hope, who made it his business to instruct her, and not deceive her
as some thoughtless parents do, out of fun, the wretches, told her,
gently, they were not swans, but ships.

She was a little disappointed at that, but inquired what they were doing.

"Darling," said he, "they are going to some other land, where honest,
hard-working people can not starve, and, mark my words, darling," said
he--she pricked her little ears at that--"you and I shall have to go
with them, for we are poor."

"Oh," said little Grace, impressed by his manner as well as his words,
and nodded her pretty head with apparent wisdom, and seemed greatly
impressed.

Then her father fed her with bread and milk, and afterward laid her on
the bed, and asked her whether she loved him.

"Dearly, dearly," said she.

"Then if you do," said he, "you will go to sleep like a good girl, and
not stir off that bed till I come back."

"No more I will," said she.

However, he waited until she was in an excellent condition for keeping
her promise, being fast as a church.

Then he looked long at her beautiful face, wax-like and even-tinted, but
full of life after her meal, and prayed to Him who loved little children,
and went with a beating heart to Mr. Bartley's office.

But in the short time, little more than an hour and a half, which elapsed
between Hope's first and second visit, some most unexpected and
remarkable events took place.

Bartley came in from his child's dying bed distracted with grief; but
business to him was the air he breathed, and he went to work as usual,
only in a hurried and bitter way unusual to him. He sent out his clerk
Bolton with some bills, and told him sharply not to return without the
money; and whilst Bolton, so-called, was making his toilette in the
lobby, his eye fell on his other clerk, Monckton.

Monckton was poring over the ledger with his head down, the very picture
of a faithful servant absorbed in his master's work.

But appearances are deceitful. He had a small book of his own nestled
between the ledger and his stomach. It was filled with hieroglyphics, and
was his own betting book. As for his brown-study, that was caused by his
owing L100 in the ring, and not knowing how to get it. To be sure, he
could rob Mr. Bartley. He had done it again and again by false accounts,
and even by abstraction of coin, for he had false keys to his employer's
safe, cash-box, drawers, and desk. But in his opinion he had played this
game often enough, and was afraid to venture it again so soon and on so
large a scale.

He was so absorbed in these thoughts that he did not hear Mr. Bartley
come to him; to be sure, he came softly, because of the other clerk, who
was washing his hands and brushing his hair in the lobby.

So Bartley's hand, fell gently, but all in a moment, on Monckton's
shoulder, and they say the shoulder is a sensitive part in conscious
rogues. Anyway, Monckton started violently, and turned from pale to
white, and instinctively clapped both hands over his betting book.

"Monckton," said his employer, gravely, "I have made a very ugly
discovery."

Monckton began to shiver.

"Periodical errors in the balances, and the errors always against me."

Monckton began to perspire. Not knowing what to say, he faltered, and at
last stammered out, "Are you sure, sir?"

"Quite sure. I have long seen reason to suspect it, so last night I went
through all the books, and now I am sure. Whoever the villain is, I will
send him to prison if I can only catch him."

Monckton winced and turned his head away, debating in his mind whether he
should affect indignation and sympathy, and pretend to court inquiry, or
should wait till lunch-time, and then empty the cash-box and bolt.

Whilst thus debating, these words fell unexpectedly on his ear:

"And you must help me."

Then Monckton's eyes turned this way and that in a manner that is common
among thieves, and a sardonic smile curled his pale thin lip.

"It is my duty," said the sly rogue, demurely. Then, after a pause,
"But how?"

Then Mr. Bartley glanced at Bolton in the lobby, and not satisfied with
speaking under his breath, drew this ill-chosen confidant to the other
end of the office.

"Why, suspect everybody, and watch them. Now there's this clerk Bolton: I
know nothing about him; I was taken by his looks. Have your eye on
_him_."

"I will, sir," said Monckton, eagerly. He drew a long breath of
relief. For all that, he was glad when a voice in the little office
announced a visitor.

It was a clear, peremptory voice, short, sharp, incisive, and decisive.
The clerk called Bolton heard it in the lobby, and scuttled into the
street with a rapidity that contrasted drolly enough with the composure
and slowness with which he had been brushing his hair and titivating his
nascent whiskers.

A tall, stiff military figure literally marched into the middle of the
office, and there stood like a sentinel.

Mr. Bartley could hardly believe his senses.

"Colonel Clifford!" said he, roughly.

"You are surprised to see me here?"

"Of course I am. May I ask what brings you?"

"That which composes all quarrels and squares all accounts--Death."

Colonel Clifford said this solemnly, and with less asperity. He added,
with a glance at Monckton, "This is a very private matter."

Bartley took the hint, and asked Monckton to retire into the inner
office.

As soon as he and Colonel Clifford were alone, that warrior, still
standing straight as a dart, delivered himself of certain short
sentences, each of which seemed to be propelled, or indeed jerked out of
him, by some foreign power seated in his breast.

"My sister, your injured wife, is no more."

"Dead! This is very sudden. I am very, very sorry. I--"

Colonel Clifford looked the word "Humbug," and continued to expel short
sentences.

"On her death-bed she made me promise to give you my hand. There it is."

His hand was propelled out, caught flying by Bartley, released, and drawn
back again, all by machinery it seemed.

"She leaves you L20,000 in trust for the benefit of her child and
yours--Mary Bartley."

"Poor, dear Eliza."

The Colonel looked as less high-bred people do when they say "Gammon,"
but proceeded civilly though brusquely.

"In dealing with the funds you have a large discretion. Should the girl
die before you, or unmarried, the money lapses to your nephew, my son,
Walter Clifford. He is a scapegrace, and has run away from me; but I must
protect his just interests. So as a mere matter of form I will ask you
whether Mary Bartley is alive."

Bartley bowed his head.

Colonel Clifford had not heard she was ill, so he continued: "In that
case"--and then, interrupting himself for a moment, turned away to
Bartley's private table, and there emptied his pockets of certain
documents, one of which he wanted to select.

His back was not turned more than half a minute, yet a most expressive
pantomime took place in that short interval.

The nurse opened a door of communication, and stood with a rush at the
threshold: indeed, she would have rushed in but for the stranger. She was
very pale, and threw up her hands to Bartley. Her face and her gesture
were more expressive than words.

Then Bartley, clinging by mere desperate instinct to money he could not
hope to keep, flew to her, drove her out by a frenzied movement of both
hands, though he did not touch her, and spread-eagled himself before the
door, with his face and dilating eyes turned toward Colonel Clifford.

The Colonel turned and stepped toward him with the document he had
selected at the table. Bartley went to meet him.

The Colonel gave it to him, and said it was a copy of the will.

Bartley took it, and Colonel Clifford expelled his last sentences.

"We have shaken hands. Let us forget our past quarrels, and respect the
wishes of the dead."

With that he turned sharply on both heels, and faced the door of the
little office before he moved; then marched out in about seven steps, as
he had marched in, and never looked behind him for two hundred miles.

The moment he was out of sight, Bartley, with his wife's will in his hand
and ice at his heart, went to his child's room. The nurse met him,
crying, and said, "A change"--mild but fatal words that from a nurse's
lips end hope.

He came to the bedside just in time to see the breath hovering on his
child's lips, and then move them as the summer air stirs a leaf.

Soon all was still, and the rich man's child was clay.

The unhappy father burst into a passion of grief, short but violent. Then
he ordered the nurse to watch there, and let no one enter the room; then
he staggered back to his office, and flung himself down at his table and
buried his head. To do him justice, he was all parental grief at first,
for his child was his idol.

The arms were stretched out across the table; the head rested on it; the
man was utterly crushed.

Whilst he was so, the little office door opened softly, and a pale, worn,
haggard face looked in. It was the father of the poor man's child in
mortal danger from privation and hereditary consumption. That haggard
face was come to ask the favor of employment, and bread for his girl,
from the rich man whose child was clay.

CHAPTER III.

THE TWO FATHERS.

Hope looked wistfully at that crushed figure, and hesitated; it seemed
neither kind nor politic to intrude business upon grief.

But if the child was Bartley's idol, money was his god, and soon in his
strange mind defeated avarice began to vie with nobler sorrow. His child
dead! his poor little flower withered, and her death robbed him of
L20,000, and indeed of ten times that sum, for he had now bought
experience in trade and speculation, and had learned to make money out of
money, a heap out of a handful. Stung by this vulgar torment in its turn,
he started suddenly up, and dashed his wife's will down upon the floor in
a fury, and paced the room excitedly. Hope still stood aghast, and
hesitated to risk his application.

But presently Bartley caught sight of him, and stared at him, but
said nothing.

Then the poor fellow saw it was no use waiting for a better opportunity,
so he came forward and carried out Bolton's instructions; he put on a
tolerably jaunty air, and said, cheerfully, "I beg your pardon, sir; can
I claim your attention for a moment?"

"What do you want?" asked Bartley, but like a man whose mind was
elsewhere.

"Only employment for my talent, sir. I hear you have a vacancy for
a manager."

"Nothing of the sort. _I_ am manager."

Hope drew back despondent, and his haggard countenance fell at such
prompt repulse. But he summoned courage, and, once more acting genial
confidence, returned to the attack.

"But you don't know, sir, in how many ways I can be useful to you. A
grand and complicated business like yours needs various acquirements
in those who have the honor to serve you. For instance, I saw a small
engine at work in your yard; now I am a mechanic, and I can double
the power of that engine by merely introducing an extra band and a
couple of cogs."

"It will do as it is," said Bartley, languidly, "and I can do without
a manager."

Bartley's manner was not irritated but absorbed. He seemed in all his
replies to Hope to be brushing away a fly mechanically and languidly. The
poor fly felt sick at heart, and crept away disconsolate. But at the very
door he turned, and for his child's sake made another attempt.

"Have you an opening for a clerk? I can write business letters in French,
German, and Dutch; and keep books by double entry."

"No vacancy for a clerk," was the weary reply.

"Well, then, a foreman in the yard. I have studied the economy of
industry, and will undertake to get you the greatest amount of labor out
of the smallest number of men."

"I have a foreman already," said Bartley, turning his back on him
peevishly, for the first time, and pacing the room, absorbed in his own
disappointment.

Hope was in despair, and put on his hat to go. But he turned at the
window and said: "You have vans and carts. I understand horses
thoroughly. I am a veterinary surgeon, and I can drive four-in-hand. I
offer myself as carman, or even hostler."

"I do not want a hostler, and I have a carman."

Bartley, when he had said this, sat down like a man who had finally
disposed of the application.

Hope went to the very door, and leaned against it. His jaw dropped. He
looked ten years older. Then, with a piteous attempt at cheerfulness, he
came nearer, and said: "A messenger, then. I'm young and very active,
and never waste my employer's time."

Even this humble proposal was declined, though Hope's cheeks burned
with shame as he made it. He groaned aloud, and his head dropped on
his breast.

His eye fell on the will lying on the ground; he went and picked it up,
and handed it respectfully to Bartley.

Bartley stared, took it, and bowed his head an inch or two in
acknowledgment of the civility. This gave the poor daunted father courage
again. Now that Bartley's face was turned to him by this movement, he
took advantage of it, and said, persuasively:

"Give me some kind of employment, sir. You will never repent it." Then he
began to warm with conscious power. "I've intelligence, practicability,
knowledge; and in this age of science knowledge is wealth. Example: I saw
a swell march out of this place that owns all the parish I was born in. I
knew him in a moment--Colonel Clifford. Well, that old soldier draws his
rents when he can get them, and never looks deeper than the roots of the
grass his cattle crop. But _I_ tell _you_ he never takes a walk about his
grounds but he marches upon millions--coal! sir, coal! and near the
surface. I know the signs. But I am impotent: only fools possess the gold
that wise men can coin into miracles. Try me, sir; honor me with your
sympathy. You are a father--you have a sweet little girl, I
hear."--Bartley winced at that.--"Well, so have I, and the hole my
poverty makes me pig in is not good for her, sir. She needs the sea air,
the scent of flowers, and, bless her little heart, she does enjoy them
so! Give them to her, and I will give you zeal, energy, brains, and a
million of money."

This, for the first time in the interview, arrested Mr. Bartley's
attention.

"I see you are a superior man," said he, "but I have no way to utilize
your services."

"You can give me no hope, sir?" asked the poor fellow, still lingering.

"None--and I am sorry for it."

This one gracious speech affected poor Hope so that he could not speak
for a moment. Then he fought for manly dignity, and said, with a
lamentable mixture of sham sprightliness and real anguish, "Thank you,
sir; I only trust that you will always find servants as devoted to your
interest as my gratitude would have made me. Good-morning, sir." He
clapped his hat on with a sprightly, ghastly air, and marched off
resolutely.

But ere he reached the door, Nature overpowered the father's heart;
way went Bolton's instructions; away went fictitious deportment and
feigned cheerfulness. The poor wretch uttered a cry, indeed a scream, of
anguish, that would have thrilled ten thousand hearts had they heard it;
he dashed his hat on the ground, and rushed toward Bartley, with both
hands out--"FOR GOD'S SAKE DON'T SEND ME AWAY--MY CHILD IS STARVING!"

Even Bartley was moved. "Your child!" said he, with some little feeling.
This slight encouragement was enough for a father. His love gushed forth.
"A little golden-haired, blue-eyed angel, who is all the world to me. We
have walked here from Liverpool, where I had just buried her mother. God
help me! God help us both! Many a weary mile, sir, and never sure of
supper or bed. The birds of the air have nests, the beasts of the field a
shelter, the fox a hole, but my beautiful and fragile girl, only four
years old, sir, is houseless and homeless. Her mother died of
consumption, sir, and I live in mortal fear; for now she is beginning to
cough, and I can not give her proper nourishment. Often on this fatal
journey I have felt her shiver, and then I have taken off my coat and
wrapped it round her, and her beautiful eyes have looked up in mine, and
seemed to plead for the warmth and food I'd sell my soul to give her."

"Poor fellow," said Bartley; "I suppose I ought to pity you. But how can
I? Man--man--your child is alive, and while there is life there is hope;
but mine is dead--dead!" he almost shrieked.

"Dead!" said Hope, horrified.

"Dead," cried Bartley. "Cut off at four years old, the very age of yours.
There--go and judge for yourself. You are a father. I can't look upon my
blasted hopes, and my withered flower. Go and see _my_ blue-eyed,
fair-haired darling--clay, hastening to the tomb; and you will trouble me
no more with your imaginary griefs." He flung himself down with his head
on his desk.

Hope, following the direction of his hand, opened the door of the house,
and went softly forward till he met the nurse. He told her Mr. Bartley
wished him to see the deceased. The nurse hesitated, but looked at him.
His sad face inspired confidence, and she ushered him into the chamber of
mourning. There, laid out in state, was a little figure that, seen in the
dim light, drew a cry of dismay from Hope. He had left his own girl
sleeping, and looking like tinted wax. Here lay a little face the very
image of hers, only this was pale wax.

Had he looked more closely, the chin was unlike his own girl's, and there
were other differences. But the first glance revealed a thrilling
resemblance. Hope hurried away from the room, and entered the office pale
and disturbed. "Oh, sir! the very image of my own. It fills me with
forebodings. I pity you, sir, with all my heart. That sad sight
reconciles me to my lot. God help you!" and he was going away; for now he
felt an unreasoning terror lest his own child should have turned from
colored wax to pale.

Mr. Bartley stopped him. "Are they so very like?" said he.

"Wonderfully like." And again he was going, but Bartley, who had received
him so coldly, seemed now unwilling to part with him.

"Stay," said he, "and let me think." The truth is, a daring idea had
just flashed through that brain of his; and he wanted to think it out.
He walked to and fro in silent agitation, and his face was as a book in
which you may read strange matter. At last he made up his mind, but
the matter was one he did not dare to approach too bluntly, so he went
about a little.

"Stay--you don't know all my misfortunes. I am ambitious--like you. I
believe in science and knowledge--like you. And, if my child had
lived, you should have been my adviser and my right hand: I want such
a man as you."

Hope threw up his hands. "My usual luck!" said he: "always a day too
late." Bartley resumed:

"But my child's death robs me of the money to work with, and I can't help
you nor help myself."

Hope groaned.

Bartley hesitated. But after a moment he said, timidly, "Unless--" and
then stopped.

"Unless what?" asked Hope, eagerly. "I am not likely to raise objections
my child's life is at stake."

"Well, then, unless you are really the superior man you seem to be: a man
of ability and--courage."

"Courage!" thought Hope, and began to be puzzled. However, he said,
modestly, that he thought he could find courage in a good cause.

"Then you and I are made men," said Bartley. These were stout words; but
they were not spoken firmly; on the contrary, Mr. Bartley's voice
trembled, and his brow began to perspire visibly.

His agitation communicated itself to Hope, and the latter said, in a
low, impressive voice, "This is something very grave, Mr. Bartley. Sir,
what is it?"

Mr. Bartley looked uneasily all round the room, and came close to Hope.
"The very walls must not hear what I now say to you." Then, in a
thrilling whisper, "My daughter must not die."

Hope looked puzzled.

"Your daughter must take her place."

Now just before this, two quick ears began to try and catch the
conversation. Monckton had heard all that Colonel Clifford said, that
warrior's tones were so incisive; but, as the matter only concerned Mr.
Bartley, he merely grinned at the disappointment likely to fall on his
employer, for he knew Mary Bartley was at death's door. He said as much
to himself, and went out for a sandwich, for it was his lunch-time. But
when he returned with stealthy foot, for all his movements were cat-like,
he caught sight of Bartley and Hope in earnest conversation, and felt
very curious.

There was something so mysterious in Bartley's tones that Monckton drew
up against the little window, pushed it back an inch, and listened hard.

But he could hear nothing at all until Hope's answer came to
Bartley's proposal.

Then the indignant father burst out, so that it was easy enough to hear
every word. "I part with my girl! Not for the world's wealth. What! You
call yourself a father, and would tempt me to sell my own flesh and
blood? No! Poverty, beggary, anything, sooner than that. My darling, we
will thrive together or starve together; we will live together or die
together!"

He snatched up his hat to leave. But Bartley found a word to make him
hesitate. He never moved, but folded his arms and said, "So, then, your
love for your child is selfish."

"Selfish!" cried Hope; "so selfish that I would die for her any hour of
the day." For all that, the taunt brought him down a step, and Bartley,
still standing like a rock, attacked him again. "If it is not selfish, it
is blind." Then he took two strides, and attacked him with sudden power.
"Who will suffer most if you stand in her light? Your daughter: why, she
may die." Hope groaned. "Who will profit most if you are wise, and
really love her, not like a jealous lover, but like a father? Why, your
daughter: she will be taken out of poverty and want, and carried to
sea-breezes and scented meadows; her health and her comfort will be my
care; she will fill the gap in my house and in my heart, and will be my
heiress when I die."

"But she will be lost to me," sighed poor Hope.

"Not so. You will be my right hand; you will be always about us; you can
see her, talk to her, make her love you, do anything but tell her you are
her father. Do this one thing for me, and I will do great things for you
and for her. To refuse me will be to cut your own throat and hers--as
well as mine."

Hope faltered a little. "Am I selfish?" said he.

"Of course not," was the soothing reply. "No true father is--give him
time to think."

Hope clinched his hands in agony, and pressed them against his brow. "It
is selfish to stand in her light; but part with her--I can't; I can't."

"Of course not: who asks you? She will never be out of your sight; only,
instead of seeing her sicken, linger, and die, you will see her
surrounded by every comfort, nursed and tended like a princess, and
growing every day in health, wealth, and happiness."

"Health, wealth, and happiness?"

"Health, wealth, and happiness!"

These words made a great impression on the still hesitating father; he
began to make conditions. They were all granted heartily.

"If ever you are unkind to her, the compact is broken, and I claim my
own again."

"So be it. But why suppose anything so monstrous; men do not ill-treat
children. It is only women, who adore them, that kill them and ill-use
them accordingly. She will be my little benefactress, God bless her! I
may love her more than I ought, being yours, for my home is desolate
without her; but that is the only fault you shall ever find with me.
There is my hand on it."

Hope at the last was taken off his guard, and took the proffered hand.
That is a binding action, and somehow he could no longer go back.

Then Bartley told him he should live in the house at first, to break the
parting. "And from this hour," said he, "you are no clerk nor manager,
but my associate in business, and on your own terms."

"Thank you," said Hope, with a sigh.

"Now lose no time; get her into the house at once while the clerks are
away, and meantime I must deal with the nurse, and overcome the many
difficulties. Stay, here is a five-pound note. Buy yourself a new suit,
and give the child a good meal. But pray bring her here in half an hour
if you can."

Then Bartley took him to the lobby, and let him out in the street, whilst
he went into the house to buy the nurse, and make her his confidante.

He had a good deal of difficulty with her; she was shocked at the
proposal, and, being a woman, it was the details that horrified her. She
cried a good deal. She stipulated that her darling should have Christian
burial, and cried again at the doubt. But as Bartley conceded everything,
and offered to settle a hundred pounds a year on her, so long as she
lived in his house and kept his secret, he prevailed at last, and found
her an invaluable ally.

To dispose of this character for the present we must inform the reader
that she proved a woman can keep a secret, and that in a very short time
she was as fond of Grace Hope as she had been of Mary Bartley.

We have said that Colonel Clifford's talk penetrated Monckton's ear, but
produced no great impression at the time. Not so, however, when he had
listened to Bartley's proposal, Hope's answer, and all that followed.
Then he put this and Colonel Clifford's communication together, and saw
the terrible importance of the two things combined. Thus, as a
congenital worm grew with Jonah's gourd, and was sure to destroy it,
Bartley's bold and elaborate scheme was furnished from the outset with a
most dangerous enemy.

Leonard Monckton was by nature a schemer and by habit a villain, and he
was sure to put this discovery to profit. He came out of the little
office and sat down at his desk, and fell into a brown-study.

He was not a little puzzled, and here lay his difficulty. Two attractive
villainies presented themselves to his ingenious mind, and he naturally
hesitated between them. One was to levy black-mail on Bartley; the other,
to sell the secret to the Cliffords.

But there was a special reason why he should incline toward the
Cliffords, and, whilst he is in his brown-study, we will let the reader
into his secret.

This artful person had immediately won the confidence of young Clifford,
calling himself Bolton, and had prepared a very heartless trap for him.
He introduced to him a most beautiful young woman--tall, dark, with oval
face and glorious black eyes and eyebrows, a slight foreign accent, and
ingratiating manners. He called this beauty his sister, and instructed
her to win Walter Clifford in that character, and to marry him. As she
was twenty-two, and Master Clifford nineteen, he had no chance with her,
and they were to be married this very day at the Register Office.

Manoeuvring Monckton then inclined to let Bartley's fraud go on and
ripen, but eventually expose it for the benefit of young Walter and his
wife, who adored this Monckton, because, when a beautiful woman loves an
ugly blackguard, she never does it by halves.

But he had no sooner thought out this conclusion than there came an
obstacle. Lucy Muller's heart failed her at the last moment, and she
came into the office with a rush to tell her master so. She uttered a cry
of joy at sight of him, and came at him panting and full of love. "Oh,
Leonard, I am so glad you are alone! Leonard, dear Leonard, pray do not
insist on my marrying that young man. Now it comes to the time, my heart
fails me." The tears stood in her glorious eyes, and an honest man would
have pitied her, and even respected her a little for her compunction,
though somewhat tardy.

But her master just fixed his eyes coldly on his slave, and said,
brutally, "Never mind your heart; think of your interest."

The weak woman allowed herself to be diverted into this topic. "Why, he
is no such great catch, I am sure."

"I tell you he is, more than ever: I have just discovered another L20,000
he is heir to, and not got to wait for that any longer than I choose."

Lucy stamped her foot. "I don't care for his money. Till he came with
his money you loved me."

"I love you as much as ever," said Monckton, coldly.

Lucy began to sob. "No, you don't, or you wouldn't give me up to that
young fool."

The villain made a cynical reply, that not every Newgate thief could
have matched. "You fool," said he, "can't you marry him, and go on
loving me? you won't be the first. It is done every day, to the
satisfaction of all parties."

"And to their unutterable shame," said a clear, stern voice at their
back. Walter Clifford, coming rapidly in, had heard but little, but heard
enough; and there he stood, grim and pale, a boy no longer. These two
skunks had made a man of him in one moment. They recoiled in dismay, and
the woman hid her face.

He turned upon the man first, you may be sure. "So you have palmed this
lady off on me as your sister, and trapped me, and would have destroyed
me." His lip quivered; for they had passed the iron through his heart.
But he manned himself, and carried it off like a soldier's son:

"But if I was fool enough to leave my father, I am not fool enough to
present to the world your cast-off mistress as my wife." (Lucy hid her
face in her hands.) "Here, Miss Lucy Monckton--or whatever your name may
be--here is the marriage license. Take that and my contempt, and do what
you like with them."

With these words he dashed into Bartley's private room, and there broke
down. It was a bitter cup, the first in his young life.

The baffled schemers drank wormwood too; but they bore it differently.
The woman cried, and took her punishment meekly; the man raged and
threatened vengeance.

"No, no," said Lucy; "it serves us right. I wish I had never seen the
fellow: then you would have kept your word, and married me."

"I will marry you now, if you can obey me."

"Obey you, Leonard? You have been my ruin; but only marry me, and I will
be your slave in everything--your willing, devoted, happy slave."

"That is a bargain," said Monckton, coolly. "I'll be even with him; I
will marry you in his name and in his place."

This puzzled Lucy.

"Why in his name?" said she.

He did not answer.

"Well, never mind the name," said she, "so that it is the right man--and
that is you."

Then Monckton's fertile brain, teeming with villainies, fell to hatching
a new plot more felonious than the last. He would rob the safe, and get
Clifford convicted for the theft; convicted as Bolton, Clifford would
never tell his real name, and Lucy should enter the Cliffords' house with
a certificate of his death and a certificate of his marriage, both
obtained by substitution, and so collar his share of the L20,000, and
off with the real husband to fresh pastures.

Lucy looked puzzled. Hers was not a brain to disentangle such a
monstrous web.

Monckton reflected a moment. "What is the first thing? Let me see. Humph!
I think the first thing is to get married."

"Yes," said Lucy, with an eagerness that contrasted strangely with his
cynical composure, "that is the first thing, and the most
understandable." And she went dancing off with him as gay as a lark, and
leaning on him at an angle of forty-five; whilst he went erect and cold,
like a stone figure marching.

Walter Clifford came out in time to see them pass the great window. He
watched them down the street, and cursed them--not loud but deep.

"Mooning, as usual," said a hostile voice behind him. He turned round,
and there was Mr. Bartley seated at his own table. Young Clifford walked
smartly to the other side of the table, determined this should be his
last day in that shop.

"There are the payments," said he.

Bartley inspected them.

"About one in five," said he, dryly.

"Thereabouts," was the reply. (Consummate indifference.)

"You can't have pressed them much."

"Well, I am not good at dunning."

"What _are_ you good at?"

"Should be puzzled to say."

"You are not fit for trade."

"That is the highest compliment was ever paid me."

"Oh, you are impertinent as well as incompetent, are you? Then take a
week's warning, Mr. Bolton."

"Five minutes would suit me better, Mr. Bartley."

"Oh! indeed! Say one hour."

"All right, sir; just time for a city clerk's luncheon--glass of bitter,
sandwich, peep at _Punch_, cigarette, and a chat with the bar-maid."

Mr. Walter Clifford was a gentleman, but we must do him the justice to
say that in this interview with his employer he was a very impertinent
one, not only in words, but in the delivery thereof. Bartley, however,
thought this impertinence was put on, and that he had grave reasons for
being in a hurry. He took down the numbers of the notes Clifford had
given him, and looked very grave and suspicious all the time.

Then he locked up the notes in the safe, and just then Hope opened the
door of the little office and looked in.

"At last," said Bartley.

"Well, sir," said Hope, "I have only been half an hour, and I have
changed my clothes and stood witness to a marriage. She begged me so
hard: I was at the door. Such a beautiful girl! I could not take my
eyes off her."

"The child?" said Bartley, with natural impatience.

"I have hidden her in the yard."

"Bring her this moment, while the clerks are out."

Hope hurried out, and soon returned with his child, wrapped up in a nice
warm shawl he had bought her with Bartley's money.

Bartley took the child from him, looked at her face, and said, "Little
darling, I shall love her as my own;" then he begged Hope to sit down in
the lobby till he should call him and introduce him to his clerks. "One
of them is a thief, I'm afraid."

He took the child inside, and gave her to his confederate, the nurse.

"Dear me," thought Hope, "only two clerks, and one of them dishonest. I
hope it is not that good-natured boy. Oh no! impossible."

And now Bartley returned, and at the same time Monckton came briskly in
through the little office.

At sight of him Bartley said, "Oh, Monckton, I gave that fellow Bolton a
week's notice. But he insists on going directly," Monckton replied,
slyly, that he was sorry to hear that.

"Suspicious? Eh?" said Bartley.

"So suspicious that if I were you--Indeed, Mr. Bartley, I think, in
justice to _me_, the matter ought to be cleared to the bottom."

"You are right," said Bartley: "I'll have him searched before he goes.
Fetch me a detective at once."

Bartley then wrote a line upon his card, and handed it to Monckton,
directing him to lose no time. He then rushed out of the house with an
air of virtuous indignation, and went to make some delicate arrangements
to carry out a fraud, which, begging his pardon, was as felonious, though
not so prosaic, as the one he suspected his young clerk of. Monckton was
at first a little taken aback by the suddenness of all this; but he was
too clear-headed to be long at fault. The matter was brought to a point.
Well, he must shoot flying.

In a moment he was at the safe, whipped out a bunch of false keys, opened
the safe, took out the cash-box, and swept all the gold it contained into
his own pockets, and took possession of the notes. Then he locked up the
cash-box again, restored it to the safe, locked that, and sat down at
Bartley's table. He ran over the notes with feverish fingers, and then
took the precaution to examine Bartley's day-book. His caution was
rewarded--he found that the notes Bolton had brought in were _numbered_.
He instantly made two parcels--clapped the unnumbered notes into his
pocket. The numbered ones he took in his hand into the lobby. Now this
lobby must be shortly described. First there was a door with a glass
window, but the window had dark blue gauze fixed to it, so that nobody
could see into the lobby from the office; but a person in the lobby, by
putting his eye close to the gauze, could see into the office in a filmy
sort of way. This door opened on a lavatory, and there were also pegs on
which the clerks hung their overcoats. Then there was a swing-door
leading direct to the street, and sideways into a small room
indispensable to every office.

Monckton entered this lobby, and inserted the numbered notes into young
Clifford's coat, and the false keys into his bag. Then he whipped back
hastily into the office, with his craven face full of fiendish triumph.

He started for the detective. But it was bitter cold, and he returned to
the lobby for his own overcoat. As he opened the lobby door the
swing-door moved, or he thought so; he darted to it and opened it, but
saw nobody, Hope having whipped behind the open door of the little room.
Monckton then put on his overcoat, and went for the detective.

He met Clifford at the door, and wore an insolent grin of defiance, for
which, if they had not passed each other rapidly, he would very likely
have been knocked down. As it was, Walter Clifford entered the office
flushed with wrath, and eager to leave behind him the mortifications and
humiliations he had endured.

He went to his own little desk and tore up Lucy Mailer's letters, and his
heart turned toward home. He went into the lobby, and, feeling hot, which
was no wonder, bundled his office overcoat and his brush and comb into
his bag. He returned to the office for his penknife, and was going out
all in a hurry, when Mr. Bartley met him.

Bartley looked rather stern, and said, "A word with you, sir."

"Certainly, sir," said the young man, stiffly.

Mr. Bartley sat down at his table and fixed his eyes upon the young man
with a very peculiar look.

"You seem in a very great hurry to go."

"Well, I _am_."

"You have not even demanded your salary up to date."

"Excuse the oversight; I was not made for business, you know."

"There is something more to settle besides your salary."

"Premium for good conduct?"

"No, sir. Mr. Bolton, you will find this no jesting matter. There are
defalcations in the accounts, sir."

The young man turned serious at once. "I am sorry to hear that, sir,"
said he, with proper feeling.

Bartley eyed him still more severely. "And even cash abstracted."

"Good heavens!" said the young man, answering his eyes rather than his
words. "Why, surely you can't suspect me?"

Bartley answered, sternly, "I know I have been robbed, and so I suspect
everybody whose conduct is suspicious."

This was too much for a Clifford to bear. He turned on him like a lion.
"Your suspicions disgrace the trader who entertains them, not the
gentleman they wrong. You are too old for me to give you a thrashing, so
I won't stay here any longer to be insulted."

He snatched up his bag and was marching off, when the door opened, and
Monckton with a detective confronted him.

"No," roared Bartley, furious in turn; "but you will stay to be
examined."

"Examined!"

"Searched, then, if you like it better."

"No, don't do that," said the young fellow. "Spare me such a
humiliation."

Bartley, who was avaricious, but not cruel, hesitated.

"Well," said he, "I will examine the safe before I go further."

Mr. Bartley opened the safe and took out the cash-box. It was empty. He
uttered a loud exclamation. "Why, it's a clean sweep! A wholesale
robbery! Notes and gold all gone! No wonder you were in such a hurry to
leave! Luckily some of the notes were numbered. Search him."

"No, no. Don't treat me like a thief!" cried the poor boy, almost
sobbing.

"If you are innocent, why object?" said Monckton, satirically.

"You villain," cried Clifford, "this is your doing! I am sure of it!"

Monckton only grinned triumphantly; but Bartley fired up. "If there is a
villain here, it is you. _He_ is a faithful servant, who warned his
employer." He then pointed sternly at young Bolton, and the detective
stepped up to him and said, curtly, "Now, sir, if I _must_."

He then proceeded to search his waistcoat pockets. The young man hung his
head, and looked guilty. He had heard of money being put into an innocent
man's pockets, and he feared that game had been played with him.

The detective examined his waistcoat pockets and found--nothing. His
other pockets--nothing.

The detective patted his breast and examined his stockings--nothing.

"Try the bag," said Monckton.

Then the poor fellow trembled again.

The detective searched the bag--nothing.

He took the overcoat and turned the pockets out--nothing.

Bartley looked surprised. Monckton still more so. Meantime Hope had gone
round from the lobby, and now entered by the small office, and stood
watching a part of this business, viz., the search of the bag and the
overcoat, with a bitter look of irony.

"But my safe must have been opened with false keys," cried Bartley.
"Where are they?"

"And the numbered notes," said Monckton, "where are they?"

"Gentlemen," said Hope, "may I offer my advice?"

"Who the devil are you?" said Monckton.

"He is my new partner, my associate in business," said the politic
Bartley. Then deferentially to Hope, "What do you advise?"

"You have two clerks. I would examine them both."

"Examine me?" cried Monckton. "Mr. Bartley, will you allow such an
affront to be put on your old and faithful servant?"

"If you are innocent, why object?" said young Clifford, spitefully,
before Bartley could answer.

The remark struck Bartley, and he acted on it.

"Well, it is only fair to Mr. Bolton," said he. "Come, come, Monckton, it
is only a form."

Then he gave the detective a signal, and he stepped up to Monckton, and
emptied his waistcoat pockets of eighty-five sovereigns.

"There!" cried Walter Clifford, "There! there!"

"My own money, won at the Derby," said Monckton, coolly; "and only a part
of it, I am happy to say. You will find the remainder in banknotes."

The detective found several notes.

Bartley examined the book and the notes. The Derby! He was beginning to
doubt this clerk, who attended that meeting on the sly. However, he was
just, though no longer confiding.

"I am bound to say that not one of the numbered notes is here."

The detective was now examining Monckton's overcoat. He produced a small
bunch of keys.

"How did they come there?" cried Monckton, in amazement.

It was an incautious remark. Bartley took it up directly, and pounced on
the keys. He tried them on the safe. One opened the safe, another opened
the cash-box.

Meantime the detective found some notes in the pocket of the overcoat,
and produced them.

"Great heavens!" cried Monckton, "how did they come there?"

"Oh, I dare say you know," said the detective.

Bartley examined them eagerly. They were the numbered notes.

"You scoundrel," he roared, "these show me where your gold and your
other notes came from. The whole contents of my safe--in that
villain's pockets!"

"No, no," cried Monckton, in agony. "It's all a delusion. Some rogue has
planted them there to ruin me."

"Keep that for the beak," said the policeman; "he is sure to believe it.
Come, my bloke. I knew who was my bird the moment I clapped eyes on the
two. 'Tain't his first job, gents, you take my word. We shall find his
photo in some jail or other in time for the assizes."

"Away with him!" cried Bartley, furiously.

As the policeman took him off, the baffled villain's eye fell on Hope,
who stood with folded arms, and looked down on him with lowering brow and
the deep indignation of the just, and yet with haughty triumph.

That eloquent look was a revelation to Monckton.

"Ah," he cried, "it was _you_."

Hope's only reply was this: "You double felon, false accuser and thief,
you are caught in your own trap."

And this he thundered at him with such sudden power that the thief went
cringing out, and even those who remained were awed. But Hope never told
anybody except Walter Clifford that he had undone Monckton's work in the
lobby; and then the poor boy fell upon his neck, and kissed his hand.

To run forward a little: Monckton was tried, and made no defense. He
dared not call Hope as his witness, for it was clear Hope must have seen
him commit the theft and attempt the other villainy. But the false
accusation leaked out as well as the theft. A previous conviction was
proved, and the indignant judge gave him fourteen years.

Thus was Bartley's fatal secret in mortal peril on the day it first
existed; yet on that very day it was saved from exposure, and buried deep
in a jail.

Bartley set Hope over his business, and was never heard of for months.
Then he turned up in Sussex with a little girl, who had been saved from
diphtheria by tracheotomy, and some unknown quack.

There was a scar to prove it. The tender parent pointed it out
triumphantly, and railed at the regular practitioners of medicine.

CHAPTER IV.

AN OLD SERVANT.

Walter Clifford returned home pretty well weaned from trade, and anxious
to propitiate his father, but well aware that on his way to
reconciliation he must pass through jobation.

He slipped into Clifford Hall at night, and commenced his approaches by
going to the butler's pantry. Here he was safe, and knew it; a faithful
old butler of the antique and provincial breed is apt to be more
unreasonably paternal than Pater himself.

To this worthy, then, Walter owed a good bed, a good supper, and good
advice: "Better not tackle him till I have had a word with him first."

Next morning this worthy butler, who for seven years had been a very good
servant, and for the next seven years rather a bad one, and would now
have been a hard master if the Colonel had not been too great a Tartar to
stand it, appeared before his superior with an air slightly respectful,
slightly aggressive, and very dogged.

"There is a young gentleman would be glad to speak to you, if you
will let him."

"Who is he?" asked the Colonel, though by old John's manner he divined.

"Can't ye guess?"

"Don't know why I should. It is your business to announce my visitors."

"Oh, I'll announce him, when I am made safe that he will be welcome."

"What! isn't he sure of a welcome--good, dutiful son like him?"

"Well, sir, he deserves a welcome. Why, he is the returning prodigal."

"We are not told that _he_ deserved a welcome."

"What signifies?--he got one, and Scripture is the rule of life for men
of our age, _now we are out of the army_."

"I think you had better let him plead his own cause, John; and if he
takes the tone you do, he will get turned out of the house pretty quick;
as you will some of these days, Mr. Baker."

"We sha'n't go, neither of us," said Mr. Baker, but with a sudden tone of
affectionate respect, which disarmed the words of their true meaning. He
added, hanging his head for the first time, "Poor young gentleman! afraid
to face his own father!"

"What's he afraid of?" asked the Colonel, roughly.

"Of you cursing and swearing at him," said John.

"Cursing and swearing!" cried the Colonel--"a thing I never do now.
Cursing and swearing, indeed! You be ----!"

"There you go," said old John. "Come, Colonel, be a father. What has the
poor boy done?"

"He has deserted--a thing I have seen a fellow shot for, and he has left
me a prey to parental anxieties."

"And so he has me, for that matter. But I forgive him. Anyway, I should
like to hear his story before I condemn him. Why, he's only nineteen and
four months, come Martinmas. Besides, how do we know?--he may have had
some very good reason for going."

"His age makes that probable, doesn't it?"

"I dare say it was after some girl, sir."

"Call that a good reason?"

"I call it a strong one. Haven't you never found it?" (the Colonel was
betrayed into winking). "From sixteen to sixty a woman will draw a man
where a horse can't."

"Since that is _so_," said the Colonel, dryly, "you can tell him to come
to breakfast."

"Am I to say that from you?"

"No; you can take that much upon yourself. I have known you presume a
good deal more than that, John."

"Well, sir," said John, hanging his head for a moment, "old servants are
like old friends--they do presume a bit; but then" (raising his head
proudly) "they care for their masters, young and old. New servants,
sir--why, this lot that we've got now, they would not shed a tear for you
if you was to be hanged."

"Why should they?" said the Colonel. "A man is not hanged for building
churches. Come, beat a retreat. I've had enough of you. See there's a
good breakfast."

"Oh," said John, "I've took care of that."

When the Colonel came down he found his son leaning against the
mantel-piece; but he left it directly and stood erect, for the Colonel
had drilled him with his own hands.

"Ugh!" said the Colonel, giving a snort peculiar to himself, but he
thought, "How handsome the dog is!" and was proud of him secretly, only
he would not show it. "Good-morning, sir," said the young man, with
civil respect.

"Your most obedient, sir," said the old man, stiffly.

After that neither spoke for some time, and the old butler glided about
like a cat, helping both of them, especially the young one, to various
delicacies from the side table. When he had stuffed them pretty well, he
retired softly and listened at the door. Neither of the gentlemen was in
a hurry to break the ice; each waited for the other.

Walter made the first remark--"What delicious tea!"

"As good as where you come from?" inquired Colonel Clifford, insidiously.

"A deal better," said Walter.

"By-the-bye," said the Colonel, "where _do_ you come from?"

Walter mentioned the town.

"You astonish me," said the Colonel. "I made sure you had been enjoying
the pleasures of the capital."

"My purse wouldn't have stood that, sir."

"Very few purses can," said Colonel Clifford. Then, in an off-hand way,
"Have you brought her along with you?"

"Certainly not," said Walter, off his guard. "Her? Who?"

"Why, the girl that decoyed you from your father's roof."

"No girl decoyed me from here, sir, upon my honor."

"Whom are we talking about, then? Who is _her_?"

"Her? Why, Lucy Monckton."

"And who is Lucy Monckton?"

"Why, the girl I fell in love with, and she deceived me nicely; but I
found her out in time."

"And so you came home to snivel?"

"No, sir, I didn't; I'm not such a muff. I'm too much your son to love
any woman long when I have learned to despise her. I came home to
apologize, and to place myself under your orders, if you will forgive me,
and find something useful for me to do."

"So I will, my boy; there's my hand. Now out with it. What did you go
away for, since it wasn't a petticoat?"

"Well, sir, I am afraid I shall offend you."

"Not a bit of it, after I've given you my hand. Come, now, what was it?"

Walter pondered and hesitated, but at last hit upon a way to explain.

"Sir," said he, "until I was six years old they used to give me peaches
from Oddington House; but one fine day the supply stopped, and I uttered
a small howl to my nurse. Old John heard me, and told me Oddington was
sold, house, garden, estate, and all."

Colonel Clifford snorted.

Walter resumed, modestly but firmly:

"I was thirteen; I used to fish in a brook that ran near Drayton Park.
One day I was fishing there, when a brown velveteen chap stopped me, and
told me I was trespassing. 'Trespassing?' said I. 'I have fished here all
my life; I am Walter Clifford, and this belongs to my father.' 'Well,'
said the man, 'I've heerd it did belong to Colonel Clifford onst, but now
it belongs to Muster Mills; so you must fish in your own water, young
gentleman, and leave ourn to us as owns it.' Till I was eighteen I used
to shoot snipes in a rushy bottom near Calverley Church. One day a fellow
in black velveteen, and gaiters up to his middle, warned me out of that
in the name of Muster Cannon."

Colonel Clifford, who had been drumming on the table all this time,
looked uneasy, and muttered, with some little air of compunction: "They
have plucked my feathers deucedly, that's a fact. Hang that fellow
Stevens, persuading me to keep race-horses; it's all his fault. Well,
sir, proceed with your observations."

"Well, I inquired who could afford to buy what we were too poor to keep,
and I found these wealthy purchasers were all in _trade_, not one of them
a gentleman."

"You might have guessed that," said Colonel Clifford: "it is as much as a
gentleman can do to live out of jail nowadays."

"Yes, sir," said Walter. "Cotton had bought one of these estates, tallow
another, and lucifer-matches the other."

"Plague take them all three!" roared the Colonel.

"Well, then, sir," said Walter, "I could not help thinking there must be
some magic in trade, and I had better go into it. I didn't think you
would consent to that. I wasn't game to defy you; so I did a meanish
thing, and slipped away into a merchant's office."

"And made your fortune in three months?" inquired the Colonel.

"No, I didn't; and don't think trade is the thing for _me_. I saw a deal
of avarice and meanness, and a thief of a clerk got his master to suspect
me of dishonesty; so I snapped my fingers at them all, and here I am.
But," said the poor young fellow, "I do wish, father, you would put me
into something where I can make a little money, so that when _this_
estate comes to be sold, I may be the purchaser."

Colonel Clifford started up in great emotion.

"Sell Clifford Hall, where I was born, and you were born, and everybody
was born! Those estates I sold were only outlying properties."

"They were beautiful ones," said Walter. "I never see such peaches now."

"As you did when you were six years old," suggested the Colonel. "No, nor
you never will. I've been six myself. Lord knows when it was, though!"

"But, sir, I don't see any such trout, and no such haunts for snipe."

"Do you mean to insult me?" cried the Colonel, rather suddenly. "This is
what we are come to now. Here's a brat of six begins taking notes against
his own father; and he improves on the Scotch poet--he doesn't print 'em.
No, he accumulates them cannily until he is twenty, but never says a
word. He loads his gun up to the muzzle, and waits, as the years roll on,
with his linstock in his hand, and one fine day _at breakfast_ he fires
his treble charge of grape-shot at his own father."

This was delivered so loudly that John feared a quarrel, and to interrupt
it, put in his head, and said, mighty innocently:

"Did you call, sir? Can I do anything for you, sir?"

"Yes: go to the devil!"

John went, but not down-stairs, as suggested--a mere lateral movement
that ended at the keyhole.

"Well, but, sir," said Walter, half-reproachfully, "it was you elicited
my views."

"Confound your views, sir, and--your impudence! You're in the right,
and I am in the wrong" (this admission with a more ill-used tone than
ever). "It's the race-horses. Ring the bell. What sawneys you young
fellows are! it used not to take six minutes to ring a bell when I was
your age."

Walter, thus stimulated, sprang to the bell-rope, and pulled it all down
to the ground with a single gesture.

The Colonel burst out laughing, and that did him good; and Mr. Baker
answered the bell like lightning; he quite forgot that the bell must have
rung fifty yards from the spot where he was enjoying the dialogue.

"Send me the steward, John; I saw him pass the window."

Meantime the Colonel marched up and down with considerable agitation.
Walter, who had a filial heart, felt very uneasy, and said, timidly, "I
am truly sorry, father, that I answered your questions so bluntly."

"I'm not, then," said the Colonel. "I hold him to be less than a man who
flies from the truth, whether it comes from young lips or old. I have
faced cavalry, sir, and I can face the truth."

At this moment the steward entered. "Jackson," said the Colonel, in the
very same tone he was speaking in, "put up my race-horses to auction by
public advertisement."

"But, sir, Jenny has got to run at Derby, and the brown colt at
Nottingham, and the six-year-old gelding at a handicap at Chester, and
the chestnut is entered for the Syllinger next year."

"Sell them with their engagements."

"And the trainer, sir?"

"Give him his warning."

"And the jockey?"

"Discharge him on the spot, and take him by the ear out of the premises
before he poisons the lot. Keep one of the stable-boys, and let my groom
do the rest."

"But who is to take them to the place of auction, sir?"

"Nobody. I'll have the auction here, and sell them where they stand.
Submit all your books of account to this young gentleman."

The steward looked a little blue, and Walter remonstrated gently. "To
me, father?"

"Why, you can cipher, can't ye?"

"Rather; it is the best thing I do."

"And you have been in trade, haven't ye?"

"Why, yes."

"Then you will detect plenty of swindles, if you find out one in ten.
Above all, cut down my expenditure to my income. A gentleman of the
nineteenth century, sharpened by trade, can easily do that. Sell Clifford
Hall? I'd rather live on the rabbits and the pigeons and the blackbirds,
and the carp in the pond, and drive to church in the wheelbarrow."

So for a time Walter administered his father's estate, and it was very
instructive. Oh! the petty frauds--the swindles of agency--a term which,
to be sure, is derived from the Latin word "agere," _to do_--the cobweb
of petty commissions--the flat bribes--the smooth hush-money!

Walter soon cut the expenses down to the income, which was ample, and
even paid off the one mortgage that encumbered this noble estate at five
per cent., only four per cent. of which was really fingered by the
mortgagee; the balance went to a go-between, though no go-between was
ever wanted, for any solicitor in the country would have found the money
in a week at four per cent.

The old gentleman was delighted, and engaged his own son as steward at a
liberal salary; and so Walter Clifford found employment and a fair income
without going away from home again.

CHAPTER V.

MARY'S PERIL.

Whilst Mr. Bartley's business was improving under Hope's management, Hope
himself was groaning under his entire separation from his daughter.
Bartley had promised him this should not be; but among Hope's good
qualities was a singular fidelity to his employers, and he was also a man
who never broke his word. So when Bartley showed him that the true
parentage of Grace Hope--now called Mary Bartley--could never be
disguised unless her memory of him was interrupted and puzzled before she
grew older, and that she as well as the world must be made to believe
Bartley was her father, he assented, and it was two years before he
ventured to come near his own daughter.

But he demanded to see her at a distance, himself unseen, and this was
arranged. He provided himself with a powerful binocular of the kind that
is now used at sea, instead of the unwieldy old telescope, and the little
girl was paraded by the nurse, who was in the secret. She played about in
the sight of this strange spy. She was plump, she was rosy, she was full
of life and spirit. Joy filled the father's heart; but then came a bitter
pang to think that he had faded out of her joyous life; by-and-by he
could see her no longer, for a mist came from his heart to his eyes; he
bowed his head and went back to his business, his prosperity, and his
solitude. These experiments were repeated at times. Moreover, Bartley had
the tact never to write to him on business without telling him something
about his girl, her clever sayings, her pretty ways, her quickness at
learning from all her teachers, and so on. When she was eight years old a
foreign agent was required in Bartley's business, and Hope agreed to
start this agency and keep it going till some more ordinary person could
be intrusted to work it.

But he refused to leave England without seeing his daughter with his
own eyes and hearing her voice. However, still faithful to his pledge,
he prepared a disguise; he actually grew a mustache and beard for this
tender motive only, and changed his whole style of dress; he wore a
crimson neck-tie and dark green gloves with a plaid suit, which
combination he abhorred as a painter, and our respected readers
abominate, for surely it was some such perverse combination that made a
French dressmaker lift her hands to heaven and say, "_Quelle
immoralite_!" So then Bartley himself took his little girl for a walk,
and met Mr. Hope in an appointed spot not far from his own house. Poor
Hope saw them coming, and his heart beat high. "Ah!" said Bartley,
feigning surprise; "why, it's Mr. Hope. How do you do, Hope? This is my
little girl. Mary, my dear, this is an old friend of mine. Give him
your hand."

The girl looked in Hope's face, and gave him her hand, and did not
recognize him.

"Fine girl for her years, isn't she?" said Bartley. "Healthy and strong,
and quick at her lessons; and, what's better still, she is a good girl, a
very good girl."

"Papa!" said the child, blushing, and hid her face behind Bartley's
elbow, all but one eye, with which she watched the effect of these
eulogies upon the strange gentleman.

"She is all a father could wish," said Hope, tenderly.

Instantly the girl started from her position, and stood wrapt in thought;
her beautiful eyes wore a strange look of dreamy intelligence, and both
men could see she was searching the past for that voice.

Bartley drew back, that the girl might not see him, and held up his
finger. Hope gave a slight nod of acquiescence, and spoke no more.
Bartley invited him to take an early dinner, and talk business. Before he
left he saw his child more than once; indeed, Bartley paraded her
accomplishments. She played the piano to Hope; she rode her little
Shetland pony for Hope; she danced a minuet with singular grace for so
young a girl; she conversed with her governess in French, or something
very like it, and she worked a little sewing-machine, all to please the
strange gentleman; and whatever she was asked to do she did with a
winning smile, and without a particle of false modesty, or the real
egotism which is at the bottom of false modesty.

Anybody who knew William Hope intimately might almost recognize his
daughter in this versatile little mind with its faculty of learning so
many dissimilar things.

Hope left for the Continent with a proud heart, a joyful heart, and a
sore heart. She was lovely, she was healthy, she was happy, she was
accomplished, but she was his no longer, not even in name; her love was
being gained by a stranger, and there was a barrier of iron, as well as
the English Channel, between William Hope and his own Mary Bartley.

It would weary the reader were we to detail the small events bearing on
the part of the story which took place during the next five years. They
might be summed up thus: That William Hope got a peep at his daughter now
and then; and, making a series of subtle experiments by varying his voice
as much as possible, confused and nullified her memory of that voice to
all appearance. In due course, however, father and daughter were brought
into natural contact by the last thing that seemed likely to do it, viz.,
by Bartley's avarice. Bartley's legitimate business at home and abroad
could now run alone. So he invited Hope to England to guide him in what
he loved better than steady business, viz., speculation. The truth is,
Bartley could execute, but had few original ideas. Hope had plenty, and
sound ones, though not common ones. Hope directed the purchase of
convertible securities on this principle: Select good ones; avoid time
bargains, which introduce a distinct element of risk; and buy largely at
every panic not founded on a permanent reason or out of proportion.
Example: A great district bank broke. The shares of a great district
railway went down thirty per cent. Hope bade his employer and pupil
observe that this was rank delusion, the dividends of the railway were
not lowered one per cent. by the failure of that bank, nor could they be:
the shareholders of the bank had shares in the railway, and were
compelled to force them on the market; hence the fall in the shares.
"But," said Hope, "those depreciated shares are now in the hands of men
who can hold them, and will, too, until they return from this ridiculous
85 to their normal value, which is from 105 to 115. Invest every shilling
you have got; I shall." Bartley invested L30,000, and cleared twenty per
cent. in three months.

Example 2: There was a terrible accident on another railway, and part of
the line broken up. Vast repairs needed. Shares fell twenty per cent.

"Out of proportion," said Hope. "The sum for repairs will not deduct
from the dividends one-tenth of the annual sum represented by the fall,
and, in three months, fear of another such disaster will not keep a
single man, woman, child, bullock, pig, or coal truck off that line. Put
the pot on."

Bartley put the pot on, and made fifteen per cent.

Hope said to Bartley:

"When an English speculator sends his money abroad at all, he goes wild
altogether. He rushes at obscure transactions, and lends to Peru, or
Guatemala, or Tierra del Fuego, or some shaky place he knows nothing
about. The insular maniac overlooks the continent of Europe, instead of
studying it, and seeking what countries there are safe and others risky.
Now, why overlook Prussia? It is a country much better governed than
England, especially as regards great public enterprises and monopolies.
For instance, the directors of a Prussian railway can not swindle the
shareholders by false accounts, and passing off loans for dividends.
Against the frauds of directors, the English shareholder has only a sham
security. He is invited to leave his home, and come two hundred miles to
the directors' home, and vote in person. He doesn't do it. Why should he?
In Prussia the Government protects the shareholder, and inspects the
accounts severely. So much for the superior system of that country. Now,
take a map. Here is Hamburg, the great port of the Continent, and Berlin,
the great Continental centre; and there is one railway only between the
two. What English railway can compare with this? The shares are at 150.
But they must go to 300 in time unless the Prussian Government allows
another railway, and that is not likely, and, if so, you will have two
years to back out. This is the best permanent investment of its class
that offers on the face of the globe."

Bartley invested timidly, but held for years, and the shares went up over
300 before he sold.

"Do not let your mind live in an island if your body does," was a
favorite saying of William Hope; and we recommend it impartially to
Britons and Bornese.

On one of Hope's visits Bartley complained he had nothing to do. "I can
sit here and speculate. I want to be in something myself; I think I will
take a farm just to occupy me and amuse me."

"It will not amuse you unless you make money by it," suggested Hope.

"And nobody can do that nowadays. Farms don't pay."

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