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Life in London by Edwin Hodder

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Breathless and excited, George Weston came running down a street in
Islington. He knocked at the door of No. 16, and in his impatience,
until it was opened, commenced a tattoo with his knuckles upon the

"Oh, mother, mother, I have got such splendid news!" he cried, as he
hurried down stairs into the room where Mrs. Weston, with her apron on
and sleeves tucked up, was busy in her domestic affairs. "Such splendid
news!" repeated George. "I have been down to Mr. Compton's with the
letter Uncle Henry gave me, in which he said I wanted a situation, and
should be glad if Mr. Compton could help me; and, sure enough, I was
able to see him, and he is such a kind, fatherly old gentlemen, mother.
I am sure I shall like him."

"Well, George, and what did he say!"

"Oh! I've got ever so much to tell you, before I come to that part. The
office, you know, is in Falcon Court, Fleet Street; such a dismal place,
with the houses all crammed together, and a little space in front, not
more than large enough to turn a baker's bread-truck in. All the windows
are of ground glass, as if the people inside were too busy to see out,
or to be seen; and on every door there are lots of names of people who
have their offices there, and some of them are actually right up at the
top storeys of the houses. Well, I found out the name of Mr. Compton,
and I tapped at a door where 'Clerk's Office' was written. I think I
ought not to have tapped, but to have gone in, for somebody said rather
sharply, 'Come in,' and in I went. An old gentleman was standing beside
a sort of counter, with a lot of heavy books on it, and he asked me what
I wanted. I said I wanted to see Mr. Compton, and had got a letter for
him. He told me to sit down until Mr. Compton was disengaged, and then
he would see me."

"And what sort of an office was it, George? And who was the old
gentleman? The manager, I suppose!"

"I think he was, because he seemed to do as he liked, and all the clerks
talked in a whisper while he was there. I had to wait more than
half-an-hour, and I was able to look round and see all that was going
on. It is a large office, and there were ten clerks seated on
uncomfortable high stools, without backs, poring over books and papers.
I don't think I shall like those clerks, they stared at me so rudely,
and I felt so ashamed, because one looked hard at me, and then whispered
to another: and I believe they were saying something about my boots,
which you know, mother, are terribly down at heel, and so I put one foot
over the other, to try and hide them."

"There was no need of that, George. It did not alter the fact that they
were down at heel; and there is no disgrace in being clothed only as
respectable as we can afford, is there?"

"Not a bit, mother: and I feel so vexed with myself because I knew I
turned red, which made the two clerks smile. But I must go on telling
you what else I saw. The old gentleman seems quite a character--he is
nearly bald, has got no whiskers, wears a big white neckcloth and a tail
coat, and takes snuff every five minutes out of a silver box. Whether he
knows it or not, the clerks are very rude to him: for when he took
snuff, one of them sneezed, or pretended to sneeze, every time, and
another snuffled, as if he were taking snuff too."

"That certainly does not speak well for the clerks," said Mrs. Weston.
"Old gentlemen do have peculiar ways sometimes, but it is not right for
young people to ridicule them."

"No, it is not; and I don't like to see people do a thing behind another
one's back they are afraid to do before his face. When the clerks had to
speak to the old gentleman, they were as civil as possible, and said,
'Yes, sir,' and 'No, sir,' to him so meekly, as if they were quite
afraid of him; but after a little while, when he took up his hat and
went out, they all began talking and laughing out loud, although when he
was there, they had only occasionally spoken in low whispers. There was
only one young man, out of the whole lot, who did not join with them,
but kept at his work; and I thought if I got a situation in that office,
I should try and make friends with him."

"That's right, George. I would rather you should not have a situation at
all, than get mixed up with bad companions. But go on, I am so anxious
to hear what Mr. Compton said."

"Well, after half-an-hour, I heard a door in the next room close, and a
table-bell touched, and then the old gentleman, who had by this time
returned, went in Presently he came out again, and said Mr. Compton
would see me. Oh, mother! I felt so funny, you don't know. My mouth got
quite dry, my face flushed, and I couldn't think whatever I should say,
I felt just as I did that day at the school examination, when I had to
make one of the prize speeches. But I got all to rights directly I saw
Mr. Compton. He said, 'Good morning to you--be seated,' in such a nice
way, that I felt at home with him at once."

"And what did you say to him, George?"

"I had learnt by heart what I was going to say, but in the hurry I had
forgotten every word. So I said, 'My name is--' (it's a wonder I did not
say Norval, for I felt a bit bewildered at the sound of my own voice)
'--my name is George Weston, sir, and I have brought you a letter from
my uncle, Mr. Henry Brunton, who knows you, I think.' 'Oh! yes," he
said, 'he knows me very well; and, if I mistake not, this letter is
about you, for he was talking to me about a nephew the other day.' Isn't
that just like Uncle Henry?--he never said anything about that to us,
but he is so good and kind, we are always finding out some of his
generous actions, about which he never speaks. While Mr. Compton was
reading the letter, I had leisure to look at him, and at his room. He is
such a fine-looking old man, just like that picture we saw in the
Academy, last year, of the village squire. He looks as if he were very
benevolent and kind-hearted, and he dresses just like some of the
country gentlemen, with a dark green coat and velvet collar, a frill
shirt, and a little bit of buf. waistcoat seen under his coat, which he
keeps buttoned. He had got lots of books, and papers, and files about,
and sat hi an arm-chair so cosily--in fact, I should not have thought
that nice carpeted room was really an office, if it had not been for the
ground-glass windows. Just as I was thinking why it was the glorious
sunshine is not admitted into offices, Mr. Compton said--"

"What did he say, George? I have waited so patiently to hear."

"He said, 'Well, _Mr_. Weston,'--(he did really call me Mr. Weston,
mother; I suppose he took me for a young man: it is evident he did not
know I was wearing a stick-up shirt collar for the first time in my
life)--'I have read this letter, and am inclined to think I may be able
to do something for you.' That put my 'spirits up,' as poor father used
to say; and I said, 'I'm very glad to hear it, Sir.' So then he told me
that he wanted a junior clerk in his office, who could write quickly, be
brisk at accounts, and make himself generally useful, as the
advertisements in the _Times_ say. I told him I could do all these
things; and he passed me a sheet of paper, to give him a specimen of my
handwriting. I hardly knew what to write, but I fixed upon a passage of
Scripture, 'Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the
Lord.' My hand was so shaky, that all the letters with tails to them had
the queerest flourishes you ever saw. Mr. Compton smiled when I handed
him the sheet of paper--I don't know whether it was at the writing, or
at the quotation, and I wished I had written a passage from Seneca

"You did not feel ashamed at having written a part of God's word, did
you, George?"

"No, not ashamed, mother; but I thought it was not business-like, and
seemed too much like a schoolboy."

"I think it was very business-like. It would convey the idea that you
would seek to do your business from the best and highest motives. But
what did Mr. Compton say?"

"He only said he thought the handwriting was good. Then he told me that
he would take me as his clerk, and should expect me to be at my post
next Monday morning, at nine o'clock. 'And now,' he said, 'we must fix
upon a salary; and as your uncle has told me that you are anxious to
maintain yourself, I will give you a weekly sum sufficient for that
purpose; and if you give me satisfaction, I will raise it yearly.' And
what do you think he offered me, mother?"

"I really do not know; perhaps, as you are young, and have never been in
a situation before, he said five shillings a week, although I did not
think you would get any salary at all for the first six months."

"No, mother, more than five shillings; guess again," said George, his
face shining with excited delight.

"Then I will guess seven and sixpence a week," said his mother,
doubtfully, for she thought she had gone too high.

"More than that, mother; guess only once more, for I cannot keep it in
if you are not very quick."

"Then I shall say ten shillings a week, George; but I am afraid I have
guessed too much."

"No, mother, under the mark again. I am to have ten shillings and
sixpence--half a guinea a week! Isn't that splendid? Only fancy, Mr.
George Weston, Junior Clerk to Mr. Compton, at half-a-guinea a week! My
fortune is made; and, depend upon it, mother, we shall get on in the
world now, first-rate. Why, I shall only want--say, half-a-crown a week
for myself, and then there will be all the rest for you. Now don't you
think blind-eyed Fortune must have dropped her bandage this morning, and
have spied me out?"

"No, George; but I think that kind Providence; which has always smiled
upon us when we have been in the greatest difficulties, has once more
shown us that all our ways are in the hands of One who doeth all things

"So do I, mother; and I do hope that this success, which has attended my
journey this morning, may turn out to our real good. I feel it will--we
shall be able to go on now so swimmingly, and I shall be getting a
footing in the world, so that by-and-bye we shan't have a single debt,
or a single care, and you will be growing younger as fast as I grow
older: and then, after a time, we will get a little house in the
country, and finish up our days the happiest couple in the British

For the remainder of that day, poor George was in a regular whirl of
excitement. A thousand schemes were afloat in his mind about the future,
of the most improbable kind. His income of half-a-guinea a week was to
do wonders, which were never accomplished by half a score of guineas.
He speculated about the rise in his salary at the end of the year, which
he was determined, if it rested upon his own industry, should not be
less than a pound a week; and then he forgot the first year, and
commenced calculating what he could do, with his increased salary, till,
at last, worn out with scheming, he said,--

"Money is a great bother, after all, mother. I've been calculating all
this day how we can spend my salary; and I am really more perplexed than
if Mr. Compton had said I should not have anything for the first six
months. I can't make ends meet if I attempt to do what I have planned,
that's very certain; so I shall quietly wait till the first Saturday
night comes, and I feel the half-guinea in my hand, and then I shall
better realize what it is worth."

That was a pleasant evening Mrs. Weston and George spent together in
discussing the events of the day, and when it became time to separate
for the night, she said--

"This is one of the happiest days we have spent for a long time, George.
How your poor father would have enjoyed sharing it with us!" and the
widow sighed.

"Mother," said George, "I have thought of poor father so many times
to-day, and I have formed a resolution which I mean to try and keep. He
was a good man. I don't think he ever did anything really wrong--and I
recollect so well what he used to tell me, when I was a boy"--(George
had jumped into manhood in a day, he fancied)--"I mean to take him for a
model; and if I find myself placed in dangers and difficulties, I shall
always ask myself, 'What would father have done if he had been in this
case?' and then I should try and do as he would."

"May you have strength given to you, my deal boy, to carry out every
good resolution! But remember, there is a model which must be taken even
before that of your father. I mean the pure, sinless example of our
Lord; follow this, and adhere to the plain directions of God's word, and
you cannot go wrong. And now, good night; God bless you, my son!"

It was a long time before George went to sleep; again and again the
events of the day came to his memory, and he travelled in thought far
into the future, peering through the mist which hung over unborn time,
and weighing circumstances which might never have a being.

"I shall be quite accustomed to my duties by next Monday," he said to
his mother in the morning; "for I was all night long busy in the office,
counting money, posting books, and when I awoke I was just signing a
deed of partnership in the name of Compton and Weston."



George Weston was an only son, and, at the time our story commences, was
nearly seventeen years of age. His early years had been spent at home,
under the watchful care of kind and good parents. When he was ten years
old he was sent to a boarding school at Folkestone, and placed in the
charge of Dr. Seaward, a good man, who superintended his education, and,
besides imparting secular instruction, endeavoured to train his
character and make him good as well as clever. George was a sharp,
shrewd boy, a keen observer, who would know the why and the wherefore of
everything, and his lessons always came to him more as an amusement than
a task. He had a horror of being low down in his class, and if he did
not retain his place at the top, it was rarely through inattention or
want of study on his part.

George was a great favourite with the whole school; he was a merry,
joyous fellow, who always had sunshine in his face and a kind word on
his lips; a ringleader in any harmless fun, and a champion on the side
of all the younger boys who met with oppression or injustice from the
elder classes. At cricket or football, swimming or boating, George had
few superiors; and as he was one of those boys who seem determined,
whatever they do, to do it with all their might, he went heart and soul
into all the spoils with such a zest and earnestness that he acquired
the name of the "Indefatigable." Nor did this name merely apply to his
zeal in sports. There was not in the whole school a more diligent
student than George: there was for him "a time to work and a time to
play," and he never allowed one to trespass upon the other. He would
rather go without a game at cricket for a fortnight than be behindhand
in one of his lessons. The boys would laugh at him for this, but George
could bear to be laughed at on such points, because he knew he was in
the right. "I came to school to learn," he would say, "and I don't see
any fun in making my parents pay heavy fees for me every year to play
cricket at the expense of study." Every boy knew there was wisdom in
this, and they secretly admired George for it, although it condemned
their own conduct, more especially when they had to go to him not
unfrequently, and say, "Weston, I shall get in a scrape with these
lessons to-morrow, unless you can help me a bit with them. Do give me a
leg up, that's a good fellow!" and though George never said "No," he did
sometimes take an opportunity to say, "If you did not waste so much time
in play, you might be independent of any help that I can give."

It was a source of great pleasure to his parents to hear from time to
time, through Dr. Seaward, some good account of his conduct; and when he
returned home at the holiday seasons, generally laden with prizes which
he had victoriously borne off, they did not feel a little proud of their
only son.

George remained at the school at Folkestone for five years, during which
time he rose from the lowest to the highest form. It was the intention
of his parents then to place him in a college for a year or two, in
order to give him in opportunity to complete his education, and have the
means to make a good start in life. But this purpose was frustrated by
an event which happened only a month before George was to have been

One day, when all the boys were out in the playfield, busily engaged in
marking out boundaries for a game at hockey, Dr. Seaward was seen coming
from the house towards the field. This was an unusual event, as he
rarely interfered with them during play hours. "Something's up," said
the boys; and waited expectantly until the Doctor came up to them.

"Call George Weston," said he; "I want to speak to him."

"Weston! George Weston!" shouted one or two at once; and George came
running up, nothing abashed, for he knew he had done nothing wrong.

"George," said the Doctor, laying a hand on his shoulder, "I want you to
come with me; I have something to tell you;" and they walked together
away from the field.

"What is it, sir? You look pained: I hope I have done nothing to offend

"No, George," replied the Doctor; "few lads have ever given me so little
cause of offence at any time as you have. But I _am_ pained. I have some
sad news to tell you."

"Sad news for me, sir? Oh, do tell me at once. Is anything the matter at

"Yes, George; a messenger has just arrived to say that your father has
met with a serious accident; he has been thrown from his chaise, and is
much hurt. The messenger is your uncle, Mr. Brunton; and he desires you
to return at once to London with him."

George waited to hear no more; he bounded away from the Doctor, cleared
the fence which enclosed the garden at a leap, and rushed into the room
where Mr. Brunton was anxiously awaiting him. No tear stood in his eye;
but he was dreadfully pale, and his hands trembled like aspen leaves.
"Oh, uncle!" was all he could say; and, throwing himself into a chair,
he covered his face with his hands.

"Come, George, my boy," said Mr. Brunton, tenderly; "do not give way to
distress. Your poor father is seriously hurt, but he is yet alive. We
have just half an hour to catch the train."

That was enough for George; in a moment he was calm and collected, ran
up to his room to make a few hasty arrangements, and in five minutes was
again with his uncle prepared for the journey.

"Good-bye, Dr. Seaward," he said as he left the house.

"God bless you, my young friend," said the kind-hearted Doctor; "and
grant that you may find His providence better than your fears."

George thought he had never known the train go so slowly as it did
during that long, wearisome journey to London. At last it arrived at
the terminus, and then, jumping into a cab, they were hurried away
towards Stamford Hill as quickly as the horse could travel.

"Now, George," said Mr. Brunton, as they came near their journey's end,
"we know not what may have happened while we have been coming here. Be a
man, and recollect there is one who suffers more than you."

"Do not fear, uncle. I will not add to my mother's grief," was all he
could reply.

We will not pry into that interview between mother and son when they
first met; there is a grief too solemn for a stranger's eye.

Mr. Weston was still alive, and that was all that could be said. The
doctors had pronounced his case beyond human skill, and had intimated
that there were but a few hours for him on earth.

As George stood beside the bed of his dying father, the tears which had
been long pent up came pouring thick and fast down his cheek.

"Don't give way to sorrow, George," said his father, in a low voice, for
he had difficulty in speaking; "it will be only a little while before we
meet again; for what is life but a vapour, which soon vanisheth away?"

"Oh, father, it is so sudden, so sudden!" sobbed George.

"Therefore, my boy, remember that at all times there is but a step
between us and death; and if for us to live is Christ, then to die is
gain. Make that your motto through life, my dear boy, 'For me to live is

That night the silver cord was loosed, the golden bowl was broken, and
the spirit of Mr. Weston returned to God who gave it. "Precious in the
eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints."

Never did a mother more realize the joy of possessing the unbounded love
of an affectionate son, than did Mrs. Weston during those melancholy
days between the death and the funeral of her husband, "Cheer up, dear
mother," he would say; "God is the father of the fatherless, and the
husband of the widow, and did not _He_ say 'to die is gain'?"

George and Mr. Brunton followed the remains of the good man to their
last resting-place; and then the body was lowered to the grave "in the
sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection."

Mr. Weston had not been a rich man, nor had he been a far-seeing,
provident man. He had moved in comfortable circumstances, with an income
only sufficient to pay his way in the world, and had made but scanty
provision for the future. At the time of his sudden death, his affairs
were in anything but a satisfactory state; and it was found that it
would be impossible for his widow to live in the same comfortable style
she had formerly done.

After all his accounts were wound up, it was seen that she would only
have a sufficient sum of money, even if invested in the best possible
manner, to keep her in humble circumstances. She determined therefore to
leave her house at Stamford Hill, and take a smaller one in Islington,
and let some of the rooms to boarders.

Mr. Brunton acted the part of a kind brother in all her difficulties; he
was never wearied in advising her, and on him principally devolved all
the necessary arrangements for her removal. Everything he did was with
such delicacy and refinement that, although his hand was daily and
hourly felt, it was never seen.

One evening, shortly before leaving the locality in which they had lived
so many years, George and his mother walked together to the cemetery
where Mr. Weston had been buried, to pay a farewell visit to that
hallowed spot. They had been too much reduced in circumstances to have a
stone placed over the grave where he lay, and they were talking about it
as they journeyed along, saying, how the very first money they could
afford should be expended for that purpose. What was their surprise to
find a handsome stone raised above the spot, bearing these words:--

_Sacred to the Memory of_
Who departed this life, Feb. 18th, 18--, aged 46 years.

* * * * *

"For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."

Tears of grateful joy stood in their eyes as they recognized another
token of the kind, tender love of Mr. Brunton.

The bereavement and change of fortune were borne by the widow with that
fortitude which is only shown by the true Christian. It was hard, very
hard, to begin the world again; to be denied the pleasure of allowing
George to go to college and complete his studies; and to bear the
struggles and inconveniences of poverty. But Mrs. Weston knew that vain
regrets would never alter the case; the Lord had given, the Lord had
taken away, and from her heart she could say cheerfully, "Blessed be
the name of the Lord."

George had not been idle. Every hour in which he was not occupied for or
with his mother, he was diligently engaged in prosecuting his studies,
and preparing himself for the time when he should be able to procure a
situation. Mr. Brunton had not been anxious for him to enter upon one at
once; he knew how lonely the widow would be without her son, and
therefore he did not take any steps to obtain for George a situation.
But when a twelvemonth had passed, and the keenness of sorrow had worn
off, he mentioned the matter to his friend Mr. Compton; with what
success we have seen in the first chapter.



Never did days drag along more heavily than those which elapsed between
the interview with Mr. Compton, and the morning when George was to enter
upon his new duties. Every day the office was a subject of much
conversation; and neither George nor his mother ever seemed to weary in
talking over his plans and purposes. George wrote a long letter to Mr.
Brunton, telling him of the successful issue of his application to Mr.
Compton, and thanking him in the most hearty way for all his kindness.
The next day Mr. Brunton replied to George's letter as follows:--


"I am delighted to hear that you have obtained an appointment, and
that you seem so well satisfied with your prospects. May you find it
to be for your good in every way. Remember, you are going into new
scenes, and will be surrounded with many dangers and temptations to
which you have hitherto been a stranger. Seek to be strong against
everything that is evil; aim at the highest mark, and press towards
it. Much of your future depends upon how you begin--therefore begin
well; hold yourself aloof from everything with which your conscience
tells you you should not be associated, and then all your bright
dreams may, I hope, be fully realized.

"I shall hope to be with you for an hour or two on Sunday evening.

"You will have some unavoidable expenses to incur before entering
upon your duties, and will require a little pocket-money. Accept the
enclosed cheque, with the love of

"Your affectionate Uncle,


George's eyes sparkled with delight as he read the letter; and found the
enclosure to be a cheque for five pounds. This was a great treasure and
relief to him, for he had thought many times about his boots, which were
down at heel, and his best coat, which shone a good deal about the
elbows, and showed symptoms of decay in the neighbourhood of the

A new suit of clothes and a pair of boots were therefore purchased at
once, and when Sunday morning came, and George dressed himself in them,
and stood ready to accompany his mother to the house of God, she thought
(although, of course, she did not say so) that she had never seen a more
handsome and gentlemanly-looking youth than her son.

"Mother," said George, as they walked along, "what a treat the Sunday
will always be now, after being pent up in the office all the week. I
shall look forward to it with such pleasure, not only for the sake of
its rest, but because I shall have a whole day with you."

"The Sabbath is, indeed, a boon," replied Mrs. Weston, "when it is made
a rest-day for the soul, as well as for the body. You remember those
lines I taught you, when you were quite another fellow, before you went
to school, do you not?--

"'A Sunday well spent brings a week of content
And health for the toils of the morrow;
But a Sabbath profaned, whatsoe'er may be gained,
Is a certain forerunner of sorrow.'"

"Yes, mother, I remember them; and capital lines they are. Dr. Seaward
once said, 'Strike the key-note of your tune incorrectly, and the whole
song will be inharmonious;' so, if the Sabbath is improperly spent, the
week will generally be like it."

That morning the preacher took for his text the beautiful words in
Isaiah xli. 10, "Fear thou not, for I am with thee: be not dismayed, for
I am thy God: I will strengthen thee--yea, I will help thee yea, I will
uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness." These words came
like the sound of heavenly music into the soul of the widow; and she
prayed, with the fervency a mother alone can pray for a beloved and only
son, that the time might speedily come when he would be able to
appropriate these words, and realize, in the true sense of the term, God
as his Father. For George, although he had from early infancy been
brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and had learnt to
love holiness from so constantly seeing its beauty exemplified by his
parents, had not yet undergone that one great change which creates the
soul anew in Christ Jesus.

Mr. Brunton arrived in the evening, just as Mrs. Weston and George were
starting out to the second service, and so they all went together to the
same place. The minister, an excellent man, who felt the responsibility
of his office, and took every opportunity of doing good, was in the
habit of giving four sermons a year especially to young men, and it so
happened that on this evening one of these discourses was to be
delivered. Nothing could have been more appropriate to a young man just
starting out in life than his address. The text was taken from those
solemn, striking words of the wise man, "My son, if sinners entice
thee, consent thou not."

He spoke of the powerful influences continually at work to allure young
travellers along life's journey into the snares and pitfalls of sin, and
pointed to God's armoury, and the refuge from all the wiles of the

As the trio sat round the supper-table that evening, discussing the
events of the day, George said--

"I feel very glad that this Sunday has come before I go to Mr.
Compton's. I thought, when the text was given out this evening, that the
minister had prepared his sermon especially for me. I have no doubt all
he said was quite true; and so, being prepared, I shall be able to be on
my guard against the evils which he says are common to those who make
their first start in life."

When Mr. Brunton rose to leave that night, he took George aside; and,
laying his hand on his shoulder, said--

"George, I am glad you have got your appointment, my boy; but I am
sorry, for some reasons, that it is in Mr. Compton's office, for I have
made inquiries about the clerks there, and I regret to find that they
are not the set of young men I should have liked you to be with. Now, I
want you to make me a promise. If ever you are placed in critical
circumstances, or dangers, or difficulties (I say _if_, because I do not
know why you should, but _if_ you are), be sure and come to me. Tell me,
as you always have done, honestly and openly, your difficulty, and you
will always find in me one willing to advise and assist you. Will you

"With all my heart I will, uncle; and thank you, too, for this, and all
your interests on my account."

"Good-bye, then, George. Go on and prosper; and God bless you."

Punctually at nine o'clock on Monday morning, George was at the office.
Mr. Sanders, the manager (the old gentleman whom George had seen on his
first visit), introduced him to the clerks by saying--

"This is Mr. George Weston, our new junior;" and George, with his face
all aglow, made a general bow in return to the salutations which were
given him.

"This is to be your seat," said Mr. Sanders; "and that peg is for your
hat. And now, as you would, no doubt, like to begin at once, here is a
document I want copied."

George was glad to have something to do; he felt all eyes were upon him,
and the whispered voices of the clerks rather grated upon his ears. He
took up his pen, and began to write; but he found his hand shaky, and he
was so confused that, after he had written half a page, and found he had
made two or three blunders, he was obliged to take a fresh sheet, and
begin again.

"Take your time," said Mr. Sanders, who noticed his dilemma; "you will
get on right enough by-and-bye, when you are more accustomed to the
place and the work."

George felt relieved by this; and making up his mind to try and forget
all around him, he set to work busily again, and in an hour or two had
finished the job.

"I have done this, sir," he said, taking it to Mr. Sanders. "What shall
I do next?"

"We will just examine it, and then you may take it into Mr. Compton's
room. After that you can go and get your dinner, and be back again in an

The document was examined, and, to the surprise of George and Mr.
Sanders, not one mistake was found. "Come, this is beginning well," said
the manager; "we shall soon make a clerk of you, I see."

When George went into Mr. Compton's room, and presented the papers, he
was again rewarded with an encouraging commendation. "This is very well
written--very well written indeed, and shows great painstaking," he

George felt he could have shaken hands with both principal and manager
for those few words. "How cheap a kind word is," he thought, "to those
who give it; but it is more precious than gold to the receiver. I like
these two men; and, if I can manage it, they shall like me too."

George had not as yet exchanged a word with any of the clerks; but as he
was leaving the office to go to dinner, one of them was going out at the
same time, on the same errand.

"Well, Mr. Weston, you find it precious dull, don't you, cooped up in
your den?"

"Do you mean the office?" said George.

"Yes; what else should I mean?"

"It seems a comfortable office enough," said George, "and not
particularly dull; but I have not had sufficient experience in it to

"You see, that old ogre (I beg his pardon, I mean old Sanders) takes
jolly good care there shall be no flinching from work while he's there,
and it makes a fellow deuced tired, pegging away all day long."

"If this is a specimen of the clerks," thought George, "Uncle Brunton
was not far wrong when he said they were not a very good set."

"From what I have seen of Mr. Sanders," he said, "I think him a very
nice man! and as for work, I always thought that was what clerks were
engaged to do, and therefore it is their duty to do it, whether under
the eye of the manager or not."

George got this sentence out with some difficulty. He felt it was an
aggressive step, and did not doubt it would go the round of the office
as a tale against him.

"Ugh!" said the clerk; "you've got a thing or two to learn yet, I see.
You must surely be fresh and green from the country; but such notions
soon die out. I don't like to be personal though, so we'll change the
subject. Where are you going to dine? Most of our chaps patronize the
King's Head--first-rate place; get anything you like in two twinklings
of a lamb's tail. I'm going there now; will you go? By the way, I should
have told you before this that my name is Williams."

"I suppose, Mr. Williams,' the King's Head is a tavern? If so, I prefer
a coffee-house; but thank you, notwithstanding, for your offer."

"By George! that's a rum start. Our chaps all hate coffee-shops, with
the exception of young Hardy, and he's coming round to our tastes now.
You can get a good feed at the King's Head--stunning tackle in the shape
of beer, and meet a decent set of fellows who know how to crack a joke
at table; whereas, if you go to a coffee-shop, you have an ugly slice of
meat set before you, a jorum of tea leaves and water, or some other
mess, and a disagreeable set of people around. Now, which is best?"

"Your description is certainly unfavourable in the latter case; but I do
not suppose all coffeehouses are alike, and therefore I shall try one
to-day. Good morning."

George soon found a nice-looking quiet place where he could dine, and
felt sure he had no need to go to taverns for better accommodation.

When he returned to the office, at two o'clock, Mr. Sanders was absent,
and the clerks were busily engaged, not at work, but in conversation.
Mr. Williams was the principal speaker, and seemed to have something
very choice to communicate. George made no doubt that he was the subject
of conversation, for he had caught one or two words as he entered, which
warranted the supposition. He had nothing to do until Mr. Sanders
returned; this was an opportunity, therefore, for Mr. Williams to make
himself officious.

"Mr. Weston," he said, "allow me to do the honours of the office by
introducing you, in a more definite manner than that old ----, I mean
than Mr. Sanders did this morning. This gentleman is Mr. Lawson, this is
Mr. Allwood, this is Mr. Malcolm, and this my young friend, Mr. Charles
Hardy, who is of a serious turn of mind, and is meditating entering the
ministry, or the undertaking line."

A laugh at Hardy's expense was the result of this attempt at jocularity
on the part of Mr. Williams. George hardly knew how to acknowledge these
introductions; but, turning to Charles Hardy, he said,--

"As Mr. Williams has so candidly mentioned your qualities, Mr. Hardy,
perhaps you will favour me with a description of his."

Hardy rose from his seat, for up to this time he had been engaged in
writing, and, in a tone of mock gravity, replied,

"This is Mr. Williams, who lives at the antipodes of everything that is
quiet or serious, whose mission to the earth seems expressly to turn
everything he touches into a laugh. He is not a 'youth to fortune and
to fame unknown,' for in the archives of the King's Head his name is
emblazoned in imperishable characters."

"Well said, Hardy!" said one or two at once. "Now, Williams, you are on
your mettle, old boy; stand true to your colours, and transmute the
sentence into a joke in self-defence."

Williams was on the point of replying when Mr. Sanders entered. In an
instant all the clerks pretended to be up to their eyes in business;
each had his book or papers to hand as if by magic; whether upside down
or not was immaterial.

But George Weston stood where he was; he could not condescend to so mean
an imposition, and he felt pleased to see that Charles Hardy, unlike the
others, made no attempt to hide the fact that he had been engaged in
conversation, instead of continuing at his work.

At six o'clock the day's duties were over; and George felt not a little
pleased when the hour struck, and Mr. Sanders told him he could go.
Hardy was leaving just at the same time, and so they went out together.

"Are you going anywhere in my direction?" said Hardy; "I live at

"Indeed!" replied George; "I'm glad to hear that, for I live at
Islington, close by you. If you are willing, we will bear one another
company, for I want to ask you one or two questions;" and taking Hardy's
arm, the two strolled homewards together.

Now George would never have thought of walking arm in-arm with Mr.
Williams, or any of the other clerks; but, from the first time he saw
Hardy, and noticed his quiet, gentlemanly manners, he felt sure he
should like him. Hardy, too, had evidently taken a fancy to George; and
therefore both felt pleased that accident had brought them together.
Accident? No, that is a wrong word; whenever a heart feels that there is
another heart beating like its own, and those two hearts go out one
towards the other, until they become knit together in the bonds of
friendship, there is something more than accident in that.

"How long have you been in Mr. Compton's office?" said George, as they
walked along,

"Nearly two years," he replied; "I went there as soon as I left school.
I was then about seventeen years old; and there I have been ever since."

"Then you are my senior by two years," said George. "I left school a
year ago, and this is my first situation. How do you like the office?"

"Do you mean my particular seat, the clerks, or the duties, or all

"I should like to know how you like the whole combined."

"I prefer my desk to yours, because I sit next to Mr. Malcolm, who is
one of the steadiest and most respectable clerks in the office; and
therefore I am not subject to so much annoyance as you will be, seated
next to that empty-headed Williams, and coarse low-minded Lawson. I do
not really like any of the clerks; there are none of them the sort of
young men I should choose as companions. As to the duties, they are
agreeable enough, and I have nothing to find fault with on that score."

"I tell you candidly," said George, "I am not prepossessed in favour of
the clerks; they are far too 'fast' a set to please me; but I am very
glad, for my own sake, that you are in the office, Mr. Hardy."


"Because, although we are almost strangers at present, I know I shall
find in you some one who will be companionable. You don't seem very
thick with the others; you don't join with them in that mean practice of
shirking work directly Mr. Sanders's back is turned; and you don't, from
what I have heard, approve of the society at the King's Head, in which
the others seem to take so much delight. Now, in these points, I think,
our tastes are similar."

"Ah! Mr. Weston," said Hardy, "you will find, as I have done, that
amongst such a set we are obliged to allow a great many things we do not
approve. But I'm very glad you have come amongst us; unity is strength,
you know, and two can make a better opposition than one. Now, will you
let me give you a hint?"

"Certainly," said George.

"Be on your guard with Lawson and Williams; they are two dangerous young
men, and can do no end of mischief, because they are double-faced--sneaking
sometimes, and bullying at others. I don't know whether you have heard
that you are filling a vacancy caused by one of our clerks leaving the
office in disgrace. It is not worth while my telling you the story now,
but that poor chap would never have left in the way he did, had it not
been for Lawson and Williams."

"Many thanks, Mr. Hardy, for your information and advice, upon which I
will endeavour to act. And now, as our roads lay differently, we must
say good evening."

"Adieu, then, till to-morrow," said Hardy. "By-the-bye, I pass this
road in the morning, at half-past eight; if you are here we will walk to
the office together."

It took George the whole of the evening to give his mother a full
account of the day's proceedings; there were so many questions to ask on
her part, and so many descriptions to give on his, and such a number of
events occurred during the day, that it seemed as if he had at least a
week's experience to narrate.

"I like Hardy, mother," said George, once or twice during the evening;
"he is such a thorough open-hearted fellow, and I know we shall get
along together capitally."

"I hope so, my boy," said his mother; "but be very careful how you form
any other friendships."

When Mrs. Western retired to her room for the night, it was not to
sleep. She felt anxious and uneasy about George; she thought of him as
the loving, gentle child, the merry, light-hearted boy, and the manly,
conscientious youth. Then she thought of the future. How would he stand
against the evil influences surrounding him? Would his frank, ingenuous
manner change, and the confidence he always reposed in her cease? Would
he be led away by the gay and thoughtless young men with whom he would
be associated?

Tears gathered in the widow's eyes, and many a sigh sounded in that
quiet room; but Mrs. Weston had a Friend at hand, to whom she could go
and pour out all her anxieties. She would cast her burden on Him, for
she knew He cared for her. As she knelt before the mercy-seat, these
were her prayers:--

"Lord, create in him a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within him.
May he remember Thee in the days of his youth. Heavenly Father, lead him
not into temptation, but deliver him from evil Guide him by Thy counsel,
and lead him in the paths of righteousness, for Thy Name's sake."



Six months passed rapidly away. George continued to give satisfaction to
Mr. Compton, soon learnt the office routine, and earned the warmest
expressions of approbation from Mr. Sanders, who said he was the best
junior clerk he ever remembered to have entered that office.

George had carefully guarded against forming any kind of intimacy with
the other clerks; he had declined to have more to say to them during
office hours than possible, and when business was over he purposely
shunned them. But a strong friendship had sprung up between him and
Charles Hardy; every morning they came to the city together, and
returned in company in the evening. Sometimes George would spend an
evening at the house of Hardy's parents, and Hardy, in like manner,
would occasionally spend an evening with George.

Williams and Lawson had, as Hardy predicted, been a source of great
annoyance to George. He was constantly obliged to bear their ridicule
because he would not conform to their habits, and sometimes the insults
he received were almost beyond his power of endurance. He and Hardy
received the name of the "Siamese youths," and were generally greeted
with such salutations as "How d'ye do? Is mamma pretty well?"--or
something equally galling. But George bore it all with exemplary
patience, and he did not doubt that after a while they would grow tired
of annoying him. At all events, he felt certain some new policy would be
adopted by them; for he had so risen in the estimation of his employer,
who began to repose confidence in him, and entrust him with more
important matters than he allowed the others to interfere with, that
George anticipated the time when the clerks would either be glad to
curry favour with him, or at least have to acknowledge that he was
regarded more highly than they were.

So matters went on. Mrs. Weston was full of joy as she saw how well
George had kept his resolutions, and full of hope that he would continue
as he had begun.

Mr. Brunton had given him many kind encouragements during this time, and
had felt himself well rewarded for all his trouble on George's behalf
by hearing from Mr. Compton of the satisfaction his services had given.

And now an event occurred, simple and unimportant in itself, and yet it
was one that affected the whole of George's after-life.

One evening, as he was leaving the office, and had just turned into
Fleet-street, a nice-looking, fashionably-dressed young man came running
up, and, clapping him on the shoulder, exclaimed,

"What! George Weston, my old pippin, who ever thought of turning you up
in London!"

"Harry Ashton! my old school-chum, how are you?" and the two friends
shook hands with a heartiness that surprised the passers-by.

"Where ever have you been to, all these long years, George?" said Aston;
"only fancy, we have never seen each other since that day we were
playing hockey at dear old Dr. Seaward's, and you were hastily called
away to London. The Doctor told us the sad news, and we all felt for you
deeply, old fellow; in fact I never recollect the place having been so
gloomy before or since."

"It was a sad time for me," said George; "and after that I lived at home
for a twelvemonth. Then I got an appointment in an office in
Falcon-court, and have held it just six months. Now, tell me where you
have sprung from, and where you have been since I last saw you?"

"I stayed only six months longer at Dr. Seaward's and was then articled
to a surveyor in the Strand, with whom I have been nearly a year, and
now I am bound for my lodgings, and you must come with me."

"You had better come with me," said George; "my mother will be so
pleased to welcome an old school-fellow of mine, and she is not
altogether a stranger to you."

"Thank you, old fellow," replied Ashton; "I shall be very glad to accept
your invitation some other night; but, after our long separation, we
want to have a quiet, confidential chat over old times together, and I
must introduce you to my crib. I am a bachelor--all alone in my glory.
The old folks still live in the country, and I boarded at first in a
family; but that that was terribly slow work, and since that time I have
hung out on my own hook. So come along, George; I really can't hear any

George hesitated only a moment; he had never spent an evening from home
without first acquainting his mother; but this was an unusual event,
and he was so anxious to hear about Dr. Seaward, and talk over old
school days, the temptation was irresistible.

Harry Ashton called a cab, much to George's surprise, into which they
jumped; and were not very long in getting into the Clapham road, where
they alighted before a large, nice looking house.

"This is the crib," said Ashton, as he ushered George into a large
parlour, handsomely furnished with everything contributing to comfort
and amusement. "Now, make yourself at home. Here are some cigars
(producing a box of Havannahs), and here (opening a cellaret) is bottled
beer and wine; which shall it be?"

"As to smoking, that is a bad habit, or an art (which you like) I have
never yet practised," said George; "but I will join you in a glass of
wine just to toast 'Dr. Seaward and our absent friends in the school.'"

Then the two school friends fell into conversation. Many and many a
happy recollection came into their minds, and one long yarn was but the
preface to another.

"Come, George, fill up your glass," said Ashton repeatedly; but George

Two or three hours slipped rapidly away, and then George rose to leave.
"Not a bit of it, George," said Ashton; "we must have some supper and
discuss present times yet. I have not heard particulars of what you are
doing, or how you are getting on, and you only know I'm here, without
any of the history about it."

So George yielded: how could he help it? Harry Ashton had become his
bosom-chum during the five years he had been at school, and all the old
happy memories of those days were again fresh upon him.

"Now, George, tell your story first, and then mine shall follow." Then
George narrated all the leading circumstances which had attended his
life, from the time he left school up to that very evening, and a long
story it was.

"Now," said Ashton, "for mine. When you left Folkestone I got up to your
place at the head of the school, and there I held on till I left. Six
months after you left, the holidays came, and I came up to town. I spent
a few days with Mr. Ralston, an old friend of the family, and one of the
first engineers and surveyors in London. He took a liking to me, offered
to take me into his office, wrote to the governor (I know you don't like
that term, though--I mean my father), proposed a sum as premium,
arrangements were made; and, instead of returning to school, I came to
London and commenced learning the arts and mysteries of a profession. I
had only been with Mr. Ralston two or three months, when one morning my
father came into the office, out of wind with excitement, and said,
'Harry, I have got sad and joyful, and wonderful news for you! Poor old
Mr. Cornish is dead; the will has been opened, and--make up your mind
for a surprise--the bulk of his property is left to you.' I was
thunderstruck. I knew the old gentleman would leave me something, but I
did not know that he had quarrelled with his relatives, and therefore
appropriated to me the share originally intended for them. So, you see,
I have stepped into luck's way. I am allowed an income now which amounts
to something like two hundred a year, as I shall not come into my rights
till I am twenty-one, and how I am not nineteen; so I have a long time
to wait, you see, which is rather annoying. I took this crib, and have
managed to enjoy my existence pretty well, I can assure you. Sometimes I
run down into the country to spend a week or two with the old folks, and
sometimes they come up and see me."

"Don't you find it rather dull, living here alone, though?" said George.

"Dull? far from it. I have a good large circle of friends, who like to
come round here and spend a quiet evening; and there are no end of
amusements in this great city, so that no one need never be dull.
Besides, if I am alone, I am not without friends, you see,"--pointing to
a well-stocked book case.

"I have been running my eye over them, Harry. There are some very nice
books; but your tastes are changed since I knew you last, or you would
never waste your time over all this lot here which seem to have been
best used. I mean the 'Wandering Jew,' 'Ernest Maltravers,' and the

"I won't attempt to defend myself, George; but when I was at school, I
did as school-boys did: now I have come to London, I do as the Londoners
do. I know there is an absence of anything like reason in this, but I am
not much thrown amongst reasoners. But, to change the subject; now you
have found me out, George, I do hope you will very often chum with me. I
shall enjoy going about with you better than with anybody else; and as
we know one another so well, we shall soon have tastes and habits in
common again, as we used to have."

Presently the clock struck. George started up in surprise. "What!
twelve o'clock! impossible. It never can be so late as that?"

"It is, though," said Ashton, "but what of that? you don't surely call
twelve o'clock bad hours for once in a way?"

"No, not for once in a way," replied George; "but I have never kept my
mother up so late before. Good-bye, old fellow. Promise to come and see
me some night this week. There is my address." And so saying, George ran
out into the street and made his way towards Islington.

That was an anxious night for Mrs. Weston. "What can have happened?" she
asked herself a hundred times. Fortunately, Mr. Brunton called, and he
assisted to while away the time.

"George does not often stay out of an evening, does he?" he asked.

"No, never," replied Mrs. Weston; "unless it is with his friend, Charles
Hardy, and then I always know where they are, and what they are doing.
But something extraordinary must have happened to-night, and I feel very
anxious to know what it is. Not that I think he is anywhere he ought not
to be. I feel sure he is not," continued Mrs. Weston confidently; "but
what it is that has detained him, I am altogether at a loss to guess."

"Well, I will not leave you till he comes home," said Mr. Brunton.

It was one o'clock before George arrived; it was too late to get an
omnibus, and a cab, he thought, was altogether out of the question;
therefore he had to walk the whole distance--or rather run, for he was
as anxious now to get home as they were to see him.

He was very much surprised, and, if it must be confessed, rather vexed
on some accounts, to find Mr. Brunton waiting up for him with his

His explanation of what had happened, told in his merry, ingenuous way,
at once dissipated any anxiety they had felt.

"I recollect Harry Ashton well," said Mrs. Weston. "Dr. Seaward pointed
him out to me, the first time I went to see you at Folkestone, as being
one of his best scholars; and he came home once with you in the holidays
to spend a day or two with us, did he not?"

"That is the same, mother, and a better-hearted fellow it would be hard
to find."

"There is only one disadvantage that I see in your having him as an
intimate friend," said Uncle Brunton, "and that is, he is now very
differently situated in position to you as regards wealth, and you
might find him a companion more liable to lead you into expense than any
of your other friends, because I know what a proud fellow you are,
George," he said, laughingly, "you like to do as your friends do, and
would not let them incur expense on your account unless you could return
their compliment. But I will not commence a moral discourse to-night--it
is time all good folks should be in bed."

All the next day George was thinking over the events of the previous
evening; he was pleased to have found out Harry Ashton, and thought he
would be just the young man he wanted for a companion. Then he compared
their different modes of life--Ashton living in luxuriant circumstances,
without anybody or anything to interfere with his enjoyment, and he,
obliged to live very humbly and carefully in order to make both ends
meet; and then came a new feeling, that of restraint.

"There is Ashton," he thought, "can go out when he likes and where he
likes, without its being necessary to say where he is going or what he
is going to do, and he can come in at night without being obliged to
account for all his actions like a child. If I happen to stay out, there
is Uncle Brunton and my mother in a great state of excitement about me,
which I don't think is right. I really do not wonder that the clerks
have made me a laughing-stock. All this while I have lived in London I
have seen nothing; have not been to any of the places of amusement; and
have not been a bit like the young men with whom I get thrown into
contact. I think Ashton is right, after all, in saying that when he was
at school he did as school-boys did, and when he came to London he did
as the Londoners do. Far be it from me to be undutiful to those who care
for me; but I think, as a young man, I do owe a duty to myself,
different altogether from that which belonged to me as a schoolboy."

These were all new thoughts to George: he had never felt or even thought
of restraint before; he had never even expressed a wish to do as other
young men did, in wasting precious time on useless amusements; he had
always looked forward to an evening at home with pleasure, and had never
felt the least inclination to wander forth in search of recreation
elsewhere. Nay, he had always condemned it; and when Lawson or Williams,
or any of the other clerks, had proposed such a thing to him, he never
minded bearing their ridicule in declining.

And here was George's danger. He was upon his guard with his
fellow-clerks, and was able to keep his resolution not to adopt their
ideas, nor fall into their ways and habits; but when those very evils he
condemned in them were presented to him in a different form by Harry
Ashton, his old friend and school-fellow--leaving the principle the
same, and only the practice a little altered--he was off his guard; and
the habits he regarded with dislike in Williams and Lawson, he was
beginning secretly to admire in Ashton.

As he walked home that evening with Hardy he gave him a long description
of his meeting with Ashton, and all that happened during his interview
and upon his return home.

"Now, Hardy," said George, "which do you think is really
preferable--Harry Ashton's life or ours? We never go out anywhere; and,
for the matter of that, might as well be living in monasteries, as far
as knowing what is going on in the world is concerned."

"For my own part, Weston," said Hardy, "I would rather be as I am. Your
friend is surrounded with infinitely greater temptations than we are,
from the fact of his living as he does without any control. He is
evidently free from his parents, and although he is old enough to take
care of himself, still there is a certain restraint felt under a
parent's roof which is very desirable."

"Quite true," said George; "but that involves a point which has been
perplexing me all day. Should we, after we have arrived at a certain
age, acknowledge a parent's control as we did when we were mere
school-boys? I do not mean are we to cease to honour them, because that
we cannot do while God's commandment lasts; but are we, as Williams
says, always to go in leading-strings, or are we at liberty to think and
act for ourselves?"

"That depends a good deal on the way in which we wish to think and act.
For instance, my parents object to Sunday travelling and Sunday
visiting. Now, while I am living with them, I feel it would not be right
for me to do either of these things--even though as a matter of
principle I might not see any positive wrong in them--because it would
bring me into opposition with my parents. So, in spending evenings away
from home, I know it would be contrary to their wish, and it is right to
try and prevent our opinions clashing."

"I agree with you, partly, Hardy; but only partly. We must study our
parents' opinions in the main, but not in points of detail. Suppose I
want to attend a course of lectures, for example, which would take me
from home sometimes in the evening; and my mother objects to my spending
evenings from home, although the study might be advantageous to me--then
I think I should be at liberty to adhere to my own opinion; if not, I
should be under the same restraint I was as a child. It is right and
natural that parents should feel desirous to know what associations
their sons are forming, and what are their habits, and all that sort of
thing; but I am inclined to think it is not right for a parent to
exercise so strong a control as to say, 'So-and-so shall be your
companion;' and, 'You may go to this place, but you may not go to

"Well, Weston, your digestion must be out of order, or you are a little
bilious, or something; for I never heard you talk like this before. I
have told you, confidentially sometimes, that I have wanted to rebel
against the wishes of my parents on some points, and you have always
counselled me, like a sage, grey-headed father, to give up my desire.
But now you turn right round, and place me in the position of the
parent, and you the rebellious son. I recommend, therefore, that you
take two pills, for I am sure bile is at the bottom of this; and then I
will feel your pulse upon this point again."

Mrs. Weston noticed a difference in George that evening. He seemed as
if he had got something upon his mind which was perplexing him. He was
not so cheerful and merry as usual, but his mother attributed it partly
to his late hours, followed by a hard day's work, and therefore she said
nothing to him about it.

A day or two elapsed, and George was still brooding upon the same
subject. He did not know that the great tempter was weaving a subtle net
around him, to lure him into the broad road which leadeth to
destruction. He tried a hundred times to fight against the strange
influence he felt upon him; but he did not fight with the right weapons,
and therefore he failed. Had the tempter suggested to him that, as he
was a young man, he should do as his fellow-clerks, or even Ashton did,
and have his way in all things, he would have seen the temptation; but
it came altogether in a different way. The evil voice said, "You are
under restraint. Ask any young man of your own age, and he will tell you
so. It is high time you should unloose yourself from apron-strings." And
this idea of restraint was preying upon him, and he could not throw it
off. George was anxious to do the right, but did not know how to fight
against the wrong. Conscience whispered to him, "Do you remember that
motto your dying father gave you, 'For me to live is Christ?'" George
replied, "Yes, I remember it; and it is still my desire to follow it."
Conscience said again, "Do you recollect that sermon you heard, and the
resolutions you made, 'My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou
not?'" And he answered, "I remember it well; but I am not aware that any
are endeavouring to entice me."

This was the effect of the unconscious influence of Harry Ashton. He had
unknowingly fanned a latent spark into a flame, which, unless checked,
would consume all those high and praiseworthy resolutions which George
had formed, and carefully kept for years. He had cast a shadow over the
landscape of his friend's well-being, which made the sign-posts pointing
"upward and onward" almost indistinct. He had breathed into the
atmosphere a subtle malaria, and George had caught the disease. The
little leaven was now mixed with his life, which would leaven the whole.
The genus of that moral consumption, which, unless cured by the Great
Physician, ends in death, had been sown, and were now taking root.

George was unconscious of any foreign influence working upon him--he
could not see that Ashton had in any way exerted a power over him; nor
in the new and undefined feelings which had taken possession of him
could he recognise the presence of evil. He had consulted conscience,
and, he fancied, had satisfactorily met the warnings of its voice.

But he had _not_ gone to that high and sure source of strength which can
alone make a way of escape from all temptations; he had _not_ obtained
that armour of righteousness which is the only defence against the fiery
darts of the wicked one; he had _not_ that faith, in the power of which
alone Satan can be resisted; and therefore his eyes were holden so that
he could not see the snares which the subtle foe was laying around him,
nor could he, in his own strength, bear up against the strong tide which
was threatening to overwhelm him.



Harry Ashton kept his promise, and went one evening that week to see
George at Islington. Hardy had been invited to meet him; and the three
friends, as they kept up a perfect rattle of conversation, interspersed
with many crossfired jokes, made the merriest and happiest little party
that could be imagined.

Mrs. Weston was very much pleased with Ashton--his refined thought and
gentlemanly address, joined with an open-hearted candour and a fund of
humour which sparkled in every sentence, made it impossible for any one
not to like him. Charles Hardy thought he had never met a more
entertaining companion than Ashton; Ashton thought Hardy was an
intelligent, agreeable fellow; and George declared to his mother that,
if he had had the pick of all the young men in London, he could not have
found two nicer fellows.

A hundred topics were discoursed upon during the evening, in which
Ashton generally took the lead, and showed himself to be very well
informed on all ordinary subjects. Incidentally the theatre was

"Have you seen that new piece at the Lyceum?" said Ashton. "It is really
a very capital thing."

"No," said George. "I have never been to a theatre."

"Nor I," said Hardy.

"Nor I," said Mrs. Weston.

"Well, that is really very extraordinary," said Ashton; "I thought
almost everybody went to a theatre at some time or other. But perhaps
you have some objection?"

"I have," said Mrs. Weston. "I think there is a great deal of evil
learnt there, and very little good, if any. It is expensive; and it
leads into other bad habits."

"Those last objections cannot be gainsaid," said Ashton; "but they
equally apply to all amusements, and therefore, by that rule, all
amusements are bad."

"But not in an equal degree with that of the theatre," George remarked;
"because other amusements do not possess such an infatuation. For my
own part, I should not mind going to a concert; but I very much
disapprove of the theatre, and should never hesitate to decline going

"Yours is not a good argument, George. You have never been to the
theatre, you say, and yet you disapprove of it. Are you right in
pronouncing such an opinion, which cannot be the result of your own

"I think I am," replied George; "I can adopt the opinions of those whom
experience has instructed in the matter, and in whom I can rely with
implicit confidence. If a man goes through a dangerous track, and falls
into a bog, I should be willing to admit the track was dangerous, and
avoid the bog, without going in to prove the former traveller was right;
and this applies to going to theatres."

"No, George; there is your error. There would be no two opinions about
the bog; but suppose you go for a tour to the Pyrenees, and, from
prejudice or some other cause, come back disgusted. You warn me not to
go, telling me I shall be wasting my time, and find nothing interesting
to reward my trouble in the journey. But Hardy goes the same tour, comes
home delighted, and says, 'Go to the Pyrenees by all means; it is a
glorious place, the most pleasant in the whole world for a tour.' To
decide the question, I read two books; one agrees with you, and the
other with Hardy. How can I arrive at an opinion unless I go myself, and
see what it is like? So it is with the theatre: some say it is the great
teacher of morals, others that it is the most wicked and hurtful place.
Therefore I think every one should form his own opinion from his own

"You may be right," said George, waveringly. "I am not clear upon the
subject; but I do not think, even if I were to form an opinion in the
way you prescribe, that I should ever choose the theatre as a place of

"Then what is your favourite amusement?" asked Ashton.

"To come home and read, or spend a social evening with a friend," George

"Then I know what will suit you all to pieces," said Ashton; "and your
friend Hardy too. I am a member of a literary institution. It is a
first-rate place--the best in London. There are lectures and classes,
and soires, a debating society, a good library, and rooms for
chess-playing and that sort of thing. Now, you really must join it; it
will be so very nice for us to have a regular place of meeting; and,
besides that, we can combine study with amusement. What do you say, Mrs.

"I cannot see any objection to literary institutions," said Mrs. Weston;
"but I have always considered them better suited to young men who are
away from home, than for those who have comfortable homes in which to
spend their evenings. You speak about having a regular place of meeting.
I shall always be very pleased to see you and Mr. Hardy here, as often
as ever you can manage to spend an evening with us."

"Many thanks for your kindness, Mrs. Weston," returned Ashton; "but it
would not be right for us to trespass on your good nature. Now I will
give you and your friend a challenge, George," he continued. "Next
Monday, the first debate of the season comes off; will you allow me to
introduce you to the institution on that evening?--it is a member's

"I shall be very pleased to join you, then," said George. "What say you,

"I accept the invitation, with thanks," replied Hardy.

On Monday night, as George and Hardy journeyed towards the place of
meeting, they discussed the question of joining the institution.

"If you will, I will," said Hardy. "My parents do not much like the
idea; but, as you said the other evening, 'we must not allow ourselves
to be controlled like mere children.'"

"I do think we really require a little recreation after business hours;
and we can obtain none better than that of an intellectual kind, such as
is found at literary institutions. The new term has only just commenced;
so we may as well be enrolled as members at once."

"I wish the institution was a little nearer home," said Hardy, "for it
will be so late of an evening for us to be out. However, we need not
always attend, nor is it necessary we should very often be late. Have
you had any difficulty in obtaining Mrs. Weston's consent to your

"None at all; she prefers my attending an institution of this kind to
any other, although probably she would be better pleased if I did not
join one at all. But, as Ashton says, we really must live up to the
times, and know something of what is going on in the world around us.
Did you not notice, the other evening, how Ashton could speak upon every
subject brought on the carpet? My mother said, 'What a remarkably
agreeable young man he is! he has evidently seen a good deal of
society;' and I think the two things are inseparable--to be agreeable
in society, one must mix more with it."

Ashton was punctual to his appointment; and all were at the institution
just as the members were assembling for the debate. George was surprised
to find how many of the young men knew Ashton, and he admired the ease
and elegance of his friend in acknowledging the greetings which met him
on every hand.

"I won't bore you with introductions to-night," he said, "except to just
half-a-dozen fellows in particular, who, I am sure, you will like to
know; and we can all sit together and compare opinions during the

The friends were accordingly introduced; and as the proceedings of the
evening went on, and all waxed warm upon the subject under discussion,
the party which Ashton had drawn together soon became known to one
another, and were on terms of conversational acquaintance.

The meeting separated at ten o'clock, and then George and Hardy essayed
to bid good-night to their friends, and make their way at once towards

"Nonsense," said Ashton; "I want you to come with me to a nice quiet
place I know, close by, and have a bit of supper and a chat over all
that has been said, and then I will walk part of the way home with you."

"No, not to-night, Ashton; it is quite late enough already; and it will
be past eleven o'clock before we get home as it is."

"What say you, Hardy? Can you persuade our sage old friend to abandon
his ten o'clock habits for one night?" asked Ashton.

"I do not like to establish a bad precedent," said Hardy; "and as we
have to-night joined the institution, I think we should make a rule to
start off home as soon as we leave the meetings, because we have some
distance to go, and bad hours, you know, interfere with business."

"I did not expect you to make a rule to keep bad hours," said Ashton;"
but every rule has an exception--"

"And therefore it will not do to commence with the exception; so
good-bye, till we meet again on Wednesday."

Three nights a-week there was something going on at the institution
sufficiently attractive to draw George and Hardy there. One evening a
lecture, another the discussion class, and the third an elocution class,
or more frequently that was resigned in favour of chess. From meeting
the same young men, night after night, a great number of new
acquaintanceships were formed, and George would never have spent an
evening at home, had he accepted the invitations which were frequently
being given him; but he had made a compact with himself, that he would
never be out more than three evenings a week, and would devote the
remainder to the society of his mother. A certain little voice did
sometimes say to him, "Is it quite right and kind of you, George, to
leave your mother so often? Do you not think it must be rather lonely
for her, sometimes, without you?" And George would answer to the voice,
"Mother would never wish to stand between me and my improvement.
Besides, she has many friends who visit her, and with whom she visits;
and few young men of my age give their mothers more than three evenings
of their society a week."

One evening, as George and Hardy were entering the institution, Harry
Ashton came up to them, and said,--

"I have just had some tickets sent me for the Adelphi. There is nothing
going on here worth staying for, so I shall go. Dixon will make one, and
you and Hardy must make up the quartette."

"Dixon going?" asked George; "why, I thought he was such a sedate
fellow, and never went to anything of the sort!"

"Neither does he, as a rule; but he has never been to the Adelphi, and
he wants to go. Will you accompany us?"

"No, thank you," said George; "I told you once I did not like theatres;
perhaps you recollect we discussed the point one evening?"

"We did, and you said you had never been to a theatre: you disapproved
of them, without ever having had an opportunity of judging whether they
were good or bad places. Now, take the opportunity."

"I am not anxious to form a judgment; and I so dislike all the
associations of a theatre that it would be no pleasure for me to go."

"Complimentary, certainly!" laughed Ashton. "But I will grant you this
much--there are bad associations connected with the theatres, and this
is the stronghold of objectors; but we are four staid sober fellows, we
shall go to our box without any bother, sit and see the play without
exchanging a word with anybody beyond our own party, and then leave as
soon as the performance is over. You had better say you will go, eh?"

"No, it would be very late before I got home," said George: "and I do
not like keeping my mother up, more particularly as I was so very late
the other evening. But what do you say, Hardy?"

"I don't know what to say," said Hardy. "I did once say to myself I
would never go to a theatre; but I am not sure that there is any moral
obligation why I should keep my word, when the compact rests only with
myself. I have not time to consult Paley, and so I put the question to
you--Can I go, seeing I have said to myself I will not?"

"Arrange it in this way," said Ashton; "both of you go, and when you get
there, if you decide you have done wrong, then leave at once; or if you
find that your consciences are in durance vile, and you have not
patience or sufficient interest to stay and see the play out, go, and I
will excuse you then with all my heart; but I won't excuse your not
going. Now is your time to decide; for here comes Dixon, true to his

"I suppose you have got your party complete, Ashton?" he said; "and if
so, we had better start at once, or the play will have begun before we
get there."

George pondered no longer. "Suppose we try it, Hardy, on Ashton's
plan," said he; "I don't see any harm in that, do you?"

"No, I think that is the best way in which the case can be put," he
replied; "and I don't see that any harm can possibly come of it."

Away went the party, full of high spirits, bent upon amusement. But
George felt a certain uneasy something, which tried to make him feel
less pleased with himself than usual, and his laugh was at first forced
and unnatural; there was not the same joyousness there would have been
had he been starting on some recreation which he knew would be approved
by parent and friends, and his own conscience. Ashton noticed he did not
seem to be quite at ease; and therefore he brought all his humour into
play to provoke hilarity. By the time they arrived at the theatre, that
love of novelty and excitement which is so natural to young people
completely overcame all other feelings, and the sight of the crowds
flocking into all parts of the house was now an irresistible temptation
to follow in too.

They were shown into a very comfortable box, commanding a good view of
the whole of the theatre. The thrilling strains of music issuing from
the orchestra, the dazzling lights, and the large assembly of elegantly
dressed ladies in the boxes, a mass of people in the pit, and tiers of
heads in the galleries, filled George with excitement. He who a little
while before had been the dullest of the party, was now the gayest of
the gay; he was lost in astonishment at all he saw and heard, dazzled
with the brilliancy of the scene, and abandoned to all the enjoyments of
the hour.

The performances that evening consisted of a farce, the comedy of the
"Serious Family," and a ballet. When the curtain rose, and the farce
commenced, George entered heart and soul into the spirit of the
performance; laughed till the tears rolled down his cheeks at the
dilemmas of an unlucky wight who acted a prominent part, and stamped
applause in favour of a young lady who tried in every way to defend this
unfortunate individual from his persecutors.

When it was over, Ashton turned to George, and said--

"Well, Weston, so much for the farce; now, if you think it is
objectionable, off you go, old fellow, and we will forgive you."

"No," said George; "I think that farce was capital, and I shall stay now
and see the end. I am not surprised people like the theatre--I never
enjoyed a laugh more in my life. But there is one thing I have not
liked. That hero of the piece did not scruple to use language for which
he would have been kicked out of any respectable private house--and yet
there are respectable people here, old and young, all listening and
seeming to enjoy it. That shows there is insincerity somewhere; either
these people hush their sensitive feelings in the playhouse, or they are
hypocrites at home, and profess to be much more refined than they really

"You evidently don't understand plays yet," said Ashton; "that man
depicts a certain style of life, and he must be true to it. If he enacts
the part of a costermonger, he must swear and talk slang, and commit
crimes, if need be, or anything suiting the character he assumes; or
else the thing would be absurd, and the gentleman and costermonger would
be both alike."

"The theatre must be a 'great teacher of morals,' then, if we come here
to be initiated into the vices of costermongers," said George, rather

"George," whispered Hardy, "we've got into a mess; look down in the
pit--Williams and Lawson are there. They have recognized us, and are
nodding--shall we nod?"

"Yes," said George, and he nodded; but his face was red as crimson. "I
would not have had Lawson and Williams see us here for the world," he
whispered to Hardy; "but it's too late now--as you say, we've got into a

Just then the curtain rose again, and the play of the "Serious Family,"

The plot of the piece is this:--

Mr. Abinadab Sleek and Lady Creamly are two hypocrites, introduced as
ordinary specimens of Christians. They are living in the house of their
daughter and son-in-law (Mr. and Mrs. Charles Torrens), over whom they
exercise a stern and despotic control. Mr. Charles Torrens, "for the
sake of peace and quietness," agrees to all the solemnities opposed upon
him; and is willing to pass himself off in Christian circles as a
co-worker with Mr. Abinadab Sleek. In his heart he detests everything
like seriousness; and whenever an opportunity occurs, on the pretext of
going into the country, indulges in the gaieties and vices of London
fashionable life. He is visited by an old friend, Captain Murphy
Maguire, who persuades him to renounce boldly the sanctimonious customs
of the "Serious Family," and enjoy with unshackled freedom the pleasures
of the world. To this he consents; but he has not courage to alter the
family customs. Captain Maguire aids his plans by convincing Mrs. C.
Torrens that unless she provides in her home those amusements which are
found in the world, her husband will prefer the world to his home. A
conspiracy is laid to oppose the religious tyranny of Mr. Abinadab
Sleek, the result of which is, that a ball is given by Mr. Torrens,
assisted by his wife, who, throwing off her former profession of
Christianity, becomes a woman of the world. On all this their future
happiness as man and wife is made to hinge; and when, through the flimsy
plot of the piece, the tableau arrives, the curtain drops, leaving the
younger members of the "Serious Family" whirling in the giddy dance,
commencing the new era of domestic happiness.

Throughout the play, Scripture is quoted and ridiculed, religion is made
contemptible, and vice under the name of "geniality, openheartedness,
and merriment," is made to appear the one thing necessary to constitute
real happiness.

George followed the play through all its shifting scenes; now laughed,
now sighed, now felt the hot blush of shame as he listened to the
atrocious mockery of everything which, from the time he had been an
infant on his mother's knee, he had been taught to regard as good and
pure. He was heated to indignation when the audience applauded the base
character of Maguire, and shuddered when as he thought that a masked
hypocrite was brought before the world as the type of a Christian, and
that a "Serious Family" was only another name for an unhappy, canting
set of ignorant people.

And yet George did not leave the theatre. He was hurt, wounded to the
heart by what he saw and heard, felt he would have given the world to
have stood up in the box, and have told the audience that the play was a
libel upon everything sacred and solemn; but he stayed and saw it out,
rivetted by that strange, unholy infatuation which has been the bane of
so many.

"Let us go now, Hardy," he said, as the curtain dropped; "you do not
care to see the ballet, do you?"

"Oh, in for a penny, in for a pound. While we are here, we may as well
see all that is to be seen. I won't ask you how you liked the comedy. I
want to see something lively now, to remove the disagreeable impressions
it has left upon me."

And so they stayed, delighted with the music, fascinated with the
graceful dancing, and dazzled with the scenery. At length the curtain
fell, and the evening's performance was over.

"It is only half-past eleven," said Ashton, when they got outside; "now
we must just turn in somewhere, and get a bit of supper, and then, I
suppose we must separate. There is a first-rate hotel close handy, where
I sometimes dine. What do you say?"

"Just the place for us," said Dixon; "because we must limit ourselves to
half an hour, and we shall get what we want quickly there."

As they went into the supper-room, George saw, to his vexation, Lawson
and Williams, with a party of boon companions, seated round a table at
the further end. He instantly drew back; but it was too late, they had
recognised him.

"Confound it!" he said to Ashton, "there are some chaps from our office,
at the end there. I do not wish to meet them; cannot we go into a
private room?"

"Certainly," said Ashton; and the party retreated. "But why do you not
wish to meet your fellow clerks?"

"Because they are a low set of fellows with whom I have nothing in

When supper was over and the clock had struck twelve, the party

"Good night, old fellow," said Ashton to George. "I am sorry we have
not seen quite the sort of play you would have liked; but now you have
seen the worst side of the theatre, and next time we go together we will
try and see the best; so that between the two extremes you will be able
to discriminate and determine what sort of place the theatre is as an

"Thank you, Ashton, for your share in the entertainment to-night. I will
talk to you about the play some other time; but I must say, candidly, I
never felt so distressed in my life as I did while that gross insult to
all good feeling, 'The Serious Family,' was being performed. If you had
said to me what that wretch, Captain Maguire, said in my hearing
to-night, I would not have shaken hands with you again as I do now."

An omnibus happened to be passing for the Angel at Islington that
moment, and George and Hardy got up.

"What shall we do with regard to Williams and Lawson?" said Hardy. "They
have got a victory to-night. I fear our protest against theatres and
taverns is over with them for ever now, seeing they have caught us at
both places."

"I cannot but regret the circumstance," said George, "but it is nothing
to them; they are not our father-confessors, and we are not bound to
enter into any particulars with them. The greatest difficulty with me is
how to manage when I get home. I don't like deceiving my mother; but I
should not like to pain her by saying I have been to the theatre. She
knew I started for the institution, and that I might possibly be late;
so, unless she asks me where I have been, I don't see that there will be
any good in unnecessarily distressing her."

"The disagreeable thing in such a case is," replied Hardy, "if the fact
comes out afterwards, it _looks_ as if a deception had been practised."

George and Hardy had never talked together like this before; and they
spoke hesitatingly, as if they hardly liked to hear their own voices
joining to discuss a mean, unworthy, dishonourable trick.

O temptation! what an inclined path is thine! How slippery for the feet,
and how rapidly the unwary traveller slides along, lower and lower--each
step making the attempt to ascend again to high ground more difficult!
George had made many dangerous slips that night--would he ever regain
his position?

Mrs. Weston was sitting up for George, and pleased was she to hear, at
last, his knock at the door.

"Mother, this is too bad of me, keeping you up so late," said George. "I
really did not mean to keep bad hours to-night; but I will turn over a
new leaf for the future."

"I do not mind sitting up, George, if it is for your good," she
answered; "but I fear you will not improve your health by being so late
as this. Have you enjoyed your meeting to-night?"

"Pretty well," said George; "but I have been with Ashton, Dixon, and
Hardy since."

"Then you have not had supper?"

"Yes, we had supper with Ashton." George got red as he said this. It was
the first time he ever remembered wilfully deceiving his mother.

"Oh! that has made you late, then," said Mrs. Weston. "I am afraid
Ashton has so many attractions in those apartments of his--what with
friends, books, and curiosities--that you find it difficult to break up
your social gatherings."

"It is too bad of me to leave you so often, my dear mother; but I don't
mean to go to Ashton's again for some time, unless he comes to see us;
and so I shall return straight home from the institution for a long

When George retired to his room, he felt so distracted with all that
had taken place, that his old custom of reading a chapter from God's
Word, and kneeling down to pray before getting into bed, was abandoned
for that night. He tried to sleep, but could not. The strains of music
were yet ringing in his ears, and the dazzling light was still flashing
before his eyes. Then the plays came again before him; and he followed
the plots throughout, smiling again over some of the jokes, and feeling
depressed at the sad parts. Then he thought of Williams and Lawson, and
reproached himself for having acted that evening very, very foolishly.
Alas! this was not the right term; it was more than foolishness to
tamper with the voice of conscience, to violate principles which had
been inculcated from childhood, to plot wilful deceit, and act a lie.
Instead of saying he had acted foolishly, he should have said, "Father,
I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight Have mercy upon me, O God!
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquities, and cleanse me from my sin; for
against Thee, Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil." But George
only said, "I am so very vexed I went with Ashton to-night; it was very
foolish!--very foolish!"



"You look seedy this morning, Mr. Weston," said Williams, as George
entered the office on the following day. "The effect of last night's
dissipation, I suppose. How did you like the play?"

"Not at all," answered George, mortified and angry at having the
question put to him before all the clerks, who were now informed of the
fact of his having been there.

"No; I suppose one Abinadab Sleek does not like to hear another one of
the same gang spoken ill of, eh?"

"I do not understand you," said George.

"Then, to put it plainer, you and Hardy, who are of the 'Serious Family'
style, don't like to see yourselves taken off quite so true to life as
you were last night at the Adelphi. You saw that old canting Abinadab
Sleek was up to every dodge and vice, although he did seem such a
sanctified individual in public; and our young Solomons, who condemn
wicked theatres and disgusting taverns, can go to both on the sly, and
be as sanctimonious as ever Abinadab was in office."

George felt his hands clench, and his eyes flash fire. He could bear
taunts from Williams, when he had right on his side, and felt the
consciousness of innocence; but he could not bear it now.

"You lie," said George passionately, "in drawing that comparison."

"And you lie continually," said Williams, "in acting a perpetual edition
of that part of the 'Serious Family' represented by Abinadab Sleek."

"Fight it out I fight it out!" said Lawson. "The Governor won't be here
for half an hour; bolt the door and have it out."

"Nothing of the kind," said Hardy, stepping forward. "Williams is the
aggressor in this instance; it is nothing to him if Weston and I went to
the theatre every night in our lives; he has no right to interfere; if
he fights it must be with Weston and me, for he insults me as much as my

"Then come on," said Williams, taking off his coat, "and I'll take you
both: one man is worth two canting hypocrites, any day."

But no one had bolted the door, and, to the surprise of all, Mr.
Compton stood before them.

"What is this?" he said; "young men in my office talking of fighting, as
if it were the tap-room of a public house? George Weston! I did not
think this of you."

"Do not judge hastily, sir," said Hardy. "My friend Weston has been
grossly insulted by Mr. Williams, and the little disturbance has only
been got up through jealousy, to get him into trouble."

"Step into my room a moment, Mr. Hardy," said Mr. Compton; "and you,
too, Weston and Williams."

George was flushed with excitement; but his proud, manly bearing, in
contrast to the crest-fallen Williams, won for him the admiration of the
whole staff of clerks.

Mr. Compton patiently heard from Hardy a recital of the causes leading
to the fray, and was made acquainted with the course of opposition
George had to contend with, from Williams and Lawson, ever since he had
been in the office.

"I regret this circumstance," said Mr. Compton, "for several reasons. I
have always held you, Weston, in the highest estimation, nor do I see
sufficient cause, from this event, to alter my estimate; but I have
always found my best clerks those who have been in the habit of spending
their evenings elsewhere than in theatres and taverns. I am not
surprised at the part you have taken, Mr. Williams; and it now rests
with you, whether you remain in this office or leave. I will not have
the junior clerks in this establishment held in subjection to those who
have been with me a few years longer; nor will I have a system of insult
and opposition continued, which must eventually lead to unpleasant
results. If I hear any more of this matter, or find that you persist in
your unwarranted insults on Mr. Weston, I shall at once dismiss you from
my service. You did well, Mr. Hardy, in interfering to prevent a
disgraceful fight; and, much as I dislike tale-bearing, I request you to
inform me, for the future, of any unpleasantness arising to Mr. Weston
from this affair."

Williams was terribly crest-fallen, and the tide of office opinion
turned from him in favour of George and Hardy, who, without crowing over
the victory they had gained, yet showed a manly determination not to
allow an insult which reflected upon their characters.

"I tell you what it is," whispered Lawson to Williams; "Old Compton
takes a fancy to those two sneaking fellows, and, after this affair,
the office will get too hot for us if we do not draw it milder to them.
If I were you, I should waylay them outside the office and say something
civil, by way of soft soap, so as to nip this matter off, for you've got
the worst of it so far."

Williams determined to accept the hint Lawson had given him, and when
the office closed, remained in the court until George came out.

"Mr. Weston," he said, stretching out his hand, which George felt would
be mean-spirited not to take, "that was an unpleasant affair this
morning, but I didn't think you would fire up as you did; and when I let
fly at you, it was only in joke."

"I must deny that it was a joke," George replied; "it was an intended
insult. Probably you might not have thought it would have produced
indignation in me, because you, evidently, do not understand my feelings
in the matter. However, let the thing drop now. I will not retract what
I said to you this morning, that you lied in forming that estimate of my
character, nor do I ask you to retract your words, unless your
conscience tells you that you wronged me."

"What I said was hasty, and I don't mind eating all my words," said
Williams; "so, as the song says, 'Come, let us be happy together.' Will
you come into the King's Head, and take a glass of wine on the strength
of it?"

"No, thank you," said George; "but as it is no wish of mine to live at
loggerheads with any one, here is my hand upon it."

And then they shook hands, and so the matter ended. But it ended only so
far as Williams was concerned. A day or two afterwards Mr. Brunton was
passing the office, and he called in to say "How d'ye do?" to Mr.
Compton. In the course of conversation he asked how George was getting
on, and whether he continued to give satisfaction.

"Yes," said Mr. Compton, "I have no fault to find with him; on the
contrary, he is the best junior clerk I ever had, and I trust him with
matters I never placed in the hands of a junior clerk before. But there
was an unfortunate occurrence the other day, which I think it right to
mention to you confidentially." And then Mr. Brunton heard the whole
history of the theatre adventure, and its consequences in the office on
the following morning. He was grieved, deeply grieved. At first he could
not credit the account; but when he heard that George had himself
confessed to the truth of the circumstances before Mr. Compton, and
there was no longer room to doubt, a tear stood in his eye as he thought
of his nephew--that noble, manly boy, whom he loved with all the
affection of a father--stooping to temptation, and acting the part of a
deceiver; for Mr. Brunton had spent an evening with Mrs. Weston and
George, and had heard nothing of his having been to a theatre, nor did
he believe Mrs. Weston was aware of it.

"What I have told you is strictly confidential," said Mr. Compton; "but
as you are, as it were, the father of George Weston, I thought it only
right that you should know this, in order that you may warn him, if he
has got into the hands of bad companions."

George was absent from the office during the interview, and did not know
until some days afterwards of his uncle's visit.

Mr. Brunton went from Falcon-court a sadder man. He was perplexed and
harassed; he could not conscientiously tell Mrs. Weston, as he had
received the information in confidence; he could not speak directly to
George upon the subject, because he would at once have known that Mr.
Compton must have given the statement to his uncle. He was obliged,
therefore, to remain passive in the matter for a day or two, and
resolved to spend an evening that week at Islington.

In the meantime the affair became known to Mrs. Weston, and in rather a
curious manner. George had worn his best coat on the evening he went to
the theatre; and one day as Mrs. Weston, according to custom, was
brushing it, before putting it away in his drawers, she turned out the
pockets, and, amongst other things, drew forth a well-used play-bill.

"George has never been to the theatre, surely?" she asked herself.
"Impossible! he would have told me had he done so, for he is far too
high-principled to deceive me."

But the sight of that play-bill worried Mrs. Weston. She thought over it
all day, and longed for the evening to come, when she might ask George
about it.

That evening Mr. Brunton had determined to spend at Islington; and as he
was passing Falcon-court, he called for George on his way, and they
walked home together.

The play-bill happened to be on the table when they entered, and it
caught the eye of both George and Mr. Brunton at once.

"Where did you get that from?" asked George, colouring, not with the
honest flush of self-respect, but with the burning sense of deceit

"I found it in your pocket, George; and as I have never found one there
before, I thought I would leave it out, to ask you how you came by it."

"I came by it the other night, when I went to the theatre," said George;
for he could not tell a direct falsehood. "I did not tell you of it at

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