Part 2 out of 8
Many in the crowd recognized the young fellow and waved their hands to
him or called out a few words of encouragement. Miss Kate Harston and
even the doctor began to reflect some of the interest and excitement
which showed itself on every face around them. The youth alone seemed
to be unaffected by the general enthusiasm, and spent the time in
endeavouring to explain the principles of the game to his fair
companion, whose ignorance of it was comprehensive and astounding.
"You understand," he said, "that there are fifteen players on each side.
But it would not do for the whole of these fifteen men to play in a
crowd, for, in that case, if the other side forced the ball past them,
they would have nothing to fall back upon--no reserves, as it were.
Therefore, as we play the game in Scotland, ten men are told off to play
in a knot. They are picked for their weight, strength, and endurance.
They are called the forwards, and are supposed to be always on the ball,
following it everywhere, never stopping or tiring. They are opposed, of
course, by the forwards of the other side. Now, immediately behind the
forwards are the two quarter-backs. They should be very active fellows,
good dodgers and fast runners. They never join in the very rough work,
but they always follow on the outskirts of the forwards, and if the ball
is forced past it is their duty to pick it up and make away with it like
lightning. If they are very fast they may succeed in carrying it a long
way before they are caught--'tackled,' as we call it. It is their duty
also to keep their eye on the quarter-backs of the enemy, and to tackle
them if they get away. Behind them again are the two half-backs--or
'three-quarters,' as they call them in England. I am one of them.
They are supposed to be fast runners too, and a good deal of the
tackling comes to their lot, for a good runner of the other side can
often get past the quarters, and then the halves have got to bring him
down. Behind the half-backs is a single man--the back. He is the last
resource when all others are past. He should be a sure and long kicker,
so as to get the ball away from the goal by that means--but you are not
"Oh yes, I am," said Kate. As a matter of fact the great throng and the
novel sights were distracting her so much that she found it hard to
attend to her companion's disquisition.
"You'll understand it quickly enough when you see it," the student
remarked cheerily. "Here we are at the grounds."
As he spoke the carriage rattled through a broad gateway into a large
open grassy space, with a great pavilion at one side of it and a staked
enclosure about two hundred yards long and a hundred broad, with a
goal-post at each end. This space was marked out by gaily coloured
flags, and on every side of it, pressing against the barrier the whole
way round, was an enormous crowd, twenty and thirty deep, with others
occupying every piece of rising ground or coign of vantage behind them.
The most moderate computation would place the number of spectators at
fifteen thousand. At one side there was a line of cabs in the
background, and thither the carriage of the Dimsdales drove, while Tom
rushed off with his bag to the pavilion to change.
It was high time to do so, for just as the carriage took up its position
a hoarse roar burst from the great multitude, and was taken up again and
again. It was a welcome to the English team, which had just appeared
upon the ground. There they were, clad in white knickerbockers and
jerseys, with a single red rose embroidered upon their breasts; as
gallant-looking a set of young fellows as the whole world could produce.
Tall, square-shouldered, straight-limbed, as active as kittens and as
powerful as young bullocks, it was clear that they would take a lot of
beating. They were the pick of the University and London clubs, with a
few players from the northern counties; not a man among them whose name
was not known wherever football was played. That tall, long-legged
youth is Evans, the great half-back, who is said to be able to send a
drop-kick further than any of his predecessors in the annals of the
game. There is Buller, the famous Cambridge quarter, only ten stone in
weight, but as lithe and slippery as an eel; and Jackson, the other
quarter, is just such another--hard to tackle himself, but as tenacious
as a bulldog in holding an adversary. That one with the straw-coloured
hair is Coles, the great forward; and there are nine lads of metal who
will stand by him to-day through thick and thin. They were a
formidable-looking lot, and betting, which had been five on four to them
in the morning, showed symptoms of coming to five to three. In the
meantime, by no means abashed at finding themselves the cynosure of so
many eyes, the Englishmen proceeded to keep up their circulation by
leap-frog and horse-play, for their jerseys were thin and the wind
But where were their adversaries? A few impatient moments slowly
passed, and then from one corner of the ground there rose a second
cheer, which rippled down the long line of onlookers and swelled into a
mighty shout as the Scotchmen vaulted over the barrier into the arena.
It was a nice question for connoisseurs in physical beauty as to which
team had the best of it in physique. The Northerners in their blue
jerseys, with a thistle upon their breasts, were a sturdy, hard-bitten
lot, averaging a couple of pounds more in weight than their opponents.
The latter were, perhaps, more regularly and symmetrically built, and
were pronounced by experts to be the faster team, but there was a
massive, gaunt look about the Scotch forwards which promised well for
their endurance. Indeed, it was on their forwards that they principally
relied. The presence of three such players as Buller, Evans, and
Jackson made the English exceptionally strong behind, but they had no
men in front who were individually so strong and fast as Miller, Watts,
or Grey. Dimsdale and Garraway, the Scotch half-backs, and Tookey, the
quarter, whose blazing red head was a very oriflamme wherever the
struggle waxed hottest, were the best men that the Northerners could
boast of behind.
The English had won the choice of goals, and elected to play with what
slight wind there was at their backs. A small thing may turn the scale
between two evenly balanced teams. Evans, the captain, placed the ball
in front of him upon the ground, with his men lined all along on either
side, as eager as hounds in leash. Some fifty yards in front of him,
about the place where the ball would drop, the blue-vested Scots
gathered in a sullen crowd. There was a sharp ring from a bell, a
murmur of excitement from the crowd. Evans took two quick steps
forward, and the yellow ball flew swift and straight, as if it had been
shot from a cannon, right into the expectant group in front of him.
For a moment there was grasping and turmoil among the Scotchmen.
Then from the crowd emerged Grey, the great Glasgow forward, the ball
tucked well under his arm, his head down, running like the wind, with
his nine forwards in a dense clump behind him, ready to bear down all
opposition, while the other five followed more slowly, covering a wider
stretch of ground. He met the Englishmen who had started full cry after
the ball the moment that their captain had kicked it. The first hurled
himself upon him. Grey, without slackening his pace, swerved slightly,
and he missed him. The second he passed in the same way, but the third
caught quickly at his legs, and the Scot flew head over heels and was
promptly collared. Not much use collaring him now! In the very act of
falling he had thrown the ball behind him. Gordon, of Paisley, caught
it and bore it on a dozen yards, when he was seized and knocked down,
but not before he had bequeathed his trust to another, who struggled
manfully for some paces before he too was brought to the ground.
This pretty piece of "passing" had recovered for the Scotch all the
advantage lost by the English kick-off, and was greeted by roars of
applause from the crowd.
And now there is a "maul" or "scrimmage." Was there ever another race
which did such things and called it play! Twenty young men, so blended
and inextricably mixed that no one could assign the various arms and
legs to their respective owners, are straining every muscle and fibre of
their bodies against each other, and yet are so well balanced that the
dense clump of humanity stands absolutely motionless. In the centre is
an inextricable chaos where shoulders heave and heads rise and fall. At
the edges are a fringe of legs--legs in an extreme state of tension--
ever pawing for a firmer foothold, and apparently completely independent
of the rest of their owners, whose heads and bodies have bored their way
Into the _melee_. The pressure in there is tremendous, yet neither side
gives an inch. Just on the skirts of the throng, with bent bodies and
hands on knees, stand the cool little quarter-backs, watching the
gasping giants, and also keeping a keen eye upon each other. Let the
ball emerge near one of these, and he will whip it up and be ten paces
off before those in the "maul" even know that it is gone. Behind them
again are the halves, alert and watchful, while the back, with his hands
in his pockets, has an easy consciousness that he will have plenty of
warning before the ball can pass the four good men who stand between the
"maul" and himself.
Now the dense throng sways a little backwards and forwards. An inch is
lost and an inch is gained. The crowd roar with delight. "Mauled,
Scotland!" "Mauled England!" "England!" "Scotland!" The shouting
would stir the blood of the mildest mortal that ever breathed.
Kate Harston stands in the carriage, rosy with excitement and enjoyment.
Her heart is all with the wearers of the rose, in spite of the presence
of her old play-mate in the opposite ranks. The doctor is as much
delighted as the youngest man on the ground, and the cabman waves his
arms and shouts in a highly indecorous fashion. The two pounds'
difference in weight is beginning to tell. The English sway back a yard
or two. A blue coat emerges among the white ones. He has fought his
way through, but has left the ball behind him, so he dashes round and
puts his weight behind it once more. There is a last upheaval, the maul
is split in two, and through the rent come the redoubtable Scotch
forwards with the ball amongst them. Their solid phalanx has scattered
the English like spray to right and left. There is no one in front of
them, no one but a single little man, almost a boy in size and weight.
Surely he cannot hope to stop the tremendous rush. The ball is a few
yards in advance of the leading Scot when he springs forward at it.
He seizes it an instant before his adversary, and with the same motion
writhes himself free from the man's grasp. Now is the time for the
crack Cambridge quarter-back to show what he is made of. The crowd yell
with excitement. To right and left run the great Scotch forwards,
grasping, slipping, pursuing, and right in the midst of them, as quick
and as erratic as a trout in a pool, runs the calm-faced little man,
dodging one, avoiding another, slipping between the fingers of two
others. Surely he is caught now. No, he has passed all the forwards
and emerges from the ruck of men, pelting along at a tremendous pace.
He has dodged one of the Scotch quarters, and outstripped the other.
"Well played, England!" shout the crowd. "Well run, Buller!"
"Now, Tookey!" "Now, Dimsdale!" "Well collared, Dimsdale; well
collared, indeed!" The little quarter-back had come to an end of his
career, for Tom had been as quick as he and had caught him round the
waist as he attempted to pass, and brought him to the ground.
The cheers were hearty, for the two half-backs were the only University
men in the team, and there were hundreds of students among the
spectators. The good doctor coloured up with pleasure to hear his boy's
name bellowed forth approvingly by a thousand excited lungs.
The play is, as all good judges said it would be, very equal. For the
first forty minutes every advantage gained by either side had been
promptly neutralized by a desperate effort on the part of the other.
The mass of struggling players has swayed backwards and forwards, but
never more than twenty or thirty yards from the centre of the ground.
Neither goal had been seriously threatened as yet. The spectators fail
to see how the odds laid on England are justified, but the "fancy" abide
by their choice. In the second forty it is thought that the superior
speed and staying power of the Southerners will tell over the heavier
Scots. There seems little the matter with the latter as yet, as they
stand in a group, wiping their grimy faces and discussing the state of
the game; for at the end of forty minutes the goals are changed and
there is a slight interval.
And now the last hour is to prove whether there are good men bred in the
hungry North as any who live on more fruitful ground and beneath warmer
skies. If the play was desperate before, it became even more so now.
Each member of either team played as if upon him alone depended the
issue of the match. Again and again Grey, Anderson, Gordon, and their
redoubtable phalanx of dishevelled hard-breathing Scots broke away with
the ball; but as often the English quarter and half-backs, by their
superior speed, more than made up for the weakness of their forwards,
and carried the struggle back into the enemy's ground. Two or three
time Evans, the long-kicker, who was credited with the power of reaching
the goal from almost any part of the ground, got hold of the ball, but
each time before he could kick he was charged by some one of his
adversaries. At last, however, his chance came. The ball trickled out
of a maul into the hands of Buller, who at once turned and threw it to
the half-back behind him. There was no time to reach him. He took a
quick glance at the distant goal, a short run forward, and his long limb
swung through the air with tremendous force. There was a dead silence
of suspense among the crowd as the ball described a lofty parabola.
Down it came, down, down, as straight and true as an arrow, just grazing
the cross-bar and pitching on the grass beyond, and the groans of a few
afflicted patriots were drowned in the hearty cheers which hailed the
But the victory was not won yet. There were ten minutes left for the
Scotchmen to recover this blow or for the Englishmen to improve upon it.
The Northerners played so furiously that the ball was kept down near the
English goal, which was only saved by the splendid defensive play of
their backs. Five minutes passed, and the Scots in turn were being
pressed back. A series of brilliant runs by Buller, Jackson, and Evans
took the fight into the enemy's country, and kept it there. It seemed
as if the visitors meant scoring again, when a sudden change occurred in
the state of affairs. It was but three minutes off the calling of time
when Tookey, one of the Scotch quarter-backs, got hold of the ball, and
made a magnificent run, passing right through the opposing forwards and
quarters. He was collared by Evans, but immediately threw the ball
behind him. Dimsdale had followed up the quarter-back and caught the
ball when it was thrown backwards. Now or never! The lad felt that he
would sacrifice anything to pass the three men who stood between him and
the English goal. He passed Evans like the wind before the half-back
could disentangle himself from Tookey. There were but two now to oppose
him. The first was the other English half-back, a broad-shouldered,
powerful fellow, who rushed at him; but Tom, without attempting to avoid
him, lowered his head and drove at him full tilt with such violence that
both men reeled back from the collision. Dimsdale recovered himself
first, however, and got past before the other had time to seize him.
The goal was now not more than twenty yards off, with only one between
Tom and it, though half a dozen more were in close pursuit. The English
back caught him round the waist, while another from behind seized the
collar of his jersey, and the three came heavily to the ground together.
But the deed was done. In the very act of falling he had managed to
kick the ball, which flickered feebly up into the air and just cleared
the English bar. It had scarcely touched the ground upon the other side
when the ringing of the great bell announced the termination of the
match, though its sound was entirely drowned by the tumultuous shouting
of the crowd. A thousand hats were thrown into the air, ten thousand
voices joined in the roar, and meanwhile the cause of all this outcry
was still sitting on the ground, smiling, it is true, but very pale, and
with one of his arms dangling uselessly from his shoulder.
Well, the breaking of a collar-bone is a small price to pay for the
saving of such a match as that. So thought Tom Dimsdale as he made for
the pavilion, with his father keeping off the exultant crowd upon one
side and Jack Garraway upon the other. The doctor butted a path through
the dense half-crazy mob with a vigour which showed that his son's
talents in that direction were hereditary. Within half an hour Tom was
safely ensconced in the corner of the carriage, with his shoulder braced
back, _secundum artem_, and his arm supported by a sling. How quietly
and deftly the two women slipped a shawl here and a rug there to save
him from the jarring of the carriage! It is part of the angel nature of
woman that when youth and strength are maimed and helpless they appeal
to her more than they can ever do in the pride and flush of their power.
Here lies the compensation of the unfortunate. Kate's dark blue eyes
filled with ineffable compassion as she bent over him; and he, catching
sight of that expression, felt a sudden new unaccountable spring of joy
bubble up in his heart, which made all previous hopes and pleasures seem
vapid and meaningless. The little god shoots hard and straight when his
mark is still in the golden dawn of life. All the way back he lay with
his head among the cushions, dreaming of ministering angels, his whole
soul steeped in quiet contentment as it dwelt upon the sweet earnest
eyes which had looked so tenderly into his. It had been an eventful day
with the student. He had saved his side, he had broken his collar-bone,
and now, most serious of all, he had realized that he was hopelessly in
A FIRST PROFESSIONAL.
Within a few weeks of his recovery from his accident Tom Dimsdale was to
go up for his first professional examination, and his father, who had
now retired from practice with a fair fortune, remained in Edinburgh
until that event should come off. There had been some difficulty in
persuading Girdlestone to give his consent to this prolongation of his
ward's leave, but the old merchant was very much engrossed with his own
affairs about that time, which made him more amenable than he might
otherwise have been. The two travellers continued, therefore, to reside
in their Princes Street hotel, but the student held on to his lodgings
in Howe Street, where he used to read during the morning and afternoon.
Every evening, however, he managed to dine at the _Royal_, and would
stay there until his father packed him off to his books once more.
It was in vain for him to protest and to plead for another half-hour.
The physician was inexorable. When the fated hour came round the
unhappy youth slowly gathered together his hat, his gloves, and his
stick, spreading out that operation over the greatest possible extent of
time which it could by any means be made to occupy. He would then
ruefully bid his kinsfolk adieu, and retire rebelliously to his books.
Very soon, however, he made a discovery. From a certain seat in the
Princes Street Gardens it was possible to see the interior of the
sitting-room in which the visitors remained after dinner. From the time
when this fact dawned upon him, his rooms in the evening knew him no
more. The gardens were locked at night, but that was a mere trifle.
He used to scramble over the railings like a cat, and then, planting
himself upon the particular seat, he would keep a watch upon the hotel
window until the occupants of the room retired to rest. It might happen
that his cousin remained invisible. Then he would return to his rooms
in a highly dissatisfied state, and sit up half the night protesting
against fate and smoking strong black tobacco. On the other hand, if he
had the good luck to see the graceful figure of his old playfellow, he
felt that that was the next best thing to being actually in her company,
and departed eventually in a more contented frame of mind. Thus, when
Dr. Dimsdale fondly imagined his son to be a mile away grappling with
the mysteries of science, that undutiful lad was in reality perched
within sixty yards of him, with his thoughts engrossed by very different
Kate could not fail to understand what was going on. However young and
innocent a girl may be, there is always some subtle feminine instinct
which warns her that she is loved. Then first she realizes that she has
passed the shadowy frontier line which divides the child-life from that
of the woman. Kate felt uneasy and perplexed, and half involuntarily
she changed her manner towards him.
It had been frank and sisterly; now it became more distant and
constrained. He was quick to observe the change, and in private raved
and raged at it. He even made the mistake of showing his pique to her,
upon which she became still more retiring and conventional. Then be
bemoaned himself in the sleepless watches of the night, and confided to
his bed-post that in his belief such a case had never occurred before in
the history of the world, and never by any chance could or would happen
again. He also broke out into an eruption of bad verses, which were
found by his landlady during her daily examination of his private
papers, and were read aloud to a select audience of neighbours, who were
all much impressed, and cackled sympathetically among themselves.
By degrees Tom developed other symptoms of the distemper which had come
upon him so suddenly. He had always been remarkable for a certain
towsiness of appearance and carelessness of dress which harmonized with
his Bohemian habits. All this he suddenly abjured. One fine morning he
paid successive visits to his tailor, his boot-maker, his hatter, and
his hosier, which left all those worthy tradesmen rubbing their hands
with satisfaction. About a week afterwards he emerged from his rooms in
a state of gorgeousness which impressed his landlady and amazed his
friends. His old college companions hardly recognized Tom's honest phiz
as it looked out above the most fashionable of coats and under the
glossiest of hats.
His father was anything but edified by the change.
"I don't know what's coming over the lad, Kate," he remarked after one
of his visits. "If I thought he was going to turn to a fop, by the Lord
Harry I'd disown him! Don't you notice a change in him yourself?"
Kate managed to evade the question, but her bright blush might have
opened the old man's eyes had he observed it. He hardly realized yet
that his son really was a man, and still less did he think of John
Harston's little girl as a woman. It is generally some comparative
stranger who first makes that discovery and brings it home to friends
Love has an awkward way of intruding itself at inconvenient times, but
it never came more inopportunely than when it smote one who was reading
for his first professional examination. During these weeks, when Tom
was stumping about in boots which were two sizes too small for him, in
the hope of making his muscular, well-formed foot a trifle more elegant,
and was splitting gloves in a way which surprised his glover, all his
energies ought by rights to have been concentrated upon the mysteries of
botany, chemistry, and zoology. During the precious hours that should
have been devoted to the mastering of the sub-divisions of the
celenterata or the natural orders of endogenous plants, he was expending
his energies in endeavouring to recall the words of the song which his
cousin had sung the evening before, or to recollect the exact intonation
with which she remarked to him that it had been a fine day, or some
other equally momentous observation. It follows that, as the day of the
examination came round, the student, in his lucid intervals, began to
feel anxious for the result. He had known his work fairly well,
however, at one time, and with luck he might pull through. He made an
energetic attempt to compress a month's reading into a week, and when
the day for the written examination came round he had recovered some of
his lost ground. The papers suited him fairly well, and he felt as he
left the hall that he had had better fortune than he deserved. The
_viva voce_ ordeal was the one, however, which he knew would be most
dangerous to him, and he dreaded it accordingly.
It was a raw spring morning when his turn came to go up. His father and
Kate drove round with him to the University gates.
"Keep up your pluck, Tom," the old gentleman said. "Be cool, and have
all your wits about you. Don't lose your head, whatever you do."
"I seem to have forgotten the little I ever knew," Tom said dolefully,
as he trudged up the steps. As he looked back he saw Kate wave her hand
to him cheerily, and it gave him fresh heart.
"We shall hope to see you at lunch time," his father shouted after him.
"Mind you bring us good news." As he spoke the carriage rattled away
down the Bridges, and Tom joined the knot of expectant students who were
waiting at the door of the great hall.
A melancholy group they were, sallow-faced, long-visaged and dolorous,
partly from the effects of a long course of study and partly from their
present trepidation. It was painful to observe their attempts to appear
confident and unconcerned as they glanced round the heavens, as if to
observe the state of the weather, or examined with well-feigned
archaeological fervour the inscriptions upon the old University walls.
Most painful of all was it, when some one, plucking up courage, would
venture upon a tiny joke, at which the whole company would gibber in an
ostentatious way, as though to show that even in this dire pass the
appreciation of humour still remained with them. At times, when any of
their number alluded to the examination or detailed the questions which
had been propounded to Brown or Baker the day before, the mask of
unconcern would be dropped, and the whole assembly would glare eagerly
and silently at the speaker. Generally on such occasions matters are
made infinitely worse by some Job's comforter, who creeps about
suggesting abstruse questions, and hinting that they represent some
examiner's particular hobby. Such a one came to Dimsdale's elbow, and
quenched the last ray of hope which lingered in the young man's bosom.
"What do you know about cacodyl?" was his impressive question.
"Cacodyl?" Tom cried aghast. "It's some sort of antediluvian reptile,
The questioner broke into a sickly smile. "No," he said. "It's an
organic explosive chemical compound. You're sure to be asked about
cacodyl. Tester's dead on it. He asks every one how it is prepared."
Tom, much perturbed at these tidings, was feverishly endeavouring to
extract some little information from his companion concerning the
compound, when a bell rang abruptly inside the room and a janitor with a
red face and a blue slip of paper appeared at the door.
"Dillon, Dimsdale, Douglas," this functionary shouted in a very pompous
voice, and three unhappy young men filed through the half-opened door
into the solemn hall beyond.
The scene inside was not calculated to put them at their ease. Three
tables, half a dozen yards from each other, were littered with various
specimens and scientific instruments, and behind each sat two elderly
gentlemen, stern-faced and critical. At one side were stuffed specimens
of various small beasts, numerous skeletons and skulls, large jars
containing fish and reptiles preserved in spirits of wine, jawbones with
great teeth which grinned savagely at the unfortunate candidate, and
numerous other zoological relics. The second table was heaped over with
a blaze of gorgeous orchids and tropical plants, which looked strangely
out of place in the great bleak room. A row of microscopes bristled
along the edge. The third was the most appalling of all, for it was
bare with the exception of several sheets of paper and a pencil.
Chemistry was the most dangerous of the many traps set to ensnare the
"Dillon--botany; Dimsdale--zoology; Douglas--chemistry," the janitor
shouted once more, and the candidates moved in front of the respective
tables. Tom found himself facing a great spider crab, which appeared to
be regarding him with a most malignant expression upon its crustacean
features. Behind the crab sat a little professor, whose projecting eyes
and crooked arms gave him such a resemblance to the creature in front
that the student could not help smiling.
"Sir," said a tall, clean-shaven man at the other end of the table, "be
serious. This is no time for levity."
Tom's expression after that would have made the fortune of a mute.
"What is this?" asked the little professor, handing a small round object
to the candidate.
"It is an echinus--a sea-urchin," Tom said triumphantly.
"Have they any circulation?" asked the other examiner.
"A water vascular system."
Tom started off fluently, but it was no part of the policy of the
examiners to allow him to waste the fifteen minutes allotted them in
expatiating upon what he knew well. They interrupted him after a few
"How does this creature walk?" asked the crab-like one.
"By means of long tubes which it projects at pleasure."
"How do the tubes enable the creature to walk?"
"They have suckers on them."
"What are the suckers like?"
"They are round hollow discs."
"Are you sure they are round?" asked the other sharply.
"Yes," said Tom stoutly, though his ideas on the subject were rather
"And how does this sucker act?" asked the taller examiner.
Tom began to feel that these two men were exhibiting a very unseemly
curiosity. There seemed to be no satiating their desire for
information. "It creates a vacuum," he cried desperately.
"How does it create a vacuum?"
"By the contraction of a muscular pimple in the centre," said Tom, in a
moment of inspiration.
"And what makes this pimple contract?"
Tom lost his head, and was about to say "electricity," when he happily
checked himself and substituted "muscular action."
"Very good," said the examiners, and the student breathed again. The
taller one returned to the charge, however, with, "And this muscle--is
it composed of striped fibres or non-striped?"
"Non-striped," shrieked Tom at a venture, and both examiners rubbed
their hands and murmured, "Very good, indeed!" at which Tom's hair began
to lie a little flatter, and he ceased to feel as if he were in a
"How many teeth has a rabbit?" the tall man asked suddenly.
"I don't know," the student answered with candour.
The two looked triumphantly at one another.
"He doesn't know!" cried the goggle-eyed one decisively.
"I should recommend you to count them the next time you have one for
dinner," the other remarked. As this was evidently meant for a joke,
Tom had the tact to laugh, and a very gruesome and awe-inspiring laugh
it was too.
Then the candidate was badgered about the pterodactyl, and concerning
the difference in anatomy between a bat and a bird, and about the
lamprey, and the cartilaginous fishes, and the amphioxus. All these
questions he answered more or less to the satisfaction of the
examiners--generally less. When at last the little bell tinkled which
was the sign for candidates to move on to other tables, the taller man
leaned over a list in front of him and marked down upon it the following
This Tom's sharp eye at once detected, and he departed well pleased, for
he knew that the "S. B." meant _satis bene_, and as to the minus sign
after it, it mattered little to him whether he had done rather more than
well or rather less. He had passed in zoology, and that was all which
concerned him at present.
A NASTY CROPPER.
But there were pitfalls ahead. As he moved to the botany table a
grey-bearded examiner waved his hand in the direction of the row of
microscopes as an intimation that the student was to look through them
and pronounce upon what he saw. Tom seemed to compress his whole soul
into his one eye as he glared hopelessly through the tube at what
appeared to him to resemble nothing so much as a sheet of ice with the
marks of skates upon it.
"Come along, come along!" the examiner growled impatiently. Courtesy is
conspicuous by its absence in most of the Edinburgh examinations.
"You must pass on to the next one, unless you can offer an opinion."
This venerable teacher of botany, though naturally a kind-hearted man,
was well known as one of the most malignant species of examiners, one of
the school which considers such an ordeal in the light of a trial of
strength between their pupils and themselves. In his eyes the candidate
was endeavouring to pass, and his duty was to endeavour to prevent him,
a result which, in a large proportion of cases, he successfully
"Hurry on, hurry on!" he reiterated fussily.
"It's a section of a leaf," said the student.
"It's nothing of the sort," the examiner shouted exultantly.
"You've made a bad mistake, sir; a very bad one, indeed. It's the
spirilloe of a water plant. Move on to the next."
Tom, in much perturbation of mind, shuffled down the line and looked
through the next brazen tube. "This is a preparation of stomata," he
said, recognizing it from a print in his book on botany.
The professor shook his head despondingly. "You are right," he said;
"pass on to the next."
The third preparation was as puzzling to the student as the first had
been, and he was steeling himself to meet the inevitable when an
unexpected circumstance turned the scale in his favour. It chanced that
the other examiner, being somewhat less of a fossil than his
_confreres_, and having still vitality enough to take an interest in
things which were foreign to his subject, had recognized the student as
being the young hero who had damaged himself in upholding the honour of
his country. Being an ardent patriot himself his heart warmed towards
Tom, and perceiving the imminent peril in which he stood he interfered
in his behalf, and by a few leading questions got him on safer ground,
and managed to keep him there until the little bell tinkled once more.
The younger examiner showed remarkable tact in feeling his way, and
keeping within the very limited area of the student's knowledge. He
succeeded so well, however, that although his colleague shook his hoary
head and intimated in other ways his poor opinion of the candidate's
acquirements, he was forced to put down another "S. B." upon the paper
in front of him. The student drew a long breath when he saw it, and
marched across to the other table with a mixture of trepidation and
confidence, like a jockey riding at the last and highest hurdle in a
Alas! it is the last hurdle which often floors the rider, and Thomas too
was doomed to find the final ordeal an insurmountable one. As he
crossed the room some evil chance made him think of the gossip outside
and of his allusion to the abstruse substance known as cacodyl.
Once let a candidate's mind hit upon such an idea as this, and nothing
will ever get it out of his thoughts. Tom felt his head buzz round, and
he passed his hand over his forehead and through his curly yellow hair
to steady himself. He felt a frenzied impulse as he sat down to
inform the examiners that he knew very well what they were going to ask
him, and that it was hopeless for him to attempt to answer it.
The leading professor was a ruddy-faced, benevolent old gentleman, with
spectacles and a kindly manner. He made a few commonplace remarks to
his colleagues with the good-natured intention of giving the
confused-looking student before him time to compose himself.
Then, turning blandly towards him, he said in the mildest of tones--
"Have you ever rowed in a pond?"
Tom acknowledged that he had.
"Perhaps, on those occasions," the examiner continued, "you may have
chanced to touch the mud at the bottom with your oar."
Tom agreed that it was possible.
"In that case you may have observed that a large bubble, or a succession
of them has risen from the bottom to the surface. Now, of what gas was
that bubble composed?"
The unhappy student, with the one idea always fermenting on his brain,
felt that the worst had come upon him. Without a moment's hesitation or
thought he expressed his conviction that the compound was cacodyl.
Never did two men look more surprised, and never did two generally grave
_savants_ laugh more heartily than did the two examiners when they
realized what the candidate had answered. Their mirth speedily brought
him back to his senses. He saw with a feeling of despair that it was
marsh gas which they had expected--one of the simplest and commonest of
chemical combinations. Alas! it was too late now. He knew full well
that nothing could save him. With poor marks in botany and zoology,
such an error in chemistry was irreparable. He did what was perhaps the
best thing under the circumstances. Rising from his chair he made a
respectful bow to the examiners, and walked straight out of the room--to
the great astonishment of the janitor, who had never before witnessed
such a breach of decorum. As the student closed the door behind him he
looked back and saw that the other professors had left their respective
tables and were listening to an account of the incident from one of the
chemists--and a roar of laughter the moment afterwards showed that they
appreciated the humour of it. His fellow-students gathered round Tom
outside in the hope of sharing in the joke, but he pushed them angrily
aside and strode through the midst of them and down the University
steps. He knew that the story would spread fast enough without his
assistance. His mind was busy too in shaping a certain resolution which
he had often thought over during the last few months.
The two old people and Miss Kate Harston waited long and anxiously in
their sitting-room at the hotel for some news of the absentee. The
doctor had, at first, attempted a lofty cynicism and general assumption
of indifference, which rapidly broke down as the time went by, until at
last he was wandering round the room, drumming upon the furniture with
his fingers and showing every other sign of acute impatience.
The window was on the first floor, and Kate had been stationed there as
a sentinel to watch the passing crowd and signal the first sign of
"Can't you see him yet?" the doctor asked for the twentieth time.
"No, dear, I don't," she answered, glancing up and down the street.
"He must be out now. He should have come straight to us. Come away
from the window, my dear. We must not let the young monkey see how
anxious we are about him."
Kate sat down by the old man and stroked his broad brown hand with her
tender white one. "Don't be uneasy, dear," she said; "it's sure to be
"Yes, he is sure to pass," the doctor answered; "but--bless my soul,
The individual who caused this exclamation was a very broad-faced and
rosy-cheeked little girl, coarsely clad, with a pile of books and a
slate under her arm, who had suddenly entered the apartment.
"Please sir," said this apparition, with a bob, "I'm Sarah Jane."
"Are you, indeed?" said the doctor, with mild irony. "And what d'ye
want here, Sarah Jane?"
"Please, sir, my mithar, Mrs. McTavish, asked me if I wudna' gie ye this
letter frae the gentleman what's lodgin' wi' her." With these words the
little mite delivered her missive and, having given another bob,
departed upon her ways.
"Why," the doctor cried in astonishment, "it's directed to me and in
Tom's writing. What can be the meaning of this?"
"Oh dear! oh dear!" Mrs. Dimsdale cried, with the quick perception of
womanhood; "it means that he has failed."
"Impossible!" said the doctor, fumbling with nervous fingers at the
envelope. "By Jove, though," he continued, as he glanced over the
contents, "you're right. He has. Poor lad! he's more cut up about it
than we can be, so we must not blame him."
The good physician read the letter over several times before he finally
put it away in his note-book, and he did so with a thoughtful face which
showed that it was of importance. As it has an influence upon the
future course of our story we cannot end the chapter better than by
exercising our literary privilege, and peeping over the doctor's
shoulder before he has folded it up. This is the epistle
"My Dear Father,
"You will be sorry to hear that I have failed in my exam.
I am very cut up about it, because I fear that it will
cause you grief and disappointment, and you deserve
neither the one nor the other at my hands."
"It is not an unmixed misfortune to me, because it helps
me to make a request which I have long had in my mind.
I wish you to allow me to give up the study of medicine
and to go in for commerce. You have never made a secret
of our money affairs to me, and I know that if I took my
degree there would never be any necessity for me to practise.
I should therefore have spent five years of my life in
acquiring knowledge which would not be of any immediate
use to me. I have no personal inclination towards medicine,
while I have a very strong objection to simply living in the
world upon money which other men have earned. I must therefore
turn to some fresh pursuit for my future career, and surely it
would be best that I should do so at once. What that fresh
pursuit is to be I leave to your judgment. Personally, I think
that if I embarked my capital in some commercial undertaking
I might by sticking to my work do well. I feel too much cast
down at my own failure to see you to-night, but to-morrow I hope
to hear what you think from your own lips."
"Perhaps this failure will do no harm after all," the doctor muttered
thoughtfully, as he folded up the letter and gazed out at the cold glare
of the northern sunset.
DWELLERS IN BOHEMIA.
The residence of Major Tobias Clutterbuck, late of the 119th Light
Infantry, was not known to any of his friends. It is true that at times
he alluded in a modest way to his "little place," and even went to the
length of remarking airily to new acquaintances that he hoped they would
look him up any time they happened to be in his direction. As he
carefully refrained, however, from ever giving the slightest indication
of which direction that might be, his invitations never led to any
practical results. Still they had the effect of filling the recipient
with a vague sense of proffered hospitality, and occasionally led to
more substantial kindness in return.
The gallant major's figure was a familiar one in the card-room of the
_Rag and Bobtail_, at the bow-window of the Jeunesse Doree. Tall and
pompous, with a portly frame and a puffy clean-shaven face which peered
over an abnormally high collar and old-fashioned linen cravat, he stood
as a very type and emblem of staid middle-aged respectability.
The major's hat was always of the glossiest, the major's coat was
without a wrinkle, and, in short, from the summit of the major's bald
head to his bulbous finger-tips and his gouty toes, there was not a flaw
which the most severe critic of deportment--even the illustrious
Turveydrop himself--could have detected. Let us add that the
conversation of the major was as irreproachable as his person--that he
was a distinguished soldier and an accomplished traveller, with a
retentive memory and a mind stuffed with the good things of a
lifetime. Combine all these qualities, and one would naturally regard
the major as a most desirable acquaintance.
It is painful to have to remark, however, that, self-evident as this
proposition might appear, it was vehemently contradicted by some of the
initiated. There were rumours concerning the major which seriously
compromised his private character. Indeed, such a pitch had they
reached that when that gallant officer put himself forward as a
candidate for a certain select club, he had, although proposed by a lord
and seconded by a baronet, been most ignominiously pilled. In public
the major affected to laugh over this social failure, and to regard it
as somewhat in the nature of a practical joke, but privately he was
deeply incensed. One day he momentarily dropped his veil of unconcern
while playing billiards with the Honourable Fungus Brown, who was
generally credited with having had some hand in the major's exclusion.
"Be Ged! sir," the veteran suddenly exclaimed, inflating his chest and
turning his apoplectic face upon his companion, "in the old days I would
have called the lot of you out, sir, every demned one, beginning with
the committee and working down; I would, be George!" At which savage
attack the Honourable Fungus's face grew as white as the major's was
red, and he began to wish that he had been more reserved in his
confidences to some of his acquaintances respecting the exclusiveness of
the club in question, or at least refrained from holding up the major's
pilling as a proof thereof.
The cause of this vague feeling of distrust which had gone abroad
concerning the old soldier was no very easy matter to define. It is
true that he was known to have a book on every race, and to have secret
means of information from stud-grooms and jockeys which occasionally
stood him in good stead; but this was no uncommon thing among the men
with whom he consorted. Again, it is true that Major Clutterbuck was
much addicted to whist, with guinea points, and to billiard matches for
substantial sums, but these stimulating recreations are also habitual to
many men who have led eventful lives and require a strong seasoning to
make ordinary existence endurable. Perhaps one reason may have been
that the major's billiard play in public varied to an extraordinary
degree, so that on different occasions he had appeared to be aiming at
the process termed by the initiated "getting on the money." The warm
friendships, too, which the old soldier had contracted with sundry
vacuous and sappy youths, who were kindly piloted by him into
quasi-fashionable life and shown how and when to spend their money, had
been most uncharitably commented upon. Perhaps the vagueness about the
major's private residence and the mystery which hung over him outside
his clubs may also have excited prejudice against him. Still, however
his detractors might malign him, they could not attempt to deny the fact
that Tobias Clutterbuck was the third son of the Honourable Charles
Clutterbuck, who again was the second son of the Earl of Dunross, one of
the most ancient of Hibernian families. This pedigree the old soldier
took care to explain to every one about him, more particularly to the
sappy youths aforementioned.
It chanced that on the afternoon of which we speak the major was
engrossed by this very subject. Standing at the head of the broad stone
steps which lead up to the palatial edifice which its occupiers
irreverently term the _Rag and Bobtail_, he was explaining to a
bull-necked, olive-complexioned young man the series of marriages and
inter-marriages which had culminated in the production of his own
portly, stiff-backed figure. His companion, who was none other than
Ezra Girdlestone, of the great African firm of that name, leaned against
one of the pillars of the portico and listened gloomily to the major's
family reminiscences, giving an occasional yawn which he made no attempt
"It's as plain as the fingers of me hand," the old soldier said in a
wheezy muffled brogue, as if he were speaking from under a feather-bed.
"See here now, Girdlestone--this is Miss Letitia Snackles of Snackleton,
a cousin of old Sir Joseph." The major tapped his thumb with the silver
head of his walking-stick to represent the maiden Snackles. "She
marries Crawford, of the Blues--one o' the Warwickshire Crawfords;
that's him"--here he elevated his stubby forefinger; "and here's their
three children, Jemima, Harold, and John." Up went three other fingers.
"Jemima Crawford grows up, and then Charley Clutterbuck runs away with
her. This other thumb o' mine will stand for that young divil Charley,
and then me fingers--"
"Oh, hang your fingers," Girdlestone exclaimed with emphasis.
"It's very interesting, major, but it would be more intelligible if you
wrote it out."
"And so I shall, me boy!" the major cried enthusiastically, by no means
abashed at the sudden interruption. "I'll draw it up on a bit o'
foolscap paper. Let's see; Fenchurch Street, eh? Address to the
offices, of course. Though, for that matter, 'Girdlestone, London,'
would foind you. I was spakin' of ye to Sir Musgrave Moore, of the
Rifles, the other day, and he knew you at once. 'Girdlestone?' says he.
'The same,' says I. 'A merchant prince?' says he. 'The same,' says I.
'I'd be proud to meet him,' says he. 'And you shall,' says I. He's the
best blood of county Waterford."
"More blood than money, I suppose," the young man said, smoothing out
his crisp black moustache.
"Bedad, you've about hit it there. He went to California, and came back
with five and twinty thousand pounds. I met him in Liverpool the day he
arrived. 'This is no good to me, Toby,' says he. 'Why not?' I asks.
'Not enough,' says he; 'just enough to unsettle me.' 'What then?' says
I. 'Put it on the favourite for the St. Leger,' says he. And he did
too, every pinny of it, and the horse was beat on the post by a short
head. He dropped the lot in one day. A fact, sir, 'pon me honour!
Came to me next day. 'Nothing left!' says he. 'Nothing?' says I.
'Only one thing,' says he. 'Suicide?' says I. 'Marriage,' says he.
Within a month he was married to the second Miss Shuttleworth, who had
five thou. in her own right, and five more when Lord Dungeness turns up
"Indeed?" said his companion languidly.
"Fact, 'pon me honour! By the way--ah, here comes Lord Henry Richardson.
How d'ye do, Richardson, how d'ye do? Ged, I remember Richardson when
he was a tow-headed boy at Clongowes, and I used to lam him with a
bootjack for his cheek. Ah, yes; I was going to say--it seems a demned
awkward incident--ha! ha!--ridiculous, but annoying, you know. The fact
is, me boy, coming away in a hurry from me little place, I left me purse
on the drawers in the bedroom, and here's Jorrocks up in the
billiard-room afther challenging me to play for a tenner--but I won't
without having the money in me pocket. Tobias Clutterbuck may be poor,
me dear friend, but"--and here he puffed out his chest and tapped on it
with his round, sponge-like fist--"he's honest, and pays debts of
honour on the nail. No, sir, there's no one can say a word against
Tobias, except that he's a half-pay old fool with more heart than
brains. However," he added, suddenly dropping the sentimental and
coming back to the practical, "if you, me dear boy, can obloige me with
the money until to-morrow morning, I'll play Jorrocks with pleasure.
There's not many men that I'd ask such a favour of, and even from you
I'd never accept anything more than a mere timporary convanience."
"You may stake your life on that," Ezra Girdlestone said with a sneer,
looking sullenly down and tracing figures with the end of his stick on
the stone steps. "You'll never get the chance. I make it a rule never
to lend any one money, either for short or long periods."
"And you won't let me have this throifling accommodation?"
"No," the young man said decisively.
For a moment the major's brick-coloured, weather-beaten face assumed an
even darker tint, and his small dark eyes looked out angrily from under
his shaggy brows at his youthful companion. He managed to suppress the
threatened explosion, however, and burst into a loud roar of laughter.
"'Pon me sowl!" he wheezed, poking the young man in the ribs with his
stick, an implement which he had grasped a moment before as though he
meditated putting it to a less pacific use, "you young divils of
business-men are too much for poor old Tobias. Ged, sir, to think of
being stuck in the mud for the want of a paltry tenner! Tommy Heathcote
will laugh when he hears of it. You know Tommy of the 81st? He gave me
good advice: 'Always sew a fifty-pound note into the lining of each
waistcoat you've got. Then you can't go short.' Tried it once, and, be
George! if me demned man-servant didn't stale that very waistcoat and
sell it for six and sixpence. You're not going, are you?"
"Yes; I'm due in the City. The governor leaves at four. Good-bye.
Shall I see you to-night?"
"Card-room, as per usual," quoth the clean-shaven warrior. He looked
after the retreating figure of his late companion with anything but a
pleasant expression upon his face. The young man happened to glance
round as he was half-way down the street, on which the major smiled
after him paternally, and gave a merry flourish with his stick.
As the old soldier stood on the top of the club steps, pompous,
pigeon-chested, and respectable, posing himself as though he had been
placed there for the inspection of passers-by as a sample of the
aristocracy within, he made several attempts to air his grievances to
passing members touching the question of the expectant Jorrocks and the
missing purse. Beyond, however, eliciting many sallies of wit from the
younger spirits, for it was part of the major's policy to lay himself
open to be a butt, his laudable perseverance was entirely thrown away.
At last he gave it up in disgust, and raising his stick hailed a passing
'bus, into which he sprang, taking a searching glance round to see that
no one was following him. After a drive which brought him to the other
side of the City, he got out in a broad, busy thoroughfare, lined with
large shops. A narrow turning from the main artery led into a long,
dingy street, consisting of very high smoke-coloured houses, which ran
parallel to the other, and presented as great a contrast to it as the
back of a painting does to the front.
Down this sombre avenue the major strutted with all his wonted
pomposity, until about half-way down he reached a tall, grim-looking
house, with many notices of "apartments" glaring from the windows.
The line of railings which separated this house from the street was
rusty, and broken and the whole place had a flavour of mildew.
The major walked briskly up the stone steps, hollowed out by the feet of
generations of lodgers, and pushing open the great splotchy door, which
bore upon it a brass plate indicating that the establishment was kept by
a Mrs. Robins, he walked into the hall with the air of one who treads
familiar ground. Up one flight of stairs, up two flights of stairs, and
up three flights of stairs did he climb, until on the fourth landing he
pushed open a door and found himself in a small room, which formed for
the nonce the "little place" about which he was wont at the club to make
depreciatory allusions, so skilfully introduced that the listener was
left in doubt as to whether the major was the happy possessor of a
country house and grounds, or whether he merely owned a large suburban
villa. Even this modest sanctum was not entirely the major's own, as
was shown by the presence of a ruddy-faced man with a long, tawny beard,
who sat on one side of the empty fire-place, puffing at a great
china-bowled pipe, and comporting himself with an ease which showed
that he was no casual visitor.
As the other entered, the man in the chair gave vent to a guttural grunt
without removing the mouthpiece of his pipe from between his lips; and
Major Clutterbuck returned the greeting with an off-handed nod.
His next proceeding was to take off his glossy hat and pack it away in a
hat-box. He then removed his coat, his collar, his tie, and his
gaiters, with equal solicitude, and put them in a place of safety.
After which he donned a long purple dressing-gown and a smoking-cap, in
which garb he performed the first steps of a mazurka as a sign of the
additional ease which he experienced.
"Not much to dance about either, me boy," the old soldier said, seating
himself in a camp-chair and putting his feet upon another one.
"Bedad, we're all on the verge. Unless luck takes a turn there's no
saying what may become of us."
"We have been badder than this before now many a time," said the
yellow-bearded man, in an accent which proclaimed him to be a German.
"My money vill come, or you vill vin, or something vill arrive to set
all things right."
"Let's hope so," the major said fervently. "It's a mercy to get out of
these stiff and starched clothes; but I have to be careful of them, for
me tailor--bad cess to him!--will give no credit, and there's little of
the riddy knocking about. Without good clothes on me back I'd be like a
sweeper without a broom."
The German nodded his intense appreciation of the fact, and puffed a
great blue cloud to the ceiling. Sigismond von Baumser was a political
refugee from the fatherland, who had managed to become foreign clerk in
a small London firm, an occupation which just enabled him to keep body
and soul together. He and the major had lodged in different rooms in
another establishment until some common leaven of Bohemianism had
brought them together. When circumstances had driven them out of their
former abode, it had occurred to the major that by sharing his rooms
with Von Baumser he would diminish his own expenses, and at the same
time secure an agreeable companion, for the veteran was a sociable soul
in his unofficial hours and had all the Hibernian dislike to solitude.
The arrangement commended itself to the German, for he had a profound
admiration for the other's versatile talents and varied experiences; so
he grunted an acquiescence and the thing was done. When the major's
luck was good there were brave times in the little fourth floor back.
On the other hand, if any slice of good fortune came in the German's
way, the major had a fair share of the prosperity. During the hard
times which intervened between these gleams of opulence, the pair
roughed it uncomplainingly as best they might. The major would
sometimes create a fictitious splendour by dilating upon the beauties of
Castle Dunross, in county Mayo, which is the headquarters of all the
Clutterbucks. "We'll go and live there some day, me boy," he would say,
slapping his comrade on the back. "It will be mine from the dungeons
forty foot below the ground, right up, bedad, to the flagstaff from
which the imblem of loyalty flaunts the breeze." At these speeches the
simple-minded German used to rub his great red hands together with
satisfaction, and feel as pleased as though he had actually been
presented with the fee simple of the castle in question.
"Have you had your letter?" the major asked with interest, rolling a
cigarette between his fingers. The German was expecting his quarterly
remittance from his friends at home, and they were both anxiously
Von Baumser shook his head.
"Bad luck to them! they should have sent a wake ago. You should do what
Jimmy Towler did. You didn't know Towler, of the Sappers? When he and
I were souldiering in Canada he was vexed at the allowance which he had
from ould Sir Oliver, his uncle, not turning up at the right time.
'Ged, Toby,' he says to me, 'I'll warm the old rascal up.' So he sits
down and writes a letter to his uncle, in which he told him his
unbusiness-like ways would be the ruin of them, and more to the same
effect. When Sir Oliver got the letter he was in such a divil's own
rage, that while he was dictating a codicil to his will he tumbled off
the chair in a fit, and Jimmy came in for a clean siven thousand a
"Dat was more dan he deserved," the German remarked. "But you--how do
you stand for money?"
Major Clutterbuck took ten sovereigns out of his trouser pocket and
placed them upon the table. "You know me law," he said; "I never, on
any consideration, break into these. You can't sit down to play cards
for high stakes with less in your purse, and if I was to change one, be
George! they'd all go like a whiff o' smoke. The Lord knows when I'd
get a start again then. Bar this money I've hardly a pinny."
"Nor me," said Von Baumser despondently, slapping his pockets.
"Niver mind, me boy! What's in the common purse, I wonder?"
He looked up at a little leather bag which hung from a brass nail on the
wall. In flush times they were wont to deposit small sums in this, on
which they might fall back in their hours of need.
"Not much, I fear," the other said, shaking his head.
"Well, now, we want something to pull us together on a dull day like
this. Suppose we send out for a bottle of sparkling, eh?"
"Not enough money," the other objected.
"Well, well, let's have something cheaper. Beaune, now; Beaune's a good
comforting sort of drink. What d'ye say to splitting a bottle of
Beaune, and paying for it from the common purse?"
"Not enough money," the other persisted doggedly.
"Well, claret be it," sighed the major. "Maybe it's better in this sort
of weather. Let us send Susan out for a bottle of claret?"
The German took down the little leather bag and turned it upside down.
A threepenny-piece and a penny rolled out. "Dat's all," he said.
"Not enough for claret."
"But there is for beer," cried the major radiantly. "Bedad, it's just
the time for a quart of fourpinny. I remimber ould Gilder, when he was
our chief in India, used to say that a man who got beyond enjoying beer
and a clay pipe at a pinch was either an ass or a coxcomb. He smoked a
clay at the mess table himself. Draper, who commanded the division,
told him it was unsoldier-like. 'Unsoldier-like be demned,' he said.
Ged, they nearly court-martialled the ould man for it. He got the V.C.
at the Quarries, and was killed at the Redan."
A slatternly, slipshod girl answered the bell, and having received her
orders and the united available funds of the two comrades, speedily
returned with a brace of frothing pint pots. The major ruminated
silently over his cigarette for some time, on some unpleasant subject,
apparently, for his face was stem and his brows knitted. At last he
broke out with an oath.
"Be George! Baumser, I can't stand that young fellow Girdlestone.
I'll have to chuck him up. He's such a cold-blooded, flinty-hearted,
calculating sort of a chap, that--" The remainder of the major's
sentence was lost in the beer flagon.
"What for did you make him your friend, then?"
"Well," the old soldier confessed, "it seemed to me that if he wanted
to fool his money away at cards or any other divilment, Tobias
Clutterbuck might as well have the handling of it as any one else.
Bedad, he's as cunning as a basketful of monkeys. He plays a safe game
for low stakes, and never throws away a chance. Demned if I don't think
I've been a loser in pocket by knowing him, while as to me character,
I'm very sure I'm the worse there."
"Vat's de matter mit him?"
"What's not the matter with him. If he's agrayable he's not natural,
and if he's natural he's not agrayable. I don't pretind to be a saint.
I've seen some fun in me day, and hope to see some more before I die;
but there are some things that I wouldn't do. If I live be cards it's
all fair and aboveboard. I never play anything but games o' skill, and
I reckon on me skill bringing me out on the right side, taking one night
with another through the year. Again, at billiards I may not always
play me best, but that's gineralship. You don't want a whole room to
know to a point what your game is. I'm the last man to preach, but,
bedad, I don't like that chap, and I don't like that handsome, brazen
face of his. I've spint the greater part of my life reading folks'
faces, and never very far out either."
Von Baumser made no remark, and the two continued to smoke silently,
with an occasional pull at their flagons.
"Besides, it's no good to me socially," the major continued.
"The fellow can't keep quiet, else he might pass in a crowd; but that
demned commercial instinct will show itself. If he went to heaven he'd
start an agency for harps and crowns. Did I tell you what the
Honourable Jack Gibbs said to me at the club? Ged, he let me have it
straight! 'Buck,' he said, 'I don't mind you. You're one o' the right
sort when all's said and done, but if you ever inthroduce such a chap as
that to me again, I'll cut you as well as him for the future.' I'd
inthroduced them to put the young spalpeen in a good humour, for, being
short, as ye know, I thought it might be necessary to negotiate a loan
"Vat did you say his name vas?" Von Baumser asked suddenly.
"Is his father a Kauffmann?"
"What the divil is a Kauffmann?" the major asked impatiently. "Is it a
merchant you mean?"
"Ah, a merchant. One who trades with the Afrikaner?"
Von Baumser took a bulky pocket-book from his inside pocket, and scanned
a long list of names therein. "Ah, it is the same," he cried at last
triumphantly, shutting up the book and replacing it. "Girdlestone &
Co., African kauf--dat is, merchants--Fenchurch Street, City."
"Those are they."
"And you say dey are rich?"
The major began to think that his companion had been imbibing in his
absence, for there was an unfathomable smile upon his face, and his red
beard and towsy hair seemed to bristle from some internal excitement.
"Very rich! Ho, ho! Very rich!" he laughed. "I know dem; not as
friends, Gott bewahre! but I know dem and their affairs."
"What are you driving at? Let's have it. Out with it, man."
"I tell you," said the German, suddenly becoming supernaturally solemn
and sawing his hand up and down in the air to emphasize his remarks,
"in tree or four months, or a year at the most, there vill be no firm of
Girdlestone. They are rotten, useless--whoo! He blew an imaginary
feather up into the air to demonstrate the extreme fragility of the
house in question.
"You're raving, Baumser," said Major Clutterbuck excitedly. "Why, man,
their names are above suspicion. They are looked upon as the soundest
concern in the City."
"Dat may be; dat may be," the German answered stolidly. "Vat I know, I
know, and vat I say I say."
"And how d'ye know it? D'ye tell me that you know lore about it than
the men on 'Change and the firms that do business with them?"
"I know vat I know, and I say vat I say," the other repeated.
"Dat tobacco-man Burger is a rogue. Dere is five-and-thirty in the
hundred of water in this canaster tobacco, and one must be for ever
"And you won't tell me where you heard this of the Girdlestones?"
"It vould be no good to you. It Is enough dat vat I say is certain.
Let it suffice that dere are people vat are bound to tell other people
all dat dey know about anything whatever."
"You don't make it over clear now," the old soldier grumbled. "You mane
that these secret societies and Socialists let each other know all that
comes in their way and have their own means of getting information."
"Dat may be, and dat may not be," the German answered, in the same
oracular voice. "I thought, in any case, my good friend Clutterbuck,
dat I vould give you vat you call in English the straight tap. It is
always vell to have the straight tap."
"Thank ye, me boy," the major said heartily. "If the firm's in a bad
way, either the youngster doesn't know of it, or else he's the most
natural actor that ever lived. Be George! there's the tay-bell; let's
get down before the bread and butther is all finished."
Mrs. Robbins was in the habit of furnishing her lodgers with an evening
meal at a small sum per head. There was only a certain amount of bread
and butter supplied for this, however, and those who came late were
likely to find an empty platter. The two Bohemians felt that the
subject was too grave a one to trifle with, so they suspended their
judgment upon the Girdlestones while they clattered down to the
SENIOR AND JUNIOR.
Although not a whisper had been heard of it in ordinary commercial
circles, there was some foundation for the forecast which Von Baumser
had made as to the fate of the great house of Girdlestone. For some
time back matters had been going badly with the African traders. If the
shrewd eyes of Major Tobias Clutterbuck were unable to detect any
indications of this state of affairs in the manner or conversation of
the junior partner, the reason simply was that that gentleman was
entirely ignorant of the imminent danger which hung over his head. As
far as he knew, the concern was as prosperous and as flourishing as it
had been at the time of the death of John Harston. The momentous secret
was locked in the breast of his grim old father, who bore it about with
him as the Spartan lad did the fox--without a quiver or groan to
indicate the care which was gnawing at his heart. Placed face to face
with ruin, Girdlestone fought against it desperately, and, withal,
coolly and warily, throwing away no chance and leaving no stone
unturned. Above all, he exerted himself--and exerted himself
successfully--to prevent any rumour of the critical position of the firm
from leaking out in the city. He knew well that should that once occur
nothing could save him. As the wounded buffalo is gored to death by the
herd, so the crippled man of business may give up all hope when once his
position is known by his fellows. At present, although Von Baumser and
a few other such Ishmaelites might have an inkling from sources of their
own as to how matters stood, the name of Girdlestone was still regarded
by business men as the very synonym for commercial integrity and
stability. If anything, there seemed to be more business in Fenchurch
Street and more luxury at the residence at Eccleston Square than in
former days. Only the stern-faced and silent senior partner knew how
thin the veneer was which shone so deceptively upon the surface.
Many things had contributed towards this state of affairs. The firm had
been involved in a succession of misfortunes, some known to the world,
and others known to no one save the elder Girdlestone. The former had
been accepted with such perfect stoicism and cheerfulness that they
rather increased than diminished the reputation of the concern; the
latter were the more crushing, and also the more difficult to bear.
Lines of fine vessels from Liverpool and from Hamburg were running to
the West Coast of Africa, and competition had cut down freightage to the
lowest possible point. Where the Girdlestones had once held almost a
monopoly there were now many in the field. Again, the negroes of the
coast were becoming educated and had a keen eye to business, so that the
old profits were no longer obtainable. The days had gone by when
flint-lock guns and Manchester prints could be weighed in the balance
against ivory and gold dust.
While these general causes were at work a special misfortune had
befallen the house of Girdlestone. Finding that their fleet of old
sailing vessels was too slow and clumsy to compete with more modern
ships, they had bought in two first-rate steamers. One was the
_Providence_, a fine screw vessel of twelve hundred tons, and the other
was the _Evening Star_, somewhat smaller in size, but both classed A1 at
Lloyd's. The former cost twenty-two thousand pounds, and the latter
seventeen thousand. Now, Mr. Girdlestone had always had a weakness for
petty savings, and in this instance he determined not to insure his new
vessels. If the crazy old tubs, for which he had paid fancy premiums
for so many years with an eye to an ultimate profit, met with no
disaster, surely those new powerful clippers were safe. With their
tonnage and horse-power they appeared to him to be superior to all the
dangers of the deep. It chanced, however, by that strange luck which
would almost make one believe that matters nautical were at the mercy of
some particularly malignant demon, that as the _Evening Star_ was
steaming up Channel in a dense fog on her return from her second voyage,
she ran right into the _Providence_, which had started that very morning
from Liverpool upon her third outward trip. The _Providence_ was almost
cut in two, and sank within five minutes, taking down the captain and
six of the crew, while the _Evening Star_ was so much damaged about the
bows that she put into Falmouth in a sinking condition. That day's work
cost the African firm more than five and thirty thousand pounds.
Other mishaps had occurred to weaken the firm, apart from their trade
with the coast. The senior partner had engaged in speculation without
the knowledge of his son, and the result had been disastrous. One of
the Cornish tin mines in which he had sunk a large amount of money, and
which had hitherto yielded him a handsome return, became suddenly
exhausted, and the shares went down to zero. No firm could stand
against such a run of bad luck, and the African trading company reeled
before it. John Girdlestone had not said a word yet of all this to his
son. As claims arose he settled them in the best manner he could, and
postponed the inevitable day when he should have to give a true account
of their financial position. He hoped against hope that the chapter of
accidents or the arrival of some brilliant cargoes from the coast might
set the concern on its legs again.
From day to day he had been expecting news of one of his vessels.
At last one morning he found a telegram awaiting him at the office.
He tore it eagerly open, for it bore the Madeira mark. It was from his
agent, Jose Alveciras, and announced that the voyage from which he had
hoped so much had been a total failure. The cargo was hardly sufficient
to defray the working expenses. As the merchant read it, his head
dropped over the table and he groaned aloud. Another of the props which
upheld him from ruin had snapped beneath him.
There were three letters lying beside the telegram. He glanced through
them, but there was no consolation in any of them. One was from a bank
manager, informing him that his account was somewhat overdrawn.
Another from Lloyd's Insurance Agency, pointing out that the policies on
two of his vessels would lapse unless paid within a certain date.
The clouds were gathering very darkly over the African firm, yet the old
man bore up against misfortune with dauntless courage. He sat alone in
his little room, with his head sunk upon his breast, and his thatched
eye-brows drawn down over his keen grey eyes. It was clear to him that
the time had come when he must enlighten his son as to the true state of
their affairs. With his co-operation he might carry out a plan which
had been maturing some months in his brain.
It was a hard task for the proud and austere merchant to be compelled to
confess to his son that he had speculated without his knowledge in the
capital of the company, and that a large part of that capital had
disappeared. These speculations in many instances had promised large
returns, and John Girdlestone had withdrawn money from safer concerns,
and reinvested it in the hope of getting a higher rate of interest.
He had done this with his eyes open to the risk, and knowing that his
son was of too practical and cautious a nature to embark in such
commercial gambling, he had never consulted him upon the point, nor had
he made any entry of the money so invested in the accounts of the firm.
Hence Ezra was entirely ignorant of the danger which hung over them, and
his father saw that, in order to secure his energetic assistance in the
stroke which he was contemplating, it was absolutely necessary that he
should know how critical their position was.
The old man had hardly come to this conclusion when he heard the sharp
footfall of his son in the outer office and the harsh tones of his voice
as he addressed the clerks. A moment or two later the green baize door
flew open, and the young man came in, throwing his hat and coat down on
one of the chairs. It was evident that something had ruffled his
"Good-morning," he said brusquely, nodding his head to his father.
"Good-morning, Ezra," the merchant answered meekly.
"What's the matter with you, father?" his son asked, looking at him
keenly. "You don't look yourself, and haven't for some time back."
"Business worries, my boy, business worries," John Girdlestone answered
"It's the infernal atmosphere of this place," Ezra said impatiently.
"I feel it myself sometimes. I wonder you don't start a little country
seat with some grounds. Just enough to ask a fellow to shoot over, and
with a good billiard board, and every convenience of that sort.
It would do for us to spend the time from Saturday to Monday, and allow
us to get some fresh air into our lungs. There are plenty of men who
can't afford it half as well, and yet have something of the sort.
What's the use of having a good balance at your banker's, if you don't
live better than your neighbours?"
"There is only one objection to it," the merchant said huskily, and with
a forced laugh; "I have not got a good balance at the banker's."
"Pretty fair, pretty fair," his son said knowingly, picking up the long
thin volume in which the finance of the firm was recorded and tapping it
against the table.
"But the figures there are not quite correct, Ezra," his father said,
still more huskily. "We have not got nearly so much as that."
"What!" roared the junior partner.
"Hush! For God's sake don't let the clerks hear you. We have not so
much as that. We have very little. In fact, Ezra, we have next to
nothing in the bank. It is all gone."
For a moment the young man stood motionless, glaring at his father.
The expression of incredulity which had appeared on his features faded
away before the earnestness of the other, and was replaced by a look of
such malignant passion that it contorted his whole face.
"You fool!" he shrieked, springing forward with the book upraised as
though he would have struck the old merchant. "I see it now. You have
been speculating on your own hook, you cursed ass! What have you done
with it?" He seized his father by the collar and shook him furiously in
"Keep your hands off me!" the senior partner cried, wrenching himself
free from his son's grasp. "I did my best with the money. How dare you
address me so?"
"Did your best!" hissed Ezra, hurling the ledger down on the table with
a crash. "What did you mean by speculating without my knowledge, and
telling me at the same time that I knew all that was done? Hadn't I
warned you a thousand times of the danger of it? You are not to be
trusted with money."
"Remember, Ezra," his father said with dignity, re-seating himself in
the chair from which he had risen, in order to free himself from his
son's clutches, "if I lost the money, I also made it. This was a
flourishing concern before you were born. If the worst comes to the
worst you are only where I started. But we are far from being
absolutely ruined as yet."
"To think of it!" Ezra cried, flinging himself upon the office sofa, and
burying his face in his hands. "To think of all I have said of our
money and our resources! What will Clutterbuck and the fellows at the
club say? How can I alter the ways of life that I have learned?"
Then, suddenly clenching his hands, and turning upon his father he broke
out, "We must have it back, father; we _must_, by fair means or foul.
You must do it, for it was you who lost it. What can we do? How long
have we to do it in? Is this known in the City? Oh, I shall be ashamed
to show my face on 'Change." So he rambled on, half-maddened by the
pictures of the future which rose up in his mind.
"Be calm, Ezra, be calm!" his father said imploringly. "We have many
chances yet if we only make the best of them. There is no use lamenting
the past. I freely confess that I was wrong in using this money without
your knowledge, but I did it from the best of motives. We must put our
heads together now to retrieve our losses, and there are many ways in
which that may be done. I want your clear common sense to help me in
"Pity you didn't apply to that before," Ezra said sulkily.
"I have suffered for not doing so," the older man answered meekly.
"In considering how to rally under this grievous affliction which has
come upon us, we must remember that our credit is a great resource, and
one upon which we have never drawn. That gives us a broad margin to
help us while we are carrying out our plans for the future."
"What will our credit be worth when this matter leaks out?"
"But it can't leak out. No one suspects it for a moment. They might
imagine that we are suffering from some temporary depression of trade,
but no one could possibly know the sad truth. For Heaven's sake don't
you let it out!"
His son broke into an impatient oath.
A flush came into Girdlestone's sallow cheeks, and his eyes sparkled
"Be careful how you speak, Ezra. There are limits to what I will endure
from you, though I make every allowance for your feelings at this sudden
catastrophe, for which I acknowledge myself responsible."
The young man shrugged his shoulders, and drummed his heel against the
"I have more than one plan in my head," the merchant said, "by which our
affairs may be re-established on their old footing. If we can once get
sufficient money to satisfy our present creditors, and so tide over this
run of bad luck, the current will set in the other way, and all will go
well. And, first of all, there is one question, my boy, which I should
like to ask you. What do you think of John Harston's daughter?"
"She's right enough," the young man answered brusquely.
"She's a good girl, Ezra--a thoroughly good girl, and a rich girl too,
though her money is a small thing in my eyes compared to her virtue."
Young Girdlestone sneered. "Of course," he said impatiently. "Well, go
on--what about her?"
"Just this, Ezra, that there is no girl in the world whom I should like
better to receive as my daughter-in-law. Ah, you rogue! you could come
round her; you know you could." The old man poked his long bony finger
In the direction of his son's ribs with grim playfulness.
"Oh, that's the idea, is it?" remarked the junior partner, with a very
"Yes, that is one way out of our difficulties. She has forty thousand
pounds, which would be more than enough to save the firm. At the same
time you would gain a charming wife."
"Yes, there are a good many girls about who might make charming wives,"
his son remarked dubiously. "No matrimony for me yet awhile."
"But it is absolutely necessary," his father urged.
"A very fine necessity," Ezra broke in savagely. "I am to tie myself up
for life and you are to use all the money in rectifying your blunders.
It's a very pretty division of labour, is that."
"The business is yours as well as mine. It is your interest to invest
the money in it, for if it fails you are as completely ruined as I
should be. You think you could win her if you tried?"
Ezra stroked his dark moustache complacently, and took a momentary
glance at his own bold handsome features in the mirror above the
fire-place. "If we are reduced to such an expedient, I think I can
answer for the result," he said. "The girl's not a bad-looking one.
But you said you had several plans. Let us hear some of the other ones.
If the worst comes to the worst I might consent to that--on condition,
of course, that I should have the whole management of the money."
"Quite so--quite so," his father said hurriedly. "That's a dear, good
lad. As you say, when all other things fail we can always fall back
upon that. At present I intend to raise as much money as I can upon our
credit, and invest it in such a manner as to bring in a large and
"And how do you intend to do this?" his son asked doubtfully.
"I intend," said John Girdlestone, solemnly rising up and leaning his
elbow against the mantelpiece--"I intend to make a corner in diamonds."
A CORNER IN DIAMONDS.
John Girdlestone propounded his intention with such dignity and emphasis
that he evidently expected the announcement to come as a surprise upon
his son. If so, he was not disappointed, for the young man stared
"A corner in diamonds!" he repeated. "How will you do that?"
"You know what a corner is," his father explained. "If you buy up all
the cotton, say, or sugar in the market, so as to have the whole of it
in your own hands, and to be able to put your own price on it in selling
it again--that is called making a corner in sugar or cotton. I intend
to make a corner in diamonds."
"Of course, I know what a corner is," Ezra said impatiently. "But how
on earth are you going to buy all the diamonds in? You would want the
capital of a Rothschild?"
"Not so much as you think, my boy, for there are not any great amount of
diamonds in the market at any one time. The yield of the South African
fields regulates the price. I have had this idea in my head for some
time, and have studied the details. Of course, I should not attempt to
buy in all the diamonds that are in the market. A small portion of them
would yield profit enough to float the firm off again."
"But if you have only a part of the supply in your hands, how are you to
regulate the market value? You must come down to the prices at which
other holders are selling."
"Ha! Ha! Very good! very good!" the old merchant said, shaking his head
good-humouredly. "But you don't quite see my plan yet. You have not
altogether grasped it. Allow me to explain it to you."
His son lay back upon the sofa with a look of resignation upon his face.
Girdlestone continued to stand upon the hearth-rug and spoke very slowly
and deliberately, as though giving vent to thoughts which had been long
and carefully considered.
"You see, Ezra," he said, "diamonds, being a commodity of great value,
of which there is never very much in the market at one time, are
extremely sensitive to all sorts of influences. The value of them
varies greatly from time to time. A very little thing serves to
depreciate their price, and an equally small thing will send it up
Ezra Girdlestone grunted to show that he followed his father's remarks.
"I did some business in diamonds myself when I was a younger man, and so
I had an opportunity of observing their fluctuations in the market.
Now, there is one thing which invariably depreciates the price of
diamonds. That is the rumour of fresh discoveries of mines in other
parts of the world. The instant such a thing gets wind the value of the
stones goes down wonderfully. The discovery of diamonds in Central
India not long ago had that effect very markedly, and they have never
recovered their value since. Do you follow me?"
An expression of interest had come over Ezra's face, and he nodded to
show that he was listening.
"Now, supposing," continued the senior partner, with a smile on his thin
lips, "that such a report got about. Suppose, too, that we were at this
time, when the market was in a depressed condition, to invest a
considerable capital in them. If these rumours of an alleged discovery
turned out to be entirely unfounded, of course the value of the stones
which we held would go up once more, and we might very well sell out for
double or treble the sum that we invested. Don't you see the sequence
"There seems to me to be rather too much of the 'suppose' in it,"
remarked Ezra. "How do we know that such rumours will get about; and if
they do, how do we know that they will prove to be unfounded?"
"How are we to know?" the merchant cried, wriggling his long lank body
with amusement. "Why, my lad, if we spread the rumours ourselves we
shall have pretty good reason to believe that they are unfounded.
Eh, Ezra? Ha! ha! You see there are some brains in the old man yet."
Ezra looked at his father in considerable surprise and some admiration.
"Why, damn it!" he exclaimed, "it's dishonest. I'm not sure that it's
"Dishonest! Pooh!" The merchant snapped his fingers. "It's finesse, my
boy, commercial finesse. Who's to trace it, I should like to know.
I haven't worked out all the details--I want your co-operation over
that--but here's a rough sketch of my plan. We send a man we can depend
upon to some distant part of the world--Chimborazo, for example, or the
Ural Mountains. It doesn't matter where, as long as it is out of the
way. On arriving at this place our agent starts a report that he has
discovered a diamond mine. We should even go the length, if he
considers it necessary, of hiding a few rough stones in the earth, which
he can dig up to give colour to his story. Of course the local press
would be full of this. He might present one of the diamonds to the
editor of the nearest paper. In course of time a pretty coloured
description of the new diamond fields would find its way to London and
thence to the Cape. I'll answer for it that the immediate effect is a
great drop in the price of stones. We should have a second agent at the
Cape diamond fields, and he would lay our money out by buying in all
that he could while the panic lasted. Then, the original scare having
proved to be all a mistake, the prices naturally go up once more, and we
get a long figure for all that we hold. That's what I mean by making 'a
corner in diamonds.' There is no room in it for any miscalculation. It
is as certain as a proposition of Euclid, and as easily worked out."
"It sounds very nice," his son remarked thoughtfully. "I'm not so sure
about its working, though."
"It must work well. As far as human calculation can go there is no
possibility of failure. Besides, my boy, never lose sight of the fact
that we shall be speculating with other people's money. We ourselves
have nothing to lose, absolutely nothing."
"I am not likely to lose sight of it," said Ezra angrily, his mind
coming back to his grievance.
"I reckon that we can raise from forty to fifty thousand pounds without
much difficulty. My name is, as you know, as good as that of any firm
in the City. For nearly forty years it has been above stain or
suspicion. If we carry on our plans at once, and lay this money out
judiciously, all may come right."
"It's Hobson's choice," the young man remarked. "We must try some bold
stroke of the sort. Have you chosen the right sort of men for agents?
You should have men of some standing to set such reports going.
They would have more weight then."
John Girdlestone shook his head despondingly. "How am I to get a man of
any standing to do such a piece of business?" he said.
"Nothing easier," answered Ezra, with a cynical laugh. "I could pick
out a score of impecunious fellows from the clubs who would be only too
glad to earn a hundred or two in any way you can mention. All their
talk about honour and so forth is very pretty and edifying, but it's not
meant for every day use. Of course we should have to pay him."
"Them, you mean?"
"No, we should only want one man."
"How about our purchaser at the diamond fields?"
"You don't mean to say," Ezra said roughly, "that you would be so absurd
as to trust any man with our money. Why, I wouldn't let the Archbishop
of Canterbury out of my sight with forty thousand pounds of mine. No, I
shall go myself to the diamond fields--that is, if I can trust you here
"That is unkind, Ezra," said his father. "Your idea is an excellent
one. I should have proposed it myself but for the discomforts and
hardships of such a journey."
"There's no use doing things by halves," the young man remarked. "As to
our other agent, I have the very man--Major Tobias Clutterbuck. He is a
shrewd, clever fellow, and he's always hard up. Last week he wanted to
borrow a tenner from me. The job would be a godsend to him, and his
social rank would be a great help to our plan. I'll answer for his
jumping at the idea."
"Sound him on the subject, then."
"I am glad," said the old merchant, "that you and I have had this
conversation, Ezra. The fact of my having speculated without your
knowledge, and deceived you by a false ledger, has often weighed heavily
upon my conscience, I assure you. It is a relief to me to have told you
"Drop the subject, then," Ezra said curtly. "I must put up with it, for
I have no redress. The thing is done and nothing can undo it; but I
consider that you have willfully wasted the money."
"Believe me, I have tried to act for the best. The good name of our
firm is everything to me. I have spent my whole life in building it up,
and if the day should come when it must go, I trust that I may have gone
myself. There is nothing which I would not do to preserve it."
"I see they want our premiums," Ezra said, glancing at the open letter
upon the table. "How is it that none of those ships go down?
That would give us help."
"Hush! hush!" John Girdlestone cried imploringly. "Speak in a whisper
when you talk of such things."
"I can't understand you," said Ezra petulantly. "You persistently
over-insure your ships, year after year. Look at the _Leopard_; it is
put at more than twice what she was worth as new. And the _Black
Eagle_, I dare say, is about the same. Yet you never have an accident
with them, while your two new uninsured clippers run each other down."
"Well, what more can I do?" replied the merchant "They are thoroughly
rotten. I have done nothing for them for years. Sooner or later they
must go. I cannot do any more."
"I'd make 'em go down quick enough," muttered Ezra, with an oath.
"Why don't you make old Miggs bore a hole in them, or put a light to a
barrel of paraffin? Bless your soul! the thing's done every day.
What's the use of being milk-and-watery about it?"
"No, no, Ezra!" cried his father. "Not that--not that. It's one thing
letting matters take their course, and it is another thing giving
positive orders to scuttle a ship. Besides, it would put us in Miggs'
power. It would be too dangerous."
"Please yourself," said Ezra, with a sneer. "You've got us into the
mess and you must take us out again. If the worst comes to the worst
I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll marry Kate Harston, wash my hands of
the firm, leave you to settle matters with the creditors, and retire
with the forty thousand pounds;" with which threat the junior partner
took up his hat and swaggered out of the office.
After his departure, John Girdlestone spent an hour in anxious thought,
arranging the details of the scheme which he had just submitted to his
son. As he sat, his eye chanced to fall upon the two letters lying on
his desk, and it struck him that they had better be attended to. It did
not suit his plans to fall back upon his credit just yet. It has been
already shown that he was a man of ready resource. He rang the bell and
summoned his senior clerk.
"Good morning, John," he said affably.
"Good morning, Mr. Girdlestone, good morning, sir," said wizened little
John Gilray, rubbing his thin yellow hands together, as a sign of his
"I hear, John, that you have come into a legacy lately," Mr. Girdlestone
"Yes, sir. Fifteen hundred pounds, sir. Less legacy duty and
incidental expenses, fourteen hundred and twenty-eight six and
fourpence. My wife's brother Andrew left it, sir, and a very handsome
John Girdlestone smiled with the indulgent smile of one to whom such a
sum was absolutely nothing.
"What have you done with the money, then, John?" he asked carelessly.
"Banked it, sir, in the United Metropolitan."
"In the United Metropolitan, John? Let me see. Their present rate of
interest is three and a half?"
"Three, sir," said John.
"Three! Dear me, John, that is poor interest, very poor indeed. It is
most fortunate that I made these inquiries. I was on the point of
drawing fourteen hundred pounds from one of my correspondents as a
temporary convenience. For this I should pay him five per cent. I have
no objection, John, as you are an old servant of the firm, to giving you
the preference in this matter. I cannot take more than fourteen
hundred--but I shall be happy to accommodate you up to that sum at the
John Gilray was overwhelmed by this thoughtful and considerate act. "It
is really too generous and kind, sir," he said. "I don't know how to
"Don't mention it, John," the senior partner said grandly. "The firm is
always glad to advance the interests of its employees in any reasonable
manner. Have you your cheque-book with you? Fill it up for fourteen
hundred. No more, John; I cannot oblige you by taking any more."
The head clerk having made out his cheque for the amount, and having
signed his name to it in a cramped little quaint handwriting, which
reminded one of his person, was duly presented with a receipt and
dismissed to his counting-house. There he entertained the other clerks
by a glowing description of the magnanimity of his employer.
John Girdlestone took some sheets of blue official paper from a drawer,
and his quill pen travelled furiously over them with many a screech and
"Sir," he said to the bank manager, "I enclose fourteen hundred pounds,
which represents the loose cash about the office. I shall make a heavy
deposit presently. In the meantime, you will, of course, honour
anything that may be presented.--Yours truly, JOHN GIRDLESTONE."
To Lloyd's Insurance Agency he wrote:--"Sir,--Enclosed you will find
cheque for 241 pounds seven shillings and sixpence, being amount due as
premium on the _Leopard_, _Black Eagle_, and _Maid of Athens_. Should
have forwarded cheque before, but with so many things of importance to
look after these trifles are liable to be overlooked."
These two epistles having been sealed, addressed, and despatched, the
elder Girdlestone began to feel somewhat more easy in his mind, and to
devote himself once more to the innocent amusement of planning how a
corner might best be created in diamonds.
SHADOW AND LIGHT.
John Girdlestone's private residence in Eccleston Square was a large and
substantial house in a district which the wave of fashion had passed
over in its westward course. It might still, however, be said to be
covered by a deposit of eminent respectability. The building was stern
and hard, and massive in its external appearance, but the interior was
luxury itself, for the old merchant, in spite of his ascetic appearance,
was inclined to be a sybarite at heart, and had a due appreciation of
the good things of this world. Indeed, there was an oriental and almost
barbarous splendour about the great rooms, where the richest of
furniture was interspersed with skins from the Gaboon, hand-worked ivory
from Old Calabar, and the thousand other strange valuables which were
presented by his agents to the African trader.
After the death of his friend, Girdlestone had been as good as his word.
He had taken Kate Harston away from the desolate house at Fulham and
brought her to live with him. From the garrets of that palatial edifice
to the cellars she was at liberty to roam where she would, and do what
she chose. The square garden too, with its smoke-dried trees and faded
lawn, was at her disposal, in which she might walk, or work, or read.
No cares or responsibilities were imposed upon her. The domestic
affairs were superintended by a stern housekeeper, who bore a quaint
resemblance to Girdlestone himself in petticoats, and who arranged every
detail of housekeeping. The young girl had apparently only to exist and
to be happy.
Yet the latter item was not so easy as it might seem. It was not a
congenial atmosphere. Her whole society consisted of the stern,
unemotional merchant and his vulgar, occasionally brutal, son.
At first, while the memory of her father was still fresh, she felt her
new surroundings acutely, contrasting, as they did, with her happy
Fulham home. Gradually, however, as time deadened the sting, she came
to accommodate herself to circumstances. The two men left her very much
to her own devices. Girdlestone was so engrossed in his business that
he had little time to inquire into her pursuits, and Ezra, being
addicted to late hours, was seldom seen except at breakfast-time, when
she listened with awe to his sporting slang and cynical comments upon
men and manners.
John Girdlestone had been by no means overjoyed upon the return of the
Dimsdales from Edinburgh to learn that his ward had been thrown into the
company of her young cousin. He received her coldly and forbade her to
visit Phillimore Gardens for some time to come. He took occasion also
to speak of Tom, and to assure her that he had received very serious
accounts as to his spiritual state. "He is addicted to all manner of
debasing pursuits," he remarked, "and it is my particular wish that you
should avoid him." Learning that young Dimsdale was in London, he even
took the precaution of telling off a confidential footman to walk behind
her on all occasions, and to act either as an escort or as a sentry.
It chanced, however, that one day, a few weeks after her return, Kate
found an opportunity of recovering her freedom. The footman had been
despatched upon some other duty, so she bethought herself that a book
was to be bought and some lace to be matched, and several other
important feminine duties to be fulfilled. It happened, however, that
as she walked sedately down Warwick Street, her eyes fell upon a very
tall and square-shouldered young man, who was lounging in her direction,
tapping his stick listlessly against the railings, as is the habit of
idle men. At this Kate forgot incontinently all about the book and the
lace, while the tall youth ceased to tap the railings, and came striding
towards her with long springy footsteps and a smiling face.
"Why Cousin Tom, who would have thought of meeting you here?" she
exclaimed, when the first greetings had been exchanged. "It is a most
It is possible that the incident would not have struck her as so very
astonishing after all, had she known that Tom had spent six hours a day
for the last fortnight in blockading the entrances to Eccleston Square.
"Most remarkable!" said the young hypocrite. "You see, I haven't
anything to do yet, so I walk about London a good deal. It was a lucky
chance that sent me in this direction."
"And how is the doctor?" Kate asked eagerly. "And Mrs. Dimsdale, how is
she? You must give my love to them both."
"How is it that you have never been to see us?" Tom asked reproachfully.
"Mr. Girdlestone thinks that I have been too idle lately, and that I
should stay at home. I am afraid it will be some little time before I
can steal away to Kensington."
Tom consigned her guardian under his breath to a region warmer even than
the scene of that gentleman's commercial speculations.
"Which way are you going?" he asked.
"I was going to Victoria Street to change my book, and then to Ford
"What a strange thing!" the young man exclaimed; "I was going in that
direction too." It seemed the more strange, as he was walking in the
opposite direction when she met him. Neither seemed inclined to make
any comment upon the fact, so they walked on together. "And you have
not forgotten the days in Edinburgh yet?" Tom asked, after a long pause.
"No, indeed," his companion answered with enthusiasm. "I shall never
forget them as long as I live."
"Nor I," said Tom earnestly. "You remember the day we had at the
"And the drive round Arthur's Seat."
"And the time that we all went to Roslin and saw the chapel."
"And the day at Edinburgh Castle when we saw the jewels and the armoury.
But you must have seen all these things many times before? You could
not have enjoyed it as much as we did for the first time."
"Oh yes, I did," Tom said stoutly, wondering to himself how it was that
the easy grace with which he could turn compliments to maidens for whom
he cared nothing had so entirely deserted him. "You see, Kate-well--you
were not there when I saw them before."
"Ah," said Kate demurely, "what a beautiful day it is? I fancied in the
morning that it was going to rain."
Tom was not to be diverted from his subject by any meteorological
observations. "Perhaps some time your guardian will allow the dad to
take you on another little holiday," he said hopefully.
"I'm afraid he won't," answered Kate.
"Because he seemed so cross when I came back this last time."
"Why was he cross?" asked Tom.