Part 5 out of 8
"But why, my dear, why? You are really too impulsive. Ezra has his
faults, but what man has not? He has been a little wild in his youth,
but he is settling down now into an excellent man of business. I assure
you that, young as he is, there are few names more respected on
'Change. The way in which he managed the business of the firm in Africa
was wonderful. He is already a rich man, and will be richer before he
dies. I cannot see any cause for this deep-rooted objection of yours.
As to looks he is, you must confess, as fine a young fellow as there is
"I wish you not to speak of it or think of it again," said Kate.
"My mind is entirely made up when I say that I shall never marry any
one--him least of all."
"You will think better of it, I am sure," her guardian said, patting her
chestnut hair kindly as he stood over her. "Since your poor father
handed you over to me I have guarded you and cared for you to the best
of my ability. Many a sleepless night I have spent thinking of your
future and endeavouring to plan it out so as to secure your happiness.
I should not be likely to give you bad advice now, or urge you to take a
step which would make you unhappy. Have you anything to complain of in
my treatment of you?"
"You have been always very just," Kate said with a sob.
"And this is how you repay me! You are going to break my son's heart,
and through his mine. He is my only boy, and if anything went wrong
with him I tell you that it would bring my grey hairs in sorrow to the
grave. You have it in your power to do this, or, on the other hand, you
may make my old age a happy one by the knowledge that the lad is mated
with a good woman, and has attained the object on which his whole mind
and heart are set."
"Oh, I can't, I can't. Do let the matter drop."
"Think it over," the old man said. "Look at it from every point of
view. Remember that the love of an honest man is not to be lightly
spurned. I am naturally anxious about it, for my future happiness, as
well as his, depends upon your decision."
John Girdlestone was fairly satisfied with this interview. It seemed to
him that his ward was rather less decided in her refusal at the end of
it, and that his words had had some effect upon her, which might
possibly increase with reflection.
"Give her a little time now," was his advice to his son. "I think she
will come round, but she needs managing."
"If I could get the money without taking her it would be better for me,"
Ezra said with an oath.
"And better for her too," remarked John Girdlestone grimly.
MRS. SCULLY OF MORRISON'S.
One day Major Tobias Clutterbuck was sitting at the window of his little
room smoking his cigarette and sipping his glass of wine, as was his
custom if times were reasonably good. While thus agreeably employed he
chanced to look across the road and perceived a little fringe of dark
hair, and a still darker eye, which surveyed him round the border of one
of the curtains which flanked a window opposite. The gallant major was
much interested in this apparition, and rose to make a closer inspection
of it, but, alas! before he could focus it with his eye-glass it was
gone! He bent his gaze resolutely in that direction for a long time,
and smoked at least half a dozen cigarettes, besides finishing the
bottle of wine; but although he thought he saw certain flittings and
whiskings of garments in the dark background of the opposite room, he
could not make out anything more definite.
Next day the soldier was on the look-out at the same hour, and was
rewarded by the appearance of two eyes, very mischievous and dangerous
ones too, which were set in a buxom and by no means unprepossessing
face. The lady who owned these charms looked very deliberately up the
street, and very deliberately down the street, after which she bethought
herself to look across the street, and started to perceive a stout,
middle-aged gentleman, with a fiery face, who was looking at her with an
expression of intense admiration. So much alarmed was she that she
vanished behind the curtains and the major feared that he would see her
no more. Fortunately, however, it became evident that the lady's alarm
was not very overpowering, for within five minutes she was back at the
window, where her eyes again fell upon the beaming face and jaunty
figure of the major, who had posed himself in a striking attitude, which
was somewhat marred by the fact that he was still enveloped in his
purple dressing-gown. This time her eyes lingered a little longer than
before and the suspicion of a smile appeared upon her features. On this
the major smiled and bowed, and she smiled also, showing a pretty little
line of white teeth as she did so. What the veteran's next move might
have been no one can tell, for the lady solved the problem by
disappearing, and this time permanently. He was very well satisfied,
however, and chuckled much to himself while arraying himself in his long
frock coat and immaculate collar before setting out for the club.
He had been a sly old dog in his day, and had followed Venus almost as
much as he had Mars during his chequered career.
All day the recollection of this little episode haunted him. So much
pre-occupied was he at the club that he actually played out the
thirteenth trump upon his partner's long suit and so sacrificed the
game--being the first and only time that he was ever known to throw away
a point. He told Von Baumser all about it when he came back.
"She's a demned foine-looking woman, whoever she may be," he remarked,
at they sat together before turning in. "Be George! she's the foinest
woman I've seen for a long time."
"She's a window," said the German.
"A window--the window of an engineer."
"Is it a widow you mane? What d'ye know about her? What's her name,
and where does she come from?"
"I have heard from the slavey that a win--a widow lives over dere in
those rooms. She boards mit Madame Morrison, and that window belongs to
her privacy zimmer--dat is, chamber. As to her name, I have not heard
it, or else I disremember it."
"Ged!" said the major, "she'd eyes that looked right through ye, and a
figure like Juno."
"She's vierzig if she's a day--dat is, forty," Von Baumser remarked.
"Well, if she is, me boy, a woman of forty is just in the proime o'
loife. If you'd seen her at the window, she would have taken ye by
storm. She stands like this, and she looks up like this, and then down
in this way." The major pursed up his warlike features into what he
imagined to be an innocent and captivating expression. Then she looks
across and sees me, and down go the lids of her eyes, like the shutting
off of a bull's-eye lantern. Then she blushed and stole just one more
glance at me round the corner of the curtain. She had two peeps, the
divil a doubt of it."
"Dat is very good," the German said encouragingly.
"Ah, me boy, twinty years ago, when I was forty inches round the chest
and thirty-three round the waist, I was worth looking at twice.
Bedad, when a man gets ould and lonely he sees what a fool he was not to
make better use of his time when he'd the chance."
"Mein Gott!" cried Von Baumser. "You don't mean to say that you would
marry suppose you had the chance?"
"I don't know," the major answered reflectively.
"The vomens is not to be trusted," the German said sadly. "I knew a
voman in my own country which was the daughter of a man dat kept a
hotel--and she and I was promised to be married to each others.
Karl Hagelstein, he was to be vat you call my best man. A very handsome
man was Karl, and I sent him often mit little presents of one thing or
another to my girl, for there were reasons why I could not go myself.
He was nicer than me because my hair was red, and pretty soon she began
to like him, and he liked her too. So the day before the vedding she
went down the Rhine to Frankfort by the boat, and he went down by train,
and there they met and was married the one to the other."
"And what did you do?" the major asked with interest.
"Ah, dat was the most worst thing of all, for I followed them mit a
friend of mine, and when we caught them I did not let her know, but I
called him out of his hotel, and I told him that he must fight me.
Dat vos a mistake. I should have done him an insult, and then he vould
have had to ask me to fight, and I could have chosen my own veapon.
As it was he chose swords, for he knew veil that I knew nothing of them,
and he had been the best fencer in the whole of his University. Then we
met in the morning, and before I had time to do anything he ran me
through the left lung. I have shown you the mark of it. After dat I
vas in bed for two month and more, and it still hurts me ven de veather
is cold. That is vat they call satisfaction," Baumser added, pulling
his long red beard reflectively. "To me it has ever seemed the most
dissatisfactory thing that could be imagined."
"I don't wonder you're afraid of the women after that," said the major,
laughing. "There are plenty of good women in the world, though, if you
have the luck to come across them. D'ye know a young fellow called
Dimsdale--? Ah, you wouldn't, but I've met him lately at the club.
He's got a girl who's the adopted daughter of that same ould Girdlestone
that we talk about. I saw the two of them togither one day as happy as
a pair of young love birds. Sure, you've only got to look at her face
to see that she's as good as gold. I'll bet that that woman over the
strate there is another of the right sort."
"Dat voman is alvays in your head," the German said, with a smile.
"You shall certainly dream about her to-night. I remember a voman in
Germany--" And so these two Bohemians rambled on into the small hours,
discoursing upon their past experiences and regaling each other with
many reminiscences, some of which, perhaps, are just as well omitted and
allowed to sink into oblivion. When the major finally retired for the
night, his last thought was of the lady at the window and of the means
by which he might contrive to learn something of her.
These proved to be more easy than he anticipated, for next morning, on
cross-examining the little servant girl from whom Von Baumser had
derived his information, the major found out all that he desired to
know. According to this authority, the lady was a widow of the name of
Scully, the relict of a deceased engineer, and had been staying some
little time at Morrison's, which was the rival establishment to that in
which the major and Von Baumser resided.
Armed with this information, the major pondered for some time before
deciding upon his course of action. He saw no possible means by which
he could gain an introduction to his charming neighbour unless he had
recourse to some daring strategem. "Audace et toujours audace" had
always been the soldier's motto. He rose from his chair, discarded his
purple gown, and arrayed himself in his best attire. Never had he paid
such attention to his toilet. His face was clean shaven and shining,
his sparse hairs were laid out to the best advantage, his collar
spotless, his frock coat oppressively respectable, and his _tout
ensemble_ irreproachable. "Be George!" he said to himself, as he
surveyed himself in the small lodging-house glass, "I'd look as young as
Baumser if I had some more hair on me head. Bad cess to the helmets and
shakoes that wore it all off."
When his toilet was fully completed and rounded off by the addition of a
pair of light gloves and an ebony stick with a silver head, the veteran
strode forth with a bold front, but with considerable trepidation at his
heart; for when is a man so seasoned as to have no misgivings when he
makes the first advances to a woman who really attracts him? Whatever
the major's inward feelings may have been, however, he successfully
concealed them as he rang the bell of the rival lodging-house and
inquired of the servant whether Mrs. Scully was at home.
"Yes, sir, she is," said the slavey, with a frightened bob, which was a
tribute to the major's martial mien and gorgeous attire.
"Would you tell her that I should like to see her," said the major
boldly. "I shan't detain her a moment. Here is my card--Major Tobias
Clutterbuck, late of the 119th Light Infantry."
The servant disappeared with the card, and presently returned with a
request that he would step up. The old soldier stumped his way upstairs
with the firm footfall of one who has taken a thing in hand and means to
carry it through at all hazard. As he ascended, it seemed to him that
he heard the sound of feminine laughter in the distance. If so, it
could hardly have come from the lady whom he was in quest of, for he was
shown into a large and well-furnished room, where she sat looking demure
and grave enough, as did another young lady who was crocheting on the
ottoman beside her.
The major made his most courtly bow, though he felt very much as the
Spaniards may be supposed to have done when they saw their ships blazing
behind them. "I trust you will excuse this intrusion on my part," he
began. "I happened to hear that a lady of the name of Scully was
"My name is Scully, sir," said the lady, whose dark eyes had allured the
major to this feat of daring.
"Then perhaps, madam," the veteran said with another bow, "you will
allow me to ask you whether you are any relation to Major-gineral
Scully, of the Indian Sappers?"
"Pray take a seat, Major--Major Clutterbuck," said Mrs. Scully,
referring to his card, which she still held in her very well-formed
little hand. "Major-general Scully, did you say? Dear me! I know that
one of my husband's relations went into the army, but we never heard
what became of him. A major-general, is he? Whoever would have thought
"As dashing a souldier, madam," said the major, warming into eloquence,
"as ever hewed a way through the ranks of the enemy, or stormed the
snow-clad passes of the Himalayas."
"Fancy!" ejaculated the young lady with the crochet needle.
"Many a time," continued the soldier, "he and I after some hard-fought
battle have slept togither upon the blood-stained ground wrapped in the
same martial cloak."
"Fancy!" cried both ladies in chorus; and they could not have selected a
more appropriate interjection.
"And when at last he died," the major went on with emotion, "cut in two
with a tulwar in a skirmish with hill tribes, he turned to me--"
"After being cut in two?" interrupted the younger lady.
"He turned to me," said the major inflexibly, "and putting his hand in
mine, he said, with his last breath, 'Toby'--that was what he always
called me--'Toby,' he said, 'I have a--' Your husband was his brother,
I think you said, ma'am?"
"No, it was Mr. Scully's uncle who went into the army."
"Ah, quite so. 'I have a nephew in England,' he said, 'who is very dear
to me. He is married to a charming woman. Search out the young couple,
Toby. Guard over them. Protict them!' Those were his last words,
madam. Next moment his sowl had fled. When I heard your name casually
mintioned I could not feel satisfied in me mind until I had come across
and ascertained if you were the lady in question."
Now, this narrative not only surprised the widow, which was not
unnatural, seeing that it was entirely an invention of the old
soldier's, but it appealed to her weakest point. The father of the
deceased Scully had been of plebeian origin, so that the discovery in
the family of a real major-general--albeit he was dead--was a famous
windfall, for the widow had social ambitions which hitherto she had
never been able to gratify. Hence she smiled sweetly at the veteran in
a way which stimulated him to further flights of mendacity.
"Sure he and I were like brothers," he said. "He was a man that any one
might well be proud to know. Commander-in-chief said to me once,
'Clutterbuck,' says he, 'I don't know what we'd do if we had a European
war. I've no one I can rely on,' says he. 'There's Scully,' says I.
'Right,' says he, 'Scully would be our man.' He was terribly cut up when
this occurred. 'Here's a blow to the British army!' he remarked, as he
looked down at him where he lay with a bullet through his head--he did,
madam, be Jove!"
"But, major, I understood you to say that he was cut in two?"
"So he was. Cut in two, and shot and mortally wounded in a dozen places
besides. Ah, if he could have foreseen that I should have met you he
would have died happy."
"It's strange he never let us know of his existence when he was alive,"
the widow remarked.
"Pride, madam, pride! 'Until I reach the top of the tree, Toby,' he used
to say, 'I shall niver reveal myself to me brother.'"
"Nephew," interpolated the widow.
"Quite so--' I shall niver reveal myself to me nephew.' He said those
very words to me only a few minutes before the fatal shell struck him."
"A shell, major? You mean a bullet."
"A shell, madam, a shell," said the major with decision.
"Dear me!" exclaimed Mrs. Scully, with a somewhat bewildered
expression. "How very sad it all is. We must thank you very much,
"Clutterbuck," said the Major.
"I beg pardon, Major Clutterbuck. It was very kind of you to call upon
us in this friendly way and to give us these details. Of course, when a
relative dies, even though you don't know much about him, still it is
interesting to have a clear account of how it all happened. Just fancy,
Clara," continued the widow, drawing her handkerchief from her reticule
and mopping one of her eyes with it. "Just fancy the poor fellow being
cut in two with a bullet far away in India and him just speaking about
Jack and me a few minutes before. I am sure we must thank Major
"Clutterbuck, madam," cried the major with some indignation.
"I really beg pardon. We must thank him, Clara, for having told us
about it and for having called."
"Do not thank me, me dear Mrs. Scully," said the major, clearing his
throat and waving his stubby hand deprecatingly. "I have already had me
reward in having the pleasure and honour of making your acquaintance and
of coming nearer to those charums which I had alriddy admired from a
"Oh, auntie, listen to that!" cried Clara, and both ladies giggled.
"Not forgetting yours, Miss-Miss--"
"Miss Timms," said Mrs. Scully. "My brother's daughter."
"Not forgetting your charums, Miss Timms," continued the major, with a
bow and a flourish. "To a lonely man like meself, the very sight of a
lady is like dew to a plant. I feel stringthened, madam, vitalized,
invigorated." The major puffed out his chest and looked apoplectically
tender over his high white collar.
"The chief object of me visit," the old soldier said after a pause,
"was to learn whether I could be of any assistance to you in any way.
Afther your sad bereavement, of which I have heard, it may be that even
a comparative stranger may be of service in business matters."
"I'm sure it's very kind of you, major," the widow answered.
"Since poor Jack died everything has been in disorder. If it wouldn't
trouble you, I should very much like your advice on some future
occasion. I'll ask your opinion when I have cleared up things a little
myself. As to these lawyers, they think of their own interests, not of
"Quite so," said the major sympathetically.
"There's the fifteen hundred of poor Jack's insurance. That's not laid
"Fifteen hundred!" said the major. "That's seventy-five pounds a year
at five per cint."
"I can get better interest than that," said the widow gaily. "I've got
two thousand laid out at seven per cent.--haven't I, Clara?"
"Safe, too," said the girl.
"The deuce you have!" thought the major.
"So, when we are making arrangements, I'll ask your assistance and
advice, Major Tanglebobs. I know that we poor women are very bad at
"I shall look forward to the day," said the major gallantly, rising and
taking up his hat. He was very well satisfied with his little ruse and
his success in breaking the ice.
"Be George!" he remarked to Von Baumser that evening, "she's got money
as well as her looks. It's a lucky man that gits her."
"I vill bet dat you ask her for to marry you," Von Baumser said with a
"I'll bet that she refuses me if I do," answered the major despondently,
in spite of which he retired that night feeling considerably more elated
than on the preceding evening.
BACK IN BOHEMIA.
Fortune had been smiling upon the Bohemians of late. Ever since the
major's successful visit to Fenchurch Street he had been able to live in
a state of luxury to which he had long been unaccustomed. His uncle,
the earl, too, had condescended to think of his humble relative, and had
made a small provision for him, which, with his other resources, removed
all anxiety as to the future. Von Baumser had his fair share in this
sudden accession of prosperity. The German had resumed his situation as
commercial clerk and foreign correspondent to Eckermann & Co., so that
his circumstances had also improved. The pair had even had some
conversation as to the expediency of migrating into larger and more
expensive lodgings, but the major's increasing intimacy with his fair
neighbour opposite stood in the way of a change. In any case, they were
loth to leave their fourth floor, and to have the trouble of moving
These same effects were the pride of Major Clutterbuck's heart.
Small as their sanctum was, it was a very museum of curious objects
brought from every part of the world, most of them of little intrinsic
value, but all possessing a charm of association to their owner.
They were his trophies of travel, battle, and the chase. From the bison
rug and tiger skin upon the floor to the great Sumatran bat which hung
head downwards, as in the days of its earthly existence, from the
ceiling, there was not an object but had its own special history.
In one corner was an Afghan matchlock, and a bundle of spears from the
southern seas; in another a carved Indian paddle, a Kaffir assegai, and
an American blowpipe, with its little sheaf of poisoned arrows.
Here was a hookah, richly mounted, and with all due accessories, just as
it was presented to the major twenty years before by a Mahommedan
chieftain, and there was a high Mexican saddle on which he had ridden
through the land of the Aztecs. There was not a square foot of the
walls which was not adorned by knives, javelins, Malay kreeses, Chinese
opium pipes, and such other trifles as old travellers gather round them.
By the side of the fire rested the campaigner's straight regulation
sword in its dim sheath--all the dimmer because the companions
occasionally used it as a poker when that instrument happened to be
"It's not the value of thim," the major remarked, glancing round the
apartment, "but, bedad, there's not one of the lot that has not got a
story tacked on to it. Look at that bear's head now, that's grinning at
ye from over the door. That's a Thibet bear, not much bigger than a
Newfoundland dog, but as fierce as a grizzly. That's the very one that
clawed Charley Travers, of the 49th. Ged, he'd have been done for if I
hadn't got me Westley Richards to bear on him. 'Duck man I duck!'
I cried, for they were so mixed that I couldn't tell one from the other.
He put his head down, and I caught the brute right between the eyes. Ye
can see the track of the bullet on the bone."
The major paused, and the pair smoked meditatively, for Baumser had
returned from the City, and the twilight was falling and everything
conduced to tobacco and reverie.
"See that necklace of cowrie shells hanging beside it," continued the
veteran, waving his cigarette in that direction; "that came from the
neck of a Hottentot woman--a black Vanus, be Jove! We were trekking up
country before the second Kaffir war. Made an appintment--could not
go--orderly duty--so sent a trusty man to tell her. He was found next
day with twenty assegais in his body. She was a decoy duck, bedad, and
the whole thing a plant."
"Mein Gott!" Von Baumser ejaculated. "What a life you have led! I have
lived with you now many months and heard you tell many tales, but ever
there are fresh ones."
"Yes, a strange life," answered the major, stretching out his gaitered
legs and gazing up at the ceiling. I niver thought to be stranded in me
ould age. If I hadn't commuted I'd have had a fair pinsion, but I drew
me money in a lump sum, and went to Monte Carlo to break the bank.
Instead o' that the bank broke me, and yet I believe me system was
correct enough, and I must have won if I had had more capital."
"There is many says dat," grunted Von Baumser doubtfully.
"I believe it for all that," the major continued. "Why, man, I was
always the luckiest chap at cards. I depinded on me skill principally,
but still I had luck as well. I remimber once being becalmed for a
fortnight in the Bay of Biscay in a small transport. Skipper and I
tried to kill time by playing nap, and we had the stakes low enough at
first, but they soon grew higher, for he kept trying to cover his
losses. Before the ind of the two weeks I cleared out of him nearly all
he had in the world. 'Look here, Clutterbuck,' he said at last, looking
mighty white about the gills, 'this ship that we are in is more than
half mine. I am chief owner. I'll stake me share of the ship on the
next game against all that I have lost.' 'Done!' said I, and shuffled,
cut, and dealt. He went four on three highest trumps, and an ace, and I
held four small trumps. 'It's a bad job for my creditors,' he said, as
he threw his hand down. Ged! I started on that vyage a poor captain,
and I came into port very fairly well off, and sailing in me own ship,
too! What d'ye think of that?"
"Wunderbar!" ejaculated the German. "And the captain?"
"Brandy, and delirium tremens," the major said, between the puffs of his
cigarette. "Jumped overboard off Finisterre, on the homeward vyage.
Shocking thing, gamblin'--when you lose."
"Ach Gott! And those two knives upon the wall, the straight one and the
one with the crook; is there a history about them?"
"An incident," the major answered languidly. "Curious, but true. Saw
it meself. In the Afghan war I was convoying supplies through the
passes, when we were set upon by Afreedees, hillmen, and robbers. I had
fifty men of the 27th Native Infantry under me, with a sergeant.
Among the Afreedees was a thumping big chief, who stood among the rocks
with that very knife in his hand, the long one, shouting insults at our
fellows. Our sergeant was a smart little nigger, and this cheek set his
blood up. Be jabers! he chucked his gun down, pulled out that curved
dagger--a Ghoorkha knife it is--and made for the big hillman.
Both sides stopped firing to see the two chaps fight. As our fellow
came scrambling up over the rocks, the chief ran at him and thrust with
all his stringth. Be jabers! I thought I saw the pint of the blade
come out through the sergeant's back. He managed to twist round though,
so as to dodge it. At the same time he hit up from below, and the
hillman sprang into the air, looking for all the world like one o' those
open sheep you see outside a butcher's shop. He was ripped up from
stomach to throat. The sight knocked all the fight out of the other
spalpeens, and they took to their heels as hard as they could run.
I took the dead man's knife away, and the sergeant sold me his for a few
rupees, so there they are. Not much to make a story of, but it was
intheresting to see. I'd have bet five to three on the chief."
"Bad discipline, very bad," Baumser remarked. "To break the ranks and
run mit knives would make my old Unter-offizier Kritzer very mad
indeed." The German had served his time in the Prussian Army, and was
still mindful of his training.
"Your stiff-backed Pickelhaubes would have had a poor chance in the
passes," answered the major. "It was ivery man for himself there.
You might lie, or stand, or do what you liked as long as you didn't run.
Discipline goes to pieces in a war of that sort."
"Dat is what you call gorilla warfare," said Von Baumser, with a proud
consciousness of having mastered an English idiom. "For all dat,
discipline is a very fine thing--very good indeed. I vell remember in
the great krieg--the war with Austria--we had made a mine and were about
to fire it. A sentry had been placed just over this, and after the
match was lit it was forgotten to withdraw the man. He knew well that
the powder beneath him would presently him into the air lift, but since
he had not been dismissed in right form he remained until the ausbruch
had exploded. He was never seen no more, and, indeed, dat he had ever
been dere might well have been forgotten, had it not been dat his
nadelgewehr was dere found. Dat was a proper soldier, I think, to be
placed in command had he lived."
"To be placed in a lunatic asylum if he lived," said the Irishman
testily. "Hullo, what's this?"
The "this" was the appearance of the boarding-house slavey with a very
neat pink envelope upon a tray, addressed, in the most elegant of female
hands, to "Major Tobias Clutterbuck, late of Her Majesty's Hundred and
"Ah!" cried Von Baumser, laughing in his red beard, "it is from a woman.
You are what the English call a sly hog, a very sly hog--or, I should
say, dog, though it is much the same."
"It's for you as well as for me. See here. 'Mrs. Lavinia Scully
presints her compliments to Major Tobias Clutterbuck and to his friend,
Mr. Sigismund von Baumser, and trusts that they may be able to favour
her with their company on Tuesday evening at eight, to meet a few
frinds.' It's a dance," said the major. "That accounts for the harp
and the tables and binches and wine cases I saw going in this morning."
"Will you go?"
"Yes, of course I will, and so shall you. We'd better answer it."
So in due course an acceptance was sent across to Mrs. Scully's
Never was there such a brushing and scrubbing in the bedroom of a couple
of quiet bachelors as occurred some two evenings afterwards in the top
story of Mrs. Robins' establishment. The major's suit had been pursued
unremittingly since his first daring advance upon the widow, but under
many difficulties and discouragements. In the occasional chance
interviews which he had with his attractive neighbour he became more and
more enamoured, but he had no opportunity of ascertaining whether the
feeling was mutual. This invitation appeared to promise him the very
chance which he desired, and many were the stern resolutions which he
formed as he stood in front of his toilet-table and arranged his tie and
his shirt front to his satisfaction. Von Baumser, who was arrayed in a
dress coat of antiquated shape, and very shiny about the joints, sat on
the side of the bed, eyeing his companion's irreproachable get-up with
envy and admiration.
"It fits you beautiful," he said, alluding to the coat.
"It came from Poole's," answered the major carelessly.
"As for me," said Von Baumser, "I have never used mine in England at
all. Truly, as you know, I hate all dances and dinners. I come with
you, however, very willingly, for I would not for nothing in the world
give offence to the liebchen of my comrade. Since I go, I shall go as a
gentleman should." He looked down as he spoke with much satisfaction at
his withered suit of black.
"But, me good fellow," cried the major, who had now completed his
toilet, "you've got your tie under your lift ear. It looks very quaint
and ornamintal there, but still it's not quite the place for it.
You look as if you were ticketed for sale."
"They von't see it unless I puts it out sidevays from under my beard,"
the German said apologetically. "However, if you think it should be
hidden, it shall be so. How are my stud-buttons? You have them of
gold, I see, but mine are of mother-of-oysters."
"Mother-of-pearl," said the major, laughing. "They will do very well.
There's the divil of a lot of cabs at their door," he continued, peering
round the corner of the blind. "The rooms are all lighted up, and I can
hear them tuning the instruments. Maybe we'd better go across."
"Vorvarts, then!" said Von Baumser resolutely; and the two set off, the
major with a fixed determination that he should know his fate before the
evening was over.
THE GREAT DANCE AT MORRISON'S.
Never in the whole history of Morrison's boarding establishment had such
festive preparations been known. The landlady herself had entered heart
and soul into the business, and as all the boarders had received
invitations for themselves and their friends, they co-operated in every
possible manner to make the evening a success. The large drawing-room
had been cleared and the floor waxed. This process left it in a very
glassy and orthodox condition, as the cook discovered when, on bustling
in, the back of her cranium came in violent contact with the boards,
while her body described a half-circle with a velocity which completely
eclipsed any subsequent feats of agility shown by the dancers in the
evening. The saloon had been very tastefully laid out as a supper-room,
and numerous other little chambers were thrown open and brightened up to
serve as lounging places for those who were fatigued. In the parlour
there were two card-tables, and every other convenience for any who
preferred sedentary amusements. Altogether both Mrs. Morrison and the
boarders, in solemn conclave assembled, agreed that the thing looked
very promising, and that it would be a credit to the establishment.
The guests were as varied as the wines, though hardly as select.
Mrs. Scully's exuberant hospitality included, as already intimated, not
only her own friends, but those of her fellow-boarders, so that from an
early hour the rooms began to fill, and by nine o'clock there was hardly
space for the dancers. Hansoms and growlers rattled up in a continuous
stream and discharged their burdens. There was a carpet down from the
kerb to the head of the lodging-house steps, "like r'yalty," as the cook
expressed it, and the greengrocer's man in the hall looked so pompous
and inflated in his gorgeous attire that his own cabbages would hardly
have recognized him. His main defect as a footman was that he was
somewhat hard of hearing, and had a marvellous faculty of
misinterpreting whatever was said to him, which occasionally led to
remarkable results. Thus, when he announced the sporting Captain
Livingstone Tuck under the title of Captain Lives-on-his luck, it was
felt that he was rather too near the truth to be pleasant. Indeed, the
company had hardly recovered from the confusion produced by this small
incident when the two Bohemians made their appearance.
Mrs. Scully, who was tastefully arrayed in black satin and lace, stood
near the door of the drawing-room, and looked very charming and
captivating as she fulfilled her duties as hostess. So thought the
major as he approached her and shook her hand, with some well turned
compliment upon his lips.
"Let me inthroduce me friend, Herr von Baumser," he added.
Mrs. Scully smiled upon the German in a way that won his Teutonic heart.
"You will find programmes over there," she explained. "I think the
first is a round dance. No, thank you, major; I shall stand out, or
there will be no one to receive the people." She hurried away to greet
a party of new arrivals, while the major and Baumser wandered off in
search of partners.
There was no want of spirit or of variety in the dancing at Morrison's.
From Mr. Snodder, the exciseman, who danced the original old-fashioned
trois-temps, to young Bucklebury, of the Bank, who stationed himself
immediately underneath the central chandelier, and spun rapidly round
with his partner upon his own axis, like a couple of beetles impaled
upon a single pin, every possible variation of the art of waltzing was
to be observed. There was Mr. Smith, of the Medical College, rotating
round with Miss Clara Timms, their faces wearing that pained and anxious
expression which the British countenance naturally assumes when dancing,
giving the impression that the legs have suddenly burst forth in a
festive mood, and have dragged the rest of the body into it very much
against its will. There was the major too, who had succeeded in
obtaining Mrs. Scully as a partner, and was dancing as old soldiers can
dance, threading his way through the crowded room with the ease begotten
by the experience of a lifetime. Meanwhile Von Baumser, at the other
end, was floundering about with a broad smile upon his face and an
elderly lady tucked under his right arm, while he held her disengaged
hand straight out at right angles, as if she had been a banjo.
In short, the fun was fast and furious, and waltz followed polka and
mazurka followed waltz with a rapidity which weeded out the weaker
vessels among the dancers and tested the stamina of the musicians.
Then there was the card-room, whither the Widow Scully and the major and
many others of the elders repaired when they found the pace too fast for
them. Very snug and comfortable it was, with its square tables, each
with a fringe of chairs, and the clean shining cards spread out over
their green baize surfaces. The major and his hostess played against
Captain Livingstone Tuck and an old gentleman who came from Lambeth,
with the result that the gallant captain and his partner rose up poorer
and sadder men, which was rather a blow to the former, who reckoned upon
clearing a little on such occasions, and had not expected to find
himself opposed by such a past master of the art as the major. Then the
veteran and another played the hostess and another lady, and the cunning
old dog managed to lose in such a natural manner, and to pay up with
such a good grace, and with so many pretty speeches and compliments,
that the widow's partner was visibly impressed, a fact which, curiously
enough, seemed to be anything but agreeable to the widow. After that
they all filed off to supper, where they found the dancers already in
possession, and there was much crushing and crowding, which tended to do
away with ceremony and to promote the harmony of the evening.
If the major had contrived to win favour from Mrs. Lavinia Scully in the
early part of the evening, he managed now to increase any advantage he
had gained. In the first place he inquired in a very loud voice of
Captain Tuck, at the other end of the table, whether that gentleman had
ever met the deceased Major-General Scully, and being answered in the
negative, he descanted fluently upon the merits of that imaginary
warrior. After this unscrupulous manoeuvre the major proceeded to do
justice to the wine and to indulge in sporting reminiscences, and
military reminiscences, and travelling reminiscences, and social
reminiscences, all of which he treated in a manner which called forth
the admiration of his audience. Then, when supper had at last been
finished, and the last cork drawn and the last glass filled, the dancers
went back to their dance and the card-players to their cards, and the
major addressed himself more assiduously than ever to the pursuit of the
"I am afraid that you find the rooms very hot, major," she remarked.
"They are rather hot," he answered candidly.
"There is a room here," she said, "where you might be cooler. You might
have a cigarette, too. I meant these rooms as smoking-rooms."
"Then you must come, too."
"No, no, major. You must remember that I am the hostess."
"But there is no one to entertain. They are all entertaining each
other. You are too unselfish."
"But really, major--"
"Sure you are tired out and need a little rest."
He held the door open so persuasively that she yielded. It was a snug
little room, somewhat retired from the bustle, with two or three
chintz-covered chairs scattered round it, and a sofa of the same
material at one side. The widow sat down at one end of this sofa, and
the major perched himself at the other, looking even redder than usual,
and puffing out his chest and frowning, as was his custom upon critical
"Do light a cigarette?" said Mrs. Scully.
"But the smell?"
"I like it."
The major extracted one from his flat silver case. His companion rolled
a spill and lit it at the gas.
"To one who is as lonely as I am," she remarked, "it Is a pleasure to
feel that one has friends near one, and to serve them even in trifles."
"Lonely!" said the major, shuffling along the sofa, "I might talk with
authority on that point. If I were to turn me toes up to-morrow there's
not a human being would care a thraneen about the mather, unless it were
old Von Baumser."
"Oh, don't talk so," cried Mrs. Scully, with emotion.
"It is a fact. I've kicked against me fate at times, though. I've had
fancies of late of something happier and cheerier. They have come on me
as I sat over yonder at the window, and, do what I will, I have not been
able to git them from me heart. Yit I know how rash I have been to
treasure them, for if they fail me I shall feel me loneliness as I niver
The major paused and cleared his throat huskily, while the widow
remained silent, with her head bent and her eyes intent upon the pattern
of the carpet.
"These hopes are," said the major, in a low voice, leaning forward and
taking his companion's little ring-covered hand in his thick, pudgy
fingers, "that you will have pity upon me; that you will--"
"Ach, my very goot vriend!" cried Von Baumser heartily, suddenly
protruding his hairy head into the room and smiling benignantly.
"Go to the divil!" roared the major, springing furiously to his feet,
while the German's head disappeared like a Jack-in-the-box.
"Forgive the warmth of me language," the veteran continued,
apologetically, "but me feelings overcame me. Will you be mine,
Lavinia? I am a plain ould soldier, and have little to offer you save a
faithful heart, and that is yours, and always will be. Will you make
the remainder of me life happy by becoming me wife?" He endeavoured to
pass his arm round her waist, but she sprang up from the sofa and stood
upon the rug, facing him with an amused and somewhat triumphant smile
upon her buxom features.
"Look here, major," she said, "I am a plain-spoken woman, as my poor Tom
that's dead was a plain-spoken man. Out with it straight, now--have you
come after me, or have you come after my money?"
The major was so astonished at this point-blank question, that for a
moment he sat speechless upon the sofa. Being a man of ready resource,
however, and one who was accustomed to sudden emergencies, he soon
"Yoursilf, of course" cried he. "If you hadn't a stiver I would do the
"Take care! take care!" said the lady, with a warning finger uplifted.
"You heard of the breaking of the Agra Bank?"
"What of that?"
"Every penny that I had in the world was in it."
This was facer number two for the campaigner. He recovered himself more
quickly from this one, however, and inflated his chest with even more
than his usual pomposity.
"Lavinia," said he, "you have been straight with me, and, bedad, I'll be
so with you? When I first thought of you I was down in the world, and,
much as I admired you, I own that your money was an inducement as well
as yoursilf. I was so placed that it was impossible for me to think of
any woman who had not enough to keep up her own end of the game.
Since that time I've done bether. How I got it is neither here nor
there, but I have a little nist-egg in the bank and see me way to
increasing it. You tell me your money's gone, and I tell you I've
enough for two; so say the word, acushla, and it's done."
"What! without the money?"
"Damn the money?" exclaimed Major Tobias Clutterbuck, and put his arm
for the second time around his companion. This time it remained there.
What happened after that is neither my business nor the reader's.
Couples who have left their youth behind them have their own little
romance quite as much as their juniors, and it is occasionally the more
heartfelt of the two.
"What a naughty boy to swear!" exclaimed the widow at last. "Now I must
give you a lecture since I have the chance."
"Bless her mischievous eyes!" cried the major, with delight in every
feature of his face. "You shall give me as many lectures as you plase."
"You must be good, then, Toby, if you are to be my husband. You must
not play billiards for money any more."
"No billiards! Why, pool is worth three or four pound a wake to me."
"It doesn't matter. No billiards and no cards, and no racing and no
betting. Toby must be very good and behave as a distinguished soldier
"What are you afther at all?" the major cried. "Sure if I am to give up
me pool and whist, how is a distinguished soldier, and, above all, a
distinguished soldier's wife, going to live?"
"We'll manage, dear," she said, looking roguishly up into his face.
"I told you that my money was all in the Agra Bank that broke."
"You did, worse luck!"
"But I didn't tell you that I had drawn it all out before it broke, Toby
dear. It was too bad to put you to such a trial, wasn't it? but really
I couldn't resist the temptation. Toby shall have money enough without
betting, and he shall settle down and tell his stories, and do what he
likes without anything to bother him."
"Bless her heart!" cried the major fervently; and the battered old
Bohemian, as he stooped over and kissed her, felt a tear spring to his
eyes as he knew that he had come into harbour after life's stormy
"No billiards or cards for three months, then," said the little woman
firmly, with her hands round his arm. "None at all mind! I am going
into Hampshire on a visit to my cousins in the country, and you shall
not see me for that time, though you may write. If you can give me your
word of honour when I come back that you've given up your naughty ways,
"Wait till then and you'll see," she said, with a merry laugh.
"No, really, I won't stay another moment. Whatever will the guests say?
I must, Toby; I really must--" Away she tripped, while the major
remained standing where she had left him, feeling a better man than he
had done since he was a young ensign and kissed his mother for the last
time at the Portsmouth jetty before the great transport carried him off
Everything in the world must have an end, and Mrs. Scully's dance was no
exception to the rule. The day was breaking, however, before the last
guests had muffled themselves up and the last hansom dashed away from
the door. The major lingered behind to bid farewell, and then
rejoined his German friend, who had been compelled to wait at the door
for the latchkey.
"Look here, major," the latter said, when they came into their room,
"is it well to tell a Brussian gentleman to go to the devil? You have
much offended me. Truly I was surprised that you should have so
"Me dear friend," the old soldier answered, shaking his hand, "I would
not hurt your feelings for the world. Bedad, if I come into the room
while you are proposing to a lady, you are welcome to use the strongest
German verb to me that you can lay your tongue to."
"You have probosed, then?" cried the good-natured German, forgetting all
about his grievance in an instant.
"And been took--received by her?"
"Dat Is gloriful!" Von Baumser cried, clapping his hands. "Three hochs
for Frau Scully, and another one for Frau Clutterbuck. We must drink a
drink on it; we truly must."
"So we shall, me boy, but it's time we turned in now. She's a good
woman, and she plays a good hand at whist. Ged! she cleared the trumps
and made her long suit to-night as well as ever I saw it done in me
life!" With which characteristic piece of eulogy the major bade his
comrade good night and retired to his room.
AT THE "COCK AND COWSLIP."
Tom Dimsdale's duties were far from light. Not only was he expected to
supervise the clerks' accounts and to treat with the wholesale dealers,
but he was also supposed to spend a great part of his time in the docks,
overlooking the loading of the outgoing ships and checking the cargo of
the incoming ones. This latter portion of his work was welcome as
taking him some hours a day from the close counting-house, and allowing
him to get a sniff of the sea air--if, indeed, a sniff is to be had on
the inland side of Woolwich. There was a pleasing life and bustle, too,
in the broad, brown river, with its never-ending panorama of vessels of
every size and shape which ebb and flow in the great artery of national
So interesting was this liquid highway to Tom's practical mind, that he
would often stand at the head of the wharf when his work was done and
smoke a meditative pipe. It was a quiet spot, which had once been busy
enough, but was now superseded by new quays and more convenient
landing-places. All over it were scattered great rusty anchors,
colossal iron chains, deserted melancholy boilers, and other debris
which are found in such places, and which might seem to the fanciful to
be the shells and skeletons of strange monsters washed up there by the
tide. To whom do these things belong? Who has an interest in them?
Of what use are they? It appeared to Tom sometimes as if the original
owners and their heirs must have all died away, and left these grim
relics behind them to any one who might have the charity to remove them.
From this coign of vantage a long reach of the river was visible, and
Tom sitting there would watch the fleets of passing vessels, and let his
imagination wander away to the broad oceans which they had traversed,
and the fair lands under bluer skies and warmer suns from which they had
sailed. Here is a tiny steam-tug panting and toiling in front of a
majestic three-master with her great black hulk towering out of the
water and her masts shooting up until the topmast rigging looks like the
delicate web of some Titanic spider. She is from Canton, with tea, and
coffee, and spices, and all good things from the land of small feet and
almond eyes. Here, too, is a Messagerie boat, the French ensign
drooping daintily over her stern, and her steam whistle screeching a
warning to some obstinate lighters, crawling with their burden of coal
to a grimy collier whose steam-winch is whizzing away like a corncrake
of the deep. That floating palace is an Orient boat from Australia.
See how, as the darkness falls, a long row of yellow eyes glimmer out
from her sides as the light streams through her countless portholes.
And there is the Rotterdam packet-boat coming slowly up, very glad to
get back into safe waters again, for she has had a wildish time in the
North Sea. A coasting brig has evidently had a wilder time still, for
her main-topmast is cracked across, and her rigging is full of the
little human mites who crawl about, and reef, and splice, and mend.
An old acquaintance of ours was out in that same gale, and is even now
making his way into the shelter of the Albert docks. This was none
other than the redoubtable Captain Hamilton Miggs, whose ship will
persistently keep afloat, to the astonishment of the gallant captain
himself, and of every one else who knows anything of her sea-going
qualities. Again and again she had been on the point of foundering; and
again and again some change in the weather or the steady pumping of the
crew had prevented her from fulfilling her destiny. So surprised was
the skipper at these repeated interpositions of Providence that he had
quite made up his superstitious mind that the ship never would go down,
and now devoted himself with a whole heart to his old occupation of
drinking himself into delirium tremens and physicking himself out of it
The _Black Eagle_ had a fair cargo aboard, and Miggs was proportionately
jubilant. The drunken old sea-dog had taken a fancy to Tom's frank face
and honest eyes, and greeted him with effusion when he came aboard next
"Knock me asunder, but you look rosy, man!" he cried. "It's easy to see
that you have not been lying off Fernando Po, or getting the land mist
into your lungs in the Gaboon."
"You look well yourself, captain," said Tom.
"Tolerable, tolerable. Just a touch of the jumps at times."
"We can begin getting our cargo out, I suppose? I have a list here to
check it. Will you have the hatches off at once?"
"No work for me," said Captain Hamilton Miggs with decision.
"Here, Sandy--Sandy McPherson, start the cargo, will ye, and stir your
great Scotch bones. I've done enough in bringing this sieve of a ship
all the way from Africa, without working when I am in dock."
McPherson was the first mate, a tall, yellow-bearded Aberdonian.
"I'll see t'it," he said shortly. "You can gang ashore or where you
"The _Cock and Cowslip_," said the captain, "I say, you--Master
Dimsdale--when you're done come up an' have a glass o' wine with me.
I'm only a plain sailor man, but I'm damned if my heart ain't in the
right place. You too, McPherson--you'll come up and show Mr. Dimsdale
the way. _Cock and Cowslip_, corner o' Sextant Court." The two having
accepted his invitation, the captain shuffled off across the gangway and
on to terra firma.
All day Tom stood at the hatchway of the _Black Eagle_, checking the
cargo as it was hoisted out of her, while McPherson and his motley
assistants, dock labourers, seamen, and black Kroomen from the coast,
worked and toiled in the depths below. The engine rattled and snorted,
and the great chain clanked as it was lowered into the hold.
"Make fast there!" cries the mate.
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"All right, sir."
And clank, clank went the chain again, and whir-r-r the engine, and up
would come a pair of oil casks, as though the crane were some giant
forceps which was plucking out the great wooden teeth of the vessel.
It seemed to Tom, as he stood looking down, note-book in hand, that some
of the actual malarious air of the coast had been carried home in the
hold, so foul and close were the smells evolved from it. Great
cockchafers crawled about over the packages, and occasionally a rat
would scamper over the barrels, such a rat as is only to be found in
ships which hail from the tropics. On one occasion too, as a tusk of
ivory was being hoisted out, there was a sudden cry of alarm among the
workers, and a long, yellow snake crawled out of the cavity of the trunk
and writhed away into the darkness. It is no uncommon thing to find the
deadly creatures hibernating in the hollow of the tusks until the cold
English air arouses them from their torpor, to the cost occasionally of
some unhappy stevedore or labourer.
All day Tom stood amid grease and steam, bustle and blasphemy, checking
off the cargo, and looking to its conveyance to the warehouses. At one
o'clock there was a break of an hour for dinner, and then the work went
on until six, when all hands struck and went off to their homes or to
the public-house according to inclination. Tom and the mate, both
fairly tired by their day's work, prepared to accept the captain's
invitation, and to meet him up in his quarters. The mate dived down
into his cabin, and soon reappeared with his face shining and his long
hair combed into some sort of order.
"I've been performing my ablutions," he said, rolling out the last word
with great emphasis and pomposity, for, like many Scotchmen, he had the
greatest possible reverence for a sonorous polysyllable. Indeed, in
McPherson, this national foible was pushed to excess, for, however
inappropriate the word, he never hesitated to drag it into his
conversation if he thought it would aid in the general effect.
"The captain," he continued, "has been far from salubrious this voyage.
He's aye complainin' o' his bodily infirmities."
"Hypochondriacal, perhaps," Tom remarked.
The Scotchman looked at his companion with a great accession of respect.
"My certie!" he cried. "That's the best I've heard since a word that
Jimmy M'Gee, of the _Corisco_, said the voyage afore last. Would you
kindly arteeculate it again."
"Hypochondriacal," said Tom laughing heartily.
"Hypo-chon-driacal," the mate repeated slowly. "I shouldn't think Jimmy
M'Gee kens that, or he'd ha' communicated it to me. I shall certainly
utilize it, and am obleeged to you for namin' it."
"Don't mention it," said Tom. "I'll let you have as many long words as
you like, if you are a collector of them. But what is the matter with
"It's aye the drink," the mate said gravely. "I can tak' my modicum
mysel' and enjoy it, but that's no the same as for a man to lock himself
up in his cabin, and drink rum steady on from four bells in the mornin'
watch to eight bells in the evenin'. And then the cussin', and prayin',
and swearin' as he sets up is just awfu'. It's what might weel be
described as pandemoniacal."
"Is he often like that, then?" Tom asked.
"Often! Why, he's never anything else, sir. And yet he's a good seaman
too, and however fu' he may be, he keeps some form o' reckoning, and
never vera far oot either. He's an ambeequosity to me, sir, for if I
took a tithe o' the amount I'd be clean daft."
"He must be dangerous when he is like that?" Tom remarked.
"He is that. He emptied a sax-shooter down the deck last bout he had,
and nigh perforated the carpenter. Another time he scoots after the
cook--chased him with a handspike in his hand right up the rigging to
the cross-trees. If the cook hadn't slid down the backstay of the mast,
he'd ha' been obeetuarised."
Tom could not refrain from laughing at the last expression. "That's a
new word," he said.
"Ha!" his companion cried with great satisfaction, "it is, is it?
Then we are quits now on the hypochondriacal." He was so pleased that
he chuckled to himself for some minutes in the depths of his tawny
beard. "Yes," he continued at last, "he is dangerous to us at times,
and he is dangerous to you. This is atween oorsels, as man to man, and
is said withoot prejudice, but he do go on when he is in they fits aboot
the firm, and aboot insurances, and rotten ships, and ither such things,
which is all vera well when sequestrated amang gentlemen like oorsels,
but sounds awfu' bad when it fa's on the ignorant tympanums of common
"It's scandalous," Tom said gravely, "that he should spread such reports
about his employer. Our ships are old, and some of them, in my opinion,
hardly safe, but that's a very different thing from implying, as you
hint, that Mr. Girdlestone wishes them to go down."
"We'll no argue aboot that," said the canny Scot. "Muster Girdlestone
kens on which side his bread is buttered. He may wish 'em to sink or he
may wish 'em to swim. That's no for us to judge. You'll hear him speak
o't to-night as like as not, for he's aye on it when he's half over.
Here we are, sir. The corner edifice wi' the red blinds in the window."
During this conversation the two had been threading their way through
the intricate and dirty lanes which lead up from the water side to the
outskirts of Stepney. It was quite dark by the time that they reached a
long thoroughfare, lined by numerous shops, with great gas flares
outside them. Many of these belonged to dealers in marine stores, and
the numerous suits of oil-skin, hung up for exhibition, swung to and fro
in the uncertain light, like rows of attenuated pirates. At every
corner was a great public-house with glittering windows, and a crowd of
slatternly women and jersey-clad men elbowing each other at the door.
At the largest and most imposing of these gin-palaces the mate and
Dimsdale now pulled up.
"Come in this way," said McPherson, who had evidently paid many a visit
there before. Pushing open a swinging door, he made his way into the
crowded bar, where the reek of bad spirits and the smell of squalid
humanity seemed to Tom to be even more horrible than the effluvium of
the grease-laden hold.
"Captain Miggs in?" asked McPherson of a rubicund, white-aproned
personage behind the bar.
"Yes, sir. He's in his room, sir, and expectin' you. There's a gent
with him, sir, but he told me to send you up. This way, sir."
They were pushing their way through the crowd to reach the door which
led behind the bar, when Tom's attention was arrested by the
conversation of a very seedy-looking individual who was leaning with his
elbows upon the zinc-covered counter.
"You take my tip," he said to an elderly man beside him. "You stick to
the beer. The sperits in here is clean poison, and it's a sin and a
shame as they should be let sell such stuff to Christian men.
See here--see my sleeve!" He showed the threadbare cuff of his coat,
which was corroded away in one part, as by a powerful acid. "I give ye
my word I done that by wiping my lips wi' it two or three times after
drinkin' at this bar. That was afore I found out that the whisky was
solid vitriol. If thread and cotton can't stand it, how's the linin' of
a poor cove's stomach, I'd like to know?"
"I wonder," thought Tom to himself, "if one of these poor devils goes
home and murders his wife, who ought to be hung for it? Is it he, or
that smug-faced villain behind the bar, who, for the sake of the gain of
a few greasy coppers, gives him the poison that maddens him?" He was
still pondering over this knotty point when they were ushered into the
That worthy was leaning back in a rocking-chair with his feet perched
upon the mantelpiece and a large glass of rum arid water within reach of
his great leathery hand. Opposite him, in a similar chair and with a
similar glass, was no less an individual than our old acquaintance, Von
Baumser. As a mercantile clerk in the London office of a Hamburg firm
the German was thrown into contact with the shippers of the African
fleet, and had contracted a special alliance with the bibulous Miggs,
who was a social soul in his hours of relaxation.
"Come in, my hearties, come in!" he cried huskily. "Take a seat, Mr.
Dimsdale. And you, Sandy, can't you bring yourself to your berth
without being asked? You should know your moorings by this time.
This is my friend, Mr. Von Baumser from Eckermann's office."
"And dis, I think, is Mr. Dimsdale," said the German, shaking hands with
Tom. "I have heard my very goot vriend, Major Clutterbuck, speak of
your name, sir."
"Ah, the old major," Tom answered. "Of course, I remember him well."
"He is not so very old either," said Von Baumser, in a somewhat surly
voice. "He has been took by a very charming and entirely pleasant
woman, and they are about to be married before three months, the one to
the other. Let me tell you, sir, I, who have lived with him so long,
dat I have met no man for whom I have greater respect than for the
major, however much they give him pills at a club or other such
"Fill your glasses," Miggs broke in, pushing over the bottle of rum.
"There are weeds in that box--never paid duty, either the one or the
other. By the Lord, Sandy, a couple of days ago we hardly hoped ever to
be yarning here."
"It was rather beyond our prognostication, sir," said the mate, taking a
pull at his rum.
"It was that! A nasty sea on, Mr. Dimsdale, sir, and the old ship so
full o' water that she could not rise to it. They were making a clean
breach over us, and we lost nigh everything we could lose."
"I suppose you'll have her thoroughly repaired now?" Tom remarked.
Both the skipper and the mate laughed heartily at the observation.
"That wouldn't do, Sandy, would it?" said Miggs, shaking his head.
"We couldn't afford to have our screw cut down like that."
"Cut down! You don't mean to say you are paid in proportion to the
rottenness of the ships?"
"There ain't no use makin' a secret of it among friends," said Miggs.
"That's just how the land lies with us. A voyage or two back I spoke to
Mr. Girdlestone, and I says to him, says I, 'Give the ship an
overhauling,' says I. 'Well and good,' says he, 'but it will mean so
much off your wage,' says he, 'and the mate's wage as well.' I put it
to him straight and strong, but he stuck at that. So Sandy and me, we
put our heads together, and we 'greed It was better to take fifteen
pound and the risk, than come down to twelve pound and safety."
"It is scandalous!" cried Tom Dimsdale hotly. "I could not have
"God bless ye! it's done every day, and will be while there is insurance
money to be gained," said Miggs, blowing a blue cloud up to the ceiling.
"It's an easy thing to turn a few thousands a year while there are old
ships to be bought, and offices which will insure them above their
value. There was D'Arcy Campbell, of the _Silvertown_--what a trade
that man did! He was smart--tarnation smart! Collisions was his line,
and he worked 'em well. There warn't a skipper out of Liverpool as
could get run down as nat'ral as he could."
"Get run down?"
"Aye. He'd go lolloping about in the Channel if there was any fog on,
steering for the lights o' any steamers or headin' round for all the fog
whistles if it was too thick to see. Sooner or later, as sure as fate,
he'd get cut down to the water's edge. Lor', it was a fine game!
Half a 'yard o' print about his noble conduc' in the newspapers, and
maybe a leader about the British tar and unexpected emergencies.
It once went the length o' a subscription. Ha! ha!" Miggs laughed until
"And what became of this British star?" asked the German.
"He's still about. He's in the passenger trade now."
"Potztausand!" Von Baumser ejaculated. "I would not go as a passenger
with him for something."
"There's many a way that it's done, sir," the mate added, filling up his
glass again, and passing the bottle to the captain. "There's loadin' a
cranky vessel wi' grain in bulk without usin' partition boards. If you
get a little water in, as you are bound to do with a ship o' that kind,
the grain will swell and swell until it bursts the seams open, and down
ye go. Then there's ignition o' coal gas aboard o' steamers. That's a
safe game, for nobody can deny it. And there are accidents to
propellers. If the shaft o' a propeller breaks in heavy weather it's a
bad look-out. I've known ships leave the docks with their propellers
half sawn through all round. Lor', there's no end o' the tricks o' the
"I cannot believe, however," said Tom stoutly, "that Mr. Girdlestone
connives at such things."
"He's on the waitin' lay," the seaman answered. "He doesn't send 'em
down, but he just hangs on, and keeps his insurances up, and trusts in
Providence. He's had some good hauls that way, though not o' late.
There was the _Belinda_ at Cape Palmas. That was five thousand, clear,
if it was a penny. And the _Sockatoo_--that was a bad business!
She was never heard of, nor her crew. Went down at sea, and left no
"The crew too!" Tom cried with horror. "But how about yourselves, if
what you say is true?"
"We are paid for the risk," said both the seamen, shrugging their
"But there are Government inspectors?"
"Ha! ha! I dare say you've seen the way some o' them do their work!"
Tom's mind was filled with consternation at what he had heard. If the
African merchant were capable of this, what might he not be capable of?
Was his word to be depended on under any circumstances? And what sort
of firm must this be, which turned so fair a side to the world and in
which he had embarked his fortune? All these thoughts flashed through
his mind as he listened to the gossip of the garrulous old sea dogs.
A greater shock still, however, was in store for him.
Von Baumser had been listening to the conversation with an amused look
upon his good-humoured face. "Ah!" said he, suddenly striking in,
"I vill tell you something of your own firm which perhaps you do not
know. Have you heard dat Mr. Ezra Girdlestone is about to be married?"
"To be married!"
"Oh yes; I have heard It dis morning at Eckermann's office. I think it
is the talk of the City."
"Who's the gal?" Miggs asked, with languid interest.
"I disremember her name," Von Baumser answered. "It is a girl the major
has met--the young lady who has lived in the same house, and is vat they
call a warder."
"Not--not his ward?" cried Tom, springing to his feet and turning as
white as a sheet. "Not Miss Harston? You don't tell me that he is
going to marry Miss Harston?"
"Dat is the name. Miss Harston it is, sure enough."
"It is a lie--an infamous lie!" Tom cried hotly.
"So it may be," Von Baumser answered serenely. "I do but say vat I have
heard, and heard more than once on good authority."
"If it is true there is villainy in it," cried Tom, with wild eyes,
"the blackest villainy that ever was done upon earth. I'll go--I'll see
him to-night. By heavens, I shall know the truth!" He rushed furiously
downstairs and through the bar. There was a cab near the door.
"Drive into London!" he cried; "69, Eccleston Square. I am on fire to
be there!" The cabman sprang on the box, and they rattled away as fast
as the horse would go.
This sudden exit caused, as may be imagined, considerable surprise in
the parlour of the _Cock and Cowslip_.
"He's a vera tumultuous young man," the mate remarked. "He was off like
a clipper in a hurricane."
"I perceive," said Von Baumser, "dat he has left his hat behind him.
I do now remember dat I have heard his name spoken with dat of dis very
young lady by my good vriend, the major."
"Then he's jealous belike," said Hamilton Miggs, with a knowing shake of
the head. "I've felt that way myself before now. I rounded on Billy
Barlow, o' the _Flying Scud_, over that very thing, twelve months ago
come Christmas. But I don't think it was the thing for this young chap
to cut away and never say 'With your leave,' or 'By your leave,' or as
much as 'Good night, gentlemen all.' It ain't what you call straight up
"It's transcendental," said the mate severely; "that is what I call it."
"Ah, my vriends," the German put in, "when a man is in love you must
make excuses for him. I am very sure dat he did mean no offence."
In spite of this assurance Captain Hamilton Miggs continued to be very
sore upon the point. It was only by dint of many replenishings of his
glass and many arguments that his companions could restore him to his
pristine good humour. Meanwhile, the truant was speeding through the
night with a fixed determination in his heart that he should have before
morning such an understanding, one way or the other, as would never
again leave room for a doubt.
A CRISIS AT ECCLESTON SQUARE.
His father's encouraging words had given Ezra Girdlestone fresh heart,
and he had renewed his importunities with greater energy than ever.
Never surely did any man devote every moment of his time more completely
to the winning of a woman's heart. From morning until night the one
idea was ever before his mind and every little want of Kate's was
forestalled with a care and foresight which astonished her. The richest
fruit and flowers found their way unexpectedly into her room; her table
was littered with the latest books from Mudie's, and the newest pieces
lay upon her music-stand. Nothing which attention and thoughtfulness
could do was left undone either by the father or the son.
In spite of these attentions, however, and the frequent solicitations of
her guardian, Kate stood firmly to her colours. If the Tom of the
present were false, she at least would be true to the memory of the Tom
of other days, the lad who had first whispered words of love into her
ears. Her ideal should remain with her whatever might befall. No other
man could ever take the place of that.
That Tom was from some unexplained and unaccountable reason false to her
appeared to be beyond all question. Her trusting and innocent heart
could not dream of the subtle network which was being wound round her.
Her secluded life had left her very ignorant of the ways of the world,
and the possibility of an elaborate deceit being practised upon her had
never occurred to her. From the day that she heard the extract of the
letter read by her guardian she never doubted but that such letters were
received at the office by the man who professed to love her. How could
she hesitate to believe it when it was confirmed by his avoidance of
Eccleston Square and of herself? The cause of it all was a mystery
which no amount of speculation could clear up. Sometimes the poor girl
would blame herself, as is the way of women in such cases. "I have not
seen enough of the world," she would say to herself. "I have none of
the charms of these women whom I read of in the novels. No doubt I
seemed dull and insipid in his eyes. And yet--and yet--" There always
remained at the end of her cogitations the same vague sense of
bewilderment and mystery.
She endeavoured as far as possible to avoid Ezra Girdlestone, and stay
in her room for the most part on the days when he was at home. He had,
however, on the advice of his father, ceased pressing his suit except in
the silent manner aforementioned, so that she gradually took courage,
and ended by resuming her old habits. In her heart she pitied the young
merchant very sincerely, for he was looking haggard and pale.
"Poor fellow," she thought as she watched him, "he certainly loves me.
Ah, Tom, Tom! had you only been as constant, how happy we should be!"
She was even prompted sometimes to cheer Ezra up by some kind word or
look. This he naturally took to be an encouragement to renew his
advances. Perhaps he was not far wrong, for if love be wanting pity is
occasionally an excellent substitute.
One morning after breakfast the elder Girdlestone called his son aside
into the library. "I've had a notice," he said, "as to paying up
dividends. Our time is short, Ezra. You must bring matters to a head.
If you don't it will be too late."
"You mustn't pick fruit before it is ripe," the other answered moodily.
"You can try if it is ripe, though. If not, you can try again. I think
that your chance is a good one. She is alone in the breakfast-room, and
the table has been cleared. You cannot have a better opening. Go, my
son, and may Heaven prosper you!"
"Very well. Do you wait in here, and I shall let you know how things
The young man buttoned up his coat, pulled down his cuffs, and walked
back into the breakfast-room with a sullen look of resolution upon his
Kate was sitting in a wicker chair by the window, arranging flowers in a
vase. The morning sunlight streaming in upon her gave a colour to her
pale face and glittered in her heavy coils of chestnut hair. She wore a
light pink morning dress which added to the ethereal effect of her lithe
beautiful figure. As Ezra entered she looked round and started at sight
of his face. Instinctively she knew on what errand he had come.
"You will be late at Fenchurch Street," she said, with a constrained
smile. "It is nearly eleven now."
"I am not going to the office to-day," he answered gravely. "I am come
in here, Kate, to know my fate. You know very well, and must have known
for some time back, that I love you. If you'll marry me you'll make me
a happy man, and I'll make you a happy woman. I'm not very eloquent and
that sort of thing, but what I say I mean. What have you to say in
answer?" He leaned his broad hands on the back of a chair as he spoke,
and drummed nervously with his fingers.
Kate had drooped her head over the flowers, but she looked up at him now
with frank, pitying eyes.
"Put this idea out of your head, Ezra," she said, in a low but firm
voice. "Believe me, I shall always be grateful to you for the kindness
which you have shown me of late. I will be a sister to you, if you will
let me, but I can never be more."
"And why not?" asked Ezra, still leaning over the chair, with an angry
light beginning to sparkle in his dark eyes. "Why can you never be my
"It is so, Ezra. You must not think of it. I am so sorry to grieve
"You can't love me, then," cried the young merchant hoarsely.
"Other women before now would have given their eyes to have had me.
Do you know that?"
"For goodness' sake, then go back to the others," said Kate, half amused
and half angry.
That suspicion of a smile upon her face was the one thing needed to set
Ezra's temper in a blaze. "You won't have me," he cried savagely.
"I haven't got the airs and graces of that fellow, I suppose.
You haven't got him out of your head, though he is off with another
"How dare you speak to me so?" Kate cried, springing to her feet in
"It's the truth, and you know it," returned Ezra, with a sneer.
"Aren't you too proud to be hanging on to a man who doesn't want you--
a man that is a smooth-tongued sneak, with the heart of a rabbit?"
"If he were here you would not dare to say so!" Kate retorted hotly.
"Wouldn't I?" he snarled fiercely.
"No, you wouldn't. I don't believe that he has ever been untrue to me.
I believe that you and your father have planned to make me believe it
and to keep us apart."
Heaven knows what it was that suddenly brought this idea most clearly
before Kate's mind. Perhaps it was that Ezra's face, distorted with
passion, gave her some dim perception of the wickedness of which such a
nature might be capable. The dark face turned so much darker at her
words that she felt a great throb of joy at her heart, and knew that
this strange new thought which had flashed upon her was the truth.
"You can't deny it," she cried, with shining eyes and clenched hands.
"You know that it is true. I shall see him and hear from his own lips
what he has to say. He loves me still, and I love him, and have never
ceased to love him."
"Oh, you do, do you?" snarled Ezra, taking a step forward, with a
devilish gleam in his eyes. "Your love may do him very little good.
We shall see which of us gets the best of it in the long run. We'll--"
His passion was so furious that he stopped, fairly unable to articulate
With a threatening motion of his hands he turned upon his heel and
rushed from the room. As he passed it chanced that Flo, Kate's little
Skye terrier, ran across his path. All the brutality of the man's soul
rose up in the instant. He raised his heavy boot, and sent the poor
little creature howling and writhing under the sofa, whence it piteously
emerged upon three legs, trailing the fourth one behind it.
"The brute!" Kate cried, as she fondled the injured animal and poured
indignant tears over it. Her gentle soul was so stirred by the cowardly
deed that she felt that she could have flown at her late suitor were he
still in the room. "Poor little Flo! That kick was meant for me in
reality, my little pet. Never mind, dear, there are bright days coming,
and he has not forgotten me, Flo. I know it! I know it!" The little
dog whined sympathetically, and licked its mistress's hand as though it
were looking into its canine future, and could also discern better days
Ezra Girdlestone, fierce and lowering, tramped into the library, and
told his father brusquely of the result of his wooing. What occurred in
that interview was never known to any third person. The servants, who
had some idea that something was afoot, have recorded that at the
beginning of the conversation the bass voice of the son and the high
raucous tones of the father were heard in loud recrimination and
reproach. Then they suddenly sunk into tones so low that there might
have been complete silence in the room for all that any one could tell
from the passage outside. This whispered conversation may have lasted
the greater part of an hour. At the end of it the young merchant
departed for the City. It has been remarked that from that time there
came a change over both the father and the son--a change so subtle that
It could hardly be described, though it left its mark upon them both.
It was not that the grey, wolfish face of the old man looked even greyer
and fiercer, or that the hard, arrogant expression of Ezra deepened into
something even more sinister. It was that a shadow hung over both their
brows--a vague indefinable shadow--as of men who carry a thought in
their minds on which it is not good to dwell.
During that long hour Kate had remained in the breakfast-room, still
nursing her injured companion, and very busy with her own thoughts.
She was as convinced now that Tom had been true to her as if she had had
the assurance from his own lips. Still there was much that was
unaccountable--much which she was unable to fathom. A vague sense of
the wickedness around her depressed and weighed her down. What deep
scheme could these men have invented to keep him away from her during
these long weeks? Was he, too, under some delusion, or the victim of
some conspiracy? Whatever had been done was certainly connived at by
her guardian. For the first time a true estimate of the character of
the elder Girdlestone broke upon her, and she dimly realized that the
pious, soft-spoken merchant was more to be dreaded than his brutal son.
A shudder ran through her whole frame as, looking up, she saw him
standing before her.
His appearance was far from reassuring. His hands were clasped behind
his back, his head bent forward, and he surveyed her with a most
malignant expression upon his face.
"Well done!" he said, with a bitter smile. "Well done! This is a good
morning's work, Miss Harston. You have repaid your father's friend for
the care he has bestowed upon you."
"My only wish is to leave your house," cried Kate, with an angry flash
in her deep blue eyes. "You are a cruel, wicked, hypocritical old man.
You have deceived me about Mr. Dimsdale. I read it in your son's face,
and now I read it in your own. How could you do it--oh, how could you
have the heart?"
John Girdlestone was fairly staggered by this blaze of feminine anger in
his demure and obedient ward. "God knows," he said, "whatever my faults
may have been, neglect of you has not been among them. I am not
immaculate. Even the just man falleth. If I have endeavoured to wean
you from this foolish love affair of yours, it has been entirely because
I saw that it was against your own interests."
"You have told lies in order to turn me away from the only man who ever
loved me. You and your odious son have conspired to ruin my happiness
and break my heart. What have you told him that keeps him away?
I shall see him and learn the truth." Kate's face was unnaturally calm
and rigid as she faced her guardian's angry gaze.
"Silence!" the old man cried hoarsely. "You forget your position in
this house. You are presuming too much upon my kindness. As to this
girl's fancy of yours, you may put all thought of it out of your head.
I am still your guardian, and I should be culpably remiss if I ever
allowed you to see this man again. This afternoon you shall come with
me to Hampshire."
"Yes. I have taken a small country seat there, where we intend to spend
some months of the winter. You shall leave it when you have reconciled
yourself to forget these romantic ideas of yours--but not till then."
"Then I shall never leave it," said Kate, with a sigh.
"That will depend upon yourself. You shall at least be guarded there
from the advances of designing persons. When you come of age you may
follow your own fancies. Until then my conscience demands, and the law
allows, that I should spare no pains to protect you from your own folly.
We start from Waterloo at four." Girdlestone turned for the door, but
looked round as he was leaving the room. "May God forgive you," he said
solemnly, raising his lean hands towards the ceiling, "for what you have
done this day!"
Poor Kate, left to herself, was much concerned by this fresh misfortune.
She knew that her guardian had power to carry out his plan, and that
there was no appeal from his decision. What could she do? She had not
a friend in the wide world to whom she could turn for advice or
assistance. It occurred to her to fly to the Dimsdales at Kensington,
and throw herself upon their compassion. It was only the thought of Tom
which prevented her. In her heart she had fully exonerated him, yet
there was much to be explained before they could be to each other as of
old. She might write to Mrs. Dimsdale, but then her guardian had not
told her what part of Hampshire they were going to. She finally came to
the conclusion that it would be better to wait, and to write when she
had reached her destination. In the meantime, she went drearily to her
room and began packing, aided by the ruddy-cheeked maid, Rebecca.
At half-past three a cab drove up to the door, and the old merchant
stepped out of it. The boxes were thrown upon the top, and the young
lady curtly ordered to get in. Girdlestone took his seat beside her,
and gave a sign to the cabman to drive on. As they rattled out of the
square, Kate looked back at the great gloomy mansion in which she had
spent the last three years of her life. Had she known what the future
was to bring, it is possible that she would have clung even to that
sombre and melancholy old house as to an ark of safety.
Another cab passed through Eccleston Square that evening--a cab which
bore a pale-faced and wild-eyed young man, who looked ever and anon
impatiently out of the window to see if he were nearing his destination.
Long before reaching No. 69 he had opened the door, and was standing
upon the step. The instant that the cab pulled up he sprang off, and
rang loudly at the great brass bell which flanked the heavy door.
"Is Mr. Girdlestone in?" he asked, as Rebecca appeared at the door.
"Miss Harston, is she at home?" he said excitedly.
"No, sir. They have both gone away."
"Yes. Gone into the country, sir. And Mr. Ezra, too, sir."
"And when are they coming back?" he asked, in bewilderment.
"They are not coming back."
"Impossible!" Tom cried in despair. "What is their address, then?"
"They have left no address. I am sorry I can't help you. Good night,
sir." Rebecca closed the door, laughing maliciously at the visitor's
bewildered looks. She knew the facts of the case well, and having long
been jealous of her young mistress, she was not sorry to find things
going wrong with her.
Tom Dimsdale stood upon the doorstep looking blankly into the night.
He felt dazed and bewildered. What fresh villainy was this? Was it a
confirmation of the German's report, or was it a contradiction of it?
Cold beads stood upon his forehead as he thought of the possibility of
such a thing. "I must find her," he cried, with clenched hands, and
turned away heartsick into the turmoil and bustle of the London streets.
A CONVERSATION IN THE ECCLESTON SQUARE LIBRARY.
Rebecca, the fresh-complexioned waiting-maid, was still standing behind
the ponderous hall door, listening, with a smile upon her face, to young
Dimsdale's retreating footsteps, when another and a brisker tread caught
her ear coming from the opposite direction. The smile died away as she
heard it, and her features assumed a peculiar expression, in which it
would be hard to say whether fear or pleasure predominated. She passed
her hands up over her face and smoothed her hair with a quick nervous
gesture, glancing down at the same time at her snowy apron and the
bright ribbons which set it off. Whatever her intentions may have been,
she had no time to improve upon her toilet before a key turned in the
door and Ezra Girdlestone stepped into the hall. As he saw her shadowy
figure, for the gas was low, he uttered a hoarse cry of surprise and
fear, and staggered backwards against the door-post.
"Don't be afeared, Mister Ezra," she said in a whisper; "it's only me."
"The devil take you!" cried Ezra furiously. "What makes you stand about
like that? You gave me quite a turn."
"I didn't mean for to do it. I've only just been answering of the door.
Why, surely you've come in before now and found me in the hall without
making much account of it."
"Ah, lass," answered Ezra, "my nerves have had a shake of late.
I've felt queer all day. Look how my hand shakes."
"Well, I'm blessed!" said the girl, with a titter, turning up the gas.
"I never thought to see you afeared of anything. Why, you looks as
white as a sheet!"
"There, that's enough!" he answered roughly. "Where are the others?"
"Jane is out. Cook and William and the boy are downstairs."
"Come into the library here. They will think that you are up in the
bedrooms. I want to have a quiet word or two with you. Turn up that
reading lamp. Well, are they gone?"
"Yes, they are gone," she answered, standing by the side of the couch on
which he had thrown himself. "Your father came about three with a cab,
and took her away."
"She didn't make a fuss?"
"Make a fuss? No; why should she? There's fuss enough made about her,
in all conscience. Oh, Ezra, before she got between us you was kind to
me at times. I could stand harsh words from you six days a week, if
there was a chance of a kind one on the seventh. But now--now what
notice do you take of me?" She began to whimper and to wipe her eyes
with a little discoloured pocket-handkerchief.
"Drop it, woman, drop it!" cried her companion testily. "I want
information, not snivelling. She seemed reconciled to go?"
"Yes, she went quiet enough," the girl said, with a furtive sob.
"Just give me a drop of brandy out of that bottle over there--the one
with the cork half out. I've not got over my start yet. Did you hear
my father say anything as to where they were going?"
"I heard him tell the cabman to drive to Waterloo Station."
"Well, if he won't tell you, I will. They have gone down to Hampshire,
my lass. Bedsworth is the name of the place, and it is a pleasant
little corner near the sea. I want you to go down there as well
"Want me to go?"
"Yes; they need some one who is smart and handy to keep house for them.
There is some old woman already, I believe, but she is old and useless.
I'll warrant you wouldn't take long getting things shipshape. My father
intends to stay down there some little time with Miss Harston."
"And how about you?" the girl asked, with a quick flash of suspicion in
her dark eyes.
"Don't trouble about me. I shall stay behind and mind the business.
Some one must be on the spot. I think cook and Jane and William ought
to be able to look after me among them."
"And I won't see you at all?" the girl cried, with a quiver in her
"Oh yes, you shall. I'll be down from Saturday to Monday every week,
and perhaps oftener. If business goes well I may come down and stay
for some time. Whether I do or not may depend upon you."
Rebecca Taylforth started and uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"How can it depend upon me?" she asked eagerly.
"Well," said Ezra, in a hesitating way, "it may depend upon whether you
are a good girl, and do what you are told or not. I am sure that you
would do anything to serve me, would you not?"
"You know very well that I would, Mister Ezra. When you want anything
done you remember it, but if you have no use for me, then there is never
a kind look on your face or a kind word from your lips. If I was a dog
you could not use me worse. I could stand your harshness. I could
stand the blow you gave me, and forgive you for it, from my heart; but,
oh! it cut me to the very soul to be standing by and waiting while you
were making up to another woman. It was more than I can bear."
"Never mind, my girl," said Ezra in a soothing voice; "that's all over
and done with. See what I've brought you." He rummaged in his pocket
and produced a little parcel of tissue paper, which he handed to her.
It was only a small silver anchor, with Scotch pebbles inlaid in it.
The woman's eyes, however, flashed as she looked at it, and she raised
it to her lips and kissed it passionately.
"God bless it and you too!" she said. "I've heard tell as the anchor's
the emblem of hope, and so it shall be with me. Oh, Ezra, you may
travel far and meet them as can play and can sing and do many a thing as
I can't do, but you'll never get one who will love you as dearly and
"I know it, my lass, I know it," said Ezra, smoothing down her dark
hair, for she had dropped upon her knees beside the couch. "I've never
met your equal yet. That's why I want you down at Bedsworth. I must
have some one there that I can trust.
"What am I to do down at Bedsworth?" she asked.
"I want you to be Miss Harston's companion. She'll be lonely, and will
need some other woman in the house to look after her."
"Curse her!" cried Rebecca, springing to her feet with flashing eyes.
"You are still thinking of her, then! She must have this; she must have
that! Everything else is as dirt before her. I'll not serve her--so
there! You can knock me down if you like."
"Rebecca," said Ezra slowly, "do you hate Kate Harston?"
"From the bottom of my soul," she answered.
"Well, if you hate her, I tell you that I hate her a thousand times
more. You thought that I was fond of her. All that is over now, and
you may set your mind at ease."
"Why do you want her so well cared for, then?" asked the girl
"I want some one who feels towards her as I do to be by her side.
If she were never to come back from Bedsworth it would be nothing to
"What makes you look at me so strangely?" she said, shrinking away from
his intense gaze.
"Never mind. You go. You will understand many things in time which
seem strange to you now. At present if you will do what I ask you will
oblige me greatly. Will you go?"
"Yes, I will go."
"There's a good lass. Give us a kiss, my girl. You have the right
spirit in you. I'll let you know when the train goes to-morrow, and I
will write to my father to expect you. Now, off with you, or you'll
have them gossiping downstairs. Good night."
"Good night, Mister Ezra," said the girl, with her hand upon the handle
of the library door. "You've made my heart glad this night. I live in
hope--ever in hope."
"I wonder what the deuce she hopes about," the young merchant said to
himself as she closed the door behind her. "Hopes I'll marry her, I
suppose. She must be of a very sanguine disposition. A girl like that
might be invaluable down at Bedsworth. If we had no other need for her,
she would be an excellent spy." He lay for some little time on the
couch with bent brow and pursed lips, musing over the possibilities of
While this dialogue had been going on in the library of Eccleston
Square, Tom Dimsdale was still wending his way homewards with a feeling
of weight in his mind and a presentiment of misfortune which
overshadowed his whole soul. In vain he assured himself that this
disappearance of Kate's was but temporary, and that the rumour of an
engagement between her and Ezra was too ridiculous to be believed for a
moment. Argue it as he would, the same dread, horrible feeling of
impending trouble weighed upon him. Impossible as it was to imagine
that Kate was false to him, it was strange that on the very day that
this rumour reached his ears she should disappear from London.
How bitterly he regretted now that he had allowed himself to be
persuaded by John Girdlestone into ceasing to communicate with her.
He began to realize that he had been duped, and that all these specious
promises as to a future consent to their union had been so many baits to
amuse him while the valuable present was slipping away. What could he
do now to repair the past? His only course was to wait for the morrow
and see whether the senior partner would appear at the offices.
If he did so, the young man was determined that he should have an
understanding with him.
So downcast was Tom that, on arriving at Phillimore Gardens, he would
have slipped off to his room at once had he not met his burly father
upon the stairs. "Bed!" roared the old man upon hearing his son's
proposition. "Nothing of the sort, sir. Come down into the parlour and
smoke a pipe with me. Your mother has been waiting for you all the
"I am sorry to be late, mother," the lad said, kissing the old lady.
"I have been down at the docks all day and have been busy and worried."
Mrs. Dimsdale was sitting in her chair beside the fire, knitting, when
her son came in. At the sound of his voice she glanced anxiously up at
his face, with all her motherly instincts on the alert.
"What is it, my boy?" she said. "You don't look yourself.
Something has gone wrong with you. Surely you're not keeping anything
secret from your old mother?"
"Don't be so foolish as that, my boy," said the doctor earnestly.
"If you have anything on your mind, out with it. There's nothing so far
wrong but that it can't be set right, I'll be bound."
Thus pressed, their son told them all that had happened, the rumour
which he had heard from Von Baumser at the _Cock and Cowslip_, and the
subsequent visit to Eccleston Square. "I can hardly realize it all
yet," he said in conclusion. "My head seems to be in a whirl, and I
can't reason about it."
The old couple listened very attentively to his narrative, and were
silent some little time after he had finished. His mother first broke
the silence. "I was always sure," she said, "that we were wrong to stop
our correspondence at the request of Mr. Girdlestone."
"It's easy enough to say that now," said Tom ruefully. "At the time it
seemed as if we had no alternative."
"There's no use crying over spilt milk," remarked the old physician, who
had been very grave during his son's narrative. "We must set to work
and get things right again. There is one thing very certain, Tom, and
that is that Kate Harston is a girl who never did or could do a
dishonourable thing. If she said that she would wait for you, my boy,
you may feel perfectly safe; and if you doubt her for one moment you
ought to be deuced well ashamed of yourself."
"Well said, governor!" cried Tom, with beaming face. "Now, that is
exactly my own feeling, but there is so much to be explained. Why have
they left London, and where have they gone to?"
"No doubt that old scoundrel Girdlestone thought that your patience
would soon come to an end, so he got the start of you by carrying the
girl off into the country."
"And if he has done this, what can I do?"
"Nothing. It is entirely within his right to do it."
"And have her stowed away in some little cottage in the country, with
that brute Ezra Girdlestone hanging round her all the time. It is the
thought of that that drives me wild."