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Title: Young Mr. Barter's Repentance - From "Schwartz" by David Christie Murray
Author: Murray, David Christie
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Young Mr. Barter's Repentance - From "Schwartz" by David Christie Murray" ***

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YOUNG MR. BARTER'S REPENTANCE

By David Christie Murray

Author Of 'Aunt Rachel,' 'The Weaker Vessel,' Etc.



I

Mr Bommaney was a British merchant of the highest rectitude and the most
spotless reputation. He traded still under the name of Bommaney, Waite,
and Co., though Waite had been long since dead, and the Company had
gone out of existence in his father's time. The old offices, cramped and
inconvenient, in which the firm had begun life eighty years before,
were still good enough for Mr. Bommaney, and they had an air of solid
respectability which newer and flashier places lacked. The building
of which they formed a part stood in Coalporter's Alley, opposite
the Church of St. Mildred, and the hum of the City's traffic scarcely
sounded in that retired and quiet locality.

Mr. Bommaney himself was a man of sixty, hale and hearty, with a rosy
face and white whiskers. He was a broad-shouldered man, inclining to be
portly, and he was currently accepted as a man of an indomitable
will. There was no particular reason for the popular belief in his
determination apart from the fact that it was a favourite boast of his
that nothing ever got him down. On all occasions and in all companies he
was wont to declare that no conceivable misfortune could really break
a man of spirit. He confessed to a pitying sympathy for mealy-willed
people (and everybody knew that Bommaney, in spite of his own strength
of mind, was one of the kindliest creatures in the world); but, whenever
he met a man in trouble, he would clip him by the shoulder, and would
say, in his own hearty fashion, 'You must look the thing in the face, my
boy. Look it in the face. I'd never let anything break _me_ down.'

Since his reputation for fortitude was as solid and as old-fashioned
amongst the people who knew him as his business character itself, it
would have come as something of a shock upon any of his friends if he
could but have been seen by them, or any credible man amongst them, on a
certain afternoon in the April of 1880. He had locked himself in his own
room, and, sitting there in a big chair before a businesslike desk, with
a great number of docketed papers in pigeon-holes, and a disordered mass
of papers strewn before him, the determined Mr. Bommaney, the decided
Mr. Bommaney, the Mr. Bommaney whom no misfortune could subdue, was
crying, very feebly and quietly, and was mopping his rosy cheeks, and
blowing his nose in an utter and unrestraining abandonment to trouble.

There was another fact which would have come upon his friends with an
equal shock of surprise if they could but have had it brought home to
them. The man who sat unaffectedly crying in the big chair in helpless
contemplation of the scattered papers was a hopeless bankrupt, and had
seen himself sliding towards bankruptcy for years. When men who knew him
wanted business advice, they went to him by preference, and nobody came
away empty. He knew the City and its intricacies like a book. He knew
who was safe and who was shaky, as if by a kind of instinct, and he knew
where and when to invest, and where and when not to invest, as few men
did. 'You can't get at me,' he would say; for, old-fashioned as he was,
he used a little of the new-fashioned slang to give spice and vigour to
his conversation. 'There isn't a move on the board that I don't know.'
He advised his friends excellently, and there were perhaps half a score
of fairly well-to-do speculative people who had to thank him, and him
alone, for the comfort they lived in and the consideration they enjoyed.
He had been wise for others all his life, and in his own interests he
had always acted like a greenhorn. He talked loudly, he spent freely,
he paid his way, he expressed the soundest business maxims, and was as
shrewd in detail as he was wise in generalities, and these things made a
natural reputation for him: whilst he traded for years at the expense of
his capital, and went steadily and surely towards the bottomless gulf of
insolvency. Now he was on the very verge of it, and to-morrow he would
be in it. It lent a feeble sting to his sufferings to know how surprised
people would be, and how completely men would find him out.

He had not very profoundly involved other people in his own ruin, but he
had gone a little farther than a man altogether brave, and honourable,
and clearsighted would have ventured, and he knew that some would suffer
with him. He might have made arrangements to go a little farther still
if he had been courageous, clear-sighted, and dishonest, and might have
held his head up for another matter too, perhaps. But he had lacked the
nerve for that, and had never consciously been a rogue. He felt even
now a pride of honesty. He had been unfortunate, and his creditors would
have everything--everything.

He thanked God that Phil's mother had tied her money on her only son,
and that the boy at least had enough to begin the world with. How should
he face Phil when he came home again? How should he send the news to
him? The lad was away enjoying himself, travelling all round the world
with a wandering Baronet, who owned a yacht and had an unappeasable
taste for the destruction of big game. He would have to surrender his
fashionable and titled acquaintance now, poor fellow, and begin the
world with a disgraced and broken frame to be a drag and hindrance
to him. The more Mr. Bommaney thought of these things, the more
unrestrainedly he cried; and the more he cried, the less he felt able or
inclined to control his tears.

He wept almost silently, only an occasional sniff betraying his emotion
to his ear. He had always held his head so high, and had been so
believed in. It was very bitter.

Whilst he was in the midst of this childish abandonment to his grief a
set of knuckles softly and hesitatingly tapped the door from without,
and directly afterwards a hand made a tentative respectful sort of
attempt upon the handle.

'Who's there?' cried Mr. Bommaney, steadying his voice as best he could.

'A gentleman to see you, sir,' answered a smooth voice outside.

Mr. Bommaney pushed back his chair, rose to his feet, and retiring to a
smaller room consulted a little square looking-glass which hung upon
the wall above his washing-stand. His blue eyes were very tearful and a
little swollen, his cheeks and nose looked as if they had been scalded.

'Wait a moment,' he said aloud, and his voice betrayed him by a break.
He blushed and trembled, thinking that Mr. Hornett, his confidential
clerk, would know how he was breaking down, and would speak of his
want of courage and self-command hereafter. The reflection nerved
him somewhat, and he sluiced his face with water, making a little
unnecessary noise of splashing to tell the listener how he was engaged.
He polished his face with the towel, and, consulting the mirror again,
thought he looked a little better.

Then he re-entered his business room, and turning the key in the lock
opened the door slightly, a mere inch or two.

'Who is it?'

'A Mr. Brown, sir,' said the smooth voice outside. The clerk insinuated
a card through the space between the door and door-jamb, and Mr.
Bommaney took it from his fingers without revealing himself. He had
some difficulty in making out its inscription, for his eyes were newly
tearful, and, whilst he peered at it, a reflex of his late emotions
brought a sniffling sob again. He was freshly ashamed at this, and said
hastily,

'Five minutes' time. I will ring when I am ready. Ask the gentleman to
wait.'

Mr. James Hornett softly closed the door, and stood on the landing with
long lean fingers scraping at his lantern jaws. He was a little man,
short of stature, and sparely built. His skin was vealy in complexion,
and he had wiry hair of a russet-red. Even when he was clean shaven his
fingers rasped upon his hollow cheeks with a faint sound. His nose and
chin were long and pointed, and his manner was meek and self-effacing
even when he was alone. There was a tinge of wonder in his face, at war
with an habitual smile, in which his eyes had no part.

'Something wrong?' he said, under his breath. He went creeping softly
down the stairs. 'Something wrong? Mr. Bommaney in tears? Mr. Bommaney!'

Could anything have happened to Mr. Phil? That was the only thing Mr.
Hornett could think of as being likely to affect his employer in that
way.

Now Mr. Hornett had been in his present employ for thirty years, man
and boy, and he was human. Therefore, when at the expiration of a
little more than five minutes' time Mr. Bommaney's bell rang, he himself
ushered the visitor upstairs, and in place of retiring to his own pew
below stairs, lingered in a desert little apartment rarely used, and
then stole out upon the landing and listened. He was the more prompted
to this because the visitor, who had a bucolic hearty aspect, and was
very talkative, had told him downstairs that Mr. Bommaney and himself
were old friends and schoolfellows, and had been in each other's
confidence for years.

'I am afraid, sir,' Mr. Hornett had said, when the visitor first
presented himself, 'that Mr. Bommaney may not be able to see you at
present. He gave orders not to be disturbed.'

'Not see me?' said the visitor with a laugh. 'I'll engage he will.'
And then followed the statement about his old acquaintanceship with Mr.
Hornett's employer.

If there were anything to be told at all, it seemed not unlikely that
this visitor might be the recipient of the intelligence, and Mr. Hornett
lingered to find if haply he might overhear. He heard nothing that
enlightened him as to the reasons for his employer's disturbance, but
heard most that passed between the two.

Bommaney had succeeded in composing himself and in washing away the
traces of his tears. Then he had taken a stiffish dose of brandy and
water, and was something like his own man again. He received his
visitor cordially, and in his anxiety not to seem low-spirited was a
little more boisterous than common.

'I'm busy, you see,' he said, waving a hand at the papers scattered
on the desk, and keeping up the farce of prosperous merchandise to the
last, 'but I can spare _you_ a minute or two, old man. What brings you
up to town?'

'I've come here to settle,' said the visitor. He was a florid man with
crisp black hair with a hint of gray in it, and he was a countryman from
head to heel. He seemed a little disposed to flaunt his bucolics upon
the town, his hat, his necktie, his boots and gaiters, were of so
countrified a fashion, and yet he looked somehow more of a gentleman
than Bommaney.

'Yes,' he said, 'I've come to settle.' He rubbed his hands and laughed
here, not because there was anything humorous and amusing in his
thoughts, but out of sheer health and jollity of nature. Bommaney,
still distrustful of his own aspect, and afraid of being observed, sat
opposite to him with bent head and fidgeted with his papers, blindly
pretending to arrange them.

'To settle,' he said absently. Then, rousing himself with an effort, 'I
thought you hated London?'

'Ah, my boy,' said his visitor, 'when you're in the shafts with a whip
behind you, you've got to go where you are driven.'

'Yes,' said Bommaney mechanically, 'that is so. That _is_ so.'

The visitor was laughing and rubbing his hands again in perfect
happiness and self-contentment, and had no eye for Bommaney's
abstraction.

'Yes,' he said, 'it's Patty's doing. I've sold up every stick and stone,
and I've taken a house in Gower Street. Do you know, Bommaney,' he
added, with an air and voice suddenly serious and confidential, 'the
country's going to the devil. Land's sinking in value every year. I've
been farming at a growing loss these six years, and rents don't come in
as they used to do. I got my chance and I took it. Lord Bellamy wanted
to join the Mount Royal and the three estates. My little bit o' land
lay between 'em, and I sold it to him. Sold it, too, begad, as well as I
could have done half a dozen years ago.'

Then he laughed once more with great heartiness, and unbuttoning his
overcoat, groped in an inner pocket. After a struggle, in the course
of which he grew very red in the face, he drew forth a pocket-book of
unusual dimensions, and slapped it on the desk so vigorously that his
companion started.

'I got a tip the other day,' he went on; 'that old bank at Mount Royal,
Fellowes and Fellowes, is going to crack up, my boy. There's something
very queer in the commercial atmosphere just now, Bommaney. There are
lots of old-fashioned solid people breaking up.'

To Bommaney's uneasy fancy there was in his visitor's voice an accent
which sounded personal.

'I--I hope not,' he answered, somewhat feebly, 'so much depends----'
(he tried hard to rally himself), 'so much depends upon a spirit of
commercial confidence.'

'Exactly,' cried the visitor, laying hands' upon the pocket-book and
opening it. 'I went to the bank and saw young Fellowes myself. "Look
here, Fellowes," I told him, "I want my daughter's money." He stuck to
it, sir; like a dog holding on to a bone. He growled about it, and he
whined about it, said it wasn't fair to withdraw the money on short
notice. Said I couldn't do better with it anywhere, and at last I told
him, "Look here, Fellowes, I shall begin to think by and by there's
something wrong." He went as red as a turkey-cock, begad, and drew a
note on their London agent like a lord, and here I am with the money.
Eight thousand pounds.'

By this time he had drawn a bundle of bank-notes from the pocket-book,
and now sat flicking the edges of the notes with the tips of his great
broad fingers. Bommaney heard the crisp music, and looked up with a
momentary glance of hunger in his eyes.

'That's Patty's little private handful,' the visitor continued, opening
the packet of notes, and smoothing it upon his knee. 'Eighty notes of
a hundred. Pretty little handful, isn't it? They don't look,' he added,
with his head reflectively on one side and his eyebrows raised a little,
'they don't look as they'd buy as much as they will.'

Bommaney tried to find a commonplace word by answer, and an inaudible
something died drily in his throat. When his companion began to speak
again, the bankrupt merchant wondered that he made no comment on his
ghastly face--he knew his face was ghastly--or his shaking hands. There
was an intuition in his mind so strong and clear that he trembled at its
prophecy.

'Patty,' said the visitor, 'will have everything in time, and a pretty
good handful, too. But she's bent on being independent, and she wants to
have her own money in her own hands. She pretends it's all because she
wants to pay her milliner's bills, and that kind of thing, herself; but
I know better. The fact is'--he lowered his voice and chuckled--'the
fact is, she doesn't want me to know how much she spends in charity. You
look here, Bommaney'--the merchant's heart seemed to stand still, and
then to beat so wild an alarum that he wondered the other did not hear
it The intuition multiplied in strength. He heard beforehand the spoken
words, the very tones which marked them. 'You're a safe man, you're a
smart man. I suppose there isn't anybody in London who can lay out money
to more advantage than you can. I know it's a great favour to ask, but
I think you'll do it for Patty's sake and mine, if I do ask you. Take
this, and invest it for her. Will you, now?'

He stood up with the bundle of notes outstretched in his hand. The
merchant rose and accepted it, and looked him, with a sudden curious
calm and steadiness, straight in the face.



II

Mr. Bommaney was alone again, and if it had not been for the actual
presence of the bundle of bank-notes upon the table, he could well have
thought that the whole episode had been no more than a dreadful and
disturbing dream. It was very hard, he thought complainingly, that a man
should come and put so horrible a temptation in his way. He would not
yield to it--of course he would not yield to it. He had been an honest
and honourable man all his life long, and had never so much as felt a
monetary temptation until now. It was humiliating to feel it now--it
was horrible to have his fingers itching for another man's money, and
his heart coveting it, and his brain, in spite of himself, devising
countless means of use for it. It was quite unbearable to know that
the money _might_ tide him over his troubles and land him in prosperity
again, if he could only dare to use it, and risk engulfing it with the
lost wreckage of his own fortunes.

But no, no, no. He had never meant to use it. His only reason for
accepting it had been that he had not found the courage to declare his
true position to his old friend and school companion. Perhaps, he told
himself (trying to silence and cajole that inward monitor and accuser
who would not be silenced or cajoled), perhaps if Brown had been less
confident and truthful--if he had had less faith in his old companion's
powers as a man of business--it would have come easier to tell the
truth. And how futile a thing it was to stave off discovery for a single
day! How doubly ashamed he would have to feel after that poor pretence
of responsible solidity! If he had only been disposed to be tempted at
all--here surely was an added reason for yielding to temptation.

Obviously the first, and, indeed, the only thing to be done, was to
bank this money in Brown's name, and so have done with it; and yet
any feeling of haste in that respect would seem to imply a fear of
temptation, which he was, of course, quite resolute not to feel. He was
not going any more to run away from his own suspicion of himself than
he would have run from another man's. So, in and out, and up and down,
contradicting himself at every turning, with an underlying surety in his
mind so fast rooted and so dreadful that he did not dare to look at it.

When the adieux were being said between the old friends, Mr. James
Hornett had slid noiselessly downstairs, his mind inflated by pride.
He was not proud of having played the eavesdropper, for even in Mr.
Hornett's economy of things, that was an act to be proud of; but he was
very proud, indeed, to be associated with a gentleman so magnificently
respected as Mr. Bommaney. There were not so very many people, he
told himself, even in the City of London, which was full of wealth and
probity, into whose hands so large a sum would be placed with so little
a sense of the necessity of precaution. He felt as if he himself had
been treated in this majestic manner, and the feeling warmed his heart.
He bowed Mr. Brown from the office door with an _empressement_ which he
feared a moment later might almost have betrayed him, and he went about
his duties for the rest of the day in a mood of unusual contentment. The
earlier memory of his employer's disturbance crossed him sometimes, and
always excited his curiosity; but the later feeling dominated him. He
was delighted by his association with a concern so eminently respectable
as that of Bommaney, Waite, and Co.

Meanwhile Mr. Hornett's employer, with that dreadful rooted secret in
his mind, which he did not dare to look at, sat alone, looking with
staring eyes before him, and drumming in a regular tune upon the topmost
note of the terrible little pile. He had locked the notes away before
Brown's departure, but they had seemed to draw him to the safe with
almost a physical compulsion, and he had brought them out again to look
at them, to handle them, to count them, to resolve in his own mind that
he did not hanker after them, and was honourable to the core. It was so
new a thing to be tempted, that at times his own self-deception was made
easy to him. It did not occur to him to reflect that the need and the
means had never so presented themselves together until now, or that his
life-long honour had depended upon their absence.

When he had sat in silence for a while he awoke to the fact that the
interview had been nothing but a succession of shocks to him, and that
he was bodily exhausted. He rose, and, walking feebly to the inner room,
applied himself anew to the brandy bottle he kept there. He had gone
much too often to that deceptive solace lately, and he knew it; but each
successive visit carried its own excuses with it, and it had never in
any individual instance been worth while to resist a habit which it was
always easy to condemn in the main.

The brandy enlightened him and opened new sluices of emotion. Perhaps
for the moment he was a better man because of it. He seemed to wake to a
more determined sense of the enormity of the temptation which lay before
him. He thought of his own son, and a shadow took him from head to
foot as, in a brandified nervous vision, he beheld some shadowy
supposititious creature in the act of telling the tale to Phil. The vice
of drink has had the creation of many other vices laid to its charge,
but for once in the world's history the obfuscated vision was clearer
than the natural, and Philip drunk a better man, and a more righteous
and honourable, than Philip sober.

At bottom, Philip Bommaney knew himself too well to be at all sure that
this phase of feeling would endure with him; and in a half-conscious
dread of the return of that baser self, whose first appearance in
his history had so affrighted him, he hurriedly attired himself for
out-of-doors, crammed the bundle of notes into an inner pocket of his
overcoat, and, after a final appeal to the decanter, left his room with
a somewhat hysteric sense of courage and self-approval. He had been
tempted--he was ready to recognise that the temptation was over, that he
had well-nigh succumbed to it--but he had triumphed! He was a man again.
He had been weighed in the balances and not found wanting. There were
some tears in his eyes compounded of brandy and nerves and affections
and remorses as he hurried into the street. Phil should never be ashamed
of his father. Old Brown, who had trusted him like a brother, should
never learn to shun and hate him. He had to go under--the thing was
inevitable, unescapable, but he would at least go under like a man. His
heart beat to the tune of the 'Conquering Hero,' where it might have
beat to the 'Rogue's March,' but for that friendly nip of brandy and the
all-covering mercies of Heaven.

Quickly as his resolution had been taken, he had fully arranged for the
details of the task which lay before him. With the notes he had thrust
into his pocket a little handful of business papers involving a knotty
and delicate point of business, and he intended that the discussion of
the point they raised should act as the prelude to the disclosure and
the restitution he desired to make. He could not, even in his newfound
heroism, and with whatever hysteric hardihood he was prepared to meet
the stroke of fate, he could not as yet encounter Brown, and lay bare
before him the plot of the melancholy farce he had played an hour ago.
But there was an old friend of his, and an old friend of Brown's into
the bargain, a solicitor, keen as a needle and kindly as sunshine, one
Barter, whose business chambers were in Gable Inn, and who was of all
men the man he could confide in with least shame and best hope of help.
He hailed a cab, and bade the driver drive his fastest. Gable Inn lay
tranquil, the afternoon shadows already settling deeper on the little
quadrangle than on the broad and roaring thoroughfare without. There
was no light in the windows of the rooms in which Messrs. Fellowship,
Freemantle, and Barter had done business and received their clients
fifty years ago, and in which the sole surviving member of the
firm still maintained its old-established reputation for honour and
astuteness.

Bommaney was chilled by the silence and darkness of the rooms, and he
shivered to see the temptation he had conquered looming again before
him. He knocked loudly with a trembling hand, and the noise of iron
on iron went rolling and echoing up the staircase and came back in a
hollow, lonely, sounding murmur from the rooms within. His heart
sank, and a horrible fear of himself got hold of him. He had actually
conquered, and here was the fight to be fought over again with almost
a certainty of defeat at the end of it. Indeed, the defeat in that bare
moment of time had grown so certain, that he was conscious of a distinct
state of disappointment when a sudden footstep within the rooms answered
his noisy summons.

The door opened, and a young man stood before him, peering at him with
half-closed uncertain eyes through the dark. He was a young man of the
fleshly school, something too stout for his years, very pallid, and more
than commonly personable, with a fine broad forehead, fine frank eyes,
and features modelled with an engaging regularity. When he recognised
his visitor his pale and handsome face glittered with a sudden smile
of welcome, teeth and eyes gleaming quite brightly, and the whole face
lighting up in the pleasantest and friendliest fashion conceivable.

This agreeable expression faded into one of almost mechanical dolor, and
the personable young man shook hands with Mr. Bommaney sadly, and sighed
as if he suddenly recalled an idea that sighing was a duty.

'Come in, Mr. Bommaney,' he said. 'Come in, sir. I have sent home all
the clerks, and was just about to lock up for the night. To what do I
owe the pleasure of this visit? Let me light the gas.'

Bommaney, the door being closed behind him, stumbled along the darkened
passage after the more assured and accustomed steps of young Mr. Barter,
and the inner office being gained, and the gas being lighted, allowed
himself to be motioned to a chair. What with having been too much
agitated by the contemplation of his troubles to be able to eat at all
that day, and what with the fight he had had with his temptations, and
the too frequent applications he had made to the brandy, it happened
that for the moment he was by no means certain of his purpose. He sat
for a little while wondering rather hazily what had brought him there.
As often happens with absent-minded people, his hands remembered what
had been required of them before his brain began to act again, and by
and by the fact that he had unbuttoned his overcoat, and had taken a
bundle of papers from his pocket, recalled him to his purpose.

'I wanted,' he said, emerging from his haze, and holding the bundle of
papers nervously in both hands, 'I wanted to see your father upon very
special and urgent business.'

'My father?' the young man answered, with a look and accent of pained
surprise. 'Do you mean to say, sir, that you haven't heard the news?'

'The news?' cried Bommaney, feeling blindly as if some new misfortune
threatened him. 'What news?'

'My father, sir,' said young Mr. Barter, with a certain blending of
professional airs, something of a legal impress mingled with something
of the manner of a medical man conveying mournful intelligence to the
relatives of a patient, 'my father, sir, was struck down by an omnibus
in the street this morning. He is terribly injured, and not expected to
recover.'

'God bless my soul!' Bommaney cried out. His chin fell upon his breast,
and his eyes stared at the floor, seeing nothing. He felt like a man
upon a raft, who sees the bindings of the frail thing break apart.
Shipwrecked already, and now the last hope gone! He hardly knew, if he
could have asked himself the question clearly, why he so particularly
desired to see Barter. He hardly knew what Barter could have done for
him, except to listen to his troubles and take charge of the eight
thousand pounds which tempted him, and yet the disappointment seemed as
heavy and as hard to bear as anything he had hitherto endured. He sat
staring forlornly before him, with tears in his eyes, and young Mr.
Barter, in much astonishment at his susceptibility and tenderness, sat
watching him. Something slid from Bommaney's hands with a rustle, and
dropped upon the floor. Young Mr. Barter made a mere hint or beginning
of a movement, as if he would have picked it up for him. Bommaney
made no movement at all, but stared before him with his blue-gray eyes
filling more and more with tears, until two or three brimmed over and
trickled down his cheeks. He said, 'God bless my soul!' once more,
mechanically, and restored what remained of his bundle of papers to his
pocket. Young Mr. Barter looked with one swift and vivid glance from the
fallen bundle to his guest's face, then back again. Bommaney rose from
his seat, buttoned his overcoat with awkward and lingering fingers, and
put on his hat. He was evidently unconscious of his own tears, and made
no attempt to disguise them, or to wipe them away. He said, 'God bless
my soul!' a third time, and then, shaking young Mr. Barter by the hand,
murmured that he was sorry, very sorry, and so went stupidly away.
Young Mr. Barter accompanied him to the door, casting a strange backward
glance at the papers as he left the room, and was curiously voluble in
his dismissal of his visitor. Anything he could do--Mr. Bommaney might
rest perfectly assured--the clerks would be back to-morrow in any
case--he would advise Mr. Bommaney of his father's condition by that
night's post--he himself was naturally most profoundly anxious. In this
wise he talked Bommaney from the chambers, and when once he had closed
the door behind him, went back along the dark little corridor with
an unnecessarily catlike tread. He could hardly have been other than
certain that he was alone, yet when he reached the inner room he looked
about him with a keen quick darting suspicion, and for half a minute
ignored the fallen papers on the floor.

'Dear me!' he said, when at length he suffered his eyes to rest upon
them. 'What can that be? How did that come here?'

He stooped, picked up the papers, laid them upon his desk, and smoothed
them out, making a fold lengthways to counteract the creases into which
they had already fallen. He saw a crisp clean Bank of England note for a
hundred pounds, and, lifting it, found another. Then he lifted half the
bundle, and, finding a note of the same value, gave an inward gasp, and
expelled his breath slowly after it. Then he looked at the last note
of all, and sat down with the whole bundle in his hands. His pale and
fleshy features had taken an unusual colour, and his breathing was a
good deal disturbed. A watcher might have guessed that he was profoundly
agitated from the swift unintermittent rustle the paper made in his
hands. He seemed to sit as steady as a rock, and yet the crisp paper
rustled noisily.

Mr. Brown's bank-notes had been a fruitful source of emotion that day
already, and, in Bommaney's mind at least, had raised very dreadful
doubts and perplexities. There were doubts and perplexities in the mind
of young Mr. Barter, but they were altogether of another order. Young
Mr. Barter was perfectly aware that he was being tempted, and felt that,
in its way, the temptation wets a kind of godsend. He even said as much
in a low murmur to himself. His perplexities related to other things
than the fear of any fall from honour. Bommaney had evidently been very
queer. Bommaney had been horribly cut up about something, even before
he heard the news the young solicitor had to give him. But was he
so disturbed as to be likely to forget where he had last secured so
considerable a sum of money? This mental inquiry naturally set young Mr.
Barter to work to discover how considerable the sum of money actually
was. He laid the notes upon the table, and tried to wet his thumb upon
his lips. There was no moisture there, and his mouth was as dry as
touchwood. He drank a little water, and then began to count the notes.
He made them eighty-one at first; and then, recounting, made them
seventy-nine. Counting them a third time, he made them eighty.

'Damn it all!' said young Mr. Barter, 'can't I count? I suppose the old
buffer will come back for them.' He tried a fourth time, and confirmed
his third counting. 'They'll get stopped at the Bank,' he said. 'They'll
be no use to anybody.' He sat for a while thinking, with his eyes
half-closed, drumming out a tune upon the table with the tips of his
fat white fingers, then he folded the notes with great precision
and delicacy, put them into his pocket, found his hat, overcoat, and
walking-stick, and made ready for the streets. In the quiet of these
legal chambers many chance noises from without had from time to time
been clearly audible. He heard now a hurrying step upon the pavement of
the quadrangle, and, with a palpitation at the heart, he moved swiftly
to put out the light, and listened. The step stumbled at the entrance to
the staircase, at the foot of which the outer door stood closed. Young
Mr. Barter's heart beat, if possible, faster than before; and the veins
in his head so throbbed, that only the confining rim of his hat seemed
to keep his head itself from bursting. There came an eager summons at
the door, an imperative rapping with the head of a stout walking-stick.
He set his teeth, and, drawing back his lips with a horrible smile
in the dark, breathed noiselessly. The rapping grew more and more
imperative and urgent, and then came a preternatural silence, with an
undercurrent of distant sound in it, and the sudden blare of a cornet in
the street, which sounded to his nerves like the trumpet of the herald
of the day of judgment He heard the hurrying feet plunge down the steps
again, and cross the quadrangle, and listened until their sound merged
into the dull noises of the London night. He stood in the dark after
this for what seemed a long time, learning that his features twitched,
and teaching himself to control them. Then he left his chambers with
great secrecy, and broke into a cold sweat to think, as he stood half
through the doorway, how narrowly he had escaped from slamming the
door behind him. This was an act which might have been suicidal in
its stupidity; for to give any sign of his presence there after that
thundering summons at the door would have been to betray himself beyond
redemption. He inserted his latch-key noiselessly, and, crouching to
escape imagined observers, drew the door gently after him, and turned
the key slowly in the lock. As he did this he heard a footstep and a
cough together close at hand, and, turning with a start, beheld a pale
and slender man of brief stature, who scraped his lantern jaws with
apologetic thumb and finger, and looking at him with a startled
meekness, as if he would fain propitiate anger for a possible intrusion,
sidled to the foot of the stairs, mounted the stairway with a backward
glance and a second cough of apology, and so disappeared.

Young Mr. Barter, with his nerves already shaken by this small episode,
walked into the main thoroughfare and merged with the crowd, bearing
Mr. Bommaney's eight thousand pounds with him. When he had walked for a
while he hailed a cab, and was driven home. He had, or prided himself on
having, an exceptional eye for horseflesh, but it was not his faculty
in this direction which had led him to choose a cab horsed by a brute
of unusual symmetry and swiftness. This was an accident, but, like other
accidents in this perplexed world, it served its purpose. It landed him
at the paternal door in Harley Street almost at the instant at which
Bommaney arrived there in pursuit of him.

Now, although young Mr. Barter had not calculated on meeting Bommaney
so soon, and although the meeting was naturally something of a shock to
him, he had already schooled himself for interview and inquiry. He went
a little paler than common as he grasped his father's old friend by the
hand for the third time that evening, and trembled ever so little as he
spoke.

'I half expected to find you here,' he said. 'I could see how moved you
were by the news of my father's illness.' The door stood open, and the
old-fashioned man-servant within had been in the act of closing it upon
Bommaney's retreating figure when cab number two had driven up, and the
young master of the house had alighted from it. 'Is the news worse
or better?' He laid both hands upon Bommaney's arms as he put this
question.

The elderly servitor, who had never had reason given to him to believe
that young Mr. Barter was above the reasonable attached to his father,
was a little surprised to see the young man so moved. He drew the door
gently after him, and came out upon the steps.

'I'm afraid, Mr. John,' he murmured sympathetically, 'that it's
practically all over, sir. The poor gentleman's quite unconscious, and
the doctor don't expect him to last till morning.'

Young Mr. Barter's mind was active, and accustomed to rapid movement. He
knew at once that the old servant read the signs of disturbance in
his face and manner, and how far he misread them. So, to insure the
misreading, he took out his handkerchief, and groaned at this melancholy
intelligence.

'I----,' began Bommaney, stammering and speaking a little thickly, 'I
didn't come to ask about your father.' Young Barter's heart at
this, though he was perfectly prepared for it, began to beat like a
sledgehammer. 'I've had a dreadful loss. I have called nowhere but at
your office since I left my own, and I have lost eight thousand pounds.
I am convinced that I must have left it there.'

'I can't think so, Mr. Bommaney,' said Barter, with a face of
innocence.' We can go back together, if you like, and look for it.'
Bommaney's driver lingered for him; the other cabman was already
jingling leisurely down the street.

'Johnson,' said young Barter, addressing the domestic, 'you hear what
Mr. Bommaney says. This is a matter of the most urgent importance, and
must be looked into at once. Tell my mother that I have been home, and
that I have been called suddenly back on urgent business.' Bommaney
stood in a kind of stupid trance, and the young man, taking him by the
arm, had some ado to secure his attention. 'Come! Come, sir,' he said;
'we will look into this at once. You must not remain in suspense about
such a matter.'

They rustled together through the straw which had been laid down upon
the roadway, and had been scattered by the feet of passers-by upon the
pavement, and, mounting the cab, drove in a ghastly silence for a score
of yards, and then, with a clatter which made conversation difficult,
Bommaney, rousing himself at intervals, shouted his certainty that
the notes would prove to have been left at Barter's chambers. Barter,
growing curiously inured to the circumstances of the case, shouted back
that he dared to say they would be; that it was very likely; that he
really did not see where else Mr. Bommaney could possibly have left
them, furtively pressing the notes against his breast meanwhile, and
once, at a quiet interval, when Bommaney had sunk into his former
stupor, venturing to steal a hand to the pocket in which the stolen
money lay, caressing the edges of the notes with the tips of his
fingers.

'I'm sure,' said Bommaney, as the cab pulled up at the gate of the
quadrangle, 'that we shall find them here.' He spoke with a tremulous
uncertainty, and so obviously appealed for a confirmation of his hope,
that Barter felt constrained to answer,

'Oh, we are bound to find them.'

The striking of a wax vesta at the door of the chambers, the shaky hunt
for the key, the well-known obstinacy of the lock, the opening of
the door, the fevered working of Bommaney's fingers, and the flushed
eagerness of his face, were all memorable to young Barter for many and
many a day. They entered together the room in which their interview had
taken place; and Barter, nursing the remnant of the flaming vesta, lit
the gas with it, and then, dropping it on the floor, set his foot upon
it, and looked at his companion.

'Where do you think you left the notes, sir?' he asked. 'Have you any
idea? I think you took out some papers here. You wanted to consult my
father about them, I fancy, and, if I remember, you returned them to
your pocket.'

Bommaney stood looking about him on the floor, trailing the point of
his walking-cane purposelessly hither and thither; and it was at this
moment, seeing how confused and broken his victim seemed, that young Mr.
Barter tasted the first flavour of safety.

'I don't see anything,' he said.

'Did you,' Bommaney asked him, with both trembling hands grasping the
knob of his walking-cane, and shaking in appeal before the unsuspected
thief--' did you lock any papers away before you left?'

As a matter of fact, young Barter had not had any papers to lock away
that evening after Bommaney's departure; but he thought the trick worth
playing, and, producing his keys again, opened the heavy iron safe which
stood against the wall.

'Yes,' he said, with an air of hopeful alacrity. 'By Jove, I did!' He
stood aside, with an outstretched hand, and motioned Bommaney to examine
the contents of the safe. There was a parchment there, there were half
a dozen bundles of documents tied in pink tape and docketed; but there
were no bank-notes.

'You know,' said Bommaney, with a fretful wail, 'I must have left them
here; I couldn't have left them anywhere else. I put it to you--could
I?'

Barter looked at him mournfully, with raised eyebrows. There was just a
hint of expostulation in his raised eyebrows, and in the expression of
his voice.

'You see, sir,' he said, waving his white hands--' you see for yourself,
there's nothing here.'

Bommaney walked to a chair, and, sitting down there, lifted up his voice
and wept. 'I've been an honest man, by God! all my life long; and now
I'm not merely ruined, but I shall be taken for a thief.' He cried
bitterly after this outburst, with his head between his hands. His hat
fell off, and his walking-stick tumbled noisily to the floor. Mr. Barter
picked them up, and, having set them on the table, looked at the shaking
shoulders, and listened to the ruined man's sobs and wailings. It was a
pity--of course it was a pity--but young Mr. Barter really did not see
how it was in his power to help it.



III

On a chill spring evening the sunset over London gave a brief radiance
of colour to the dull gray roof and smoke-stained chimneys of many
thoroughfares. Shadows thickened in the eastern skies as if fold after
fold of finest crape were drawn over the field of watery and opalescent
light the fallen sun had left behind it. In one great thoroughfare
running east and west the sky-line of the houses stood distinct, and
bathed in light of many colours; whilst down below there was a wall of
shadow. Two parallel walls of shadow rose from a shadowy level, and the
dusk had a thousand indistinguishable voices.

The shadowy lines became accented by twin rows of flickering fire, the
rear jets seen with a blurred halo of mist round each of them, the halo
crawling feebly within itself, tormented by a feeble wind. The long
vista of pavement became chequered like a chessboard, with patches of
light from shop windows. Gable Inn, staring at the growing darkness with
a single fiery eye, looked like a Rip Van Winkle. It had been old when
Chaucer and the knights and ladies of whom he sang were young; and
its hoary stunted angles and squat chimney cowls had the grave and
impassive aspect proper to great age. It has stood there now for over
seven hundred years hoarding a growing store of secrets. It is roughly
picturesque in every detail, and its every chamber is a triumph of
narrowness, obscurity, and inconvenience.

In the quadrangle the shadows climbed the sturdy walls as if they were
an exhalation from the paving-stones. The dim staircase sent down all
manner of muffled and echoing voices. Footsteps sounded, and the clang
of doors, and the shriek of unwilling keys in rusty locks, and
the hurrying traffic of the street without, softened by the moist
atmosphere, was like the fading echo of following feet upon the stairs.

Lights sprang up in the basement windows, telling of protractive legal
labours. Lights twinkled in the garrets, telling of lonely study or
noisy conviviality in the coming hours of darkness. At length one side
of the quadrangle viewed by a solitary watcher from a third-floor window
of the opposing side, winked with a hundred windows through the wet air
and deepening shadow like a blear-eyed Argus.

This watcher, lounging at his own window, was Mr. Philip Bommaney,
recently self-entitled the 'Solitary of Gable Inn.' He was
eight-and-twenty years of age or thereabouts, a broad-shouldered,
deep-chested, manly-looking fellow, with curling brown hair, and a face
expressive of pugnacity, good-humour, and many capacities. He was a
little weary now, after a long day of satisfactory work. He watched the
mounting shadows, and listened to the weird gamut of the wind among
the telegraph lines, until the outer voices made his own dull room seem
homely. One ruddy tongue of flame from the expiring fire in the
grate played on the narrow walls and low ceiling, and woke twinkling
reflections in the spare and battered furniture. A man's dwelling-place
is always an index to his character when its arrangement depends upon
himself; and signs of Philip Bommaney's nature and pursuits were visible
in plenty here. There were symmetrical rows of books on the shelves
flanking the fire-place. An orderly stack of newspapers occupied one
corner of the room, and a set of boxing-gloves lay on top of the pile,
and a pair of dumb-bells beside it. A shaded reading-lamp stood upon the
table in the midst of a great litter of papers. The barrels of a huge
elephant gun flashed dimly from the wall as the firelight played upon
them, and two or three lighter weapons were ranged together lower down.

He turned from the window and lit the lamp, and, wheeling round, held
up the light to a photograph, and studied it with a pleased face. It was
the portrait of a pretty girl, very sweetly grave, and looking as if it
could be very sweetly vivacious. When he had looked at it for a longish
time he nodded and smiled, as if the pictured lips had actually spoken
to him. There was a tumbler standing beside the photograph with a bunch
of hothouse flowers in it, the one bright spot of colour in the dingy
chamber. He took this in his disengaged hand, and nodding and smiling
anew at the pretty girl's portrait, he turned about again, and walked
into a bedroom beyond a narrow and inconvenient little window. The
strident voice of the clock over the entrance of the old Hall, answered
or anticipated from multitudinous spires in the City far and near,
sounded as Philip entered his bedroom. He stood and listened, counting
six jarring strokes. The bedroom was a microscopic apartment, with as
many corners in it as any room of its size in London, and the bed itself
was a perfect triumph of littleness, so tucked under the sloping roof,
and so surrounded by projecting corners, as to make the entry to it or
the exit from it a gymnastic performance of considerable merit. The room
was not over-light at the best of times, the fourth part of the space
of one small window in the sloping wall was filled by its own heavy
framework, and for half its height it was shielded by a parapet, which
had at least its uses in hiding the occupant of the room from the
too-curious observation of those who dwelt in the upper stories of the
houses opposite. These houses opposite, compared with Gable Inn, are
of a mushroom modernness, and yet are old enough (having begun with
a debauched and sickly constitution) to have fallen into an almost
complete decrepitude. Their stately neighbour seems to be less grimy
with the London smoke than they are, has always been less susceptible to
outside evil influences, even of that unescapable sort, and drives them
to an added shabbiness of senility by contrast with its own hale old
age. The bedroom window was already open for the admission of such fresh
air as, disguised in London blacks, the exhalations of moist spring
pavements, and the reeking odours of the cuisine of Fleeter's Rents,
might choose to wander thither. Philip, with the lamp in one hand and
the tumbler of flowers in the other, put out his head and looked into
the squalid depths below him, and having gazed there a while absently
and with no object, drew back with a vague touch of pity upon him for
the people who dwelt in so much squalor so near to healthy effort and
reasonable competence. He could hardly have told as much, perhaps, but
one pallid countenance, shining very dimly at an open window, was very
much answerable for that vague touch of pity. The face in the darkness
started away from the window as he looked at it, as if his own
robust health and the light that dwelt about him startled its pinched
shabbiness into solitude. He set the tumbler of flowers upon the
window-ledge, and closing the window, made his toilet and returned to
the sitting-room. Then, having banked up the fire, and set the matches
in such a position that he could easily find them, he blew out the lamp,
left his chambers, and ran down the tortuous stairs. As he turned the
last corner a door clanged noisily, and the next thing of which he was
conscious was that he was struggling in the embrace of a stranger whom
he had doubled up in an angle of the wall.

'I beg your pardon,' he said gaspingly; 'I stumbled.'

'You did,' responded the stranger, gasping also. 'Rather heavily. It was
lucky you had something soft to fall on.'

Philip began to make apologies. The stranger, breathless still, but
jovially polite, begged him not to mention it. He was a tallish
young man, broad set, and a little too fleshy for his years. He had a
cleanshaven face, healthily pallid, the whitest of teeth, and a most
frank, engaging, and contagious smile.

'Pray don't say anything more about it,' he said in answer to Philip's
reiterated apologies. 'You are not hurt, I hope?'

'No, thanks; but I'm afraid you are.'

'Not at all. It was sharp for a minute; but I am all right now. The
stairs are very inconvenient, especially to strangers.'

'I haven't even that excuse for my clumsiness, said Philip; 'for I am
living here.'

'Indeed; then we are neighbours, and should know each other. Rather an
informal kind of introduction, eh?' The stranger said this with a mellow
laugh and a flash of his white teeth. He opened his overcoat as
he spoke, and produced a card-case, Philip catching the gleam of a
gold-studded shirt-front as he did so. 'That's my name, John Barter;
and these are my offices.' The outer oak, cracked and blistered to the
likeness of an ancient tar-barrel, bore an inscription, dim with long
years--'Fellowship, Freemantle, and Barter'--and the names were repeated
on the doorpost at the entrance.

'I have no card,' said Philip, accepting the stranger's. 'My name is
Bommaney--Philip Bom-maney;' Mr. Barter's smiling face was unchanged,
though he gave a slight but perceptible start at the name, and repeated
it.

'Do you know it?' asked Philip. To the ears of his companion there was
something of a challenge in the tone. 'It is not a common name.'

'No. Not a common name. I think I have heard it somewhere.'

They were under the archway by this time, in the brief shelter of which
the sanguine-faced, red-waist-coated lodge-keeper was taking his nightly
constitutional. They answered the touch of the hat with which he saluted
them.

'Which is your way?' asked Mr. Barter.

'Westward,' said Phil.

'Mine is east,' said Barter, 'so we part here. We are bound to meet
again before long. Good-night.'

'Good-night, and many thanks for taking my clumsiness in such good
part.'

Barter's ready smile beamed out again. They shook hands before parting
like old acquaintances, and Philip walked on, through the incessant
noise of Holborn into quieter Bloomsbury Street, along the eastern side
of Bedford Square, where the bare trees were shivering in a bath of fog,
and into Gower Street. Half way down that hideous thoroughfare he came
upon a house, one of the few which still retain the old lamp-iron and
extinguisher before their doors, and knocking, was admitted by a trim
maid, with the smiling alacrity due to a frequent and favoured visitor,
and by her conducted to the drawing-room, where sat a young lady engaged
in a transparent pretence of being absorbed in a novel. The pretence
vanished as the door closed behind the handmaiden, and the young lady
jumped up and ran forward to meet him, with such a glad welcome in her
face as answered the appeal in his own. It does not need that we should
look at her with Philip's eyes to pronounce her charmingly pretty, or
to admire the face, at once shy and frank, with which she nestled beside
him.

'I thought you were never coming,' she said.

'Am I so late, then?'

'It seemed so, and now you are come, tell me what you have been doing.'

'Working, and thinking of you.'

'You work too much, Phil.' She did her best to ignore the second item
of his day's occupation, but the deepened flush and her avoidance of her
lover's eyes answered it more effectively than words could have done.
'You are getting quite pale and thin. No wonder, sitting all alone all
day long in those musty old chambers.'

'Well, you see, Patty, the more I work, the sooner I shall cease to be
all alone.' The flush deepened again, and the hand trembled in his like
a caught bird. 'And as for working too much, I don't believe that's
possible. Work never killed anybody yet, and idleness has killed a good
many. It's better to work than sit still and wait for briefs which never
corns. There's no sensation more delightful than that of looking at a
good day's work, and thinking that every line and word has brought me
nearer to you.'

His tenderness conquered her shyness, and she nestled closer still,
looking up at him with a wholehearted admiration and affection. He felt
a little sad and unworthy under it, as almost any honest fellow would
have been sure to do, and yet it was wonderfully sweet to him, and more
than reward enough for any effort.

'I wish I could help you, Phil. I wish I could do something for you,
when you have given up so much for me.'

'Hush!' he said, laying his hand lightly upon her lips. 'We made up our
minds long ago that no more was to be said about that.' He was tender
still--he could be nothing else with her--but there was a touch of
sternness in his manner, too--as if the theme pained him.

'But I can't help thinking of it. It was so noble of you, Phil.'

'It was the only thing to be done--the only thing possible. It was----'
he paused for a second, and then went on resolutely--'it was my father's
act by which you suffered. I should have been a scoundrel if I had done
otherwise.'

'And are you to do all? and am I to do nothing? It is selfish to keep
all the generosity to yourself.'

He laughed as if he found this female paradox a pleasant fancy, but she
was not to be put off so.

'If the subject pains you, as I know it does, dear, please understand
why I speak of it I don't want you to think I take your sacrifice as you
pretend to take it. It isn't a matter of course, as you pretend it is;
and you may say what you like, Phil, but it isn't a thing that everybody
would have done. Don't grudge me my gratitude; you did it for the love
of me.'

'I didn't do it for the love of you,' said Phil, laughing tenderly; 'how
often am I to tell you that, you little mountain of obstinacy? I did it
because it was the right thing. I don't say, mind you, that it wasn't
easier to do it for you than it might have been for somebody I didn't
know or care for; but that--as you will see quite clearly if you'll
bring your naturally logical mind to bear upon it--makes the thing so
much the less creditable, provided there was any credit due to it at
all.'

The loving feminine scorn of this masculine process of reasoning was
expressed in a single glance, and was delightful to see.

'It only means waiting a little longer before I claim you.'

The girl would fain have asked, 'Why should you wait when I have enough
for both by your gift? What does it matter which of us it is who has the
money--you or I?' But this question went unspoken, for obvious reasons.
A woman is tongue-tied by the countless conventionalities of education.
She must often let her thoughts lie silent in her heart, though she
burns to express them, and find what answer she can to questions she
dare not offer. Philip had repaired her loss by beggaring himself. That
was noble. But now he persisted in deferring their marriage, and had
buried himself in that lofty sarcophagus in Gable Inn, resolved only to
claim her, though she was all his own already, when he had reinstated
his fortunes by his labour. That was noble also, perhaps, but in her
own heart she thought it a trifle foolish--say Quixotic, not to be too
severe. She would rather have seen his ardour find a more commonplace
expression. She had a general sort of belief that whatever Philip did
was bound to be right, and yet this actual experience rather jarred with
that assumption.

They found other themes in a while, and talked of the future and the
happiness it would bring. That Philip was going to be rich and famous
was a prime article in Patty's creed, and he himself, though he had
soberer hopes, was not likely to miss any chance of success which labour
might bring him. He was more than modest enough in his conception of his
own powers, and was often doubtful as to the fulfilment of the higher
ambitions which are the necessary fuel of all artistic fires. Without
those fires the chill of modesty will fall to the frost of cowardice,
and in Art cowardice means indolence. In his moments of exultation--and
these came generally at their strongest when he was in his sweetheart's
society--success looked easy enough. The memory of her undoubted
belief in him came upon him often with a glow reflected from those
magnificently hopeful moments. But then at times of depression it grew
to look no more than a foolish unattainable dream. All young artists
have times when they are going to be great--when the glory proper to
white hairs makes a halo round un-wrinkled fronts and curls, brown
or golden. They have times when the smartest turn of verse, the most
delightful inventions of narrative, the most exquisite contrast of
colour or mould of form their genius can compass are stricken through
and through with the horror of commonplace. But when a man of the
artistic _genus_ has once so far learned his own nature he has made a
great advance towards the fulfilment of his ambitions. He has to
learn that just as the hot fit is followed by the cold the cold fit
is succeeded by the hot. He knows how intermittent he is. He learns to
mistrust his own mistrust of himself. The periods of depression grow
less frequent, and the depression grows less lasting. And then, just
as the cold fit becomes less chilling to the one, the fit of exultation
grows less intoxicating. The halo beams less bright--loss near.

Yet Philip, with the girl's eyes worshipping him, and her sweet voice
cooing hope and praise, and her hands knitted on his shoulder, and her
warm breath fanning his cheek, gave himself up to the vision, and felt
his heart warm with a world's welcome as yet far away from him.

The prose of life will assert itself, even to visionary eight-and-twenty
and sweet eighteen in love with one another. On this occasion it came
as a summons to supper. The summoner was a stout and jovial elderly
gentleman, about whose somewhat commonplace British exterior there was,
to Philip's mind, a reflection of the nimbus which glorified Patty to
his mind, for he was Patty's father. He had been called Old Brown at
school when he was young--he had been called Old Brown in the country,
and the prefix had found him out in town without the need for anybody
to breathe a whisper of it. He was Old Brown to his new acquaintances in
London before a month had gone by. The name suggests a beverage which is
not unlike Old Brown himself--being mild and nutty to the taste as he
to the mental palate--ripe and genial. He had a moist twinkle of the
eye,--the look which bespeaks the kindly humorist,--and his slightly
protruding under lip seemed covertly to taste the flavour of unspoken
jokes. Old Brown's jokes were mainly left unspoken, but he spent a
good part of his life in laughing without any very apparent reason for
laughter, and may have been internally the way he looked to be.

He shook hands with Philip, and chucked Patty under the chin with a
waggish aspect, which called an appealing blush into the girl's
face. Perhaps the blush stayed the intended quip, but any way the old
gentleman contented himself with a beaming laugh, and led the way to the
supper table, rubbing his hands and chuckling.

The meal was quietly jovial, and if, after it, Old Brown was not quite
so fast asleep as he pretended to be, at least his patience gave the
lovers the shelter they needed. He snored in mellow murmurs from behind
his bandanna, and they sat and talked together in low tones lest they
might awaken him, until the time came for parting.

Outside the mist had given place to a dull persistent rain, and a
peevish wind was complaining in area and chimney cowl. Philip turned to
the street with a pleasantly haunting vision of Patty's vivacious face
outlined against the warmth and brightness of the hall. The touch of her
good-night kiss lingered on his lips like live velvet, and he carried
warmth and brightness enough within him to defy all the rain that ever
rained, and all the wind that ever blew on smoky London.

The rain had cleared the streets, and the occasional gleam of a
policeman's cape or a furtive figure seeking the shelter of a doorway
against the drifting showers was all he saw as he bored his way against
the rising wind to the corner of Holborn. He was so absorbed by that
fancy of music to which his own quick tread kept time that a shuffling
step behind him rapidly drawing nearer failed to reach his sense. But as
he came to the corner, a hand clutched his arm.

He turned, with the quick defensive gesture natural to a man so accosted
at such a time, and faced the unexpected figure. An old man, clad in
filthy fluttering rags, stood staring at him, with both hands stretched
out. The rags shook as much with the horrible cough that tore him as
with the cruel wind. He was a dreadful creature, with watery eyes, and a
head and moustache of dirty gray. His long and unvenerable hairs strayed
loose beneath the dunghill relic which crowned them. The rain was in his
hair and beard, and had so soaked his tattered dress that it clung
to him like the feathers of a drenched fowl. He shook and wheezed and
panted, and gripped the air with tremulous fingers, and through the
rents in his clothing his white flesh gleamed in the gaslight.

The look of surprise and pity which Philip bent upon this unclean
apparition was startled into one of sudden fear and horror. In the
very instant when these emotions struck him, they were reflected in the
other's face. The man made a motion to run, but Philip clutched his arm,
and he stood cowering and unresisting.

'You! Here in London?'

'Phil,' said the spectre imploringly, 'for God's sake help me. I didn't
know it was you, when I followed you. I thought----' his voice trailed
into silence.

'You have come to this?'

'Yes, Phil; this is what I've come to.' The cough took him here again,
and tore him so that he was fain to lean against the shutters of a shop
near at hand.

'Why do you come back here? Are you mad?'

'I am--almost. What could I do? I'm as safe here as I am anywhere.
Who would know me? or, if they did, who would hurt a wretch like me?
I haven't slept in a bed for weeks, Phil. I haven't eaten a morsel for
three days. For God's sake! give me some money. I'll--I'll go away; I'll
never trouble you again.'

'I'll give you all I can. But you must go away from London.'

Philip thrust his hand into his pocket and brought up all the pocket's
contents. He took his keys and an unvalued trifle or two from the
handful, and held the rest out towards his father. The old man shrunk
from him with a terrible appeal and shamefaced gratitude which cut the
son's heart like a knife.

'Where can I go to?'

'Anywhere out of London. You are not--safe here. Go away. Write to me
here.' He thrust an envelope on which his name and address were written
into the old man's dirty trembling hand. 'You must never come to see me.
Promise me that.'

'I promise,' he said; and, thrusting the money and the envelope
somewhere among his rags, stood silent for a while. 'I'm afraid,' he
said, 'I acted very foolishly and very----'

Then his voice trailed away again.

'God help you!' said Philip with a choking voice.

'You'll shake hands, won't you, Phil? 'said the old man. Phil took the
proffered hand. 'It's something,' said Bommaney the elder, clinging
to him, 'to feel an honest man's hand again, God bless you, Phil!--God
bless you!'

Philip stood silent, and the old man, with another shame-stricken glance
upon him, moved away. His son watched him for a second or two, as he
slunk, coughing and shivering, along the gleaming pavement, and then
turned and went his own way heavily.

Bommaney senior, discerning the welcome beacon of a public-house,
shuffled eagerly towards it, hugging beneath his rags the money his son
had given him.

'I beg your pardon, Mr. Bommaney; if you please, sir.' He started at
the sound of a voice which had been familiar to him for years. 'I should
like a word with you, sir; if you please.'



IV

James Hornett was less changed than his old employer, but it was evident
that he too had fallen upon evil times. For a mere second the familiar
tones of his voice were no more than familiar to Bommaney, whose mind
was confused by long misery and hunger and sleeplessness, and the shock
of his late encounter. But when he turned and saw Hornett's long thumb
and finger scraping at his stubbly jaws, the gesture and the attitude
of apology brought him back to mind at once. Hornett's coat sleeve was
torn, and showed his arm half way down to the elbow, but revealed no
hint of linen, The collar of his frock-coat was buttoned tightly about
his neck, and there was a sparkling metallic rime upon his cheeks and
chin and upper lip. Bommaney was ashamed before him, and afraid of him,
and only some faint reminder of self-respect and the pride of earlier
days held him back from the impulse to run away.

'You're not afraid of me, sir?' said James Hornett. He had always
smiled, and was smiling even now. The smile was no more than a
contortion of the muscles of the face, which made a long mirthless
crease on either cheek, and left the eyes untouched by the least light
of sympathy. It gave him a propitiatory dog-like look, and there was a
hint of fawning in his attitude which matched it perfectly and carried
out the likeness. 'You remember me, sir?' he went on, for Bommaney
stared at him so wildly that there seemed room for reasonable doubt
on that point. 'Hornett, sir. James Hornett Your faithful servant for
thirty years, sir.' Bommaney looked at him with haggard watering eyes,
and said nothing as yet 'It's a bit of a surprise, sir, at first, isn't
it?' Hornett went on, with his unchanging smile. There was a good deal
of hunger and even triumph in his small soul, but they found no other
outward expression, and his attitude and voice were as apologetic
and retiring as of old. 'It was rather a surprise to me, sir, when I
recognised you. Isn't it a little dangerous for you to be here, Mr.
Bommaney?'

They both started, and each looked about him at this mention of the
fugitive's name.

'Hush!' said Bommaney. 'Don't call me by that name. Come away from
here.'

A policeman strolled along the street, with an echoing tread, and as
the two slunk past him he turned a casual glance upon them. The glance
touched them like a galvanic shock, and they would have run if they had
had courage for such an indiscretion.

'What do you want with me?' asked Bommaney, when the policeman was
out of sight and hearing; Hornett walking beside him, with his lean,
propitiatory fingers at his chin, looked up with hesitating meekness.

'Well, you see, sir,' he responded, 'your fall was mine, sir; I was
supposed'--he coughed behind his hand here to indicate apology for
the introduction of a theme so necessarily disagreeable to the other's
feelings--' I was supposed, sir, to have been in your confidence. I made
many applications for employment, and nobody would employ me. Young Mr.
Weatherall, sir, promised, personally, that if I called again, he'd kick
me down the steps.'

Bommaney groaned.

'What do you want with me?' he asked again.

They were standing by this time outside the doors of a public-house, and
the wind-driven rain was pelting down heavily.

'I thought, sir----' said Hornett; 'I'm very hard pressed, sir.' The
dog-like, propitiatory smile never varied. 'I was following Mr. Phil
myself, sir, in the hope that his kindness might run to a trifle.'

'Come in,' said Bommaney; and Hornett eagerly accepting the invitation,
they entered the house together. There was an odour of frying in the
room, and a hissing noise proceeded from a soft of metal caldron which
stood over a row of gas-jets on the pewter counter. A printed legend,
'Sausage and Mashed, 3d.' was pasted on the wooden partition at the
side of the box they entered, and on the mirror which faced them, and
displayed their own squalid misery to themselves. A year ago the fare
would have seemed uninviting to either at his hungriest moment, but now
Bommaney called for it with a dreadful suppressed eagerness, and, the
barman serving them with a tantalising leisure, they watched every
movement with the eyes of famine.

'I've got a little place, sir, of my own,' whispered Hornett, when the
pangs of hunger were appeased. 'It's very humble, but you could put up
for the night there.' Bommaney made no answer, but the two set out again
together through the rain, and, pausing once only for the purchase of a
flat pint bottle of whisky, made straight for Fleeter's Rents.

All that nine hundred and ninety-nine in a thousand of the many
thousands who pass it every day could tell you of Fleeter's Rents
is that it makes a narrow black gash in the walls of the great
thoroughfare, and that it neighbours Gable Inn. It is slimy in its very
atmosphere all winter through, and its air in summer time is made of
dust and grit and shadow. The old Inn elbows it disdainfully on one
side, and on the other a great modern stuccoed pile overtops it with
a parvenu insolence. It is the home naturally of the very poor; for
no hermit or hater of the world, however disposed to shun his fellows,
would hide in its dingy solitudes whilst he had but a mere shilling a
day for lodging and bodily sustenance elsewhere.

Hornett led the way up a set of narrow and broken stairs, and having
reached the uppermost story of the house, pushed open a broken door,
which, depending from a single hinge, scratched, noisily upon the uneven
flooring of the room. His guest stood shivering in the doorway until a
match sputtered and fizzed in Hornett's fingers. Then, guided by that
precarious light, he advanced. Hornett lit a candle which adhered by its
own grease to the filthy wall and had already made a great cone of smoke
with a tremulous outline there. There was a small grate, with a mere
double-handful of shavings, chips, and coal behind its rusty bars.
Hornett applied the match to the shavings, and, as the fire leapt up,
the two men knelt together, coughing and choking in the smoke, and
bathing their chilled hands in the flame. Bommaney drew the flat bottle
from a pocket hidden somewhere in his multitudinous rags, and drank.
Hornett watched him greedily, with hands involuntarily and unconsciously
extended. Then when he had drunk in turn, they each shivered over
the fire again, stealing furtive glances at each other, each mightily
disconcerted when he met the other's eye. Bommaney had aged dreadfully
during his year of hiding, and Hornett, who had drunk his employer's
health upon his birthdays often enough to know his age to a day, could
yet scarce believe that the dreadful spectre who knelt beside him
numbered less than fourscore years.

One question perplexed Hornett's mind. How came it, he asked himself
over and over again, that in the space of a mere twelvemonths a man who
started with at least eight thousand pounds could have fallen into such
a depth of poverty? Eight thousand pounds, if absolutely nothing were
done with it for its own increase, meant royal living for a score
of years for an unencumbered man. Hornett longed to satisfy his own
curiosity upon this point, and felt as if he dared not ask the question
for his life. He framed a score of ways by which he might approach
it, with a road of retreat behind him, and at last, as if in spite of
himself, he said, with apologetic impudence,

'You don't seem to have made the money last long, sir.'

'The money,' cried Bommaney, turning furiously upon him. 'What money?'

Hornett edged away upon his knees, and his thumb and fingers traced the
creases of his smile up and down his stubbly cheeks.

'Do you think,' the old man demanded passionately, 'that I took away a
penny?'

Hornett was afraid to rise. There was such a despair and so much fury in
the other's looks that he could do nothing but crouch at his feet with
his mean meek face turned fearfully towards Bommaney, and his body
cowering.

'You think I took that eight thousand pounds?' Bommaney quavered, with a
voice of bitter disdain.

He had never in his life regretted anything so profoundly as he had
regretted his resistance of that temptation. To have had all the blame
and shame, and to endure all the miseries a convicted thief might earn
for himself, to have been an outcast and a pauper, only because he
had been resolute against temptation! It is easy enough for a man whom
circumstances keep honest to think himself honourable beyond the chance
of temptation. But misery has the virtue of Ithuriel's spear, with a
difference. As the one touched the beast and transformed him to the
seeming of a high intelligence, so will the other touch a seemingly
impregnable armour of bright honour, and turn it into tinder, leaving
the poor beast revealed and unprotected from his own base natural
longings. The poor Bommaney was maddened to think he had not done what
the other's thoughts charged him with, even though he passionately
rebelled against the accusation.

'When did you ever know me to be a rogue, James Hornett?' he asked, with
an air and voice to which his passion lent something like dignity. 'When
did you ever know me defraud a man of a farthing?'

'Never, sir, I'm sure,' Hornett responded, not doubting in his own mind
that Bommaney was guilty. 'But----'

'But what?' cried Bommaney. 'My own son, my own flesh and blood, would
hardly shake hands with me. My clerk--I took him out of the gutter,
_you_ know that, Hornett! I took you out of the gutter and made a man
of you, and lavished kindness on you. Nobody has a minute's trust in
me--nobody thinks of misfortune or disaster. I was right to run away and
hide myself, for nobody would have believed me if I had stayed and told
the truth.'

Hornett looked more frightened than before after this outburst, but
Bommaney read incredulity in his face, and answered it with an added
passion.

'What good would it do me to tell lies to you? Suppose I made you
believe me, am I such a fool as to, think your pity could set me on my
legs again?'

He turned away, moved by his own wrath and anguish, and Hornett, rising,
made himself as small as he could in the corner beside the grate.
Bommaney, in his pitiful broken boots, went shuffling up and down the
room.

'What became of the money, sir?' the clerk asked with a shaky voice.

He was ready to run for his life, and he was more than half afraid that
the old man was mad--his eyes blazed so, and his voice and gestures were
so tempestuous.

'It was lost,' said Bommaney. 'I lost it, Heaven knows how. I've thought
a thousand times,' he said, through his clenched teeth, 'that that young
Barter must have had it.'

'Young Barter, sir?' said Hornett.

Then Bommaney told all he knew of the story of his own loss, and at a
certain point in the narrative Hornett started and made a step forward.
He remembered the night well enough--he had reason to remember it. An
appointment for the theatre that evening had led him to call upon a
brother clerk in Gable Inn, and he had seen young Mr. Barter leaving his
chambers in what had struck him at the time as being an odd and stealthy
fashion. He had remarked it for the moment, and had forgotten it
afterwards, as men forget a thousand things of the sort which have
no interest personal to themselves. But now he saw young Mr. Barter's
figure with a singular distinctness, and the face turned round in the
gaslight was again as visible as it had been at the moment. He thought
he read a meaning in it now. But for this slight confirmation of
his employer's story he would probably have disbelieved it, but the
accidental character of the clue weighed with him, an apparent touch of
romance in it gave it a value beyond its merits.

'Could you tell me, sir,' he asked, 'exactly what time it was when you
left Mr. Barter's office?'

'No,' said Bommaney, suddenly weary after his outburst of
self-exculpation, 'I don't know. It was after banking hours. It was
dark; he had to light the gas. What if I could? What would that have to
do with it?'

'Well, you see, sir,' Hornett answered, 'I'm not likely to forget that
evening. Of all the evenings of my life, sir, I made a call at Gable Inn
myself, sir, at Number One. If young Mr. Barter had found the notes
he wouldn't care to face you again, and he mightn't have answered your
knock at the door, though he might have heard it.'

'Any fool could tell me that,' said Bommaney roughly. 'What do you
mean?'

'I've noticed, sir,' said Hornett, with marked humility, as if he
apologised for having said anything, 'that young Mr. Barter is a
gentleman who goes about in rather a large way, and noisy way, sir. He's
a biggish man, as it is, and to look at him at first you'd fancy that he
was bigger than he is. He talks very loud and cheery, sir, and he bangs
things about a good deal.'

'Well?' said Bommaney, irritated by these slow preliminaries, 'what
about it all?'

He could see that his late clerk was leading to a point of some sort,
and listened with a growing impatience.

'He was leaving his rooms that night, sir,' said Hornett, 'as sly as a
cat. I was just on the ground-floor of Number One as he was locking
the door behind him. Locking it, don't you see, sir,' said Hornett,
beginning to be fired by his imagination, and speaking eagerly, 'so as
not to make a noise in pulling it to behind him. I suppose I made some
sort of a noise in going behind him, but any way, he looked up at me--I
can see him now!' he cried, with a swift conviction, 'as if he was here
at this very minute, white and cowardly. That's what he was, sir. White
and cowardly, I can see him now.'

Bommaney grasped him by the wrist.

'Do you remember the time?' he asked, passing one hand confusedly
through the tumbled and disgraceful old locks of his hair. 'Do you
remember when I left the office? Do you remember when you left it?'

'Almost directly, sir, after you. But you drove, sir, and I walked. I
stopped, and had a little conversation with a friend, and just a social
glass that might have kept me back five minutes, sir. I was going to
dine with Mr. Marshall (White and Fielding's Mr. Marshall, sir) before
the theatre.'

Bommaney released his wrist, and dropping on his knees before the fire
again, warmed his hands absently and stared into the blaze.

'The notes were all hundreds, James,' he said, after a pause. 'They
were stopped at the Bank, I know, because I saw the advertisement. It
wouldn't be easy to get rid of them.'

'There are ways and means, sir,' said Hornett. 'They'd have to be
disposed of at a loss, of course--a heavy loss--and kept quiet for a
considerable time.'

'Have you heard of any of them coming into circulation?' asked Bommaney.

'I haven't been in the way to hear of anything, sir,' the clerk answered
mournfully, 'but,' with a sidelong look at his old employer, 'if I could
only get to look a bit respectable, I could make inquiries in an hour. I
have no doubt I could find out, sir.'

'My boy believes I'm guilty, like the rest,' said the old man, moaning
and shivering and coughing again. The passion of his protest and the
warmth of heart which Hornett's returning confidence had taught him
had all died away, and he was his bankrupt, disgraced, and broken self
again, old and maudlin, and strickenly conscious of his miseries.

'Phil might help me,' he said shakily. 'He 'could, but he won't. He's
got plenty of money. If I'd been a rogue, James Hornett,' and there he
flashed up again, ever so little, 'I could have robbed my own flesh and
blood with safety. A rogue would have done it. I was his sole trustee,
and I could have had nine thousand by a stroke of the pen at any
minute.'

'Mr. Phil, sir,' said Hornett 'Mr. Phil hasn't got much money left'

'Why not?' the old man asked, staring round at him with his watery eyes.

'He paid Mr. Brown the eight thousand in full, sir, and divided the
rest, as far as it would go, amongst the poorest of the creditors.'

Bommaney turned back towards the fire, and drooped there. He seemed very
impassive under this intelligence, but he was deeply moved by it all
the same. The sense of his son's high feeling of honour gave him a
keen throb of pride, and then he thought bitterly that his own ill-luck
pursued his offspring.

The loss was double. It had disgraced and ruined him, and had robbed his
son of his inheritance.

'Hornett,' he said, 'James Hornett.'

'Yes, sir.'

'I was brought up,' the old man said, in a muffled voice, advancing and
retiring his hands before the fire, and chafing them automatically, 'I
was brought up by Christian parents. I never did a dishonourable act in
all my days. I have been a God-fearing man and a--a steady church-goer.
I give it all up. I renounce it. I don't believe in God. I don't believe
in religion. I don't believe in being honest. It's a--it's a vile wicked
world, Hornett, and it's my belief the devil rules it.'

'Oh, sir,' cried Hornett,' you mustn't talk like this, sir. You must
excuse me speaking free, sir, but I can't stand by and hear you talk
like that. I can't listen to it, sir--I can't really. I've never said
a disrespectful word to you, Mr. Bommaney, but I really must speak out
now, sir. It isn't respectable, sir, to talk like that.'

After this there was a long silence, and Bommaney, who had repouched the
bottle after his last application to it, consulted it again, and handed
it wordlessly to Hornett, without looking at him.

'Phil might,' he murmured in a while--' he might be brought to believe
me. He's an honest man himself, James--a very honest high-minded man
indeed. I must look where he lives,' he murmured, seeking for the
envelope his son had given him. 'He gave me his address.'

'His address, sir,' said Hornett. 'You could almost lay your hand on
him. He lives there. That's his window with the light in it.' Bommaney
moved to the window, and followed with his glance the direction of
Hornett's outstretched finger. There was a window a few feet higher than
the one at which he stood, and half-hidden from observation by a stone
parapet. A shadow obscured the light, and moved about the ceiling,
visible from below.

'I saw him there to-night, sir,' said Hornett 'I saw his face at the
window. He put a glass of flowers outside. That's his shadow moving
about there now.'

'Phil!' groaned the wretched father, straining his dirty wasted hands
together. 'Phil!'

'I'm not the figure, sir,' said Hornett, 'to call upon a gentleman like
Mr. Phil; nor yet are you, sir, if you'll excuse my saying so. But if
you'd let me go, sir, and put the case to him, he might come and see
you here, sir, and you might set yourself straight with him, sir, which
would at least,' the seedy man added, somewhat moved by the old man's
tears and tremblings, 'be an advantage to a father's heart.'

Bommaney stood in silence, looking upward. The moving shadow settled
itself upon the ceiling in a huge silhouette, distinctly traceable.
There was no doubting it was Phil's dear head that threw the shadow,
himself invisible, so near, so far. The foolish outcast's heart ached
bitterly, and he stretched both hands towards the shadow, not knowing
that he moved.

'Shall I venture, sir?' asked Mr. Hornett, more moved than ever, and
coughing to clear a little huskiness in the throat. 'Shall I venture,
sir, to look in on Mr. Phil in the morning?'

'Yes, go, James,' said Bommaney, sobbing outright by this time.
'Perhaps--perhaps he may believe me.'



V

When young Mr. Barter took time to think about things, he began,
for more reasons than one, to be sorry. It is necessary for the due
development of this history to go back a little, and to take up Mr.
Barter on the day following the commission of his crime. The young man
felt that he was unable to afford candour, and discreetly avoided the
naming of his own action. Eight thousand pounds is a sum which most
people would find tempting. Young Mr. Barter would never have found it
tempting in the criminal way (though, if he had given his mind to
the consideration, he could at any time have seen how enviable its
unencumbered possessor might be) if he had not at the moment felt
himself under considerable pressure. Mr. Barter's fleshy and well-formed
fingers were somewhat too familiar with the feel of cards. These fingers
of his were peculiarly dexterous to look at, and had even an unnecessary
braggadocio air of dexterity when he was engaged in his favourite
occupation. Experienced people watched his shuffling and dealing with
great care. In Mr. Barter's frank and engaging countenance, and in that
ready smile in which the faultless teeth shone so conspicuously, there
was no hint of danger to the most unwary. Even the wariest, listening
to his genial mellow laughter, and seeing the jolly shoulders shake with
mirth, were inclined to think him a loyal honest-hearted fellow. His
loud swagger, his frank rollicking gait, his hail-good-fellow-well-met
shake of the hand, the other hand clapped upon the shoulder, the noisy
greeting, and that unfailing smile, not merely disarmed suspicion, but
made the mere fancy of it impossibly absurd. But young Mr. Barter had
accustomed himself to associate with people whose experiences had forced
them to be observant, and to these the dexterous caressing fingers with
which he manipulated all instruments employed in games of chance seemed
to justify a fairly constant watchfulness. The fingers handled the cards
as if they loved them, as if they had been accustomed to them from the
cradle. The tips turned back a good deal, and the nails hooked a little
forward. There were little bulbs of tact at every tip, the hands were
made for a gambler, and could by no possibility have belonged to anybody
else.

The chief ground for the young man's sorrow may be very easily and
briefly stated. The packet which the unfortunate cruelly-tempted
Bommaney had let fall in his half-drunken abstraction on the floor of
young Mr. Barter's private room was made up exclusively, as we know
already, of notes for one hundred pounds.

Now Bank of England notes for one hundred pounds, though valuable, and
easily enough employed in all civilised countries when honestly come by,
are only to be got rid of when dishonestly acquired at great risk and
loss. A note for a mere five pounds may pass through scores of hands
before being stopped at the bank. Tens, so the experienced in such
matters will tell you, are a little difficult. Twenties are inquired
into rather carefully. Fifties are positively dangerous to handle
in this way. Hundreds are, except after great lapse of time, almost
impossible; and as for a thousand, a man might almost as well steal a
white elephant as a bank-note of that value, except that it will cost
him nothing for keep, unless you count the tremor of soul and nerve,
which is surely worth something, in which a man criminally possessed of
another's property is almost certain to live.

Mr. Barter, then, had eight thousand pounds in ready money, was liable,
if discovered, to penal servitude, and was unable to touch a farthing
of his ill-got gains. There are many men in the world, the world's
experience proves it hourly, who set so small a price upon their
self-respect, that they will sell it for a shilling, for a drink, for
a word. But there is hardly any man so lost to the natural human desire
for self-approval that he will actually give away his self-respect for
nothing. Now this absurd transaction young Mr. Barter, when he took time
to think about things, appeared to himself to have made.

He was not, and never had been, a great reader; he gave up his mind to
pursuits which he found more attractive than the tranquil fields and
lanes of literature. Yet he remembered, in a dim sort of way, either
that he had read somewhere in his schoolboy days, or that a fanciful old
nurse had told him, a story of a person somewhere, who, being possessed
of a great chest of money, went one day to look at it, and found
that his hard cash had changed to withered leaves. Precisely such a
transformation had overtaken that eight thousand pounds, at the moment
when it had fallen from the hands of a man who might have made an honest
use of it. The fable was, and was not, true, so far as he remembered,
and his fancy dwelt curiously about the history. There was no
possibility of turning back the withered leaves to gold, and making them
jingle and glitter again as only one's own ready money can jingle and
glitter. But, useless as these crisp and rustling leaves of paper were
to him, they held still all their old potentialities, and in the hands
of honest men or courageous rascals each leaf might still transmute
itself into a hundred golden emblems of sovereignty and power. He was
neither that honest man nor that courageous rascal, and the money grew
to be a sort of devilish tantalising fetish to him. Before he had owned
it a fortnight, he had felt a hundred times he could have burned it out
of the exasperation of mere spite against it.

He heard, of course, of Bommaney's flight, and of the failure of the
old-established business house. People talked about these things a
good deal for a time, and he himself listened to and took part in many
speculations as to Bommaney's whereabouts, and the means he would take
to get rid of the notes and make them available for his own purposes.
He found it at first a little trying to the nerves. There was nothing,
since Bommaney had accepted his own disgrace and run away, to connect
young Mr. Barter with the lost eight thousand pounds, yet it took much
courage, and a considerable amount of inward spurring, to bring himself
to talk about the business. When a man carries a secret of a quite
harmless nature, it happens often, as almost everybody knows, that
casual words and quite innocent glances startle him with hints of
understanding and participation. What is it when the detection of the
secret involves open shame and penal servitude? Can a man of genuine
courage be a thief? Is not courage after all at the very bottom of all
manly honour, of all sound honesty, all true self-respect? How shall a
thief be other than a lurking cur, whose whole soul, such as it is,
is bent to a mean suspicion that he is suspected, a continuous
terror-stricken watchfulness, a sleeping and waking dread of an awful
hand-clap on the shoulder? There are constitutional differences in
thieves, no doubt, as there are in other people, but the key-note of the
dishonest man's whole thought is fear. When, after a day or two, young
Mr. Barter had accustomed himself to speak of Bommaney and the lost
eight thousand, and had often spoken of them, he began to look out
for suggestions that might be useful to himselt He even led the way at
times, and speaking to solicitors and barristers of extensive criminal
experience, he asked often, for example, how could a scoundrel get rid
of such a clumsy handful? Why didn't the fool cash the notes, he would
ask contemptuously, before he left town, and before he was suspected?
Everybody knew of course that the notes had not been presented, and
their numbers were advertised in all the daily papers. Now what could a
fellow do who had them, by Jingo? What _could_ he do? There was no
way open, so far as young Mr. Barter could see, and he was wonderfully
engaging and innocent of the world's wickeder ways as he talked thus
with the ablest of his fellow professionals.

The fellow professionals cited cases. There was Rosenthal, a noted
receiver in his day, to whom a dishonest clerk had sold five thousand
pounds for five hundred. Rosenthal had held the notes for six years, and
had then put them cautiously on the Continental market. He was an old
hand, was Rosenthal, and very clever and leary, but they had bowled him
out. The clerk was wanted on another charge, and turned Queen's
evidence against the receiver. Almost all the stories had this kind of
termination, because the legal gentlemen whom young Mr. Barter consulted
remembered mainly cases in which they or their friends had been engaged,
or cases which had resulted in criminal proceedings. Others there
certainly were, but they were vague and necessarily without those
guiding particulars which he desired.

It has been already hinted that the young man was a gambler, and it is
likely that most of the reasons which made the money seem so welcome to
him had their sources at the gaming table. He belonged to one of those
clubs which deserve to be numbered among the blessings of
modern society--where men do not meet for social intercourse and
good-fellowship, or for dining purposes, or for any of the common and
amiable reasons which draw men into club-life, but simply and purely
to the end that they may win one another's money. It was a joint-stock
swindling company to which young Mr. Barter belonged, and within its
limits every man proposed to himself to get the better of every other
man by such means as lay in his power. A pigeon got in amongst them
every now and then, of course--came in well-feathered and went out
plucked, but for the main part the rooks pecked hungrily at one another,
and made but little of their time and pains. The one solitary advantage
of these corporations is that they gather the depredatory birds
together, and lead them to prey upon themselves instead of wandering
abroad for the defeathering of the innocent and artless who abound
even in these days. The well-constituted mind can hardly fail to take
pleasure in the contemplation of these resorts, where Greek meets Greek
(in the modern French sense as well as the old heroic)--where scoundrel
encounters scoundrel, and learns that the pleasure of being cheated is
by no means so great as that of cheating.

There were people of widely ranging social position in this curious
contingent. One or two men of title, and one or two of the highest
social or commercial respectability, lent their names for some
inconceivable reason to grace the front page of the neatly-bound little
volume of rules which govern, or sometimes fail to govern, the conduct
of the corporation. Mr. Barter rubbed shoulders with young men--very
young men they were--who would one day have handles to their names, and
enjoy the control of considerable estates. He sat at the same table with
men whose birth and antecedents, like those of the immortal Jeames, were
shrouded in a mystery. He met men of his own position, who like himself
were desperately glad of being numbered in the same club society with
men eminent on the turf, or familiar in the gilded saloons of the great.
He liked to think of those gilded saloons; it might be interesting
to know what he thought they resembled--most probably a somewhat
old-fashioned earthly paradise of ormolu. He bragged indefatigably
of his club and the people whom he met there. He dated all his private
correspondence from it, and spent hundreds of daylight hours above the
ivories and the pasteboard.

At the time of that foolish and weak-willed Bommaney's disaster there
were two or three I.O.U.'s for sums much more considerable than he
could afford to part with in the hands of his fellow-members. Law is a
necessity to human society. Even a band of brigands can't hang together
without it. Debt, outside the club, was by no means a thing to be
harshly spoken of, but debt to a fellow-member was a literal millstone
round a man's neck, and would sink him out of sight in no time.

The elder Barter had gone over to the majority, despatched by that
street accident, and if the old man had known nothing of the young man's
courses, he had had it in his power to make him well-to-do. But he had
paid his debts once at least, and had more than once had occasion to
grieve over the boy's handling of the firm's money, and so had made his
will entirely in his wife's favour, leaving his son dependent upon her
good graces. The mother was disposed to be a little sterner than the
father had been. Perhaps if young Barter had dreaded her less poor
Bommaney's fallen notes might have been returned to him.

But, to get on with the story, the young man's chief creditor at the
club was one Steinberg, a gentleman whose time appeared to be absolutely
at his own disposal, though he was known by some of his fellow-members
to have an address in Hatton Garden, and to be more or less of a diamond
merchant there. He often carried about with him, in a pocket-book, or
in neat little packages of grocer's gay paper, borne in the
waistcoat-pocket, a collection of gems of considerable value, and would
show them to his intimates with the _insouciance_ of a man who was
accustomed to handling things of price. He never was without money, made
little journeys at times, which rarely took him away from town for more
than a day or two, and was, almost always, wholly unoccupied except for
the cards.

Now young Barter had a prodigious idea of this gentleman's astuteness.
He had no particular belief in his honesty, and he believed him, not
altogether unreasonably as the sequel proved, to be initiated into most
of the mysteries of modern rascality. This was merely a general notion,
based upon statements made by Steinberg himself, and supported by the
opinion of his intimates. Nobody spoke ill of Steinberg; it was only
understood that there was no move upon the board with which he was not
familiar. Young Barter, meeting him one evening at the club, whilst
Bommaney's disappearance was still a fresh topic of town conversation,
spoke to him about it, with an assurance clearly begotten of practice.

'Now, look here, Steinberg,' he said, in his open and engaging way.
'Suppose you'd nobbled those notes, what should you do with 'em?'

Perhaps Mr. Steinberg resented the form of this inquiry. But be that as
it may, he responded with some tartness,

'Suppose you'd nobbled them?'

At this chance thrust young Barter turned curiously red and white, and
had some ado to recover that open smile of his.

'Hang it,' he said, 'you can't suppose I meant it that way. But,' with a
half-hysteric courage, 'suppose you had--suppose I had--suppose anybody
had--what would he do? You, I, anybody?'

Mr. Steinberg sipped at his lemon squash--he drank that inspiring
liquid all the year round, and nothing else until cards for the day
were over--and puffed at his cigar, and looking young Barter full in the
face, nodded and smiled with an odd mingling of meaning and humour.

'Put him on to me,' he said, with perfect affability. 'I'll put him up
to it.'

'Rather dangerous, wouldn't it be?' said Barter, showing his white teeth
in a somewhat forced and ghastly manner.

'Everything's dangerous for an ass,' said Steinberg.

'I shouldn't have thought,' laughed Barter, 'that that was your line.'

He spoke as jestingly as he could, but he knew that his laugh was
forced, and that the voice in which he spoke was unlike his voice of
every day, and he wished, with the whole of his quaking heart, that he
had left the theme alone.

'Well, no,' said Steinberg, 'I suppose you wouldn't.' He sipped his
liquor through a straw, and blew half a dozen rings of smoke from his
lips with practised dexterity, and kept a glittering German-Jewish eye
on Barter. Perhaps he meant something by the glance, perhaps he meant
nothing. He was a rather Machiavelian and sinister-looking personage,
was Mr. Steinberg, and there was something even in the calm expression
of those perfectly-formed rings of smoke and in the very way in which,
he sipped his liquor, and most of all in the observant glitter of his
eye, which spoke of a penetration and shrewdness very far out of the
common. More and more young Barter wished that he had not broached this
theme with Steinberg.

He could not help it for his soul. He could feel that his colour was
coming and going with a dreadful fluttering alternation. He quailed
before the Israelitish eye so shrewdly cocked at him, and when in a very
spasm of despair he tried to meet it, he was so abjectly quelled by it
that he felt his face a proclamation of his secret.

Steinberg went on sipping and smoking, and said nothing; but when the
young scoundrel, his companion, had somewhat recovered himself and dared
again to look at him, there was the same shrewd and wary glint in his
eyes.

Young Barter had been unhappy enough before this, but after it the money
became a burden hateful and horrible. He met Steinberg often, and
forced himself to be noisy in his company. In his dread of seeming
low-spirited, or ill at ease, he said things about his dead father which
he would have left unsaid, had he consulted the little good that was
left in him; and Steinberg seemed to watch him very closely.

Young Barter put off his creditor with promises. He would have lots of
money by and by. That seemed credible enough in the position of affairs,
and Steinberg waited. In a while, however, he became exigent, and
declined any longer to be satisfied with promises. One night the unhappy
rascal, playing all the more because of his troubles, all the more
wildly, and certainly all the worse, fell back upon his LO.U.'s.
Steinberg followed him from the club. It was late, and the streets were
very quiet.

'This won't do, you know, Barter,' said Steinberg, tapping him on the
shoulder as they walked side by side.

'Begad it won't,' said young Barter, doing his best to make light of it.
'They've been cutting into me pretty freely this past week or two.'

'Well,' said Steinberg, puffing at his eternal cigar, and looking askant
at Barter under the light of a street-lamp which they happened to be
nearing at the moment, 'what you've got to do, you know, is to find the
man who knows Mr. Bommaney.'

The commotion which assailed Barter at this speech was like an inward
earthquake.

'What--what do you mean?' he panted.

'That's what you've got to do,' said Steinberg tranquilly.

'Do you mean to insinuate----' Barter began to bluster; but the older,
cooler, and more accomplished scoundrel stopped him contemptuously.

'You know where they are,' he said 'Why don't you get at 'em?'



VI

About noon on the following day Mr. Steinberg, seated in a small
inner chamber in Hatton Garden, leisurely answering his sole business
correspondent of that morning, was in no way surprised when the boy he
employed to open the door and receive visitors brought in a card bearing
the name of 'Mr. John Barter, jun.'

'Show him in,' said Mr. Steinberg; and young Mr. Barter, hearing this
in the outer room, came in with a pale-faced and excited alacrity. The
diamond merchant dismissed the boy with a word.

'Well,' he said, turning the tip of his cigar upwards by a protrusion of
the under lip, 'what is it?'

'About that little matter,' said young Barter nervously, 'we were
talking of last night.'

'The little matter we were talking of last night?' asked Steinberg idly,
looking at him with half-shut eyes. 'That hundred you owe me?'

'Well, perhaps that afterwards,' said Barter with a frightened
breathless laugh in his voice. 'But about the other matter first.'

'The other matter?' Steinberg asked, in a lazier manner than before.
'What other matter?' He took up his pen, dipped it in the inkstand
before him, and tracing a line or two of his correspondent's
communication with it, turned to his own unfinished letter.

Young Barter was already sufficiently agitated, and this curious
reception made him more embarrassed than ever.

'About that affair of Bommaney's,' he said, feeling as if a rapid wheel
had been somehow started in his brain.

'Ah!' said Steinberg, writing rapidly, and speaking in a voice which
seemed to indicate that he neither understood nor cared to understand,
'that affair of Bommaney's, eh?'

This reception was nothing less than dreadful to the young criminal. He
had reckoned on having his way made easy for him. Steinberg had actually
offered to become his accomplice in crime, and had lured him to
disclosure. He could have wished that the floor would open and let
him through. He saw that he had already exposed his hand, and began to
imagine all manner of consequences resulting from the exposure. Not one
of the consequences he foresaw promised to be of a nature agreeable to
himself, and for the moment the hatred with which Steinberg inspired him
was of so mad a nature that there was nothing he would not have done to
him if he had had the courage and the power.

Steinberg wrote on, shaking his fist in what seemed to be an unusual
alert, and even threatening, manner. There was a great deal of
unnecessary motion in Steinberg's hand, and Barter, looking at its swift
and resolute movements, got a blind sort of impression of strength out
of it, and nullified the feeling with which it inspired him. The letter
written, enveloped, addressed, and stamped, Steinberg tossed it on one
side, and leaning back in his arm-chair, turned an uninterested look
once more upon his visitor.

'That affair of Bommaney's,' he said. 'What was that?'

Mr. Barter thought this inquiry altogether too barefaced, and responded,
with a hectic flush of courage,

'Come, Steinberg, don't play the fool with a fellow. You know jolly well
what it was last night.'

Mr. Steinberg's keen and impassive face underwent no change.

'What did I know last night?' he asked.

'You know,' Barter began angrily; and then the hectic flush of courage
died, and a dreadful chill of fear succeeded it. What had he known? He
had only guessed--till now. But now, young Mr. Barter felt, to employ
the expressive ideas of his set, that he had given himself away.
Steinberg capped the question in his mind. What did I know last night?

'You haven't come to waste your time or mine, I suppose? You've come to
say something. Why not say it?'

His guest, sitting in a terrible confusion, and feeling himself
altogether betrayed and lost, Steinberg marched to the door, and
addressing the boy in the outer room, bade him carry the letter to the
post and return no more that day. Then, having locked the outer door, he
returned and resumed his seat.

'Now, what is it?' he asked.

Barter, recognising the fact that his own purpose was already exposed,
made a desperate dash.

'About those notes old Bommaney was supposed to have run away with. I
think--I think, mind you, that if there was any way of using them, I
could lay my hands upon them.'

'I remember,' said Steinberg, 'you said something of the kind last
night. I shouldn't advise you to touch 'em. It's a dangerous game.
They're very worthless, and the game isn't worth the candle.'

'Worthless?' echoed Barter. 'They're worth eight thousand pounds.'

'They're worth eight thousand pounds,' responded Steinberg, 'to the man
they belong to. They're not worth eight hundred to anybody else.'

Young Mr. Barter's whole soul seemed to rise in protest against this
abominable fallacy. When he had screwed up his courage so far as to
induce himself to accept this older and more experienced scoundrel's
partnership, he had conceived the possibility of the partner crying out
for halves. But that he should want so enormous a share of the spoil was
quite intolerable.

'Not worth eight hundred?' He could only gasp the questioning protest.

'If I had 'em to sell,' Steinberg answered calmly, flicking the waste
from his cigar by a movement of his little finger, 'I should think eight
hundred an uncommon good price for 'em. Later on and sold at second hand
they might fetch a thousand. Later on and sold at third hand they might
fetch fifteen hundred. One can hardly tell. Of course the value will go
on mounting with distance from the original source of danger and with
the lapse of time.'

He said all this very calmly and reflectively, and young Barter,
collecting his whirling wits as well as he could, tried a stroke of
diplomacy, which, as he fondly hoped, would answer a double purpose.

'She'll never let them go for that, or for anything like it.'

'She won't, won't she?' asked Steinberg, smiling brightly, as if the
statement amused him. 'Then she'll never let 'em go at all, my friend.
How did you come to find she had 'em?'

'I made a little bit of a discovery,' Barter answered.

'Ah! That was it, was it,' said the elder rascal, falling back into his
utter want of interest. 'You'll let me have that hundred.'

'I will in a day or two,' answered Barter, _arréanti_.

'Well, as for a day or two,' returned Steinberg, rubbing his forehead
with the tips of his fingers, and looking very careless and composed,
'I'm really very much afraid I can't let you have it. It's been
outstanding a goodish time, and to tell you the truth, old man, I want
it very badly. If you'll let me have it to-night I shall be obliged to
you. I've been hit rather hard this last day or two. Shall we make that
a bargain? To-night?'

'I--I'm afraid,' Barter stammered, 'it's no use talking about to-night.'

'Well,' said Steinberg, with a pitiless uninterested suavity, 'you know
the rules.'

He drew a little book from his pocket, and tossed it over the table to
his guest.

'You'll find it on page five. Rule fourteen. It's ticked in red ink, if
you'll take the trouble to look at it.'

Barter opened the book and consulted its pages blindly for a while, and
then the mist which seemed to obstruct brain and eyesight clearing away,
he read the pages indicated. It set forth the principle that all moneys
lost at games of skill or chance, or upon bets made within the limits
of the club, were payable within four-and-twenty hours. It set forth
further that debts not paid within that time might be brought under the
notice of the Committee, who were empowered to act under Rule nine. Rule
nine ordained the public posting of the defaulter's name, his suspension
in default of payment, and, in case of continued obduracy or poverty,
his expulsion.

'First and last, Steinberg,' said the wretched criminal, who began to
find the way of the transgressor unreasonably hard and thorny, 'first
and last, you've had a pretty tidy handful of money out of me.'

'Well, yes,' said Steinberg tangibly. 'Pretty fair.'

His very admission of this fact made Barter's case seem hopeless to
himself. If he had brow-beaten, or blustered, if he had shown anger or
impatience, or had been querulous, there might have seemed to exist some
slenderest chance for him. But Steinberg was so unmoved that he seemed
immovable.

'You'd better persuade her,' he said, with a scarcely perceptible grin.
Looking at Barter, and observing that he sat with his eyes still bent
upon the book of rules, and head dejected, he allowed the grin to
broaden. Barter, suddenly looking up at him, saw him smiling like a
gargoyle, with a look of infinitely relishing cruelty and cunning.

'You won't find her hard to persuade, I'm sure,' said Steinberg. 'Come,
now, I'll talk business to you. I'll take ten of 'em for it, and cry
quits, and I wouldn't do that for anybody but a friend.'

The frank admission of the value of his own friendship was plainly
legible in that gargoyle smile, and the unhappy Barter read it clearly.

'I'll--I'll see what I can do with her,' he said, with a face and voice
of pure misery.

'Do, my boy,' said Steinberg, rising, and swinging the key of his
chambers upon his forefinger, 'see what you can do with her. I shan't
send any notification to the Committee before nine o'clock, old chap.
You can trust me for that. You go off at once, old fellow, and see what
you can do for her.'

The fraudulent possessor of the notes felt their burthen more than ever
insupportable. He rose, and went his way with remorse and rage and the
bitterness of baffled stratagem in his heart. His wounded mind soared to
so lofty a height of egotism in its struggles that he positively found
the impudence to curse Bom-maney for having dropped the notes in
his office. Then he cursed himself for having taken them, and cursed
Steinberg for robbing him, and so moved off in a condition quite
pitiable to one who could find the understanding and the heart to pity
him.

Steinberg stopped behind, and smoked smilingly. He was the successful
scoundrel, and found the transaction as sweet as the young Barter found
it bitter.

'I don't think hell have much trouble with her,' he said to himself; and
he enjoyed that little jest so much that he caught himself smiling at it
a hundred times in the course of the afternoon and evening.



VII

Old Brown, who was one of the sunniest-natured of men, went gloomy when
the news of his old friend's dreadful fall came to his ears. It does him
no more than justice to say that he mourned Bommaney senior infinitely
more than the money. He liked to trust people, and had all his life long
been eager to find excuses for defaulters. He could find no excuse here.
The theft was barefaced, insolent, dastardly. He puzzled over it, and
grew more cynical and bitter in his thoughts of the world at large than
he could have imagined himself. But then, when Bommaney junior came
home, and insisted on the restoration of the missing eight thousand from
his own small fortune, old Brown brightened up again. There was such
a thing as honesty in the world, after all. The restoration warmed
his heart anew. At first he fought against it, and would have none
of it--the mere candid and honest offer of it was enough for him; but
Philip was more resolute than himself, and the stronger man won. Phil
should never have cause to repent his goodness, the old fellow declared
to himself a thousand times. He should reap the proper reward of his own
honour. Brown admired and loved Phil out of bounds for this little bit
of natural honesty and justice. He thought there had never been a finer
fellow in the world, and his heart warmed to him as if he had been a son
of his own. As for that rascal of a father--and when he got so far in
his thoughts he fumed so with wrath that he dared go no farther, and was
compelled, for the sake of his own peace, to banish the friend of his
schooldays from his mind a thousand times a week.

It was about a year later than the disgrace of the house of Bommaney
that old Brown, to his daughter's perplexity and grief, began to show
signs of trouble almost as marked as those he had displayed after his
old friend's defection. The old boy's newspaper no longer interested him
of a morning. He began to be lax about that morning ride which he had
once regarded as being absolutely necessary to the preservation of
health in London. He had been impassioned with the theatre, and had
become a diligent attendant at first-night performances. Even these
ceased to have any joy for him, and he neglected, in fine, all his old
sources of amusement He went about sorrowful and grumpy, expressing the
dolefullest opinions about everything. There was going to be war, stocks
were going down, trade was crumbling, there was no virtue in man.

Patty tried her best to coax him from these pessimistic moods, but
the old boy was not to be persuaded. On fine evenings, when there was
nothing better to be done, he had loved greatly, between the quiet
old-fashioned tea and the quiet old-fashioned supper, to dress for out
of doors, and with Patty on his arm to wander into Regent's Park, and
there inhale the best imitation of country atmosphere that London could
afford. He dropped this amiable and affectionate habit, and took to
rambling out alone, coming home late, and haggard, and not infrequently,
at such times, staring at his daughter with an aspect so sorrowing and
wretched that she knew not what to make of him.

The girl, watching him with a constantly increasing solicitude, could at
last endure this condition of affairs no longer. He came home one night,
leaving neither his stick nor hat in the outer hall, and sat down in the
dining-room, muffled and great-coated, the picture of dejection. Patty,
kneeling before him, removed his hat, smoothed his hair, and began to
unbutton his overcoat.

'Papa!' she cried suddenly, 'what _is_ the matter with you? Why are you
so changed?'

He breathed a great sigh, and laid his hand upon her head. Then he
turned his face away from her--to hide his eyes, she fancied.

'You are in trouble,' she went on. 'It is not kind to keep it from me.
Is it anything that I have done, or anything I could do.'

'No, no, my darling,' he said softly, laying his hand upon her head
again.

'Is it money, dear?'

'No, no. It isn't money. Don't talk about it, my dear. Don't talk about
it.'

'Now, papa, you make me think it very grave indeed.'

'There,' he said, rising, 'you shan't see any more of it, and we'll say
no more about it Well be gay and bright again, and well hope that things
will turn out for the best.'

The attempt to be gay and bright again resulted in most mournful
failure, and the girl grew frightened. She had nursed her fears for many
days, and had hidden them.

'Papa!' she said, trembling ever so little, 'you must let me know what
it is. Let us bear it together, dear. Whatever it may be it can't matter
very much if it leaves us two together--and----'

'Ah! 'said old Brown, looking at her with a pitying smile.

'Is it anything----?' She stopped short, and really found no courage to
complete the question.

'My darling,' he answered, folding her in his arms, and staring sadly
over her shoulder. She felt the hands that embraced her quiver, and she
knew he had understood her half-expressed query. This frightened her so
much that it gave her boldness.

'There is something the matter with Phil,' she said, pushing the old man
away, and holding him at arm's length. 'Tell me what it is.'

'My dear,' he answered, 'you shouldn't leap at conclusions in that way.'
But the disclaimer was altogether too feeble to deceive her. Philip
was the mysterious cause of her father's trouble. Her wandering, pained
eyes, her parted lips, the terror and inquiry in her face, frightened
the old man. 'No, no,' he cried, 'you must not think it too bad. I'm not
sure of anything. I don't suppose it's at all a matter of consequence. I
daresay he's an old fool. I hope I am.'

These hints and innuendoes were about the last thing in the world to
satisfy a girl who had been made anxious about her lover.

'Tell me,' she commanded. 'I have a right to know. What has happened?'
She was no more inclined to be jealous than girls who are in love
commonly are. She had, indeed, a native fund of confidence, and her
trust in Phil's loyalty had been of the unquestioning sort, quite
profound and settled. Yet for a moment there rose before her mental
vision the dim picture of some possible rival, and at the mere hint of
this she grew ashamed, and flamed into indignation against herself.

'Tell me,' she said; 'I insist on knowing.'

'Well, my dear,' said the old man miserably and reluctantly, I've been
told that his father hastened his own ruin with dice and cards.' It
was the first time he had mentioned Bommaney senior in his daughter's
hearing for a year. She looked at him with eyes still intent, but
somehow milder and less alarmed. 'Phil,' the old boy continued, 'I'm
afraid that Phil is travelling in his father's steps.'

'Phil a gambler!' she said, with an honest scorn of conviction. 'I know
better. What makes you think it?'

'There are a lot of beastly clubs at the West End,' said the old man,
beginning to struggle with his overcoat, partly because he wished to
avoid the girl's look, and partly because the motion was a relief
to him. 'Gambling-places. Places where men meet for no other earthly
purpose than to cheat one another. I'm as fond of a rubber at whist as
anybody; but no honest man would put his head into one of those holes of
infamy if he knew its character.'

'Are you speaking of Phil, papa?' she asked. Her voice was low and
tremulous, and there was almost a note of threatening in it. The
gentlest creature will fight for her own--a fact for which some of us
have reason to be grateful.

'Yes, my dear,' her father answered with a kind of sullen sadness; 'I'm
talking about Phil. He's a member of the vilest crowd of the whole
lot, and he's there night after night.' He dashed his overcoat into an
arm-chair with despairing anger, and went marching up and down the room.
'I saw him one night by accident as he was going in. I knew the place.
You might have knocked me down with a feather. I've watched him there
night after night. Don't tell me I hadn't the right to watch him. I had
the right My little girl shan't marry a gambler. I won't have my fortune
wasted by a gambler, and my child's heart broken. I took a room,' he
pursued wrathfully, 'opposite the place. I've sat there in the dark with
the window open, and caught the d---- worst cold I ever had in my life
watching for him. I've seen him go in again and again. He's a lost man,
I tell you,' he cried in answer to his daughter's look and gesture; 'the
man who has that vice in his blood is lost!'

He was storming loudly, for he was one of those in whom emotion must
have expression in noise, but a sudden loud peal at the bell cut short
his harangue, and he and Patty stood in silence to know who it might be
who called so late. As it happened, it was no other than the lost man
himself. He was shown in according to wont and usage without previous
announcement, and entered gay and smiling, elate and tender.

As he looked from one to the other the expression of his face changed.
He moved quickly towards Patty, and took her hands in his.

'There's something the matter,' he said gently. 'You're in trouble!'

The old boy, glaring at him, growled, 'We are,' and snatching up his
overcoat, threw it over his arm, and slipped his hat upon his head with
a gesture which Philip took for one of defiance. As a matter of fact it
expressed no more than wrathful grief, but then gesture and expression
are hard to read unless you have the key to them.

'We'd better have it out, Phil,' said the old man, 'here and now. You've
turned gambler, and I've found you out.'

'No,' Phil answered, with an odd smile; 'I haven't turned gambler, I
assure you. You've heard that I've joined the Pigeon Trap? That's what
they call it in the City. I prefer to call it the Hawks' Roost. There
are too few pigeons go there to be plucked to justify the other title,
and I give you my word of honour, Mr. Brown, that I'm not one of them.'

The young man's air was candid and amused. There was an underlying
gravity beneath the smile, and for people who had believed in him as
devoutly as his two listeners it was hard to disbelieve him now.

'You've gone into the infernal hole,' said old Brown, more than half
abandoning suspicion, and yet inclined to leave it growlingly, as a dog
might surrender a bone he conceived himself to have a right to. 'What do
you want there?'

'I want to do a very important stroke of business there, sir,' Philip
answered. The smile quite disappeared from his eyes at this moment, and
he looked very grimly resolute. 'I will tell you this much,' he added,
'because you have a right to know it. I am in pursuit of a brace of
scoundrels there. I think I've salted the tail of one of 'em already.
I believe with all my heart, sir, that I'm going to clear my father's
character, and I would go into worse places than the Pigeon Trap if I
saw my way to doing that.'

Patty of course was clinging to him without disguise by this time,
anxious only to atone for having given an ear to any word against him,
even for a moment. Phil put his arm about her waist and kissed her. He
had never to his knowledge performed this act in the presence of a third
person until now, but he got through it without embarrassment.

'You think you can clear your father's character?' asked his
sweetheart's father. There was a tinge of scepticism in his voice,
though he tried to hide it.

'Yes, sir,' said Phil, his head thrown back a little, and his eyes
gleaming. Nobody had ever looked so handsome to Patty's fancy as he did
at that moment 'I know already that there was no real stain upon his
honour, and I'm surprised myself for thinking that there ever could have
been, bad as things looked. My father never took wrongful possession of
your money. He was robbed of it, and I think I can lay my hand upon the
thief.'

There was a prodigious excitement at this declaration, and the young man
was overwhelmed with questions. He could name no names, of course,
and give no clue, but he sketched the story. He contented himself by
describing young Barter as Thief Number One, and he was satisfied to
describe Steinberg as Probable Thief Number Two. He had learned, it
appeared, that Thief Number One had succeeded on his father's death to
a carefully limited partnership in a business affair in the city. The
guiding spirit in the concerns of Thief Number One had been his father's
managing clerk. The income of Thief Number One was strictly limited,
and his actual control over the affairs of the firm was non-existent.
Notwithstanding these facts, the young man was guilty of countless
extravagances, and was a reckless gambler. Within the last twelve months
he could hardly have paid away at the club less than a thousand pounds.
He had been extremely hard up before the loss of the money, and it was
in his offices that the roll of banknotes had been lost. As for Probable
Thief Number Two, he played rook to Number One's pigeon. He had a
visible hold upon him; Number One trembled before him, and did what
he was bidden to do. Number Two had plenty of money, and as shady a
reputation as any man in London who was not among the known criminal
classes. Phil's belief was that Number Two was disposing of the notes
for Number One, and that this simple fact accounted for his power over
him.

'And I'm going to follow their track,' said Phil, tapping the clenched
knuckles of his right hand upon the open palm of his left with a quiet
vehemence, 'until I find out everything, if I follow it until I am
gray.'



VIII

It would appear that a spider may be among the most daring, skilful, and
predatory of his species, that he may be gifted with the most constant
watchfulness and appetite, and yet, whether by the intrusion of
an accidental walking-stick or broom (which would assuredly seem
providential to the fly), or by stress of weather, or the desperate
activity of a victim, may have his best laid schemes brought to
nought, and his most mathematically laid web rent to tatters. In the
entomological world a solitary interview between fly and spider is
usually fatal to the one, and satisfactory to the other. But we of the
higher developments, who model ourselves, or are modelled, upon the
lines of myriads of remote ancestors, and far-away relatives, have
refined upon their primitive proceedings, and have made their simple
activities complex by development.

In an absolutely primitive condition the Steinberg spider would have
drained the Barter fly at a single orgie, and would have left him to
wither on the lines. As things were, he came back to him with a constant
gusto of appetite, tasting him on Monday, despatching him to buzz among
his fellows until Saturday, and then tasting him again, the Barter fly
seeming for a while--for quite a considerable time in fact--lusty and
active and able-bodied, and looking as though this kind of thing might
go on for ever without much damage to him, and the spider himself giving
no sign of overtaxed digestive powers.

Not to run this striking and original simile out of breath, the Barter
fly endured for a round twelve months, without showing signs of anaemia
so pronounced as to look dangerous to his constitution. At the end of
that time, however, all the surplus blood had been drawn from his body,
and the spider had grown so keen by the habit of constant recurrence to
him that any prolonged connection between them began to look desperate.
In plain English, the eight thousand pounds which had once so lightly
passed from the hands of Mr. Brown to the hands of Mr. Bommaney had now
passed, with just as little profit to the man who parted with them, from
the hands of young Barter to the hands of Steinberg.

It was just about the time when this lingering but inevitable
transaction was completed that chance led young Barter to his encounter
with the son of the man whose belongings he had appropriated. Everybody
knows how apt newly-made acquaintances sometimes are to renew themselves
again and again. You meet a man whom you have never seen before, see
him just long enough to take a passing interest in him, and to know
generally who and what he is, and you run against him on the morrow, and
again on the morrow, and so on, until in a week he has grown as familiar
to your thoughts as any other mere acquaintance of whose identity you
may have been aware for years. This happened in the case of Philip
Bommaney and younger Mr. Barter. They entered the Inn together, or left
it together, or Philip ran upstairs or downstairs as Barter was in the
very act of leaving or entering his chambers. Putting together a certain
family resemblance which he thought he noticed, the identity of a rather
uncommon name, and the curious frequency of these chance encounters,
Barter found it hard to avoid the belief that his new-made acquaintance
had a rather careful eye upon him. His nerve was a good deal shaken, and
he was by no means the man he had been. To the unobservant stranger the
frank gaiety of his laugh was as spontaneous as ever, but then that had
never had much to do with Barter's inward sensations. Perhaps he got the
laugh in some remote fashion from an ancestor who really ought to have
had it, and who may have been as dull and as little laughter-loving to
look at as his successor was within. Philip rather took to the fellow
at first sight, and was slow to suspect him, even when James Hornett
had told his story. But the young Barter was not satisfied, as he
should have been, with playing the part of one insect at a time. It
was unwholesome enough, one might have thought, for him to play fly to
Steinberg's spider, and yet he must needs take to playing moth to Philip
Bommaney's candle, a light of danger to him, as he recognised almost
from the first He was always polite to Phil, and always stopped him for
a moment's conversation at their chance encounters. Phil, having been
inspired at least with a suspicion that this engaging young man was
responsible for the actual disgrace which had fallen upon Bommaney
senior, always bent a grave scrutiny upon him. Barter sometimes wondered
whether his new-found acquaintance's way of looking at him were habitual
or particular, but he could never solve that problem. To Barter's nerves
the glance of dispassionate analysis always seemed to ask--Did you steal
those notes? and whether his mind and nerves were at accord or no made
but little difference to him. His mind rejected the idea of suspicion,
but his nerves accepted it with trembling. He knew perfectly well that
he could not endure the certainty of Phil Bommaney's knowledge, but
none the less he found the uncertainty tantalising and painful. This is
perhaps one of the hardest things an undetected criminal has to endure,
that he lives in a world of suspicion of his own making, where every
imagination is real and as dreadful as the fact. In his own mind young
Barter credited himself with courage when he made overtures for Philip's
companionship. In reality he made the overtures because he was a coward,
and a braver scoundrel would have disdained them.

Philip felt himself impelled to watch this young man, and was not
altogether displeased that he found the opportunity thrust upon him.
Almost facing the gateway of the old Inn there is an old-fashioned
restaurant, deserted from its hour of opening until noon, and from then
crowded inconveniently till two o'clock, deserted again till five, and
once more inconveniently crowded till seven. Philip, having the power to
choose his own time for meals, and frequenting this old house, sometimes
met Barter in the act of coming away from it with the dregs of the
stream of the late lunchers or diners. He fell into the habit of going
a little earlier, and Barter would signal him to the table at which he
sat, if by rare chance there happened to be a vacant seat at it. The
young rascal's tendency lay towards monologue, and since it was his cue
to be open-hearted, and very unsuspicious of being suspected, he
talked with much freedom of himself, his pursuits, and his affairs. The
question which Barter's nerves were always finding in Philip's eyes was,
as a matter of fact, not often absent from his mind. 'Now, how did you
steal those notes?' was the one active query of his intelligence as he
listened to Barter's candid prattle.

It was in the course of these confidences that Philip learned of the
existence of that Pigeon Trap of which Mr. Barter was so proud to be an
inhabitant. It was at Barter's solicitation that he visited the place,
and it was Barter who proposed him as a member.

Being a member it was not long before he discovered the fact of
Steinberg's influence over the young solicitor. He noticed a terrified
deference in Barter's manner towards the other, a frightened alacrity of
obedience to his suggestions. He noticed also that Steinberg and Barter
played a good deal by themselves, and that Barter always lost.

The men of Hawks' Boost talked pretty freely about each other in the
absence of such of their fellow clubmen as were under discussion. Barter
was spoken of as Steinberg's Mug, Berg's Juggins, Stein's Spoofmarker.
It was generally admitted that Stein made a good thing out of him, and
the wonder was where Barter got his money. There was a pretty general
apprehension that the young man, at no very far future date, would come
to grief. The contemplation of this probability affected the Boosters
but little in an emotional way, but it made them keen to see that
Mr. Barter paid up punctually, and though they were very shy of paper
acceptances from their comrades as a general thing, they were shyer of
his than of most men's.

These things Philip Bommaney junior attentively noted. At first the
clubmen rather wondered at him. He was in their precincts often,
and would smoke his pipe and watch whatever game might be going with
tranquil interest, but he never played, and could not be induced to bet.
_Que diable faisant-il dans cette gaière?_ the clubmen wanted to know.
He never told them, and in a while they grew accustomed to him and
his ways. He continued his quiet watch upon Mr. Barter, and included
Steinberg in his field of observation. One evening, dining at the old
restaurant, he marked Barter, melancholy and alone. He was sitting in an
attitude of apparent dejection, tapping upon the table with a fork, and
deep sunk in what seemed to be an uncomfortable contemplation. But when
the moth saw his candle he brightened, and fluttered over to it.

'You might come over,' said Barter, when they had sat together until the
latest of the dining guests had gone away. 'You might come over to my
chambers and smoke a cigar if you've nothing else to do. I don't care
about going down to the club tonight.'

The Steinberg spider was supposed to be waiting there, coldly patient
and insatiable, and Barter dreaded him. Philip had never entered the
rooms, but they had an attraction for him. He accepted his companion's
invitation, and they entered the chambers together. A fire lingered
in the grate, and Barter replenished it, and, having produced a box of
cigars and a bottle of cognac, proffered refreshment to his guest. The
honest man began somewhat to recoil from himself and from his companion.
What was he there for? The answer was pretty evident. There was nothing
between this loud-babbling youth and himself which could have drawn them
into even a momentary comradeship, if it had not been for the suspicion
his father's story had inspired in him. Frankly, he was there because he
suspected the man, because he desired to watch him, because, if he found
the chance, he was willing to set him in the dock. To smoke his tobacco
and drink his liquor in those circumstances had undoubtedly an air of
treachery. In a while he hardened himself, and closed his ears to all
casuist pleadings, whether for or against the course he had adopted. He
would clear his father if he could, and if there were any mere hope of
doing it, he would watch this fellow as a cat watches a mouse, and would
go on doing it until both of them were gray.

'By the way,' said Barter innocently, 'do you never take a hand at----'

His supple fingers supplied the hiatus, dealing out an imaginary pack of
cards with the flourishing dexterity native to them.

'That's what I'm here for, is it?' thought Philip in his own mind. 'We
shall see.' He said aloud, 'Sometimes,' in an indifferent tone.

'There's nothing worth seeing anywhere to-night,' said young Barter.
'Suppose we try a hand. What do you say to a game at Napoleon?'

Philip consented, and his host produced two packs of cards from the
business safe.

They fixed upon the points and they began to play. The points were not
those for which Mr. Barter really cared to play; for he was one of those
people who find no joy in cards unless they risk more than they can
afford to lose. But little fish are sweet, and he thought he had
secured a greenhorn. As it happened, the greenhorn, though he was
but eight-and-twenty, had travelled the world all over, and had
found himself compelled to survey mankind from China to Peru. He
was, moreover, one of those men who like to know things, and those
quietly-observant eyes of his had taken note of the proceedings of a
hundred scoundrels in whose hands the redoubtable Steinberg himself
would have had but poor chances. The Greek had been Philip's standing
joy, the dish best spiced to suit his intellectual palate. He had
delighted over him aboard ship, on the monstrous dreary railway journey
between Atlantic and Pacific, in the little towns which form the centre
of scores of Texan ranches, in hells at the Cape and in California, in
the free ports of China, and on the borders of the Bosphorus. In point
of fact he was by experience as little fitted to be played upon by a
gentleman of young Mr. Barter's limited accomplishments as almost any
man alive.

Phil's interest in the game had grown grimly observant in the first ten
minutes. Young Mr. Barter had a knack, when he shuffled the cards,
of slily inclining the painted sides upwards. He had another knack of
leaving an honour at the bottom. He made a false cut with fair dexterity
for an amateur. He could, when occasion seemed to make it profitable,
discard with a fair air of unconsciousness. An ace dropped out of sight
a hand or two earlier, was followed by a valueless card dropped openly.
The ace was taken to supply its place with a perfect smiling effrontery.
But Mr. Barter's favourite trick came out when he had a weak hand. Then
he smiled across at his opponent, breathed softly the words 'six cards,'
and dropped the worthless hand on the top of the pack, calling for a new
deal All this Philip Bommaney watched with a complete seeming innocence
and good temper. He lost his sixpences handsomely, made no protest, and
looked unruffled.

'You play false for sixpences, do you?' he said inwardly. 'I suppose a
scoundrel is a scoundrel all through, and that if you'll sell your soul
for so little, you could hardly object to driving a bargain for a larger
sum.'

He was often tempted in the course of a quarter of an hour to try Mr.
Barter with a sudden challenge, and see what would come of it. Surveying
his companion with that placid inquiry which Barter felt to be so
excessively uncomfortable, he came to have but a poor opinion of his
courage. He was one of those men who, even without knowing it, take
profound observations of their fellow-creatures. The true observer of
human nature is by no means a personage who is always on the strain
after insight into character. He is, on the contrary, pretty generally
an inward-looking man, who seems to notice little, and takes in his
surroundings as the immortal Joey Ladle did his wine. Philip judged
Barter to be a nervous man, and supposed him, even when strung to
his bent, to have no great tenacity or continuance of courage. He had
learned more and more to believe his father's story, though he had
perhaps too carefully guarded himself from his own eager desire to
accept it Barter's every action with the cards offered confirmation
of the belief that he had taken possession of the lost notes. He
was certainly a petty rascal, and there was obviously nothing but
opportunity needed to make him bloom into a rascal on a larger scale. So
the temptation to drop the cards upon the table, to look his companion
in the face, and to ask simply, 'How about that eight thousand pounds?'
grew more and more upon him, and had to be more and more strenuously
resisted. It seemed worth while to resist it To begin with, if young
Barter should be innocent, the querist could evidently expect nothing
else than to be taken for a madman. To continue, if his name and the
likeness to his father had already set the thief upon his guard, and
had prepared him for accusation, the question would only reveal his own
suspicion, and thereby weaken the chances of discovery.

Philip combated his inward desire, but could not quell it. There seemed
a kind of intuition in it, a lurking certainty lay hidden behind all the
doubts he saw, and pushed him forward.

By and by young Mr. Barter tripped on the false cut, which he had
hitherto executed with a fair amateur dexterity.

'Excuse me,' said Phil, as he gathered the spilt cards together. 'You
should make the three separate motions look like one. Do the trick so.'

He performed the trick slowly, looking Barter in the face, and then went
through it swiftly.

'That is how the thing ought to be done, Mr. Barter,' he said, with a
placidity which his companion found singularly disquieting.

And now, that same unhappy want of self-command which had given
Steinberg so clear an insight into his young friend's mind, fell once
more upon Barter. He tried to look wondering, he tried to laugh. The
result of that frightened contortion of the features was nothing less
than ghastly. Unhappily for himself he knew it, and so he grew ghastlier
yet, and for the life of him could not tell where to set his eyes.

'So you're a sharper in a small way, are you, Mr. Barter?' Philip
inquired suavely.

'How dare you talk to me like that?' the detected rascal stammered. 'You
come into a gentleman's rooms, and lose an odd half-crown or two----'

When he had got as far as this he ventured to look his companion in the
face, and seeing there a very marked and readable prophecy of unpleasant
things, he backed, and in the act of doing so, tripped, and fell into a
chair. The intention in Phil's mind became simply unconquerable. He cast
rapidly about him for an instant, saw all the consequences of failure
which might follow if he denounced the trembling wretch at once, and set
him on his guard. And yet he could not help doing what he did, and could
not restrain the words which rose to his lips. He took Barter by the
collar, and lifted him to his feet with an unsuspected strength, and put
the question to him quietly.

'How many of those stolen notes has Steinberg changed for you?'

It was a bold thing to do, it was perhaps a foolish thing to do, and yet
it was the game. Barter stared at him speechlessly. His lips moved, but
he said nothing. Then his jaw fell as a dead man's jaw falls, and being
released at that instant, he dropped into the chair like a sack.

'Now the best thing for you to do,' said Phil, sternly regarding him,
'will be to make a clean breast of it. I have been tracking you since
the second day of our acquaintance.'

Barter groaned, with a tremulous and hollow sound, but made no other
answer.

'How many of those notes are in Steinberg's hands?' Phil asked.

The rascal's wits had begun to work again, if only a little, and he
could by this time have answered if he would. But he knew that his
own cowardice, if nothing else, had given away the game. After such a
confession as his own terror had made, what was the use of bluster
or pretence? He could not guess how much was known. He was completely
cornered, and must fight or yield. His native instinct at any moment was
ready to teach him how much discretion was the better part of valour,
and now to fight seemed mere madness. In the very terror of the night
which thus suddenly enveloped him he saw one gleam of hope. There was
one stroke to be made which might save him, in part at least, from the
consequences of his own misdeed.

Philip gave these reflections but little time to grow distinct to
Barter's mind.

'How many of those notes?' he asked slowly, emphasising almost every
word by a tap of his knuckles upon the table, 'have passed into
Steinberg's hands?'

'All,' gasped Barter; 'every one of them!'

'That will do for the present,' said Philip, and at that instant there
came a loud summons at the door, whereat the miserable Barter started,
and clasped his hands in renewed terror. He fancied an officer of
justice there, his arrival accurately timed.

Philip, throwing a glance about the room, and assuring himself that
there was no means of unobserved exit, answered the summons in person.
He had until that moment kept perfect possession of himself except
for his obedience to that overmastering intuition, but beholding Mr.
Steinberg at the doorway he felt a great leap at his heart, and a sudden
dryness in his throat. He examined these phenomena afterwards, and
decided in his own mind that they were assignable to fear. He came to
the belief which he cherishes until now, that he had to screw up his
courage pretty tightly before he could face the idea of confronting the
partners in rascality together. But here it may be observed in passing
that this kind of self-depreciation is a favourite trick with men of
unusual nerve, and is rarely resorted to by any but the most courageous.

Steinberg recognised him by the light of the gas-lamp.

'Good-evening,' he said, nodding. 'Barter's here, I suppose.'

'Sir,' said Phil, with recovered coolness, a certain light of humour
dawning in his mind, 'Mr. Barter is within, and I have no doubt will be
very happy to see you.'

Steinberg cast a sidelong glance at him, and entered. Phil closed
the door, and followed close upon his heels. Barter, with his pale
complexion fallen to the tint of dead ashes, sat huddled in the
arm-chair, staring white-eyed like a frightened madman. Steinberg stared
back at him in sheer amazement at his looks, and Phil, closing the door,
turned the key in the lock and pocketed it.

'Hillo!' cried Steinberg, turning swiftly round at the click, 'what's
this mean?' He measured Philip with his eye--a very evil and wicked eye
it was--and dropped back a step or two.

'What's this mean?' Steinberg asked again, his quick glance darting from
one to the other.

'It means, sir,' said Phil, with a glad tranquillity, 'that your
fellow-scoundrel, the courageous gentleman in the arm-chair there, is in
the act of making his confession.'

Steinberg sent one savage glance at Barter, and then dashed at him, and
planting both hands within the collar of his shirt, so banged him to and
fro that he would inevitably have done him a mischief of a serious
sort but for Phil's intervention. The method of intervention was
less tranquil than Philip's motion up to this time had been. He tore
Steinberg from his grip of the betrayer with a force he had no time to
measure, and hurled him across the room. He staggered at the door,
and his head coming noisily in contact with it, he slipped down into a
sitting posture with an expression suddenly changed from ferocity to a
complete vacuity and indifference.

Now Mr. Barter, scared as he had been, and shaken to his centre, had
begun to think again, and when he saw that Steinberg's chance in the
enemy's hands was less than nothing, that fact formed as it were the
last necessary plank for the raft of safety he desired to construct. He
got up from his place, animated by this great idea, and staggering to
the helpless Steinberg, fell down beside him and gripped his hands.

'Tie him, Mr. Bommaney, tie him!' gurgled Barter. 'He's been the ruin
of me, curse him. I should have been an honest man if it hadn't been for
him. It's him that led me into it, and he's had every sixpence of the
money. I've been his tool, his miserable tool. Tie him, Mr. Bommaney,
before he comes round again. I'll hold him for you.'

One may get good advice from the most unexpected quarter, and
whencesoever good advice may come it is worth while to follow it. Phil
took a dandy scarf from Steinberg's own neck, and tied him tightly,
wrist to wrist Then he helped him to his feet, and set him in a chair.

'He came here to-night,' Barter gurgled on, with tears of sincerest
penitence, 'to bleed me again. He's got my I.O.U. for £82 he cheated me
of last week. He's had every penny of the money. I haven't had so much
as a single farthing of it myself. I'll swear I haven't.'

'That's your lay, is it?' said Steinberg, whose scattered wits were
coming back to him. 'You shall answer for this violence in the proper
quarter, Bommaney.'

'I will answer for it in the proper quarter,' Phil replied. 'I will
trouble you, Mr. Steinberg, to come to the proper quarter now.'

'You won't forget,' said Barter, 'that I helped to capture him. You'll
speak a word for me, Mr. Bommaney?

'I've been that villain's victim all along. I should never have gone
wrong if it hadn't been for him, and I've wanted to send the money back
over and over again, but he got it into his own hands and wouldn't
listen to it, and after all I never took the money, Mr. Bommaney--I only
found it. It was Steinberg kept it. He said I should be a fool to let it
go.'

What sentiments of contempt and rage inspired Mr. Steinberg's bosom
at this juncture must be imagined. He looked them all, but verbally
expressed none of them.

'Get up,' said Phil, addressing him. Steinberg obeyed. 'Take a seat in
that corner.' Steinberg obeyed again. 'Now you--' to Barter, 'take a
place in that corner, behind the desk.'

'With pleasure, Mr. Bommaney,' said Barter, 'with the very greatest
willingness. I desire to make no resistance to the law. I helped to
capture the criminal Please remember that, Mr. Bommaney. Pray remember
that.'

He took hold of a heavy ruler which happened to be lying on the desk,
and deeming that he and the other rascal were about to be left alone
together, he showed it shakily to Steinberg, as a hint that he was not
without means of protection against a man unarmed and bound.

Phil unlocked the door, inserted the key on the other side, disappeared,
and turned the lock anew. The two criminals heard his footstep sounding
elate, triumphant, and threatening to their ears as he went along the
boarded floor. They listened as the footstep crossed the square boulders
of the courtyard, and listened still until their sound melted into the
blended noises of the outer street. A minute later the step was heard
returning, accompanied by another, solid and terrible. They knew it, and
their hearts, low as they were already, sank at it. The door opened and
Phil reappeared, followed by a policeman.

'I give these two in charge,' the young man said, 'the one as the thief,
the other as the receiver of a bundle of bank-notes of the value of
eight thousand pounds, the property of my father, Mr. Philip Bommaney of
Coalporter's Alley.'

'I'm quite willing to go without resistance,' said Mr. Barter from
behind the table. 'I assisted in the capture, and I am ready to say
anything.'

'That's the first true word you've spoken,' Steinberg snarled. 'You can
take this thing off,' holding out his hands. 'I'll go quietly. I can get
bail in an hour.'

'Don't have it taken off, Mr. Bommaney, not if we're to travel in the
same vehicle. He threatened me while you were away. He said if they
gave him fifty years he'd kill me when he came out again. He'll do it,
because I made a clean breast of it, didn't I, Mr. Bommaney? I made a
clean breast of it, officer. I'm ready to--tell everything. He's ruined
me, and now he says he'll kill me because I'm ready to make a clean
breast of it.'

'I choose to be taken separately, if you please. I myself will pay the
fare. I won't travel with that cackling idiot.'

'I will go with Mr. Bommaney with pleasure,' said the penitent. 'I'll go
with you with pleasure anywhere. I'd rather go with you a great deal.'

It was hardly to be expected that Philip should feel very warmly towards
either of his two companions, but of the two he misliked Steinberg the
less. And, since it seemed humane and reasonable to choose, he chose
Steinberg as his travelling companion. The officer set Steinberg's hat
upon his head, and the quartet set out. The sight of a man with his
hands tightly bound with a scarlet muffler gathered a momentary little
crowd at the Inn gate; but, a pair of hansoms being summoned, captives
and captors were speedily relieved from vulgar observation. The station
reached, it turned out that the communicative Mr. Barter, in the
exuberance of his heart, had exposed to the officer _en route_ the
whereabouts of the lost notes. He declared that to his knowledge they
rested in a safe, the position of which he indicated, in Steinberg's
Hatton Garden office. The Inspector before whom the charge was made
deemed this intelligence worthy of being acted on at once. The two
prisoners were searched, and Mr. Barter was so good as to point out,
among Steinberg's keys, those which were necessary for the purposes of
investigation. He even went so far as to offer his assistance as guide;
but this was declined with a chilliness singularly at variance with the
solicitous warmth of the proposal.

'I think, sir,' said the Inspector, with an arctic disrespect which was
so frozen as to be almost respectful, 'that we can manage this without
your assistance.'

The Divisional Superintendent, being communicated with by telephone,
arrived upon the scene. The matter in hand having been laid before him
with curt official brevity, he asked for the keys, called to himself a
constable, and was preparing to set out, when Philip begged permission
to accompany him.

'The notes, sir,' he said, 'were left in my father's trust by a dear
old friend of his. My father himself was supposed to have made use of
them--a thing of which he was incapable. If I can take to him the news
that they are found, I can lift a load of undeserved disgrace from the
mind of an honourable man.'

'I shall be pleased to have your company, Mr. Bommaney,' the
Superintendent answered, touched a little by the young man's
earnestness. So the three got into a four-wheeler, and bowled away to
Hatton Garden, and there made entry into the chambers lately occupied by
Mr. Steinberg. There was no gas here, but the constable's dark lantern
showed the way. It revealed the safe in the position the communicative
criminal had assigned to it. It revealed the notes, snugly spread out in
one crisp little heap, and arranged with business-like precision in the
order of their numbers.

This golden spectacle once seen, Phil dashed into the street, hailed a
hansom, and drove pell-mell, exciting the cabman who conducted him by
the promise of a double fare, to the residence of old Brown and old
Brown's daughter. There he told the glorious news, a little broken and
halting in his speech. Patty threw her arms about him, and cried without
concealment or restraint. Old Brown blew his nose with a suspicious
frequency, and shook his adopted son-in-law by the hand at frequent
intervals.

'Phil,' he cried at last, 'where's your father? By God, sir, he never
had any need to run away from me, because he happened to lose a handful
of paltry money. What had he got to do but come and say, "Brown, it's
gone!" He hadn't trust enough in me to think I'd believe him. Let's get
at him. Where is he?'

The old boy tugged furiously at the bell-pull.

'Send Brenner round to the stable,' he said to the servant. 'Tell him
to get the horses to, and bring the carriage round at once. Where's your
father, Phil?'

'He's down Poplar way,' said Phil. 'Hornett, his old clerk, is living in
the same house with him.'

'We'll go down, and rouse him up,' the old boy said, with a moist eye
and trembling hand. 'Phil, my lad,' he went on, grasping the young
fellow's hand in his own, 'I'm getting to be an old 'un. You wouldn't
think it to look at me, because, thank God, I've always known how to
take my trouble lightly, but I've seen a lot of it in my time, and you
can take my word for this--there isn't any trouble in the world that's
hardly so bitter as for an honest man to have to take another for a
rogue.'

So it came to pass that Bommaney senior, who after all, perhaps, hardly
deserved to be made a hero of, was plenteously bedewed with the tears of
three most honourable and high-minded people, and was, set up in their
minds as a sort of live statue of undeserved martyrdom. They who learned
the tale afterwards mourned his weakness, and supposed him to be the
victim of a too sensitive organisation. He lives now with a genuine halo
of sanctity about him, and seems in the minds of some to have suffered
for the sake of a great principle, quite noble, but not quite definitely
defined.

Odd things happen every day in the world, and pass by unregarded. The
worship of Bommaney senior's sensibilities seems a trifle dull when all
things are considered, though one has to be glad that an honest son can
think of him with pity mixed with admiration. But perhaps the oddest
thing of all in connection with this story may be looked for in the
shorthand reporter's notes of the Recorder's speech at the Old Bailey,
when the accusation against Messrs. Barter and Steinberg came to be
heard.

'You, Barter,' said the learned Recorder, 'appear to have been drawn
into this by the influence of an intelligence stronger and abler than
your own. You appear, in a moment of weakness, to have been led away
by that stronger intelligence from the paths of rectitude. But you have
displayed so clear a sense of the enormity of your conduct, and have,
by your complete disclosures of the crime committed by you and your
companion, and, by your evidence in Court to-day, shown so complete a
repentance for it, that I do not think that it would be politic or just
to lay a severe term of imprisonment upon you. Nevertheless, the law of
the land must be justified, and I feel a pleasure in believing that in
justifying the law I am affording you an opportunity for reflection, for
the formation of good resolutions for the future, and for a confirmation
of those better desires which I believe--in spite of your association
with this criminal enterprise--to animate your mind.'

Now, to my fancy, this has a distinct element of comedy in it; but the
learned Recorder resembled some of his unlearned brethren, in respect to
the fact that he could not be expected to know everything.

Mr. Barter thrives again, but he is even now awaiting, with the
uneasiest sensations, the liberation of the man who betrayed him into
crime.





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