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Title: Mattie:—A Stray (Vol 1 of 3)
Author: Robinson, F. W. (Frederick William), 1830-1901
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.

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                           MATTIE:--A STRAY.

                           BY F. W. ROBINSON

   THE AUTHOR OF "HIGH CHURCH," "NO CHURCH," "OWEN:-A WAIF," &c., &c.

     "By bestowing blessings upon others, we entail them on ourselves."
        HORACE SMITH.

    IN THREE VOLUMES

    VOL. I.

    LONDON:
    HURST AND BLACKETT, PUBLISHERS,
    SUCCESSORS TO HENRY COLBURN,
    18, GREAT MARLBOROUGH STREET.
    1864.

    _The right of Translation is reserved._

    LONDON:
    PRINTED BY MACDONALD AND TUGWELL, BLENHEIM HOUSE,
    BLENHEIM STREET, OXFORD STREET.


              INSCRIBED
                 TO
         ALFRED EAMES, ESQ.,
    ROYAL NAVAL SCHOOL, NEW CROSS,
                 BY
     HIS OLD AND ATTACHED FRIEND
             THE AUTHOR.



CONTENTS OF THE FIRST VOLUME.


BOOK I. FIGURES IN OUTLINE.

I. LIFE IN GREAT SUFFOLK STREET

II. MATTIE

III. LODGERS

IV. MR. HINCHFORD'S EXPERIMENT

V. SET UP IN BUSINESS

VI. THE END OF THE PROLOGUE


BOOK II. THE NEW ESTATE.

I. HOME FOR GOOD

II. A GIRL'S ROMANCE

III. OUR CHARACTERS

IV. A NEW ADMIRER

V. PERSEVERANCE

VI. "IN THE FULNESS OF THE HEART," ETC.

VII. CONFIDENCE

VIII. SIDNEY STATES HIS INTENTIONS


BOOK III. UNDER SUSPICION.

I. AN OLD FRIEND

II. STRANGE VISITORS TO GREAT SUFFOLK STREET

III. SIDNEY'S SUGGESTION

IV. PERPLEXITY

V. MR. WESDEN TURNS ECCENTRIC

VI. A BURST OF CONFIDENCE

VII. THE PLAN FRUSTRATED

VIII. A SUDDEN JOURNEY



MATTIE: A STRAY.



BOOK I.

FIGURES IN OUTLINE.



CHAPTER I.

LIFE IN GREAT SUFFOLK STREET.


It was not an evening party of the first water, or given by people of
first-rate position in society, or held in a quarter whither the
fashionable classes most do congregate. It was a small party--ostensibly
a juvenile party--held on the first floor of a stationer's shop in Great
Suffolk Street, Southwark.

Not even a first-rate stationers', had the shutters been down and the
fog less dense to allow us to inspect Mr. Wesden's wares; but an
emporium, which did business in no end of things--cigars, tobacco-pipes,
children's toys, glass beads by the skein or ounce, fancy work, cottons
and tapes. These, the off-shoots from the stationery business, the
news-vending, the circulating of novels in four, five, and six volumes
at one penny per volume, if not detained more than three days; a
stationery business which report said had not turned out badly for old
Wesden, thanks to old Wesden's patience, industry and care, say
we--thanks to his screwing and his close-fistedness that would not have
trusted his own mother, had she lived, said the good people--for there
are good people everywhere--in Great Suffolk Street. Certainly, there
were but small signs of "close-fistedness" about the premises on that
particular evening; the shop had been closed at an earlier hour than
business men would have considered suitable. They were wasting the gas
in Mr. Wesden's drawing-room; feasting and revelry held dominion there.
There had been three separate knocks given at the door from three
separate Ganymedes--No. 1, with oranges; No. 2, with tarts from the
pastry-cook; No. 3, with beer, which last was left in a tin can of
colossal proportions, supper not being ready, and beer being liable to
flatness in jugs--especially the beer from the Crown.

We watch all this from the outside, in the thick fog which made things
unpleasant in Great Suffolk Street. There is more life, and life that
appertains to this chapter of our history, outside here than in that
first floor front, where the sons and daughters of Mr. Wesden's
neighbours are playing at forfeits, romping, jumping, and laughing, and
thoroughly enjoying themselves. They are not thinking of the fog, the
up-stairs folk shut away from the rawness of that January night; it
would have troubled Mr. Wesden had his shop been open, and led him to
maintain a stricter watch over the goods, and upon those customers whose
faces might be strange to him; but he had forgotten the weather at that
juncture, and sat in the corner of the drawing-room, smoking his pipe,
and keeping his daughter--a bright-faced, golden-haired girl of
twelve--within his range of vision. The fog and the cold troubled no one
at Mr. Wesden's--only "outsiders" objected, and remarked upon them to
friends when they met, coughing over one, and shivering through the
other, as lungs and scanty clothes necessitated. The establishment of
Mr. Wesden, stationer, troubled or attracted, an outsider though, who
had passed and repassed it three or four times between the hours of
eight and nine, p.m., and at half-past nine had backed into the recess
of Mr. Wesden's doorway. A small outsider, of uncertain age--a boy, a
nondescript, an anything, judging by the pinched white face and unkempt
hair; a girl, by the rag of a frock that hung upon her, and from which
her legs and feet protruded.

Subject matter of great interest was there for this small
watcher--huddled in the doorway, clutching her elbows with her bony
fingers, and listening at the keyhole, or varying proceedings now and
then by stepping on to the clammy pavement, and looking up, through the
fog, at the lighted blinds, once or twice indulging in a flat-footed
kind of jig, to keep her feet warm. She was one of few loiterers in
Great Suffolk Street that uncomfortable night--men, women, and boys
hurried rapidly past, and thinned in number as the night stole on--only
a policeman slouched by occasionally, and dismayed her somewhat, judging
by her closer proximity to Mr. Wesden's street door, whenever his heavy
tread jarred upon her nerves.

When the majority of the shops was closed, when the fog grew denser as
the lights went out, and the few stragglers became more phantom-like and
grey, quite a regiment of policemen marched down Great Suffolk Street,
changing places at certain corners with those officials who had done
day-duty, and glad to have done, for that day at least.

The new policeman who crawled upon Mr. Wesden's side of the way, was a
sharper man than he who had left off crawling, and gone home at a gallop
to his wife and thirteen children; for the new-comer was not deceived by
the deep-doorway and the dense fog, but reached forth a hand and touched
the figure cowering in the shadows.

A red-faced young man, with a bull neck, was this Suffolk Street
official--an abrupt young man, who shook people rather violently by the
shoulder, and hurt them.

"Oh!--stash that, please," ejaculated the child, at last; "you hurts!"

"What do you want here?"

"Nothin' partickler. If the young gal inside knows I'm here, she'll send
out somethin' prime. That's all. Last thing, afore she goes to bed, she
comes and looks, mostly. She's a good 'un."

"Ah! you'd better go home."

"Can't manage to make it up tuppence--and square the last penny with
Mother Watts. You know Mother Watts?"

"Ah!"

"Well, she's down upon me, Watts is--so I can't go home."

"You must go somewhere--you can't stop here."

"Lor bless you, this is the comfortablest doorway in the street, if you
don't mind, p'leesman. I often turn in here for the night, and some of
you fine fellers lets a gal bide, and ain't so down upon her as you are.
You're new to this beat."

"Am I, really?" was the ironical rejoinder.

"You used to do Kent Street and stir up Mother Watts. You locked up
Mother Watts once--don't you remember?"

"Yes--I remember. Are you going?"

"If you won't let a gal stay, o' course I am. They've got a jolly
kick-up here--that gal with the blue frock's birthday--old Wesden's gal,
as I just told you about--I wish I was her! Did you ever see her of a
Sunday?"

"Not that I know on."

"Just like the little gals at the play--spruce as carrots--and gloves
on, and such boots! Fust rate, I can tell you."

"I wouldn't jaw any more, but go home," suggested the policeman.

"All right, master. I say, don't you twig how the fog has got on my
chest?"

"Well, you _are_ hoarse-ish."

"Spilt my woice yesterday, and made it wus by tryin' it on in Union
Street to-day. Gave it up, and bought a haporth of lucifers, and got the
boxes in my pocket now. Hard lines to-night, mate."

Familiarity breeds contempt and engenders rebuke--the loquacity of the
child offended the official, who drew her from the doorway with a jerk,
totally unexpected upon her side, and placed her in the roadway.

"Now be off from here--I've had enough of _you_."

"Werry well--why didn't you say so afore?"

And, without waiting for a reply to her query, the child went down Great
Suffolk Street towards the Borough, sullenly and slowly. The policeman
watched her vanish in the fog, and resumed his way; he had done his duty
to society, and "moved on" one who had insulted it by her helplessness
and squalor; there was a woman shrieking denunciations on the pot-man of
the public house at the corner--a man who had turned her unceremoniously
into the street--let him proceed to business in a new direction.

Twenty steps on his way, and the ill-clad, sharp-visaged girl, stealing
back in the fog to the welcome doorway whence he had abruptly expelled
her.

"He's not everybody," she ejaculated, screwing herself comfortably into
her old quarters, "though he thinks he is. I wonder what they're up to
now? Don't I wish it was my buff-day, and somebody had somethink to give
me, that's all. Don't I--oh! gemini."

"Hillo!--I beg pardon--I didn't know anyone was hiding here--have I hurt
you?" inquired a youth, who, running down Great Suffolk Street at a
smart pace, had turned into this doorway, and nearly jammed its occupant
to death with the sudden concussion.

"You've done for my lights, young un," was the grave assertion.

"Your--your what?"

"My congreve lights--there's a kiver gone--I heered it scrunch. S'pose
you'll pay like a--like a man?"

"I--I'm very sorry, but really I'm rather scarce of pocket-money just
now--in fact, I've spent it all," stammered the lad. "You see, it was
your fault, hiding here, and playing about here at this time of night,
and I was in a hurry, being late."

"There isn't anyone inside who'd stand a ha-penny, is there?" whined the
girl; "I'm the gal that's allus about here, you know--I've had nuffin'
to eat to-day, and ain't no money for a night's lodging. I'm hard
up--wery hard up, upon my soul. I don't remember being so druv since
mother died o' the fever--never. And I'm not well--got a sore throat,
which the fog touches up--awful."

"I'll--I'll ask my pa'; but I don't think there is anything to give
away."

The youth knocked at the door, and presently rushed by the servant who
opened it, paying no heed to the remark of--

"Well, you are late, Master Sidney, I must say!"

The door closed again, and Master Sidney--a tall lad of fourteen, with
long brown hair, brown eyes, and a white face--tore up the stairs two
steps at a time, and dashed with but little ceremony into the
dining-room, where the supper was laid by that time, and the juveniles
were ranged round the table, large-eyed and hungry.

A shout from the boys assembled there--"Here's Sidney Hinchford;" a
reproof from a stiff-backed, white-haired old gentleman in the
corner--"Where _have_ you been, boy?" a light-haired fairy in white
muslin and blue sash darting towards him, crying, "Sidney, Sidney, I
thought you were lost!"

"So I have been--lost in the fog--such a mull of it! I'll tell you
presently when I've spoken to pa' for a moment. And, oh! Harriet,
here's--here's a little brooch I've bought, and with many happy, happy
returns of the day from a tiresome playfellow, and--and--_stolen, by
Jingo_!"

The hand withdrew itself from the side pocket of his jacket, and was
passed over the forehead, the lower jaw dropped, the brown eyes glared
round the room, across at the opposite wall, and up at the gas branch--a
two-burner of a bronze finger-post pattern,--and then Master Sidney
doubled up suddenly and collapsed.



CHAPTER II.

MATTIE.


Mrs. Sarah Jane Watts, better known to society and society's guardians
by the cognomen of Mother Watts, kept a lodging-house in Kent Street.
They who know where Kent Street, Borough is, and what Kent Street is
like by night and day, can readily imagine that the establishment of
Mrs. Watts was not a large one, or the prices likely to be high. Mrs.
Watts' house, in fact, belonged not to Kent Street proper, but formed
No. 2 of a cut-throat-looking court, crossing Kent Street at right
angles. Here beds, or shares of beds, or shelves arranged horizontally
under beds, were let out at twopence per head, or three-halfpence
without the blankets, which were marked, "Stop Thief!"

Whether Mrs. Watts did badly with her business, or whether business
prospered with her, it was difficult to determine by the landlady's
external appearance, Mrs. W. being ever in rags, ever full of complaints
and--drink. "Times" were always hard with her--the police were hard with
her--her Kent Street contemporaries were hard with her--didn't treat her
fair, undersold her, put more in a bed and charged less--"split upon her
when things weren't on the square. Kent Street wasn't what it was when
she was a gal!"

People constantly breathing the same atmosphere may notice a change in
the "surroundings," but to common observers, or prying people paying
occasional visits to this place, Kent Street seems ever the same--an
eye-sore to public gaze, a satire on parish cleanliness and care, a
disgrace to parish authorities in general, and landlords and ground
landlords in particular.

Ever to common eyes the same appearances in Kent Street. The bustle of a
cheap trade in its shops; the knots of thieves and loose-livers at every
narrow turning; the murmurs of unseen disputants, in the true London
vernacular, welling from dark entries and up-stairs rooms; the shoals of
children, hatless, shoeless, almost garmentless--all a medley of sights
and sounds, increasing towards night-fall, when Kent Street is full of
horror, and lives and purses are not safe there.

It is eleven in the evening of the same day, in which our story opens,
and Mrs. Sarah Jane Watts, baggy as regards costume, and unsteady as
regards her legs, was standing in the doorway of her domicile,
inspecting, by the light of the candle in her hand, a trinket of some
kind, which had been proffered her by a smaller mortal, infinitely more
ragged than herself.

"You got it honestly--I takes your word for it--you allers was a gal who
spoke the truth, I will say that for you--it's a sham affair, and brassy
as a knocker--say eightpence?"

"It's really gold, Mrs. Watts--it's worth a heap of money."

"It's the brassiest thing that ever I clapped eyes on--say eightpence
and a bit of supper?"

"What sort o' supper?"

"Hot supper--tripe and inguns--as much as you can pad with."

"It's worth a sight more, if it's gold."

"I'll ask Simes--go up-stairs and wait a minit'--Simes'll tell us if
it's gold, and praps stand more for it. I don't want the thing--I don't
think it's safe to keep, myself; and if you've prigged it, Mattie, why,
you'd better let it go."

"Very well."

Mattie--the girl whom we have watched in the dark entry of Mr. Wesden's
door, wearied out with Mrs. Watts' loquacity, or overpowered by her
arguments, went up-stairs into a room on the first floor. A long,
low-ceilinged room, containing three beds, and each bed containing four
women and a few supplementary children, one affected with a
whooping-cough that was evidently fast racking it to death. This was the
feminine dormitory of Mrs. Watts--a place well known to London women in
search of a night's rest, Southwark way--a place for the ballad singer
who had twopence to spend, or a soul above the workhouse; for the
beggar-women who had whined about the streets all day; for the tramps
passing from Surrey to Essex, and taking London _en route_; for women of
all callings, who were deplorably poor, idle or vicious--it mattered
not, so that they paid Mrs. Watts her claim upon them.

Mattie sat down by the fire, and began shivering with more violence than
had characterized her in the cold and fog. The disturbed shadow, flung
by the fire-light--the only light there--on the wall, shivered and
danced grotesquely in the rear. No one took notice of the
new-comer--although more than one woman lay awake in the background. A
wrinkled hag, reposing with her basket of stay-laces under her head for
security's sake, winked and blinked at her for a while, and then went
off into a disjointed snore--the young mother with the sick child, sat
up in her share of the bed, and rocked the coughing infant backwards and
forwards, till her neighbour, with an oath, swore at her for letting the
cold in; then all was as Mattie had found it upon entering.

Presently Mrs. Watts returned, candle in hand, smelling more
aromatically of something hot and strong than ever.

"Simes says it's brass, and worth eightpence, and here's the money.
Strike me dead, if he said more than eightpence, there!--strike him
blind, if he'll get a farden out of it!"

"Where's the money?"

"Here's fippence--tuppence for to-night, and a penny you owe me, that
makes eightpence; and as for supper, why, I'll keep my word--no one can
ever say of Mother Watts that she didn't keep her word in anythink she
undertooked."

"I--I don't care so much about supper as I did--ain't I just husky? No
singing to-morrow, mother."

"Only singing small," was the rejoinder with a grunt at her own wit;
"you'd do better picking up brooches--you was allers clever with your
fingers, mind you. I only wish I'd been 'arf as sharp when I was young."

"I--I only wish I hadn't--found the thing," commented the girl,
sorrowfully.

"Well, I'm blest!"

Mrs. Watts was taking off the lid of her saucepan, and probing the
contents with a fork.

"Fippence isn't a fortun, and the young chap gave me a ha-penny once
when I was singing in Suffolk Street--I didn't mean it, somehow--I said
I never would again! Don't you remember when mother died here, how she
went on just at the last as to what was to become o' me; and didn't I
say I'd grow up good, and stick to singing and begging, and all that
_fun_--or go to the workus--or anythink?"

"Ah! your mother was a fine 'un to go on sometimes."

"And then I----"

"Now, I don't want to hear anythink about your goings on--I don't know
where you found that brassy brooch--I don't want to know--Simes don't
want to know! We takes your word for it, that it was come by proper, and
the less you say about it, the better; and the sooner you turns into
bed, if you don't want no supper, the better too."

"I don't see a good twopen'orth over there," commented Mattie; "they're
as full as ever they can stick."

"Take the rug, gal, and have it all to yourself, here by the fire."

"Well, it's not so bad. I say--you know old Wesden?"

"What, in Suffolk Street?--well."

"He's got a party to-night--I have been a listening to the
music--they've been dancing and all manner. And laughing--my eye! they
just have been a-laughing, Mother Watts--I've been laughing myself to
hear 'em."

"Um," was the unsympathetic response.

"It's a buff-day--Wesden's gal's buff-day. You know Wesden's gal--proud
of herself rather, and holds her head up in furst-rate style, as well
she may with such a shop as her father's got in Suffolk Street, and good
and pretty as she is, Lor bless her! I s'pose old Wesden's worth pounds
and pounds now?"

"Hundreds."

"Hundreds and hundreds of pounds," commented Mattie, coiling herself in
the rug upon the floor; "ah! I s'pose so. I often thinks, do you know, I
should like to be Wesden's little gal--what a lucky thing it'd be to be
turned somehow into Wesden's little gal, just at Christmas time, when
fairies are about."

"What!"

"Real fairies, on course--not the gals with the legs in the pantermines.
If there was any real fairies on course too, but I'm too knowing to
b'lieve that. But if there was, I'd say, please turn me into Wesden's
little gal, and give me the big doll by the parler door, and dress me
like a lady in a blue meriner."

"Well, you are going on nicely about Wesden's gal. That was allus your
fault, Mattie--such a gal to jaw, jaw, jaw--such a clapper, clapper,
clapper about everythink and everybody."

"I was just a-thinking that I _was_ going it rather, but I ain't a bit
sleepy, and I thought you wouldn't mind me while you was having your
supper, and my throat's so awful sore, and you ain't so sharp quite, as
you are sometimes. Do you know what I'd do, if I was a boy?"

"How should I know?"

"Go to sea--get away from here, and grow up 'spectable. I wouldn't stop
in Kent Street--I hate Kent Street--I'd walk into the country--oh! ever
so far--until I came to the sea, and then I'd find a ship and turn
sailor."

"Lookee here, you young drab," cried the stay-lace woman, suddenly
opening her eyes, and shrieking out in a shrill falsetto, "I'll turn out
and skin you, if you can't keep that tongue still. What am I here
for?--what did I pay tuppence for?--isn't that cussed coughing baby
enough row at a time?"

"If you've got anythink to say aginst my baby," said a husky voice in
the next bed, "say it out to his mother, and mind your cat's head while
you say it, you disagreeable baggage!"

"Well, the likes of that!"

"And the likes of you, for that matter--don't give me any more of your
sarse, or I'll----"

A tapping on the door with a stick diverted the general attention.

"Who's there?"

"Only me, Mrs. Watts."

"Oh! _only_ you," was the response; "come in, will yer? I've no need to
lock myself in, while I hide the swag away. _Now_, what's the matter?"

The door was opened, and enter a policeman, a man in private clothes,
with a billycock hat and a walking-stick, accompanied by a pale-faced,
long-haired youth, of fourteen years of age.

"Nothing particular the matter--only something lost as usual, Mrs.
Watts," said the man in private dress, politely. "Where's Mattie
to-night?"

"There she is. She's been in all the evening with a bad throat."

"Poor girl--throats _is_ bad at this time of the year."

The speaker looked at the lad at his side, after giving the first turn
backward to the rug.

"Is this the girl?"

The policeman took the candle from the table, and held the light close
to the girl's face--white, pinched, and haggard, with black eyes full of
horror.

"Don't say it's me, please," she gasped, in a low voice; "I'm the gal
that sings in Suffolk Street on a Saturday night, and they gives wittles
to at Wesden's. It isn't me."

Mattie had intended to brave it out at first, to have remained stolid,
sullen, and defiant, after the manners of her class; but she felt ill
and nervous, and the shadow of the prison-house loomed before her and
made her heart sink. Prison was a comfortable place in its way, but she
had never taken to it--one turn at it had been enough for her. If it had
been a policeman, or old Wesden, or anybody but this boy three years her
senior in age, many years her junior in knowledge of the world, she
would have been phlegmatic to the last; but this boy had been kind to
her twice in life--once on Christmas-eve, and once on a Saturday night
before that, and she gave way somewhat, partly from her new and
unaccountable weakness, partly because it was not a very stern face that
looked down into hers.

"That's her, sure enough--eh, young gentleman?" remarked the police
officer in private clothes.

There was another pause--the girl's face blanched still more, and the
look in her eyes became even more intense and eager; the boy glanced
over his shoulder at the servants of the law.

"No--this isn't the girl. Oh! no."

"Are you quite certain? Stand up, Mattie."

Mattie turned out of her rug and stood up, erect and motionless, with
her hands to her side, and her sharp black eyes still on Master
Hinchford.

"Oh! no, policeman. Ever so much taller!"

"Then we're on the wrong scent it seems, and you'd better go home and
leave it to us. Good night, Mrs. Watts."

"Good night," was the muttered response.

Policeman, detective, and Master Hinchford went down the stairs to the
court, out of the court into Kent Street, black and noisome--a turgid
current, that wore only a semblance of stillness at hours more late than
that.

"We'll let you know in the morning if there's any clue," said the
detective. "Jem," to the policeman, "see this lad out of Kent Street."

"All right. I think I'd try old Simes for the brooch."

"I'll drop on him presently. Good night, Jem."

"Good night."

The boy and policeman went to the end of Kent Street together, then the
boy bade the policeman good night, ran across the road, recrossed in the
fog a little lower down, and edged his way round St. George's Church
into the old objectionable thoroughfare. A few minutes afterwards, he
walked cautiously into the up-stairs room of Mrs. Watts, startling that
good lady at her late tripe supper very considerably.

"Hollo! young gemman, what's up now?"

Mattie, who had been crouching before the fire, shrank towards it more,
with her hands spread out to the blaze. She looked over her shoulder at
the door, anticipating his two unwelcome companions to follow in his
wake.

"Look here, Mattie," said he, in a very cool and business-like manner,
"fair's fair, you know. I've let you off in a handsome manner, but I'm
not going to lose the brooch. If it had been a trumpery brooch, I
shouldn't have cared so much."

"Was it real gold?"

"A real gold heart. I gave twelve and sixpence for it--I've been saving
up for it ever since last April."

"I'll get it--I'll try and get it," said Mattie; "I haven't it myself
now--it's been passed on. Upon my soul, I'll try my hardest to get it
back, see if I don't."

"We'll all try our werry hardest, sir," remarked Mrs. Watts, blandly.

"Ah! I daresay you will," said the boy, dubiously; "p'raps it had been
better if I'd told the truth--my pa always says 'Stick to the truth,
Sidney;' but you did look such a poor body to lock up, that I told a lie
for once. And who would have thought that you were a regular thief,
Mattie!"

"I'm not a reg'lar--I don't like thieving--I've only thove when I've
been werry--werry--hard druv; and I wasn't thinking of thieving, ony of
getting warm, when you came bump aginst me in the doorway. I meant to
have knocked and asked for a scrap to eat after awhile, when they'd all
got good-tempered over the beer and things. I'll bring the brooch--I'll
get it back--leave it to me, Master Hinchford."

"How did you know my name?"

"Oh! I know everybody about here--everybody at your place, 'specially.
Old Wesden and his gal in the blue meriner--and you, and your father
with the red face and the white mustache and hair--and the servant, and
the boy who takes the papers out, and is allus dropping them out of the
oil-skin kiver, and everybody. I'll bring the brooch, because you let me
off. Trust me," she repeated again.

"Well, I'll trust you. Fair play, mind."

"And now, cut out of this--it isn't quite a safe place for you, and the
people can't sleep if you talk, and you may catch the whooping
cough----"

"And you'll bring the brooch back? It's a bargain between us, Mattie."

"It's all right."

The youth re-echoed "all right," and went down-stairs, watched from the
dark landing by the girl who had robbed him. After a while the girl
closed the door and followed slowly down-stairs also. She was going in
search of old Simes.



CHAPTER III.

LODGERS.


"Depend upon it, Sidney, you'll never set eyes on that brooch again."

"I'm not so sure about that," was the half-confident reply.

"And depend upon it, you don't deserve to see it, boy--and that I for
one shall be glad if it never turns up."

"Pa!--you really can't mean it."

"You told a lie about it, Sidney, and though you saved the girl from
prison, yet it was a big, black lie all the same; and if luck follows
it, why it's clean against the Bible."

"The girl looked so pitifully at me, you see--and I did think she might
give the brooch back, out of gratitude."

"Gratitude in a young thief out of Kent Street?" laughed the father;
"well, it's a lesson in life to you, boy, and, after all, it only cost
twelve and sixpence."

"Ah!" sighed Sidney, "it was a long pull."

"You'll have learned by this that a lie never prospers--that in the long
run it confronts you again when least expected, to make your cheek burn
with your own baseness. I wonder now," gravely surveying his son,
"whether you would have let that girl off, if there had been no hope of
the brooch coming to light."

The boy hesitated--then looked full at his sire.

"Well--I think I should."

"I think you told a lie for twelve and sixpence--the devil got a bargain
from a Hinchford."

"You're rather hard upon me, pa," complained the boy, "and it wasn't for
twelve and sixpence, because I never got the brooch back; and if I ever
tell another lie, may I never see twelve and sixpence of my own again.
There!"

"Bravo, Sid!--that's a promise I'm glad to have wormed out of you,
somehow. And yet--ye gods!--what a promise!"

"I'll keep it--see if I don't," said Master Sidney, with his lips
compressed, and his cheeks a little flushed.

The father shook his head slowly.

"You are going into business--you will be a business man,--presently a
City man--one who will drive hard bargains, make hard bargains, and have
to fight his way through a hundred thousand liars. In the pursuit of
money--above all, in the scraping together of that fugitive article, you
must lie, or let a good chance go by to turn an honest penny. I can't
expect you _much_ better than other men, Sid."

"I wonder whether uncle lied much before----"

"He lied as little as he could, I daresay," quickly interrupted the
father, "but he became a rich man, and he rose from City trading. But I
told you once before--I think I have told you more than once--that I
never wish to hear that uncle's name."

"Yes, but I had forgotten it for the moment--speaking of money-making,
and City men, threw me a little off my guard."

"Yes, yes, I saw that, my boy--drop the curtain over the old grievance,
and shut the past away from you and me. I don't complain--I'm happy
enough--a little contents me. In the future, with a son to love and be
proud of, I see the old man's happiest days!"

"We'll try our best, sir, to make them so," exclaimed the boy.

"The Hinchfords are a buoyant race, and are not to be always kept down.
I never heard of more than one of us, a poor man in the same generation;
the Hinchfords have intelligence, perseverance, and pluck, and they make
their way in the world. If I have been unlucky in my time, and have
dropped down to a lodging in Great Suffolk Street, I see the next on the
list," laying his hand lightly on his boy's shoulder, "making his way to
the higher ground, God willing."

"I haven't made much way yet," remarked the son, checking quietly the
ambitious dreaming of the father. "I have only left school two months,
and an office-boy in Hippen's firm is not a very great affair, after
all."

"It's a step forward--don't grumble--you'll push your way--you're a
Hinchford."

"I'll do my best--I never was afraid of work."

"No--rather too fond of it, I fear. Sometimes I think there is no
occasion to pore, pore, pore over those books of an evening, studying a
lot of dry works, which can never be of service to a City man."

"I should like to be _precious_ clever!" was the boy's exclamation.

The father laughed, and added, with more satire than the boy detected--

"The precious clever ones seek out-of-the-way roads to fortune, and miss
them--die in the workhouse, occasionally. It is only respectable
mediocrity that jogs on to independence."

This strange dialogue between father and son occurred in the first-floor
of the little stationer's shop in Great Suffolk Street. Father and son
had lodged there eight years at least; Mrs. Hinchford, a delicate woman,
several years her husband's junior, had died there--the place was home
to the stiff-backed, white-haired man, who had prophesied a rise in life
for his son. Eight or nine years ago, the three Hinchfords had walked
into Mr. Wesden's shop, and looked at the apartments that had been
announced to be let from the front pane of the first-floor windows; had,
after a little whispering together, decided on the rooms, and had never
left them since, the wife excepted, who had died with her husband's hand
in hers, praying for her boy's future. The Hinchfords had settled as
firmly to those rooms on the first-floor, as Mr. Wesden, stationer, had
settled to Great Suffolk Street in ages remote. The rent was low, the
place was handy for Mr. Hinchford, who was clerk and book-keeper to a
large builders, Southwark Bridge Road way; the attendance was not a
matter of trouble to the Hinchfords, and the landlord and his wife were
unobtrusive people, and preferred the lodgers rent to their society.

For three years and a half the Hinchfords and Wesdens had only exchanged
good mornings in their meetings on the stairs--the Wesdens were humble,
taciturn folk, and the Hinchfords proud and stand-offish. After that
period Mrs. Hinchford fell ill, and Mrs. Wesden became of service to
her; helped, at last, to nurse her, and keep her company during the long
hours of her husband's absence at business, even to take care of her
noisy boy down-stairs, when his boisterousness in the holidays made his
presence--much as the mother loved him--unbearable. The Wesdens were
kind to the Hinchfords, and Mr. Hinchford, a man to be touched by true
sympathy, unbent at that time. He was a proud man, but a sensible one,
and he never forgot a kindness proffered him. He had belonged to a
higher estate once, and, dropping suddenly to a lower, he had brought
his old notions with him, to render him wretched and uneasy. He had
thought himself above those Wesdens--petty hucksters, as they
were--until the time when Mrs. Wesden became a kind nurse to his wife,
almost a mother to his boy; and then he felt his own inferiority to a
something in them, or belonging to them, and was for ever after that
intensely grateful.

When Mrs. Hinchford died, and the lonely man had got over his first
grief, he sought Mr. Wesden's company more often, smoked a friendly pipe
with him in the back parlour now and then--begged to do so, for refuge
from that solitary drawing-room up-stairs, filled with such sad memories
as it was then. Hinchford and Wesden did not talk much, the latter was
not fond of talking; and they were odd meetings enough, either in the
parlour, or in the up-stairs room, as business necessitated.

They exchanged a few words about the weather, and the latest news in the
papers, and then subsided into their tobacco-smoke till it was time to
say good night; but Wesden was company for Hinchford in his trouble, and
when time rendered the trouble less acute, each had fallen into the
habit of smoking a pipe together once or twice a week, and did not care
to break it.

In the parlour meetings, Mrs. Wesden would bring her spare form and
pinched countenance between them, and would sit darning socks and saying
little to relieve the monotony--unless the little girl were sitting up
late, and her vivacity required attention or reprimand. They were quiet
evenings with a vengeance, and Hinchford took his cue from the couple
who managed business in Great Suffolk Street--and managed it well, for
they minded their own, and were not disturbed by other people's.

Whilst we are looking back--taking a passing glimpse over our shoulder
at the bygones--we may as well add, that the Wesdens were naturally
quiet people, and did not put on company-manners for Mr. Hinchford in
particular. Thirty years ago they had married and opened shop in Great
Suffolk Street; struggled for a living without making a fuss about it;
lived frugally, pinched themselves in many ways which the world never
knew anything about; surmounted the first obstacles in their way, and
then, in the same quiet manner, saved a little money, then a little
more, and then, as if by habit, continued saving, maintaining the same
appearance in themselves, and the same quaint stolidity towards their
neighbours. They had even borne their family troubles quietly, losing
three children out of four without any great demonstration of
grief--keeping their lamentations for after-business hours, and their
inflexible faces for their curious neighbours, to whom they seldom
spoke, and from whom they chose no friends. They were a couple contented
with themselves and their position in society,--a trifle too frugal, if
not near--staid, jogtrot, business people of week days, church-goers who
patronized free seats for economy's sake on Sundays.

Once a year the Wesdens launched out--celebrating, in the month of
January, the natal day of the bright-faced girl in whom so much love was
centred, for whom they were working steadily and persistently still.
They had a juvenile party on that day always, and Harriet's school
friends came in shoals to the feast, and Mr. Wesden presented his
compliments to Mr. Hinchford, and begged the favour of borrowing the
drawing-room for one night, and hoped also to have the honour of Mr.
Hinchford's company, and Master Hinchford's company, on that
occasion--all of which being responded to in the affirmative, affairs
went off, as a rule, satisfactorily, until that momentous night in
January, when Master Sidney Hinchford lost his brooch.

This incident altered many things, and led to many things undreamed of
by the characters yet but in outline in these pages; without it we
should not have sat down to tell the history of these people--bound up
so inextricably with that poor wanderer of the streets whom we have
heard called Mattie.



CHAPTER IV.

MR. HINCHFORD'S EXPERIMENT.


The middle of March; six weeks since the robbery of Master Hinchfords'
gold heart; a wet night in lieu of a foggy one; a cold wind sweeping
down the street and dashing the rain all manner of ways; pattens and
clogs clicking and shuffling about the pavement of Great Suffolk Street;
the stationery shop open, and Mr. Wesden at seven o'clock sitting behind
the counter waiting patiently for customers.

Being a wet night, and customers likely to be scarce in consequence, Mr.
Wesden had carefully turned out one gas burner and lowered the two
others in the window to imperceptible glimmers of a despondent
character, and then taken his seat behind the counter ready for any
amount of business that might turn up between seven and half-past nine
p.m. The gas was burning more brightly in the back parlour, through the
closed glass door of which Mrs. Wesden was cutting out shirts, and Miss
Wesden learning, or feigning to learn, her school lessons for the
morrow.

Mr. Wesden was devoting his mind purely to business; in his shop he
never read a book, or looked at a newspaper, but waited for customers,
always in one position, with his head slightly bent forwards, and his
hands clutching his knees. In that position the largest order had not
the power to stagger him--the smallest order could not take him off his
guard. He bent his mind to business--he was "on duty" for the evening.

Mr. Wesden was a short, spare man, with a narrow chest, a wrinkled face,
a sharp nose, and a sandy head of hair--a man whose clothes were shabby,
and ill fitted him, the latter not to be wondered at, Mrs. Wesden being
the tailor, and making everything at home. This saved money, and
satisfied Mr. Wesden, who cared not for appearances, had a soul above
the fashion, and a faith in his wife's judgment. In the old days Mrs.
Wesden was forced to turn tailor and trouser-maker, or see her husband
without trousers at all; tailoring had become a habit since then, and
agreed with her--it saved money still, and economy was ever a virtue
with this frugal pair.

Mr. Wesden in his shop-suit then--that was his shabbiest suit, and
exceedingly shabby it was--sat and waited for customers. He waited
patiently; to those who strayed in for sheets of note-paper, books to
read, shirt-buttons, tapes, or beads, he was very attentive, settling
the demands with promptitude and despatch, saying little save "a wet
evening," and not to be led into a divergence about a hundred matters
foreign to business, until the articles were paid for, and the money in
his till. Then, if a few loquacious customers _would_ gossip about the
times, he condescended to listen, regarding them from his meaningless
grey eyes, and responding in monosyllables, when occasion or politeness
required some kind of answer. But he was always glad to see their faces
turned towards the door--they wearied him very much, these people, and
it was odd they could not take away the articles they had purchased, and
go home in quietness.

To people in the streets who, caught by some attraction in his window,
stopped and looked thereat, he was watchful from behind his
counter--speculating as to whether they were probable purchasers, or had
felonious designs. He was a suspicious man to a certain extent as well
as a careful one, and no one lingered at his window without becoming an
object of interest from behind the tobacco-jars and penny numbers. On
this evening a haggard white face--whether a girl or woman's he could
not make out for the mist on the window-panes--had appeared several
times before the shop-window, and looked in, over the beads, and tapes,
and through packets of paper, _at him_. Not interested at anything for
sale, but keeping an eye on him, he felt assured.

He had a bill in the window--"A BOY WANTED"--and if it had been a boy's
face flitting about in the rain there, he should not have been so full
of doubts as to the object with which he was watched; but there was a
battered bonnet on the head of the watcher, and therefore no room for
speculation concerning sex, at least.

After an hour's fugitive dodging, Mattie--for it was she--came at a slow
rate into the shop. She walked forwards very feebly, and took a firm
grip of the counter to steady herself.

Mr. Wesden critically surveyed her from his post of observation; she did
not speak, but she kept her black eyes directed to the face in front of
her.

"Well--what do you want, Mattie?" asked Mr. Wesden, finally.

"Nothin'--that is to buy."

"Ah! then we've nothing to give away for you any more."

"I want to speak to Master Hinchford," said Mattie; "I've come about the
brooch."

"Not brought it back!" exclaimed Mr. Wesden, roused out of his apathetic
demeanour by this assertion.

"I wish I had--no, I on'y want to see him."

Mr. Wesden called to his wife, and delivered Mattie's request through
the glass, keeping one eye on the new comer all the while. Mrs. Wesden
sent her daughter up-stairs with the message, and presently from a side
door opening into the shop Miss Wesden made her appearance.

"If you please, will you walk up-stairs?"

Harriet Wesden spoke very kindly, and edged away from Mattie as she
advanced--Mattie was the girl who had stolen the brooch, a strange
creature from an uncivilized world, and the stationer's little daughter
was afraid of her old pensioner.

The girl from the streets stared at Harriet Wesden in her turn, looked
very intently at her warm dress and white pinafore, and then looked back
at Mr. Wesden.

"May I go up, sir?"

"I don't see why they can't come down here," he grumbled, "but you must
go up if they want to see you. Stop here, Harriet, and call Ann--you
might catch something, girl."

Ann was called, and presently a broad-faced, red-armed girl made her
appearance.

"Show a light to this girl up-stairs, Ann."

"This girl--here?"

"Yes--that girl there."

"Oh! lawks--so _you've_ turned up agin."

Mattie did not answer--she seemed very weak and ill, and not inclined to
waste words foreign to her motive in appearing there. She followed the
servant up-stairs, pausing on the first landing to take breath.

"What's the matter with you--ain't you well?" asked the servant-maid.

"No, I ain't--I'm just the tother thing."

"Been ill?"

"Scarlet fever--that's all."

"Oh! lor a mussy on us!--keep further off! I can't bide fevers. We shall
all be as red as lobsters in the morning."

"It ain't catching now--Mother Watts didn't catch it--I wish she had!"

"Will you go up-stairs now?"

"Let's get a breath--I ain't so strong as I used to be--now then."

Up the next flight, to the door of the first-floor front, where Sidney
Hinchford, pale with suspense, was standing.

"Have you got it?--have you got it, Mattie?"

"No--I ain't got nothin'."

"'Cept a fever, Master Sidney--tell your father to look out."

A thin, large-veined hand protruded from the door, and dragged Master
Hinchford suddenly backwards into the room; a tall, military-looking old
gentleman, with white hair and white moustache, the instant afterwards
occupied the place, and looked down sternly at the small intruder.

"Keep where you are--I didn't know you had a fever, girl. Ann Packet,
put the light on the bracket. That will do."

Ann Packet set the chamber candlestick on a little bracket outside the
drawing-room, drew her clothes tightly round her limbs, and keeping
close to the wall, scuttled past the girl, whom fever had sorely
stricken lately. Mattie dropped on to the stairs, placed her elbows on
her knees, took her chin between her claw-like hands, and stared up at
Mr. Hinchford.

"I don't think you can catch anythin' from me, guv'nor."

Governor looked down at Mattie, and reddened a little.

"I'm not afraid of fever--it's only the boy I'm thinking about. Sidney,"
he called.

"Yes, pa."

"You can hear, if I leave the door open. Now, girl," addressing the
diminutive figure on the stairs, "if you haven't brought the brooch,
what was the good of coming here?"

"To let you know I tried--that's all. I thought that all you might think
that I'd stuck to it, you see. But I did try my hardest to get it
back--because the young gent let me off when the bobbies would have
walked me to quod. Lor bless you, sir, I'm not a reg'lar!"

"A what?"

"A reg'lar thief, sir. They've been trying hard to make me--Mother Watts
and old Simes, and the rest--but it don't do. I was locked up once afore
mother died, and mother was sorry--awful sorry, for _her_--you should
have just heard her go on, when I come out agin. Oh! no, I'm not a
reg'lar--I sings about the street for ha'pence, and goes to fairs, and
begs--and so on, but I don't take things werry often. I'm a stray, sir!"

"Ah!--God help you!" murmured the old gentleman.

"I never had no father--and mother's dead now. I'm 'bliged to shift for
myself. And oh! I just was hard up when I tooked the brooch."

"And what became of it?"

"Old Simes stuck to it, sir. I went to him on the werry night after I
had seen Master Hinchford, and he said he'd sold it for tenpence, but
he'd try and get it back for me, which he never did, sir--never."

"No--I suppose not," was the dry response.

"And the next day I caught the fever, and got in the workus, somehow;
and when I came back to Kent Street, last week that was, old Simes had
seen nothin' more of the brooch, and Mother Watts had forgot all about
it--so she said!" was the disparaging comment.

"And you came hither to tell us all this?"

"Yes--I thought you'd like to know I _did_ try, and that they were too
deep for me. My eye! they just are deep, those two!"

"Why didn't you stay in the workhouse?"

"Can't bide the workus, sir--they drop upon you too much. It's the wust
place going, sir, and no one takes to it."

"You're an odd girl."

Mr. Hinchford leaned his back against the door-post, and surveyed the
ragged and forlorn girl on the lower stair. He was perplexed with this
child, and her wistful eyes--keen and glittering as steel--made him feel
uncomfortable. Here was a mystery--a something unaccountable, and he
could not probe to its depths, or tell which was false and which was
genuine in the character of this motherless girl before him. He had
prided himself all his life in being a judge of character--a man of
observation, who saw the flaw in the diamond--the real face behind the
paint, varnish, and pasteboard. He had judged his own brother in times
past--he had mixed much with the world, and gleaned much from hard
experience thereof, and yet a child like this disturbed him. He fancied
that he could read a struggle for something better and more pure in
Mattie's life, and that Fate was against her and drawing her back to the
shadows from which she, as if by a noble instinct, was endeavouring to
emerge.

He felt curious concerning her.

"What do you intend to do now?"

"Lor, sir, I don't know. It depends upon what turns up."

"You will not thieve any more?"

"Not if I can help it--but if I can't help it, sir, I must go to school
at Simes's. He teaches lots of gals to get a living!"

Mr. Hinchford shuddered. There was a pause, during which the head of
Master Hinchford peered through the door to note how affairs were
progressing. The father detected the movement, and when the head was
hastily withdrawn, he drew the door still closer, and retained a grip of
the handle for precaution's sake.

"You don't know what your next step will be? You'll try to live
honestly, you say?"

"I'll try the ingun dodge. You get's through a heap of inguns at a
ha'penny a lot, if the perlice will ony let you be."

"And your stock in trade?"

"What's that?"

"How will you begin? Where are the onions to come from?"

"I shall sing for them to-morrow--my woice is comin' round a bit, Mother
Watts says."

Mr. Hinchford pulled at his long white moustache--the girl's confidence
and coolness induced him to linger there--something in his own heart led
him to continue the conversation. He was a philosopher, a student of
human nature, and this was a singular specimen before him.

"What could you live and keep honest upon?"

"Tuppence a day in summer--fourpence in winter. Summer a gal can sleep
anywhere--there's some prime places in the Borough Market, and lots o'
railway arches, Dockhead way; but it nips you awful hard when the
frost's on."

"Well--here's sixpence to set up in business with, Mattie--and as long
as you can show me an honest front, and can come here every Saturday
night and say, 'I've been honest all the week,' why, I'll stand the same
amount."

Mattie's eyes sparkled at this rise in life.

"I'll borrow a basket, and buy some inguns to-morrow. P'raps _you_ buy
inguns sometimes, and old--Mr. Wesden down-stairs, too. Yes, sir, it's
the connexion that budges one up!" she said, with the gravity of an old
woman.

"I see. I'll speak to Mr. Wesden about his custom, Mattie. You can go
now."

"Thankee, sir."

She rose to her feet, went a few steps down-stairs, paused, and looked
back.

"What is it, Mattie?"

"I hope the young gen'leman isn't a fretting much about his _broach_."

"Here, young gentleman," called the father, "do you hear that?"

Master Hinchford laughed from within.

"Oh, no!--I don't fret."

"P'raps some day I shall have saved up enuf to pay him back. That's a
_rum_ idea, isn't it, sir?"

"Not a bad one, Mattie. Think it over."

"Yes, sir."

Mattie departed, and Mr. Hinchford returned to the sitting-room. Master
Hinchford, buried in books, was sitting at the centre table.

"Are you going at figures to-night?"

"Just for a little while, I think."

"You'll ruin your eyes--I've said so fifty times."

"Better have weak eyes than weak brains, sir."

"Not the general idea, lad."

After a while, and when Master Hinchford was scratching away with his
pen, the father said--

"You don't say anything about Mattie."

"I think it was very kind of you," said the youth; "and I
think--somehow--that Mattie will be grateful."

"Pooh! pooh!" remarked the father, "you'll never make a first-rate city
man, if you believe in gratitude. Look at the world sternly, boy. Put
not your trust in anything turning out the real and genuine
article--work everything by figures."

Master Hinchford looked at his sire, as though he scarcely understood
him.

"I must bring you up to understand human nature, Sid--what a bad article
it is--plated with a material that soon wears off, if rubbed smartly.
Human nature is everywhere the same, and if you be only on your guard,
you may take advantage of it, instead of letting it take advantage of
you. Now, this girl is a specimen, which, at my own expense, we will
experimentalize upon. In that stray, my boy, you shall see the natural
baseness of mankind--or girl-kind."

"Don't you think that she'll come again?"

"For the sixpence, to be sure! Every Saturday night, with a long story
of how honest she has been all the week. Here we shall see a girl, who,
by her own statement, and with a struggle, can keep honest now--note the
effect of indiscriminate alms-giving."

"Of rewarding a girl for stealing my brooch, pa."

"Ah!--exactly. Some people who didn't understand me, would set me down
for a weak-minded old fool. In studying human nature, one must act oddly
with odd specimens. And this girl--who came to tell us she had not
brought the brooch back--I am just a little--curious--concerning!"



CHAPTER V.

SET UP IN BUSINESS.


I am afraid that the reader will be very much disgusted with us as
story-tellers, when we inform him that all these details are but
preliminary to our story proper--a kind of prologue in six chapters to
the comedy, melodrama or tragedy--which?--that the curtain will rise
upon in our next book. Still they are details, without which our
characters, and their true positions on our stage, would not have been
clearly defined; and in the uphill struggles of our stray, perhaps some
student of human nature, like Mr. Hinchford, may take some little
interest.

For they were real uphill struggles to better herself, and, therefore,
worthy of notice. Remarking them, and knowing their genuineness, it has
struck us that even from these crude materials a kind of heroine might
be fashioned--not the heroine of a high-class book--that is, a "book for
the Boudoir"--but of a book that will at least attempt to draw a certain
phase of life as plainly as it passed the writer's eyes once.

Let us, ere we _begin_ our story, then, speak of this Mattie a little
more--this girl, who was not a "reg'lar"--who had never been brought up
to "the profession"--who was merely a Stray! Let us even watch her in
her new vocation--set up in life with Mr. Hinchford's sixpence--and note
by what strange accident it changed the tenor of _her_ life; and at
least set her above the angry dash of those waves which, day after day,
engulph so many.

All that we know of Mattie, all that Mattie knew of herself, the reader
is fully acquainted with. Mattie's mother, a beggar, a tramp,
occasionally a thief, died in a low lodging-house, and, with some flash
of the better instincts at the last, begged her child to keep good, _if
she could_. And the girl, by nature impressionable, only by the force of
circumstance callous and cunning, tried to subsist on the streets
without filching her neighbours' goods--wavered in her best intentions,
as well she might, when the world was extra vigorous with her--grew more
worldly with the world's hardness, and stole now and then for bread,
when there was no bread offered her; made friends with young
thieves--"reg'lars"--of both sexes; constituted them her playmates, and
rehearsed with them little dramas of successful peculation; fell into
bad hands--receivers of stolen goods, and owners of dens where thieves
nightly congregated; regarded the police as natural enemies, the streets
as home, and those who filled them as men and women to be imposed upon,
to be whined out of money by a beggar's plaint, amused out of it by a
song in a shrill falsetto, tricked out of it by a quick hand in the
depths of their pockets. Still Mattie never became a "reg'lar;" she
earned money enough "to keep life in her"--she had become inured to the
streets, and had a fear, a very uncommon one in girls of her age and
mode of living, of the police-station and the magistrate. Possibly her
voice saved her; she had sung duets with her mother before death had
stepped between them, and she sold ballads on her own account when the
world was all before her where to choose. She was a girl, too, whom a
little contented; one who could live on a little, and make
shift--terrible shift--when luck run against her; above all, her
tempters, the Watts, Simes', and others, festering amongst the Kent
Street courts, were cruel and hard with her, and she kept out of their
way so long as it was possible.

Given the same monotony of existence for a few more years, and Mattie
would have become a tramp perhaps, oscillating from fair to fair,
race-course to race-course, losing true feeling, modesty, heart and
soul, at every step. She had already tried the fairs within ten
miles--the races at Hampton and Epsom, &c., and had earned money at
them--she was seeing her way to business next summer, at the time she
was interested in one particular house in Great Suffolk Street, Borough.

Mattie was fond of pictures, and therefore partial to Mr. Wesden's shop,
where the cheap periodicals and tinsel portraits of celebrated
stage-ranters, in impossible positions, were displayed--fond, too, of
watching Mr. Wesden's daughter in her perambulations backwards and
forwards to a day-school in Trinity Street, and critically surveying her
bright dresses, her neat shoes and boots, her hats for week days, and
drawn bonnets for Sundays, with a far-off longing, such as a destitute
child entertains for one in a comfortable position--such a feeling as we
envious children of a larger growth may experience when our big friends
flaunt their wealth in our eyes, and talk of their hounds, their horses,
and their princely estates.

"Oh! to be only Harriet Wesden," was Mattie's secret wish--to dress like
her, look like her, be followed by a mother's anxious eyes down the
street; to have a father to see her safely across the broad thoroughfare
lying between Great Suffolk Street and school; to go to school, and be
taught to read and write and grow up good--what happiness, unattainable
and intangible to dream of!

Eugene Sue, I think, tried to show the bright side of Envy, and the good
it might effect; and I suppose there are many species of Envy, or else
that we do not call things invariably by their right names. Mattie at
least envied the stationer's daughter; Miss Wesden was a princess to
her, and lived in fairy-land; and in seeing how happy she was, and what
good spirits she had, Mattie's own life seemed dark enough; but that
other life which Mattie tried to keep aloof from, denser and viler
still. Harriet Wesden was the heroine of her story, and in a far-off
distant way--never guessed at by its object--Harriet Wesden was loved,
especially after she had begun to notice Mattie's attention to the
pictures in the window, and to change them for her sole edification more
often than was absolutely necessary.

Mattie was well known in Great Suffolk Street; they knew her at
Wesden's--nearly every shopkeeper knew her, and exchanged a word or two
with her occasionally--Great Suffolk Street was her _beat_. In health
Mattie was a good-tempered, sharp-witted girl--bearing the ills of her
life with composure--selling lucifers and singing for a living.

They trusted her in Great Suffolk Street; the poor folk living at the
back thereof bought lucifers of her of a Saturday night, and asked how
she was getting on--the boys guarding their masters' shop-boards nodded
in a patronizing way at her--now and then, a plate of broken victuals
was tendered her from some well-to-do shopkeeper, who could afford to
part with it, and not miss it either--before her fever, she had had a
little "c'nexion," and she set to work to get it up again, when the
Hinchford sixpence heaped her basket with onions.

That was the turning-point of Mattie's life; after that, a little woman
with an eye to business; a small female costermonger with a large basket
before her suspended by a strap--troubled and kept moving on by
policemen--but earning her fair modicum of profit; quick with her eyes,
ready with her answers, happy as a queen whose business was brisk, and
lodging away from Mother Watts and old Simes, whose acquaintance she had
quietly dropped.

Mattie still watched Harriet Wesden from a distance; still felt the same
strange interest in that girl, one year her senior, growing up so pretty
whilst she became so plain and weather-beaten; experiencing still the
same attraction for that house in particular; knowing each of its
inmates by heart, and feeling, since the brooch defalcation, a part of
the history attached to the establishment. When the Wesdens made up
their minds to send Harriet to boarding-school, by way of a finish to
her education, Mattie learned the news, and was there to see the cab
drive off; Mattie even told Ann Packet, servant to the Wesdens, and
regular purchaser of Mattie's "green stuff," that she should miss her
werry much, and Suffolk Street wouldn't be half Suffolk Street after she
was gone--which observation being reported to Mrs. Wesden, directed more
attention to the stray from that quarter, and made one more friend at
least.

_One more_--for Mattie had found a friend in the tall, stiff-backed,
stern-looking old gentleman of the name of Hinchford. The lodger's
philosophy had all gone wrong; his knowledge of human nature had been at
fault; his prophecies concerning Mattie's ingratitude had proved
fallacious, and her steady application to business had greatly
interested him. He was a sterling character, this old gentleman, for he
confessed that he had been wrong; and he now held forth Mattie's
industry as an example of perseverance in the world to his son, just as
in the past he had intended her as a striking proof of the world's
ingratitude.

The climax was reached two years after his dialogue with Mattie on the
stairs--when Mattie was thirteen years of age, and Master Hinchford
sixteen--when Mattie still hawked goods in Suffolk Street--quite a woman
of the world, and deeply versed in market prices--one who had not even
at that time attained to the dignity of shoes and stockings.

Mr. Wesden, the quiet man of business, was in his shop as usual, when
Mattie walked in, basket and all.

Mr. Wesden regarded her gravely, and shook his head. Onions and some
sweet herbs had been speculated in that morning, and no further articles
were required at that establishment.

"If you please, I don't want you to buy, Mr. Wesden--" said she, "but
will you be good enough to send that up to Master Hinchford?"

Mr. Wesden looked at the small, dirty piece of paper in which something
was wrapped, and then at Mattie.

"It's honestly come by, sir," said Mattie.

"I never said it wasn't," he responded.

Mattie retired into the street--it was a Saturday night, and there were
many customers abroad--she was doing a flourishing trade, when a tall
youth caught her by the arm, and dragged her round the corner of the
first street.

"Oh! don't pinch my arm so, Master Hinchford."

"What's the twelve and sixpence for, Mattie--not for the--not for
the----"

"Yes, the _broach_! I've been a-saving up, and keeping myself down for
it, and now it's easy on my mind."

"I won't have it. I've been thinking about it, and I won't have it,
Mattie."

"Please do. I've been trying so hard to wipe _that_ off. I'm quite well
now. I've got the c'nexion all right, and shall save it all up agin, and
the winter's arf over, and when Miss Wesden comes back, you can buy her
another brooch with it, and nobody disapinted."

The youth laughed, and coloured, and shook his head.

"I won't take twelve and sixpence from you, I tell you. Why, Mattie, you
don't know the value of money, or you'd never fling it away like this.
Why, it's a fortune to you."

"No--it's been a _weight_--that twelve and six, somehow. I've been a
thief until to-night--now it's wiped clean. Don't try to make me a thief
agin by giving it on me back. Oh! don't please stop my trade like this!"

"Well, I shall make you out in time, Mattie--_perhaps_."

Master Hinchford pocketed the money, and walked away slowly. Mattie
returned to her "c'nexion." Mr. Hinchford sat and philosophized to
himself all the evening on the impracticability of arriving at a
thorough understanding of human nature, as exemplified in "girl-kind."

CHAPTER VI.

THE END OF THE PROLOGUE.


Hard times set in after that night. The winter was half over, Mattie had
said; but the worst half was yet to come, and for that she, with many
thousands like her, had made but little preparation. The worst half of
the frost of that year set in like a blight upon the London streets,
froze the gutters, raised the price of coals, sent provisions up to
famine figures, cut off all the garden stuff, and threw such fugitive
traders as Mattie completely out of work. Hers became a calling that
required capital now; even the greengrocers' shops, Borough way, were
scantily stocked--the market itself was not what it used to be when
things were flourishing, and oh! the prices that were asked in those
times!

Poverty of an ill aspect set in soon after the frost; crime set in soon
after poverty--when the workhouses are besieged by hungry claimants for
relief, the prisons are always extra full. Suffolk Street, the streets
branching thitherwards to Southwark Bridge, the narrow lanes and
turnings round the Queen's Bench, in the Borough Road and verging
towards Union Street, were all haunted by those phantoms that had set in
with the frost--there was danger in the streets as well as famine, and
money was hard to earn, and hold when earned! Small shopkeepers with
large families closed their shutters and locked themselves in with
desolation; men out of work grew desperate--the streets were empty of
the basket women and costermongers, and swarming in lieu thereof with
beggars and thieves; even the police, nipped at the heart by the frost,
were harder on society that stopped the way, and had little mercy even
on old faces. Mattie's was an old face which stopped the way at that
time--Mattie, basketless and onionless, and trying lucifers again, and
essaying on Saturday nights--when workmen's wages were paid--a song or
two opposite the public-houses.

In this old fashion, Mattie earned a few pence at times; she was small
for her age--very small--and the anxious-looking face touched those who
had odd coppers to spare. But it was a task to live notwithstanding, and
Mattie fought hard with the rest of the waifs and strays who had a tough
battle to wage that winter time. "Luck went dead against her," as she
termed it; she was barred from the market by want of capital--one lot of
goods that she had speculated in never went off her hands, or rather her
basket, on which they withered more and more with the frost, until they
became unsaleable products--and there was no demand for lucifers or
anything!

Mattie was nearly starving when the old tempter turned up in Great
Suffolk Street--at the time when she was weak, and the police had been
more than commonly "down on her," and she had not taken a halfpenny that
day--at a time when the tempter _does_ turn up as a general pile, that
is, when we are waiting very anxiously for an EXCUSE.

"What! Mattie!--Lor! the sight o' time since I set eyes on you!"

"What! Mrs. Watts!"

"What are you doing, girl?--not much for yourself, I should think," with
a disparaging glance at the tattered habiliments of our heroine.

"Not much just now, Mrs. Watts--hard lines it is."

"Ah! well, it may be--you allus wanted pluck, Mattie, like your mother.
And hard lines it is just now, for those who stand nice about trifles.
What's that in your hand, gal?"

"Congreve lights."

"What! still at Congreve lights--if I shouldn't hate the werry sight and
smell on 'em by this time."

"So I do," said Mattie, sullenly.

"Come home with me, and let's have a bit o' talk together,
Mattie--there's a friend or two o' your age a-coming to have a little
talk with me to-night."

"Don't you keep a lodging house now?"

"No--a little shop for bones and bottles and such things; and we has a
party in the back parler twice a week, and something nice and hot for
supper."

"A school--on your own hook?" said Mattie, quickly.

"Oh! how sharp we gets as we grows up!--but you allus was as sharp as
any needle, and I was only saying to Simes but yesterday, if I could
just drop on little Mattie, she'd be the werry gal to do us credit--she
would."

"I've been shifting for myself these last two years and odd, and I got
on tidy till the frost set in, and now it's--_all up_!"

"Ah!--all up--precisely so."

Mrs. Watts did not detect the tragic element in Mattie's peroration; she
had sallied forth in search of her, and had found her in the streets
ragged and penniless and hungry. It was worth while to speculate in
Mattie now--to show her some degree of kindness--to lure her back to the
old haunts, and something worse than the old life. She began her
temptations, and Mattie listened and trembled--the night was cold, and
she had not tasted food that day. Mrs. Watts kept her hand upon the
girl, and expatiated upon the advantages she had to offer now--even
attempted to draw Mattie along with her.

"Wait a bit--don't be in a hurry," said Mattie; "I'll come presently
p'raps--not just now."

"Oh! I'm not so sweet on you," said Mrs. Watts, aggrieved; "come if you
like--stop away if you like--it's all one to me. I'll go about my
rump-steaks for supper, and you can stay here and starve, if you prefer
it."

This dialogue occurred only a short distance from Mr. Wesden's shop,
when Mr. Wesden was putting up the shutters in his own quiet way, with
very little noise, his boy having left him at a moment's notice. Mrs.
Wesden, who had her fears for his back--Mr. W. had had a sensitive back
for years--was dragging the shutters out from under the shop-board--thin
slips of wood, that required not any degree of strength to manage. There
were six shutters--at the third Mr. Wesden said--

"There's Mattie."

"Ah! poor girl!"

At the fifth he added--

"With an old woman that I don't like the style of very much."

Mrs. Wesden went to the door, and looked down the street at the tempter
and the tempted--Mattie was under the lamp, and the face was a troubled
one, on which the gas jet flickered. When the sixth shutter was up, and
the iron band that secured them all firmly screwed into the door-post,
the quiet couple stood side by side and watched the conflict to its
abrupt conclusion. Both guessed what the subject had been--there was
something of the night-bird and the gaol-bird about Mrs. Watts, that was
easy of detection.

Mrs. Wesden touched her husband's arm.

"Danger, John."

"Ah!"

"And that girl has been a-going on so quietly for years, and getting her
own living, and she without a father and a mother to care for her--not
like our Harriet."

"No."

"And the way she brought back the money for that brooch."

"Yes--that was funny."

"I don't see the fun of it, John."

"That was good of her."

"Do you know, I've been thinking, John, we might find room for
her--those boys are a great trouble to us, and if we had a girl, it
might answer better to take the papers out, and she might serve in the
shop."

"Serve in MY shop--good Lord!"

"Some day when we could trust her, I mean--and she could sleep with Ann;
and I daresay she would come for her keep in these times. And we might
be saving her--God knows from what!"

"Mrs. Wesden, you're as full of fancies as ever you can stick."

"I've a fancy to help her in these hard times, John; and when helping
her won't ruin us--us who have put by now a matter of three thou----"

"Hush!"

"And when helping her won't ruin us, but get rid of those plagues of
boys, John. Fancy our Harriet in the streets like that!"

She pointed to Mattie standing alone there, still under the gas lamp,
deep in thought. Mr. Wesden looked, but his lined face was expressive of
little sympathy, his wife thought.

"We're hard pushed for a boy--the bill's no sooner down than up
again--try a girl, John!"

"If you'll get in out of the cold, Mrs. W., I'll think of it."

Mrs. Wesden retired, and Mr. Wesden kept his place by the open door, and
his quiet eyes on Mattie. He was a man who did nothing in a hurry, and
whose actions were ruled by grave deliberation. He did not confess to
his wife that of late years he had been interested in Mattie; watched
her from under his papers in the shop-window; saw her business-like
habits, her method, her briskness over her scanty wares, her cleverness
even in dodging her _bête noire_ the policeman. He was a man, moreover,
who went to church and read his Bible, and had many good thoughts
beneath his occasional brusqueness and invariable immobility. A very
quiet man, a man more than ordinarily cautious, hard to please, and
still harder to rouse.

In shutting up his shop that night, he had caught one or two fragments
of the dialogue, and he knew more certainly than his wife that Mattie
was being tempted back to the old life. Of that life he knew everything;
he had learned it piece by piece without affecting to take an interest
in the matter; he even knew that Mattie had long taken a fancy--an odd
fancy--to his daughter, that she often inquired about her, and her
boarding-school, of Ann Packet, domestic to the house of Wesden.

He thought of Mattie's temptation, then of Mrs. Wesden's extraordinary
suggestion. He was a lord of creation, and if he had a weakness it was
in pooh-poohing the suggestions of his helpmate, although he adopted
them in nine cases out of ten, disguising them, as he thought, by some
little variation, and bringing them forward in due course as original
productions of his own teeming brain.

And boys _had_ worried him for years--lost his numbers, been behind-hand
with the _Times_ to his best customers, insulted those customers when
reprimanded, and set the blame of delay at his door, played and fought
with other boys before his very shop-front, broken his windows in
putting up the shutters, had even paid visits to his till, and
surreptitiously made off with stock, and had never in his memory of
boys--industrious or otherwise--possessed one civil, clean-faced, decent
youth.

"Suppose I had Mattie on trial for a week," he said at last, and looked
towards the lamp-post. Mattie was gone--a black shadow, exactly like
her, was hurrying away down the street towards the Borough--running
almost, and with her hands to her head, as though a crowd of thoughts
was stunning her!

Mr. Wesden never accounted for leaving his shop-door open without
warning his wife--for running at his utmost speed after the girl.

At the corner of Great Suffolk Street he overtook her.

"Where are you going?--what are you running for?" he asked, indignantly.

Mattie started, looked at him, recognized him.

"Nothin--partic'ler--is anythink the matter?"

"How--how--should you--like--to be--_a news boy_?" he panted.

No circumlocution in Mr. Wesden--straight to the point as an arrow.

"Yours!--you wouldn't trust me--you never gives trust."

"I've--I've thought of trying you."

"You?" she said again.

"Yes--_me_."

"Well, I'd do anythink to get an honest living--but I was giving up the
thoughts o' it--it's so hard for the likes of us, master."

"Come back, and I'll tell you what I've been thinking about, Mattie."

Not a word about what Mrs. Wesden had been thinking about--such is man's
selfishness and narrow-mindedness.

Mattie went back--for good!

       *       *       *       *       *

On this prologue to our story we can afford to drop the curtain, leaving
our figures in outline, and waiting a better time to paint our
characters--such as they are--more fully. We need not dwell upon
Mattie's trial, upon Mattie's change of costume, and initiation into an
old frock and boots of the absent Harriet--of the many accidents of life
at Wesden, stationer's, accidents which led to the wanderer's settling
down, a member of the household, an item in that household expenditure.
Let the time roll on a year or two, during which Mr. Wesden's back grew
worse, and Mrs. Wesden's hair more grey, and let the changes that have
happened to our friends speak for themselves in the story we have set
ourselves to write.

Leave we, then, the Stray on the threshold of her new estate, standing
in Harriet Wesden's dress, thinking of her future; the shadow-land from
which she has emerged behind her, and new scenes, new characters beyond
there--beneath the bright sky, where all looks so radiant from the
distance.


END OF THE FIRST BOOK.



BOOK II.

THE NEW ESTATE.



CHAPTER I.

HOME FOR GOOD.


Three years make but little difference in the general aspect of a poor
neighbourhood. The same shops doing their scanty business; the same
loiterers at street corners; the same watch from hungry eyes upon the
loaves and fishes behind the window-glass; the same slip-shod men, women
and children hustling one another on the pavement, in all weathers,
"doing their bit of marketing;" the same dogs sniffing about the
streets, and prowling round the butchers' shops.

An observer might detect many changes in the names over the shop fronts,
certainly. Business goes wrong with a great many in three years--capital
is small to work with in most instances, and when the rainy day comes,
in due course, by the stern rule by which rainy days are governed, the
resistance is feeble, and the weakest put the shutters up, sell off at
an alarming sacrifice, and go, with wives and children, still further on
the downhill road. There are seizures for rent, writs issued on
delinquents, stern authority cutting off the gas and water, sterner
authorities interfering with the weights and measures, which, in poor
neighbourhoods, _will_ get light occasionally; brokers' men making their
quarterly raids, and still further perplexing those to whom life is a
struggle, desperate and intense.

Amidst the changes in Great Suffolk Street, one business remains firm,
and presents its wonted aspect. Over the little stationer's shop, the
old established emporium for everything in a small way, is still
inscribed the name of Wesden--has been repainted the name of Wesden in
white letters, on a chocolate ground, as though there were nothing in
the cares of business to daunt the tradesman who began life there, young
and blooming!

There are changes amongst the papers in the windows--the sensation
pennyworths--the pious pennyworths--the pennyworths started for the
amelioration and mental improvement of the working classes, unfortunate
pennyworths, that never get on, and which the working classes turn their
backs upon, hating a moral in every other line as naturally as we do.
The stock of volumes in the library is on the increase; the window,
counter, shelves and drawers, are all well filled; Mr. Wesden deals in
postage and receipt stamps--ever a good sign of capital to spare--and
has turned the wash-house into a warehouse, where reams of paper,
envelopes, and goods too numerous to mention, are biding their time to
see daylight in Great Suffolk Street.

Changes are more apparent in the back-parlour, which has been home to
Mr. and Mrs. Wesden for so many years. Let us look in upon them after
three years' absence, and to the best of our ability note the alteration
there.

Mr. and Mrs. Wesden are seated one on each side of the fire--Mr. Wesden
in a new arm-chair, bought of an upholsterer in the Borough, an easy and
capacious chair, with spring seats and sides, and altogether a luxury
for that establishment. Mrs. Wesden has become very feeble and rickety;
rheumatic fever--that last year's hard trial, in which she was given
over, and the quiet man collapsed into a nervous child for the
nonce--has left its traces, and robbed her of much energy and strength.
She is a very old woman at sixty-three, grey-haired and sallow, with two
eyes that look at you in an amiable, deer-like fashion--in a motherly
way that gives you an idea of what a kind woman and good Christian she
is.

Mr. Wesden, sitting opposite his worn better-half, was originally
constructed from much tougher material. The lines are deeper in his
face, the nose is larger, the eyes more sunken, perhaps the lips more
thin, but there is business energy in him yet; no opportunity to earn
money is let slip, and if it were not for constant twinges in his back,
he would be as agile as in the old days when there were doubts of
getting on in life.

But who is this sitting with them, like one of the family?--a
dark-haired, pale-faced girl of sixteen, short of stature, neat of
figure, certainly not pretty, decidedly not plain, with an everyday
face, that might be passed fifty times, without attracting an observer;
and then, on the fifty-first, startle him by its intense expression. A
face older than its possessor's years; at times a grave face, more
often, despite its pallor, a bright one--lit-up with the cheerful
thoughts, which a mind at ease naturally gives to it.

Neatly, if humbly dressed--working with a rapidity and regularity that
would have done credit to a stitching machine--evidently at home there
in that back-parlour, to which her dark wistful eyes had been so often
directed, in the old days; this is the Mattie of our prologue--the
stray, diverted from the dark course it was taking, by the hand of John
Wesden.

"Wesden, what's the time now?"

"My dear, it's not five minutes since you asked last," is the mild
reproof of the husband, as he tugs at his copper-gilt watch chain for a
while; "it's close on ten o'clock."

"I hope nothing has happened to the train--"

"What should happen, Mrs. Wesden?" says a brisk, clear ringing voice;
"just to-night of all nights, when Miss Harriet is expected. Why, she
didn't give us hope of seeing her till nine; and trains are always
behind-hand, I've heard--and it's very early hours to get fidgety, isn't
it, sir?"

"Much too early."

"I haven't seen my dear girl for twelve months," half moans the mother;
"she'll come back quite a lady--she'll come back for good, Wesden, and
be our pride and joy for ever. Never apart from us again."

"No, all to ourselves we shall have her after this. Well," with a
strange half sigh, "we've done our duty by her, Mrs. W."

"I hope so."

"It's cost a heap of money--I don't regret a penny of it."

"Why should you, Wesden, when it's made our girl a lady--fit for any
station in the world."

"But this perhaps," says Mr. Wesden, thoughtfully; "and this can't
matter, now we----"

He does not finish the sentence, but takes his pipe down from the
mantel-piece, and proceeds to fill it in a mechanical fashion. Mrs.
Wesden looks at him quietly--her lord and husband never smokes before
supper, without his mind is disturbed--the action reminds his wife that
the supper hour is drawing near, and that nothing is prepared for
Harriet's arrival.

"She will come home tired and hungry--oh! dear me--and nothing ready,
perhaps."

"I'll help Ann directly," says Mattie.

The needle that has been plying all the time--that did not cease when
Mattie attempted consolation--is stuck in the dress she is hemming; the
work is rolled rapidly into a bundle; the light figure flits about the
room, clears the table, darts down-stairs into the kitchen; presently
appears with Ann Packet, maid-of-all-work, lays the cloth, sets knives
and forks and plates; varies proceedings by attending to customers in
the shop--Mattie's task more often, now Mr. Wesden's back has lost its
flexibility--flits back again to the task of preparing supper in the
parlour.

With her work less upon her mind, Mattie launches into small talk--her
tongue rattles along with a rapidity only equal to her needle. She is in
high spirits to-night, and talks more than usual, or else that loquacity
for which a Mrs. Watts rebuked her once, has known no diminution with
expanding years.

"We shall have her in a few more minutes, mistress," she says,
addressing the feeble old woman in the chair; "just as if she'd never
been away from us--bless her pretty face!--and it was twelve days,
rather than twelve months, since we all said good-bye to her. She left
you on a sick bed, Mrs. Wesden, and she comes back to find you well and
strong again--to find home just as it should be--everything going on
well, and everybody--oh! so happy!"

"And to find you, Mattie--what?" asks Mr. Wesden, in his quiet way.

"To find me very happy, too--happy in having improved in my scholarship,
such as it is, sir--happy with you two friends, to whom I owe--oh! more
than I ever can think about, or be grateful enough for," she adds with
an impetuosity that leads her to rush at the quiet man and kiss him on
the forehead.

"We're square, Mattie--we're perfectly square now," he replies, settling
his silver-rimmed spectacles more securely on his nose.

"Oh! that is very likely," is the sharp response.

"You nursed the old lady like a daughter--you saved her somehow. If it
hadn't been for you----"

"She would have been well weeks before, only I was such a restless girl,
and wouldn't let her be quiet," laughs Mattie.

She passes into the shop again with the same elastic tread, serves out
two ounces of tobacco, detects a bad shilling, and focuses the customer
with her dark eyes, appears but little impressed by his apologies, and
more interested in her change, locks the till, and is once more in the
parlour, talking about Miss Harriet again.

"She is on her way now," she remarks; "at London Bridge by this time,
and Master Hinchford--we must say Mr. Hinchford now, I suppose--helping
her into the cab he's been kind enough to get for her."

"What's the time now, Wesden?" asks the mother.

"Well," after the usual efforts to disinter--or disembowel--the silver
watch, "it's certainly just ten."

"And by the time Tom's put the shutters up, she'll be here!" cries
Mattie; "see if my words don't come true, Mr. Wesden."

"Well, I hope they will; if they don't, I--I think I'll just put on my
hat, and walk down to the station."

Presently somebody coming down-stairs with a heavy, regular tread,
pausing at the side door in the parlour, and giving two decisive raps
with his knuckles on the panels.

"Come in."

Enter Mr. Hinchford, senior, with his white hair rubbed the wrong way,
and his florid face looking somewhat anxious.

"Haven't they come yet?"

"Not yet, sir."

"Ah! I suppose not," catching Mattie's glance directed towards him
across the needlework which she has resumed again, and at which she is
working harder than ever; "there's boxes to find, and pack on the cab,
and Miss Harriet's no woman if she do not remember at the last minute
something left behind in the carriage."

"Won't you sit down, sir?" asks Mrs. Wesden.

"N--no, thank you," he replies; "you'll have your girl home in a minute,
and we mustn't over-crowd the little parlour. I shall give up my old
habit of smoking here, now the daughter comes back--you must step up
into my quarters, Wesden, a little more often."

"Thank you."

"Temporary quarters, I suppose, we must say, now the boy's getting on so
well. Thank God," with a burst of affection, "that I shall see that boy
in a good position of life before I die."

"He's a clever lad."

"Clever, sir!" ejaculates the father, "he's more than clever, though I
don't sing his praises before his face. He has as clear a head-piece as
any man of forty, and he's as good a man of business."

"And so steady," adds Mrs. Wesden.

"God bless you! madam, yes."

"And so saving," is the further addition of Mr. Wesden,--"that's a good
sign."

"Ah! he knows the value of money better than his father did at his age,"
says the old man; "with his caution, energy, and cleverness we shall see
him, if we live, a great man. Whoever lives to see him--a great man!"

"It's a comfort when our children grow up blessings to us," remarks Mrs.
Wesden, dreamily looking at the fire; "neither you nor I, sir, have any
cause to be sorry for those we love so very, very much."

"No, certainly not. We're lucky people in our latter days--good night."

"You can't stop, then?" asked Wesden.

"Not just now. Don't keep the boy down here, please--he'll stand and
talk, forgetting that he's in the way to-night, unless you give him a
hint to the contrary. Out of business, he's a trifle inconsiderate,
unless you plainly tell him he's not wanted. Good night--I shall see
Harriet in the morning."

"Yes--good night."

Mr. Hinchford retires again, and in a few minutes afterwards, before
there is further time to dilate upon the danger of railway travelling,
and the uncertainty of human hopes, the long-expected cab dashes up to
the door. There is a bustle in Great Suffolk Street; the cabman brings
in the boxes amidst a little knot of loungers, who have evidently never
seen a box before, or a cab, or a young lady emerge therefrom assisted
by a tall young man, or listened to an animated dispute about a
cab-fare, which comes in by way of sequence whilst the young lady is
kissing everybody in turn in the parlour.

"My fare's eighteenpence, guv'nor."

"Not one shilling, legally," affirmed the young man.

"I never did it for a shilling afore--I ain't a going now--I'll take a
summons out first."

"Take it."

"You won't stand another sixpence, guv'nor?"

"No."

"Then," bundling on to his box, and lashing his horse ferociously, "I
won't waste my time on a tailor--it's much too valuable for that!"

The young man laughs at this withering sarcasm, and passes through the
shop into the parlour, where the animation has scarcely found time to
subside.

Harriet Wesden is holding Mattie at arm's length, and looking steadily
at her--the stationer's daughter is taller by a head than the stray.

"And you, Mattie, have been improving, I see--learning all the lessons
that I set you before I went away--becoming of help to father and
mother, and thinking of poor _me_ sometimes."

"Ah! very often of 'poor me.'"

"Oh! how tired I am!--how glad I shall be to find myself in my room!
Now, Mr. Sidney, I'm going to bid you good night at once, thanking you
for all past services."

"Very well, Miss Harriet."

"And, goodness me!--I did not notice those things before! What!
spectacles, Sidney--at your age?"

The tall young man colours and laughs--keeping his position at the
door-post all the while.

"Can't afford to have weak eyes yet, and so have sacrificed all my
personal charms for the sake of convenience in matters of business. You
don't mean to say that they look so very bad, though?"

"You look nearer ninety than nineteen," she replies. "Oh! I wouldn't
take to spectacles for ever so much."

"That's a very different affair," remarks Sidney.

"Why?"

"Oh! because it _is_--that's all. Well, I think I'll say good night
now--shall I take that box up-stairs for you, Miss Harriet?"

"Ann and I can manage it, Mr. Hinchford," says Mattie.

"Yes, and put a rib out, or something. Can't allow the gentler sex to be
black slaves during my sojourn in Great Suffolk Street. Good night all."

"Good night."

He closes the shop door, seizes the box which has been deposited in the
shop, swings it round on his shoulders, and marches up-stairs with it
two steps at a time, and whistling the while. On the landing, outside
the sitting-room, and double-bedded room, which his father occupies, Ann
Packet, domestic servant, meets him with a light.

"Lor a mussy on us!--is that you, Master Sidney?"

"Go a-head, up-stairs, wench, and let us find a place to put the box
down. This is Miss Harriet's box."

"Orful heavy, ain't it, sir?"

"Well--it's not so light as it might be," asserts Master Sidney;
"forward, there."

Meanwhile, too tired to repair to her room for any toilette arrangements
at that hour of the night, Harriet Wesden sits down between her mother
and father, holding her bonnet on her lap. Mr. and Mrs. Wesden regard
her proudly, as well they may, Harriet being a girl to be proud
of--tall, graceful, and pretty, something that makes home bright to the
parents, and has been long missed by them. No one is aware of all that
they have sacrificed in their desire to make a lady of their only
child--or of one-half of the hopes which they have built upon concerning
her.

"This always seems such an odd, _little_ box to come back to after the
great Brighton school," she says, wearily; "oh, dear! how tired I am!"

"Get your supper, my dear, at once, and don't sit up for anybody
to-night," suggests the mother.

"I don't want any supper. I--I think I'll go up-stairs at once and keep
all my little anecdotes of school and schooling till the morrow. Shall
I?"

"By all means, Harriet, if you're tired," says the father, "but after a
long journey I would take something. You don't feel poorly, my dear?"

"Who?--I--oh! no," she answered, startled at the suggestion; "but I have
been eating biscuits and other messes all the journey up to London, and
therefore my appetite is spoiled for the night. To-morrow I shall be
myself again--and we will have a long talk about all that has happened
since I left here last year--by to-morrow, we shall have settled down so
comfortably!"

"I hope so."

She looks timidly towards her father, but he is smoking his pipe, and
placidly surveying her. She kisses him, then her mother, lastly Mattie,
and leaves the room;--the instant afterwards Mattie remembers the
unwieldy box, which Master, or Mr. Hinchford has carried up-stairs.

"She'll never uncord the box--I should like to help her, if you can
spare me."

"Knots always did try the dear girl," affirms Mrs. Wesden, "go and help
her by all means--my dear."

Mattie needs no second bidding; she darts from the room, and in a few
minutes is at the top of the house; in her forgetfulness inside the room
without so much as a "By your leave, Miss Wesden."

"Oh! dear, I forgot to knock--and oh! dear, dear!" rushing forward to
Harriet sitting by the bedside and rocking herself to and fro, as though
in pain, "what is the matter?--can I help you?--what has happened!"



CHAPTER II.

A GIRL'S ROMANCE.


Miss Wesden continued to rock herself to and fro and moan at frequent
intervals, after Mattie had intruded so unceremoniously upon her
sorrows. She had reached the hysterical stage, and there was no stopping
the tears and the little windy sobs by which they were varied--and
Harriet Wesden in tears, the girl whom Mattie had reverenced so long,
was too much for our small heroine.

"Oh! dear--what has happened?--shall I run and tell your father and
mother?"

"Oh! for goodness sake, don't think of anything of the kind!" cried the
startled Harriet; "I--I--I shall be better in a minute. It's only a
spasm or something--it's nothing that any one--can--help me--with!"

"I know what it is," remarked Mattie, after a moment's reflection.

"You--_you_ do, Mattie!"

"It's the wind," was the matter-of-fact reply; "you've been eating a
heap of nasty buns, and then come up here without your supper--and it's
brought on spasms, as you say."

"How ridiculous you are, child!" said this woman of seventeen, parting
her fair hair back from her face, and making an effort to subdue her
agitation; "don't you see that I am very, very miserable!"

"In earnest?"

"Are people ever really, truly miserable in fun, Mattie?" was the sharp
rejoinder.

"Not truly miserable, I should fancy. But you--oh! Miss Harriet, you
miserable, at your age!"

"Yes--it's a fact."

"Perhaps you have been robbed," suggested the curious Mattie; "I know
that they used to send them out from Kent Street to hang about the
railway stations. Never mind, Miss Harriet, I have been earning money,
lately; and if you don't want your father to know how careless you have
been----"

"Always unselfish--always thinking of doing some absurd action, that
shall benefit any one of the name of Wesden. No, no, Mattie, it's not
money, it's not that--that vulgar complaint you mentioned just now. Oh!
to have one friend in the world in whom I could trust--in whom I could
confide my misery!"

"And haven't you _one_?" was the soft answer.

Harriet looked up at the wistful face--so full of love and pity.

"Ah! there's _you_--you mean. But you are a child still, and would never
understand me. _You_ would never have sympathy with all that I have
suffered, or keep my secret if you had."

"What I could understand, I cannot say--I'm still hard at work, in
over-time, at my lessons--but you may be sure of my sympathy, and of my
silence. It's not that I'm so curious, Miss Harriet--but that I hope,
when I know all, to be a comfort to you."

Harriet shook her head despondently, and beat her tiny foot impatiently
upon the carpet. Any one in the world to be a comfort to her, was a
foolish idea, that only irritated her to allude to.

"I'm living here to be a comfort to you all," said Mattie, in a low
voice; "I've set myself to be that, if ever I can. Every one in this
house helped in a way to take me from the streets; every one has been
more kind to me than I deserved--helped me on--given me good
advice--done so much for me! I--I have often thought that perhaps my
time might come some day to your family, or the Hinchfords; but if to
you, my darling, whom I love before the whole of them--who has been more
than kind--whom I loved when I was a little ragged girl in the dark
streets outside--how happy I shall be!"

"Happy to see me miserable, Mattie--that's what _that_ amounts to."

"I didn't mean that," answered Mattie, half-aggrieved.

"No, I'm sure you did not," was the reply. "Lock the door, my dear, and
let me take you into my confidence--I _do_ want some one to talk to
about it terribly!"

Mattie locked the door, and, full of wonder, sat down by Harriet
Wesden's side. The stationer's daughter had always treated Mattie as a
companion rather than as a servant; she had but seen her in her holidays
of late years--her father had trusted Mattie and made a shop-woman of
her--she had found Mattie constituted after a while one of the
family--Mattie was only a year her junior, and Mattie's love, almost her
idolatry for her, had won upon a nature which, though far from
faultless, was at least susceptible to kindness, ever touched by
affection, and ever ready to return both.

"You must know, Mattie, then--and pray never breathe a syllable of this
to mortal soul again--that I'm in love."

"_Lor!_" gasped Mattie.

"Dreadfully and desperately in love."

"Oh! hasn't it come early--and oh! _ain't_ I dreadfully sorry."

"Hush, Mattie, not so loud. They'll be coming up to bed in the next room
presently, and if they were to find it out, I should die."

"They wouldn't mind, after they had once got used to it," said Mattie;
"and if it has really come to love in earnest--there's a good deal of
sham love I've been told--why, I don't think there's anything to cry
about. I should dance for joy myself."

"You're too young to know what you're talking about, Mattie," reproved
Harriet.

"No, I'm not," was the quick answer; "I should feel very happy to know
that there was some one to love me better than anybody in the world--to
think of me first--pray about me before he went to bed at night--dream
of me till the daytime--keep me always in his head. Why, shouldn't I be
happy to know this, I who never remember what love was from anybody?"

"Yes, yes, I understand you, Mattie," said Harriet; "that's part of
love--not all."

"What else is there?"

Mattie was evidently extremely curious concerning all phases of "the
heart complaint."

"It's too complicated, Mattie; when you're a woman, you'll be able to
find out for yourself. It's better not to trouble your head about it yet
awhile."

"I wish you hadn't, Miss Harriet. It's not the likes of me that is going
to think about it; and if you had left it till you were really a
woman--I don't know much about the matter yet--but I'm thinking it would
be all the better for you, too, my dear."

"It came all of a rush like--I wasn't thinking of it. There were two
young men at first, who used to watch our school, and laugh at the
biggest of us, and kiss their hands--just as young men _will_ do,
Mattie."

"Like their impudence, I think."

Mattie's matter-of-fact views were coming uppermost again. She had seen
much of the world in her youth, experienced much hardship, worked hard
for a living, and there was no romance in her disposition--only
affection, which had developed of late years, thanks to her new
training.

"But there's always a little fun amongst the big girls, Mattie."

"What is the governess about?"

"She's looking out--but, bless you, she may look!"

"Ah! I suppose so. Well?"

"And then one young man went away, and only one was left--the handsomer
of the two--and he fell in love _with me_!"

"Really and truly?"

"Why, of course he did. Is it so wonderful?" and the boarding-school
girl looked steadily at her companion.

Mattie looked at her. She _was_ a beautiful girl, and perhaps it was not
so wonderful, after all. But then Mattie still looked at Harriet Wesden
as a child--even as a child younger than she whom the world had aged
very early--rendered "old-fashioned," as the phrase runs, in many
things.

"Not wonderful, perhaps--but wasn't it wrong?" asked Mattie.

"I don't think so--I never thought of that--he was very fond of me, and
used to send me letters by the servant, and I--I did get very fond of
him. He was a gentleman's son, and oh! _so_ handsome, Mattie, and _so_
tall, and _so_ clever!"

"About your age, I suppose?"

"No, four-and-twenty, or more, perhaps. I don't know."

"Well?--oh! dear, how _did_ it end?" asked Mattie; "it's like the
story-books in the shop--isn't it?"

"Wait awhile, dear. The misery of the human heart is to be unfolded now.
He's a gentleman's son, and there's an estate or something in West India
or East India, or in some dreadful hot place over the water somewhere,
where the natives hook themselves in the small of their backs, and swing
about and say their prayers."

"How nasty!"

"And--and he--was to go there," her sobs beginning again at the
reminiscence, "and live there, and," dropping her voice to a whisper,
"he asked me if I'd run away with him, and be married to him over
there."

Mattie clenched her fist spasmodically. She saw through the flimsy veil
of romance, with a suddenness for which she was unprepared herself. She
was a woman of the world, with a knowledge of the evil in it, on the
instant.

"Oh! that man was a big scamp, I'm sure of it--I know it!"

"What makes you think that?" asked Harriet, imperiously.

"Couldn't he have come to Suffolk Street, and told your father all about
it like a--like a man?"

"Yes, but _his_ father--his father is a gentleman, and would never let
him marry a poor, deplorable stationer's daughter."

"Ah! his father does not know you, and his father didn't have the chance
of trying, I'm inclined to think," was the shrewd comment here.

"Never mind that," said Harriet, "I don't see that that's anything to do
with the matter just now. I wouldn't run away; I was very frightened; I
loved father and mother, and I knew how they loved me. And when I cried,
he said he had only done it to try me, and then--and then--he went away
next day for ever!"

"And a good riddance," muttered Mattie.

"Oh! Mattie, you cruel, _cruel_ girl, is this the sympathy you talked
about a little while ago?"

"I've every sympathy with you, my own dear young lady," said Mattie;
"I'm sorry to see how this is troubling you--you so young!--just now.
But I don't think _he_ acted very properly, Miss Harriet, or that you
were quite so careful of yourself as--as you might have been."

"I'm a wretched, wretched woman!"

"Does he know where you live?"

"Ye--es," she sobbed.

"And where did he live before he went to India?"

"Surrey."

"That's a large place, I think. I haven't turned to geography lately,
but I fancy it's a double map. If that's all the address, it's a good
big one. May I ask his name?"

"Never," was the melodramatic answer.

"Ah! it does not matter much. I hope, for the sake of all down-stairs,
you will try and forget it. It's no credit; you were much too young, and
he too old in everything. Oh! Miss Harriet, you and the other young
ladies must have been going it down at Brighton!"

"It all happened suddenly, Mattie; I'm not a forward girl; they're all
of my age--oh! and ever so much bolder."

"A very nice school that must be, I should think," said Mattie, leaving
the bed for the box, which she proceeded to uncord; "if I ever hear of
anybody wanting to send their daughters to a finishing akkademy," Mattie
was not thoroughly up in pure English yet, "I'll just recommend that
one!"

"Mattie," reproved Harriet, "you've got at all that you wanted to know,
and now you're full of bitter sarcasm."

"I'm full of bitter nothing, Miss," was the reply; "and oh!--you don't
know how sorry I feel that it has all happened, making you so old and
womanly, before your time--filling your head with rubbish about--the
chaps!"

Harriet said nothing--she sat and watched with dreamy eyes the process
of uncording; only, when Mattie attempted to turn the box on its side,
did she spring up and help to assist without a word.

"There, that'll do," she said peevishly; "let me only unlock the box,
and get at my night-things, that's all I want. Mattie, for goodness
sake, don't keep so in the way!"

Mattie stood aside, and Harriet Wesden, with an impatient hand, unlocked
the box, and raised the heavy oaken lid. Mattie's eyes, sharp as
needles, detected a small roll of written papers, neatly tied.

"Are these the letters, Miss Harriet?"

"Good gracious me, how curious and prying you are!" said Harriet,
snatching the packet from her hand. "I wish I had never told you a
syllable--I wish you'd leave my things alone!"

"I beg your pardon--I only asked. It _was_ wrong."

"Well, there, I forgive you; but you are so tiresome, and old-fashioned.
I can't make you out--I never shall--you're not like other girls."

"Was I brought up like other girls, you know?" was the sad question.

"No, no--I forgot that--I beg your pardon, Mattie; I didn't mean it for
a taunt."

"God bless you, I know that. What are you doing?"

"Getting rid of these," thrusting the letters in the candle flame as she
spoke. "I can trust you, but not them, Mattie."

"I'd hold them over the fire-place, then. If they drop on the
toilet-table, we shall have the house a-fire."

Harriet took the advice proffered, and removed her combustibles to the
place recommended. Mattie, on her knees by the box, watched the process.

"And there's an end of _them_," Harriet said at last, in a decisive
tone.

"And of him--say of him?"

"We parted for ever--but I shall always think of him--think, too, that
perhaps I _was_ very young and thoughtless and vain, to lead him on, or
to be led on. But oh! Mattie, he did love me--he wouldn't have harmed me
for the world!"

"He hasn't spoken of writing--you haven't promised to write any more."

"No--it was a parting for _ever_. Haven't I said so, over and over
again?"

"Then you'll soon forget him, Miss Harriet--try and forget him, for your
own sake--you can't tell whether he wasn't making game of you, for
certain; he didn't act well, for he wasn't a boy, was he? And now go to
sleep, and wake up in the morning your old self, Miss."

"I'll try--I must try!"

"I don't think that this fine gentleman will ever turn up again; if he
does, you'll be older to take your own part. Oh! dear, how contrary
things do go, to be sure."

"What's the matter now?"

"I did think I knew whom you were to marry."

"Who was it?" said Harriet, with evident interest in her question.

"Well, I thought, Miss Harriet, that you'd grow up, and grow up to be a
young woman, and that Master Sidney underneath, would grow up, and grow
up to be a young man, and you'd fall naturally in love with one
another--marry, and be oh! so happy. When I'm hard at work at the
lessons he or his father writes out for me sometimes, I catch myself
forgetting all about them, and thinking of you and him together--and I
your servant, perhaps, or little housekeeper. I've always thought that
that would come to pass some day, and that he'd grow rich, and make a
lady of you--and it made me happy to think that the two, who'd been
perhaps the kindest in all the world to me, would marry some fine day.
I've pictered it--pictured it," she corrected, "many and many a time,
until I fancied at last it must come true."

"Master Sidney, indeed!" was the disparaging comment.

"When you know him, you won't talk like that," said Mattie; "he's a
gentleman--growing like one fast--and I don't think, young as he is,
that he would have acted like that other one you've been silly enough to
think about."

"Silly!--oh! Mattie, Mattie, that isn't sympathy with me--I don't know
whether you're a child, or an old woman--you talk like both of them, and
in one breath. Why did I tell you!--why did I tell you!"

"Because I was in earnest, and begged hard--because I was afraid, and
you could not keep such a secret from me as that; and if you had wanted
help--how I would have stood by you!"

Harriet noted the kindling eyes, and her heart warmed to the
nondescript.

"Thank you, Mattie--one friend at least now."

"Always,--don't you think so?"

"Yes, I do."

Mattie was at the door, when Harriet called her back.

"Mattie, never a word about this again. I daresay I shall soon forget
it, for I am very young; and though it was LOVE, yet I won't let it
break my heart. I'm very wretched now. I shall be glad," she added with
a yawn, "to lie down and think of all my sorrows."

"And sleep them away."

"Oh! I shall not close an eye to-night. Good night, Mattie."

Miss Harriet Wesden, a young lady who had begun life early, was sleeping
soundly three minutes after Mattie's departure from the room.



CHAPTER III.

OUR CHARACTERS.


In our last chapter we have implied that life began early for Harriet
Wesden. Before her school-days were finished, and with that precocity
for which school-girls of the present era are unhappily distinguished,
she was thinking of her lover, and constituting herself the heroine of a
little romance, all the more dangerous for being unreal and out of the
common track. A tender-hearted girl, with a head not the most strong in
the world, is easily impressed by the sentiment, real or assumed, of the
first good-looking young fellow whom she may meet. In her own opinion
she is not too young to receive admiration, and the consciousness of
having impressed one of the opposite sex, arouses her vanity, changes
the current of her thoughts, makes the world for awhile a very different
place--bright, etherial and unreal. All this very dangerous ground to
tread, but the more delightful for its pitfalls; all this a something
that has occurred in a greater or less degree to most of us in our time,
though we have the good sense to say nothing about it, or to laugh at
the follies and the troubles we rashly sought in our nonage. Boys and
girls begin their courtships early in these latter days--there is not a
girl of sixteen who does not consider herself fit to love and be loved,
however demure she may appear, or however much she may be kept back by
detestable short frocks and frilled indescribables. And as for our boys,
why, they are men of the world immediately they leave school--men of a
world that is growing more rapid in its revolutions, and hardens its
inhabitants wonderfully fast. It is a singular fact in the history of
shop-keeping, that children's toys are becoming unfashionable. "Bless
you, sir, children don't buy toys now, they're much too old for those
amusements!" was the assertion of one of the trade to the writer of this
work. And how many little misses and masters can most of us call to mind
who are growing pale over their fancy work, their books, and their
"collections," children who will do anything but play, and have souls
above "Noah's Arks."

Therefore, in these precocious times, Harriet Wesden, seventeen next
month, was no exceptional creature; moreover, she had been to a
boarding-school, where she had met with many of her own age who were
twice as womanly and worldly--big girls, who were always talking about
"the chaps," as Mattie had inelegantly phrased it.

There is no occasion in this place to retrace the school-career of
Harriet Wesden, to see how much she has kept back or extenuated; her
story to Mattie was a truthful one, told with no drawbacks, but with a
half-pride in her achievements which her girlish sorrows were not
capable of concealing. There was something satisfactory in having loved
and having been loved; and though the love had vanished away, still the
reminiscence was not wholly painful, however much she might fancy so at
that period.

Mattie had listened to her story, and offered all the consolation in her
power; Mattie was a girl of hard, plain facts, and looked more soberly
at the world than her contemporaries. She had a dark knowledge of the
worst part of it, and her early years had aged her more than she was
aware of herself--aged her thoughts rather than her heart, for she was
always cheerful, and her spirits were never depressed; she went her way
in life quietly and earnestly, grateful for the great change by which
that life had been characterized; grateful to all who had helped to turn
it in a different channel. At this period, Mattie was happy; there was
nothing to trouble her; it was an important post to hold in that
stationer's shop; everybody had confidence in her, and had given her
kind words; she had learned to know right from wrong; they were
interested in her moral progress, both the shopkeeper and the lodgers on
the first floor; she was more than content with her position in
society--she was thankful for it.

The Hinchfords had maintained their interest in Mattie, from the day of
her attempt to explain her long search for the brooch. The father, a
student of human nature, as he termed himself, had persuaded her to
attend evening school, to study to improve in reading and writing at
home; and Master Hinchford, who wrote a capital hand, set her copies in
his leisure, and gave his verdict on her calligraphic performances.
Mattie snatched at the elements of her education in a fugitive manner;
Mr. Wesden did not object to her progress, but she was his servant,
afterwards his shop-woman, and he wanted his money's worth out of her,
like a man who understood business in all its branches. Mattie never
neglected work for her studies, and yet made rapid advancement; and,
by-and-bye, Mr. Hinchford, during one of his quiet interviews with the
stationer, had obtained for her more time to attend her evening
classes--and hence the improvement which we have seen in Mattie. So time
had gone on, till Miss Wesden's return for good--so far, then, had the
stationer's daughter and the stray made progress.

Mattie, with a judgment beyond her years, had perceived the evanescent
nature of Harriet Wesden's romance, and prophesied concerning it. She
did not believe in the depth or intensity of Harriet's sorrow; moreover,
she knew Harriet was not of a fretful disposition, and that new faces
and new pursuits would exercise their usual effect upon a nature
impressionable, and--just a little weak! Mattie was a judge of character
without being aware of it, and her own unimpressionability set her above
her fellows, and gave her a clear insight into events that were passing
around her. A girl of observation also, who let few things--serious or
trivial--escape her, but glanced at them in their revolutions, and
remembered them, if necessary. This acuteness had possibly been derived
from her hand-to-mouth existence in the old days; in her time of
affluence, the habit of storing up and taking mental notes of
everything, had not deserted her. Take her altogether, she was a sharp
girl, and suited Mr. Wesden's business admirably.

Quietly Mattie set herself to take stock of Harriet Wesden, after the
latter's confession, to note if the love to which she had confessed were
likely to be a permanency or not. Harriet and Mattie spoke but little
concerning the adventures at Brighton; Mattie shunned the subject, and
turned the conversation when Harriet felt prone to dilate upon her
melancholy sensations. Besides, Mattie knew her place, kept to the shop,
whither Harriet seldom followed her--that young lady having a soul above
the business, by which she had benefited. Mr. and Mrs. Wesden rather
admired this; they had saved money, and the business, to the latter at
least, was but a secondary consideration; they had paid a large sum to
make a lady of Harriet, and when they retired from business, Harriet
would go with them, and be their hope and comfort, with her lady-like
ways, in their little suburban residence. They were not slow in letting
Harriet know this; they spoke of a private life very frequently; when
Harriet was two years older, they would retire and live happily ever
afterwards! Or, Mr. Wesden thought more prudently, if they did not give
up the business for good, still they would live away from it, and leave
the management of it to some trustworthy personage--Mattie, for
instance, who would see after their interests, whilst they took their
ease in their old age.

Mr. Hinchford, senior, had listened to these flying remarks more than
once; he spoke of his own establishment in the future in _his_
turn--where and how he should live with that clever boy of his, who
would redeem the family credit by assuming the Hinchfords' legitimate
position.

"I kept my carriage once, Mr. Wesden--I hope to do it again. My boy's
very clever, very energetic--he has gained the esteem of his employers,
and I believe that they will make a partner of him some day."

What Sidney Hinchford believed, did not appear upon the surface. He was
a youth--say a young man--who kept a great many thoughts to himself, and
pushed on in life steadily and undemonstratively. His father was right;
Sidney had gained the esteem of his employers; he _was_ very clever at
figures, handy as a correspondent, never objected to over-work, did more
work than any one of the old hands; evinced an aptitude for business and
an interest in his employers' success--very remarkable in these
egotistical times. His employers were wholesale tea-dealers in Mincing
Lane--well-to-do men, without families of their own--men who had risen
from the ranks, after the fashion of City-men, who have a nice habit of
getting on in the world. Sidney Hinchford's manner pleased them, but
they kept their own counsel, and watched his progress--and Sidney's was
a remarkable progress, for a youth of his age.

Sidney, be it said here, was an ambitious youth in his heart. His father
had been a rich man; his father's family, from which they held
themselves aloof, were rich people, and his hope was in recovering the
ground which, by some means or other never satisfactorily explained to
him, the Suffolk Street lodgers had managed to lose. Young men brought
up in City counting-houses have a wonderful reverence for money; Sidney
saw its value early in life, and became just a trifle too careful; for
over-carefulness makes a man suspicious, and keeps the heart from
properly expanding with love and charity to those who need it. An
earnest and an honourable young man, as we hope to prove without
labelling our character at the outset, yet he stood too much upon what
was legal, what was a fair price, or a good bargain, and pushed his way
onwards without much thought for the condition of beings less lucky than
he. There was a prize ahead of him; he could see it above the crowd
which jostled him for bread, for fame, for other prizes worth the
winning, and by which he set no store, and he kept his eyes upon it
steadfastly and dreamed of it in his sleep. He became grave-faced and
stern before his time--he was a man at nineteen, with a man's thoughts,
and doing a man's work.

And then a something came to soften him and turn his thoughts a little
aside from the beaten track, and this is how it came about.



CHAPTER IV.

A NEW ADMIRER.


Master Sidney Hinchford in old times had been a playfellow of Harriet
Wesden--lodging in the same house together, returning from school at the
same hours, they had become almost brother and sister, entertaining for
each other that child's affection, which it was but natural to expect
would have been developed under the circumstances.

Mr. Hinchford, a widower, with no great ability in the management of
children, was glad to see his boy find an attraction in the stationer's
parlour, and leave him to the study of his books or the perusal of his
newspapers, after the long office-hours. He was a thoughtful man, too,
who considered it best for his son to form a friendship with one of his
own age; and he had become attached to the Wesdens, as people who had
been kind to him and his boy in a great trouble. And it was satisfactory
to pair off Harriet Wesden--who was in the way of business, and
generally considered at that period a tiresome child, seldom of one mind
longer than five minutes together--with Master Hinchford, and so keep
her out of mischief and out of the shop where the draughts were many and
likely to affect her health. This good understanding had never
diminished between Harriet Wesden and Sidney Hinchford; only the
boarding-school at last had set them apart. When they met once a year,
they were still the same warm friends, and it was like a brother meeting
a sister when the Christmas holidays came round. The last holiday but
one, when Harriet, who had grown rapidly, returned from Brighton, a girl
close upon sixteen years of age, there was a little shyness at first
between them, which wore off in a few days. Sidney met her after a
year's absence without kissing her, stared and stammered, and found it
hard to assume a natural demeanour, and it was only Harriet's frank and
girlish ways that eventually set him at his ease.

The present Christmas all was altered, very much for the worse, Sidney
thought. He had met, for the first time, a pale-faced, languishing young
lady--a lady who had become very beautiful certainly, but was not the
Harriet Wesden whom he had hitherto known. He had escorted her from the
Brighton station, thinking that she had altered very much, and that he
did not like her new ways half so well as the old; he had seen her every
evening after that return, noted the variableness of her moods, set her
down, in his critical way, for an eccentric girl, whom it was impossible
to understand.

If she were dull, he fancied he had offended her; if she were lively, he
became thin-skinned enough to imagine that she was making fun of him. He
did not like it, he thought; but he found the new Harriet intruding upon
his business ideas, getting between him and the rows of figures in his
ledger, perplexing him with the last look she gave him, and the last
musical word that had rung in his ears. He did not believe that he was
going to fall in love with her--not when he was really in love with her,
and found his sensations a nuisance.

And Harriet Wesden, who had already succumbed to the love-god, and been
enraptured by the dulcet notes of the stranger, she thought Sidney
Hinchford had not improved for the better; that his glasses rendered him
almost plain, that his dry hard voice grated on her ears, and that he
had even grown quite a cross-looking young man. She took occasion to
tell him these unpleasant impressions with a sisterly frankness to which
he appeared to object; gave him advice as to deportment, set of his
neckerchief, size of his gloves, and only became a little thoughtful
when she noted the effect which her advice had upon him, and the
lamb-like docility with which he obeyed all her directions. Finally, all
her spirits came back; she had her doubts as to the state of Sidney
Hinchford's heart, and whether her first judgment on his personal
appearance were correct in the main; she began to observe him more
closely; life appeared to present an object in it once more; her
vanity--for she was a girl who knew she was pretty, and was proud of the
influence which her pretty face exercised--was flattered by his rapt
attention; and though she should never love anybody again--never, never
in all her life!--yet it was pleasant to know that Sidney was thinking
of her, and to see how a smile or a frown of hers brightened his looks
or cast them back into shadow.

Harriet Wesden was partial to experimentalizing on the effect which her
appearance might create on society. She was not a strong-minded girl,
who despised appearances; on the contrary, as weak and as vain as that
Miss Smith or Miss Brown, whose demerits our wives discuss over their
tea-tables. She was not strong-minded--she was pretty--and she was
seventeen years of age!

If she went for a walk, or on a shopping excursion, she was particular
about the bonnet she wore; and if young men, and old men too, some of
them, looked admiringly at her pretty face as they passed her, she was
flattered at the attention in her heart, although she kept steadily on
her way, and looked not right or left in her progress. If the army of
nondescripts in the great drapers' was thrown into a small flutter at
her appearance therein, and white neckclothed servility struggled behind
the boxes for the distinction of waiting on her, it was a gratification
which she felt all the more for remaining so lady-like and unmoved on
the high chair before the counter. She was a girl who knew her
attractions, and was proud of them; but unfortunately she was a girl who
knew but little else, and who thought but of little else just then.
There was a pleasure in knowing that, let her step into any part of the
London streets, people would notice her, even stop and look after her;
and it did not strike her that there were other faces as pretty as hers,
who received the same amount of staring and gaping at, and met with the
same little "romantic" incidents occasionally.

From her boarding-school days, Harriet had been inclined to romance; the
one foolish _escapade_ had tinged life with romantic hues, and pretty as
she was, her opinion of her own good looks was considerably higher than
any one else's. She passed through life from seventeen to eighteen years
of age taking everything as a compliment--flattered by the rude stares,
the impertinent smiles from shallow-brained puppies who leer at every
woman _en route_; rather pleased than otherwise if a greater idiot or a
nastier beast than his contemporaries tracked her footsteps homewards,
and lingered about Great Suffolk Street in the hope of seeing her again.
All this the spell of her beauty which lured men towards her; all this
without one thought of harm--simply an irresistible vanity that took
delight in her influence, and was pleased with immoderate fooleries.

Pretty, vain, foolish, and fond of attention, on the one side; but
good-tempered, good-hearted, and innocent of design on the other. A
butterfly disposition, that would carry its owner through life if the
sun shone, but would be whirled heaven knows where in a storm. She would
have been happy all her life, had all mankind been up to the dead level
of honest intentions, which it is not, just at present, thanks to the
poor wretches like us who get our living by story-telling.

Most young ladies constituted like Harriet Wesden have an ordeal to pass
through for better for worse; if for worse, God help them! Harriet
Wesden's came in due course.

It was, in the beginning, but another chapter of romance--another
conquest! Love at first sight in London Streets, and the fervour of a
new-born passion carrying the devotee out of the track, and leading him
to follow in her footsteps, worshipping at a distance. It had occurred
twice before, and was a compliment to the power of her charms--her heart
quite fluttered at these little breaks in a somewhat monotonous
existence. It was rather aggravating that the romance always ended in an
old-fashioned bookseller's shop in Great Suffolk Street, where "the
mysterious strangers" were jostled into the mud by people with baskets,
and then run down by bawling costers with barrows. That was not a nice
end to the story, and though she wished the story to conclude at the
door, yet she would have preferred something more graceful as a
"wind-up." Nevertheless, take it for all in all, a satisfactory proof
that she had a face pretty enough to lure people out of their way, and
rob them of their time--lead them without a "mite of encouragement" on
her part to follow her fairy footsteps. If there were hypocrisy in her
complaints to Mattie concerning the "impudence" of the fellows, she
scarcely knew it herself; and Mattie would not believe in hypocrisy in
the girl whom she served with a Balderstonian fidelity. The third
fugitive adorer of the stationer's daughter was of a different stamp to
his predecessors. He was one of a class--a gentleman by birth and
position, and a prowler by profession. A prowler in fine clothes of
fashionable cut, hanging about fashionable thoroughfares when London was
in town, and going down to fashionable watering-places when London
needed salt water. A man of the lynx order of bipeds, hunting for prey
at all times and seasons, meeting with many rebuffs, and anon--and
alas!--with sufficient encouragement--attracted by every fresh, innocent
face; seeking it out as his profession; following it with a pertinacity
that would have been creditable in any other pursuit--in fact, a scamp
of the first water!

Harriet Wesden had gone westward in search of a book ordered by a
customer, and had met this man, when homeward bound, in Regent Street.
Harriet's face attracted him, and in a business-like manner, which told
of long practice, he started in pursuit, regulating his conduct by the
future manoeuvres of the object in view. Harriet fluttered on her way
homewards, conscious, almost by intuition, that she was followed;
proceeding steadily in a south-eastern direction, and pertinaciously
keeping the back of her straw bonnet to the pursuer. Had she looked
behind once, our prowler would have increased his pace, and essayed to
open a conversation--a half smile, even a look of interest, the ghost of
an _oeillade_ would have been sufficient test of character for him,
and he would have chanced his fortunes by a _coup d'étât_.

But he was in doubt. Once in crossing the Strand, towards Waterloo
Bridge, he managed to veer round and confront her, but she never glanced
towards him; so with a consideration not generally apparent in prowlers,
he contented himself with following her home. He had his time on his
hands--he had not met with an adventure lately--he was approaching a
region that was not well known to him, and the smell of which disgusted
him; but there was a something in Harriet Wesden's face which took him
gingerly along, and he was a man who always followed his adventures to
an end. Cool, calculating and daring, he would have made an excellent
soldier--being brought up as an idler, he turned out a capital
scoundrel.

Harriet reached her own door and gave a half timid, half inquiring
glance round, before she passed into the shop; our prowler took stock of
the name and the number--he had an admirable memory--examined everything
in the shop window; walked on the opposite side of the way; looked up at
the first and second floor, and met with nothing to reward his vigilance
but the fierce face of old Hinchford; finally entered the shop and
purchased some cigars, grinding his teeth quietly to himself over Mr.
Wesden's suspicions of his sovereign being a counterfeit.

We should not have dwelt upon this incident, had it thus ended, or had
no effect upon our story's progress. But, on the contrary, from the
man's persistency, strange results evolved.

Twice or thrice a week this tall, high-shouldered, moustached _roué_, of
five-and-thirty, appeared in Suffolk Street--patronized the bookseller's
shop by purchases--hulked about street corners, watching the house, and
catching a glimpse of Harriet occasionally. This was the Brighton
romance over again, only Harriet was a year older now, and the hero of
the story was sallow-faced and sinister--there was danger to any modest
girl in those little scintillating eyes of his; and that other hero had
been much younger, and had really loved her, she believed!

Pertinacity appears like devotion to some minds, and our prowler had met
with his reward more than once by keeping doggedly to his post; he held
his ground therefore, and watched his opportunity. Harriet Wesden had
become frightened by this time; the adventure had lost its romantic
side, and there was something in her new admirer's face which warned
even her, a girl of no great penetration.

Mattie was always Harriet's _confidante_ in these matters--Harriet was
fond of asking advice how to proceed, although she did not always take
the same with good grace. That little, black-eyed confidante kept watch
in her turn upon the prowler, and resolved in her mind the best method
of action.

"I'm afraid of him, Mattie," whispered Harriet; "I should not like
father to know he had followed me home, lest he should think I had given
the man encouragement, and father can be very stern when his suspicions
are aroused. Besides, I shouldn't like Sidney to know."

"But he wouldn't believe that you had given him encouragement; he thinks
too much of you, I fancy."

"You're full of fancies, Mattie."

"And--oh! there's the man again, looking under the _London Journals_.
How very much like the devil in a French hat he is, to be sure!"

This dialogue occurred in the back parlour, whilst Mrs. Wesden was
up-stairs, and Mr. Wesden in Paternoster Row in search of the December
"monthlies"--and in the middle of it the devil in his French hat,
stepped, with his usual cool imperturbability, into the shop.

This procedure always annoyed Mattie; she saw through the pretence, and,
though it brought custom to the establishment, still it aggravated her.
It was playing at shop, and "making-believe" to want something; and shop
with our humble heroine was an important matter, and not to be lightly
trifled with. She had her revenge in her way by selling the prowler the
driest, hardest, and most undrawable of cigars, giving him the penny
Pickwicks for the mild Havannahs; she sold him fusees that she knew had
been left in a damp place, and the outside periodicals, which had become
torn and soiled--could she have discovered a bad sixpence in the till, I
believe, in her peculiar ideas of retaliation, she would not have
hesitated an instant in presenting it, with his change.

The gentleman of energy entered the shop then, rolled his eyes over the
parlour blind towards Harriet, who sat at fancy-work by the fireside,
finally looked at Mattie, who stood stolidly surveying him. Now energy
without a result had considerably damped the ardour of our prowler, and
he had resolved to push a little forward in the sapping and mining way.
He was a man who had made feminine pursuit a study; he knew human
weakness, and the power of the money he carried in his pockets. He was
well up in Ovid and in the old comedies of a dissolute age, where the
Abigail is always tempted before the mistress--and Mattie was only a
servant of a lower order, easily to be worked upon, he had not the
slightest doubt. There was a servant who did the scrubbing of the stones
before the door, and sat half out of window polishing the panes, till
she curdled his blood, but she was a red-faced, stupid girl, and as
there was a choice, he preferred that shop-girl, "with the artful black
eyes," as he termed them.

"Good morning, Miss."

"Good morning."

"Have you any--any more of those exceedingly nice cigars, Miss?"

"Plenty more of them."

"I'll take a shilling's-worth."

Mattie, always anxious to get him out of the shop, rolled up his cigars
in paper, and passed them rapidly across the counter. The prowler, not
at all anxious, unrolled the paper, drew forth his cigar-case, and
proceeded to place the "Havannahs" very carefully one by one in their
proper receptacles, talking about the weather and the business, and even
complimenting Mattie upon her good looks that particular morning, till
Mattie's blood began to simmer.

"You haven't paid me yet, sir," she said, rather sharply.

"No, Miss--in one moment, if you will allow me."

After awhile, during which Mattie moved from one foot to another in her
impatience, he drew forth a sovereign and laid it on the counter.

"We're short of change, sir--if you have anything smaller----"

"Nothing smaller, I am compelled to say, Miss."

Mattie hesitated. Under other circumstances, she would have left her
shop, ran into the pork-butcher's next door, and procured change, after
a hint to Harriet to look to the business; but she detected the _ruse_
of the prowler, and was not to be outwitted. She opened her till again,
and found fourteen shillings in silver--represented by a preponderance
of threepenny pieces, but that was of no consequence, save that it took
him longer to count--and from a lower drawer she drew forth one of many
five-shilling packets of coppers, which pawnbrokers and publicans on
Saturday nights were glad to give Mr. Wesden silver for, and laid it
down with a heavy dab on the counter.

"What--what's that?" he ejaculated.

"That's ha'pence--that's all the change we've got--and I can't leave the
shop," said Mattie, briskly. "You can give me my cigars back and get
change for yourself, if you don't like it."

"Thank you," was the suave answer, "I was not thinking much about the
change. If you will buy yourself a new bonnet with it, you will be
conferring a favour upon me."

"And what favour will you want back?" asked Mattie, quickly.

"Oh! I will leave that to time and your kindness--come, will you take it
and be friends with me? I want a friend in this quarter very much."

He pushed the silver and the cumbrous packet of coppers towards her. He
was inclined to be liberal. He remembered how many he had dazzled in his
time by his profuse munificence. Money he had never studied in his life,
and by the strange rule of contraries, he had had plenty of it.

Mattie was impulsive--even passionate, and the effort to corrupt her
allegiance to the Wesdens fired her blood to a degree that she even
wondered at herself shortly afterwards.

"Take yourself out of this shop, you bad man," she cried, "and your
trumpery change too! Be off with you before I call a policeman, or throw
something at you--you great big coward, to be always coming here
insulting us!"

With her impatient hands she swept the money off the counter,
five-shilling packet of coppers and all, which fell with a crash, and
disgorged its contents on the floor.

"What--what do you mean?" stammered the prowler.

"I mean that it's no good you're coming here, and that nobody wants to
see you here again, and that I'll set the policeman on you next time you
give me any of your impudence. Get out with you, you coward!"

Mattie thought her one threat of a policeman sufficient; she had still a
great reverence for that official personage, and believed that his very
name must strike terror to guilty hearts. The effect upon her auditor
led her to believe that she had been successful; but he was only alarmed
at Mattie's loud voice, and the stoppage of two boys and a woman at the
door.

"I--I don't know what you mean--you're mad," he muttered, and then slunk
out of the shop, leaving his cumbrous change for a sovereign spread over
the stationer's floor. Mattie went round the counter and collected the
_debris_ of mammon, minus one threepenny piece which she could not
discern anywhere, but which Mr. Wesden, toiling under his monthly
parcel, detected in one corner immediately upon his entrance.

"Why, Mattie, what's this?--MONEY--_on the floor_!"

"A gentleman dropped his change, sir."

"Put it on the shelf, he'll be back for it presently."

"No, I don't think he will," was Mattie's dry response.



CHAPTER V.

PERSEVERANCE.


Mattie in her self-conceit imagined that she had frightened the prowler
from Great Suffolk Street; in lieu thereof, she had only deterred him
from entering a second appearance on the premises. He had made a false
move, and reaped the bitter consequence. He must be more wary, if he
built upon making an impression on Harriet Wesden's heart--more
cautious, more of a strategist. So he continued to prowl at a distance,
and to watch his opportunity from the same point of view. Presently it
would come, and with the advantage of his winning tongue, which could
roll off elegant phrases by the yard, he trusted to make an impression
on a shopkeeper's daughter.

For a moment, and after his rebuff, he had hesitated as to the
expediency of continuing the siege; but his pride was aroused; it was an
unpleasant end to his plans, and the chance had not presented itself yet
of trying his fortune with Miss Wesden herself. Presently the hour would
come; he did not despair yet; he bided his time with great patience.

The time came a fortnight after that little incident in the Suffolk
Street shop. Harriet Wesden was coming down the Borough towards home one
wet night when he accosted her. It was getting late for one thing, and
rainy for another, and Harriet was making all the haste home that she
could, when he made her heart leap into her throat by his sudden "Good
evening, Miss."

One glance at him, the nipping of a little scream in the bud, and then
she increased her pace, the prowler keeping step with her.

"Will you favour me by accepting half my umbrella, Miss Wesden--for one
instant then, whilst I venture to explain what may seem conduct the
reverse of gentlemanly to you?"

"No, sir, I wish to hear nothing--I wish to be left alone."

"I have been very rude--I will ask your pardon, Miss Wesden, very
humbly. But let me beg of you to listen to this explanation of my
conduct."

"There is nothing to explain, sir."

"Pardon me, but there is. Pardon me, but this is not the way you would
have treated Mr. Darcy had he been in my place."

Harriet gasped for breath. Mr. Darcy, the hero of her Brighton folly,
the name which she had never confessed to a living soul, the only man in
the world who she thought could have taunted her with indiscretion, and
of being weak and frivolous rather than a rude and forward girl! Harriet
did not reply; she looked at him closely, almost tremblingly, and then
continued her hurried progress homewards; the prowler, seeing his
advantage, maintained his position by her side, keeping the umbrella
over her.

"Mr. Darcy was an intimate friend of mine before he went to India; we
were together at Brighton, Miss Wesden--more than once he has mentioned
your name to me."

"Indeed," she murmured.

"You would like to hear that he is well, perhaps."

"I am glad to hear that," Miss Wesden ventured to remark.

"He is in India still--I believe will remain there, marry and settle
down there for good."

"Have you been watching my house to tell me this?"

"Partly, and partly for other reasons, for which I have a better excuse.
I have been a wanderer--in search of happiness many years, and for the
first time in a life not unadventurous there crosses my----"

"Good evening, sir--I have been entrapped into a conversation--I must
beg you to leave me."

Harriet set off at the double again--in double quick time went the
prowler after her.

People abroad that night began to notice the agitated girl, and the tall
man marching on at her side, who, in his eagerness to keep step, trod on
people's feet, and sent one doctor's boy, basket and bottles, crunching
against a lamp-post; one or two stopped and looked after them and then
continued their way--it was a race between the prowler and his victim,
the prowler making a dead heat of it.

Harriet gave in at last--her spirit was not a very strong one, and she
stopped and burst into tears.

"Sir, will you leave me?--will you believe that I don't want to hear a
single word of your reasons for thus persecuting me?"

"Miss Wesden, only allow me to explain, and I will go my way and never
see you more. I will vanish away in the darkness, and let all the bright
hopes I have fostered float away on the current which bears you away
from me."

"Go, pray do go, if you are a gentleman. I must appeal to some one for
protection, if you----"

"Miss Wesden, you must hear me--you shall hear me. I am not a child; I
am----"

"A scoundrel, evidently," said a harsh voice in his ears, and the
instant afterwards Sidney Hinchford, with two fiery eyes behind his
spectacles, stood between him and the girl he was persecuting. Harriet,
with a little cry of joy, clung to the arm of her deliverer; the prowler
looked perplexed, then put the best face upon the matter that he could
extemporize for the occasion.

"Who are you, sir?" was the truly English expletive.

"My name is Hinchford--my address is at your service, if you wish it.
Now, sir, your name--and _business_?"

"I decline to give it."

"You have insulted this lady, a friend of mine. Apologize," cried young
Hinchford, in much such a tone as an irritable officer summons his
company to shoulder arms.

"Sir, your tone is not calculated to induce me to oblige _you_. If Miss
Wesden thinks that I----"

"APOLOGIZE!" shouted Hinchford, a second time. He had forgotten the
respect due to his charge, and shaken her hand from his arm; he was
making a little scene in the street, and convulsing Harriet with fright;
he was face to face with the prowler, his tall, well-knit form,
evidently a match for his antagonist; he was chivalrous, and scarcely
twenty years of age; above all, he was in a towering passion, and verged
a little on the burlesque, as passionate people generally do.

As if by the touch of a magic wand, a crowd sprang up around them;
respectable passers-by, the pickets of the Kent Street gang on duty in
the Borough, unwashed men and women who had been seeking shelter under
shop-blinds, the doctor's boy, who had been maltreated and had a claim
to urge for damages, a fish-woman, two tradesmen with their aprons on
fresh from business, and shoals of boys who might have dropped from
heaven, so suddenly did they take up the best places, and assume an
interest in the adventure.

The prowler turned pale, and flinched a little as Sidney approached,
flinched more as the audience seized the thread of discussion and
expressed its comments more vociferously.

"Punch his head if he don't 'pologize, sir--throw him into the mud,
sir--I'd cure him of coming after _my_ gal--knock the bloke's hat off,
and jump on it--lock him up!"

The prowler saw his danger; he had heard a great deal of the mercies of
a London mob, and it was hemming him in now--and, like most men of the
prowling class, he was at heart a coward. He succumbed.

"I never intended to insult the lady--if I have uttered a word to offend
her, I am very sorry. It is all a misconception. But if the lady
considers that I have taken a liberty in offering--in offering," he
repeated, rather disturbed in his harangue by a violent shove from
behind on to the unhappy doctor's boy, upon whose feet he alighted, "a
common courtesy, I apologise with all my heart. I----"

"That will do, sir," was the curt response; "you have had a narrow
escape. Take it as a lesson."

Sidney was glad to back out of the absurd position into which he had
thrust Harriet, to draw her hand through his arm and hasten away,
offering a a hundred excuses to her for his imprudence and
impulsiveness.

He had not moved twenty yards with her when the yell of the mob--and the
mob in that end of London possesses the finest blood-curdling yell in
the world--startled him and all within half a mile of him. It was a dull
night, and the wild elements of street life were fond of novelty; a
swell had been caught insulting a British female in distress, and the
unwashed hates swells like poison. An apology was not sufficient for the
lookers-on; prostration on bended knees and hands outstretched would not
have done; sackcloth and ashes vowed for the remainder of the
delinquent's existence, would have been treated with contumely--all that
was wanted was an uproar. The boys wanted an uproar because it was
natural to them; the representatives of Kent Street, because it was in
the way of trade, and one or two respectable gents had become interested
in the dispute, and wore watch-chains; the women, because "_he_ had not
been sarved out as he desarved, the wretch!"

So the prowler, backing out of the crowd, met with a sledge-hammer hand
upon his hat, and found his hat off, and mud in his face, and then
fists, and finally an upheaving of the whole mass towards him, sending
him into the roadway like a shell from an Armstrong gun. There was no
help for it, the prowler must run, and run he did, pursued by the
terrible mob and that more terrible yell which woke up every recess in
the Borough; and in this fashion the pursuer and the pursued sped down
the muddy road towards the Elephant and Castle.

An empty Hansom cab offered itself to the runaway; he leaped in whilst
it was being slowly driven down the Borough, and dashed his fist through
the trap.

"Drive fast--double fare--REFORM!"

The Hansom rattled off, the mob uttered one more despairing yell, and,
after a slight abortive effort, gave up the chase, and left the prowler
to his repentance.

And he did repent of mixing with life "over the water,"--for Great
Suffolk Street never saw him again.



CHAPTER VI.

"IN THE FULNESS OF THE HEART," ETC.


"Oh! Harriet, I am very sorry," burst forth Sidney, when the noise had
died away, and Harriet Wesden, pale and silent, walked on by his side
with her trembling hand upon his arm.

Harriet did not reply--her dignity had been outraged, and his defence
had not greatly assisted her composure, though it had answered the
purpose for which it was intended.

Sidney gulped down a lump in his throat, and glanced at the pretty,
agitated face.

"You are offended with me--well, I deserve it. I'm a beast."

This self-depreciatory verdict having consoled him, and elicited no
response from Harriet, he continued, "I acted like a fool; I should have
taken it coolly; why, he was more the gentleman of the two, scamp as he
was. By George, I was near smashing him, though! Harriet," with
eagerness, "you will look over my outburst. You're not so very much
offended, are you?"

"No, I'm not offended, only the mob frightened me, and you were very
violent. I don't know what else you could have done."

"Knocked him down and walked on, or given him in charge; knocked him
down quietly would have been the most satisfactory method. How did it
begin?"

"He followed and spoke to me. He has been hanging about the house for
weeks."

"The dev--I beg pardon--has he though?"

Sidney Hinchford walked on; he had become suddenly thoughtful. More
strongly than ever it recurred to him what a mistake he had made in not
knocking down the prowler in a quiet and graceful manner.

"Mattie has noticed it, and spoken to him about it, but he would not go
away."

"Did he ever speak to you before to-night."

"Never."

"He's a great blackguard!" Sidney blurted forth; "but there's an end of
him. He'll not trouble you any more, Harriet; he did not know that you
had a big brother to take care of you. These sorts of fellows object to
big brothers--they're in the way so much."

"Yes, I suppose so."

"You oughtn't to go out at this time of night alone," he added after
awhile; "it isn't exactly the thing, you know."

"No one spoke to me before."

"N--no, but it is not what _I_ call proper."

"What you call proper, Mr. Hinchford!--I'm sure I--"

"I beg pardon; of course anything that I--I think proper, is of no
consequence to you. It's only my way of speaking out--rather too
plainly. I offend the clerks in the office at times and--and of course
it's no business of mine, Harriet, although I did hope once that--that
it would be. _There!_"

Harriet saw what was coming, or rather what had come. She was alarmed,
although this was not her first offer, and the bloom of novelty had been
lightly brushed off by that boarding-school folly of which she felt more
ashamed every day. She began walking very fast, in much the same way
from his passionate words as she had done from the frothy vapidity of
that man, extinguished for ever.

Sidney walked on with her; her hand was sliding from his arm when he
made a clutch at it, and held it rather firmly. He went at his love
affairs in a straightforward manner--his earnestness making up for his
lack of eloquence.

"I know I've done it!" he said; "I know I should have kept this back a
year or two--perhaps altogether--but it wouldn't answer, and it has made
me miserable, out of sorts, and an enigma to the old dad. I'm only just
twenty--of no position yet, but with a great hope to make one--I'm sure
that I shall love you all my life, and never be happy without you--can
you put up with a fellow like me, and say I may hope to teach you to
love me some day?"

A strange fear beset Harriet--a fear of answering before the whirl of
events had given her time to consider. She had never seriously thought
of pledging herself to him; though her woman's quickness had guessed at
his secret long since, she had never dreamed of him or felt her heart
beat for him, as for that first love who had won her girl's fancy, and
then faded away like a dream-figure. She was agitated from the preceding
events of that night, and now, in an unlucky moment, he added to her
embarrassment and made her brain whirl--she was scarcely herself, and
did not answer like herself.

"Let go my hand, sir--let me go home--I don't want to hear any more!"

"Very well," he answered; and was silent the rest of the way
home--leaving her without a word in the shop, and passing through that
side door reserved for the Hinchfords for the last thirteen years.
Harriet, trembling and excited, almost stumbled into the back parlour,
and began to sob forth a part of the adventures of that evening. Sidney,
like the ghost of himself, stalked into the first-floor front, where his
father was keeping a late tea for him.

The anxious eyes of the father glanced from under the bushy white brows;
he was a student of human nature, so far as his son was concerned at
least.

"Anything wrong, Sid?"

"N--no," was the hesitative answer.

"You look troubled."

"I'm tired--dead beat."

"Let us get on with the tea, then," he said assuming a cheery voice;
"here's the _Times_, Sid."

"I have read it," was the hollow answer.

"Oh! I haven't--any news?"

"Tea gone up with a rush, I believe."

"Ah! good for the firm, I hope."

"Believe so--don't know. Phew! how infernally hot this room gets!"

Mr. Hinchford hazarded no more remarks--the curt replies of his son were
sufficient indication of a reluctance to attend to him. He set out the
tea-table, and superintended the duties thereof in a grave, fatherly
manner, glancing askance at his son over the rim of his tea-cup. Sidney
was in a mood that troubled the sire--for it was an unusual mood, and
suggested something very much out of the way.

After tea, Sidney would compose himself and relate what had happened in
the City to disturb him, and led him to respond churlishly to the old
father, who had never given him a cross word in his life. He would wait
Sidney's good time--there was no good hurrying the lad.

These two were something more than father and son; their long
companionship together, unbroken upon by other ties, had engendered a
concentrative affection which was a little out of the common--which more
resembled in some respects the love existent between a good mother and
daughter. They were friends, confidants, inseparable companions as well.
The son's ambition was the father's, and all that interested and
influenced the one equally affected the other. Sidney had made no
friends from the counting-house or warehouse clerks; they were not "his
sort," and he shunned their acquaintance. He was a young man of an
unusual pattern, a trifle more grave than his years warranted, and
endued with more forethought than the whole business put together. He
looked at life sternly--too sternly for his years--and his soul was
absorbed in rising to a good position therein, for his father's sake as
well as his own. His father was growing old; his memory was not so good
as it used to be; Sid fancied that the time would shortly come when the
builders would discover his father's defects, dismiss him with a week's
salary, and find a younger and sharper man to supply his place. That was
simply business in a commercial house; but it was death to the
incapables, whom sharp practice swept out of the way. Sidney felt that
he had no time to lose; that there must come a day when his father's
position would depend upon himself; when he should have to work for
both, as his father had worked for him when he was young and helpless
and troublesome. Sidney's employers were kind, more than that, they were
deeply interested in the strange specimen of a young man who worked
hard, objected to holidays, and took work home with him when there was a
pressure on the firm; he was honest, energetic and truthful, and a
servant with those requisites is always worth his weight in gold. They
had conferred together, and resolved to make a partner of him in due
course, when he was of age or when he was five-and-twenty; and Sidney,
though he had never been informed of their intentions, guessed it by
some quick instinct, read it in their faces, and believed that good luck
would fall to his share some day. Still he never spoke of his hopes,
save once to his father in a weak moment, of which he ever after
repented, for his father was of a more sanguine nature, and inclined to
build his castles too rapidly. Sidney knew the uncertainties of
life--more especially of city life--and he proceeded quietly on his way,
keeping his hopes under pressure, and talking and thinking like a clerk
in the City who never expected to reach higher than two or three hundred
a year.

Yet with all his prudence he was, singular to relate, not of a reticent
nature; he was a young man who spoke out, and hated mystery or suspense.

Possibly in this last instance he had spoken out too quickly for Harriet
Wesden; and though suspense was over, he did not feel pleased with his
tactics of that particular evening. And he _was_ inclined to keep back
all the unpleasant reminiscences of that night, sink them for ever in
the waters of oblivion, and never let a soul know what an ass he had
made of himself. It was his first imprudence, and he was aggrieved at
it; he had given way to impulse, and suffered his love to escape at an
unpropitious moment--his ears burned to think of all the folly which he
had committed.

In a bad temper--he who was generally so calm and equable--he took his
tea, and shunned his father's inspection by turning his back upon him.
After a while he took up the _Times_, which he had previously declined,
and feigned an interest in the "Want Places." Mattie came in and out of
the room with the hot water, &c.; she waited on the Hinchfords when Ann
of all work was weak in the ankles, which was of frequent occurrence.
Mattie made herself generally useful, and rather liked trouble than not.
With a multiplicity of tasks on her mind, she was always more cheerful;
it was only when there was nothing to do that her face assumed a
sternness of expression as if the shadow of her early days were settling
there.

Mattie, bustling to and fro in attendance upon the Hinchfords, observed
all and said nothing, like a sensible girl. She was quick enough to see
that something unusual had happened above stairs as well as below, and
her interest was as great in these two friends--and _helpers_--as in the
Wesdens. She would have everybody happy in that house--it had been a
lucky house for her, and it should be for all in it, if she possessed
the power to make it so!

She saw that one trouble had come at least; and looking intently at
Sidney's grim face--she had busied herself with the bread and butter
plate to get a good look at it--she read its story more plainly than he
would have liked.

Outside the door she paused and put "this and that together"--_this_ in
the drawing-room, and _that_ in the parlour, and jumped at once at the
right conclusion, with a rapidity that did infinite credit to her
seventeen years. Seventeen years then, and rather shorter than ever, if
that were possible.

"He has been courting Harriet--I know he has!" she said; "and Harriet's
been in a tantrum, and said something to cross him--that's it!"

She missed a step and shook up the tea-things that she was carrying
down-stairs. This recalled her to the duties of her situation.

"One thing at a time, Mattie, my dear," she said, in a patronizing way
to herself, as she descended to the lower regions. In those lower
regions poor Ann Packet created another divergence of thought. Ann's
ankles continued to swell--she had been much on her feet during the last
heavy wash, and the gloomy thought had stolen to her, that her new
calamity--she was a woman born for calamities--would end in the
hospital.

This idea having just seized her, she communicated it at once to Mattie,
upon her re-appearance in the kitchen.

"Mattie," said Ann, lugubriously, "I've been a good friend to you, all
my life--ain't I?"

"To be sure you have," was the quick answer.

"When you came here first, a reg'lar young rip, I took to you, taught
you what was tidiness, which you didn't know any more than the babe
unborn, did you?"

"Not much more--don't you feel so well to-night, Ann?"

"Much wus--I'm only forty, and my legs oughtn't to go at that age."

"No, and they won't."

"_Won't_ they?" was the ironical answer; "but they will--but they has!
Oh! Mattie gal, you'll come and see me at St. Tummas's?"

"Ann Packet," said Mattie gravely, "this won't do. You're getting your
old horrors again, and you're full of fancies, and your ankles are not
half so bad as you think they are. I know what _you_ want."

"What?"

"A good shaking," laughed Mattie, "that's all."

"Oh! you unnat'ral child!"

"Well, the unnat'ral child will ask Mr. Wesden if she may keep out of
the shop to-night, and bring a book down-stairs to read to you, over
your needlework. But if you don't work I shan't read, Ann--is it a
bargain?"

"You're allus imperent; but get the book, if master'll let you. Oh! how
_they_ do shoot!"

Mattie obtained permission, brought down a book from the store, and sat
down to read to honest Ann. She had made a good choice, and Ann was soon
interested, forgot her ailments, and stitched away with excitable
rapidity. Mattie had no time for thoughts of her own, or the new mystery
above-stairs till the supper hour. She read on till the Hinchford bell
rang once more; then she closed the book, and met with her reward in
Ann's large red hand falling heavily, yet affectionately, on her
shoulder.

"Thankee, Mattie. I'll do as much for you some day, gal."

"When you can spell, or when I've gouty ankles, Ann?"

"Ah! get out with you!--I'm only fit for making game on, you think. I'm
a poor woman, who never had the time to larn to read, and the likes of
you can laugh at me."

"No--only try to make you laugh, Ann. You're not cross?"

"God bless you!--not I," she ejaculated spasmodically. "There, go about
your work, and don't think anything of what an old fool like me talks
about."

Mattie busied herself with the supper tray, the bread, cheese, knives
and plates, and then bore them away in her strong arms; Ann watched her
out of the room, and then produced an indifferently clean cotton
handkerchief, with which she wiped her eyes and blew her nose.

"To think how that gal has altered since she first came here, a little
ragged thing," soliloquized Ann, "a gal who skeered you with the wulgar
words she'd picked up in the streets, and was so awful ignorant, you
blushed for her. And now the briskiest and best of gals; if I don't
spend all my money in doctors stuff afore I die, that Mattie shall have
every penny of it. It's in my will so; they put it down in black and
white for me, and she'll never know it till I'm--I'm gone!"

A prospect that caused Ann Packet to weep afresh; a dismal, but a
soft-hearted woman, who had passed through life with no one to love,
until she met with the stray. She was a stray herself, picked up at the
workhouse gate, to the disgust of the relieving officer, and turned out
to service as soon as she could walk and talk, and a mistress be found
for her--lonely in the world herself, she had, when the time came round,
taken to one more forlorn and friendless than ever she had been. And she
_had_ left her all her money--fourteen pounds, seven and sevenpence, put
out at interest, two and seven eighths, in the Finsbury Savings Bank,
whither her ankles refused to carry her to get her book made up, another
trouble at that time which kept her mind unsettled.



CHAPTER VII.

CONFIDENCE.


Whilst Mattie read to her fellow-workman, consolation was also being
attempted in the drawing-room that she had quitted. Consolation
attempted by the father after awhile to his son.

After awhile, for an hour passed before a word was exchanged, and Sidney
Hinchford still held the newspaper before him, staring at it, without
comprehending a word. A singular position for him to adopt; a youth of
twenty, who never wasted time, who had always something on his hands to
fill up his evenings at home, who was very often too busy to play
backgammon with his father.

That father was troubled; his heart was in his son's peace of mind;
there was nothing that he would not have sacrificed for it, had it lain
in his power. His pride was in his son's advancement, his son's ability,
and he fancied that a great trouble had occurred at the business to
change the scene in which both played their parts. He was less
strong-minded and more nervous than he had been four years ago, and so
less affected him.

When the hour had passed, and he had grown tired of Sidney's silence, he
said, with something of his son's straightforwardness,

"What's the matter, Sid?"

Sidney crumpled the paper in his hands, and flung it on the table; he
was tired, even a little ashamed of his sullen deportment.

"A matter that I ought to keep to myself, it being a foolish one, sir,"
he answered; "but, if you wish, I will relate it."

"If _you_ wish, Sid," was the courteous answer; "I have no wish to hear
anything that you would desire to keep back from me. If you think I can
be of no use to you, give you no advice, offer no consolation that you
may think worthy of acceptance, and if," with a very wistful glance
towards him, "you consider it a matter that concerns yourself alone, why
I--I don't wish to intrude upon your confidence."

"I don't think that we have had any secrets from each other yet; I don't
see any reason why we should begin to get mysterious, father," Sidney
replied; "and so, here's the full, true, and particular account."

Mr. Hinchford edged his chair nearer to his son, the son turned and
looked his father in the face, blushing just a little at the beginning
of his narrative.

"It's an odd thing for one _man_ to tell another," he said quickly, "but
it's what you ought to know, and though it makes me wince a little, it's
soon over. I've been thinking of engaging myself to----"

"Not to another firm, Sid--_now_?" cried the father, as he paused.

"To Harriet Wesden, down-stairs."

"God bless me!"

Mr. Hinchford passed his hands through his scanty white hairs, stroked
his moustache, blew at an imaginary something in the air, loosened his
stock, and gasped a little. His son engaging himself to be married was a
new element to perplex him; he had never believed in human nature, or
the Hinchford nature, taking that turn for years and years. Once or
twice he had thought that his careful son might some day look around him
and _marry well_; but that at twenty years of age he should have fallen
in love, was a miracle that took some minutes to believe in.

"Well," he said at last.

"I should have said, father, that I had been thinking of an
engagement--a long one to end in a happy marriage, when there was fair
sailing for all of us--and that my thoughts found words when I least
expected them, and surprised Harriet by their suddenness. I told her I
loved her, and she told me that she didn't--and there's an end of it! We
need not speak of the affair again, you know."

"'And that she didn't!'" quoted the father, "why, that's more amazing
still!"

"On the contrary, that is the most natural part of it."

"And she really said--"

"She said that she did not want any more of my jaw--rather more
elegantly expressed, but that is what she meant. Well, I _was_ a fool!"

Mr. Hinchford sat and reflected, becoming graver every instant. He did
not attempt to make light of the story, to treat it as one of those
trifles 'light as air,' which a breath would disperse. His son's was
neither a frivolous nor a romantic nature, and he treated even his
twenty years with respect. Mr. Hinchford was astonished also at his own
short-sightedness; the strangeness of this love passage darting across
the monotony of his quiet way, without a flash from the danger signal by
way of hint at its approach. He saw how it was to end, very clearly now,
he thought; Harriet Wesden and his son would contract an early
engagement, marry in haste, and cut him off by a flank movement, from
his son's society. He saw the new loves replacing the old, and himself,
white-haired and feeble, isolated from the boy to whom his heart
yearned. He scarcely knew how he had idolized his son, until the
revelation of this night. Still he was one of the least selfish men in
the world; Sidney's happiness first, and then the thought how best to
promote his own.

After a few more questions and answers, Mr. Hinchford mastered the
position of affairs. Harriet Wesden loved his boy--that was a certainty,
and to be expected--and her timid embarrassment at Sid's sudden
proposal, and her nervous escape from it, were but natural in that sex
which poor Sid knew so little concerning. And the Wesdens, _père et
mère_, why, they would be proud of the match; for Sid's abilities would
make a gentleman of him, and Sid in good time--all in good time--would
raise the stationer's daughter to a position, of which she might well be
proud! He liked the Wesdens, but heigho!--he had looked forward to his
boy doing better in the world, finding a wife more suitable for him in
the future.

It was all plain enough, but he furbished up his philosophy,
nevertheless--that odd philosophy which at variance with his brighter
thoughts, sought to prepare those to whom it appealed for the worst that
might happen. He looked at the worst aspect of things, whilst his heart
had not a doubt of the best; he would have prepared all the world for
the keenest disappointments, and been the man to give way most, and to
be the most astounded at the result, had his prophecies come true. Years
ago he foretold Mattie's ingratitude and duplicity in return for his
patronage; but he had not believed a word of his forebodings. He had
told his son not to build upon so improbable a thing as a partnership
with his employers at so early an age; but he was more feverishly
expectant than his son, and so positive that his son's abilities would
be thus rewarded, that his pride had expanded of late years, and he
talked more like the rich man he had been once himself.

Mr. Hinchford prepared his son for the worst that evening; and the son,
knowing his character, felt a shadow removed at every dismal conjecture
as to how the little love affair would terminate.

"You can't let it rest here, however bad it may turn out, Sid."

"No, of course not."

"You must see Harriet's father in the morning, and make a clean breast
of it; and then if he turn you off with a short word--feeling himself a
rich man, and above the connection--why, you will put up with it
gravely, and like a Hinchford. There are a great many things against
your chances, my boy."

"We're both too young, perhaps," suggested Sidney, more dolefully.

"Years too young," was the reply; "and people have unpleasant habits of
changing their minds--and then what a fix it would be, Sid! Why, Harriet
Wesden's not eighteen till next month--quite a child!"

"No, I'm hanged if she is!" burst forth Sidney.

"Well then, you're but a boy, after all; and these long and early
engagements are bad things for both. But still as it has come, you must
speak to the old people; and if they have no objection--which I think
they will have--and Harriet is inclined to accept you--which I think she
isn't--why, make the best of it, work on in the old sure and steady
fashion--you're worth waiting for, my lad."

"Thank you, dad," was the reply; "you're very kind, but your opinion of
me is not the world's. I'm a cross-grained, unforgiving, disagreeable
person--there!"

"In your enemy's estimation--but your friends?"

"I don't know that I have any."

"Oh! we shall see--and if you have not any abroad," he added, "you must
put up with the old one at home, Sid."

"He will put up with me, I hope; he will remember that I have only him
yet awhile to tell my hopes and fears to, standing in the place of the
mother."

"Ah! the good mother, lost so early to us!--she should have heard this
story, Sid."

The old man snatched up the paper and began reading; the son turned to
his own work at last, and was soon buried in accounts. But the paper was
uninteresting, and the accounts foggy; after awhile both gave it up, and
talked again of the old subject. Sid's full heart overflowed that night,
and his reticence belonged not to it; he was sure of sympathy with his
feelings, and had the mother--ever a gentle and dear listener--been at
his side, he could not have more fully dwelt upon the love which had
troubled him so long, and which he had kept so well concealed. It had
grown with his growth; Harriet's playfellow, Harriet's brother, finally
Harriet's lover. Page after page, chapter after chapter of the story
which begins ever the same, and only darts off at a tangent when the
crisis, such as his, comes in due course, to end in various
ways--happily, deplorably--in the sunshine of comedy, the mystery of
melodrama, the darkness of tragedy, taking its hues from the
"surroundings," and giving us poor scribes no end of subjects to write
upon.

Mr. Hinchford was a patient listener; other men might have been wearied
by the romantic side to a love-sick youth's character; but Sid was a
part of himself, and he had no ambition, no hope in which his son did
not stand in the foreground, a bright figure to keep him rejoicing.

Supper served and over, Sidney retired to his share in the double-bedded
room at the back--the shabby room with which Mr. Hinchford had lately
grown disgusted, and even wished to quit, knowing not his son's reason
for remaining--leaving the father to fill his after-supper pipe before
the fire. Mr. Hinchford was in a reflective, wide-awake mood, and not
inclined for rest just then; he sat with his slippered feet on the
fender, puffing away at his meerschaum. Had he not promised his son to
keep away from Mr. Wesden until the _dénouement_ had been brought about
by Sid's own method, he would have gone down stairs and talked it over
with the old people; but the promise given, he would sit there and think
of his son's chances, and pray for them, as they were nearest his heart
then.

He was a father who understood human nature a little, not so much as he
fancied himself, but who was, nevertheless, a man of discernment, when
his simple vanity did not stand in the way.

He had not thought deeply of Harriet Wesden before; now that there
loomed before him the prospect of calling her "daughter," he conjured up
every reminiscence connected with her, and set himself to think whether
such a girl were likely to make Sid happy, or to love Sid as that
pure-hearted, honest lad deserved. He was astonished, after a while, at
the depth of his researches into the past; he could remember her a
light-hearted child, a vivacious girl, now, presto, a woman, whom Sid
sought for a wife; he could see her flitting before him, a pretty girl,
swayed a little by the impulse of the hour, and verging on extremes; he
called to mind certain traits of character that had struck him more than
once, and had then been forgotten in the hurrying passage of events
foreign to her; he sat studying an abstruse volume, and perplexing
himself with its faintly written characters. Mothers have had such
thoughts, and made them the business of a life, sorrowing and rejoicing
over them, and praying for their children's future; seldom fathers,
before whom are ever the counting-house in the City, the bargains to be
made in the mart or on the exchange, the accommodation to be had at the
bankers'.

Hinchford thought like a woman; he was a clerk whose business thoughts
ended when he came home at night, and he was alone in the world with one
hope. All the old worldly thoughts lay apart from him, and the
affections of paternity were stronger within him in consequence. He
lived for Sid, not for himself.

He was still in a brown study, when the shuffling feet of Mrs. Wesden,
being assisted up-stairs by her husband to the top back room, disturbed
him for an instant; then the rustle of a dress, and the light footfall
of the daughter, assured him of Harriet's retirement. All was still in
that crowded house which he had wished to exchange a year ago for a
house in the suburbs, suitable to the united salaries of himself and
boy. He thought of that wish, and sighed to think it had not been
carried out, for, after all, he was not quite satisfied with the turn
affairs had taken.

The door opened suddenly and startled his nerves. He turned a scared
face towards the intruder, who jumped a little at the sight of him
sitting before the grate, black, yawning and uninviting at that hour.

"I thought you had gone, Mr. Hinchford," said Mattie; "I came for the
supper tray and to tidy up a bit here, and save time in the morning."

"How's Ann?" he asked absently.

"Better, I think," replied Mattie, still standing at the door.

"You can clear away--I'm going in a minute. How's the evening school,
girl?"

"Why, I have left it this twelvemonth!"

"To be sure--I had forgotten that you had learned all that they could
teach you, and had become too much of a woman. Why, we shall hear of you
being married next."

"Who's going to be married _now--Mr. Sidney_?"

"Confound you! how sharp you are," said Mr. Hinchford a little dismayed;
"no, I never said so--mind I never said a word, so don't let us have any
ridiculous tattling."

"I never tattle," said Mattie in an offended tone. "Oh! Mr. Hinchford,"
she added suddenly, "you can always trust _me_ with anything."

"I hope so, Mattie--I hope so."

"And if Mr. Sidney thinks of marrying our Harriet, you may trust me not
to let the people round here know a word about it. Not a word, sir!" she
repeated, with pursed lips.

Mr. Hinchford ran his hands through his hair, and loosened his stock
again. He was confused, he had betrayed his hand, and made a mess of it,
or else Mattie knew more than he gave her credit for, it was doubtful
which.

"Mattie," he said, after a while, when that young woman, rapid in her
movements, had packed the tray and was proceeding to retire with it.

"Yes, sir."

She left the table and came nearer to him.

"Whatever made you think that my dear boy was likely to--to take a fancy
to Harriet?"

"I've noticed that he talks to her a good deal, and comes into the back
parlour a great deal, and brightens up when she speaks to him, and you
can see his eyes dancing away behind the little spectacles he's taken
to--and very becoming they are, sir."

"Very," asserted the old gentleman.

"And he's always dull when she's out, and fidgets till he knows where
she has gone, and tries to make me tell; and so I've fancied, oh! ever
so long, that Harriet and he would make a match of it some day."

He was amazed at this girl ascertaining the truth before himself, but he
retained his cool demeanour.

"Some long day hence, mayhap--who can tell?"

"Love's as uncertain as life--isn't it, sir?"

"Ahem--yes."

"At least, I've read so," corrected Mattie. "It's a thing I shall never
understand, Mr. Hinchford."

"Time enough--time enough, my girl."

"But our Harriet, she's pretty, she's a lady, she's meant to be loved by
everybody she meets, and she's the only one that's good enough to marry
_him_."

She lowered her voice at the last word, and made a quick movement with
her hand in the direction of the adjoining room.

"You are very fond of Harriet, Mattie?" said Mr. Hinchford, curiously.

"As I need be, sir, surely."

"Ah! surely--she is amiable and kind."

"Always so, I think."

"A little thoughtless, perhaps--eh?"

He was curious concerning Harriet Wesden now--no match-making mother
could have taken more indirect and artful means to elicit the truth
concerning her child's elect.

"Why, that's it!" exclaimed Mattie; "that's why Mr. Sidney ought to
marry her."

"Oh! is it?"

"You'll see, sir," said Mattie, suddenly drawing a chair close to Mr.
Hinchford, and assuming a position on the edge thereof; "you'll soon
see, sir, what I mean by that."

"Yes--yes."

It was a strange picture, with an odd couple in the foreground; Harriet
Wesden, Sidney Hinchford, or afflicted Ann Packet, coming in suddenly,
would have been puzzled what to make of it. The burlesque side to the
scene did not strike Mr. Hinchford till long afterwards; the slight
figure of the girl on the chair before him, the rapid manner in which
she expounded her theory, her animation, sudden gestures, and, above
all, his own intense interest in the theme, and forgetfulness of the
confidence he placed in her by his own absorbent _pose_. He had put his
pipe aside, and, open-mouthed and round-eyed, was drinking in every
word, clutching his knees with his hands, meanwhile.

"Mr. Sidney isn't thoughtless. He's careful, and he has a reason for
everything, and he will keep her from harm all her life. She'll be the
best and brightest of wives to him, if they should ever marry, which I
do hope and pray they will, sir, soon. I'm sure there are no two who
would make a happier couple, and oh!--to see them happy," clapping her
hands together, "what would _I_ give!"

"You haven't lost your interest in us, then, Mattie?"

"When I forget the prayers that Mrs. Wesden taught me, or the first
words of yours that set me thinking that I might grow good, or all the
kindness which everybody in this house has shown for me, then I shall
lose that, sir--not before!"

"You're an uncommon girl, Mattie."

"No, sir."

"You show an uncommon phase--great gratitude for little kindnesses. I'm
glad to see this interest in Harriet and my boy--perhaps they might do
worse than make a match of it. But--but," suddenly returning to the
subject which engrossed him, "hasn't it struck you--just a little, mind,
nothing to speak of--that Harriet Wesden is a trifle vain?"

"Wouldn't you be proud of your good looks, if you had any?" was the
sharp rejoinder.

"Um," coughed he, "I daresay I might."

"I should be always staring at myself in the glass if I had her
complexion, her golden hair, her lovely blue eyes. I should be proud to
think that my pretty face had made my happiness by bringing the thoughts
of such a son as yours to me."

"Ah! I didn't see it in that light," said he, tugging at his stock
again, "and I--I daresay everything will turn out for the best. We will
not dwell upon this any more, but let things take their course, and not
spoil them by interference, or by talking about them, Mattie."

"Don't fear me," said Mattie, rising.

"I don't think it is our place," he added, associating himself with
Mattie, to render his hints less personal, "to be curious about it, and
seek to pry into what is going on in the hearts of these young people.
Do you think now, Mattie, that she's inclined to be fond of--of my Sid?"

"I don't say she'd own it just now--but I think she is. Why shouldn't
she be?"

"Ah!--why, indeed. There's not a boy like him in the whole parish."

"No, sir."

"And Harriet Wesden will be a lucky girl."

"Ah! that she will!"

"And--and now good night, Mattie, and the less we repeat of this gossip
the better."

"Certainly--things had better take their course without _our_
interference."

"Yes," was the dry answer.

Mattie seized her tray, and prepared to depart. At the door, with her
burden _en avance_ she paused, went back to the table, replaced her
tray, and returned to Mr. Hinchford's side.

"Something happened to-night! The dear girl has been disturbed--I hope
Mr. Sidney has not been in a hurry, and----"

"Hush! I don't think he's asleep. Good night--good night."

"When _she_ was a year younger, it was hard work to keep back what was
in her heart from me; but she's growing older in her ways, and better
able to understand that I'm only a poor servant, after all. I don't
complain," said Mattie, "she's always kind and good to me, but she's my
mistress's daughter, rather than the sister--or something like the
sister--that used to be. And I do so like to know everything, sir!"

"So it seems," remarked Mr. Hinchford.

"Everything that concerns her, I mean--because I might be of help when
she least expected it. And so Mr. Sidney has told her all about it
to-night?"

"I never said so," cried the embarrassed old gentleman.

"Well, I only guess at it," answered Mattie; "I shall soon come to the
rights of it, if I keep a good look out."

She caught up her tray again and marched to the door to ponder anew. Mr.
Hinchford writhed on his chair--would this loquacious diminutive help
never go down-stairs and leave him in peace? She asked no more
questions, however.

"And to think that what I fancied would happen is all coming round like
a story-book, just as I hoped it would be for her sake--for his
sake--years and years ago! How nicely things come round, sir, don't
they?"

"Don't they!" he re-echoed.

Mattie departed, and the old gentleman blew at invisibility in the air
once more.

"How that girl does talk!--it is her one fault--loquacity. If she can
only find a listener, she's happy. And yet, when I come to consider it,
that girl's always happy--for she's thankful and content. And things are
coming nicely round, she says--well, I hope so!"



CHAPTER VIII.

SIDNEY STATES HIS INTENTIONS.


Mr. Wesden, if not the first person up in the house, was at least the
first person who superintended business in the morning. For years that
little shop had been opened punctually at six A.M. When the boy had not
arrived to take down the shutters, Mr. Wesden lowered them himself.
Tradesfolk over the way, early mechanics sallying forth to work from the
back streets adjacent, the policeman on duty, the milkboy, and the woman
with the watercresses, knew when it was six o'clock in Great Suffolk
Street by the opening of Mr. Wesden's shop.

Mr. Wesden prided himself upon this punctuality, and not even to Mattie
would he entrust the duties of commencing the labours of the day,
despite the inflexibility of his back after a night's "_rest_."

Sidney Hinchford, who knew Mr. Wesden's habits, therefore found no
difficulty in meeting with that gentleman at five minutes past the early
hour mentioned.

"Good morning, Mr. Wesden."

"Good morning, Sidney."

Mr. Wesden was sitting behind his counter, in business position, ready
for customers; the morning papers had not come in from the agent--he had
given up of late years fetching them from the office himself--and there
was not much to distract him from full attention to all that Sidney had
to communicate.

"I thought I should find you handy for a serious bit of talk, sir."

Mr. Wesden looked at him, and his face assumed a degree of extra
gravity. Sidney Hinchford had got into debt with his tailor, and wished
to borrow a few pounds "on the quiet."

"I suppose Harriet told you last night what happened?"

"Not all that happened, I fancy."

"Then she waited for me, possibly," he said, a little taken aback
nevertheless, "or told her mother. Well, you see, to make a long story
short, Mr. Wesden, I have taken the liberty of falling in love with your
daughter, as was natural and to be expected, and I have come down early
this morning to tell you plainly that that's the state of my feelings,
and that if you have anything to say against it or me, why you can clap
on the extinguisher, and no one a bit the wiser."

Mr. Wesden was a man who never showed his surprise by anything more than
an intenser stare than usual; he sat looking stolidly at Sidney
Hinchford, who leaned over the counter with flushed cheeks and earnest
eyes, surveying him through his glasses.

Still Mr. Wesden was surprised--in fact, very much astonished. Only a
year or two ago, and the tall young man before him was a little boy
fresh from school, and a source of trouble to him when he got near the
tinsel drawer, and Skelt's Scenes and Characters--now he was talking of
love matters.

"You're the first customer this morning, Sidney, and you've asked for a
rum article," he said bluntly.

"Which you'll not refuse me, I hope, sir--which you'll give me a chance
of obtaining, at all events."

"What does Harriet say?"

"I've--I've only just said a few words to her--more than I ought to have
said perhaps, before I know her feelings towards me, or what your wishes
were, sir."

Sidney, very humble and deferential to pater-familias, after taking the
case in his own hands, like all young hypocrites who have this terrible
ordeal to pass, and are doubtful of the upshot.

Mr. Wesden listened and stared--clean over Sidney's head, rather than at
him. Had he not had a long experience of the stationer's ways, he would
have augured ill for his prospects from the stolidity with which his
news was received; but Mr. Wesden was always a grave and reserved man,
and his immobile features did not alarm the young suitor.

"Well, and what's to keep her and you--_my money_?"

"Not a farthing of it, sir, by your good leave," said Sidney, proudly;
"I wish to work on and wait for her. I have every hope of attaining to a
good position in my office--I think I see my way clearly--I won't ask
you to let her marry me till I can show you a home of my own, and a
little money in the bank, sir."

"Why didn't you wait till then?" was the dry question.

"Why, because a fellow wants a hope to live on--permission from you to
pay his addresses to Miss Harriet, and to ask her to give me a hope
too."

"I see."

Mr. Wesden fidgeted about his top drawers, folded some papers, looked in
his till, and then turned his little withered face to Sidney. The face
had altered, was brighter, even wore a smile, and Sidney's heart leaped
again.

"If you'd been like most young men, I should have said 'Not yet.' But
you haven't crept about the bush, and you've dealt fair, and I'll
promise all I can without tying the girl up too closely."

"Tying her up!"

"The home of your own hasn't turned up yet," shrewdly remarked the
stationer; "and though I believe that and the money will, we may as well
wait for some signs of them. And----"

"Well, well."

"Don't you be in a hurry, young man; breath don't come so fast as it
did, and I'm not used to long speeches."

"Take your time, sir--I beg pardon."

"And Harriet's very young, and may see some one else to like better."

"I hope not, sir."

"And _you_ are very young, and may see some one else too."

"Oh! Mr. Wesden."

"Ah! it's shocking to think of, but these awful events do occur," said
the old man, satirically; "and, besides, my old lady and I are ignorant
people in one way, and mayn't suit you when you get bigger and prouder."

"Mr. Wesden, you'll not fancy that, I know."

"You'll have to think whether, when you are a great man, you'll be able
to put up with the old lady and me coming to see our girl sometimes."

Sidney entered another protest--was prolific, even liberal in his
invitations, which he issued on the spot.

"Then if it's not an engagement, or what I call downright keeping
company just yet--say for another year at least, I shan't turn my back
upon you."

"Thank you, sir--you are more than generous."

He leaned across the counter and shook hands with Mr. Wesden; the
news-agent drove up in his pony-cart at the same moment, and directly
afterwards had flung a heavy bundle of the "early mornings" upon the
counter; the news-boy entered, and waited for orders for his first
round; a little girl came in for a penny postage stamp, change for
sixpence, and a piece of paper to wrap the lot in. Business was
beginning in Great Suffolk Street, and Sidney Hinchford getting in the
way. Sidney would have liked to add a little more, but Mr. Wesden
stopped him.

"Harriet's been down this half hour," he said; "I suppose you know
that."

"Indeed I did not, sir," exclaimed Sidney, with a wild glance towards
the parlour.

Harriet was there, busying herself with the breakfast cloth--a domestic
picture, fair and glowing. He dashed into the parlour, and Harriet,
prepared for him now, listened demurely, felt her heart plunging a
little, but did not rebuke him with any words similar to those of
yesternight. His despairing look of that period had kept her restless
all night; she could not bear to know that others were unhappy, and she
fancied that she should soon learn to love him, if she did not love him
already, for his manliness and frankness. So she listened, and Sidney
detailed his interview with her father, and her father's wish that it
should not be considered an engagement between them until at least
another year had passed.

"We are to go on just the same as if nothing had happened, but--but I
wish you to look forward to the end of that year like myself, to have
hope in me and my efforts, and to give me hopes of you."

"Am I worth hoping for, Sidney?" was the rejoinder; "you don't know half
the foolishness of which I have been guilty--what a weak, frivolous,
romantic girl I have been."

She thought of her Brighton romance, opened the book, and then shut it
hastily again. It was a story he had no right to know yet, and she had
not the courage to tell him just then--it belonged wholly to the past,
so rake the dead leaves over it and let it rest again!

Let it rest, then; there was no engagement. Both were free to change
their minds before the year was out in which the strength of their love
would be put to the test. For that year nothing more than friends, she
thought, or a something more than friends, and less than lovers.

The half bargain was concluded, and Sidney went on his way rejoicing.
There was rejoicing in the hearts of all in that house for a while. Mrs.
Wesden cried over her girl as though she was going away to-morrow, but
talked as if it were a settled engagement, and was glad that Sidney
Hinchford was to be her son-in-law some day. Mr. Hinchford and Mr.
Wesden smoked their pipes together that evening, and talked about it in
short disjointed sentences, amidst which Mr. Hinchford learned that Mr.
Wesden would retire from business before the year's probation had
expired, leaving Mattie, possibly, in charge. Mattie and Ann Packet in
the lower regions dwelt upon the same subject, free debatable ground,
which no one cared to hem round by restrictions.

Late in the evening, Mattie stole up to Harriet's bed-room, and knocked
softly at the panels of the door.

"May I come in?" she asked.

"To be sure, Mattie."

"I thought that you would be sitting here, thinking of it."

"Thinking of what, Mattie?"

"Ah! you don't tell me anything now--but I can guess--and Mr. Sidney did
not sit in the parlour all the evening for nothing!"

"No, Mattie; but it's not a downright engagement yet. I'm to try if I
can like Sidney first."

"That's the best way--didn't I say that this would happen some day, Miss
Harriet?"

"But it hasn't happened yet."

"Ah! but it will--I see it all now as plain as a book. I said only last
night that things were coming round nicely for us all. And they
are--they are!"

Harriet began to cry, and to beg Mattie to desist. For an instant the
sanguine assertion sounded like a vain prophecy, and jarred strangely on
her nerves, bringing forth tears and heavy sobs, and a fear of that
future which stretched forth radiantly beyond to Mattie's vision. After
all, Harriet was but a girl, and had not thought very deeply of all that
the contract implied between Sidney and herself. And after all, _were_
things coming round nicely?--or was the red glow in the sky lurid and
threatening to her, and more than her?

This is scarcely a quiet story, and we are not through our first volume.
What does the astute novel-reader think?

END OF BOOK THE SECOND.



BOOK III.

UNDER SUSPICION.



CHAPTER I.

AN OLD FRIEND.


Mr. Wesden retired from business. After thirty or forty years'
application to the arduous task of "keeping house and home together,"
after much hesitation as to whether it were safe and practicable and he
could afford it; after a struggle with his old habits of shop-keeping,
and a deliberate survey of his position from all points of the compass,
he migrated from Great Suffolk Street, and settled down in what he
considered country--a back street in the Camberwell New Road, commanding
views of a cabbage-field, a public house, and another back street in
course of formation by an enterprising builder.

This was country enough for Mr. Wesden; and handy for town, and Great
Suffolk Street. For he had scarcely retired from business, merely
withdrawn himself from the direct management, the sales over the
counter, and the worry of the news-boys. The name of Wesden was still
over the door, and Mattie remained general manager at the old shop,
which had been her refuge from the world in the hard times of her
girlhood.

Mr. and Mrs. Wesden then considered themselves in the country. They had
humble notions, and a little contented them. There was a back garden
with a grass plot, a gravel walk, two rows of box edging, and a few
flower-beds--surely that was country enough for anybody, they thought?
Then it was quite a mansion of a house--six rooms exclusive of kitchen;
and, thanks more to Harriet's taste than her parents', was neatly and
prettily furnished.

It was a change from Great Suffolk Street. Harriet Wesden had been
brought up with lady-like notions, and had never taken to the shop; it
was pleasant to live in a private house, practice her piano, assist her
mother in the gardening, and have a young man to come courting her "once
or twice a-week!" Mr. Wesden, with habits more formed for shop life, had
to struggle hard before he could accustom himself to the novelty of his
position; in his heart he never felt thoroughly at home, and was always
glad of an excuse to walk over to Great Suffolk Street. He could not sit
on the new chairs all day, and stare at the roses on the carpet; there
was nothing much to see out of window save the postman, pot-boy,
grocer's boy, and butcher, at regular intervals; gardening did not agree
with his back, and it was hard work to get through the day, unless he
went for a walk with the old lady.

The old lady aforesaid had taken quite a new lease of life--absence from
the close neighbourhood of Suffolk Street had given her back some of her
old strength; for twenty years she had solaced herself with the thought
of "retiring"--the one ambition of a tradesman's wife--and now it had
come, and she was all the better for the change. She made such good use
of her limbs at intervals, became so absorbed in training Sweet
Williams, and picking the snails off the white lilies, brightened up so
much in that small suburban retreat, that the old gentleman--always be
it remembered of a suspicious turn--doubted in his own mind if Mrs. W.
had not been "shamming Abraham" in Great Suffolk Street.

Harriet was not nineteen years of age yet, and business had not been
left in Mattie's charge three months, when Mr. Wesden's character began
to mould itself afresh. The change which had done mother and daughter
good, altered Mr. Wesden for the worse. He became irritable, at times a
little despondent; nothing to do, began seriously to affect his temper.
This is no common result in men who have been in harness all their
lives--steady, energetic shopkeepers, whose lives have been one bustle
for a quarter of a century and upwards, find retiring from business not
so fine a thing as it looked from the distance, when they were in debt
to the wholesale purveyors.

Mr. Wesden did not like it--if the truth must be spoken, though he kept
it to himself, for appearances sake, he absolutely hated it. He was not
intended for a gentleman, and he could _not_ waste time--it made his
head ache and gave him the heart-burn. If it had not been for the shop
in Great Suffolk Street, he would have gone melancholy mad, or taken to
drinking; that shop was his safety valve, and he was only his old self
when he was back in it, pottering over the stock.

Unfortunately his _new_ self was never more highly developed than when
he had returned to Camberwell, and woe to the beggar or the brass band
that halted before his gates and worried him.

Meanwhile, the shop in Great Suffolk Street continued to do its steady
and safe business. Mattie was not far from eighteen years of age, proud
of her position of trust, the quickest and best of shopkeepers. On the
first floor still resided Mr. Hinchford and his son; the place was handy
for office yet, and they were biding their time to launch forth, and
assert their true position in society. The rent was moderate, and Sidney
was trying hard to save money out of his salary; there were incentives
to save, and at times he was even a trifle too economical for his
father's tastes. Still, he erred on the right side--his father was
becoming weaker, and his father's memory was not what it had been--his
employers had not spoken of the partnership lately, and there might be
rainy days ahead, which it was policy to prepare for--in a world of
changes, who could tell what might happen?

Mattie found it dull at first after the Wesdens' departure; the place
seemed full of echoes, and one bright face at least was hard to lose.
But the face came often to light up the old shop again, and on alternate
Sundays she went to dine at the fine house at Camberwell, leaving Ann
Packet in charge of the establishment.

Still she was soon "at home;" she was a dependant, and must expect
changes; she was a girl who always made the best of everything. There
was no time for her to regret the alterations; she was born for work,
and there was plenty to do in Mr. Wesden's business, not to mention a
watch upon Ann Packet at times, who, when "afflicted," was rather remiss
in her attentions upon the lodgers.

Life was not monotonous with her, for she took an interest in her work;
and if it had been, there were many gleams of sunshine athwart it; those
who knew her best, loved her and had confidence in her. Many in Suffolk
Street thought there wasn't such a young woman in the world; a butcher
over the way--a young man beginning business for himself, thought that
it would be a "good spec" to have such a young woman behind his counter
attending to the customers--those who knew her history, and there were
many in Suffolk Street who remembered her antecedents, wondered at her
progress; all was well until the autumn set in, and then the tide turned
in the affairs of Mattie, and on those good friends whom Mattie loved.

One afternoon in September, Mattie was busy in the shop as usual--she
kept to the shop all day, and never adopted the plan of hiding away from
customers in the back parlour--when a woman with a large basket, a key
on her little finger, a bonnet half off her head disclosing a broad,
sallow, wrinkled face, came shuffling into the shop.

Mattie looked at her across the counter, and waited for orders, looked
till her heart began beating unpleasantly fast. Back from the land
benighted came a rush of old memories at the sight of that dirty,
slip-shod woman, whom she had hoped never to see again.

"And so you recollects me, Mattie, arter all these years?"

"I--I think that I have seen you before."

"_I_ should think you just had, once or twice. And so you're minding
this shop for the Wesdens, whose turned gentlefolks?"

"Yes, I am."

"Well," putting her basket on the counter, and taking the one chair that
was placed for the convenience of customers, "wonders will never cease.
To think that you should find a place like this, and should have stuck
to it so long, and never gone traipsing about the streets again."

"Can I serve you with anything?" asked Mattie.

"No, you can't. I never deal here."

"Then what do you want?"

"Ah! that's another wonder which won't cease either, my dear," said the
old woman, assuming an insinuative manner, "and a bigger wonder than the
tother one."

"I don't want to hear it, I don't want anything to say to you. You must
go out of the shop, Mrs. Watts."

"Don't be afeard of me, my love; the Lord knows I haven't been a trouble
to you, though I've lived within a stone's throw, and could have dropped
in here at any moment. But no, I says, let her keep to her fine stuck up
people if she likes, and forget her oldest and best friends for 'em, and
do her wust, it's not the likes of me or mine who'll poke our noses into
her affairs. No, I says, let her keep a lady, and wear brown meriner
dresses, and smart black aprons, and white collars and cuffs, for me!"

Mrs. Watts had verged into the acrimonious vein, taken stock of Mattie's
general appearance at that juncture, and introduced it into her
conversation with an ease and fluency that was remarkable.

Mattie stood watching her. This was the evil genius of her early life,
and there was danger in her very presence. It was not safe to take her
eyes from her.

"What do you want?" she asked again.

"It's somethin' partickler--shall we come into the parler?"

"Oh! no."

"I'm not well dressed enuf, I spose?--I'm not fit society for sich a
nice young gal, I spose?--I'm to be turned off as if I was a beggar,
instead of the woman of property which I am, I spose?"

"What do you want?" repeated Mattie.

"And I was your poor mother's friend, and trusted her when nobody else
would, and gave her a bed to die on comforbly when there wasn't a mag to
be made out of her. And I was your friend, though that's something to
turn your nose up at, ain't it?"

"You were kind in your way, perhaps--I cannot say, I don't know; I don't
wish to remember the past any more. Will you tell me what you want, or
go away?"

"And you won't come into the parler?"

"No."

"It's the curiest story as you ever did hear. There's been a man asking
arter you down our court, and asking arter me, and finding me out at
last, and nearly coming to a bargain with me, when, cus my greediness, I
lost him."

"Asking after me?"

"Ah! you may well open those black eyes of yourn--he made me stare, I
can tell you. He walks one day into my house, as if it belonged to him,
and says, 'Are you Mrs. Watts?' 'Yes,' I says. 'Do you remember Mrs.
Gray?' he says. 'Not by name,' I says. 'She was a tramp,' he says, 'and
died here.' 'Oh!' I says, 'if it's her you mean, whose name I never
knowed or cared about, died here, she did.' 'And the child?' he says.
'Mattie you mean,' I says. 'Ah! Mattie,' he says. And then I says,
thinking it was a dodge, my dear, for the perlice are up to all manner
of tricks, and you mightn't have been going on the square, and been
wanted, then I says, 'And will you obleege me with your reasons for all
these questions of a 'spectable and hard-working woman?' I says. 'My
name's Gray,' he says, 'and I'm Mattie's father.'"

"Is this true?--oh! is it really true?"

"Hopemaydropdead, my dear, if it isn't," Mrs. Watts remarked, running
her words into each other in the volubility of her protestation;
"hopemayneverstiragainfromhere, if t'isn't, _Miss Gray_! 'Mattie's
father,' I says. 'Yes,' he says; 'is that so very wonderful?' And I
says, 'Yes it is, arter all this time ago.' And then he asks all manner
of questions, which I didn't see the good of answering, and so was werry
ignorant, my dear, until he said he'd give me a suverin to find you out.
I says, 'I'd try for a five pun note, for you was a long way off, and
it'd be a trouble to look arter you.' And he says, 'I'll take that
trouble,' and I didn't see the pull of that, knowing he was anxious
like, and fancying that five pounds wouldn't ruin him, so I held out.
And then he looked at his watch, and said he'd come again, which he
never did, as I'm an honest ooman."

"How long was this ago?"

"Two months."

"What kind of a man was he?"

"Oh! a little ugly bloke enough--not too well dressed. Your father won't
turn out to be a duke or markis, if he ever turns up agin and brings me
my five pounds."

"But you will not tell him where I live?--he may be a bad, cruel man--my
mother ran away from him because he treated her ill, I have heard her
say. Oh! don't tell him where I live--I am happy and contented here."

Mrs. Watts brightened up with a new idea. "You must make it a five pun
note, then, instead of him, and I'll tell him I can't find yer when he
comes back to take you home with him. You've saved money, I daresay, by
this time, and five pounds ain't much to stand."

Mattie recovered her composure when it came to the money test; there was
a motive for Mrs. Watts' appearance there, she thought; after all it was
an idle story, a foolish scheme to extort money, which Mattie saw
through now.

"I shall not give you any money--not five pence, Mrs. Watts."

"Leave it alone, then," was the sharp reply; "you can't leave here, and
I'll bring him to you, if he ever comes agin. I didn't come to get money
out of yer, but to keep my eye upon you for your father's sake. And
you'll never take a step away from this place, right or left, but what
I'll know it--there's too many on us about here for you to steal away."

"I do not intend to steal away," cried Mattie.

"And considerin' that I've come out of kindness, and to give you a piece
of news, you might have said thankee for it--bad luck to you, Mattie
Gray."

"Oh! bad luck will not come to me at your wish."

The old woman paused at the door, and shook her key at her.

"I never wished bad luck to any living soul, but what it came. Now think
of that!"

She went out of the shop and along Great Suffolk Street at a smart
pace--like a woman who had suddenly remembered something and started off
in a hurry after it. Mattie was perplexed at the interview; doubtful if
any truth had mixed itself with Mrs. Watts' statement, and at a loss to
reconcile all that she had heard with fabrication. Even from Mrs. Watts'
lips it sounded like truth; the woman seemed in earnest, her offer to
take five pounds for her silence an impromptu thought, originated by
Mattie's sudden fear.

"What can it mean?--what can it mean?" reiterated Mattie to herself;
"was it unfair to doubt her?--she thought so, or she would not have
wished me bad luck so evilly at the last?"

She sat down behind the counter to reflect upon the strangeness of the
incident, and was still revolving in her mind the facts or falsities
connected with it, when Ann Packet burst from the parlour door into the
shop, with eyes distended.

"Have you been up-stairs, Mattie?"

"Upstairs, Ann!--no."

"Have you been asleep?"

"No."

"Oh, lor!--quite sure--not a moment!"

"No--no--what has happened!"

"Somebody's been up-stairs into all the rooms, into yourn, too, where
the money's put for Mr. Wesden--and--and broken open the drawer."

"And the cash box that I keep there?"

"Open, and EMPTY!"

Mattie dropped again into the chair from which she had risen at the
appearance of Ann Packet, and struggled with a sense of faintness which
came over her. The bad luck that Mrs. Watts had wished had soon stolen
on its way towards her.



CHAPTER II.

STRANGE VISITORS TO GREAT SUFFOLK STREET.


Mattie guessed the plan by which the robbery had been effected, and at
which Mrs. Watts had connived. Her attention had been distracted by the
story that had been fabricated for the purpose, and then the accomplice,
on his hands and knees, had stolen snake-like towards the door opening
on the stairs, and made short work with everything of value to be found
in the upper floors. What was to be done?--what would Mr. Wesden say, he
who had never had a robbery committed on his premises during all the
long years of his business life, thanks to his carefulness and
watchfulness? What would he think of her? Would he believe that she had
paid common attention to the shop he had left in trust to her, to be
robbed in the broad noonday? What should she do? wait till the shop was
closed and then set forth for Camberwell with the bad news, or start at
once, leaving Ann Packet in charge, or wait till Mr. Hinchford came
home, and ask him to be the mediator?

Whilst revolving these plans of action in her mind, the proprietor of
the establishment, wearied of his country retirement, walked into the
shop.

"Oh! sir, something has happened very dreadful!" she exclaimed.

Mr. Wesden began to stare over her head at this salutation.

"What's that?" he asked.

"Some one has been up-stairs this afternoon, broken open the drawers,
and the cash-box, and taken the money, eight pounds, nine shillings and
sixpence, sir."

Mr. Wesden sat down in the chair formerly occupied by Mrs. Watts and
tried to arrange his ideas; he stared over Mattie's head harder than
ever; he held his own head between his hands, taking off his hat
especially for that purpose, and placing it on the counter.

"Money taken out of _this_ house?"

"Yes."

"At _this_ time of day--where were you, Mattie?"

"In the shop, sitting here, I believe."

"Then they came in at the back, I suppose?"

"No, in the front, whilst Mrs. Watts was talking to me."

"What Mrs. Watts?--not the woman----"

"Yes, yes, the woman who would have tempted me to evil, years ago; she
came into the shop this afternoon, and said that my father--as if I'd
ever had one, sir!--had been inquiring for me in Kent Street."

"This is a curious story," muttered Mr. Wesden.

He put on his hat and went up-stairs; it was half an hour, or an hour
before he reappeared, looking very grave and stern.

"They didn't come in at the back of the house--I can't make it
out--eight pounds nine and sixpence is a heavy loss--I'll speak to the
policeman."

Mr. Wesden went in search of a policeman, and presently returned with
two members of the official force, with whom he went up-stairs, and with
whom he remained some time. After a while Mr. Hinchford, senior, came
home, heard the tidings, went into his room, and discovered a little
money missing also, besides a watch-chain which he had left at home that
day for security's sake, a link having snapped, and repairs being
necessary.

Mr. Wesden and the policemen came down stairs and put many questions to
Mattie and Ann Packet; finally the policemen departed, and Mr. Wesden
very gravely walked about the shop, and paid but little attention to
Mattie's expressions of regret.

"It's my carelessness, sir, and I hope you'll let me make it up. I've
been saving money, sir, lately, thanks to you."

"Well, you can't say fairer than that, Mattie," he responded to this
suggestion; "I'll think about that, and let you know to-morrow."

He never let Mattie know his determination, or seemed inclined to dwell
upon the subject again; the robbery became a forbidden topic, and
drifted slowly away from the present. But it was an event that saddened
Mattie; for she could read that Mr. Wesden had formed his own ideas of
its occurrence, and she tortured herself with the fear that he might
suspect her. She had gained his confidence only to lose it; her
antecedents were dark enough, and if he did not believe all that she had
told him, then he must doubt if she were the proper person to manage the
place in his absence.

He said nothing; he suggested no alteration; but he came more frequently
to business; and he _was_ altered in his manner towards her.

Mattie was right--he suspected her; he thought he kept his suspicions to
himself, for amidst the new distrust rose ever before him the past
struggles of the girl in her faithful service to him, and he was not an
uncharitable man. But the police had seconded his doubts--the story was
an unlikely one, Mattie had been a bad character, and, above all, Mrs.
Watts, upon inquiry, had not lived in Kent Street or parts adjacent for
the last three years. However, his better nature would not misjudge
implicitly, although a shadow of distrust was between him and Mattie
from that day forth. He said nothing to Harriet or his wife, but he
seldom asked Mattie to his house at Camberwell now; he came more
frequently for his money, and looked more closely after his stock; he
had a habit of turning into the shop at unseasonable hours and taking
her by surprise there.

Mattie bore with this for a while--for two or three months, perhaps,
then her out-spoken nature faced Mr. Wesden one evening.

"You've got a bad thought in your head against me, sir."

Thus taxed, Mr. Wesden answered in the negative. Looking at her fearless
face, and her bright eyes that so steadily met his, he had not the heart
or the courage to confess it.

"I'd rather go away than you should think that; go away and leave you
all for ever. I know," she added, very sorrowfully and humbly, "that my
past life isn't a fair prospect to look back upon, and that it stands
between you and your trust in me at this time."

"No, Mattie."

"If you doubt me----"

"If I believed that you were not acting fairly by me, I should not have
you here an hour," he said.

He was carried away by Mattie's earnestness; he forgot his new
harshness, which he had inherited with his change of life; before him
stood the girl who had nursed his wife through a long illness, and he
could not believe in her ingratitude towards him. After that charge and
refutation, Mattie and Mr. Wesden were on better terms with each
other--the robbery, the visit of Mrs. Watts, appeared all parts of a bad
dream, difficult to shake off, but in the reality of which it was hard
to believe. And yet it was all a terrible truth, too, and the story,
true or false, of Mrs. Watts, late of Kent Street, had left its
impression on Mattie, deep and ineffaceable; she could almost believe
that from the shadowy past some stranger, cruel and villainous, would
step forth to claim her.

Meantime the course of Sidney Hinchford's true love flowed on
peacefully; he was happy enough now--with the hope of Harriet Wesden for
a wife he became more energetic than ever in business; possibly even a
young man less abrupt to his companions in office; for the tender
passion softens the heart wonderfully. He was more kind and less brusque
in his manner. To Mattie he had been always kind, but she fancied that
even she could detect a different and more gentle way with him.

When he returned from Camberwell--Mr. Wesden always shut him out at
early hours--he generally brought some message from Harriet to the old
half-friend and confidante, and at times would loiter about the shop
talking of Harriet to Mattie, and sure of her sympathy with all that he
said and did.

On one of the latter occasions, about six in the evening, he remarked,

"When Harriet and I are grand enough to have a large house of our
own--for we can't tell what may happen--I shall ask you to be our
housekeeper, Mattie."

Mattie's face brightened up; it had been rather a sad face of late, and
Sidney Hinchford had observed it, and been puzzled at the reason. The
story of the robbery had not affected him much.

"Oh! then I'll pray night and day for the big house, Mr. Sidney," she
said, with her usual readiness of reply.

"Why, Mattie, are you tired of shop-keeping?"

"At times I am," she answered. "I don't know why. I don't see how to get
on and feel happy. It's rather lonely here."

"You dissatisfied, Mattie! Why, I have always regarded you as the very
picture of content."

"I'm not dissatisfied exactly; don't tell any one that, or they'll think
I'm ungrateful for all the kindness that has been shown me, and all the
confidence that has been placed in me. You, Mr. Hinchford, must not
think I'm ungrateful or discontented."

"Perhaps you're ambitious, Mattie," he said, jestingly, "now you've
mastered all the lessons which I used to set you, and can read and write
as well as most of us."

"I don't exactly understand the true meaning of ambition," said Mattie.
"I'm no scholar, you know. Is it a wish to get on in the world?"

"Partly."

"I'm not ambitious. I wouldn't be a lady for the world. I would rather
be of service to someone I love, than see those I love working and
toiling for my sake. But then they must love me, and have faith in me,
or I'm--I'm done for!"

Mattie had dropped, as was her habit when excited, into one of her old
phrases; but its meaning was apparent, and Sidney Hinchford understood
it.

"Something's on your mind, Mattie. Can I punch anybody's head for you?"

"No, thank you. But you can remember the promise about the housekeeper
when you're a rich man."

Like Sidney's father, she accepted Sidney's coming greatness as a thing
of course, concerning which no doubts need be entertained.

He laughed.

"It's a promise, mind. Good night, Mattie."

"Good night."

That night was to be marked by another variation of the day's
monotony--by more than one. It was striking seven from St. George's
Church, Southwark, when a stately carriage and pair dashed up Great
Suffolk Street, and drew up at the stationer's door. A few moments
afterwards a tall, white-haired old gentleman entered the shop leaning
upon the arm of a good-looking young man, and advanced towards the
counter.

The likeness of the elder man was so apparent to that of old Mr.
Hinchford up-stairs, that Mattie fancied it was he for an instant, until
her rapid observation detected that the gentleman before her was much
thinner, wore higher shirt collars, had a voluminous frill to his shirt,
and a double gold eye-glass in his hand.

"Thank you, that will do. I won't trouble you any further."

"Shall I wait here?"

"No, my boy--don't let me keep you from your club engagements. If you
are behind time take the carriage."

"No, no--not so selfish as that, sir. Good night."

"Good night."

The good-looking young man did not wait to see the result of his
father's mission; he glanced for a moment at Mattie, and then took his
departure, leaving the stately old gentleman confronting her at the
counter.

"This is Mr. Wesden's, stationer, I believe?" he asked, surveying Mattie
through his glasses.

"Yes, sir."

"A Mr. Hinchford lives here?"

"Yes, sir."

"Is he within?"

"Not the old gentleman, I believe, sir."

"As I have not come hither to base my hopes of an interview on the
belief of a black-eyed shop-girl, will you be kind enough to inquire?"

The old gentleman sat down and loosened the gilt clasp of a long cloak
which he wore--an old-fashioned, oddly cut black cloak, with a cape to
it.

Mattie forgot the likeness which this gentleman bore to the lodger
up-stairs; lost her impression of the carriage at the door, and thought
of Mrs. Watts and the hundred tricks of London thieves. She began
thumping with her heels on the floor, until she quite shook up the old
gentleman on the other side of the counter.

"What's that for, my child?" he asked.

"That'll bring up the servant--I never leave the shop."

The gentleman closed his glasses, and rapped upon the counter with them,
in rather an amused manner.

"By Jupiter Tonans, that's amusing! She thinks I am going to make off
with the stationery," he said, more to himself than Mattie.

Ann Packet, round eyed and wondering as usual, looked over the parlour
blind. Mattie beckoned to her, and she opened the parlour door.

"Run up and tell Mr. Sidney that a gentleman wishes to see his father.
Is he to wait, or to call again?"

"I think I might answer that question better myself--stay."

The slim old gentleman very slowly and deliberately searched for his
card-case, produced it and drew forth a card.

"Present that to Mr. Sidney, and say that the bearer is desirous of an
interview."

Ann Packet took the card in her great red hand, turned it over, looked
from it to the owner, gave vent to an idiotic "Lor!" and then trudged
up-stairs with the card. Mattie and the old gentleman, meanwhile,
continued to regard each other--the suspicions of the former not
perfectly allayed yet.

Ann Packet returned, appearing by the staircase door this time.

"Mr. Sidney Hinchford will see you, sir--if your business is of
importance, he says."

The gentleman addressed compressed his lips--very thin lips they became
on the instant--but deigned no reply. He rose from his chair, and
followed Ann through the door, up-stairs towards Mr. Hinchford's room,
leaving his hat on the counter, where he had very politely placed it
upon entering the shop.

Mattie put it behind her, and then scowled down a lack-a-daisical
footman, who was simpering at her between a _Family Herald_ and a
portrait of T. P. Cooke.

The stranger followed Ann Packet up-stairs, and entered the room on the
first floor, glancing sharply round him through his glasses, and taking
a survey of everything which it contained on the instant. There was a
fire burning in the grate that autumn night; the gas was lighted; the
tea-things ready on the table; at a smaller table by the window, working
by the light of a table-lamp adorned with a green shade, and with
another green shade tied across his forehead by way of extra protection
for the eyes he worked so mercilessly, sat Sidney Hinchford, the only
occupant of the room.

Sidney rose, bowed slightly, pointed to a chair with the feather of his
pen, then sat down again, and looked at his visitor from under the ugly
shade, which cast his face into shadow.

The gentleman bowed also, and took the seat indicated, keeping his
gold-rimmed glasses on his nose.

"You are my brother James's son, I presume?"

"The same, sir."

"You are surprised to see me here?"

"Yes, sir--now."

"Why now?" was the quick question that followed like the snap of a
trigger.

"Years and years ago, when I was a lad, I fancied that you might visit
here, and make an effort to bridge over an ugly gulf, sir."

"Years and years ago, young man, I had too much upon my mind, and, it
was just possible, more pride in my heart than to make the first
advances."

"You were the richer man--and you had done the wrong."

"Wrong, sir!" replied the other; "there was no wrong done that I am
aware of. I was a man careful of my money, and your father was a man
improvident with his. Was it wrong to object to an alliance?"

"I have but a dim knowledge of the story, sir. My father does not care
to dwell upon it."

"I will tell it you."

The old gentleman drew his chair nearer to Sidney; the young man held up
his hand.

"Pardon me, but I have no desire to hear it. Were I to press my father,
I could learn it from his own lips. Please state the object of your
coming hither."

"To make the first advances in the latter days that have come to him and
me," he said; "can I say more? To help him if he be in distress--and to
assist his son if he find the world hard to cope with. It is a romantic
appearance, a romantic penitence if you will, for not allowing your
father to spend my money as well as his own," he added, with a slight
curl of the lip, which turned Sidney suddenly against him; "but it is an
effort to bridge over the gulf to which you have recently alluded."

"I fear my father will not thank you for the effort," was the cold
reply; "and for the help which you would offer now, I can answer for his
refusal."

"Ah! he was always a proud fellow, and blind to his own interest," was
the quiet observation here; "his friends laughed at his pride, and
traded in his weakness before you were born."

"He has one friend living who respects them now, sir."

"His son, I presume?"

"His son, sir."

"I am glad that his son is so high-spirited; but he will find that
amiable feeling rather in the way of his advancement."

"No, sir--I think not."

Mr. Hinchford regarded Sidney very closely; he did not appear put out by
the young man's retorts, and he was pleased at the effect that his own
satire had upon him.

"Well," he said at last, "I have not come to quarrel with my nephew--I
am here as a peace-maker, and, lo! the son starts up with all the
father's old obstinacies. Your name is Sidney, I believe."

"Yes, sir."

"Sidney Hinchford, then," said he, "if you be a man of the world--which
I fancy you are--you will not turn your back on your own interests for
the sake of the grudge which my unforgiving brother may owe me. That's
not the way of the world, unless it's the world of silly novel-writers
and poets."

"Sir, this sudden interest in my father and myself is somewhat
unaccountable."

"Granted," was the cool response.

"Still, let me for my father and myself thank you," said Sidney, with a
graceful dignity that set well upon him, "thank you for this sudden
offer, which I, for both, must unhesitatingly decline."

"Indeed!"

"We are not rich, you can see," Sidney said with a comprehensive sweep
of his hand, "but we have managed to exist without getting into debt,
and I believe that the worst struggle is over with us both."

"Upon what supposition do you base this theory?"

"No matter, Mr. Hinchford, my belief is strong, and I would not deprive
myself of the pleasure of saying that I worked on with my father to the
higher ground without the help of those rich relations who would at the
eleventh hour have taken the credit to themselves."

"You are a remarkable young man."

"Sir, you come too late here," said Sidney, with no small amount of
energy; "we bear you no ill-will, but we will not have your help now. If
you and yours forgot my father in his adversity, if you made no sign
when he was troubled by my mother's death, if you held aloof when
assistance and sympathy would have made amends for the old breach
between you, if you turned your backs upon him and shut him from your
thoughts then, now we repudiate your service, and prefer to work our way
alone!"

"Well, well, be it so," said his uncle; "it is heroic, but it is bad
policy, more especially in you, a young man who will have to fight hard
for a competence. You will excuse this whim of mine."

"I have already thanked you for the good intention."

"I did not anticipate encountering so hard and dogmatic a disposition as
your own, but I do not regret the visit."

Sidney looked at his watch, fidgeted with the feather of his pen, but
made no remark to this.

"We will say it was a whim--you will please to inform your father that
this was simply a whim of mine--the impulse of a moment, after an extra
glass of port wine with my dessert."

"I will think so, if you wish it."

"You perceive that I am an old man--your father's senior by eight
years--and old people _do_ get whimsical and childish, when the iron in
their nerves melts, by some unaccountable process, away from them.
Possibly this is not the first time that it has struck me that my
brother James and I might easily arrive at a better appreciation of each
other's character, if we sat down quietly face to face, two old men as
we have become. The sarcasm that wounded him, and the passionate impulse
that irritated me, would have grown less with our white hairs, I think.
I don't know for certain--I cannot answer for a man who always would
take the wrong side of an argument, and stick to it. By Gad! how tightly
he would stick to it!"

The old gentleman rapped his gold-headed cane on the floor, and indulged
in a little sharp laugh, not unpleasant to hear. Sidney repressed a
smile, and looked significantly at his watch again.

"You wish me gone, young sir," said his uncle.

"Candidly, I see no good result to arise from your stay. My father is of
an excitable disposition, and, I am sorry to say, neither so strong nor
so well as I could wish. I fear the shock would be too much for him."

"I will take the hint," he said, rising; "I hate scenes, and if there is
likely to be a second edition of those covert reproaches with which you
have favoured me, why, it is best to withdraw as gracefully as possible,
under the circumstances. You will tell him that I have called?"

"Yes, sir."

"You will tell him also--bear this in mind instead of sucking your pen,
will you?--that if he owe me no ill-will, he will call on me next--that
it is _his_ turn! I never ask a man twice for anything--except for the
money he may owe me," he added, drily.

"I will deliver your message, Mr. Hinchford."

"Then I have the honour, sir, to apologize for this intrusion, and to
wish you a good evening."

He crossed the room and held out a thin white hand to Sidney, looking
very strangely, very intently at him meanwhile. Sidney placed his own
within it, almost instinctively, and the two Hinchfords shook hands.

They parted; Sidney thought that he had finally taken his departure,
when the door opened, and he reappeared.

"Do you mind showing me a light?--it's a corkscrew staircase, leading to
the bottomless pit, to all appearances."

Sidney seized the table-lamp, and proceeded to the top of the stairs,
which his uncle descended in a slow and gingerly manner. At the first
landing he looked up, and said:

"That will do, thank you--remember, _his_ turn next--good evening."

Sidney went back to the room, and shortly afterwards Mr. Hinchford, the
great banker, the owner of princely estates in three counties, was
whirled away westward in his carriage.



CHAPTER III.

SIDNEY'S SUGGESTION.


When Mr. Hinchford returned home, Sidney related the particulars of the
strange visit that he had received; and from the effect which the news
produced on his father, was grateful for the thought which had prompted
him to request his uncle's departure. Sidney had noticed with sadness,
lately, that his father was easily disturbed, easily affected, and it
was satisfactory to know that it had been judicious on his part to
advise his uncle's retirement.

Mr. Hinchford tugged at his stock, held his temples, passed his hands
through his scanty hair, puffed and blowed, dropped his first cup of tea
over his knees, and did not subside into a moderate state of calmness
for at least a quarter of an hour after the story had been told.

"And so brother Geoffry turns up at last!--well, I thought he would."

Sidney looked with amazement at his father.

"He would have turned up years ago, I daresay, if it hadn't been for his
wife--she and I never agreed; but old steady, quiet Geoffry, why, when
we were boys, we were the best of friends."

"You certainly surprise me, father. Perhaps I have done wrong in
persuading him to depart. But I always understood that it had been a
desperate quarrel between you, and that you had almost taken an oath
never to speak to him again."

"That's all true enough, and it was a desperate quarrel, and he was
tight-fisted just then, and let me drift into bankruptcy, rather than
help me. It wasn't brotherly, and I'll never forgive him--never. How was
the rascal looking, Sid?"

"Like a spare likeness of yourself, sir."

"He's taller than I am by a good two inches. We used to cut notches in
the sides of all the doors, when we were boys; comparing notes, we
called it. I suppose he's very much altered?"

"Well, never having seen him before, it is difficult to say. But I have
no doubt that there's a difference in him since you met last."

"Let me see--it's five-and-twenty years ago, come next February.
Twenty-five years to nurse a quarrel, and bear enmity in one's heart
against him. What a time!"

"He was anxious to tell me the story of that quarrel, sir, but I
declined to listen to it."

"I hope you weren't rude."

"Oh! no, sir."

"You have a most unpleasant habit of blurting out anything that comes
uppermost. That's your great failing, Sid."

"I like to speak out, sir."

"And after all, perhaps if we had spoken out less--he and I--we should
not have been all these years at arm's length, and you might have been
the better for that. There's no telling, things turn out so strangely.
And it wasn't so much his refusal to lend me, his only brother, ten
thousand pounds--ten drops of water to him--but the way in which he
refused, the bitterness of his words, the gall and wormwood instead of
brotherly sympathy. I was half mad with my losses, and he stung me with
his cool and insolent taunts, and cast me off to beggary--Sid, would you
forgive that?"

Mr. Hinchford had realized the scene again; through the mists of
five-and-twenty years, it shone forth vividly; his cheek flushed, and
his hand smote the table heavily, and made the tea things jump again.

Sidney cooled him by a few words.

"He has been cautious with his money, and you might have shown signs of
being reckless with yours, at that time. Possibly you both were heated,
and said more than you intended. It don't appear to me to have been a
very serious affair, after all."

"Did he ever seek me out again, or care whether I was alive or dead,
until to-day?--was that kind?"

"Did you ever seek _him_ out!"

"He was the rich man, and I the poor, Sid."

"Ah! that makes a difference!"

"What would you have done?" he asked anxiously.

"Kept away; not because it was right or politic, but because I inherit
my father's pride."

"It's an odd legacy, Sid," remarked the father, mournfully.

"I told him to-night we did not care about his patronage, and could work
our way in the world--that at so late an hour, when the worst was over,
we would prefer to thank ourselves for the result. I don't say that I
was right, father," he added; "but there was a satisfaction in saying
so, and in showing that we did not jump at any favour he might think it
friendly to concede."

"You're a brave lad," remarked the father, relapsing into thought again;
"and perhaps it is as well to show we don't care for him. He talked
about my turn next, you say?"

"Yes."

"That means, that he'll never come here again, or make another effort to
be friends. Oh! he's as hard as iron when he says a thing, Sid."

"Shall I tell you what I have thought, sir?--it goes against the foolish
oath you took, but I think you'll be forgiven for it."

"What have you thought?" he asked with eagerness.

"That it shall be our turn some day--some early day, I hope--to visit
him, and say:--'We are in a good position in life, and above all help,
shall we be friends again?'"

"To walk into his counting-house, and surprise him?" cried the father;
"for me to say:--'I owe all to my son's energy and cleverness, and can
afford to face you, without being suspected of wanting your money.'
Well, we ought to bear and forbear; I don't think it would be so very
hard to make it up with him!"

It was a subject that discomposed Mr. Hinchford--that kept him restless
and disturbed. His son detected this, and brushed all the papers into a
heap, thrust them into the recesses of his desk, and began hunting about
for the backgammon-board. The past had been ever a subject kept in the
background, and of late years his father had not seemed capable of
hearing any news, good or bad, with a fair semblance of composure. The
change in him had been a matter of regret with Sidney; far off in the
distance, perhaps, there might loom a great trouble for him--he almost
fancied so at times. Meanwhile, there were troubles nearer than that
fancied one--man is born unto them, as the sparks fly upwards.



CHAPTER IV.

PERPLEXITY.


Harriet Wesden had spoken more than once to Mattie of the Eveleighs, a
family which plays no part in these pages, although, from Harriet's
knowledge of it, every after page of this story will be influenced. A
Miss Eveleigh, an only daughter, and a spoiled one, had been a
schoolfellow of Harriet's; an intimacy had existed between them in the
old days, and when school days were ended for good, a correspondence was
kept up, which resulted, eventually, in flying visits to each other's
houses--the house in Camberwell, and Miss Eveleigh's residence at New
Cross.

Harriet, during the last week or two, had been spending her time at New
Cross with the Eveleighs, much to the desolateness of the Camberwell
domicile, and the dulness of Master Sidney Hinchford. But the visit was
at an end on the morning of the day alluded to in our last chapter, and
had it not been for his father's excitability, Sidney, who had mapped
his plans out, would have abandoned the backgammon board and a-wooing
gone.

It was as well that he did not, for Harriet Wesden at half-past seven in
the evening entered the stationer's shop, and surprised Mattie by her
late visit.

"Good gracious!" was Mattie's truly feminine ejaculation, "who would
have thought of seeing you to-night? How well you are looking--how glad
I am that you have come back--what a colour you have got!"

"Have I?" she said; "ah! it's the sharp frost that's in the streets
to-night. Let me deliver father's message, and hurry back before he gets
fidgety about me."

Harriet Wesden and Mattie went into the parlour, Mattie taking up her
position by the door, so as to command the approach from the street,
Harriet sitting by the fire with her head against the chimney-piece. The
message was delivered, sundry little account books were wanted at once,
and Harriet was to take them back with her; Mattie had to find them in
the shop, and make them up into a little parcel for our heroine.

When she returned, Harriet was in the same position, staring very
intently at the fire.

"Is anything the matter?" asked our heroine.

"Oh! no--what should be the matter, dear?"

"You're very thoughtful, and it's not exactly your look, Miss Harriet."

"Fancies again, Mattie," remarked Harriet; "I'm only a little tired,
having walked from Camberwell."

"I hope you'll not walk back--it's getting late. Unless," she added,
archly, "Mr. Sidney up-stairs is to see you safely home. That must be
one of the nicest parts of courtship, to go arm-in-arm together about
the streets--to feel yourself safe with _him_ at your side."

Harriet's thoughtful demeanour vanished; she gave a merry laugh at the
gravity with which Mattie delivered this statement, taunted Mattie with
having thoughts of a lover running in her head, darted from that subject
to the pleasant fortnight she had been spending with the Eveleighs at
New Cross, detailed the particulars of her visit, the people to whom she
had been introduced, and lively little incidents connected with
them--finally caught up her parcel and bade Mattie good night.

"Ah! you'll wait till I call down Mr. Sidney, I'm sure."

"He'll think that I have called for him. No, I'm going home alone
to-night."

"Why, what will he say?"

"Tell him that I was in a hurry, going home by omnibus to save time, and
appease father's nervousness about me. I will not have any danglers in
my train to-night. I'm in a bad temper--nervous, irritable and
excitable--I shall only offend him."

"Then something has----"

"Good night, Mattie--oh! I had nearly forgotten to ask you to dine with
us on Sunday; you'll be sure to come early?"

"Who told you to say that?"

"Why, my father, to be sure."

"I'm glad of it--I'm glad he thinks better of me," Mattie cried; "oh!
Miss Harriet, you don't know how miserable I have been in my heart, lest
he--lest he has thought differently of me lately!"

"More fancies! I have always said that they were fancies, Mattie."

"Ah! I guess pretty near to the truth sometimes."

"And tease yourself with a false idea more often--why, you will imagine
that _I_ shall think differently of you presently."

"No--I don't think you will."

"Never, Mattie."

"God bless you for that!--if ever I'm in trouble I shall look to you to
defend me."

"And in my trouble, Mattie?" was the half-laughing rejoinder.

"I'll think of you only, fight for you against all your enemies--die for
you, if it will do any good. Oh! Miss Harriet, you are growing up a lady
very far above me, getting out of my reach like, you won't forget the
little girl you were kind to, and shut her wholly from your heart?"

Harriet Wesden was touched; ever a sensitive girl, the sight of
another's sorrow struck home. She went back a step or two into the
parlour.

"This isn't like the old Mattie," she said, "the Mattie who always
looked at the brightest side of life, and made the best of every
difficulty. Is that silly affair of the robbery still preying on your
mind?"

"On your father's perhaps--not on mine."

"Then I'll fight the battle for you to begin with--if there be really
one doubt in my father's heart, I'll charge it from its hiding-place
to-night. Perhaps I have been wrapped up too much lately in my own
selfish thoughts when I might have helped you, Mattie. Will you forgive
me?"

She stooped and kissed Mattie, whose arms closed round her for a minute
with a loving clasp.

"I'm better now," said Mattie, "it was fancy, perhaps, a fancy that you,
too, were going further away from me--perhaps thinking ill of me. For
you were cold and distant when you came here first to-night."

"No, no."

"Well, that was my fancy, too, it's very likely. I'll say good night
now, for it's getting late."

"Good night, then."

At the door she paused and returned.

"Mattie, put on your bonnet and come with me to the end of the street
where the omnibus passes. I'm nervous to-night--I don't care to walk
alone about these streets again."

"Let me call Mr. Sid----"

"No, no; you--not him!" she interrupted.

"I never leave the shop, Miss Harriet; it's my trust, and your father
would not like it. Shall Ann----"

"Oh! it does not matter much; you have only made me nervous. I'm very
wrong to seek to take you from the business, and father so particular
and fidgety. I daresay no one will fly away with me. Good night, my
dear."

She went away with a bright smile at her own nervousness. That was the
last gleam of brightness there for awhile!

After that there settled on her face a confused expression, often a sad,
always a thoughtful one, with a long look ahead, as it were from the
depths of her blue eyes. From that night there was a change in her;
Mattie, quick of observation, was the first to detect it. It was a face
of trouble, and Mattie, seeing it now and then, could note the shadows
deepen. Sidney observed it next, detected with a lover's jealous
scrutiny a difference in her manner towards him, a something new which
was colder and less friendly, and yet not demonstrative enough for him
to murmur against, even if his half engagement had permitted him.

He asked her once if he had offended her, and she replied in the
negative, and was kinder towards him for that night; but the reserve,
indifference, coldness, or whatever it was, came back, and perplexed
Sidney Hinchford more than he cared to own. The year of his novitiate
was approaching to an end, and he thought that he could afford to wait
till then; she was not tiring of him and his attentions, he had too good
an opinion of himself to believe that; at times he solaced himself with
the idea that she was reflecting on the gravity of the next step, that
formal engagement to be married in the future to him.

Mattie and Sidney were both observers of some power, for after all they
saw through the bright side--the forced side--of her. For the father and
mother was reserved Harriet Wesden with her mask off.

Fathers and mothers are strangely blind to the causes of their
daughters' ailments--this humble pair formed no exception to the rule.
They were perplexed with her fits of brooding, her forced efforts to
rally when taxed with them, her pallor, loss of appetite, red eyes and
restless looks in the morning. Mr. Wesden, a suspicious man to the world
in general, was the most trustful and simple as regarded his daughter;
he did not know the depth of his love for her until she began to look
ill, and then he almost worried her into a real illness by his
suggestions and anxiety.

Mr. and Mrs. Wesden had many secret confabulations concerning the change
in Harriet; pottering over a hundred fusty ideas, with never a thought
as to the true one.

Was Camberwell disagreeing with her?--was the house damp, or her room
badly situated?--had not the dear girl change enough, society
enough?--what _was_ the matter? Mr. Wesden set it down for "a low
way"--an unaccountable complaint from which people suffer at times, and
for which change of scene is good.

So he set to work studying the matter, originating small excursions for
the day, submitting her to the healthy excitement of the winter course
of lectures at the infant schools in the vicinity--lectures on
artificial memory, on hydrostatics with experiments, on the poets with
experiments also, and unaccountable ones they were--even once ventured
into a box of the Surrey Theatre, and began to flatter himself and wife
that at last Harriet was rapidly improving.

But Harriet Wesden was only learning rapidly to disguise that
"something" which was perplexing her more and more with every day;
learning to subdue her parents' anxiety, and sinking a little deeper all
the new thoughts. But the whirl of events brought the secret uppermost,
and betrayed her--she was forced to make a confidante, and she thought
of Mattie, who had always loved her, and stood her friend--Mattie, in
whom she was sure was the only one she could trust.

The confidence was placed suddenly, and at a time when Mattie was
scarcely prepared for it--Mattie who yet, by some strange instinct, had
been patiently waiting for it.

"I believe when that girl's in trouble, she will come to me," Mattie
thought, "for she knows I would do anything to serve her. Have I any one
to love except her in the world?--is there any one who requires so much
love to keep her, what I call, strong?"

Mattie had seen that Harriet Wesden was not strong--that she was
tender-hearted, affectionate, and weak--that there were times when she
might give way without a strong heart and a stout hand to assist her.
She had been a weak, impulsive, passionate child--she had grown up a
woman very different to Mattie, whose firmness, and even hardness, had
made Harriet wonder more than once. And Mattie had often wondered at
Harriet in her turn--at her vanity and romantic ideas, and made excuses
for her, as we all do, for those we love very dearly. She had even
feared for her, until the half engagement with Sidney Hinchford had
taken place, and then she had noticed that Harriet had become more staid
and womanly, and was glad in her heart that it had happened thus.

Then finally and suddenly the last change swept over the surface of
things--all the worse for our characters perhaps, but infinitely better
for our story, which takes a new lease of life from this page.



CHAPTER V.

MR. WESDEN TURNS ECCENTRIC.


The nights "drew in" more and more; and nearer and nearer with the
shortest day approached the end of Sidney Hinchford's probation. Only a
week or two between the final explanations of Sid's position--of his
chances in the future perhaps--everything very quiet and still at
Suffolk Street and Camberwell--a deceptive calm before the storm that
was brewing.

Harriet Wesden called more frequently at the stationer's shop; she was
glad to escape from the long evenings at home, and the watchful, ever
anxious eyes of her father, and it was easy to frame an excuse to repair
to Great Suffolk Street. Occasionally Sidney Hinchford knew of her
propinquity, and escorted her home--more often missed his chances of a
_tête-à-tête_--three or four times, and greatly to his annoyance,
crossed her in the journey, and reached Camberwell to spend the evening
with a fidgety old man and his invalid spouse.

At this time it also happened that Sidney Hinchford fell into a dreamy
absent way, for which there appeared no valid reasons, unless he had
become alive to the doubts of Harriet's affection for him; an absence of
mind, and even an irritability, which was disguised well enough from the
father--before whom Sidney was more or less an actor--but which Mattie,
ever on the watch, was quick as usual to detect.

She had become puzzled by Harriet's abstraction, and had looked for its
reflex at once in Sidney Hinchford's face--finding it there, as she
thought, after a while.

Mattie, left in the dark as to the truth, and every day becoming more of
a young woman, who knew her place, and felt the distance between her
master's daughter, her master's lodgers, and herself, could but draw her
own conclusions, and frame a story from them.

Harriet and Sidney had quarrelled, and were keeping their quarrel a
secret from the good folk at Camberwell; something had happened to cast
a gloom on the way that Mattie thought would be ever bright and rosy,
and each day they who should have been lovers seemed drifting further
apart. She would have liked to play the part of mediator between
them--to see them friends again--but her position held her back, and she
had not the courage of a year ago. Those two young lovers had been the
bright figures in her past--her life had somehow become blended with
them, and she felt that her interest was of a cumulative character, and
not likely to die out with her riper womanhood. She could not
disassociate her mind away from them; at every turn in her career they
were before her--they haunted her thoughts, and harassed her with their
seeming inconsistencies of conduct. She did not understand them, for the
clue to the inner life was absent from her; she could not see why
Harriet was not a girl to love this young man with all her heart, as she
was loved--she felt that there was an assimilation between the strength
of one, and the weakness that needed support in the other; and that
Sidney's earnest love should have more deeply impressed a heart
naturally susceptible to anything that was honest and true.

And yet Harriet grew paler, and looked disturbed in mind, and Sidney
Hinchford came home from business every day with a deeper shade of
thought upon his face. He went less often to Camberwell also--she took
notice of that--and stayed up late at night in the drawing-room, after
having deluded his father into the belief that he should be only a few
moments after him. All was mystery in Suffolk Street, denser than the
fogs which crept thither so often in the winter time.

Mr. Wesden, before retiring from business, had left strict orders with
Mattie to be the last to go round the house, and see, in particular, to
the gas burners, and the bolts which Ann Packet was continually leaving
unfastened, and had once received warning for in Mr. Wesden's time.
Mattie had injunctions to see to the drawing-room burners as well; to
wait to an hour however late for the Hinchford exit.

This waiting up became a serious matter when Sidney Hinchford remained
in the drawing-room till the small hours of the morning, and brooded
over his papers, with which one table or another was invariably strewn.
Mattie, a young woman of business, who did a fair day's work, and rose
early, ventured to remonstrate at last; it was intrenching beyond her
province, but she made the plunge in a manner very nervous and new to
her--in a manner that even confused herself a little.

He brought the remonstrance upon himself by coming down into the shop to
hunt for some writing paper, which he intended to pay for in the
morning, and was a little surprised to find Mattie sewing briskly in the
back parlour.

"Up still, Mattie!--late hours for you," he said.

"Ah! and for you, too, sir."

"Men can do with little rest, and I never leave one day's work for the
next," said he, in that quick manner which had become habitual to him,
and which appeared, to strangers, tinged with more abruptness than was
really intended. "I was thinking of robbing your stationery drawer,
Mattie, and lo the thief is detected in the act."

"Oh! I hope you do not intend any more work to-night, sir."

"Why not?" he asked, his eyes expressing a mild sort of surprise through
his spectacles.

"I'm waiting to see the gas out in that table-lamp."

"Can't I see to it myself?"

"I thought so until I found the tap in the india-rubber pipe turned full
on last night."

"Did you sit up last night, too?"

"Mr. Wesden has always wished that I should make sure everything was
safe."

"But I'm busy just now; you mustn't be a slave as well as myself."

"I hope you're not a slave, Mr. Sidney," said Mattie, assuming that
half-familiar style of conversation which was natural to her with her
two old friends, and which always escaped in spite of of her, "or that
you will not keep one much longer, for it's not improving your looks, I
can tell you."

"_You_ can tell me," said Sidney; "well, what's the matter with my
looks, Mattie?"

Mattie looked steadily at him.

"You're paler than you used to be," she said after a while; "you're not
like yourself; you've something on your mind."

Sidney frowned, rubbed his hair up the wrong way, after his father's
fashion, cleared off suddenly and then laughed.

"Who hasn't?" was his reply.

"There's nothing which can't easily be got over, or my name isn't
Mattie," said our heroine, with great firmness.

She was full of her one reason for all this thought on his side, and the
confusion and perplexity on Harriet's, and she delivered her hint
emphatically.

"I don't despair of getting over most things," he said, with a forced
lightness that did not deceive his observer; "there's only one thing in
the way that bothers me."

He said it more to himself than Mattie, who cried, instinctively--

"What's that, sir?"

"Why, that's my secret," he responded, shutting up on the instant; "and
I shall keep it till the last."

He had turned very stern and rigid; Mattie felt that she had crossed the
line of demarcation, and withdrew into herself and her needlework with a
sigh.

Sidney Hinchford shook himself away from that dark thought instanter.

"You're as curious as ever, Mattie--you'll be a true woman. I would not
be your husband for the world."

Mattie felt herself crimson on the instant, and a strange wild commotion
in her heart ensued, more unaccountable than the mystery which had
deepened around her. They were light, idle words of his, but they made
her cheeks flush and her bosom heave; he spoke in jest, almost in
sarcasm, but the words rang in her ears as though he had thundered them
forth with all the power of his lungs.

When all this Suffolk Street life was over; when she and he, when she
and they whom she loved had gone their separate ways, when she was an
old woman, she remembered Sidney Hinchford's words.

Still she flashed back the jesting reply--or whatever it was--with a
quickness that was startling.

"You'll wait till you're asked," she said.

At this moment some one knocked at the outer-door.

"Hollo!--a late customer like me," said Sidney, opening the door as he
was nearer to it, and then staring with surprise at the person who had
arrived--no less a person than Mr. Wesden himself.

"Hollo!" he said again; "nothing wrong, sir, I hope?"

"Not at home," was the dry response. "Is anything wrong here?"

"Oh! no."

He entered, took the door-handle from Sidney, and closed the door
himself, turned the key in the lock, and drew the bolts to. Sidney
Hinchford thought Mr. Wesden looked very nervous that evening--very
different from his usual stolid way.

"You're quite sure--quite sure that it's all right, sir?" asked Sidney,
his thoughts flashing to Harriet again.

"I said so; I never tell an untruth, Sidney. Good night"

"Good night, sir. Oh!" turning back, "the letter-paper, Mattie--I had
forgotten."

Mr. Wesden watched the transfer of the writing paper from the drawer to
Sidney Hinchford's hands, glanced furtively from Sidney to Mattie,
gradually unwinding a woolen comforter from his neck meanwhile.

When Sidney had withdrawn, very much perplexed, but too dignified to ask
any more questions, Mr. Wesden turned to Mattie.

"What's he doing down here at this time of night, Mattie?"

"He came for writing paper--he's very busy."

"What are _you_ sitting up for?"

"To see to the gas-burners in the drawing-room."

"Turn the gas off at the meter, and leave him in the dark next time,"
said Mr. Wesden. "You can go to bed now. I'll sit up for a little while;
I'm going to sleep here to-night."

"Indeed, sir! Oh! sir, I hope that nothing serious _has_ happened?"

"Nothing at all. It's not so very wonderful that I should come to my own
house, I suppose, Mattie?"

"N--no," she answered, hesitating; "but it's past one o'clock."

"I couldn't sleep--and Harriet was at home with the good lady," he said,
as if by way of excuse; adding very sulkily, a moment afterwards, "I
never could sleep in that Camberwell place--I wish I'd never left the
shop!"

Mr. Wesden hazarded no further reason for his eccentric arrival, and
Mattie went up-stairs to lay it with the rest of her stock of mysteries
daily accumulating round her. Mr. Wesden remained down-stairs, fidgeting
with shop drawers, counting the money left in the till, and wandering up
and down in a reckless, hypochondriacal fashion, very remarkable in a
man of his phlegmatic temperament, and which it was as well for Mattie
not to have seen.

Finally he groped his way down-stairs into the kitchen, and the
coal-cellar where the gas-meter was placed, and with a wrench cut off
the supply of gas for that night, casting Sidney Hinchford so suddenly
into darkness, that he leaped up with an exclamation far from
appropriate to his character.

"What the devil next?"

The next thing for Sidney was to knock over the chair he had been
sitting upon, which came down on the drawing-room floor with a bumping
noise that shook the house, and woke up his father, who shouted forth
his name.

"Coming, coming,'' said Sidney, walking into the double-bedded room, and
giving up further study or brooding for that night.

"What's the matter, Sid, my boy?" asked the father, from the corner;
"haven't you been in bed yet?"

"Must have fallen asleep in the next room, I think."

"And a terrible row you've made in waking, Sid. Good night, my boy--God
bless you!"

The old gentleman turned on his side, and was soon indulging in the
snores of the just again. There was a night-light burning there, and
Sidney took it from its saucer of water and held it above his head,
looking down at that old, world-worn, yet handsome face of the father.

"God bless _you_!" he said, re-echoing his father's benediction; "how
will you bear it when the time comes, I wonder?"



CHAPTER VI.

A BURST OF CONFIDENCE.


Yes, Mr. Wesden, late of Suffolk Street, had become nervous and
eccentric in his old age--many people do, besides stationers. He had
retired from business too late to enjoy the relaxation from business
cares; he had better have died in harness than have given up the shop,
for isolation therefrom began to work its evil.

He had not had much to worry him in his middle age; his youth had been a
struggle, but he had been young and strong to bear with it, blest by a
homely and affectionate wife, who struggled with him and consoled him;
then had followed for more years than we care to reckon just now, the
everyday life of a London shopkeeper--a life of business-making and
money-making, plodding on in one groove, with little change to distract
his attention, or trouble his brain. All quiet and monotonous, but
possessing for John Wesden peace of mind, which, if not exactly
happiness, was akin to it. And now in his old age, when every habit had
been burned into him as it were, business was over, and idleness became
a sore trial to him. And then after idleness came his daughter to worry
him, not to mention Mattie, who worried him most of all, for reasons
which we shall more closely particularize a chapter or two hence.

So with these troubles bearing all at once upon a mind that had been at
its ease in its stronger days, Mr. Wesden turned eccentric. Want of
method rendered him fidgety, the mysteries in _his_ path, as well as
Mattie's, perplexed him; he was verging upon hypochondriacism without
being aware of it himself; and that suspicious nature which had been
born with him, began to develop itself more, and give promise of bearing
forth bitter fruit. Possibly before his concern for his daughter's
health, was his concern for the shop in Great Suffolk Street, which he
considered that he had neglected in leaving to the charge of a girl not
eighteen years of age, and which, since the robbery, was an oppression
that weighed heavily upon him. He was full of fancies concerning that
shop; his mind--which unfortunately was fed by fancies at that
time--began to give way somewhat when he took it in his head to think
something had happened, at twelve o'clock at night, and start at once
for Great Suffolk Street, as we have noticed in our preceding chapter.

The ice once broken, the eccentricities of Mr. Wesden did not diminish;
he had his old bed-room seen to in the house again, and surprised Mattie
more than once after this by sudden appearances at untimely hours. He
had a right to look after his business--did _people_ think that he had
lost his interest in the shop, because he lived away from it?--did
_people_ think that he was not sharp enough for business still? With
these changes he became more nervous, more irritable, and less
considerate; yet brightening up sometimes for weeks together, and
becoming his old stolid self again, to the relief of his wife and
daughter. That daughter detected the change in her father also, woke up
at last to the fact that her own thoughtfulness had tended to unsettle
him, and became more like her old self also--or rather, more of an
actress, with the power to impersonate that self from which she had
seceded.

Everything was going wrong with our characters, when Harriet Wesden
broke through the ice one night with that impulsiveness which she had
not lived down or grown out of. It was strange that she always broke
down in Mattie's presence; that only in the company of the stray did she
feel the wish to avow all, and seek counsel in return. To Harriet Wesden
the impulse was incomprehensible, but it was beyond her strength, at
times, and carried her away. She loved Mattie; she saw in her the
faithful friend rather than the servant; she knew that the child's
passionate love for her had grown with Mattie's growth, and absorbed her
being. But love was but half the reason with Harriet, and she would not
own--which was the secret--that the weak and timid nature sought relief
from a mind that had grown strong and practical in a rough school.

A need of sympathy, a perplexity becoming greater every day, allied to a
love for the confidante, brought about the truth, which escaped in the
old fashion.

She had been paying her visit--an afternoon one in this instance--to
Mattie at the shop; it was a dull season, and no business stirring; the
December gloom preyed upon the spirits of most people abroad that day;
it affected Harriet more than usual, or the pressure of the old thoughts
reduced her to subjection at last. The two girls were sitting by the
fireside, Mattie with her face turned to the shop door, when Harriet
Wesden laid both her hands suddenly on our heroine's.

"Mattie," she cried, "look me in the face a moment!"

"Come round to the little light there is left, then."

"There!"

Harriet Wesden set her pretty face, pale and anxious then, more into the
light required. Mattie regarded it attentively.

"Isn't it a false face?" asked Harriet, in an excited manner--"the face
of one who brings sorrow and wrong to all who know her?"

"I hope not."

"It is!" she asserted. "Oh! Mattie, I am in distress, and terrible
doubt--I have been foolish, and acted inconsiderately--I am in a maze,
that becomes more tangled with every step I take--tell me what to do!"

"You ought to know best, dear--you should not have any troubles which
you are afraid to confess to your father and mother, and--and Mr.
Hinchford."

"Yes, yes, but not to them first of all," she cried. "Oh! Mattie, I am
not a wicked girl, God knows--I have never had a thought of
wickedness--I would like everybody in the world to be as happy as I was
once myself."

"Once!" repeated Mattie. "Oh! I won't have that."

"I don't think," she added, very thoughtfully regarding the fire, "that
I shall be ever happy again. Now, Mattie dear, I'm going to swear you to
secrecy, and then ask what you would do in my place."

"You're very kind to trust in me--but is there no one else?--Miss
Eveleigh, for instance."

"She's a worse silly than I am!"

"Your mother."

"I should frighten her to death--she and father are both weak, and
altering very much. Oh! Mattie, if they should die and leave me alone in
the world!"

"Need you get nervous about that just now?"

"I'm nervous about everything--I'm unsettled--Mattie, I have acted very
treacherously to _him_."

"To Mr. Sidney!--not to Mr. Sidney?"

"Yes," was the answer.

Mattie became excited. How had it occurred?--who had done it?--who had
stolen her thoughts away from him?

"I have been trying very hard to love him--sometimes I think I do love
him better than the--the _other_--just for a while, when he is very
happy sitting near me, and very full of the future, that can never,
never come."

"Go on please," said the curious Mattie.

"Mattie, you remember Mr. Darcy?" she asked, spasmodically.

"Mr. Darcy--no," said the puzzled Mattie.

"The gentleman who--who fell in love with me when I was a child," she
explained, very rapidly, and with still greater excitement, "whom I
thought I had forgotten, and who had forgotten me, until I met him
again."

"Oh! this _is_ wrong!" exclaimed Mattie.

"I know it--I have owned it!" cried Harriet; "let me tell the story out.
I met him, parted coldly from him, met him again, all by accident on my
part; met him for a third time at the Eveleighs, with whom he had got on
visiting terms; met him day after day, evening after evening there,
until the spell was on me which overpowered me, and robbed me of my
peace--until I loved him, Mattie!"

"And he knows----"

"He knows nothing, save that I am engaged to be another's--and that I
dare scarcely think of him."

"He knows too much, _I_ know," said Mattie, reflectively; "and he has
found a way to turn you against Mr. Sidney. What a wonder he must be!"

"Poor Sidney!"

"And to think it's all over between you and him," added Mattie--"him who
thinks so much of you, and is growing old to my eyes, with the fear upon
him which I understand now, and which is now so natural!"

"What fear!"

"Of losing you."

"I am so sorry--_so_ very sorry for him. And I am ashamed to think that
I have led him on to build his hopes upon me, and now must dash them
down."

"Yes--to-night," said Mattie, thoughtfully.

"Tonight!" exclaimed Harriet, in alarm.

"I don't know much about these things--I never understood what love for
a young man was, having had too much to do," she added, with a little
laugh that echoed strangely in that shadowy room, "but it don't seem
quite the thing to keep the two on, or both of them in suspense about
you."

"Do you think I would?" asked Harriet, proudly.

"It seems to me that if I were in your place, I should take a pattern
from Mr. Sidney, and speak out at once--go straight at it, as he calls
it--and tell him everything."

"But----"

Mattie became excited in her turn.

"It isn't right--it isn't fair to let a man keep thinking of you, when
you've turned against him," she cried; "it's cowardly and base to hide
the truth from him, or be afraid of telling it. It won't kill him,
Harriet, for he's a proud spirit, that will bear up through it all,
bitterly as he will feel it for a while."

"I'm not afraid--it is not that," said Harriet; "I only wish to know
what you would think the best method of telling him all, and yet sparing
him pain. I have been fancying that if _you_ hinted to him at first the
truth----"

"_I_ hint!" exclaimed Mattie, "not for the world. I'm only a servant
here, and you might as well ask poor Ann Packet to hint the truth as me.
I'm sorry--you will never know how sorry I am--that you two are going to
break it off forever; but I should be more sorry still if you let
to-night go by, and not try hard to face him."

"Mattie, I will face him," said Harriet, with her lips compressed; "I
will tell him all. After all, it was not an engagement, and I was as
free as he to make my choice elsewhere if I preferred. I am not in the
wrong to tell him that my girlish fancy was a mistake."

"No--only in the wrong to keep the truth back."

"You will not think that I have intentionally attempted to deceive poor
Sidney, will you?"

"God forbid, my dear."

"Vain--frivolous, and weak--anything but cruel. Yes, I will tell him all
when he comes back to-night. There is no use in delay."

"Only danger," added Mattie, remembering her copy-book admonition; a
copy which Sidney Hinchford had set her himself in the old days, when
she was deep in text-hand.

"And then when it is all told, and he knows that I am free, happiness
will come again, I suppose. Heigho! I was very happy once."

"Happiness will come again," said Mattie, more cheerfully, "to be sure."

"Mattie, I have been trying very hard to think of Mr. Sidney, first of
all; it is that trying which has made me ill. I know he loves me very
much, and will never think of anybody else; and it is--it is hard upon
him now!"

"You must be very fond of this other one," said Mattie. "Is he
handsome?"

"Very."

"And very fond of you, of course?"

"Yes; but it is a struggle to keep his love back--I am cold to him--and
I--I will _not_ listen to him, and so drive him to despair. Oh! I am a
miserable wretch! I make everybody unhappy whom I meet."

The weak girl burst into tears, and rocked herself to and fro on the
chair before the fire. Mattie passed her arms round her neck and drew
the pretty agitated face to her bosom, soothing it there as though she
had been a mother troubled with love-sick daughters of her own.

"It will soon be over now," Mattie said, when Harriet was more composed.
"Try and be calm; think of what you shall say to poor Sidney, while I
attend to the shop a bit."

Mattie went into the shop, leaving Harriet Wesden with her chin clutched
in both hands, looking dreamily at the fire. She was more composed now
the whole truth had escaped her; she felt that she should be happy in
time, after Sidney Hinchford had been told all, and that terrible ordeal
of telling it had been gone through. One more scene, which had made her
shudder to forestall by sober thought, and then the new life, brighter
and rosier from that day!

Poor Sidney, what should she say to him, to soften the look which would
rise to his dark eyes and transfix her? What was best to say and do, to
keep him from thinking ill of her, and despising her for vacillation?

Mattie came in, looking white and scared; but Harriet, possessed by a
new thought which had suddenly dashed in upon her, failed to observe the
change.

"Mattie, dear," she cried, "if he should think I give him up because
he's poorer than Mr. Darcy--that it is for the sake of money that I turn
away from him!"

"Money's a troublesome thing," said Mattie, snatching up her bonnet from
the sideboard, and putting it on her head with trembling hands; "if you
take your eyes from it for an instant, it's gone."

"But, Mr. Darcy----"

"Oh! bother Mr. Darcy," was the half-peevish exclamation. "I have been
listening to you, and they've robbed the shop again. Everything's
against me just now! Mind the place till I come back, please."



CHAPTER VII.

THE PLAN FRUSTRATED.


Yes, the house in Great Suffolk Street had been again visited by "the
dangerous classes." It was a house well watched, or a house that was
doomed to be unfortunate in its latter days. A house left in charge of a
girl of seventeen, therefore likely to have its weak points, and
considered worth watching in the dark hours. This was Mattie's idea upon
awakening to the conviction of a second successful attempt upon Mr.
Wesden's property; but Mattie was wrong.

The robbery was the result of accident and neglect, as most robberies
are in this world. A youth had entered the shop to make a small
purchase, and hammered honestly on the counter with the edge of his
penny piece--a youth of no principle, certainly, brought up ragged,
dirty, ignorant, and saucy--a Borough boy. Fate and the devil contrived
that Mattie should be absorbed in the love-story of Harriet Wesden at
the time, and the boy finding no attention paid to his summons, looked
over the shop blind, saw the rapt position of the parlour occupants,
dropped upon his hands and knees like a lad brought up to the
"profession," and slid insidiously towards the till, which he found
locked and keyless. Fortune being against his possession of any current
coin of the realm, the young vagabond turned his attention to stock, and
in less time than it takes to sum up his defalcations, had appropriated
and made off with a very large parcel underneath the counter--a parcel
that Wiggins, wholesale stationers of Cannon Street, had just forwarded
by London Parcels' Delivery Company to order of John Wesden, Esq., and
which parcel had been found almost too large to decamp with.

Mattie thought no more of Harriet Wesden's troubles; here was a second
instance of her carelessness--of her incapacity for business. What would
Mr. Wesden think now; he who had been so cold and strange to her after
the last robbery? And what did she deserve?--she who had had a trust
committed to her and abused it.

Mattie did not give way to any ebullition of tears; she was a girl with
considerable self-command, and only betrayed her agitation by her whiter
face. She did all that lay in her power to remedy the great error,
leaving Harriet Wesden in charge of the shop whilst she ran down Great
Suffolk Street and towards the Borough, hoping to overtake the robber.
Straight to Kent Street went Mattie; thieves would be sure to make for
Kent Street--all the years of her honest life faded away like a dream,
and she ran at once to the house of a receiver of stolen goods, a house
that she had known herself in the old guilty past.

Her hand was on the latch of the door, when a policeman touched her on
the arm,

"Do you want anything here?"

"I've been robbed of a large parcel--I thought they must have brought it
here."

"Why here?"

"This is Simes's--this used to be Simes's--surely."

"Yes, and it's Simes's still; but nobody's been here with a parcel. You
haven't been and left nobody in Mr. Wesden's shop?" was his inelegant
query.

Mattie did not remark that the policeman knew her then; she was too
excited by her loss.

"Mr. Wesden's daughter's there."

"Then you had better come round to the police-station, and state your
loss, Miss."

Mattie thought so too; she went to the police station, mentioned the
facts of the robbery, the nature of the parcel stolen, &c, and then
returned very grave and disconsolate to Great Suffolk Street, to find
three customers waiting to be served, Harriet turning over drawer after
drawer in search of the goods required, and one woman waiting for
change, which Harriet, having mislaid her own purse, and found the till
locked, was unable to give her.

Mattie turned to business again, attended to the customers, and then
re-entered the parlour.

"It cannot be helped, and I must make the best of it," said Mattie; "I
don't mind the loss it is to me, who'll pay for it out of my own
earnings, as I do the vexation it will be to your father."

"Leave it to me, Mattie," said Harriet; "when I go home this evening, I
will tell him exactly how it occurred, and how it was not your fault but
mine. And, Mattie, I intend to pay for it myself, and not have your hard
earnings entrenched upon."

"You're not in trust here," said Mattie, somewhat shortly; "if I don't
pay for it, I shall be unhappy all my life."

"Then it's over and done with, and I wouldn't fret about it," said
Harriet, suddenly finding herself in the novel position of comforter.

"I never fret--and I said that I would make the best of it," replied
Mattie, placing her chair at the parlour door, half within the room and
half in the shop; "and if I'm ever tricked again whilst I remain here,
it's very odd to me."

Harriet Wesden, not much impressed by so matter-of-fact event as a
robbery, was anxious to return to the subject which more closely
affected herself; the parcel, after all, was of no great value; the
police were doubtless looking for the thief; let the matter be passed
over for the present, and the great distress of her unsettled mind be
once more gravely dwelt upon! This was scarcely selfishness--for Harriet
Wesden was not a selfish girl--it was rather an intense craving for
support in the hard task of shattering another's hopes.

They had tea together in that little back parlour, and Harriet found it
difficult work to keep Mattie's thoughts directed to the subject upon
which advice had been given before the theft.

"You will not think of me," she said at last, reproachfully; "and what
does it matter about that rubbishing parcel?"

"What can I do for you, more?" asked Mattie, wearily. Her head ached
very much with all the excitement of that day, and she was inwardly
praying for the time to pass, and the boy to put the shutters up. The
robbery was _not_ of great importance, and she wondered why it troubled
her so much, and rendered her anxiety for others, just for a while, of
secondary interest. Did she see looming before her the shadow of her
coming trial; was there foreknowledge of all in store for her, stealing
in upon her that dark December's night? She was superstitions enough to
think so afterwards, when the end had come and life had wholly changed
with her!

After tea, Mattie's impression became less vivid, for Harriet's
nervousness was on the increase. The stern business of life gave way to
the romance--stern enough also at that time--of Harriet Wesden. It was
close on seven o'clock, and every minute might bring the well-known form
and figure home.

"I shan't know what to say," said Harriet; "it seems out of place to ask
him in here, and coolly begin at once to tell him not to think of me any
more, just as he comes home from business, tired and weary, too, poor
Sid! Shall I write to him?--I'll begin the letter now, and leave it here
for you to give him. Oh! I can't face him--I shall never be able to face
him, and tell him how fickle-minded I am!"

"Write to him if you wish then, Harriet; perhaps it is best, and will
spare you both some pain."

"Yes, yes, I'll write," said Harriet, opening Mattie's desk instantly,
and sending its neatly arranged contents flying right and left; "it _is_
much the better way--why make a scene of it?--I hate scenes! And I'm not
fickle-minded, Mattie," suddenly reverting to her self-accusation of a
moment since; "for I had a right to think for myself, and choose for
myself--we were not to be engaged till next month; and I did like him
once--I do now, somehow! If _he_ will only think well of me afterwards,
and not despise me, poor fellow, and believe that I had a right to turn
away from him, if my heart said that I was not suitable for him at the
last. If he--Mattie, _where_ do you keep your pens?"

Mattie remarked that she had turned the box full amongst the
letter-paper. Harriet sat herself down to write the letter after much
preparation and agitation; Mattie looked at her, sitting there, in the
full light of the gas above her head, and thought how pretty a _child_
she looked--how unfit to cope with the world's harshness--how lucky for
her that she was the only child of parents who had made money for her,
and so smoothed one road in life at least. Yes, more a child than a
woman even then; captious, excitable, easily influenced, swayed by a
passing gust of passion like a leaf, trembling at the present, at the
future, always unresolved, and yet always, by her trust and confidence
in others, even by her sympathy for others, to be loved.

Mattie went into the shop, leaving Harriet to compose her epistle; after
a while, and when she was brooding on the parcel again, and wondering if
Mrs. Watts were at the bottom of the robbery, Harriet called her. She
took her place again on the neutral ground, between parlour and shop,
and found Harriet very much discomfited; her face flushed, her fair hair
ruffled about her ears, her blue eyes full of tears.

"I don't know what to say--I can't think of anything that's kind enough,
and good enough for _him_. What would you say, Mattie?"

"And you that have had so much money spent on your education to ask
me--still a poor, ignorant, half-taught girl, Miss Harriet!"

"I'm too flurried to collect my thoughts--I _can't_ think of the right
words," she said; "I can't tell him of Mr. Darcy before Mr. Darcy has
spoken to me--and I--I don't like to write down that I--I don't love
him--never did love him--it looks so spiteful, dear! Mattie, what would
you say?"

"I should simply tell him the story which you told me."

"He might show the letter to father and mother, who are anxious--oh!
much more anxious than you fancy--to marry me to Sidney."

"They know his value, Harriet."

"And then it will all come at once to trouble them, instead of breaking
it by degrees. Well, it's my fate. I must not keep it from them."

"No. How much have you written?"

"'Dear Sidney'--and--and the day of the month, of course. Oh! dear--here
he is!"

Away went paper and pens into the desk again, and the desk cleared from
the table, and turned topsy-turvy on to a chair.

"Oh! the top of the ink-stand's out--look here!--oh! what a mess
there'll be!" cried Mattie.

Harriet reversed the desk.

"Perhaps it's not all spilt--I'm very sorry to have made such a mess of
it, and--and it's only Sidney's father, after all. Don't tell him I'm
here."

The old gentleman came into the shop, and nodded towards Mattie standing
in the doorway.

"Has my boy come home?" he asked.

"Not yet, sir."

The father's countenance assumed a doleful expression on the
instant--life without his boy was scarcely worth having.

"He's very late, then, for I'm late," looking at his watch; "I hope he
hasn't been run over."

Mattie laughed at the expression of the father's fear.

"That's not likely, sir."

"People do get run over at times, especially in the City, and more
especially near-sighted people. There's nothing to laugh at."

And rather offended at the manner in which his gloomy suggestion had
been received, Mr. Hinchford senior passed through the side door into
the passage. Mattie found Harriet at the desk again, picking out several
sheets of paper saturated with ink, and arranging them of a row on the
fender.

"More ink, dear--more ink!" she cried, impetuously; "I've thought of
what to say. Don't keep me long without the ink."

Mattie replenished her ink-stand, and Harriet dashed into the subject
with vigour, slackened after the first few lines, then came to a dead
stop, and stared intently at the paper. Mattie went into the shop for
fear of disturbing Harriet's train of ideas, remained there an hour
attending to customers, and arranging stock, finally went back into the
parlour.

The desk was closed once more; a heap of torn papers was on the floor.
Harriet, with her bonnet and shawl on, and her eyes red with weeping,
was pacing up and down the room.

"No letter?" asked Mattie.

"I can't write a letter, and tell him what a wretch I am," she said,
"and if I face him to-night, I shall drop at his feet. Girl," she cried,
passionately, "do you think it is so easy to act as I have done, and
then avow it?"

"I should not be ashamed to own it," was Mattie's calm answer; "I should
consider it my duty to tell him."

"And I will tell him all. God knows I would not deceive him for the
world, Mattie, or leave him in ignorance of the true state of my heart.
But I cannot tell him now. I'm afraid!"

There was real fear in her looks--an intense excitement, that even
alarmed Mattie. She saw, after all, that it was best to keep the secret
back for that night.

"Then I would go home, Harriet, at once. To-morrow, when you are calmer,
you may be able to write the letter."

"Yes, yes--to-morrow I will write it. I shall have all day before me,
and can tear up as many sheets as I like. I will write it to-morrow, and
post it from Camberwell. Mattie, as I'm a living woman, and as I pray to
be free from this suspense and torture, I WILL write to him to-morrow!"

"One day is not very important," said Mattie, in reply, little dreaming
of the difference that day would make. "Delays are dangerous--delays are
dangerous"--she had written twenty times in her copy-book, and taken not
to heart; and there _was_ danger on its way to those who had put off the
truth, and to him for whom they feared it.

"Delays are dangerous!" Take it to heart, O reader, and remember it in
the hour when you shrink from the truth, as from a hot iron that may
sear you. Wise old admonitions of our copy-book times--we might do worse
very often than laugh at ye!



CHAPTER VIII.

A SUDDEN JOURNEY.


Harriet Wesden hurried away after her promise; Mattie, at the last
moment, recalling to her notice the fact of the robbery, and reminding
her of the way in which she ought to break the news to her father. Then
the excited girl darted away to Camberwell, and it was like the
stillness of the grave in the back parlour after her departure. Mattie
went in for an instant to set the place to rights, and then returned to
her watch in the shop, and to her many thoughts, born of that day's
incidents. She was quite prepared for a visit from Mr. Wesden at a late
hour, but Mr. Wesden's movements under excitement were not to be
calculated upon; and we may say here that the knowledge of his loss did
not bring him post-haste to Great Suffolk Street. Mattie was thinking of
her loss, when the passage door opened, and the white head of Mr.
Hinchford peered round and looked up at the clock, over the top shelf
where the back stock was kept. The movement reminded Mattie of the time,
and she glanced at the clock herself--_half-past nine_.

"I thought the clock had stopped up-stairs," he said, by way of
explanation for his appearance.

"I had no idea it was so late," said Mattie.

"I had no idea it was so early," responded Mr. Hinchford; adding, after
a pause, "though I can't think where the boy has got to; he said he
would be home early, as he had some accounts to look through."

"It's not very late, sir, and if he has gone to Camberwell, not knowing
Miss Harriet was here to-night----"

"He always comes home first--I never knew him go anywhere without coming
home first to tell me. But," with another look at the clock, "it's not
so very late, as you say, Mattie."

"He will be here in a minute."

"I hope so," said Mr. Hinchford, going to the shop door, and looking
down the street, "for it's coming on to rain, and he has no umbrella.
The boy will catch his death of cold."

After standing at the door for two or three minutes, the old gentleman
turned to go up-stairs again.

"It'll be a thorough wet night--I'll tell Ann to keep plenty of water in
the boiler--nothing like your feet in hot water to stave off a cold."

He retired. Half an hour afterwards he reappeared in the shop, excitable
and fidgety.

"I can't make it out," he said, after another inspection of the clock;
"there's something wrong."

"Perhaps he has gone to the play, sir."

"Pooh! he hates plays," was the contemptuous comment to this; "he
wouldn't waste his time in a playhouse. No, Mattie there's something
wrong."

"I don't think so," said Mattie, cheerfully. "I would not worry about
his absence just yet, sir."

"I'll give him another hour, and then I'll go down to the office and ask
after him."

"Or find him there, sir."

"No, they're not busy, I think. He can't be there. Mattie," he said
suddenly. "Have you noticed a difference in him lately?"

"I--I fancy he seems, perhaps, a little graver; but then he's growing
older and more manly every day."

"Ah! he grows a fine fellow--there isn't such another boy in the
world--perhaps it's all a fancy of mine, after all."

Mattie knew that it was no fancy; that even Sidney's care and histrionic
efforts could not disguise his trouble entirely from the father. But she
played the part of consoler to Mr. Hinchford as well as she was able,
and the old gentleman, less disturbed in mind, returned to his room for
the second time.

But time stole on, and Mattie herself found a new anxiety added to those
which had heretofore disturbed her. The wet night set in as Mr.
Hinchford had prophesied; the boy came and put up the shutters; the
clock ticked on towards eleven; all but the public-houses were closed in
Great Suffolk Street, and there were few loiterers about.

Ann Packet brought in the supper, and was informed of the day's two
features of interest--the robbery, and the absence of Mr. Sidney. Ann
Packet, of slow ideas herself, and slower still in having other ideas
instilled into her, thought that the missing parcel was connected with
the missing lodger, and so conglomerated matters irremediably.

"You may depend upon it, Mattie, he'll bring the parcel back--it's one
of his games--he was a rare boy for tricks when I knew him fust."

"Ann, you've been asleep," said Mattie, sharply.

"I couldn't help it," answered Ann, submissively; "it was very lonely
down there, with no company but the _beadles_--and times ain't as they
used to was, when you could read to me, and was more often down there."

"Ah! times are altering," sighed Mattie.

"And Mr. Wesden don't like me here till after the shop's shut--because
he can't trust me, or I talk too much, I s'pose," she said; "but now,
dear, sit down and tell me all about everything, to keep my sperits up."

Ann Packet and Mattie always supped together after the shop was
closed--Ann Packet lived for supper time now, looked forward all the day
to a "nice bit of talk" with the girl who had won upon those affections
which three-fourths of her life had rusted from disuse.

"It's uncommon funny that I never had anybody to care about afore I
knowed you, Mattie," she said regularly, once or twice a-week; "no
father, mother, sisters, anybody, till you turned up like the ace in
spekkilation. And now, let me hear you talk, my dear--I don't fancy that
your tongue runs on quite so fast as it did."

Ann Packet curled herself in her chair, hazarded one little complaint
about her ankles, which were setting in badly again with the Christmas
season, and then prepared to make herself comfortable, when once more
Mr. Hinchford appeared, with his hat, stick, and great cloak this time.

"Mattie, I can't stand it any longer--I'm off to the office in the
City."

Mattie did not like the look of his excited face.

"I'd wait a little while longer, sir."

"No--something has happened to the boy."

"Shall I go with you, sir?"

"God bless the girl!--what for?"

"For company's sake--it's late for you to be alone, sir."

"Don't you think I can take care of myself?--am I so old, feeble, and
drivelling as that? Are they right at the office, after all?" he added
in a lower tone.

"I shouldn't like to be left here all alone," murmured Ann Packet;
"particularly after there's been robberies, and----"

There was the rattle of cab-wheels in the street, coming nearer and
nearer towards the house.

"Hark!" said Mattie and Mr. Hinchford in one breath.

The rattling ceased before the door, the cab stopped, Mr. Hinchford
pointed to the door, and gasped, and gesticulated.

"Open, o--open the door!--he has met with an accident!"

"No, no, he has only taken a cab to get here earlier, and escape the
wet," said Mattie, opening the door with a beating heart, nevertheless.

Sidney Hinchford, safe and sound, was already out of the cab and close
to the door. Mattie met him with a bright smile of welcome, to which his
sombre face did not respond. He came into the shop, stern and silent,
and then looked towards his father.

"I thought you might have gone to bed, father," he said.

"Bed!" ejaculated Mr. Hinchford, in disgust; "what has--what has----"

"Come up-stairs, I wish to speak to you."

Father and son went up-stairs to their room, leaving Mattie at the open
door. The cab still remained drawn up there; the cabman stood by the
horse's head, stolid as a judge in his manifold capes.

"Are you waiting for anything?" asked Mattie.

"For the gemman, to be sure."

"Going back again?"

"He says so--I spose it's all right," he added dubiously; "you've no
back door which he can slip out of?"

"Slip out of!" cried the disgusted Mattie, slamming the front door in
his face for his impudent assertion.

Meanwhile Sidney Hinchford was facing his father in the drawing-room.

"Sit down and take the news coolly, sir," he said; "there's nothing
gained by putting yourself in a flurry."

"N--no, no, my boy, n--no."

"I have no time to spare, and I wish to leave you all right before I
go."

"Go!"

"I am going for a day or two, very likely for a week, on a special
mission for my employers--that is all that I can tell you without
breaking the confidence placed in me--I must go at once."

"Bless my soul! what--what can I possibly do without you. Can't I go
with you? Can't I--"

"You can do nothing but wait patiently for my return, believing that I
am safe, and taking care of myself. Why, what are a few days?"

"Well, not much after all," said the father, wiping his forehead with
his silk-handkerchief, "and there's no danger, of course?"

"Not any."

"And you are only going----"

"A journey of a few days. Try and calm yourself whilst I pack a few
things in my portmanteau. There, that's well!"

Sidney passed into the other room, leaving his father still struggling
with the effects of his astonishment. The portmanteau must have been
filled without any regard for neatness, for Sidney in a few minutes
returned with it in his hands.

"Why, you should be proud of this journey of mine," he said with a
forced lightness that could only have deceived his father; "think what
it is to be chosen out of the whole office to undertake this business."

"It's a good sign. Yes, I see that now."

"And I shall be back sooner than you expect, perhaps. Why, you and I
must not part like two silly girls, to whom the journey of a few miles
is the event of a life. Now, good-bye, sir--God keep you strong and well
till I come back again!"

"And you, my lad, and you, too."

"Amen. God grant it."

There was a strange earnestness in the son's voice, but the father was
still too much excited to take heed.

"And now good-bye again," shaking his father's hands; "you'll stay here,
sir, you'll not come down any more to-night."

"Yes, I will."

"You must try and keep calm; I will beg you as a favour to remain here,
father."

"Well, well, if you wish it--but I'm not a child."

Sidney released his father's hands, caught up his portmanteau, and
marched down stairs. Mattie, pale with suppressed excitement, met him in
the shop. He put down his burden, caught her by the wrist, and drew her
into the parlour. Seeing Ann Packet there, he bade her go down stairs
somewhat abruptly, released his grip of Mattie, and waited for Ann's
withdrawal, beating his foot impatiently upon the carpet.

Mattie looked nervously towards him, and thought that she had never seen
him look more stern and hard. His face was deathly white, and his eyes
burned like coals behind the glasses that he wore.

"Mattie," he said, "you and I, my father and you, are old friends."

"Yes, sir."

"I will ask a favour of you before I go. Take care of him! Ask him to
come down here to smoke his pipe with you, and keep him as light-hearted
as you can till I return."

"Who?--I, sir?"

"You have the way with you; you are quick to observe, and it will not
take much pains to keep him pleased, I think. When he begins to wonder
why I haven't returned, break to him by degrees that I have deceived
him, fearing the shock too sudden for his strength."

"Oh! sir, how can you leave all this to me?"

"I have faith in no one else, Mattie, to do me this service. You are
always cool, and will know the best way to proceed. Cheer up the old
gentleman all you can, too;--you were a quaint girl once--don't let him
miss me if you can help it."

"And you'll be gone----"

"Six weeks or two months."

"It's not a very happy journey, sir."

"How do you know that?" was the quick rejoinder.

"You're not looking happy--there's trouble in your face, Mr. Sidney."

"Well, there is room for it, and I am going, as I fear, to face trouble,
and bring back with me disappointment. We can't have it all our own way
in this world, Mattie."

"No, sir, that's not likely."

"And if there be more troubles than one ahead, why we must fight against
them till we beat them back, or they--crush us under foot. Good-bye."

He shook hands with her long and heartily, adding, "You will remember
your trust--you will break the news to him like a daughter?"

"I'll do my best, sir."

"He knows that I cannot send him any letters."

"And, and--letters for you?"

She thought of the letter which Harriet Wesden, in her sleepless bed,
might be pondering upon then. Of the new trouble which he seemed to
guess not; for immediately afterwards he said--

"Keep the letters till I come back--and give my love to Harriet; tell
her I shall think of her every hour of the day and night. I wrote to her
the last thing this evening. Now, good-bye, old girl, and wish me luck."

"The best of luck, Mr. Sidney--with all my heart!"

"Luck in the distance--luck when I come back again, and see it shining
in my Harriet's eyes. Ah! _it won't do!_" he added, with a stamp of his
foot.

"I'll pray for it sir," cried Mattie; "we can't tell what may happen for
the best, or what _is_ for the best, however it may trouble us at
first."

"Spoken like the parson at the corner shop," he said, a little
irreverently. "Bravo, Mattie--honest believer!"

He passed from the shop into his cab, glancing at the up-stairs windows,
and waving his hand for a moment towards his father, waiting anxiously
there to see the last of him.

The cab rattled away the moment afterwards, and Sidney Hinchford was
borne on his unknown journey.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the evening of the next day, a letter, in Harriet Wesden's
hand-writing, was received. The postman and Mr. Hinchford, senior, came
into the shop together.

"Sidney Hinchford, Esq.," said the postman.

"Thank you--I'll post it to him when he sends me his address," said Mr.
Hinchford. "By Jove!" looking at the superscription, "the ladies miss
him already."

Harriet Wesden had kept her promise, and found courage to write her
story out.


END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.





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