Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Mattie:—A Stray (Vol 2 of 3)
Author: Robinson, F. W. (Frederick William), 1830-1901
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mattie:—A Stray (Vol 2 of 3)" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



book was produced from scanned images of public domain


                           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. II.

    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.



CONTENTS OF THE SECOND VOLUME.


BOOK III. UNDER SUSPICION.--CONTINUED.

IX. THE CLOUDS THICKEN

X. MATTIE IN SEARCH

XI. EXPLANATIONS

XII. A SHORT WARNING

XIII. LEAVE-TAKINGS



BOOK IV.

"WANT PLACES."

I. ONE AND TWENTY

II. SIDNEY'S CONFESSION

III. A FLYING VISIT TO NUMBER THIRTY-FOUR

IV. HIS TURN

V. THE NEW BERTH


BOOK V. STORM SIGNALS.

I. CAST DOWN

II. IN WHICH SEVERAL DISCOVERIES COME TOGETHER

III. FATHER AND DAUGHTER

IV. ONLY PITY

V. AN UNAVAILING EFFORT

VI. MR. GRAY FURTHER DEVELOPED

VII. A DINNER PARTY

VIII. MATTIE'S CONFESSION



BOOK III.

CONTINUED.

UNDER SUSPICION.



CHAPTER IX.

THE CLOUDS THICKEN.


Mattie had fully anticipated a visit from Mr. Wesden on the day
following Sidney Hinchford's departure, but the master appeared not at
the little shop in Great Suffolk Street. It was not till the following
day that he arrived--at six in the morning, as the boy was taking down
the shutters. Mattie's heart began beating painfully fast; she had
become very nervous concerning Mr. Wesden, and his thoughts of her.
Appearances had been against her of late, and he was a man who did not
think so charitably as he acted sometimes.

He gave a gruff good morning, and came behind the counter.

"You can do what you like to-day," he said. "I'll mind the shop."

"Very well, sir. I--I suppose," she added, hastily, "Miss Harriet has
told you what happened the day before yesterday?"

"I know all about it. I don't want to talk about it."

"But I do, sir!"

Mr. Wesden stared over Mattie's head after his old fashion. His will had
been law so long, that disputing it rather took him aback.

"I know that these losses put you out, Mr. Wesden," said Mattie, firmly;
"that they are due to my own carelessness--to having been taken off my
guard after all my watch here, all my interest in everything connected
with the business. I dream of the shop,--I would not neglect it for the
world,--and it _is_ hard to be so unfortunate as I have been. Mr.
Wesden, you wouldn't let me repay back the money which was taken away
from the house; but I must pay the value of that parcel stolen from
before my very eyes."

"It was large enough to see," he added, "and I expect you to pay for it,
Mattie."

"What was it worth?"

"You shall have the bill to settle, if you've saved as much--it will
come in next week. And now, just understand, once for all, that I don't
want to talk about it--that I object very much to talk about it."

"Very well."

The subject was dropped; Mattie felt herself in disgrace, and, intensely
sorrowful at heart, she went down-stairs to tell Ann Packet all that her
carelessness had brought upon her.

"He's an old savage, my dear--don't mind him."

"No, Ann--he's a dear old friend, and his anger is just enough. It was
all my fault!"

"Well, he's not such a bad master as he might be, pr'aps; but he isn't
what he used to be before my ankles took to swelling, nothing like it."

"It will soon blow over, I hope," said Mattie.

"Bless your heart!--puffed away in a breath, it'll be."

Mattie, ever ready to console others, received consolation in her turn;
and hoped for the best.

Late in the evening, Mr. Wesden departed, and early next day, much to
Mattie's surprise, Harriet Wesden, with a box or two, arrived in a cab
to the house.

Mattie watched the entrance of the boxes, and looked very closely into
the face of the young mistress. Harriet, with a smile that was well got
up for the occasion, advanced to her.

"Think, Mattie, of my coming here to spend a week with you--of being
your companion. Why, it'll be the old times back again."

"I should be more glad to see you if I thought there were no other
reason, Miss Harriet," said Mattie--"but there is!"

"Why, what can there----"

Mattie caught her by the sleeve.

"Your father suspects that I am not honest--the past life has come a
little closer, and made him repent of all the past kindness--is not that
it?"

"No, no, Mattie, dear--you must not think that!"

"He has grown suspicious of me--I can see it in his looks, in his
altered manner; and, oh! I can do nothing to stop it--to show him that I
am as honest as the day."

"Patience, Mattie, dear," said Harriet, "we will soon prove that to him,
if he require proof. If I have come at his wish, it was at my own, too,
and you are exaggerating the reasons that have brought me hither."

"I wonder why I stop here now," said Mattie, thoughtfully. "I, who am a
young woman, and can get my own living. If he is tired of me, I have no
right to stop."

"You will stop for the sake of those who love you, and who have trust in
you, Mattie; you will not think of going away."

"Well, not yet awhile. I think," dashing a rebellious tear from her dark
eyes, "that I can bear more than this before I leave you all. And if
things _do_ look a little dark just now, I shall live them down, with
God's help!"

"There's nothing dark--it's three-fourths fancy. Think of my sorrows,
Mattie, and thank heaven that you have never been in love!"

"Dreadful sorrows yours are, Miss Harriet, I must say!"

"People never think much of other people's sorrows," remarked Harriet,
sententiously.

Thus it came about that Harriet Wesden and Mattie were thrown into
closer companionship for awhile, and that Mattie began to think that the
constant presence of the girl she loved most in the world made ample
amends for the suspicions which had placed her there, for the absence of
Sidney Hinchford, and the mystery by which it had been characterized.

"It's astonishing how I miss Mr. Sidney," Mattie said, confidently, to
Harriet, "though we did not say much more than 'good morning,' and 'good
evening,' from one week's end to another--but he has been so long here,
and become so long a part of home, that it does seem strange to have the
place without him."

"And the letter--he never got the letter, after all," sighed Harriet.

"There it is, on the drawing-room mantel-piece," said Mattie; "bad news
awaiting his return. I see it every morning there, and think of his
coming disappointment."

"He'll soon get over it--men soon get over it," replied Harriet, "they
have so much to do in the world, and so many things therein to distract
them. It's not like us poor girls, who think of nothing else but whom it
is best to love, and who will love _us_ best."

"Speak for your own romantic self, Miss Harriet," said Mattie, laughing.

"You never think of these things!--you, close on eighteen years of age!"

"Never," said Mattie, fearlessly; "I seem a little out of the way of
it--it's not in my line. But--I understand it well enough."

"Or you would have never taken my part against poor old Sid," said
Harriet.

"And that reminds me that I am neglecting poor old Sid's father, and I
promised not."

Sid's father required no small amount of attention Mattie very quickly
discovered; the absence of his son preyed upon the old gentleman, and
left him entirely alone. The place was a desert without "the boy;"--with
all his love for him, he could not have imagined that his absence would
have led to such a blank. He thought that he could have put up with it,
and jogged along in his old methodical way until Sid's return; but the
horrors seized him in the attempt, and it was more of a struggle to keep
time from killing him, than to kill the hoary enemy by distraction of
pursuits.

He became absent over the account-books at the builder's office, and the
clerks laughed at him and his mistakes; whilst the employers, who had
found him slow in his movements for some time, thought he was getting
past work and becoming unendurable. These old-fashioned clerks will get
in the way, when the hand grows feeble, and the memory betrays them.
Commerce has no fine feelings, and must sweep them aside for better men
without compunction.

Mattie, remembering her promise to Sidney, and favoured in the
performance of it by Harriet's extra service, played her cards well, and
helped to wile away many hours that would have weighed heavily with Mr.
Hinchford. An excuse to enter the room led to a remark concerning
Sidney, which rendered the old gentleman voluble--and the presence of
Harriet Wesden down-stairs, his son's future wife, formed a good excuse
to lure him into the parlour, and persuade him to smoke his pipe there.
Then Mattie began to think that she should like to know backgammon, and
Mr. Hinchford condescended to instruct her, as he had instructed her,
when she was younger, in orthography and syntax. And finally, when he
was becoming excited about Sidney's non-appearance, and resolved one
night to sit up for him, as he was positive of his return, Mattie
essayed that difficult and delicate task which Sidney had confided to
her--a task which Harriet was inclined to take upon herself--and
somewhat jealous of Mattie being entrusted with it in her stead.

"He wrote to me the night he left--why didn't he ask me to console his
father, I wonder?"

Mattie thought it was for the reason that consolation might be required
at any moment, and that Sidney was ignorant of Harriet's intention to
stay a few weeks at Great Suffolk Street--but Harriet Wesden on the
scene was no reason for Mattie to relinquish her rights. Besides, she
had confidence in her own powers of breaking the news--and the unopened
death-warrant on the mantel-piece was evidence of Harriet Wesden's
rights being at an end.

The story was told by degrees then--what Mr. Sidney had said to Mattie
and wished her to do,--told with a gentleness and earnestness which did
credit to Mattie's powers, and proved what a thoughtful, gentle woman
she was becoming. Under the circumstances, also, she made the best of
it, and though Mr. Hinchford pulled at his stock, and ruffled his white
hair, and took a long while to understand it, yet it was a successful
revelation.

"Always considerate, Mr. Sidney is," said Mattie, in conclusion; "most
sons would have spoken out the truth at once, and gone away, leaving
their fathers wholly miserable; he went at the subject like a daughter
almost--didn't he, sir?"

Mr. Hinchford had felt inclined to believe himself treated childishly,
till Mattie put the question in this new light.

"Ah! he did----" he burst forth with; "he's a dear lad! What a lucky
girl that Harriet Wesden is!"

Time passed on, and no Sidney's return. The nights drew in closer yet,
and with their lengthier darkness deepened the shadows round the lives
of all our characters. Sidney had stated his intention to write no
letters, but they were expected nevertheless, and Harriet began to fancy
that it was a little strange--as strange as her interest in Sidney and
his movements, now that she had given him up for ever! A letter for
herself, from Miss Eveleigh, diverted her attention somewhat--it had
been sent to Camberwell and posted on by her father.

"Miss Eveleigh is very anxious to see me for a few minutes," said
Harriet. "She and her mother think of getting up some private
theatricals at New-Cross, and they want my assistance and advice."

"Private theatricals!--that's playing at being actors and actresses,
isn't it, Miss Harriet?"

"Oh! yes. Such capital fun!"

"For the people who come to see you as well?" asked Mattie, guessing by
intuition where the shoe must pinch.

"To be sure," responded Harriet; "they wouldn't come if they did not
like, my dear; and the change will do me good, and I think I'll go."

Mattie detected a heightened colour in Harriet's cheek.

"You will see Mr. Darcy there?"

"Well--perhaps I shall," said Harriet; "and I have a right to think
about him now, or let him think about me, if he will. Mattie, you don't
mind me going?"

"Mind!--why have I a right to stop you?"

"No; only I shall leave you all alone with that wearisome old man."

"He'll not weary me. Old friends never do."

"That sounds like a reproach, but you don't mean it, Mattie," said
Harriet; "and, after all, I shall not be very long away. I shall take
the train from London Bridge, and be there and back by eight o'clock."

Harriet hurried away to dress for her expedition; she came down in a
flutter of high spirits, a very different being from the despondent,
lackadaisical girl of a few weeks since. She had made up her mind to
begin life and love afresh; uncertainty was over with her, and she was
as gay and bright as the sunshine. But hers was a nature fit only for
sunshine--the best and most loveable of girls when the shadows of
every-day life were not cast on her track.

"By eight o'clock, Mattie; good-bye, my dear. Any advice?" she asked,
pausing, with a saucy look about her mouth.

"Yes. Don't fall too deeply in love with Mr. Darcy, before you are sure
that he is falling in love with you!"

"I can bring him to my feet with a look," she said; "bring him home here
with a chain round his neck, like an amiable terrier."

"Let me have an opportunity of admiring your choice soon--we're all in
the dark at present."

"Yes, father and mother too, until poor Sid," suddenly becoming grave,
"breaks the seal of that letter it gave me grey hairs to write. Upon my
word, Mattie, I found two in my head when I had finished it. I was _so_
dreadfully shocked!"

"Well, the troubles are over."

"I think so--I hope so. Good-bye, my dear. Tell father where I have
gone, if he should look in to-night. Home very early!"

She fluttered away, pausing to look in at the window and laugh through
at Mattie once more.

"Perhaps it was as well she gave Sidney up," Mattie thought; "for she
has been happier since, and all her dear bright looks are back again.
What a wonderful man this Mr. Darcy must be! How I should like to see my
darling's choice--the man that she thinks good enough for her! He must
be a very good man, too; for with all her weakness, my Harriet despises
deceit in any form, and would only love that which was honourable and
true. But, then, why didn't she love Sidney Hinchford more; that's what
puzzles me so dreadfully!"

She clutched her elbows with her hands, and bent herself into a Mother
Bunch-like figure in the seat behind the counter, and went off into
dream-land. Strange dream-land, belonging to the border-country of the
mists lying between the present and the future. A land of things beyond
the present, and yet which could never appertain to any future, map it
as she might in the brain that went to work so busily. Figures flitted
before her of Harriet and Mr. Darcy--of Sidney Hinchford in his
desolation, so strange a contrast to the happiness which he had
sought--of herself passing from one to the other and endeavouring to do
good and make others happy, the one ambition of this generous little
heart. And her sanguine nature wound up the story--if it were a
story--with the general happiness of all her characters, just as we
finish a story, if we wish to please our readers and win their
patronage. Even Mr. Wesden would sink his suspicions in the deep water,
and be the grave-faced, but kind-hearted patron again, in that border
country wherein her thoughts were wandering.

Mr. Hinchford came home early to give her a lesson in backgammon, and
was sadly disappointed to find Mattie on full duty in the shop that
evening. He wandered about the shop himself for a while, and then went
up-stairs early to bed, discontented with his lonely position in
society; and his place was taken by Ann Packet, who had got "the
creeps," and had a craving for "company." Ann Packet's ankles were very
bad again, and it was dull work mourning over their decadence in the
kitchen, with no one to pity her condition, or promise to call upon her,
when she was carried to "St. Tummas's." Even she went to bed early also;
for the customers came in frequently, and kept Mattie's attention
employed, and it was scarcely worth while sitting in a draught on the
shop steps, for the chance of getting in a word now and then, not to
mention the probability of Mr. Wesden turning up, and scolding her for
coming into the shop at all, an act he had never allowed in his time.

At eight o'clock, Mattie was left alone to superintend business; the
supper tray for her and Harriet was left upon the parlour table by Ann
Packet; in a few minutes Harriet would be back again.

At half-past eight, Mattie went to the door to watch her coming up the
street, a habit with nervous people who would expedite the arrival of
the loved one by these means. The action reminded her of Mr. Hinchford,
when Sidney was late, and when a few rain drops were blown towards her
by a restless wind abroad that night, the remembrance of waiting for
Sidney Hinchford startled her. "Just such a night as this when we sat up
for him, and he came home at last, so wild and stern--when we had almost
given up the hope of coming home at all--what a strange coincidence!"
thought Mattie.

When the rain came suddenly and heavily down, the coincidence was more
remarkable; and when the clock scored nine, then half-past, then ten, it
was the old suspense again.

"What nonsense!" thought Mattie; "she's stopping up for the rain. It is
not very late, and I am only fanciful as usual. Nothing can be
wrong--it's not likely!"

Those customers who strayed in still, wondered why she looked so often
at the clock, and stared so vacantly at them when they expressed their
verdict on the weather; and the policeman on duty outside observed her
frequent visits to the door, and her wild gaze down the street towards
the Borough. Yes, the old story over again--an absent friend, an anxious
watcher, a night of wind and rain in Suffolk Street. The boy came to
close the shop as usual, the door was shut _en regle_, and now it was
Harriet's time to come back, rain or no rain, mystery or no mystery with
her, and end the story _à la Sidney Hinchford_.

Mattie consulted a Bradshaw from the window, and found that the New
Cross trains ran as late as twelve o'clock to London; this relieved her;
Harriet was only waiting for the rain to clear up after all. But even
midnight dragged its way towards her; and then the time passed in which
she should have returned, and still no Harriet.

At one o'clock Mattie went to the door and looked out; the pavement was
glistening yet, but the rain had abated, and the clouds were breaking up
overhead. There had been nothing to stop her--even if Mattie had
believed for a moment that Harriet would have stayed away for the rain.
When she gave her up--when it was close on two o'clock--the stars were
shining brightly again, although the air felt damp and cold.

"She'll never come back any more!" moaned Mattie; "she has met with
danger--I am sure of it! She has come to harm, and I am powerless to
help her. I should not feel like this, if something had not happened!"

"Two," struck the clock of St. Georges, Southwark; in the stillness of
the streets it echoed towards her, and sounded like a death-bell. Mattie
covered her face with her hands, and prayed silently for help, for one
away from home. Then she sprung up again, piled some more coals on the
fire, stirred it, and sat down before it.

"I'll not believe any of these horrible things yet a while. It will all
be explained--she'll be back presently, to laugh at me for this
foolishness!"



CHAPTER X.

MATTIE IN SEARCH.


How does the time contrive to steal away from us when we are sitting up,
feverish with fear for him, or her, who returns not? The dial that we
stare at so often, marks fresh hours, and still further alarms us; but
the night is long and tedious, and there's a stab in every tick of that
sepulchral clock on the landing. We disguise our alarm from the
servants, even from ourselves, and sit down patiently for the coming
one--nervous at the footfalls in the streets without, and feeling
heart-sick as they pass our door, and die away in the distance. We set
our books and newspapers aside at last, and _wait_--we give up
pretension to coolness, and watch with our hearts also.

Mattie waited, tried to hope, then to pray again; gave up wholly after
three in the morning, and cried as for one lost to her for ever. There
was a reasonable hope in Harriet having missed the train, or in her
having been induced to stay the night at the Eveleighs'; a reasonable
fear--in these times of railway mismanagement and error--of an accident
having occurred to the up-train. But these hopes and fears were not
Mattie's; they flashed by her once or twice, but she felt that Harriet's
absence was not to be accounted for by them. At four in the morning she
took the big key from the lock, put on her bonnet and shawl, and then
paused on the stairs, hesitating in her mind whether to apprise Ann
Packet of her new intention or not.

Ann Packet would hear a knock if Harriet returned, which was unlikely
now; she would not alarm Ann, or betray her friend unnecessarily. It
might be necessary, who knows, to keep this ever a secret--she could not
tell, all was mystery, dark and unfathomable.

"It's not a runaway match, either," thought Mattie, "for there was no
occasion to run away, when Harriet and her lover could have married
quietly and without any opposition, at least on _their_ side. Harriet
knows that, and is not a girl to be led away if she did not. Weak in
many ways, but not in that, I know."

Mattie disliked mystery.

"I'll follow this to the end!" she cried with a stamp of her foot--"to
the very end if possible."

Mattie might have been spelling over a sensation novel, wherein the hero
or heroine--_i.e._ the villain catcher--goes through the last two
volumes on the detective principle; and it might have possibly struck
her that if the "catcher" had started earlier and gone a less roundabout
way to work--certainly a bad way for the volumes!--the matter might have
been more expeditiously arranged. She could always see to the end pretty
clearly--why not the 'cute-minded party in search?

Mattie closed the street-door behind her, and went out into the cold
morning. The pavement was still wet and clammy; there was no
"drying-air" in the streets, although the stars looked bright and
aggravatingly frosty.

Mattie turned to the left at the end of Great Suffolk Street, and
proceeded at a rapid pace towards the railway station; there were
stragglers still in the Borough--a broad thoroughfare, that never rests,
but is ever alive with sound. Life still at the great terminus; a train
hissing and fuming from its long journey, a handful of passengers by the
mail, a few cabmen still looking out for fares, guards full of bustle as
usual, one Kent Street gamin out on business, and dodging the policeman
behind a Patent Safety.

Mattie went to business at once.

"Has any accident happened on the line to-night, sir?"

"Not any."

"What is the next train from New Cross that will reach here?"

"No train calls at New Cross till six in the morning."

"What is the next train that will leave here and call at New Cross?"

"Twenty minutes to six."

"Oh! dear."

A short spasmodic sigh, and then Mattie turned away and went back to
Great Suffolk Street, opened the door, and stole cautiously up-stairs to
the room wherein Harriet had been sleeping. Not there--still away from
home!

"If anything has happened, I must be the first to find it out," thought
Mattie, descending the stairs, listening at the foot thereof, and then
passing out into the street again, closing the shop-door very cautiously
behind her.

She had made up her mind to walk at once to New Cross, to seek out the
Eveleighs, whose address she thought that she remembered. She went on at
a rapid pace, with her veil thrown back, and her face full of
interest--not a woman in the streets, hurrying like herself on special
missions, or lurking at street corners, but Mattie glanced at for an
instant as she sped along. She was a quick walker and lost no time;
after all, New Cross was not a great distance away; she was not easily
tired, and once in action, her fears for Harriet went further into the
distance. She began to think, almost to hope, that Harriet would be at
the Eveleighs', and all would end with a wild fancy on her part, at
which Harriet and she would laugh later in the day. Down the Dover Road,
past the Bricklayer's Arms, and along the Old Kent Road, till the long
lines of closed shops ended in long lines of private houses, the railway
station and the Royal Naval School--that model of good management, by
which we recommend all directors of seedy institutions to profit.

Near the railway station Mattie found a policeman, who directed her to
the particular terrace wherein the Eveleighs were located. It was nearly
half-past five when she read by the light of the street lamp the name of
Eveleigh on the brass plate affixed to the iron gate. With her hands
upon the gate, Mattie held a council of war with herself as to the best
method of procedure.

Mattie had soon arranged her plan of action; hers was a mind that jumped
rapidly at conclusions--was quick to see the best way. Arousing the
house would create an alarm, and if Harriet were not there--of which in
her heart she was already assured--it would only set the people within
talking about her. That would be to cast the first stone at her poor
friend, and set the tongues of gossips wagging--that must not be! Mattie
resolved to wait till some signs about the Eveleigh window blinds
indicated a servant stirring in the house; she thought with a shudder of
the shop in Great Suffolk Street, and the customers waiting for their
papers; of Ann Packet's alarm, and Mr. Hinchford's perplexity; of the
food for scandal which her absence would afford to a few inquisitive
neighbours. Still all that might be easily explained, and it was only
she who would receive the blame, if all turned out better than she
dreamed; and if the worst were known, why, alas! her actions would
readily be guessed at.

Fortune favoured Mattie in the most unromantic way that morning: the
Eveleighs had resolved upon having their kitchen chimney swept at
half-past five, and young Erebus, true to the minute, came round the
corner with his soot-bag, went up the fore-court towards the side gate,
rang the bell, and gave vent to his doleful cry. The maid-servant,
however, was not prompt in her responses, and Mattie stood and watched
in the distance, until the sweep, becoming impatient, rang again, and
rattled with his brush against the side of the door steps. From Mattie's
post of vigilance she could just make him out in the darkness--a shadowy
figure, that might have represented evil to her and hers.

Presently the bolts of the side gate were withdrawn, and Mattie with
hasty steps, crossed the road and hurried up the path. The sweep was
being admitted at that time, and a red-eyed, white-faced, sulky-looking
servant-maid of not more than sixteen years of age, was closing the
door, when Mattie called to her to wait.

Surprised at this strange apparition at so early an hour, the girl
waited and stared.

Mattie's plan of action would have done credit to a detective policeman;
her questions seemed so wide of the mark, and kept suspicion back from
her whom she loved so well. Certainly they implicated another, and drew
attention to him in a marked manner; but he was a man, and could bear
it, thought Mattie, and if he were at the bottom of the mystery, there
was no need to study _him_--rather to track him out and come face to
face with him!

"Will you tell Mr. Darcy that I wish to speak a few words with him
immediately?"

"Mr. Darcy don't live here," said the astonished servant.

"He visits here--he stayed here last night."

"No, he didn't," was the abrupt reply; "he went away at ten o'clock."

"With Miss Wesden, of course," was the apparently careless answer.

"Yes, with Miss Wesden. He never stops here."

"Where does he live?"

"I don't know--somewhere about here, I believe."

"Ask his address of your mistress," cried Mattie, becoming excited as
the truth seemed to loom before her with all its horror; "I must see
him!"

The servant-maid's eyes became rounder, and she gasped forth--

"I'll--I'll wake missus."

"Ask her to oblige me with Mr. Darcy's address--and please make haste."

The servant withdrew, leaving Mattie standing in the draughty side
passage, dark and dense as the fate of her whom she loved appeared to be
from that day. She could hear the sweep bustling and bundling about the
kitchen noisily; it seemed an age before the servant's feet came
clumpeting down the stairs again.

"It's number fourteen, St. Olave's Terrace, Old Kent Road."

"Thank you."

Mattie turned away, and ran down the fore court at a rapid pace.

"Well--I _never_!" ejaculated the amazed domestic. "What's Mr. Darcy
gone and done, I wonder!"

Mattie darted backward on her homeward route; her plans of action were
at sea now; she only wished to know the worst, and feel the strength to
face it for others' sakes, not for her own. There were an old man and an
old woman to comfort in their latter days, to become a daughter to in
the place of her who had been spirited away--give her strength to solace
them in the deep misery upon its way.

People were stirring in the streets although the day was dark, and the
sky above still full of stars. Mattie made many inquiries, and at last
found St. Olave's Terrace, a row of large, gloomy houses, of red brick.
At No. 14 Mattie knocked long and vigorously, until a window was opened
in the first floor, and a boy's head protruded--the unkempt head of a
page.

"What's the row down there?" he shouted.

"Mr. Darcy--is he at home?"

"He ain't at home--he didn't come back last night."

"Are you sure?--are you quite sure?"

"I should think I was," replied young Impudence. "Who shall I say
called--Walker?"

"No matter--no matter."

Mattie turned and hurried away again. Close upon six o'clock, and an
empty cab before a public-house door. Mattie ran into the public-house,
and found the cabman drinking neat gin at the bar, and bewailing the
hardness of the times to the barman, who was yawning fearfully.

"Is your cab engaged?"

"Where do you want to go, Miss?" asked the cabman. "If it's Greenwich
way, I've got a party to take up in five minutes time!"

"Suffolk Street, Borough. I--I don't mind what I pay to get there
quickly."

"Jump in, Miss--I'll drive you there in no time."

Mattie entered the cab, the cabman mounted the box, and away they went
down the Old Kent Road. The cabman had been up all night, calling at
many night-houses in his route, and always taking gin with despatch and
gusto. He was reckless with his whip, unmerciful to his horse, and
disregardful of the cab, which he had out on hire. He was just
intoxicated enough to be confidential, mysterious, and sympathizing. He
lowered the glass window at his back, and looked through at Mattie.

"Lor bless you! I wouldn't cry about a bit of a spree," he said,
suddenly, so close to Mattie's ear, that she jumped to the other seat
with affright; "if you've kep it up late, tell your missus, or your
mother, that they wouldn't let you leave afore--she was young herself
once, I daresay!"

"Drive on, please!--drive on!"

"I'm driving my hardest, my child--cutting off all the corners--that's
only a kub-stone, don't be frightened, m'child--soon be home now. They
won't say much to you, if you'll on'y tell 'em that they was young once
'emselves, and shouldn't be too hard upon a gal--that's on'y another
kub-stone," he explained again, as a sudden jolting nearly brought the
bottom out of the cab; "we shan't be long now--don't cry any more--I
hope this here'll be a blessed warning to you!"

And suddenly becoming stern and full of reproof, he shook his head at
Mattie, drew up the window, and directed his whole attention to his
quadruped, which he had evidently made up his mind to cut in half
between Old Kent Road and Great Suffolk Street.

At half-past six Mattie was turning the corner of the well-known street;
she looked from the cab window towards the stationer's shop. The
shutters were closed still, but the news-boy was at the open door,
muffled to the nose in his worsted comforter. Mattie sprung out, paid
her fare, and ran into the shop, where Ann Packet, with her eyes red
with weeping, rushed at her at once, and began to cry and shake her.

"Oh! Mattie, Mattie, where _have_ you been?--what's the matter?"

"Nothing much--don't ask me just yet. How long have you been up?"

"I overslept myself--oh! dear, dear, dear!--and just got up in a
fright--that boy skeering me so with the heels of his boots aginst the
door. And oh! dear, dear, dear!--I found the shop all dark, and just let
him in, and was going up to call you, when here you are--oh! where
_have_ you been?"

"I'l tell you presently--let me think a bit--I'm not well, Ann."

"You've been to a doctor's. Oh! my dear, my dear, what has happened to
you? You came back in a cab--you've hurt yourself somehow, and I to be
so unfeeling and wicked as to think that, that you'd gone out of your
mind, perhaps--for you always was a strange gal, and like nobody else,
wasn't you? Shall I run up-stairs and wake Miss Harriet?"

"No, no--_not for the world_! Go down-stairs and make haste with the
coffee, Ann, please. And you boy, don't stare like that," snapped
Mattie, "but take the shutters down."

Ann scuttled down-stairs, forgetful of her ankles, in her excitement at
the novel position of affairs; the boy took down the shutters and
disclosed the cabman still before the door, carefully examining his
horse, and rather evilly disposed towards himself for the damage he had
done the animal and cab in his excitement. Mattie went into the parlour,
where the gas burned still, and stood by the table reflecting on the
end--what was to be done now?--whether it were better to keep up the
mystery, to allege some reason for Harriet's absence, frame some white
lie that might keep Ann Packet and Mr. Hinchford appeased, and save
_her_ name for a short while longer?

When the boy came staggering in with the third shutter, a new thought--a
forlorn hope--suggested itself.

"Wait here and mind the shop till I come down, William," she said.

She went up-stairs in her bonnet and shawl, and pushed open the door of
Harriet Wesden's room. Empty and unoccupied, as she might have known,
and yet which, in defiance of possibilities, she had gone up to explore
again. The blind was undrawn, and the faint glimmer of the late dawning
was stealing into the room, and scaring the shadows back.

Mattie gave way at the desolation of the place; and flung herself upon
her knees at the bed's foot.

"Oh! my darling, God forgive you, and watch over you--oh! my darling,
whom I loved more than a sister, and who is for ever--for ever--lost to
me!"

"_No_--NO--Mattie!"

Mattie leaped to her feet, and with a cry scarcely human, rushed towards
the speaker in the doorway--the speaker who, white and trembling, opened
her arms and received her on her throbbing breast. Harriet Wesden had
come back again!



CHAPTER XI.

EXPLANATIONS.


Mattie shed many tears of joy at Harriet's return; she was a
strong-minded young woman in her way, but the tension of nerve, and the
reaction which followed it, had been too much for her, and she was, for
a short while, a child in strength and self-command. For awhile they had
changed places, Mattie and Harriet--Mattie becoming the agitated and
weak girl, Harriet remaining firm, and maintaining an equable demeanour.

"Courage, Mattie!--what have you to give way at?" she said, at last.

"There, I'm better now," said Mattie, looking up into Harriet's face,
and keeping her hands upon her shoulders; "and now, will you trust in
me?--tell me the whole truth--keep nothing back."

"From you--nothing!"

"And if he has been coward enough to lead you away by the snares of your
affection----"

"Affection!" cried Harriet. "I hate him! Coward enough!--he is coward
enough for anything that would degrade me--and villain enough to spare
no pains to place me in his power. Oh! Mattie--Mattie--what had I done
to make him think so meanly of me?--to lead him on to plot against me in
so poor and miserable a fashion?"

"You have escaped from him?"

"Thank God, yes!"

Mattie could have cried again with joy, but Harriet's excitement
recalled her to self-command--Harriet, who stood there with her whole
frame quivering with passion and outraged pride--a woman whom Mattie had
not seen till then.

"Mattie," she said, "that man, Maurice Darcy, thought that if I were
weak enough to love him, I was weak enough to fly with him, forget my
woman's pride, my father, home, honour, and fling all away for his sake.
He did not know me, or understand me; my God! he did not think that
there were any good thoughts in me, or he would not have acted as he
did. I have been blind--I have been a fool until to-night!"

She stamped her foot upon the floor until everything in the room
vibrated; she caught Mattie's inquiring, earnest looks towards her and
went on again--

"You and I, Mattie, must keep this ever a secret between us; for my
sake, I am sure you will--for the sake of my good name, which that man's
trickery has tarnished, however completely I have baffled him and shamed
him. Mattie, he was at the Eveleighs' last night with his guilty plans
matured. I had every confidence in him and his affection for me. I was
off my guard, and believed that he was free from guile himself. At ten
o'clock--beyond my time--I left the Eveleighs'; he was my escort to the
railway station; he spoke of his love for me for the first time, and I
was agitated and blinded by his seeming fervour. I told him of my
promise to Sidney, and what I had done for his sake. I led him to
think--fool that I was--that he had won my love long since. At the
railway station he told me the story of his life--a lie from beginning
to end--of his father's pride, of the secrecy with which our future
marriage must be kept for awhile, away from that father--talking,
protesting, explaining, until the train came up and he had placed me in
the carriage."

"Ah! I see!" exclaimed Mattie.

"He followed me at the last moment, stating that he had business in
London, and then the train moved on--FOR DOVER!"

"Yes, he _was_ a villain and coward!" cried Mattie, setting her teeth
and clenching her hands spasmodically; "go on!"

"In less then five minutes I was aware of the deception that had been
practised on me. I woke suddenly to the whole truth, to my own folly in
believing in this man. He would have feigned it to be a mistake at
first--a mistake on his own part--and for my own safety, alone with him
there, and the train shrieking along into the night, I professed to
believe him, and mourned over the clumsy blunder which was taking us
away from home; but I was on my guard, and my reserve, my alarm, kept
him cautious. I sat cowering from him in the extreme corner of the
carriage, and he sat maturing his plans, and marking out, as he thought,
his way. He confessed at last that it was a deeply-laid scheme to secure
what he called his happiness. He swore to be a brother to me, a faithful
friend in whom every trust might be put until we were married at Calais;
but the mask had dropped, and my heart, throbbing with my humiliation,
had turned utterly against him. I lowered the carriage window, and sat
watchful of him, knowing every word he uttered then to be a lie, and
feeling that he looked upon me as a girl easily to be led astray--a
shop-keeper's daughter, whose self-respect was quickly deadened, and
whose vanity was sufficient to lead her on to ruin. But I bade him keep
his seat away from me, and give me time to think of what he had
said--time to believe in him! We were silent the rest of the way to
Ashford. My throat was choking with the angry words which burned to leap
forth and denounce him for his knavery--he who sat smiling at the
success in store for him. At Ashford, thank God! the train stopped."

"Thank God!" whispered Mattie also.

"I opened the door suddenly, Mattie, and leaped forth like a madwoman;
he followed me to the platform, when I turned upon him like--like a
she-wolf!" she cried, vehemently, "and denounced him for the cowardly
wretch he had been to me. There were a few guards about, and one
gentleman, and they were my audience. I claimed their protection from
the man; I told them how I had been tricked into that train and led away
from home; I asked them if they had daughters whom they loved to protect
me and send me back again secure from him. Mattie, I shamed him to his
soul!"

"Bravo!--bravo!" cried Mattie, giving two leaps in the air in her
excitement; "that's my own darling, whose heart was ever strong and true
enough!"

"Only her head a little weak, and likely to be turned--eh, Mattie?" said
Harriet, in a less excited strain; "well, I am sobered now for ever--and
every scrap of romantic feeling has been torn to shreds. I must have
been under a spell, for it seems like an evil dream now that I could
ever have thought of loving that man."

"And they took your part at the station?"

"Yes,--and gave me advice, and were kind to me, and he who attempted to
deceive me skulked back into the carriage, muttering a hundred excuses,
which I did not hear. The gentleman who had listened to my story, and
been prepared to defend me, had it been necessary, followed Mr. Darcy to
the carriage, added a few stern words, and then returned to offer me
advice how to proceed. He was a strange, eccentric man, very harsh even
with me in his speech, and disposed to preach a sermon on the warning I
had had, as though I were not likely to take a lesson from my
over-confidence, after all that had happened. But he was very kind in
act, and meant all for my good, though he might have spared me just a
little more. He consulted the railway time-tables for me, made many
inquiries of the guards, whom he appeared to disbelieve, for he went
back to the time-tables again; finally told me that there was no train
till a quarter past five by which I could reach home. He showed me an
hotel adjacent to the station, and left me there, after again upbraiding
me for my want of judgment; and at a quarter past five--what an age it
seemed before that time came round!--I left Ashford once again for
home."

"And are here safe from danger--to make my heart light again with the
sight of you. Well, my dear, we'll think it all an ugly dream--and shut
_him_ away in it for ever."

"And now--what will the world think of me?--how much of the story will
it believe, Mattie?" was the scornful answer.

"What will the world know of it? You and I can keep the secret between
us. Mr. Darcy will not boast of his humiliation. The old people need not
be harassed and perplexed by all that has happened this night."

"No, no--all an ugly dream, as you say, Mattie!" remarked Harriet;
"perhaps it is best, and a woman's fame is hard to establish, on her own
explanation of such a history as mine. Let it sink. I am verily ashamed
of it. My blood will boil at every chance allusion that associates
itself with last night. Oh! my poor, dear, truthful Sid, to think of
turning away from _you_ and believing in a heartless villain."

"Ah! Sidney!" exclaimed Mattie.

"Whatever happens--whatever the future may bring--that letter, Mattie,
must be destroyed. It is a false statement. We must secure it and
destroy it. With time before me, and the dark memory shut out, how I
will love that faithful heart!"

"Trust the letter to me--trust--oh! the shop, the shop all this
while!--and I haven't told you my story."

"Presently then, Mattie. I would go down now."

"Yes, I will go down. I have been very neglectful of business in my joy
at seeing you again. It did not seem possible a few hours ago that all
would have ended fairly like this. I am so happy--so very happy now,
dear Harriet!"

She shook Harriet by both hands, kissed her once more, and even cried a
little before she made a hasty dash from the room to the stairs. At the
second landing, outside Mr. Hinchford's apartments, she remembered the
letter--the evidence of Harriet's past romance in which Sidney Hinchford
played no part.

Mattie pictured the future as very bright and glowing after this--the
two who had been ever kind to her, and helped so greatly towards her
better life, would come together after all, and make the best and truest
couple in the world!

Mattie's training--moral training it may be called--was scarcely a
perfect one. She had been taught what was honest and truthful; she was
far away for ever from the old life; but the fine feelings--the
sensitiveness to the _minutiæ_ of goodness--were wanting just then. The
means to the end were not particularly to be studied, so that the end
was good. Harriet had done no wrong, merely been duped by a specious
scamp for awhile; but keep the story dark for the sake of the suspicions
it cast on minds inclined to doubt good in anything--and for the sake of
general peace, make away with the letter--Sidney Hinchford's property as
much as the locket she stole from him when she was eleven years of age.

Harriet Wesden was silent from fear and shame; her nature was a timid
one, and shrank back from painful avowals; Mattie did not look at the
subject in the best light, and thought of promoting happiness by
secrecy, a dangerous experiment, that may tend at any moment to an
explosion. Mattie opened the drawing-room door softly and looked in. Mr.
Hinchford had not appeared yet, and she entered and went direct to the
mantel-piece, on which the letter had lain ever since its arrival. The
letter was gone!

"Oh! dear!--oh! dear!--what's to be done now?" cried Mattie, looking
from the centre table to the side table on which was Sidney's desk,
unlocked. Mattie did not think of appearances when she opened the desk
and began turning over its contents with a hasty hand--a
suspicious-looking operation, in which she was discovered by Mr.
Hinchford, who entered the room suddenly.

"Mattie," he said, sternly, "I should not have thought that you would
have been guilty of this meanness."

Mattie, with her bonnet and shawl on, and awry from her past movements,
with her face pale and haggard from want of sleep, remained with her
hands in the desk, looking hard at the new comer. Her instinct was to
tell the truth--there was no harm in it.

"I am looking for the letter which came for Mr. Sidney--I want it back."

"Want it back!--what letter?"

"The letter which has been on the mantel-piece all the week--it was Miss
Harriet's--she wishes to have it back, to put something else in it."

"Bless my soul!--very odd," said Mr. Hinchford; "I'll give it to Miss
Harriet myself--there's no occasion to rummage my boy's desk about. I
don't like it, Mattie--I am extremely displeased."

"I am very sorry," said Mattie, submissively; "I did not think what I
was doing. And you will give the letter to Miss Harriet?"

"It's in the breast-pocket of my coat--I'll give it her."

Mattie cowered before the flushed face, and the stern look thereon; this
man was a friend of hers, too--one of the rescuers!--whom she would
always bear in kind remembrance; she went softly across the room to the
door, veering suddenly round to lay her hands upon his arm.

"I'm very sorry, Mr. Hinchford," she said; "it was all done without a
moment's thought. You, for the first time in your life, will not be
angry with me?"

"No, no, no, no," repeated the old gentleman, taken aback by this
appeal, and softening at once; "I don't suppose you meant anything
wrong, Mattie."

"Thank you."

Mattie went down-stairs in a better frame of mind, and yet ashamed at
having been detected in a crooked action by a gentleman who always spoke
so much of straightforwardness, and had a son who excelled in that
difficult accomplishment. She was vexed at the impulse now--what would
any man less generous in his ideas have thought of her?

"Never mind," was Mattie's consolation, "I meant no harm--I meant well.
And all will end well now, and everybody be so happy. What a change from
the terrible thoughts of only a few hours ago!"

She could think of nothing but Harriet Wesden's safety, and her own
minor _escapade_ was of little consequence. Thinking of Harriet again,
and rejoicing in the brighter thoughts which the last hours had brought
with it, she opened the door at the foot of the stairs and went at once
into the shop.

Mr. Wesden was standing behind the counter, waiting upon a customer, as
though he had never left Great Suffolk Street, and retiring from
business had been only a dream.



CHAPTER XII.

A SHORT WARNING.


Mattie stood in her disordered walking-dress, gazing at the stationer,
for whose presence she could not account; Mr. Wesden looked across the
counter at her.

"Will you go into the parlour, please?" he said at last.

"In the parlour!--ye--es, sir."

There was something wrong--radically and irretrievably wrong this time;
however greatly Mr. Wesden had changed, he had never looked so strangely
or spoken so harshly as he did at that time. Even the customer whom he
was serving, and who knew Mattie, turned round and glanced also in her
direction.

"Robbery!--there--there's been no more robbery!" gasped Mattie, her
thoughts darting off at a tangent in the direction of her old trouble.

"You can go into the parlour," he repeated, as harshly as before; "I'll
be with you in a minute."

Mattie went into the parlour, took off the bonnet and shawl that, she
had so long forgotten, and which must have added to Mr. Wesden's
perplexity, and then sat down, with her face towards the shop, to await
her master's pleasure--and displeasure! There was trouble in store for
her--perhaps for Harriet--Mr. Wesden had discovered a great deal, and
she had to bear the first shock of the storm. She could see Mr. Wesden's
face from her position; even at that distance it seemed as if the
innumerable lines in it had been cut deeper since she had seen it last,
and the heavy grey brows shadowed more completely the eyes. He was not
his usual self either--the quick glance of the watcher noticed how his
hands shook as he served the customer, and that he fumbled with the
change in a manner very new and uncharacteristic for him. His habits, or
his caution, had even undergone a change; for, as the news-boy came in
at the street-door, he told him to go behind the counter and attend to
the customers till he returned. Then he entered the parlour, still
flushed and trembling, yet so stern, and leaned his two hands on the
table till it creaked beneath the pressure which he put upon it.

"Mattie," he said at last, "I think it's quite time that you and I said
good-bye to one another!"

"Oh! sir!--_what_?" Mattie could only ejaculate.

"I've been thinking it over for some time--putting it off--giving you
another trial--hoping that I was even mistaken in you--but things get
worse and worse, and this last news _is_ a settler!"

"Mr. Wesden, there must be some mistake."

"No, there isn't--don't interrupt me--don't make any more excuses, for I
shan't believe 'em."

"Go on, sir," said Mattie, impetuously, "I don't understand."

"You need not fly in a passion, if you don't," he corrected.

"I'm not in a passion, Mr. Wesden--you _will_ think wrongly of me."

"Just listen to this--just deny this if you can. You left my house in
the middle of the night--you have been up all night, and God knows
where--you did not come back to this house--you, who have no friends to
go to--until half-past six o'clock this morning."

Mattie sat thunderstruck at this charge, so true in its assertion, and
yet the suspicions which it led to so easily refuted, or--she drew a
long breath and held her peace at the thought--so easily transferred!

"You can't deny this," continued Mr. Wesden, in the same hard manner;
"how long it's been going on, or what bad company has led you astray, I
can't say. But you haven't acted like a young woman who meant
well--you've been getting worse and worse with every day."

"It isn't true!" cried Mattie, indignantly; "I----"

She paused again.

"Ah! don't give me excuses," he said; "I'm an old man who knows the
world, and won't believe in them. I wouldn't believe in my own daughter,
if she acted as you have done, or was ever so ready at excuses. No
honest girl--I'm sorry to say it, Mattie--would ever, without a fair
reason, be walking the streets, friendless and alone, at such unnatural
hours."

"Will you not believe me, when I tell you truly, without a blush in my
face, that as God's my judge, I went out with a motive of which even you
would approve."

"What was it?"

"I--I cannot tell you that yet. Presently, perhaps--if you will only
give me time--not now."

Mr. Wesden shook his head.

"Mattie," he replied, "it won't do! It isn't what I've been used to, and
I can't wait till you have invented a story and----"

"Invented!" shrieked Mattie, leaping to her feet, "what more!--what more
have you to charge an innocent girl, who has thought of nothing but
serving you honestly from the time you took pity on her wretchedness?
You have turned against me; if you are tired of me, tell me so
plainly--but don't talk as if I were a liar and a thief still--I will
not have it!"

"You put a bold face upon it, and that's a bad sign," said Mr. Wesden;
"where there's no shame, only _bounce_, it takes away all the pity of
the thing, and makes me firmer."

The table creaked once more with the extra pressure of his hands; the
flush died away from the face, whereon settled an expression more steely
and invulnerable.

"Oh! sir--how you have altered! What do you think that I have done!"
cried the perplexed Mattie.

"See here," said Mr. Wesden; "I don't wish to rake up everything, but as
you put it to me, I'll just show you how foolish it is to brave it out
like this. I'm very sorry; I can't make it out, altering for the better
as you had--it's bad company, I suppose. First," he removed his hands
from the table, and began checking off the items on his fingers,
"there's money missing up-stairs--a cash-box opened, and only----"

"My God!--has that thought rankled so long?" interrupted Mattie; "I
don't wonder at the rest, if you begin like that with me. I'll go
away--I'll go away!"

"It didn't rankle--I gave you the benefit of the doubt," said Mr.
Wesden; "I wouldn't believe it, but I fancied that you were altering,
and that something was wrong somewhere. It looked at least as if you
were careless, and I thought the house might get robbed, or catch fire,
or anything after that--and it disturbed my mind much; I couldn't sleep
for thinking of you--and one night I came over here very late, and you
were up talking and laughing with a young man in the shop, in the dead
of night."

"That, too!" cried Mattie; "do you suspect _him_?"

"I suspected _you_, that's enough to say just now."

"More than enough!" was the bitter answer.

"And then a parcel disappears, and there's a lame excuse for that--and a
policeman finds you in Kent Street at a receiver's house--the house of a
noted thief, that you must have known long ago----"

"I went there--but no matter, you'll not believe me," said Mattie.

"And so I was obliged to have you watched for my own protection's sake,
and you were seen to leave the house last night, and come back in a cab
after the shop was open. And if all that's not enough to drive a
business man wild, why, I never was a man fit for business at all."

Mattie gathered up her bonnet and shawl from the chair on which they had
been placed, and proceeded to put them on again, keeping her dark eyes
fixed on Mr. Wesden's face.

"There's only one thing which I'll agree with, sir," she said, her voice
faltering despite her effort to keep firm, "and that's the first speech
you made me. It's quite time that you and I said 'good-bye' to one
another!"

"Well--it is!"

"I don't know whether you wish it or not--I don't care!--but I will go
away at once, trusting in Him whom your wife taught me first to pray to.
I will go away without anger in my heart against you--for oh! you have
been very good and kind to me, and I shall be grateful again when
to-day's hard words go further and further back. I will hope in the time
when you will know all, and be sorry that you lost your trust in me so
soon. Better to doubt me than--_others_?"

She corrected herself in time; she remembered her promise to Harriet.
She saw how easy it was for a few errors, a few mistakes to make this
strange man forget all the good efforts of a life--deceived in Mr.
Wesden as she had been, she could not gauge in those excited moments the
depths of his affection for his daughter.

In the avowal there would be danger to Harriet; so, for Harriet's sake,
let her take the blame and go away. Harriet could only have cleared up
the last mystery--the rest affected herself. She had had never more than
half a character--she rose from crime, and its antecedents rose again
with her at the first suspicion against her truthful conduct. It was
very hard to go away--but it was her only step, and he wished it
also--he, who had been almost a father to her until then.

"I'll pack my box, and leave at once, sir--if you don't mind."

"No," was the gloomy response.

He was deceived in Mattie still; he had hoped that she would have
confessed to everything, to the new and awful temptations that had beset
her lately, and prayed for his mercy and forgiveness--begged for his
help and moral strength to lead her from the dark road she was pursuing.
He was disappointed by her defiance--by her assumption of an innocence
in which he could not believe; and he could only see that her plans were
too readily formed, and that she had already fixed upon her future
associates and home. He was amazed at her way of encountering his
charges; and as he had been only a business-man all his life, he could
not understand her.

Mattie left the room, and he turned into his shop again, and dismissed
the news-boy from his post of promotion. The matter had worried him, and
was still worrying him. The _dénouement_ was not satisfactory, and the
world was hardening very much, or becoming too complex in its machinery
for him. He had found Mattie out, and it had all ended just as he feared
it would; and still his head ached, and his thoughts perplexed him!

He counted the arrears of Mattie's salary, and put it on the back shelf,
ready for her when she came down, knocking it all over the minute
afterwards, and sending two shillings under the shop-board, where the
shutters and gas-meter were. He made mistakes with the next customer in
his change, and would not believe it was his error, although he paid the
man rather than get into a fresh dispute at that instant; he rummaged
from a whole packet of printed notices he dealt in, a "THIS SHOP AND
BUSINESS TO BE DISPOSED OF," and stuck it with wafers in the window,
upside down. He would retire from business in earnest, and not
make-believe any longer; he should be more composed in mind--more happy,
when all this was no longer a burden to him.

He served his customers absently, and wondered--for he was a good and
just man at heart--whether he was acting for the best after all; whether
it was quite Christian-like to give up the child whom he had rescued
from the cruel streets, five years ago, come Christmas.



CHAPTER XIII.

LEAVE-TAKINGS.


Mattie went to her room and packed her box with trembling hands. She was
very agitated still; there were many conflicting thoughts to disturb her
natural equanimity. Regret at going away from the home wherein had begun
her better life; indignation at the false accusations that had been made
against her, and made in so hard and uncharitable a fashion; doubts of
the future stretching before her, impenetrable and dusky, and the life
to begin again in some way, to which she tried to give a thought, even
in those early moments, and failed in utterly.

Over her box came honest Ann Packet to ask the latest news--to stare in
a vague idiotic way when told it.

"I am going away, Ann--don't you understand?"

"Going away?--no, I don't yet. Going where did you say, Mattie?"

"Going away from here, where I am no longer wanted, where I am suspected
of being all that is vile and wrong. Going away for good!"

"Oh I my gracious--not that! Because of last night--because of----"

"Many things, Ann, which I dare not explain, and which, if explained,
perhaps would not be believed in by--_him_. But you, Ann--what will you
think of me when I'm gone, and they say behind my back how justly I was
served?"

"I say?--I say?"

"You'll hear _their_ story, and I can't tell you mine. I can only say
that since I have been here, there's not a bad thought had a place in my
mind, and not a good one which I did not try, for _their_ sakes as well
as my own, to cling to. I can only ask you, Ann--you who have always
thought well of me--to keep your faith strong, for poor Mattie's sake."

Ann Packet gave vent to a howl at this--wrung her fat red hands
together, and then fell upon Mattie's box, as though our heroine had
shot her.

"You shan't pack up no more!" she screamed; "you can speak to them as to
me, and they'll believe you, or they're made of stone. Why, it's a
drefful shame to turn you off like this, as though you'd been found out
in all that's bad."

"Hush! you'll wake Miss Harriet, I daresay she--she's asleep still!--you
will go now, Ann, please. I'm not unhappy--why, here's one to begin with
who will always think the best of _me_!"

"The very best--as you've been the very best and the goodest to me, who
used to snap you so at first, and feel jealous like, because they put
you over me--but you won't mind that now?"

"No--no."

"And, Mattie, you don't want to go away and see nobody any more--to be
quite alone and hear nothing of anybody? I may come and see you?"

"Yes--to be sure."

"And you'll write and tell me directly where you are."

"Ah! where I am. Yes, you shall know that first. And when I can prove to
him that I have always been honest and true, I'll see him and his again,
_not before_."

"And I shall call and tell you all the news--listen at all the keyholes
to hear what they've got to talk about."

"I hope not. But get up now, Ann, and go down-stairs, or they'll suspect
something. I'll send for the box presently, when I'm settled."

Ann rose with clenched hands and swollen eyes.

"If I had the settling of _him_! I--I almost feel to hate him. He's a
brute!"

And before Mattie had time to reprove the faithful Ann for the outburst,
Miss Packet had left the room, and gone down-stairs to cry afresh over
the breakfast she had to prepare for Mr. Hinchford.

Mattie passed into the other room, and found Harriet Wesden asleep, as
she had fancied. The toil of yesternight, the excitement and suspense,
had brought their reaction, and Harriet had flung herself, dressed as
she was, upon the bed, where she had dropped off into slumber.

Mattie stood for a moment irresolute whether to wake her or no; had it
been simply to say "good-bye," she would have hesitated longer, though
she might have awakened her at last.

"Harriet--Harriet!" she whispered, as she bent over her.

The fair girl started up and looked at Mattie.

"What's happened now, dear?"

"Nothing very important," said Mattie, who had determined how to
proceed. "I have been thinking of our next step together concerning last
night. Your father is down-stairs."

"Oh! he must not know it--he must never know it!" exclaimed Harriet; "he
is weaker in mind--more excitable, suspicious--what would he think of
me, keeping the name of Maurice Darcy from him all my life?"

"Harriet, promise me never to tell him--I am not frightened at the
truth, but of their perversion of it, destroying for ever your good
name--promise me!"

"But why promise _you_, who----"

"Promise it. I am very, very anxious, for your own sake and for mine."

"I promise--I promise faithfully."

"Whatever happens?"

"Yes--whatever happens!"

"I will tell you why now. In the first place, I have found out that the
world will never accept _your_ statement, but believe the very worst of
you."

Harriet shuddered; her own trustfulness in others--her vanity, perhaps,
allied thereto--had led her to the verge of the abyss--and "miraculous
escapes" are only for penny-a-liners, and romancists. She thought that
Mattie was right in binding her solemnly to secrecy, and she repeated
her promise even more solemnly than before.

"And in the second place----"

Mattie paused; she recoiled from the explanation, the trial of another
parting with this girl for whose happiness she was about to sacrifice
herself, and the good name for which she had struggled. Harriet looked
ill and worn now, and she could not tell her all the news, her heart was
too full.

"I would bathe my hands and face, and go down-stairs as soon as
possible. It will prevent suspicion, and you _must_ stand up against the
fatigue for awhile."

"Yes, yes, I can do that."

"Nothing can be helped now by confession; remember _that_ when the truth
would leap to your lips in a generous impulse, of which hereafter you
would be sorry. Good-bye now."

Mattie stooped and kissed her--the quivering lips, the tear-brimming
eyes, suggested a new trouble, and Harriet detected it at once.

"There is something new, Mattie--don't deceive me!"

"Very little--you will know all when you get down-stairs--be on your
guard--God bless you!"

And Mattie, feeling her voice deserting her, hurried away. She went at
once to Mr. Hinchford's room. Mr. Hinchford was becoming fidgety about
his breakfast, and walking up and down discontentedly.

"They'll tell me I'm late again," he was muttering, when Mattie, _sans
ceremonie_, made her appearance.

"Mr. Hinchford, will you let Miss Harriet have that letter at once?
She's waiting for it."

"And I'm waiting for my breakfast, Mattie--it's really too bad!"

"I'll tell Ann; and--and the letter?"

"You're an odd girl; I'll get it you."

He went into the next room, returning with a letter in his hand.

"There!"

Mattie dashed at it in her impatience, and tore it into twenty pieces,
which she thrust into the pocket of her dress, lest a fragment of the
news should remain as evidence of Harriet Wesden's want of judgment.

"I say, my girl, that's not your letter, it's----"

"It's better torn to pieces. Harriet wished it, sir."

"She--she hasn't had a quarrel with my boy?"

"No, sir, to be sure not."

"I wonder how much longer he will be; there's--there's nothing further
to break to an old man by degrees, Mattie?"

"Nothing further. I have a little news to tell you about myself, that I
hope you'll be sorry to hear."

Mr. Hinchford's face assumed that perplexed look to which it had become
prone of late years. Still he was not likely to be very much
troubled--it was only about Mattie!

"I am going away from here," Mattie explained in a hurried manner; "Mr.
Wesden will tell you the whole story, and it's not to my credit, looking
at it in his light. You'll believe it, perhaps?" she added wistfully.

"Mr. Wesden is not accustomed to exaggeration, Mattie; but I will not
believe anything that is wrong of you."

"I hope you will not, however proof may seem to go against me," was the
sad remark; "he thinks I'm wrong, and I dare not explain part, and
cannot explain the rest, and so I'm going away this morning.

"This morning!"

Mr. Hinchford took a good haul of his stock at this.

"He don't wish me to stop, and I would not if he did," said Mattie,
proudly, "so we are both of one mind about my going. And now, sir,"
holding out both hands to him, "try and think the best of me--never mind
the desk this morning, that was nothing, remember--_do_ think well of
one who will never forget you, and all the kindness you have shown me
since I have been here."

"Mattie, let me go down, and see if I can't set all this straight," said
the old gentleman, moved by Mattie's appeal.

"It could not be done, sir," said Mattie in reply; "you're very kind,
but I know how much better it is to go. Why, sir, I have a great hope
that they'll think better of me when I am gone!"

"But--but----"

"And so good-bye, sir."

The old gentleman shook both her hands, stooped suddenly and kissed her
on the forehead.

"I can't make it all out, but I'll believe the best, Mattie."

"Thank you--thank you."

The tears were blinding her, so she hastened to the door, pausing there
to add--

"Tell Mr. Sidney--oh! tell him above all--to think of me, as I would
think of him, whatever the world said and whoever was against him.
Harriet will speak up for me when he has a doubt of my honesty, and he
will believe her. Don't let my past life stand between you all and your
better thoughts of me--good-bye."

Mattie was gone; she had closed the door behind her, and shut in Mr.
Hinchford, who forgot his breakfast for awhile in the sudden news that
had been communicated. He was forgetful at times now; his memory, though
he did not care to own it, would betray him when he least expected it.
In the midst of his reverie, a flash of a new recollection took away his
breath, and brought his hand again to his inflexible stock.

"Good heaven!--not that letter, I hope."

He bustled into the back room, and searched nervously in the pockets of
coats, waistcoats, and trousers about there. A blank expression settled
on his countenance as he drew from the side-pocket of the great coat he
had worn yesternight, another letter--the letter which Mattie had
demanded, and he thought that he had given her.

"God bless me! she's torn up the letter that was given me to post last
night!"

He made a dash down-stairs, but Mattie had gone, and the double mistake
could not be rectified.

Mattie had made her final leave-taking by that time. She had gone
straight from Mr. Hinchford's apartments into the shop, taking up her
position on the street-side of the counter facing Mr. Wesden.

"I'm--I'm ready to go now, sir!"

"Very well. I--I didn't mean you to go in such a hurry; but as you have
looked upon it in that light, why I can't stop you. There's your salary
up to the month."

He took it from the little back-shelf and laid it on the counter; Mattie
hesitated for a moment; her face crimsoned, and there was an impulsive
movement to sweep the money to the floor, checked by a second and better
thought.

"Thank you, sir."

The money was dropped into her pocket; she looking steadily at Mr.
Wesden meanwhile.

"I shall send for my box when I've found a home," she said. "Let the man
take it without being watched; some of you might like to know what has
become of me, and I don't wish that yet awhile."

"Where do you think of going?"

"Anywhere I can be trusted," was the unintentional retort. "I am not
particular, and I have a hope that God will send a friend to me. I think
of going from here to Camberwell to bid one friend good-bye, at
least--what do you think, sir?"

"You had better not. She's ill."

"You never said that before!" cried Mattie; "ill and alone!"

"Harriet will return home when she gets up--she is just ill enough to be
kept very quiet."

"I'll not go to her, then."

Mattie still fixed her dark eyes on Mr. Wesden; that steady, unflinching
gaze was making the stationer feel uncomfortable.

"I don't know that there is anything else to say," said Mattie, after a
long pause; "and I suppose--you've nothing else to say to me?"

"Nothing. Except," he added, after another pause on his part, "that I
hope you will take care of yourself--that this will be a lesson to you."

Mattie coloured once more, and took time to reply.

"I would part friends with _you_," she said at last. "I have been trying
hard to bear everything that you say, remembering past kindness. _You_
saved me at the eleventh hour, when I was going back to ruin--_you_
taught me what was good, and made this place my home; for _you_ and
_yours_ I would do anything in the world that lay in my power. BUT!" she
cried, her face kindling and her eyes flashing, "if it had been any one
else who had spoken to me as you have done, who had cast such cruel
slander at me, and believed in nothing but my vileness, I--I think I
should have killed him!"

Mr. Wesden had never seen Mattie in a passion before; her frenzy alarmed
him, and he backed against the drawers behind him lest she should
attempt some mischief. His confidence in the righteousness of his cause
was more shaken also; but he did not know how to express it, having been
ever a man whose ideas came slowly.

"Upstairs, a little while ago, Mr. Wesden," continued Mattie, "I thought
that we were quits with each other--that casting me back to the streets
made amends for the rescue from them years ago. I thought almost that I
could afford to hate you--but you must forgive me that--I was not myself
then! I know better now; and if I go back alone and friendless, still I
take with me all the good thoughts which the latter years have given me,
and no misfortune is likely to rob me of."

"But--but----"

"But this is strange talk in a woman who cannot account for missing
property, and keeps out all night," said Mattie; "you can't think any
better of me now--some day you will. Good-bye, sir--may I shake hands
with you?"

"I--I don't bear any malice, Mattie. I--I wish you well, girl," he
stammered, as he held forth his hand.

Mattie's declamation had cowed him, softened him. He was the man of the
past, who had faith in her, and whom late events had not changed so
much. He thought it might be a mistake just then--he did not know--he
understood nothing--his brain was in a whirl.

Mattie shook hands with him, and then went away without another word.
Outside in the streets the traffic was thickening--it was Saturday
morning, when people sought the streets in greater numbers. Mattie's
slight form was soon lost in the surging stream of human life; Mr.
Wesden, who had followed her to the door, noticed how soon she was
submerged.

Five years ago he had taken her from the streets--a stray. Again in her
womanhood, at his wish, he had cast her back to them a stray
still--nothing more!

A stray whom no one would claim as child, sister, friend; who went away
characterless in a world ever ready to believe the worst. She had spoken
of her strength to do battle now alone, but she did not know with what
enemies she had to fight, or what deadly weapons to encounter; watching
her from that shop door, she looked little more than the child God had
once prompted him to save.

He could have run after her again, as in the old times, and cried
"Stop!"--he could have taken her to his heart again, and began anew with
her, sinking the incomprehensible bygones for ever.

But he moved not; and Mattie, the stray, drifted from his home, and went
away to seek her fortunes.


END OF THE THIRD BOOK.



BOOK IV.

"WANT PLACES."



CHAPTER I.

"ONE AND TWENTY."


Mattie's box was fetched away from Great Suffolk Street; the man who
called for it brought a note to Ann Packet, which she found a friend to
read for her later in the day. It did not furnish Ann Packet with her
address--"When I am settled, Ann," she promised, quoting her own words
on that morning of departure, "and I am very unsettled yet awhile."

Poor Ann Packet, who had looked forward to paying sundry flying visits
to Mattie, and upon spending her holiday once a month with her, mourned
over this evasion of Mattie's--"won't she trust even in me, or think of
me a bit?" she said.

In Mattie's letter was enclosed a smaller one to Harriet Wesden, who
understood the _coup d'étât_ which had ensued by that time, and was
agitated and unhappy concerning it. This was Mattie's letter to Harriet
Wesden, _in extenso_:--

"Keep your promise, dearest Harriet--never forget that your happiness,
and that of others, depend upon it. Do not think that I have taken the
blame, or am a victim--it is not only for my actions of that night that
I have gone away. Sooner or later, it must have come. God bless you!--I
hope to see you again soon. Your letter to Sidney is destroyed."

Harriet pondered over this missive. For weeks she became more
thoughtful, and aroused fresh anxiety in her father--for weeks went on
an unknown and fierce struggle to break away from her promise and tell
all.

She had been afraid of the revelation, and what would be said and
thought about it; she had seen her innocence construed as half-consent,
and herself set down as an accomplice in Mr. Darcy's plot; she had
feared losing the esteem and confidence of all who now respected her.
But when Mattie had been sent away for keeping out all night--and though
she had not heard the story, she guessed of whom Mattie had been in
search--her sense of justice, her love for Mattie, led her more than
once to the verge of the revelation. Keeping her own secret was one
thing, but the blame to rest on another was very different, and despite
her promise--into which she had been entrapped as it were--the avowal
was ever trembling on her lips.

After, all it was but the truth to confess--her father and mother would
believe her; and if Sidney Hinchford turned away, why surely there was
nothing to grieve at in that--she could not have loved Sidney, or that
letter would never have been written to him! And yet let it be recorded
here, Harriet Wesden's main incentive to keep her secret close was for
Sidney Hinchford's sake. It tortured her to think that she should have
ever entertained one feeling of love or liking for the Mr. Darcy who had
sought her humiliation; the shock to her pride had not only turned her
utterly away from Mr. Darcy, but the very contrast he presented to young
Hinchford, had aroused the old, or given birth to a new affection for
the latter.

She valued Sidney Hinchford at his just due at last; she understood his
patience, energy, and love; how he had been working for her from his
boyhood, and what would have been the effect to him of losing her. She
had made up her mind, when he returned, to give him all her heart, and
sustain him by her love against those secret cares which lately had been
shadowing him. She believed that her secret was for ever shut away from
the light--that keeping it under lock and key would be better for
Sidney, whose trust in her was so implicit. He had always believed in
her devotion to himself; why should she break in upon that dream, now
she felt that all girlish follies were over with her, and she had become
a staid woman, whose hope was to be his wife?

She was consoled by Mattie's letter: "It is not only for my actions of
that night that I have gone away. Sooner or later it must have come."

Mattie, ever a deep thinker, considered it best also--by her confession,
even Mattie would be unhappy; so Harriet kept her secret for everybody's
sake, and made her last mistake in life. Mattie and she had both
regarded the subject from a narrow point of view, and were wrong; the
best intentioned people are wrong sometimes, and from young women, with
their heads disturbed concerning young men, we do not anticipate the
judgment of Solomon.

Harriet Wesden felt secure--knowing not of the letter in Mr. Hinchford's
coat, of Mr. Hinchford's mistake and Mattie's. And yet the chances now
were against the revelation, thanks to the treacherous memory of the old
gentleman. He had mentioned his error in the counting-house to his
employers the same day, and met with a reprimand and a supercilious
shrug of the shoulders--"It was like old Hinchford," one partner had
muttered to another, and there the subject ended for a while. Mr.
Hinchford went home, resolving to restore the letter to Harriet Wesden,
took the letter from his pocket and put it on the bedroom mantel-piece,
to keep the matter in his remembrance until he saw Harriet again.

There for two days the letter remained, till Ann Packet, in dusting the
room, knocked it on the floor, picked it up and placed it on the
dressing-glass, where Mr. Hinchford found it, and rather absently-shut
it in the looking-glass drawer, as a safe place; and then the letter
passed completely out of recollection, there being a great deal to
trouble his mind just then.

For they were not kind to him at his business, expected too much from
him, and made no allowance for an old servant; and above all, and before
all, the boy's birthday was drawing near--it was three days before
Harriet Wesden's--and there was no sign of Sidney Hinchford on his way
towards him.

By that time Mr. Wesden had found a customer for his business, which was
to change hands early in February; and in February what would become of
him, and whither should he go himself, thought Mr. Hinchford? Good
gracious! he would have to change his residence, and his son perhaps
never be able to find him! A horrid thought, which only lasted till he
thought of his son's business address, but _whilst_ it lasted, a trying
one.

When the birthday of Sidney Hinchford came round in January, the father
grew excited; talked of his son at business all day, and worried the
clerks about his son's accomplishments; returned in the evening to
harass Mr. Wesden, always at his post behind the counter, for the few
more days remaining of his business life.

"I have brought a bottle of wine home with me in the hope of the lad's
return," said Mr. Hinchford, placing that luxury on the counter; "his
one and twentieth year must not pass without our wishing _bon voyage_ to
his manhood. You and I, Mr. Wesden, will at least drink his health
to-night."

"Very well."

"I'll come and keep you company, after tea, in the back parlour, Wesden,
and we'll have a long talk about my boy and your girl. There should have
been a formal betrothal to-night, with much rejoicing afterwards. To
think of his being one-and-twenty to-day, and away from us!"

"It must seem odd to you. Perhaps he'll come back to-night."

"That's what I have been thinking, Wesden. I fancy if he were near his
return journey he would make a push for it to-night, knowing the old
father's wishes. I fancy, do you know, that if I had been your
daughter----"

"Well--what of her?"

"If I had been Harriet, I should have remembered this day, and looked in
for a few moments."

"Her mother don't grow stronger; she is fidgety when she is away, and
the servant we have is not of much use."

"Then Harriet might have written, wishing him many happy returns of the
day, or have come to congratulate me upon having such a son grown to
man's estate."

Having expressed this opinion, Mr. Hinchford went up-stairs to the tea
which Ann Packet had prepared for him--spent an hour after tea in
putting the room to rights, opening Sidney's desk and lighting the
table-lamp at the side thereof.

"Now, if he come home, and there's work to be done--and if it's to be
done, his one-and-twentieth birthday will not stop it--there's
everything ready to begin!"

He went down-stairs to join Mr. Wesden in the parlour--the news-boy was
perched on the chair in the shop, keeping guard over the goods that
night--and found Harriet Wesden seated at the fireside.

"Why, it's all coming true," cried the old gentleman, seizing both hands
of Harriet, and shaking them up and down, "and he's coming home!"

"Have you thought so, too?" asked Harriet.

"Well, I have hoped so, at all events; and it seems as if we were
waiting for him now, and he _must_ come. But don't talk too much about
that, please," he said, with his characteristic tug at his stock, "or I
shall feel as if something had happened when he keeps away. But we'll
drink the boy's health, at all events, God bless him! and we'll have a
game at whist, three and a dummy, and make quite a party of it in our
little way. Sid one-and-twenty, Wesden! by all that's glorious, it's a
fine thing to have a son come to maturity!"

Wine-glasses were produced--even a pack of cards, a brand new pack from
the stock--and Sid's health was drunk very quietly, without any musical
honours, but very heartily, for all that.

And five minutes after the health had been drunk, Sidney Hinchford,
portmanteau in hand, entered the shop, and walked straight into the
parlour.

"I said he'd come!" exclaimed the father. "Many happy returns of the
day, you runaway! God bless you, my boy, and grant you health and
happiness!"

He wound up his wishes by kissing him as though he had been a girl.
Sidney blushed, and laughed at his father's impulsiveness, and then
turned to his two remaining friends with whom he shook hands--we need
not add with whom the longer time.

"Finish your game at whist," he said; "I must not spoil the harmony of
the evening. Here, shall I take dummy?"

"If you like. But we want to know----"

"Presently you shall know all--let us relapse into our old positions,
just as if I had never been away, for awhile. How's Mattie--where is
she?"

All three looked somewhat blankly at him. Mattie's departure, and the
reasons which had actuated it, were more or less a mystery, and
difficult of explanation.

Mr. Wesden acted as spokesman.

"I'm sorry to say she has gone away under very disagreeable
circumstances."

"Gone away!--Mattie!"

"Your father can tell you all about it some other time," said Mr.
Wesden. "I don't think we need spoil the evening by a long, sad story."

"Yes, but, dash it! disagreeable circumstances," said Sidney--"that's an
awkward phrase, and don't sound affectionate. But, until to-morrow,
we'll postpone all details. I'll take dummy, and be your partner,
Harriet."

"Very well."

He did not know whether it were better to be Harriet's partner, or to be
her father's, and sit by Harriet's side--that matter had always
perplexed him the few times he had played at whist with them. It seemed
somewhat strange his playing at whist at all that night--his arriving
from a long journey, tired and travel-worn, as evident from his looks,
and immediately sitting down to cards, as though there were an
infatuation in the game, which under no circumstances it was in his
power to resist. Harriet Wesden thought it strange at least, and now and
then furtively regarded him. He played whist well, as he did everything
well he undertook--but his heart was not in the game, and more than
once, as he held the cards, close to his glasses, in the old
near-sighted fashion, Harriet fancied that the face assumed a troubled
expression. The game at whist was over at last, and with it Sidney
Hinchford's power of endurance.

"Now that is over, I think I'll tell you a story. I don't know three
people in the world so well entitled to have the first hearing of it.
I'll ask you, sir," turning to his father, "to give me courage, and see
that I do not give way?"

Mr. Hinchford senior stared, as well he might, at this--it placed him in
a new position, and braced his nerves accordingly. Sidney had resolved
upon these tactics on his homeward route; there was no chance of
breaking _his_ news gradually--the world would be talking of it ere the
morning.

"I always hated dodging a truth," said Sidney, sturdily; "it's a bad
habit, and don't answer. It's sneaking--isn't it, Mr. Wesden?"

"Well--yes."

"If there's good luck coming, go to meet it--if there's disappointment
which you can't avoid, let it meet you, and not find you hiding away
from the inevitable. Why, that's like a baby!"

"To be sure it is," said the father; "wait a moment--I'm not a bit
nervous about this--I'll see that you keep firm, my boy, but I'll just
unfasten this buckle behind my neck a moment. Now, then!"

"When I was one-and-twenty, there seemed reason to believe in a
partnership in my masters' firm--my masters took a fancy to me when I
was a lad, and very much obliged to them I was for it. By that hope in
prospective," suddenly turning to Harriet Wesden, and leaning over the
table towards her with a very anxious look upon his face, "I was led,
Harriet, to think too much of you--to enter into a half-engagement, or a
whole one, or a something that kept me ever thinking of you, hoping for
you. When I was one-and-twenty, I was to come to your father, and say,
'I am in a good position of life--may I consider Harriet as my future
wife?'--he was to refer me to you if satisfied with my prospects, and
you were--well, I did hope very much that you were then to say, 'Yes' in
real earnest. All this, a pretty story, foolish for me to believe
in--but a story ended now in an ugly fashion. Mr. Wesden," veering
suddenly round to the stationer, "my prospects in life are infamously
bad; my employers are bankrupts, and my services will not be required
after this day month!"

Mr. Hinchford flung himself back in his chair with a crash that brought
the top rail off,--Sidney turned at once to him, and laid his hand upon
his arm.

"With my father to give me courage, I can bear this!"

"That's--that's--that's well, my lad. Keep strong--oh! Lord have mercy
upon us!--keep strong, my boy!"

"I have been fighting hard to get the firm straight--I have been abroad
to the foreign branch, working night and day there, my last chance and
my employer's. I had a hope once of success, till the markets fell
suddenly, and swamped everything--our weakness could not stand against
anything new and unforeseen, and so we--_smashed_! It will be all over
town to-morrow--but it was a good fight whilst it lasted."

"It's very unfortunate news," said Mr. Wesden.

"I'm not afraid for myself," said Sidney, proudly; "I think that with
time, and health--ah! I must not forget that--I shall work my way
somewhere, and to something in good time. But I shan't climb to
greatness all of a sudden; and it may happen that at forty--even fifty
years of age--I may be no better off than I am now. That I'm
disappointed is natural enough, for I know money's value, and perhaps it
was a little too near my heart, and this is my lesson; but the
disappointment of losing you, Harriet--of giving up that chance, as any
honourable man should--is the one loss which staggers me, and will be
the hardest to surmount. I thought that I would make a clean breast of
it, and begin my one-and-twentieth year free, as land-agents say, of all
encumbrances."

It was a poor attempt at _facetiæ_--a very weak effort to carry things
off with a high hand, like a Hinchford. But he played his part well; he
did not break down; he confessed his inability to keep a wife, or think
of a wife, and he spoke out like one who had reached man's estate, and
felt strong to bear man's troubles.

Mr. Wesden stared at Sidney long after he had concluded, and a pause had
followed the outburst; Harriet Wesden, with a heightened colour, looked
down at her white hands so tightly clasped together in her lap, and
thought that it was a strange explanation--a strange hour for an
explanation which he might have chosen his time to give to her alone.
Surely she might have been offered an opportunity of giving an answer
also, and spared that embarrassment with which his thoughtlessness had
afflicted her. Could her father answer for _her_, as well as for
himself!

Mr. Wesden delivered his reply, after several moments' grave
deliberation.

"Mr. Sidney," said he, "I always did hate anything kept back, and
doubted the honesty of anybody keeping it. The truth, however hard it
may be to tell, will always bear the light upon it, I'm inclined to
think."

Harriet winced.

"And you've spoken fair," he continued, "and given her up like a man.
Now let her answer for herself; if she don't mind waiting till you're
able to keep her--till you're forty or fifty, as you say," he added
drily, "why, I shan't stand in opposition. The longer the engagement,
the longer she'll be my daughter. There, can I put it in a fairer light
than that that?"

Sidney's harangue, or Sidney's father's port-wine, had rendered Mr.
Wesden magnanimous as well as loquacious that evening; or else, in
business, his better nature was developing anew.

Now to such an answer as this, one can imagine Sidney Hinchford starting
to his feet and wringing Mr. Wesden's hand, or turning suddenly to
Harriet and looking earnestly, almost beseechingly, in her direction. On
the contrary, he remained silent and moody; Mr. Wesden's answer was
unprepared for, and his compliment to his straightforwardness brought a
colour to Sidney's cheek--for, after all, he was keeping something back!

There was a painful silence, broken at last by a low and faltering
voice, the musical murmur of which drew Sidney's eyes towards her at
last.

"Has Mr. Sidney the patience to wait for me, or care for a long
engagement, of which he may eventually tire?"

"Patience!--care for an engagement!" he almost shouted.

"Then when he asks me again," said Harriet, "I will give him my answer.
But," with an arch smile towards him, "I will wait till I am asked."

"Bless you, my dear girl!" exclaimed old Hinchford, "I feel like a
father towards you already--as for waiting, every true boy and girl will
wait for each other--why shouldn't they, if they love one another, eh,
Sid?"

His hand came heavily on Sid's shoulder, and knocked off his son's
glasses.

"Ah! why shouldn't they, if they are sure of love lasting all the long
time between engagement and marriage. Harriet! dear Harriet!" he
exclaimed, "I will ask you presently."

"When the old fogies are out of the way, and the courtship can be
carried on in the recondite style," cried his elated father; "a sly dog
this, who will not be embarrassed by witnesses--eh, Wesden?"

Wesden gave a short laugh--a double-knock species of laugh, in which he
indulged when more than usually hilarious.

"Ah! that's it!" he said; "and as for waiting, why Mrs. Wesden and I are
an old couple, and mayn't keep you waiting so long as you fancy, Sidney.
It isn't much money, but----"

"That will do, sir," said Sidney, hastily; "I must support my wife, not
let my wife support me. Harriet," turning to the daughter, with an
impetuosity almost akin to fierceness, "is it not time to return to
Camberwell?"

"Oh! ho!--do you hear that, Wesden?" cried the father.

Mr. Hinchford had forgotten the downfall of his son's air-built castle,
in the happiness which he believed would make amends for it to Sidney.
And if Sidney were content--why, he was.

Harriet was glad of an excuse to escape. Two old gentlemen talking of
love affairs--her love affairs--before the suitor, was scarcely fair,
and her position was not enviable. And besides that, Sidney Hinchford's
manner had not been comprehensible, and required explanation; she could
almost believe that he did not desire an engagement; there was so little
of the impassioned lover in his new demeanour. There was a mystery, and
she would be glad to have it dissipated.

Harriet went away, escorted by her lover, and the two fathers drew their
chairs closer to the fire and drank the health of the happy couple as
they went out at the door.

"This is a proud day for you and me--to have such children, and to see
them growing up fonder and fonder of each other every day--eh, Wesden?"

"Yes. I have been uneasy about Harriet, and leaving her alone in the
world. She will be always happy with him, and have a good protector."

"That she will. How the little girl would have clapped her hands at
this!"

"What little girl?" asked Wesden.

"Why, Mattie, to be sure. Mattie, who used to play the mother almost to
those two, her seniors, and be always as interested as a mother in
making a match between them."

"Ah!--Mattie!--yes!"

Mr. Wesden looked about for his pipe and his pipe-lights on the
mantel-piece.

Mr. Hinchford drew his favourite meerschaum from his coat-pocket. The
two old men faced each other, and began to smoke vigorously.

"I wonder where that girl has got to?" suggested Hinchford.

"It's impossible to say. In good hands, I hope."

"I'd lay a heavy wager that she knows whose birthday it is to-day,"
commented Mr. Hinchford; "she was a girl who never forgot anything."

"Ah--perhaps so!"

"And I think she might have cleared up the fog, if you had waited a bit,
Wesden."

"Why didn't she, if she could?"

"I don't know. I promised to believe in her, and somehow I do."

"Can anything in the world account for a girl her age being out all
night?" said Wesden.

"Ah! that looks bad--I can't get over that!" said Mr. Hinchford, giving
his head one sorrowful shake.

Poor Mattie!--poor stray! whose actions, the best and most unselfish,
were not to be accounted for, or done justice to in this world.



CHAPTER II.

SIDNEY'S CONFESSION.


Sidney Hinchford escorted Harriet Wesden home to Camberwell. A most
unromantic walk down the Newington Causeway--sacred to milliners and
counter-skippers--the Walworth Road, Camberwell Road, and streets
branching thence to melancholy suburbs--and yet a walk that was the
happiest in the lives of these two, though looked back upon in after
years through tear-dimmed eyes, and sighed for by hearts that had been
sorely wrung. Such a walk as most of us may have taken once in
life--seldom more than once--a walk away from sober realism into
fairy-land, where everything apart from love was a something to be
utterly despised, and where love first rose to fill our souls with
promise. What if the story ended abruptly, and the waking came, and one
or two of us fell heavily to earth--we did not die of the wounds, and we
see now that the fall was the best thing that could have happened for
us. We look back at the past, and regret not the sunshine that dazzled
us there.

And yet there was a stern story to relate, and Sidney had escorted
Harriet Wesden home, believing in the darkness rather than the light
upon his way. He went forth regarding life literally, and he found
himself, after awhile, in the land of romance, wherein sober existence
had no dwelling-place.

Let him tell the story in his own way.

Harriet and Sidney had not proceeded a long distance together before he
began.

"I think that I must have puzzled you very much, Harriet, by this
evening's behaviour--by the way in which I received your kindness--more
than kindness. There was a reason, and I am going to explain it."

"Is it worth explanation?" asked Harriet.

"I think so--you shall judge. It is an explanation that I cannot give my
father, for it would break his heart, I think, with the long suspense
which would follow it."

"So serious an explanation as that, Sidney?"

"Yes. Is it not odd that, with my character for straightforwardness, I
should have been all my life keeping back the truth?"

"From him--for his sake, only, Sidney?"

"Perhaps for my own--to save myself from a host of inquisitive
questions, and an attention that would irritate rather than soothe--I am
a very selfish man."

"I don't believe that yet awhile."

"When I came home to-night, I had no other hope than that you and your
father would consider that I had not made good my claim to become a
favoured suitor, and that there was nothing left me but to make my
statement and withdraw my rash pretensions. You will pardon me, Harriet,
but it had never struck me that you were strong enough, or--pardon me
again--that you had ever loved me well enough to attempt a _sacrifice_.

"I was a girl--very vain and frivolous--you were right."

"I come back and find you altered very much, Harriet. I find the old
reserve that piqued my pride no longer there, and, instead, a something
newer and more frank, a something that says, 'Trust me.' Is that a true
reading?"

"Yes," she murmured.

"I am vain enough to believe in the heart growing fonder during my
absence--though I have always fancied the experiment full of danger for
the absent one. Say that the heart has done so--or that I did not
understand you. Still the effect was the same, or I should not have the
courage to tell you the great secret of my life. If I believed that you
did not love me, or that you had ever loved any one else, I would not
venture to put you to _this_ test."

Harriet hung down her head, and her heart beat rapidly; the old story
was before her, and his very words seemed now to forbid its revelation.
His firm, self-reliant nature had never swerved from her, and he judged
others by himself. His was a love that had begun from boyhood, and grown
with his growth; should she raise the first suspicion against her by
telling him all, when it was in her power--and only in _her_ power--to
make him happy, to make amends for all by her new love for him? Let him
test her how he liked now, she was a woman who looked at life seriously,
and the follies of her youth were over!

They walked on silently for awhile; they went on together, playing their
love-dream out, and oblivious of the matter-of-fact world hustling them
in their progress.

"This is the love test--and it must be a strange, pure love to exist
after I have told all," he said.

"Do you doubt me, Sidney, already?"

"I cannot tell. I cannot," he added, more passionately, "believe in any
affection strong and deep enough to last; but I can forgive, and
consider natural, any love that turns to pity at the truth. Do you
comprehend me?"

"Scarcely."

"Well then--_I am going blind_!"

An awful and unexpected revelation, which took her breath away, and
seemed for an instant to stop her heart beating.

"Oh! Sidney--my poor Sidney--it cannot be!"

"Sooner or later, Harriet, it must be; mine is a hopeless case," he
answered; "with care, and less night work, and quiet--that last means
absence from all mental excitement--I may go on for a few years more;
the last physician whom I have consulted even thinks he can give me ten
years' grace. Now in ten years, ten of the best years of a young man's
life, I ought to save, and I hope to save, sufficient to live upon. I
may be over-sanguine, but if I get a good foothold I will try. And now
where lives the girl who will accept a ten years' engagement, with the
chance of a beggar or a blind man at the end of it?"

Harriet pressed his arm.

"Here," she answered.

"You will! There is the faith to wait, the courage to endure, and the
love to sustain me. You are not afraid?"

"No--I have no fear," replied Harriet, warmly; "God knows that I _have_
changed very much, and only lately learned to understand myself. I do
not fear, Sidney, for I--I have learned to love you, and, by comparison,
to see how noble and high-principled you are. But oh! if I were but more
worthy of you, and your deep love for me!"

"Worthy!" he echoed; "why, what have I done to deserve a life's devotion
to me, save to love you, which was the most natural thing in the world.
What have I ever done to deserve the happiness of winning your love--a
long legged, near-sighted gawky like me!--and such a love as shrinks not
from the dark prospect ahead, but will disperse it by its brightness,
and keep me from despairing. Why, in ten years time we shall not be an
old couple--I shall only be one-and-thirty, and you but nine-and-twenty.
When the light goes out," he added solemnly, "you will place your hand
in mine to make amends for it, and begin my new happiness by the wife's
companionship; shall I be so very much to be pitied then, I wonder?"

"I hope not, Sid."

She had not called him by that name since he was a boy, and his heart
thrilled at it, and took fresh hope from it.

"All this on my part, I know is very selfish," he said. "I have told you
already that I am a selfish man, to wish that your youth and beauty and
love should be sacrificed to my affliction. I did not think of gaining
them; I was content to pass away from you, and see you allied to one
more deserving, more fitting, than myself; even now, I will go away
resigned, thinking you are right to give me up, if but one doubt linger
at your heart."

"Not one," was the firm answer.

"I can bear all now--afterwards, a doubt would strike me down--remember
that."

"Trust in me, Sid--ever."

"I will."

The hand that had rested on his arm was held in his now, and they walked
on together, with their hearts as full of happiness as though blindness
were a trifling calamity, scarcely worth considering under the
circumstances.

Sidney had pictured so dark a prospect ahead, that this sudden change
made all bright, and Harriet Wesden was happy in being able to prove
that her love was unselfish and strong. She did not believe that she had
ever loved any one else then--she knew that hers was a different and
more intense affection, something that felt like love, and that nothing
in the world could destroy. Mr. Darcy was but a phantom, far back in the
mists--his own dark efforts had utterly extinguished every ray of
romance, in the false light of which he had luridly shone. Strengthened
by her new love, she could have broken her promise to Mattie, and told
all then, trusting in him to see the truth, and believe in her
henceforth; but he had spoken of the danger of excitement to him, and
once again--once for all--went the story back, never to hover on the
brink of discovery again!

It was a strange courtship--that of Sidney Hinchford and Harriet's--but
they were happy. The calamity was in the distance, and their hearts were
young and strong. Both had faith then--and of the chances and changes of
life, it was not natural to dwell upon, after the one avowal had been
uttered.

"Then it _is_ an engagement," he had asked hoarsely, and she had
answered "Yes," with his own frankness and boldness; and thus the path
ahead seemed bright enough.

Outside the suburban retreat of the Wesdens', Sidney Hinchford had a
little struggle with duty and inclination--conquering inclination with
that strong will of his.

"I'll go back to the old gentleman," he said at last; "he is scarcely
used to my reappearance yet, and a little makes him nervous. Good-bye,
love."

A lovers parting at the iron gate, to the intense edification of the
potman coming up the street with the nine o'clock beer; and then Sidney
tore himself homewards, thinking what a happy fellow he was, and how the
business disappointments of life had been softened by the events that
had followed them. The future could not be dark with Harriet; before
this he had become resigned to his calamity, bent his strong mind to
regard it as inevitable; now there was to come happiness with it, and he
would be more than content, he thought.

He was soon back in Suffolk Street. Mr. Wesden was in the shop talking
to a short, thin man with a sallow complexion, a hooked nose, bright
black eyes, and straight hair; a man dressed in black; with a rusty
satin stock of the same colour, secured by an old-fashioned brooch of
gold wire, in the shape of a heart.

"And her name was Mattie, you say?"

"That was the name she called herself, and went always by in this
house."

"And you don't know her whereabouts?"

"I haven't an idea."

"But you think she has gone wrong, don't you?" the man asked with no
small eagerness.

"Well, I hope not; but I think so."

"Who? Mattie!" cried Sidney, suddenly thrusting himself into the
conversation; "our Mattie--that be--_hanged_!"

He checked himself in time to save scandalizing the ears of the
gentleman in black, who twirled round with a tee-to-tum velocity and
faced him.

"What do you know of her, young man?" he asked abruptly.

"What do you want to know for?" was the rejoinder.

"I wish to find her--I am very anxious to find her."

"I hope you may, if it's for her good."

"Her moral and spiritual good, sir--without a doubt."

"You can't improve her. There isn't a better or more unselfish girl in
the world!"

"_What!_" screamed the man in black.

"Not a better girl, I verily believe. I haven't heard the reasons for
her departure yet," he said, looking at Mr. Wesden; "but they're good
ones, or I was never more mistaken in my life."

"You are mistaken," said Mr. Wesden; "I've tried to think the best of
Mattie, but I can't. There are no honest reasons for her conduct, or she
would have told me."

Sidney Hinchford paused,

"It must be very unreasonable conduct then," said Sidney, "and she must
have changed very much during my absence from this house. But, upon my
soul!" he exclaimed vehemently, "I shan't believe any harm in her, for
one!"

The stranger regarded Sidney Hinchford attentively, then said--

"You need not have brought your soul into question, sir. Pledge that in
God's service--nothing else."

"Oh!" said Sidney, taken aback at the reproof.

"You speak warmly; and somehow I've a hope of her not being very bad--of
reclaiming her by my own earnest efforts. Young man, I will thank you."

He stretched forth an ungloved hand, which Sidney took--a hard hand,
that gripped Sid forcibly and made him wince a little.

"You all seem in doubt, more or less," he said; "and that gives me hope.
Mr. Wesden and you don't agree in opinion, and that's something. Who's
that white-haired man I see in the parlour!"

"That's my father, sir," said Sidney, smiling at the sudden curiosity
evinced.

"Does he know anything about her?"

"Not so much as myself," said Mr. Wesden.

"Have you asked the servant--if you keep one?"

"I have asked her everything, and she knows nothing," replied the
stationer.

"Then I'll go. I think I shall find her yet, mind you," he said in an
excited manner. "I'm not a man to give up in a hurry, when I've taken an
idea in my head. I've been sixteen years looking for that girl!"

"Are you a relation?" asked Sidney.

"Her father."

"Indeed!"

The stranger began hammering the counter with his hard hand, till the
money in the till underneath rattled again. He began to take small leaps
in the air, also, during the progress of his harangue.

"Her father--a poor man reclaimed from error, and knowing what it is to
walk uprightly. A man who has, he trusts, done some good in his day--a
man who now sets himself the task of finding that daughter he neglected
once. And I'll find her and reclaim her--God will show me the way, I
think. And you shall see her again, a shining light in the midst of
ye--a brand from the burning, a credit to _me_! There's hope for her
yet. Good night."

And very abruptly the gentleman in black leaped out of the shop and
disappeared.

"That's an odd fish," remarked Sidney.



CHAPTER III.

A FLYING VISIT TO NUMBER THIRTY-FOUR.


Before Mr. Wesden had finally disposed of his business in Great Suffolk
Street, he met with his greatest trouble in the loss of the companion,
helpmate, wife, who had struggled with him for many years from indigence
to moderate competence. Mrs. Wesden's health had been failing for some
time, but her loss was still as unprepared for, and the husband bent
lower and walked more feebly when his better half--his better self--was
taken from him in his latter days.

"You have still me, remember," said Harriet, when the undemonstrative
nature gave way, and he sobbed like a child at his isolation; and he had
answered, "Ah! _you_ mustn't desert me yet awhile--you must comfort me,"
and refused to be comforted for many a long day. His character even
altered once more--as characters alter in all cases, except in novels;
and though the abruptness remained, and the silent fits were of longer
duration, he became less harsh in his judgments, and more easily
influenced for good. This was evident one day, when after an intense
study of the fire before which he sat, he burst forth with----

"I wonder if I acted well by Mattie--poor Mattie, who would be so sorry
to hear all the sad news that has happened since she left us."

Harriet, who had always taken Mattie's part to the verge of her own
confession, answered warmly,

"No, _we_ all acted very badly--very cruelly. When she comes again, as
she will, I feel assured--I hope she will forgive us, father."

"Forgive us?"

Mr. Wesden had not arrived to that pitch of kind consideration yet, but
Mattie's departure and long silence were troubles to him when he was
left to think of the past, and of the business from which he had at last
retired in earnest.

The shop had changed proprietors, and the Hinchfords, father and son,
had removed their furniture from Mr. Wesden's first floor to a little
house Camberwell way, also. A very small domicile had this careful
couple decided upon for their suburban retreat--one of a row of houses
that we may designate Chesterfield Terrace, and the rents of which were
two-and-twenty pounds per annum.

Mr. Hinchford, we have already premised, had somewhat lofty notions,
which adversity had kept in check, rather than subdued. The removal to
Chesterfield Terrace was a blow to him. The rooms in Great Suffolk
Street had been only borne with, scarcely resigned to; but though he had
lived there many years, he had never considered himself as "settled
down"--merely resting by the way, before he marched off to independence
and the old Hinchford state. It had been a mythical dream, perhaps,
until Sidney's star rose in the ascendant, and then he had quickly built
his castles in the air, and bided his time more sanguinely. When that
vision faded in its turn, the old gentleman was sorely tried; only his
son's strategy in feigning to require consolation had turned him away
from his own regrets to thoughts of how to make them less light for--the
BOY.

But 34, Chesterfield Terrace, Chesterfield Road, Camberwell New Road,
was a blow to him. The air was fresher than in Great Suffolk Street, the
large market gardens at the back of his house were pleasant in all
seasons, except the cabbage season; there were three bed-rooms, two
parlours, a wash-house at the back, and a long strip of garden,
constituting a house and premises that were solely and wholly theirs,
and entitled them to the glorious privilege of electing a member for
incorruptible Lambeth; but the change was not all that Mr. Hinchford had
looked forward to for so many years, and he grew despondent, and fancied
that it could never be better now.

The Hinchfords had taken into their service Ann Packet, of workhouse
origin, and undiscoverable parentage; she had pleaded to be constituted
their servant, at any wages, or no wages at all, rather than at her time
of life to be sent forth in search of fresh faces and new homes.

At this period, Mr. Wesden had required a servant also, and Ann Packet
had begged Sidney Hinchford to engage her at once, before she should be
asked to continue in the old service.

"What! tired of them?" Sidney had said with some surprise.

"They gave me warning," replied Ann, somewhat sullenly, "and I accepts
the same. They turned poor Mattie away without warning at all, and I
never forgives 'em that, sir."

"Ah! you are on Mattie's side, too, Ann?"

"There never was a girl who thought so little of herself, and so much of
others!" cried Ann, "or who desarved less to be sent out into the
streets. I gave up the Wesdens after that, sir."

"But Miss Harriet is Mattie's champion also, and will defend her to the
death, Ann."

"And will she be a Wesden all her life, sir?" asked Ann Packet, with an
archness for which she was only that once remarkable.

Ann Packet became domestic servant at 34, Chesterfield Terrace, then,
and congratulated herself on the kitchen being level with the parlours,
which was good for her ankles, and spared her breath considerably.

Meanwhile the shadows were stealing on towards the Hinchford
dwelling-place; Sidney's month in service with his old employers had
been extended to two months, after which the firm, utterly shattered by
adversity, was to dissolve itself into its component atoms, and be never
heard of more in the busy streets east of Temple Bar.

Sidney, it need scarcely be said, had not sat idle during the time; he
had looked keenly round him for a change of clerkship. His employers had
interested themselves in a way not remarkable in employers, towards
securing him a foothold in other and more stable establishments, but
business was slack in the City, and there were no fresh hands wanted
just at present.

Sidney was not a young man to despair; he let no chance slip, and
disappointment did not relax his efforts. He did not believe that the
time would come and leave him wholly without "a berth." He had faith in
his abilities, and he thought that they would work a way for him
somewhere. And even a week or two "out of work" would not hurt him; he
had saved money, and could pay his fair share towards the household
expenses as well as his father, who kept his place longer than Sidney
had ever believed he would.

His father was more solicitous than himself; every evening he asked very
anxiously if Sidney had heard of anything in the City, and was not
greatly exhilarated by Sid's careless "Not yet." Things were getting
serious when there was only a week more to spend at the old desk, where
bright hopes had been born and collapsed; Sidney was even becoming
grave, although his company manners were put on before the father, to
keep the old gentleman's mind at ease.

But Mr. Hinchford's mind was not likely to be at ease at that period; he
was playing a part himself, and disguising his own troubles from his
son, thereby causing a double game at disinterestedness between Sid and
him.

Three weeks before the son's time had expired at his office, Mr.
Hinchford had received a week's notice to quit. His memory had again
betrayed him, confused the accounts, and put the clerks out, and it was
considered necessary to inform the old gentleman that his services were
not likely to be required any longer. The notice came like a thunderbolt
to Mr. Hinchford, whose belief in his own powers was still strong, and
who had not had the remotest idea that long ago he had been tolerated by
his employers, and set down for a troublesome, pompous, and disputatious
old boy by the whipper-snappers round him. His salary had never been
more than thirty-five shillings a week, and he had put up with it rather
than been grateful for it, looking forward to the future rise of the
Hinchfords above the paltry shillings and pence of every-day routine. He
had not anticipated being turned off--pronounced worn-out in that
service which a Hinchford had patronized.

The poor old fellow's pride was touched, and he took his adieux and his
last week's salary with a lordly air, looking to the life the gentleman
that he had been once. He expressed no regret at the summary dismissal,
but marched out of the office with his white head thrown a little more
back than usual, and it was only as he neared Chesterfield Terrace that
his courage gave way, and he began to think of the future prospects of
Sid and himself.

Sid was in trouble, and a little more bad news might be too much for
him. He would try and keep his secret, until Sid had found a good berth
for himself in the City. Affairs were looking desperate, and the
revelation must come, but he could bear it himself, he thought--this
weak old man with no faith in the strong son, whom an avalanche might
affect, little else. Mr. Hinchford took Ann Packet into his confidence,
and impressed her with the necessity of keeping Sid in the dark
concerning the father's absence from business.

"Don't tell him, Ann, that I keep away from office after he's left--it's
easy for me to make an excuse for an early return, if he come back
before his time. I wouldn't have that boy worried for the world, just
now."

Ann Packet, who took time to digest matters foreign to her ordinary
business, was some days in comprehending the facts of the case, and then
held counsel with herself as to whether it were expedient to keep Sidney
in ignorance, considering how the old gentleman "went on" during his
son's absence.

"He'll fret himself to death, and I shall be hanged for not stopping it,
p'raps," she thought.

Once or twice she took the liberty of intruding into the parlour, and
recommending Mr. Hinchford, senior, to try a walk, or a book, or a visit
to Mr. Wesden; and, startled out of his maunderings, he would make an
effort to follow one of the three counsels, seldom the last, because Mr.
Wesden was Harriet's father, and saw Sid very frequently.

He took many walks in search of a situation for himself, but the one
refrain was, "Too old," and he began to see that he had overstepped the
boundary, and was scarcely fit for a new place. He almost conceived an
idea--just a foggy one, which, however, he never confessed to his dying
day--that he _was_ a little forgetful at times; for Chesterfield Terrace
lay in a net-work of newly-built streets at the back of the Camberwell
New Road, and he was always taking the wrong turning, and losing
himself. Still it was deep thought about Sid which led him in the wrong
direction--presently his mind would be more composed; Sid would be in a
good place, and he need not have one secret from him.

The last day came round; Sidney's services were over for good; he had
had a painful parting with his old masters, who had been more than
commonly attached to him, and he came home looking a little grave,
despite the best face on the matter which he had put on at the front
door.

"Anything new in the City, Sid?" asked the father.

"No, nothing new," he replied. "What makes you home so early to-day?"

Sid had turned in before the daylight was over, and found his father
walking up and down the room with his hands behind him.

"Early?" repeated the old man. "Oh! they're not particularly busy just
now in the Bridge Road. Very slack, I may say."

"Ah! I suppose so," said Sid, absently.

"And there's nothing new at all then, Sid?"

"Nothing."

"You'll keep a stout heart, my boy," said the father, with a cheering
voice, and yet with a lip that quivered in spite of him. "I suppose,
now, you don't feel very dull?"

"Dull, with my wits about me, and a hundred chances, perhaps, waiting
for me in the City to-morrow!"

"Yes, you'll have all day to-morrow--I had forgotten that," said Mr.
Hinchford; "to be sure, all day now!"

Sidney saw that his father was perplexed, even disturbed in mind, but he
set down Mr. Hinchford's embarrassment to the same source as his own
thoughts; he did not know that he had only inherited his unselfishness
from his sire. Or rather, he did not remember, how an unselfish heart,
allied to an unthinking head, had been the cause of the downfall in old
times.

On the morrow Sidney Hinchford had the day before him, but the result
was bad. He had visited many of the houses heretofore in connection with
the old firm, but luck was against him, and many objected to a clerk
from a house that had collapsed. It had been a fair bankruptcy; one of
those honourable "breaks up" which occur once or twice in a century, and
are more completely break ups from sheer honesty of purpose than cases
which make a "to do" in the Court, and march off with flying colours;
but Sidney represented one of a staff that had come to grief somehow,
and "there was nothing in his way, just at present."

Three or four days passed like this, and matters were becoming serious
to the Hinchfords--father and son seemed settling down to misfortune,
although the son betrayed no anxiety, and the father's care were for the
hours when the son's back was turned. In fact, Sidney Hinchford was not
quickly dispirited; a little did not seriously affect him, and he went
on doggedly and persistently, making the round of all the great firms
that had had, once upon a time, dealings with his own; abashed seldom,
dispirited never, firmly and stolidly proceeding on his way, and calmly
waiting for the chance that would come in due time.

Meanwhile the father went down to zero immediately the door closed
behind Sidney. He felt that he was not acting fairly by keeping the
secret of his discharge from Sid; but he was waiting for good news, that
might counterbalance the bad which he had to communicate. He knew that
in a day or two, at the utmost, all must come out, but he put off the
evil day to the last--a characteristic weakness--weakness or good
policy, which was it?--that he had adopted ever since there had been
evil days to fret about.

In the grey afternoon of an April day, he sat alone in his front
parlour, more utterly dispirited than he had been since his wife's
death, years ago. No good fortune had come either to father or son, and
he was inclined to regard things in the future lugubriously; workhouses
and parish funerals not being the least of his fancy sketches. He had
taken his head between his hands, and was brooding very deeply before
the scanty little fire-place, which he intended to heap up with coal a
few minutes before Sidney's expected return, when Ann Packet came into
the room, very confused, and speaking in a hoarse voice.

"If you please, sir, here's a visitor!"

"I can't see any visitors, Ann," he answered sharply, "unless--unless
it's any one from----"

"It's only Mattie, sir; she's come to see you for a moment!"

"Mattie! bless my soul, has she turned up again?"

"She turned up at the front door only a minute ago. Lord bless her! You
might have knocked me down with a straw, sir!"

"I'll see her--show her in."

Mattie came in the instant afterwards; the hall of the Hinchfords was
not so spacious but that anything spoken in the front room would reach
the ears of one waiting in the passage. She heard the answer, and
entered at once.

"Well, Mattie, how are you?"

"Pretty well, I thank you, sir," was returned in the old brisk accents.

Mattie was not looking pretty well; on the contrary, very pale and thin,
as though anxiety, or hard work, or both, had been her portion since she
had left Great Suffolk Street. She was dressed in black, very neatly
dressed, and possibly the dark trappings had some effect in increasing
the pallor of her countenance.

"We thought that we had lost you for good, Mattie."

"Was it likely, sir, that I was going to lose sight of all those who had
been kind to me?"

"You're not looking very well," he said.

"Ah! we musn't judge by people's looks," said Mattie, cheerfully. "I'm
well enough, thank God! And you, sir?"

"Well, Mattie, thank God, too!"

"And Sidney, sir!"

"As brave as ever. I wish he had been at home--he has been anxious to
see you, Mattie."

"He is very kind," she said, in a low voice, adding, "and what does _he_
think?"

Mr. Hinchford was not quick in catching a subject upon which Mattie had
brooded now for some months.

"Think of what?"

"Of me! Mr. Wesden has--hasn't turned him against me, sir?"

"Oh! no. He sticks up for you like a champion!"

"I thought he would. He never spoke ill of any one in his life, and he
always took the part of those who were unfortunate. I was sure he would
not side against me!"

"Sit down, Mattie, sit down!"

"Thank you, no, sir! I shall never sit down in the house of any one who
has heard ill news of me, until I can clear myself, or time clears me. I
shall never go near Mr. Wesden's, although I feel for all the sorrow
there."

"You know what has happened, then?"

"I have put on black, as for a lost mother. I was at the funeral, but
they did not see me. Oh! sir, I know all about you--what should I do
alone in the world, if I didn't think of those who _saved_ me when I was
young?"

"And what are you doing?"

"Getting my living by needlework, by artificial flower making, or by
anything that's honest which falls in my way. I keep at work, and hunt
about for work, and there are some good people, I find, who take pity
upon those situated like myself. I'm not afraid, sir, of doing well!"

"Glad to hear it, Mattie."

Mattie motioned Ann Packet to retire. Ann, who had been standing in the
doorway all this time, open-mouthed and open-eared, withdrew at the
hint. Mattie advanced and laid her hand upon Mr. Hinchford's arm.

"He goes there very often--they are engaged!"

Mr. Hinchford, who had always one thought uppermost, understood this at
once--there was no necessity for any nominative cases--"Boy Sid" always
understood!

"Yes."

"But he don't go to business now--the business is over."

"Who told you?"

"I read it in the paper a lodger lends me sometimes. Mr. Sidney's out of
work!"

"At present--for a day or two."

"He has heard of something that will better him?"

"He will--in a day or two."

"And you--you're out of work too, sir?"

"That confounded Ann has told you----"

"Not a word, sir--but I have had a habit of looking for you, when you
passed the house where I lodged, twice a-day--and I couldn't settle
down, or feel comfortable, until you _had_ passed. And when you did not
come, I knew what had happened."

"Still full of curiosity, Mattie," said Mr. Hinchford, feeling the tears
in his eyes at this evidence of Mattie's interest in him.

"Curious about all of you," she said, with a comprehensive gesture; "I
don't feel so far away when I know what has happened, or is happening.
And wanting to know the worst, or the best of everything, I come like an
inquisitive little body, as I have always been, to take you by surprise
like this!"

"But--but, my good girl, I can't tell you that we're very lucky just
now. But Sid must not hear that I am getting very uncomfortable, and
becoming less able to bear up as I ought to do, just to keep him strong,
do you see? And if all goes on like this much longer, both out of work,
what will become of us? Oh! dear, dear, dear!--what a miserable old man
I've been to him and myself, and everybody! Oh! to be comfortably out of
the world, and a burden to no one!"

"Sir," said Mattie, earnestly, "a blessing to some. Don't you remember
when you were stronger, being a blessing to me--you, my first friend!
And don't you know that you're a blessing to that good son of yours, and
that he thinks so, and loves you as he ought to do? You mustn't make him
unhappy by giving way at this time."

"I don't give way before him, that's not likely. Strong as a rock,
child!"

The rock shook and trembled from summit to base, but Mattie did not
smile at the contrast which his words suggested.

"What are you doing for him now, sitting here, Mr. Hinchford, and trying
to _look_ your best?"

"Doing?--what can I do?"

"That's what I have been thinking about, sir. When I'm at the
flower-making--which I'm learning in over-time, because it don't pay
just yet--I get, oh! such lots of time to think."

"Well?" he asked eagerly.

Mr. Hinchford always forgot disparity of age, and was content to be
taught by Mattie, and receive advice from her. He wondered at it
afterwards, but never when the spell of her presence was on him, when
her young vigorous mind overpowered his weak efforts to rebel.

"Well, I have thought that Mr. Wesden, being a little--just a
little--suspicious, would soon object to the engagement, if Mr. Sidney
kept out of work too long. I can't say, for I don't perhaps understand
Mr. Wesden, but it has been my idea; and oh! sir, they are so suited to
each other, Harriet and he!"

"Well," he said again, "I don't think that Mr. Wesden's likely to
object--but go on."

"And when I heard that the firm had failed, I began to wonder what he
would do; for places are hard to get, even when one's clever now-a-days,
and _has_ a character to back him. And I wanted to ask you if you had
thought of your brother, sir!"

"Why--what do you know of my brother?"

"He came one night to Great Suffolk Street to see you--don't you
remember? I knew him by his likeness to yourself, before I saw his name
upon his card."

"My brother!"

Mr. Hinchford gave a tug to his stock; it had not struck him before, and
its very absurdity rather amused him. His brother, who turned a deaf ear
to his own plaints, when misfortune was fresh upon him--when that
brother's help might have saved him, as he thought, from all the
troubles and adversities which had oppressed him since their bitter
quarrel.

"And he's a rich man--I have been asking about him--he's a banker, sir,
and keeps a great many hands."

"Yes, yes, I know," he said impatiently; "but it's no good. I wouldn't
ask a favour of him for the world. If it hadn't been for him, my old age
would not be like this!"

"He's an old man--perhaps he's altered very much," suggested Mattie; "he
might know something that would suit Mr. Sidney."

"Don't speak of him again," Mr. Hinchford said, with some severity.

"Very well, sir," was the sad response; "then I'll go now."

"Will you not wait till Sid comes back?--I'm sure he----"

"No, no, sir--I would rather not see him--I am pressed for time, and
have a great deal to do when I get back. There's one thing more I came
for, sir."

"What's that?"

"I want you to try and remember a letter which you gave me, when I went
away from Great Suffolk Street."

"A letter--a letter--let me see!"

The old gentleman evidently did not remember anything about a letter; no
letter had seen the light, or all had been explained between Harriet and
Sidney, and the course of true love was running smoothly to the end. So
much the better; it was as well to say no more about it, Mattie thought.
If the letter were lost, the old gentleman might only create suspicion
by alluding to it upon Sidney's return; Mattie did not know how far to
trust him.

She went away a few minutes afterwards, stopping for awhile to exchange
greetings with Ann Packet, to whom she gave her address--a back street
in Southwark Bridge Road--after much adjuration.

"You won't mind me, my dear," said Ann, "now you're settled down to
something--but, oh! dear, how thin you've got. You've been fretting all
the flesh off your precious bones."

"I haven't fretted much, Ann," was Mattie's answer; "you know I never
liked to do anything but make the best of it. And I've not tried in
vain--all will come right again--I'm sure of it!"

"And the worst is over--ain't it?"

"To be sure, the very worst. And now don't tell my address to
anyone--not to Mr. Sidney or Miss Harriet especially."

"But Miss Harriet----"

"Will only offend her father by coming to see _me_--you, Ann, won't
offend any one very much."

"Only a poor stray like yourself, Mattie--am I?"

"And our hearts don't stray very far from those we have loved, Ann--and
never will."

"Ah! she talks like a book almost--the sight of learning that that child
got hold on, and the deal of good she does a body," muttered Ann,
looking after Mattie through the misty twilight stealing up the street.

"For every one her liked, and every one her loved," wrote Spenser, ages
ago, of his heroine--Ann Packet might have quoted the same words,
barring all thoughts of Mr. Wesden, whom the force of events had turned
aside from Mattie.

Mr. Hinchford liked Mattie; her presence had brightened him up, given a
shake to ideas that had been rusting of late.

"She's a quick girl," he muttered, "but she has the most foolish and
out-of-the-way thoughts. How she disturbs one--I meant to have asked her
seriously, and yet kindly, why she stopped out all night, and offended
Mr. Wesden. Odd I should forget that--I don't generally let things slip
my memory in that ridiculous fashion. And about that man who called
himself her father--why, I forgot that, too!--God bless me! A curious
girl--my brother, indeed!--my hard-hearted and unsympathetic brother!"



CHAPTER IV.

HIS TURN!


Mr. Hinchford did not forget the foolish and out-of-the-way thought of
Mattie's. It has been already said that his memory was retentive enough
in all things that affected his son's welfare, and the new suggestion
kept his mind busy as the days stole on, and Sidney brought back his
cheerful face but no good news with him.

The old man's pride had kept him aloof from the brother for many years;
he had been hurt by that brother's coldness, and he had resolved to show
that he was able to work his own way in life, without that assistance
which he had once solicited. He had kept his word; for his own sake it
had been easy, but, for his son's, there was a temptation he could
scarcely withstand. There might be a chance, there might not be; in his
heart, he thought the odds were against Sid. He did not set much value
upon the brother's visit to Great Suffolk Street; it might have been
curiosity, or a spasm of affection which had rendered him eccentric for
a day; he remembered his brother simply as a hard, inflexible being who,
having formed an opinion, closed upon it with a snap, and was ever after
that immovable. Still for Sidney's sake he thought at last that he would
try. It should not be said of him that he neglected one chance to
benefit his son, or that his pride stood in the way of Sid's
advancement--that queer girl, whom he could scarcely make out, should
not say that he had not done his best for Sidney.

He dressed himself in his best suit one day, seized his stick, and
marched down to Camberwell Green, whence he took the omnibus to the
City. Sidney had again departed in quest of "something"--on a visit to
the news-rooms to search the papers there--and Mr. Hinchford was
following in his wake shortly afterwards.

He had a nervous fear that he should meet Sidney in the City, at first,
but the crowd which surrounded him there assured him that that event was
not likely to ensue. He had not been in the City for many years and the
place alarmed him; he almost guessed how weak and nervous he had become
when he struggled with the mob of money-hunters in King William Street,
and found it hard to fight against.

"All these hunting for places in one shape or another," he thought,
"looking but for the best chance, and greedy of any one who gets in the
way, and seems likely to deprive them of it, or add to their expenses.
Why, where's all the places that hold these men and keep my Sid doing
nothing?"

He turned into the narrow lanes branching out of the great thoroughfare
leading to the Bank, and proceeded without any difficulty to the
banking-house of his brother Geoffry. His memory was not in fault here;
every short cut through the shady by-ways of the City he took by
instinct--he had banked with his brother in days gone by, and it was
like retracing his youthful steps to find himself once more in these old
streets.

Before the swing glass doors of a quiet, old-fashioned banking-house he
paused, changed the stick from his right hand to his left, gave a little
tug to his stock, changed hands again with his stick, finally crossed
over the way, and set his back against the dingy wall opposite. The
pride which had held him aloof so long from his brother rose up again,
that ruling passion which a struggling life had circumscribed. He became
very red in the face, and looked almost fiercely at the banking-house in
front of him. He felt that his brother would say "No" again, and the
humiliation in store he should have courted by his own folly. But
Sidney?--possibly Sidney might be of service there, and room found for
him, if he asked; and if not; still, for Sidney's sake, he must attempt
it--courage and forward!

Mr. Hinchford nerved himself to the task, crossed the road, and went up
the steps into the bank. They were busy before and behind the counters
there; money was being shovelled in and out of drawers; cheques were
flying across the counter; there was the stir and bustle of a
first-class banking-house before him; everybody was talking, whispering,
studying, and thinking of money; what room for any sentiment in that
place from nine till four?

He took his place by the counter, waiting to address one of the clerks
at the first convenient opportunity that might present itself; he was in
no hurry; he wished to collect his thoughts, and arrange his plan of
action; and instead of arranging any plan, he looked at the clerks, and
thought Sidney Hinchford might as well have a place behind that counter
as not--and how well he would look there, and what a good place for him
it would be!

He stood there for a considerable time, until his presence began to
oppress a bald-headed young man at the third desk, an energetic young
man of uncivil appearance--soured in life perhaps, by his hair coming
off so early--who, in the hurry of business, had taken little notice of
Mr. Hinchford until then.

"What is it?" he asked, abruptly.

Mr. Hinchford objected to abruptness, and felt it hard to be snubbed by
his brother's clerk to begin with. He reddened a little, and said that
he wished to see Mr. Hinchford directly.

"Mr. Hinchford!" the clerk repeated; "oh! you can't see either of
_them_!"

"Just ask, young man, and don't answer for your master!"

"If it's anything about an account, Mr. Maurice will, if you've a proper
introduction, at----"

"Mr. Maurice will not do, sir!" cried Mr. Hinchford; "go and tell my
brother directly that I wish to see him, if you please."

There was some pride in claiming brotherhood with the banker, even under
the difficulties before him; the effect upon the uncivil bank clerk--why
are bank clerks uncivil in the aggregate?--was bewildering; he stared at
Mr. Hinchford, detected the likeness at once, and backed from the
counter on the instant. Mr. Hinchford saw no more of him--he was
beginning to think that his message had not been delivered after all,
when a young man behind touched him on the arm.

"Will you please to step this way?"

Mr. Hinchford turned, followed the usher to the end of the
counting-house, passed through a room, where two or three gentlemen were
busily writing, went through another door into a larger room, where one
old gentleman--very like himself--was seated in all the divinity that
doth hedge a principal.

"Good morning, James," was the banker's first remark, nodding his head
familiarly in his brother's direction.

"Good morning, Geoffry."

And then there was a pause; the two men who had parted in anger nearly
twenty-six years ago, and had not met since, looked at each other
somewhat curiously. It was a strange meeting, and a strange commencement
thereto, a little affected on the part of the banker, the senior by
eight years. In the same room together, the likeness between them was
singularly apparent--the height, figure, features, even the scanty crop
of white hair, were all identical; but in the senior's face there was
expressed a vigour and determination, which in Sid's father was wholly
wanting. Geoffry Hinchford was still the cool, calculating man of
business, who let no chance slip, and who fought for his chances, and
held his place with younger men.

There was no sentiment in the meeting of the brothers, and yet each was
moved and touched by the changes time had made. They had parted in the
prime of life, stalwart, handsome men, and they came face to face in
their senility.

"Take a seat," said Geoffry Hinchford, indicating one with the feather
of the quill pen he held in his hand.

The brother took a chair with a grave inclination of the head, and then
crossed his hands upon his stick, and began to evidence a little of that
nervousness that had beset him before he entered the banking-house.
Geoffry Hinchford's keen eyes detected this, and he hastened to avoid
one of those scenes which he had confessed to his nephew he hated, when
he made his first and last call in Great Suffolk Street.

"You have been walking fast, James; will you look at the _Times_ a bit,
and compose yourself. _That's_ the money article."

He passed the paper over to his brother, and then began making a few
entries in a small pocket volume before him--a hybrid book, with a lock
and key. Mr. Hinchford turned the paper over in his hands, inspected the
money article upside down, and appeared interested in it from that point
of view--gave a furtive tug to his stock, which he was sure Sid, who
always buttoned it, had taken in a hole too much, and then mustered up
courage to begin the subject which had brought him thither.

"Geoffry, it's six-and-twenty years or so since I sat in this very place
and asked a favour of you."

"Ah! thereabouts," responded Geoffry from over his private volume.

"Which was refused," added the old gentleman.

"Of course it was."

"Ahem."

Mr. Hinchford cleared his throat with some violence. He did not like
this method of receiving his first remarks; it warmed his blood after
the old fashion, and, what was better, it cleared off his nervousness.

"One would think that I had got over asking favours of a brother who had
proved himself so hard----"

"No," interrupted Geoffry, "not hard--but go on."

"And yet I am here again to ask a second favour, and chance as curt a
denial."

"Ah! I did hope, James, that you were here to say 'I was in the wrong to
take myself off in a huff, because my brother would not let me fling
some of his money after my own,' or, at least to say, 'Glad to see you,
Geoffry, and hope to see you more often after this,'--but _favours_!"

"Not for myself, sir," said Mr. Hinchford, hastily; "don't mistake me--I
wouldn't ask a favour for myself to save my life."

"I would to save a shilling; I often do."

"That is the difference between us," Mr. Hinchford answered.

"Exactly the difference. Pray proceed, Jem."

The younger brother softened at the old appellative; he composed his
ruffled feathers, and went at it more submissively.

"Look here, Geoffry, I ask a favour for my son. His firm has dissolved
partnership----"

"What firm was it?"

Mr. Hinchford told him.

"Smashed, you mean--bad management somewhere--go on."

"And he, who would have been made partner in his twenty-first birthday,
has now to begin the world afresh. I thought that you might know of
something suitable for him, and would, remembering our common name, do
something for him."

"He's a tetchy young gentleman--what I remember of him, in a flying
visit. Who the deuce can he take after, I wonder?" and the banker
appeared to cudgel his brains with his pen, as if lost in perplexity as
to any trait in the Hinchfords identical with "tetchiness." The father
did not detect the irony--perhaps would not at that juncture.

"Well," said the banker, "what general abilities has he?"

Mr. Hinchford burst forth at once. The wrongs of the past were
forgotten; the theme was a pleasant one; the abilities of his son were
manifold; he could testify to them for the next two hours, if a patient
listener were found him. He launched forth into a list of Sid's
accomplishments, and grew eloquent upon his son's genius for figures,
adaptability for commercial pursuits, his energy, and industry in all
things, at all times and seasons.

"This lad ought to be governor of the Bank of England," Geoffry
Hinchford broke in with, "there's nothing suitable for such
extraordinary accomplishments here. I can only place him at the bottom
of the clerks, with a salary of a hundred and twenty to begin with."

"Geoffry, you're very kind," ejaculated his brother; "you mean that--you
will really do something for us, after all?"

"Why, you vexatious and frivolous old man," cried the banker,
exasperated at last, "I would have always helped you in my own way, if
you had not been so thoroughly set upon my helping you in yours. You
were hot-headed, and I was ill-tempered and _raspish_, and so we
quarrelled, and you--you, my only brother--sulked with me for six and
twenty years. For shame, sir!"

The banker evinced a little excitement here; he tossed his pen aside and
beat his thin fingers on the book; he spoke his mind out, and amazed his
brother sitting at a little distance from him.

"Geoffry--I--I didn't sulk exactly. But you were a rich man, and I was
left poor; and if you remember, when I came here last I----"

"If I listen any more to that story, I'm damned!" cried the banker;
"it's dangerous ground, and if we get upon it, we shall begin sparring
again. Now, sir--look here."

He stood up, and began laying down the law with the fingers of his right
hand in the palm of his left.

"I swallowed my pride by coming to Great Suffolk Street in search of
you--that was my turn. We were to sink the past, and be friends, I
thought; we two foolish old septuagenarians, with nothing to quarrel
about. You swallowed your pride--a larger pill than mine, Jem, for it
nearly choked you in the attempt--by coming here, and now it's your
turn--eh?"

He held forth both his hands suddenly towards his brother, who answered
the appeal by placing his own within them, and holding them in a nervous
trembling grasp.

"Amen!" said the banker; and the younger and weaker man understood what
he meant, and felt the tears in his eyes.

"And now, I have heard a great deal of your son--you shall see mine."

He left his brother, touched a hand-bell, and a servant immediately
responded.

"Ask Mr. Maurice to step here a moment."

"Yes, sir."

Exit servant; enter very quickly a tall young man of about thirty years
of age, fresh-coloured, well formed, with curly brown hair, and a long
brown moustache, "making tracks," as the Americans say, for his
shoulders.

"Maurice, here's your obstinate uncle come to see us at last."

"I am glad to see _you_, sir--I think the difference has lasted long
enough."

Uncle and nephew shook hands--Mr. Hinchford thought this nephew was a
fine young fellow enough--not like his Sid, but a very passable and
presentable young fellow notwithstanding.

"We're going to try your cousin as a clerk, Maurice. Any objection?"

"Not in the least," was the ready answer.

"We shall not claim relationship over the ledgers," intimated Geoffry
Hinchford; "if he's clever, he'll get on--if he's a fool, he'll get the
sack. And we don't expect him, after the general fashion of relations,
to cry out, 'See how my uncle and cousin are serving me, their own flesh
and blood, by not lifting me over the heads of the staff, and making my
fortune at once!'"

"Sid wants no favours, sir," said Mr. Hinchford, sharply.

"After office hours we shall remember that he's a Hinchford, perhaps,"
said the banker. "Send him when you like, James."

"To-morrow, Geoffry, if you will."

"He's sure to come, I suppose?" asked his brother. "Is he aware of your
visit here to-day?"

"No."

"Ah! then it's doubtful, I think. By Gad! I shan't forget in a hurry his
sermon to me, and his flourish of trumpets over his own independence."

"He will come, sir, I think."

"Out of place makes a difference," remarked the banker; "we shall see.
And now, what can I do for you, James?"

"Oh! nothing, nothing," he said hastily; "I ask no favours for
myself--I'm doing well, thank you--very well indeed! Where's my stick
and hat? I--I think I'll bid you good morning now, Geoffry."

"I shall see you again, I daresay--I can always send a message to you by
your son, who will be here to-morrow, perhaps. Good-bye, old
fellow--Maurice, see to your uncle."

Maurice Hinchford, noticing the feeble steps of the new relation,
offered his arm, which was declined by a hasty shake of the head.

"I'm strong enough, sir--but the meeting has upset me just a little.
Geoffry," turning back to address his brother, "we won't say anything
more about that old affair--I think you meant well, after all."

"I hope I did. Good day."

"Good day, brother."

Maurice closed the door behind his uncle.

"He's getting quite the old man," said Mr. Hinchford to his nephew; "he
had an iron nerve once. He seems very feeble to me--does he enjoy good
health?"

"Oh! first rate health--he's a strong man for his age, Mr. Hinchford.
Don't you think so?"

"Perhaps he is. You can't expect him like myself, eight years younger
than he."

"Well, no," said the nephew, drily.

"He ought not to worry himself about business at his age--why, I have
given it up myself," he added.

"Oh! indeed!"

Business had given him up; but the old man did not think of it that
moment. He was anxious to show the Hinchfords in the best light
possible, lest Sid should be looked down upon too much when he came to
his new berth.

"And your father must feel the cares of business a little?"

"Not a bit," said Maurice; "he wouldn't be happy out of the bank! He's
strong and well, thank God, and one of the best-hearted men and fathers
in the world. Too good a father, by half, for that matter!"

"How's that?"

"Oh! it's difficult to explain," was the answer of the nephew, whose
cheeks flushed a little at the question; "you'll excuse me now, uncle.
Through here and straight across the office--good day."

He shook hands with Mr. Hinchford, and left him at the door of the inner
office which the old gentleman had passed through half an hour since,
less hopeful of good fortune in store for the Boy!



CHAPTER V.

"THE NEW BERTH."


Mr. Hinchford scarcely maintained an equable demeanour until Sidney's
return; the burden of good news was almost too much for him, and just to
wile away the time, and experience the blessed privilege of telling a
good story twice, he found out Ann Packet and enlightened her as to the
new chance that was presented to Sid.

When Sidney returned, and informed his father that there was no news,
Mr. Hinchford bade him not despair, for good luck was sure to turn up in
one direction or another.

"Despair!" cried Sidney, cheerfully; "why, I haven't dreamed of
despairing yet! Is it likely?"

"Shall I tell you some bad news, Sid?"

"Out with it!"

Mr. Hinchford detailed his dismissal from service at the builder's
office. Sidney looked a little discomfited at first, but clapped his
father on the shoulder heartily.

"We can bear it--you and I together. You'll be better away from
business, and have your health better. I shall be strong enough for the
two of us, sir."

"Good lad--but if nothing turns up."

"Oh! but it will!"

"And, oh! but it has!" cried the father; "now for the good news, Sid,
which I have been keeping back till it has nearly burst me."

Mr. Hinchford exploded with his confession, and Sidney listened not
unmoved at it. In his heart he had grown dispirited, though not
despondent, and the news was grateful to him, and took a load therefrom
which had seemed to become a little heavier every day. He would have
preferred a clerkship away from his relation's office; but his pride was
not so great as his common sense, and he saw the advantages which might
accrue to him from an earnest application to business. He remembered,
with a slight feeling of discomfort, his past hauteur to the man from
whom he now accepted service; but he had had a fall since then, and the
hopes of that time--with one bright exception--had been bubble-blown,
and met the fate of bubbles. He had been too sanguine; now he was
matter-of-fact, and must proceed coolly to work. He had ten years to
work in--what would be the end of them? His heart had sunk a little;
upon cool reflection he began to doubt whether he had acted well in
confiscating the affections of one to whom he might never be able to
offer a home.

Still he judged Harriet Wesden by himself, and judged her rightly. If
she loved him for himself, she would not care what money he brought her;
and if his affection were selfish, knowing what an end to a love story
his life must be, he had concealed nothing from her, and the truth had
only drawn her closer to him. He felt that that was his one hope, and he
could not be magnanimous enough to insist upon its dissolution, and of
the unfitness of his prospects to her own. When the time came round and
left him penniless; or when he saw, three or four years hence, that
there was no chance of saving money, and he remained still the clerk
with an income that increased not, it would be time to resign her--not
now, when she loved him, and he was happy in her smiles, and understood
her, as he thought, so well.

He entered upon his novitiate at his uncle's banking-house; his father
had not reiterated the hint which Geoffry Hinchford had given him about
relationship, but Sid was a young man who knew his place, and who kept
it, and rather shunned his relations than forced himself upon them.

Uncle and nephew proved themselves very different beings to what Sidney
had imagined; they were kind to him in their way--they were even anxious
he should do the family name credit; they watched his progress, and were
quick enough to see that he would prove a valuable and energetic
auxiliary.

Geoffry Hinchford was pleased at his nephew's reticence, and took note
of it as he had taken note of most things during his earthly pilgrimage.
He even condescended to give him a little advice in the shape of a
warning one day.

"Sidney," he said, when chance brought them together in that bank back
parlour, "how do you like your cousin Maurice for a master?"

"He is very kind to me."

"Ah! that's it--that's his fault. When I'm gone, I have a fear that he
will make a muddle of the bank with his easiness. He's the best son that
ever lived, I think, but he's too easy."

Sidney did not consider himself warranted in replying to this.

"So take my advice, Sidney, and steer clear of him as much as you can,"
he said.

"I don't think that the advice is needed, sir. Our position--"

"Fiddle-de-dee--he never cared for position, and, unfortunately, he's
taken a fancy to you. The scamp wanted to double your salary yesterday,
without any rhyme or reason, only relationship. Foolish, wasn't it?"

"Well, I don't deserve any increase of salary yet, sir--it has not been
fairly earned," was the frank answer.

"Exactly--now listen to me. I think it is just possible that Mr. Maurice
may forget that your salary is small, and that you have a father to
keep. Let me tell you that he is an expensive acquaintance, and a little
removed from your sphere."

"I know it, sir."

"Some day it may be different--we can't tell what may happen, but take
care of him for awhile. A noble young fellow, a good business man in
business hours, but not calculated to improve your mercantile abilities
by a closer acquaintance."

Sidney Hinchford considered the warning somewhat of a strange one, and
even for awhile did his uncle the half-injustice to believe that he
spoke more in fear of Maurice "lowering" himself, than on account of his
nephew forming expensive acquaintances. But Sid soon found the warning
worth attending to. It happened, at times, that Sidney Hinchford had
extra work after the bank was closed, and the majority of clerks had
departed. His cousin Maurice, who always remained long after his father
had gone--he rented apartments in London, whilst his father went off by
train every afternoon to Red-Hill--did occasionally, in the early days
of their acquaintance, come to Sid's desk and watch his labours for a
few minutes, very intently.

"What are you going to do with yourself to-night, Sidney?"

"I am going home, Mr. Maurice."

"Come and dine with me at my club, and take pity upon my loneliness."

"Thank you--but my father will be expecting me home."

"Oh! the governor can't expect you, at your age, to be always turning up
to five o'clock teas."

"You must excuse me, if you please."

"Well, if you'll give me one plain answer to the next question, I won't
press it."

"I'll give it you."

"Isn't there a young lady your way, as well as the governor?"

"Yes," was the quick answer.

"By Jove! if I didn't think so. Ah! you're a gay deceiver, Sidney, after
the bank doors have closed upon you."

On another occasion, and under similar circumstances, he said, in a
quick, abrupt way, that almost bordered on embarrassment--

"Has your father any property of his own?"

"No."

"Your salary supports yourself and him entirely?"

"Yes, and leaves something to spare."

Maurice whistled, took up a lead pencil on Sidney's desk, and began
scribbling with it on his finger nails. Suddenly he laid the pencil
down, saying--

"Oh! that's a thundering sight too bad, old fellow!--we're all
Hinchfords, and must alter that. How are you going to marry?--and when?"

"In the usual fashion--and in ten years' time."

"That's an engagement that will never come to anything, then."

"How do you know?"

"Because long engagements seldom do--and no man, to my fancy, has a
right to tie a girl down to such horrible agreements."

"It can't be helped, Maurice," said Sid, a little sadly.

"I'd start in some business. Are you too proud for trade?"

"I don't care about retail--selling ha'porths of something across the
counter, wearing white aprons, and so on," replied Sidney; "it's very
wrong of me, but it's the Hinchford pride that bars the way, I suppose."

"Try wholesale on a small scale, as a start--the old tea business, for
instance."

"Don't you think that I am fit for this, Mr. Maurice?"

"Yes, but it takes time to rise, and you mean marrying. Now, to my
fancy, you are a man who would do better in commerce."

"Ah! but then there's capital to sink by way of a beginning."

"I can lend you a thousand pounds--a couple of thousands. I'm a very
saving man, Sidney--I'm as certain that you would pay me back again as
that I'm standing here."

"You're very kind," murmured Sidney, taken aback by this liberal offer;
"but--but, it can't be done."

"Borrow it from my father and me--as your bankers, if you will. My
father will not say no to it, I fancy--and if he does, why, there's the
other resource just alluded to."

Sidney was still bewildered, and at a loss to account for the offer. For
an instant he was even tempted; there rose before him the one chance of
his life, the happiness of his life with Harriet, forestalled by
years--and then he put his hands out, as though to push all dangerous
thoughts away.

"Thank you--thank you--" he said; "but when I speculate, it must be with
my own money. I will not start in life burdened by a heavy debt. You're
very kind--far too kind to me, sir."

"A Hinchford--I never forget that. You don't know how proud I am of my
family, and all its belongings. And, joking apart, Sidney, we really are
a fine family, every one of us! And you'll not--well, subject postponed,
_sine die_; the bank isn't such a bad place, and we shall give a lift to
your salary when you deserve it. Not before, mind," he added, with a
seriousness that made Sidney smile, who remembered the anecdote related
by the senior partner.

Sidney Hinchford was touched by his rich cousin's efforts to promote his
interests, by his frankness, his _bonhomie_. Though he held himself
aloof from him, yet he respected, even admired him. There was not a man
in the banking-office who did not admire Mr. Maurice Hinchford; he had a
good word for even the porter; he treated his servants liberally; he was
always ready to promote their interests; the cares of money-making, and
taking care of other people's money, had never soured his temper, or
brought a dark look to his face.

This was the father's anxiety, that Maurice was too easy--that nothing
put him out of temper, or chased away the smiles from his good-looking
countenance; the banker was glad to see his son happy, but he did wish
now and then that Maurice had looked at life less frivolously, and been
more staid and sober in his ways. The banker was glad to see him
generous--although, if the fit seized him, Maurice was a trifle too
liberal with his cheques, for natural wants, bequests, and monuments;
but he was not a spendthrift, and even put money by, from the princely
share of the profits which he received twice a year.

Certainly it would have been difficult for a single man to run through
it without sheer gambling at green tables, or on green turfs; and
Maurice Hinchford never betted on the red and black, and hated horsy
people. He spent all the money a man _could_ honestly get through; he
fared sumptuously every day, and dressed figuratively in purple and fine
linen; it was his boast that he had the best of everything around him,
and anything second-rate had been his abomination from a child; he was a
Sybarite, to whom luck had been wafted, and he enjoyed life, and cared
not for the morrow, on the true Sybarite principle. But he was not a
proud man; he was fastidious in a few things--young ladies of his circle
generally, and the mothers of those young ladies especially, thought him
_much_ too fastidious--but he was a man whom men and women of all
classes liked, and whom his servants idolized.

It was no wonder that his pleasant manners had their effect upon Sidney,
who had found few of his own sex to admire in the world, and who knew
that the man of whose energy everyone spoke well was of his own kith and
kin. He held himself aloof, knowing that his ways were not Maurice's
ways. When the rich cousin once asked why he so rigidly refused every
offer to join him at his club, to make one of a little party at the
opera, sharing his box with him, and put to no expense save a dress-coat
and white choker, he confessed the reason in his old straightforward
manner.

"You're too well-off for me--I can't be your companion, and I'll not be
patronized and play the toady. It looks bad in business here, and it
will look worse apart from it."

"You're a regular stoic!"

After awhile Mr. Geoffry Hinchford again asked his nephew what he
thought of Maurice.

"A warm-hearted and a generous man, whom I am proud to think is a cousin
of mine."

"Yes--just as you say. And very proud I am, too, to think that this
dashing handsome young fellow is a son of mine. He has all the virtues
except one, under heaven, Sidney."

"We're not all perfect, sir," said Sidney, laughing.

"Oh! but you are, according to my brother James--he won't see even a
flaw in your armour," said the old banker, acrimoniously; "but then he
always was aggravating me with something or other--and now it's you."

"I hope not, sir."

"Well, well, only in one sense of the word. And Maurice has, after all,
but a little foible, which the world--the real, material world--always
makes allowance for. He will grow out of it. Good evening."

Sidney did not inquire concerning Maurice Hinchford's foibles, little or
otherwise--he knew that foibles were common to humanity, and that
humanity is lenient respecting them. He did not believe that there was
any great wrong likely to affect the brilliancy of Maurice Hinchford's
character--he would be content to resemble his cousin, he thought, if he
were ever a rich man like unto him, an honest, amiable English
gentleman.

Sidney did not covet his cousin's riches, however; he knew that fortune
was not reserved for him, and if he were scarcely content with his lot
in life, he was at least thankful for all mercies that had been
vouchsafed to him, though he kept his thanks to himself for the greater
part.

"If he were scarcely content!" we have said, for Sidney was ambitious of
rising by his own merits in the world; a laudable ambition, for which we
need not upbraid him. He was careful of his money, a characteristic from
his boyhood, a trait that his father, who had been never careful, took
great pains to develop. He sank his pride completely for the sake of
saving money, and he did save a little, despite the small income, the
housekeeping expenditure, and his father to support. On Saturday nights
he toiled home from the cheapest market with a huge bag of groceries, to
the disgust of the suburban tea-dealer--who wanted a hundred per cent.
profit on an indifferent article--and walked with his head rather higher
in the air than usual when heavily laden.

"When I can afford it, the goods shall be brought to my door," he said,
when his father once urged a faint remonstrance; "but I can't study
appearances on a hundred and fifty pounds a year. Those fellow-clerks of
mine can drop my acquaintance on a Saturday night, and pass by on the
other side, if they are inclined. I shall carry my big parcels and exult
in my independence all the same."

"Yes, but the look of the thing, Sid."

"We'll study that some day, if we have the chance. _We must keep our
eyes open_, till the chance comes."

"I did think once that you had all the Hinchford pride in you, Sid."

"I have a fair share, sir," was the answer, "and I never feel prouder
than when I am carrying my plethoric bag under my arm. Proud of myself,
and of the property I have invested in."

"Then I don't see why I should complain."

"You--to be sure not. Put on your hat, and let us go round to Mr.
Wesden's, and make up our whist party."

And in this quiet way--winding up the evenings with whist-playing and
love-making--the time stole on.


END OF BOOK THE FOURTH.



BOOK V.

STORM SIGNALS.



CHAPTER I.

CAST DOWN.


Meanwhile Mattie, the stray, must absorb our attention for awhile. In
following the fortunes of the Hinchfords, we have omitted to watch
closely the progress of our heroine. Yes, our heroine--if we have not
called attention to that fact before--and with many first-class
"heroinical" qualities, which would do credit to the high-born damsels
of our old-fashioned novels. She had been heroine enough to make a
sacrifice for Harriet Wesden; to take an unfair share of blame for
Harriet's sake, and, therefore, she ranks as "first-lady" in this
romance of business-life. She had made the sacrifice of her good
name--for it amounted to that--with a sharp struggle; but then she would
have given up her life for those to whom her better nature had taught
her to be grateful. The girl's love for all who had rescued her from the
evil of the past was ever intense, led her to strange actions, kept her
hovering in the distance round the friends she had had once. Hers was a
nature strangely susceptible to affection, and that affection was not
uprooted because ill-report set its stigma upon her. Hers was a
forgiving nature, also, and she thought even kindly of Mr. Wesden when
the first shock was over, and she had judged him by that true character
which she understood so well.

In her new estate Mattie was not happy; she was alone in the world, and
we know that she was partial to society, and not always disinclined to
hear the sound of her own musical voice. But she was not disconsolate;
she made the best of her bad bargain, and set to work, in her humble
way, with something of that doggedness of purpose, for which her friend
Sidney was remarkable. She had struggled hard for a living, but had
never given way. She had met obstacles in her path, which would have
crushed the energy out of most women, but which she surmounted, not
without wounds and loss of strength, and even health, and then went on
again. She was matter-of-fact and honest, and those who had doubted her
at first--for she had chosen her dwelling-place but a very little way
from Great Suffolk Street, and the rumours of a lying tongue followed
her, and set her neighbours and fellow-lodgers against her--soon
understood her, for the poor are great observers and good judges of
character.

In the poor neighbourhood wherein she had settled down, she asked for
advice as to the best method of leading an honest life, and received it
from her landlady. She turned dress-maker, and when customers came not
with a grand rush to Tenchester Street, she asked if she might learn her
landlady's business, artificial flower-making, and offered her services
gratuitously, until it pleased her mistress to see that she was the
handiest "help" she possessed. Then her health failed, for she worked
hard, lived hard, and had hard thoughts to contend with; and when the
doctor told her sedentary pursuits would not agree with her, she went a
step lower for awhile, and even sold play-bills at the doors of a minor
theatre to keep the wolf from _her_ door.

Mattie had one fear of seeing her money melt away to the last farthing,
and being left in the world penniless and friendless, as in the days of
her desolate childhood. She had no fear of temptation besetting her in
her poverty--for ever she was above that--but she did not wish to die
poor, to seek the workhouse, or to be reminded in any way of her past
estate. She _would_ be above that; she was ever hoping to show Mr.
Wesden that she was honest and respected, she struggled vehemently
against the tide, and earned her own living at least, varying the mode
very often as her quick wits suggested; but never idle, and rising or
sinking with the seasons, as they proved fair or sharp ones with the
working classes.

It had been a fair season when she called on Mr. Hinchford last, and she
had even found courage to give Ann Packet her address; the sharp season
set in after that, and, though Ann Packet in her monthly visits was
deceived by Mattie's manner, yet it became another struggle for bread
with our heroine. For the season was not only sharp, but Mattie gave way
in health over her work for a rascally waistcoat-maker, who drove hard
bargains, and did not believe in Charity covering a multitude of sins.
And with an opposition clothier over the way, who sported a glass
chandelier, and sold fancy vests for three and sixpence, it was hard to
believe in anything.

Mattie gave way more than she intended to acknowledge to Ann Packet, had
not that indefatigable young woman made her appearance unexpectedly, and
found Mattie in bed at six in the evening.

"Good lor! what's this?"

"Nothing, Ann--only a little cold, which I have been recommended to
nurse for a-day," said Mattie; "don't look so scared!"

"But why wasn't I to know it?--I might have brought in something good
for you," bemoaned Ann; "if I'm to be kep in the dark, who's to take
care of you, my gal?"

"I am taking very good care of myself, Ann."

"What _are_ you taking?"

"Oh! all manner of things--won't you believe me?"

"No--I won't."

And Ann proceeded to inspect mantel-pieces, open cupboards and drawers,
to Mattie's dismay.

"Yes, I see just how it be," she said, after her search had resulted in
nothing satisfactory. "You're working yourself to death, and starving
yourself to death, without saying anything to anybody. And that's
gratitude for all my love for you--you who want to leave me alone in the
world, with not no one to love."

"Why, my dear Ann, I'm not going to die."

"You're trying all you can--oh! you ungrateful gal!"

Mattie defended herself, and maintained that it was only one "lay up,"
but Ann Packet did not like the red spot on each cheek, the unnatural
brightness of the eyes, and secretly doubted her assertion.

"I must go back now. I shall come to-morrow, first thing."

"I shall be well enough to-morrow, Ann."

Ann Packet kissed her and departed; half-an-hour afterwards, to Mattie's
astonishment, she made her reappearance, accompanied by a tall, slim
gentleman.

"There's the gal, sir. Now, please tell me what's the matter, and don't
mind _her_ a bit."

Mattie saw that it was too late to offer a resistance, and refrained,
like a wise young woman, from "making a scene." The doctor felt her
pulse, looked at her tongue, took the light from the table and held it
close to Mattie's face.

"Well--what's the matter, sir?" was Mattie's question.

"Humph! don't know that I can tell exactly, yet. I'll look in
to-morrow."

"No, don't do that," said Mattie, alarmed at the expense.

"Yes, do," cried Ann Packet, "your money's safe, sir. Look to me at 34
Chesterfield Terrace, Camberwell, for it. I'm a respectable
maid-of-all-work, with money in the bank."

"It's of no consequence," muttered the doctor; but he entered the
address in his note-book, like a man of business as he was.

"Shan't I be well to-morrow, sir?" asked Mattie, anxiously.

"Humph!--scarcely to-morrow, I think."

"Why don't you say what it is?--do you think I'm likely to be frightened
at it, even if it's death, sir? Why, I've lived down all fright at
anything long ago."

"It's a little attack of scarlatina, I think," he answered, thus
adjured.

"You only think?"

"Well, then, I'm sure."

"She's had it afore, you know," Ann Packet suggested, "when she was a
child. I thought people couldn't have these nasty things twice."

"Oh! yes."

"That's enough, then," said Ann Packet, taking off her bonnet and shawl,
and putting them on the table as centre ornaments; "here I sticks till
you're better."

"Ann--Ann Packet!" cried Mattie.

"Ah! you may say what you like, I shan't move. When this gentleman's
gone, we'll quarrel about it--not afore."

The gentleman alluded to took his departure, promising to send round
some medicine in a few minutes. Mattie looked imploringly at the
obdurate Ann.

"You _must_ go home, Ann."

"Not a bit of it, my dear," said Ann; "I have knowed you for too long a
time to leave you in the lurch like this, for all the places in the
world. And it isn't that I haven't knowed the Hinchfords long enough, to
think they'll mind."

Mattie sighed.

"But you keep quiet, my dear, and fancy I'm your mother taking care on
you--which I wish I was. And I'll send a boy to Camberwell to tell 'em
why I ain't a coming back just yet."

"Let me write a----"

"Let you keep yourself quiet, and don't worry me. I'm going to manage
you through this."

"You're very good, Ann," said Mattie; "but if you catch the fever of
me!"

"Lor bless you! I shan't catch no fever--I'm too old for changing
colour, my dear. You might as well expect buff-leather to catch fevers.
But don't you remember how skeered I was once when you came in piping
hot with it from Kent Street? Ah! I was vain of my good looks then, and
afraid they might be spiled."

Ann Packet had been a girl with a bat-catching-against-wall kind of
countenance all her life, but distance lent enchantment to the view of
the merry days when she was young. And Ann Packet's will was absolute,
and carried all before it. Mattie was bowed down by it; she felt weaker
than usual, and too ill to assert supremacy in her own house. Giving up,
she thought that it was comfortable to have a friend at her side, and to
feel that the loneliness of a few hours since was hers no longer.

Ann Packet went down-stairs, and found a boy prepared--for twopence down
and twopence when he came back--to deliver any message within a radius
of fifty miles from Tenchester Street. The messenger departed,
returning, in due course, with a favourable, even a kind reply. Ann
Packet was to take her own time, and a girl would be found to assist
until Mattie was better. Mattie read the note to Ann.

"There, didn't I say so?"

"It's in Mr. Sidney's handwriting," said Mattie, putting the letter
under her pillow; "he's always kind and thoughtful."

"Ah! he is."

"As kind and thoughtful as ever, I suppose, Ann?"

"Lor bless you!--yes."

"What a long while it seems since----"

"Since you've held _your_ tongue," added Ann. "Yes, it does. I'd keep
quiet a bit now, if I was you."

Thus adjured, Mattie relapsed into silence, and Ann Packet, thinking her
charge was asleep, stole out of the room a short while afterwards, and
went into the streets marketing. In the night the fever gained apace
with our heroine; the next day the doctor pronounced her worse--enjoined
strict quietness and care.

"He seems afraid of me," said Mattie, after he had gone, "as if there
were anything to be alarmed at, even if I did die. Why, what could be
better for me, Ann?"

"Oh! don't--oh! don't."

"Not that I am going to die--I don't feel like it," said Mattie. "I can
see myself getting strong again, and fighting," she added, with a little
shudder, "my battles again. There, Ann, you need not look so scared; I
won't die to please you."

It was a forced air of cheerfulness, put on to raise the spirits of her
nurse; and succeeded to a certain extent in its object, although Ann
told her not to go on like that--it wasn't proper.

Mattie lay and thought of the chances for and against her that day; what
if that burning fever and increasing restlessness gained the mastery,
who would be the worse for her loss, and might not she, with God's help,
be the better? She was scarcely a religious woman; but the elements of
true religion were within her, and only biding their time. She was
honest, pure-minded, anxious to do good for others, bore no one malice,
and forgave all trespasses against her--she went to chapel every
Sunday--and she did not feel so far off from heaven on that sick bed.
She thought once or twice that she would be glad to die, if she were
sure of the future happiness of those for whom she had lived. She would
like to know the end of the story, and then--_rest_. She could not die
without seeing the old faces, though, and therefore she must make an
effort to exist for her own sake.

In the evening, Ann Packet, looking a little scared, said--

"Here's a gentleman come to see you. It's not quite right for him to
come up, I'm thinking."

"Who is it?"

"Mr. Hinchford."

"_Old_ Mr. Hinchford?"

"No, the young one."

Mattie, even with the scarlatina, could blush more vividly.

"Mr.--Mr. Sidney!" she gasped. "Oh! he mustn't come in here."

"Mustn't he, though!" said the deep voice of Sidney, from the other side
of the room. "Oh! he's not at all bashful, Mattie."

Sidney Hinchford came into the room and walked straight to the bed where
Mattie was lying--where Mattie was crying just then.

"Why, Mattie!--in tears!"

"Only for a moment, Mr. Sidney. It is very kind of you to come and see
me--and you have taken me by surprise, that's all."

"She's to be kept quiet, sir," said Ann.

"I'll not make much noise," he answered.

He stood by the bed-side, looking down at the stricken girl. The change
in her, the thin face, the haggard looks, increased as they were by
illness, had been a shock to Sidney Hinchford, though he did his best to
disguise all evidence from her.

"Go and sit there for the little while you must remain in this room,"
said Mattie, indicating a chair by the window, at some distance. "You
were rash to come into this place."

"I'm not afraid of fever, Mattie, and I was not going to lose a chance
of seeing you--the first chance I have had."

"And you don't think that I have been wrong, Mr. Sidney?" asked Mattie;
"you haven't let all that Mr. Wesden has said, turn you against me? I'm
so glad!"

"Mattie, there's a little mystery, but I daresay you can clear it--and I
swear still by the old friend and adviser of Great Suffolk Street. And
as for Mr. Wesden--why, I'm inclined to think that that old gentleman is
growing ashamed of himself."

"You say nothing of Harriet?"

"She is the champion of _all_ absent friends--the best girl in the
world. When I tell her that you----"

"You must not tell her where to find me--you will not act fairly by her,
if you thrust her into danger, sir. I rely upon you to keep her away."

"Well, you women do catch things very rapidly," said he; "I--I think
that perhaps it will be as well not to let her know of your illness."

"Thank you--thank you."

"But when you are well again, I shall bring her myself to see you. We'll
have no more games at hide and seek, Mattie."

"Not yet."

"Why--not yet?" was the quick answer.

"I am no fit companion for her--her father thinks. So it must not be. I
have seen her--watched for her several times."

"Ah!--I suppose so. You know that we are engaged, Mattie?" he said;
"that was an old wish of yours, Harriet tells me."

"Yes--when are you to be married?"

"Oh! when I can afford to keep a wife. Shall I tell you how I am getting
on now?"

"I should like to hear it," said Mattie, "but you mustn't stop here very
long. For there _is_ danger."

"I don't believe it," said he, laughing; "besides, my father has
furnished me with a lump of camphor as big as my head, which I've been
sitting on the last five minutes. Now, Mattie, let me tell you where I
am, and what I am doing."

In a few words, Sidney sketched the particulars of his present mode of
life, spoke of his prospects _in futuro_, and of the kindness which he
received at all hands. He was an agreeable companion, and brought some
of his vigour and good spirits into that little room with him. He spoke
cheerfully and heartily, and the pleasant ring of his voice sounded like
old times to Mattie. She lay and listened, and thought it was all very
comfortable--she even forgot her fever for awhile, till she remembered
the length of time that he had remained with her.

"I hope you will go now," she said, rather suddenly.

"Am I wearying you?--I beg pardon, Mattie. Some of these days when you
are better, I intend a longer stay than this."

"Indeed!"

"I shall try my own powers of persuasion, in order that Harriet and I
may fight your battles better for you," he said; "we must clear up that
mystery--I hate mystery."

"I know it."

"Upon my honour, I would as soon have a sister maligned as you!" cried
Sidney; "we are such old friends, Mattie."

"Yes, yes--go now, please. And keep Harriet away, for her own sake, and
yours."

Sidney promised that, and then shook hands with her.

"You must not be very shocked at my stalking in here--fancy it is your
brother, Mattie. I shall make Harriet a clean confession when I get
back--not to-night, though."

He went from the room, followed by Ann Packet. Outside, the cheerful
look upon his face suddenly vanished, and he became so grave that Ann
Packet stared aghast at him.

"Who's her doctor?"

Ann told him.

"I'll send some one myself to see if he's treating her correctly."

"Don't you--don't you think that she's so well?"

"I think that she's very ill--worse than she is aware of herself. Take
care of her, Ann, she's an old friend!"

He went down-stairs hastily, and Ann returned to the room to find Mattie
in a high fever, sitting up in bed with a wild look in her eyes.

"Ann, Ann--he must never come again! I--I can't bear to see him now."

"Patience, my darling. Keep quiet--why not?"

"Oh! I don't know--but he makes my heart ache--and, and, he is coming
into danger here. Oh! Sidney! Sidney!"

She flung herself back in her bed, and sobbed and tossed there till the
fever grew upon her more and more, and robbed her of her senses. And in
the delirium which followed, Ann Packet learned the secret of Mattie's
life, and wrung her hands, and cried over it.



CHAPTER II.

IN WHICH SEVERAL DISCOVERIES COME TOGETHER.


When Sidney Hinchford called the next morning at Tenchester Street, to
inquire after Mattie's health, Ann Packet met him at the door, and
informed him that the invalid was worse, and on no account to be
disturbed. In the course of the day a new doctor arrived, commissioned
by Sidney; and being a man not inclined to pooh-pooh every system but
his own, gave his opinion that Mattie was being treated correctly, and
he saw nothing to improve upon. So the doctor was not changed; and being
a poor man struggling for a living in a little shop round the corner, I
hope he was sufficiently grateful, especially as Ann Packet did not
require a twelvemonth's credit, but settled his bill every Saturday
night with the washerwoman's.

And three Saturday nights went by before Mattie was considered out of
danger of the fever's return, and in rather more imminent danger of the
exhaustion which that fever had occasioned. Sidney Hinchford had taken
Tenchester Street and Southwark Bridge in his new route to the City, and
called every morning for the latest news--Ann Packet had brought it down
to him, with Mattie's kind regards and compliments, and he had not been
permitted to see her since that night referred to in our last chapter.

Mattie was getting better when the fourth week was over--learning to be
strong, anxious about the expenses that had been incurred, solicitous
even about her little dress-making connection, which would have flown to
the four winds of heaven had scarlatina thought of taking its measure.

Mattie had found strength to leave her bed and sit up for a while in the
chair by the fireside, when the second visitor astonished Tenchester
Street by her arrival. No less a visitor than Harriet Wesden
herself--who, having learned Mattie's address by degrees from the
unfaithful Sidney, had made an unlooked-for _raid_ upon the premises.

"Don't cry--don't speak--don't say anything for ever so long!" she said,
with one gloved finger to her pretty mouth; "if there's anything to get
over--get over it without any fuss, my dear."

Mattie was silent for a while--she turned her head away and looked at
the red coals. This was a meeting that she thought would come some day;
that in her heart she did not blame Sidney Hinchford for promoting,
although the danger of it rendered her uneasy.

"Farther away, Harriet," she murmured at last.

"I'm not afraid," said Harriet; "I don't believe that I'm of a feverish
sort, or that there's any danger. If there were, I should have come all
the same, and stopped just as long, after wheedling the address from
Sid."

Ann Packet fidgeted about the room; she was jealous of her charge,
fearful of Mattie becoming excited, and of Harriet Wesden talking too
much to her. Harriet Wesden saw this.

"You may trust me with her, Ann--I will be very careful."

"I hope you will--I shouldn't like the doctor to say I'd let you chatter
her off into a fever again. You'll take care, Mattie."

"Yes, Ann."

At the door she paused again.

"You allus were such a gal to talk when once set a going, Mattie--now
doee be as careful as you can! When I come back from marketing, I'll
hope it's all done atween you two."

Ann Packet withdrew; the two girls--we may say, despite the difference
of position between them, the two friends--looked at each other for a
short while longer. Mattie was the first to speak.

"Now you have come, Harriet, you must tell me all that has happened
since we parted--every scrap of news that affects you is always welcome
to me."

"Shall I sum it up in three words, that will content you, Mattie--I am
happy."

"I am so glad--so very glad! Harriet," she added more eagerly, "you do
love him? It isn't a fancy, like--like the others?"

"Mattie, I love him with my whole heart--I never loved before--I feel
that the past was all romantic folly. You don't know what a noble fellow
he is--how kind and thoughtful!"

"Yes--I do."

"Ah! but you don't know him as I know him; the truth of his inner self,
the nobleness of his character, the earnestness of his nature. Mattie, I
feel that I have deceived him--that I should have told him all about Mr.
Darcy, and trusted in his generosity, in his knowledge of me, to believe
it. It was a cruel promise that you wrung from me."

"Harriet, I was thinking of your own good name, and of the story that
the world would make from yours. I think I was right."

We wiser people, with principles so much higher, think Mattie was wrong,
as she thought herself, in the days that were ahead of her.

"And this Mr. Darcy, Harriet, have you seen or heard from him since?"

"I received one letter. I returned it to its writer unopened."

"That was right. And the Eveleighs, what do they know, do you think?"

"Nothing."

"Then we must be safe."

"We?" echoed Harriet; "when you are bearing the stigma of my
indiscretion! Mattie, you went out that night in search of me."

"No matter," responded Mattie; "I must not talk too much. Let me hear
you speak of all old friends--it's like the old times back again to have
you here."

"And they will come back."

"_Never!_" was the solemn reply.

"Not that tiresome shop, perhaps," said Harriet, "but the times like
unto the old, and all the better for the difference. You know what a
weak and sanguine woman I was."

"Well--yes."

"I am a strong and sanguine woman now, and there are good times I brood
upon, and look forward to still. Shall I sketch you the picture?"

"If you will."

Mattie listened very anxiously; Harriet, with her bonnet in her lap, and
her golden hair falling about her shoulders, sat steadfastly looking at
our heroine.

"A little cottage somewhere in the country--a long, long way off from
this London, which I dislike so much. Sid and I together, and you our
faithful friend and housekeeper. Oh! that _will_ come true!"

Mattie shook her head.

"I think not."

"Why, you will not desert us!"

"When the time comes round for the cottage, I will give my answer. I
think that--I--should--like to come some day--when you have children,
perhaps, to take care of _them_. But it is a long, long while to look
forward to--almost wicked to build upon, is it not?"

"I don't see where the wickedness lies."

"And as for the country--why in the country, Harriet, when Sidney will
have to work in London?"

"He may make his fortune and retire," she said, after a pause.

The secret of Sidney's life was sacred, even from Mattie. Harriet could
not dwell upon it without arousing a suspicion.

"I feel that we shall all be together some day--and now, before that day
comes, let us speak of something else."

Harriet Wesden hastened to disburthen herself of all the thoughts which
she had had concerning Mattie's future mode of living; if it were
dress-making, how Harriet could help her to increase the
connection--and, whatever it was, how she, Harriet Wesden, must do her
best for Mattie.

All this was very pleasant to our heroine, though it troubled her, and
almost mastered her at times. Pleasant to witness the evidence of the
old love, of no new love having ousted her from a place in Harriet's
heart. With the exception of honest Ann Packet, Mattie had earned no
affection for herself, and had stood even isolated from it, until
Harriet turned to her as her friend, trusted in her, and--did she ever
dream it in the days when she ran barefooted through the London
streets?--sought advice from her. And then, from that hour, Mattie
studied Harriet, saw her weaknesses, and did her best to counteract
them; moulded her--though neither knew it, or would have guessed
it--anew, and helped to make the true woman which she was at that hour.

Mattie felt glad that she had been ill, now; her illness had brought
Harriet to her side, and proved that she had lived in all her thoughts.

They were still talking together in the gloaming when the doctor called,
bowed to Miss Wesden, and then paid attention to his patient.

"It's very dark," said he, after an ineffectual attempt to see Mattie's
tongue; "but you're better, I perceive. Keep still, don't trouble
yourself about a light, Miss Gray,"--Mattie, for some reason she could
have scarcely explained to herself, had assumed the title which Mrs.
Watts, in their last meeting, had bestowed upon her--"I have brought a
friend to see you to-day, not knowing that you were engaged."

"Who is he?" Mattie inquired.

"A gentleman connected with the chapel--our chapel."

"Indeed!"

"He helps us with the district business when he's in town--and he has
been very anxious to see you for the last fortnight, but the young woman
who waits upon you said--very rudely, I fear--that she wouldn't have you
worried for fifty parsons. May he come in?"

Before Mattie had made up her mind, he came in without permission. It
was difficult to distinguish him in the shadowy room, save that he was
short and thin, and moved about with extraordinary celerity.

"When the sinner is too weak to go forth in search of the Word, it
should be brought to her by all men earnest for sinners' redemption," he
said, in a high, hard voice, very unsuitable for an invalid's chamber;
"and I trust that Miss Gray will not consider me out of place in coming
hither to teach her to be grateful for her recovery."

"She is scarcely recovered yet, sir," Harriet ventured to suggest.

"What does Miss Gray say?" he said, as though Miss Wesden's word was to
be doubted.

"That it is very kind of you to come--but that I am a little weak just
at present."

"I called on the doctor--he's not of your opinion--he ought to know
best."

"Yes, yes," said the doctor, "but you promised only a few words."

"I am a man of my word," was the brisk answer.

"I beg pardon, I never said that you were not," said the doctor; "but we
must be gentle with our patient yet awhile--and she has already been
receiving visitors to-day."

"If Miss Gray objects, I will go."

Mattie said that she did not object, and, without further ceremony, the
stranger began to pray for her, lowering his voice when he found that he
need not shout at the top of his lungs to be heard in that little room,
and even praying with some degree of eloquence, and a more than common
degree of earnestness, which was some little apology--if not quite
enough--for his unwarrantable intrusion.

It was a long prayer, and spared no one. The doctor, after waiting five
minutes, and finding thanksgivings for recovery, and for shortening his
bill, not in his line, took his departure on tiptoe; Mattie listened
reverently, with her hands clasped in her lap; Harriet, who had not
forgiven the intrusion, thought of Sidney more than the preacher, and
threw the latter out in his extempore oration by suddenly poking the
fire, and then dropping the poker with a crash into the fire-place. Ann
Packet returned from marketing, and found the preacher in the middle of
the room on his knees, and disgusted with his tactics, after the many
times she had denied him admittance, proceeded to arrange the tea-tray
and light the candle, with a noisy demonstrativeness that was perfectly
unnecessary.

"Amen" sounded at last, and the little man rose to his feet, over which
Ann Packet had twice stumbled, buttoned his black dress-coat across his
chest, picked up his hat, and proceeded to retire without further words,
like a man of business, who, having done his work, was in a hurry to get
home. Suddenly he paused and regarded Harriet Wesden attentively. The
light in the room was feeble, and might deceive him, he thought, for,
with a quick hand, he caught up the candlestick and held it nearer to
her.

"Miss Wesden--surely?"

Harriet saw nothing to recognize in the wiry-haired, high-cheek-boned
preacher. He was a stranger to her.

"Yes, sir."

"It's not a common name, but I presume not connected with the
stationer's in Great Suffolk Street?"

"It was once, before my father left the shop."

"The coincidence never struck me before--that's rather odd, for I'm not
generally so dull. You don't remember me?"

"I have never met you before."

"Oh! yes--at the Ashford railway station, in the middle of the
night--you claimed my protection from a cruel snare that had been laid
to entrap you."

"Hush, sir!--yes, sir," said Harriet, with a glance at Ann Packet, who,
however, was still busy with the tea-things; "I remember you now; you
were very kind to me, and took pains to relieve me from a great
anxiety."

"And what has become of----"

"I have never seen him," Harriet interrupted.

"And he hasn't sought you out, and----"

"No, he hasn't. Please say no more about it!" she cried to the
inquisitive man; "I have forgotten the story. Mattie, ask him to be
quiet."

"How's that possible? How can a--_Mattie_!" he ejaculated, suddenly
struck by that name, dropping his hat and then putting his foot upon it
in his excitement; "your name Mattie, and acquainted with a Miss Wesden,
who lived once in Suffolk Street! And Miss Gray, too!--my name!--Mattie
Gray, why, it must be!"

"Must be--what!" gasped Mattie, rising in her chair.

"Keep quiet--you're to be kept quiet--the doctor said so," he stammered,
fighting wildly in the air with both hands; "don't alarm yourself--try
and guess who I am for the next hour and a half. I'll be back by that
time--where's my hat?--good evening."

He turned to dart out of the room, and ran against Sidney Hinchford, who
had been standing there an amazed listener--_for how long_?

"Break it to her by degrees before I come," he said to Sidney; "I'm her
father--I have been looking for her all over the kingdom. Do me this
good turn?"

"One moment--I am going your way. Mattie understands it already."

"Sidney!" cried Harriet.

"I shall be back in a few minutes," he said, and then the local preacher
and the banker's clerk went out together.



CHAPTER III.

FATHER AND DAUGHTER.


The three women left behind in that little room remained silent from the
shock. They were amazed, perplexed. The sudden excitement of the
preacher; the strange questions he had asked Harriet Wesden before the
name of Mattie had changed the topic of conversation; the presence of
Sidney Hinchford as a witness to all this; his abrupt departure with the
preacher--all tended to create doubt, and suggest to one, at least, the
presence of danger.

Mattie had not given much thought to Sidney Hinchford's appearance; the
preacher's excitement, the return of a far-off thought to her, had
rendered all that had followed vague and indistinct--the scene had been
even too much for her, and she began to slowly close her eyes.

"I think she has been talked and worried to death too much," cried Ann
running to her; "Miss Harriet, I'd go now, if I were you."

"Perhaps I have remained too long," said Harriet, rising.

"No," said Mattie, feebly, "I have been surprised by all that has just
happened. You are not the cause."

"I think I would lie on the bed a little while, Mattie," said Harriet.

"Don't go till I feel better."

Mattie lay on the bed as directed; Harriet did not resume her seat, but
stood with one arm on the mantel-piece, looking thoughtfully before her,
where no fancy pictures lingered now. There was a long silence. Ann
Packet placed some smelling salts in Mattie's hand, and then sat at a
little distance, watching her. Harriet retained her position until
Mattie drew the bed-curtain further back and looked at her.

"I am better now. You will wait till Sidney comes back to fetch you
home, Harriet?"

"It is very late. He may not come back."

"He is sure to come," said Mattie; "pray sit down again, and Ann shall
make us tea. Harriet, that man is my father."

"Do you really think so?"

"It was all a truth that that horrible woman told me on the day the
house was robbed; he has been in search of me; he has found me at
last--I shall not be alone in the world ever again!"

"You are glad then, Mattie?"

"Why should I not be?" asked our heroine; "I think that he is a good
man--I think that he must have cared for me a little, to have taken so
much trouble in his search for me--he will come back soon, and then we
shall know all."

"He comes back to your gain and my loss," Harriet was on the point of
saying, but checked herself; Mattie was excited enough without the cares
of her friend to be added to her own.

It was a silent, thoughtful meal; Ann Packet, absorbed in gloomy
reverie, took her tea with stony apathy. She could see that changes were
coming towards her also, and the shape that they might assume was hard
to guess at. She should lose Mattie perhaps, and that was sufficient to
disturb _her_.

Tea was over, and Mattie had returned to her easy-chair, when a faint
rapping was heard at the outer-door. Ann Packet went to the door, and
found the preacher there, as she had anticipated.

"Is she prepared--has she guessed?"

"Yes."

"Can I come in?"

"It isn't for the likes of me to say you can't;" and with this evasive
reply, Ann Packet opened wide the door and admitted him.

He came in on tiptoe, in a manner strangely at variance with his former
brusque entrance; he turned to Harriet Wesden first, and spoke in a low
whisper to her.

"Mr. Hinchford bade me say, Miss Wesden, that he was waiting for you,
down-stairs."

"Thank you--is he----?"

Harriet did not know how to finish her sentence, and left it in its
embryo condition. Her face was pale, and her heart was beating violently
as she stooped and kissed Mattie.

"Good-bye, dear--I must go now--Sidney is waiting."

"Good-bye--are you not well?" asked Mattie, suddenly.

She was as quick an observer as of yore, and the new expression on
Harriet's face suggested the new fear.

"Yes--yes--a little upset by what has happened to-day, that's all.
Good-bye." And Harriet Wesden departed hastily.

The preacher put his hat on the floor, silently drew a chair towards
Mattie, and then sat down close to her side. Ann Packet, from the
distance watched them both--saw in an instant the likeness between them,
as they sat thus. Both had sharp black eyes, dark hair, thin noses; the
general expression of features was the same, harsher and more prominent
in the man; and, therefore, rendering him far from a being whose good
looks were apparent.

"Your name is Mattie?--you were at Mr. Wesden's for some years?--he
adopted you--he took you from the streets?--previous to his kindness,
you were living, off and on, at a Mrs. Watts' of Kent Street, Southwark,
where your mother died?"

"Yes," answered Mattie.

"The woman who died in Kent Street, Southwark, was my wife. She and I
started in life together happily enough, till she took to drink--oh! the
drink! the drink!--and then home became a misery, and we quarrelled very
much, and I took to drink myself. I lost my place through drink, and
laid the fault to her--we quarrelled worse than ever, as we became
poorer and more wretched; I struck her, fought with her, acted the brute
until she ran away from me, taking you with her, then but a year old. I
did not seek to find her out--I let her go to ruin, and went my own way
to ruin myself, until rescued by a miracle--by a good man, whom God sent
in my way to amend my life, and teach me all the truths which I had
neglected. He found me work again; he raised me from the brute into the
man; he altered me body and soul, and when he died, it struck me that I
might follow in his steps, and do good unto others, after his example. I
was not an unlearned man in all respects; I fancied that I might do good
by an effort--there is no doing good without one--and I made the
attempt. When I was rewarded by my first convert, Mattie, that was my
encouragement," he said, rising with the earnestness of his topic,
sitting down again, and flinging his arms wildly about; "that was my
incentive to go on, to save fresh souls from the danger, to struggle in
the by-ways of life, for the light which the evil one would for ever
shut from us. And I was rewarded for the effort; I have done good; I
have spent the last sixteen years of my life in the good cause!"

"You are a minister."

"A local preacher--wandering from place to place, as my employers
dictate--occasionally proceeding on my own route; for ever astir, and
letting not the sun go down upon my idleness. And all this, while I have
been in search of you--tracking your mother at last to Kent Street, and
following on your track, until I am rewarded thus!"

He held forth his hand, and Mattie placed hers within it.

"I think that you are my father," she said; "I am glad to find some one
to care for me at last."

"And you will care for _me_?--for I have been a lonely man in the world
for many years, and would make atonement for the evil act which cast you
to the streets! But Mattie, look at me!"

Mattie regarded him long and steadfastly. It was a strange,
hard-featured face, on which was impressed firmness, or obduracy, and
little else; but she felt that he was to be trusted and believed.

"You see a very stubborn man, one who has made few friends in life, and
who has met with much tribulation in his journey," said he; "you see a
man who will do his duty by you, but will not be a gentle father--a man
who will never win a daughter's love, and will not let the daughter take
the first place in his heart, lest she should wean him too much from the
pursuit of sin, and slacken his zeal in the good cause. A man who is
poor--who cannot offer you a home much better than this--a man
disagreeable, irritable, and obstinate--is he worth calling father?"

"Yes."

"Thank God you say so; it is very horrible to feel alone in the world."

The disagreeable, irritable, and obstinate man, shook Mattie by both
hands, kissed her suddenly on the forehead, drew forth a cotton
handkerchief, and wiped his eyes and blew his nose vigorously; finished
by producing a shabby leather purse, and taking some silver therefrom,
which he placed on the mantel-piece.

"My child!--at my expense all future housekeeping. Young woman," to Ann
Packet, "you'll draw from that small amount for the future."

"I'm sure I shan't!"

"Eh!--what?"

"I've taken care of her, and been a mother to her for the last four
weeks, and you're not a-coming in here all at once, and stealing every
bit of comfort away from me!"

"Who is this?" he asked of Mattie.

"A faithful friend, without whom I might have died."

"Then she must be a friend of mine--young woman, you hear that?"

"Ah! I hear," said the stolid Ann.

"And who knows but that you, Mattie, in the better days in store for you
and me, may become a worker in the vineyard also?"

"She's not going to work in any yard yet awhile, if I know it!" said
Ann.

Mr. Gray rose and picked up his hat again, without paying heed to this
allusion.

"I have work to do at home," he said; "I am a mechanic by trade, and
have to labour to get my own living; when you are well enough, you must
come to my home and make it a different place. I have much to ask you
when you are better--I have been troubled about stories that have been
told me of you--I am unhappy until I know the truth. You will keep
nothing from me?"

Mattie did not reply; that was a matter for future consideration.

"I never allow anything to be kept from me," he said sharply; "I shall
be a hard father, rely upon it. I allow nothing for prevarication, and I
spare no sin or weakness, however plausible may be the excuse which the
sinner offers. I--how dreadfully askew everything is on this
mantel-piece!" he added suddenly, putting the few ornaments thereon at
regular distances from each other; "I shall not be a kind father--I know
I shan't! The mountains are not harder to move than I am--you're not
frightened at me, Mattie?"

"No."

"Not sorry I have come here to claim you?"

"No--glad," said Mattie; "I think I shall be able to trust you, and to
understand you in a little while. And the world will never be entirely
desolate again."

"Neither for you nor for me--though I have had my pursuits, and been
working hard for my master on earth--my Master in heaven. Amen. He has
been very kind to me to reward me thus for the little which I have done
of late years!"

He was down on his knees in the old place, and praying again; offering a
thanksgiving for his daughter's restoration to him. He was a man who
cared not for appearances--who doubtless rendered himself extremely
ridiculous and objectionable at times--and yet a man so thoroughly in
earnest, that it was hard to laugh at him. At first sight it was
difficult to understand him, although Mattie already felt confidence in
him, and saw a brighter life in store for her; he was a man whose
character was hard to define at a first interview.

The time was inappropriate; the prayer out of place; he might have
waited till he had got home, thought Ann; but after a while the deep
voice arrested attention, and Mattie listened and was impressed by the
man's fervour and rugged eloquence. It was not a long prayer; he was on
his feet again, and looking at his daughter once more.

"I shall come to-morrow--next week perhaps we shall be living together,
father and child! Dear me, how odd that sounds now! With you at my side,
I feel I can confront my enemies better."

"Your enemies?"

"Such as they are--I'm not afraid of them--I rather like them," he
added; "they laugh at me, and mimic my ways--shrug their shoulders, and
tell one another what a hypocrite I am. It's the easiest thing in the
world to say a man is a hypocrite, and the very hardest for that man to
prove that he is not. But we'll talk about that, and about everything
else when you're better. I--I hope I haven't been _going it_ too
much--good-bye."

"Good-bye, father."

"Ah! that's very good of you," he said; "but you must not be too
credulous. I'll bring my marriage certificate to-morrow, and we'll
proceed in a more business-like fashion. Good-bye--good evening, young
woman."

"Good evening, sir," said Ann, evidently inclined to be more civil to
him. When he had gone, Ann Packet insisted upon putting Mattie to bed at
once; she was inclined to keep her place, and talk of the extraordinary
incidents of that day.

"Talk of 'em to-morrow," said Ann; "you've _gallied_ your brains enough
for fifty fathers."

"I feel so much happier, Ann, with some one whom I shall have a right to
love."

"Well, you've a right to love who you like, o' course."

"And I shan't love my faithful, gentle nurse the worse for it."

"God bless you!--what a gal you are!"

"Life seems beginning with me for the first time--opening new scenes,
new faces, new affections. Yes, Ann, I am happy to-night."

"Then I'm glad he's come--I think he's turned up for the best;
although," she muttered to herself, "I shouldn't be very proud of
another father like him for myself. He's _such a rum un_!"

Meanwhile Harriet Wesden--what had followed the coming of this "rum un"
to her? Was her happiness fading away, as Mattie Gray's advanced? Let us
see.



CHAPTER IV.

"ONLY PITY."


A cold frosty air in the streets that night--a chilling welcome to
Harriet Wesden as she emerged from the hot room into Tenchester Street.
Sidney was waiting for her, staid, silent, and statuesque; he offered
her his arm, which she took, and together they proceeded along the
narrow street into the Southwark Bridge Road--thence past the old house
in Great Suffolk Street towards the Borough.

Harriet Wesden felt that she would have given worlds, had she possessed
them, to have broken the silence, and ventured on some topic which might
have tested the truth or the folly of her fears; but all thought seemed
to have deserted her.

These sudden vacuums are difficult things to account for--most of us
suffer from them more or less at some period or other of our lives. Who
cannot remember the sudden hiatus with the friend--male or female--whom
we intended particularly to impress with the force of our eloquence; or
the collapse in the grand speech with which we wished to return thanks
for the handsome manner in which our health had been drunk at that
dinner party, or the vote of confidence placed in us at that
extraordinary general meeting?

Harriet Wesden was dumb; there was not one thought at which she could
clutch, even the coldness of that night did not suggest itself till it
was too late to speak, and the idea began to impress her that it would
be more unnatural to say a few commonplace words than to keep silence.

She guessed that Sidney knew her secret, or the greater part of her
secret, the instant that she had emerged into the street; and to attempt
a commonplace discourse with a great sorrow overshadowing him would,
after all, have been a mockery, unworthy of herself and him.

But if he would only speak!--not proceed onwards so firmly, steadily
saying, never a word to relieve the embarrassment of her position.
Sidney Hinchford maintained a rigid silence for almost a similar reason
to Harriet's; he was at loss how to begin, and break the spell which had
enchained him since his engagement. He was walking in darkness, and
there was no light ahead of him. All was vanity and vexation of spirit.

At last the silence was broken. They had left behind them the long rows
of lighted shops, and come to private houses, and long dreary front
gardens, with interminable rows of iron railings; there were a few late
office-clerks--a shadowy woman or two--hastening homewards; the roar of
London was growing fainter in the distance.

"Harriet," he began, in a deep voice, wherein all excitement was pent up
and constrained, "I have heard a strange story to-night from that man
claiming to be Mattie's father--is it true?"

"Yes."

She did not ask what he had heard, or attempt any defence; the sound of
his voice, deep and resonant after the long silence, had set her heart
beating, and rendered her answer a matter of difficulty.

"It is a strange story, and I have been hoping it might have been
explained away by some means not only unnatural--I can almost believe
that it is all a dream, and no cruel waking is to follow it. Harriet,
may I ask if your father is aware of this?"

"He is not yet."

"You were travelling alone with a gentleman--I will call him a gentleman
for the sake of argument--in the middle of the night by the Dover mail
train; at Ashford you leave the carriage abruptly, and demand protection
from him--speak of a trap into which he had led you, and seek counsel of
that man we met at Mattie's house to-night?"

"But----"

"But do not misunderstand me, Harriet--I can read the story for myself;
I can see that you were deceived in this man, and had no consciousness
of the snare prepared for you, until the hour was too late. I can
believe that your sense of right was outraged, and the _gentleman_
merited all the scorn which he received--but who was this man to whom
you could trust yourself at that hour, and by what right were you, under
any circumstances, his companion?"

"He was a man I met at Mrs. Eveleigh's--he offered to escort me to the
railway station."

"A stranger?"

"No--I had met him at Brighton, before then, when I was a school-girl.
He--he paid me attentions there which flattered my girlish vanity;
and--and then I met him again at Mrs. Eveleigh's."

"What is his name?"

"Darcy."

"You have not seen him since?"

"No--I hope that he and I will never meet again."

"Harriet, you loved this man!"

"No," was the fearless answer; "I cannot believe that now. I might have
fancied so at the time--for oh! I was bewildered by many thoughts, and
my heart was troubled, Sid--but I never loved him, on my honour!"

"It is easy to think that now," said Sidney in reply; "the idol has
fallen from the pedestal, never to be replaced again--a ruin, in which
no interest remains. But you loved him, or believed you loved him at
that time--it is a nice distinction--and there was no thought of me and
my hopes."

"Sidney, I wrote--I--"

"Harriet, there is no need for us to say one word in anger about this,"
he interrupted; "I will ask no further explanation--I do not wish it. I
can see now where I have been wrong, and whither my folly was leading
me--and there's an end of it," he added.

"An end of--what?"

"Of the one hope that I have had. I see, now, how much better it is for
you and me, and what a foolish couple we have been."

There was a long silence; they had walked on some distance before
Harriet said, suddenly and sharply--

"What do you mean--what am I to understand?"

"That our engagement is at an end, and that it is better for us both to
forget the romantic nonsense which we talked of lately. I will not ask
you to forget me; I will not try for a single moment to forget _you_. I
will prefer, if you will allow me, Harriet, to remain your
friend--something of the old boy-friend I was to you, before the dream
came."

"Unjust--unkind!" she murmured.

"No, you will not think that presently," he answered; "you will judge me
more fairly, and see for yourself how it could not have ended otherwise
for either of us. You have been more than kind to me--you have offered
me the sacrifice of your best wishes, even your brightest prospects, out
of pity, and I cannot have it."

"Pity!" she repeated.

Harriet was unnerved at his earnestness, at the deep sorrow which
betrayed itself in every word, and which he thought that he disguised so
well; but her pride was wounded also at his resignation of her, and she
could see that there was no defence to urge which, by the laws of
probability, had power to affect him. Between her and him that cruel
past, which she had hidden from him; that proof of love or fancy for
another, when he was building on her lore for him; that evidence against
her, which for ever robbed him of his confidence and trust. No, there
was no defence, and the scornful echo of his last words were more like
defiance than regret.

"Yes, pity!" he reiterated--"only pity! Harriet," he said, for an
instant pressing her hand upon his arm with the old affection, "it was
kind and noble of you, but it was not love. It was a sacrifice; I was a
poor man; there was a great affliction in store for me, and you felt
that you alone could lighten it in the present--and in the future, when
it faced me and shut me in with it. You saw that you were my one hope,
and you took pity on me. It was a mistake--I see the gigantic error that
it was now!"

"You will see the truth--you will judge me fairer yet, Sidney."

"This past engagement between us, Harriet, has been a trouble to me
lately," he continued; "my selfishness has scared me before this, and I
have felt that I had no right to bind you to me for a term of years,
ending in calamity at the last. I was wrong--I retract--I am very sorry
for the error--I am glad of this excuse to rectify it."

"You say that!" cried Harriet; "you are glad to break with me--to
believe that I did not love you, Sidney?"

"Yes, I am glad. I can see that it was all for the best; and though I
could have wished that there had been a different reason for the
parting, still it takes a weight from my conscience--it is a relief!"

It was a struggle to say so, but he said it without bitterness, and in
good faith. By some ingenious method of word-twisting, which Harriet
could not follow, he had stopped all effort to explain more fully, and
turned the blame of the engagement on himself. There was no answering;
she saw that his heart was wrung with the agony of the dissolution, but
she read upon that pale, stern face, to which she glanced but once, an
inflexible resolve, that nothing could alter. He upbraided her not; he
uttered not one sarcasm upon the folly of her past passion for Mr.
Darcy, or the mistakes to which it had led; he expressed a wish to be
her friend still, but he gave her up, and with all her love for him--and
she knew how truly it was love then--she could not ask him to reconsider
his verdict and spare her a parting as bitter for her as him. She read
in that hasty glance at his face, _incredulity_ of her affection for
him; and no protestation on her part could have altered that. Yes, it
was ended between them--perhaps for the best, God knew; she could not
think of it then--she was ashamed, miserable, utterly cast down!

"Let me get home," she murmured; "what a long way it is to home."

"I will say no more, Harriet--I have been unkind to say so much," he
said, in answer to that cry, in which he might have read the truth, had
not his heart been for ever closed to it from that night.

So, in the same silent way as they had begun that inauspicious walk, the
two concluded it, reaching the little house of Mr. Wesden shortly
afterwards. Colder and more grim the night there; beyond the lighted
London streets, in melancholy suburban districts like to this, there
seemed to lurk a greater desolation.

"Good night," he said; "don't think that we part in anger, or that I am
hurt in any way at what has happened--or that I am less your friend than
ever, Harriet."

"Good night," was all her answer.

He lingered still, as though he had more to say, or was endeavouring to
think of something more to render the disruption less abrupt and harsh;
but he relinquished the attempt, and left her, walking away rapidly as
though at the last--the very last--he feared to trust himself.

He did not go straight home, but walked for awhile up and down the
street wherein his home was, at the same rapid pace, with his breath
held somewhat, and his hands clenched.

He had acted for the best--it _was_ for the best, he thought!--but the
result was not satisfactory, and the future beyond was the grey density
at which he had recoiled, when crossing the Channel on the day he came
to man's estate.

If he had died on that day, or the ship had gone down with him, how much
better he thought then; better for her, for him--even for his father,
perhaps, he could not tell at that time!

He went indoors at last, feigned for awhile the old demeanour, and
failed at a task beyond his strength for once. He gave it up, and,
looking vacantly at his amazed father, said,

"I'm not well to-night. I think I'll go to my room."

"Not well!--you not well, Sid?" exclaimed the father, as though the
assertion were the most improbable to make in the world.

"Not very well--a head-ache."

"Ah! too much book-work. Be careful, Sid, don't overtask yourself."

"I shall be well enough to-morrow. Good night."

He left the room abruptly, and turned the key in his own apartment a few
minutes afterwards. In his own room, he hunted for a few letters which
she had written to him during their brief engagement, and proceeded to
burn them in the empty fire-grate.

"So much the best," he muttered, "so much the best!" as though they were
charmed words, that kept him strong.

He missed something else, and was uneasy about it. He went to the
looking-glass drawer, and turned out the whole contents upon the
toilet-table--staring at a letter soiled, crumpled and torn, but still
_sealed_, which rewarded his search, and lay at the bottom.

"What's this?" he muttered.

He drew a chair nearer the drawers on which the light was placed,
examined the post-mark, the superscription, the seal, then opened the
letter, dated on the day he went away on special service.

A long, confused epistle, written with difficulty and under much
agitation, but telling one truth, at which he had guessed--which he had
spoken of that night.

"I knew it before!" he cried; but the news daunted him, and unmanned him
notwithstanding.

It was the climax, and he gave way utterly.



CHAPTER V.

AN UNAVAILING EFFORT.


The dry, matter-of-fact world, with its face to business and its back to
romance, is still interested in love-matters, and passingly agitated by
the sudden disruption of any love-engagement. It shows an interest in
the latest news, and turns from its account-books for awhile to know how
it came about that Damon and Phyllis could not agree upon "proprieties,"
and thought that it was better to part, for good and aye, than to settle
down for good as man and wife. Having learned the news, remarked upon
the pity that it was, or the best thing that could happen for _her_ or
for _him_, the world goes upon its course again, and the story is as old
as the hills before the leading characters have got over their first
heart-pangs.

It was not a large world that was interested in the disruption of Sidney
Hinchford's love engagement; two old men at Camberwell, and a
needlewoman, might almost constitute it in this instance. We say almost,
for a reason that will appear presently; a cautious writer should always
speak with a reserve.

The two old men were interested in the news, but not profoundly
affected; such is the selfishness of humanity, when matters do not
seriously affect its own comfort.

Harriet Wesden told the news on the following day to her father, and he,
after a stare over her head in the old fashion, thought, perhaps, that
it was all for the best. Harriet told him the whole story of the past
that had led to the parting, and he took stock of the principal
features, and thought it was an odd affair, and that he might have been
told of this Mr. Darcy a little earlier. After awhile he fancied that it
was more comfortable to know that Harriet was to be always with him, to
attend to his small ailments, and study his eccentricities. Of late he
had harassed himself somewhat with the idea that there would be an early
marriage, and that he should be left entirely alone in the world;--with
that house and new furniture, that wash-house where the chimney always
smoked, and that back-garden where groundsel grew vigorously in the
garden paths. The news of the quarrel came with something like a relief
to him. Harriet always at home; no one calling to distract attention
away from him--well, it _was_ for the best, though in his unselfish
moments, and he had many of them, Harriet alone in the world after he
was gone, was a picture that affected him.

There was something else to trouble him now; Harriet's story had cleared
up the mystery of Mattie's actions, that last mystery which had led to
an act of injustice on his part. That he had been unjust, and cast
Mattie back to the streets, troubled him far more than the broken
love-pledge between Harriet and Sidney; for the first time in his life
he had done a wrong, a palpable and cruel one, which might have
submerged a soul, and he was sorry, very sorry, for all that had led to
it. It did not matter that Mattie had been rescued from utter loneliness
by the appearance of her father upon the scene; his hasty judgment had
only brought about the wrong, and he had tried to walk uprightly all his
life, and do his best according to his powers.

Harriet, his daughter, kept her troubles to herself; she had met with
the first shock that falls to the share of many a young life, and she
had not made up her mind as to the best method of bearing up against it.
Two years ago this would not have been a great trouble to her; but two
years had wondrously sobered her, and her eyes had only been opened to
the true estimate of Sidney's character at the time when he spoke of the
necessity of ending all engagement between them. He had not blamed her,
or she might have defended herself; he had spoken of his own
consciousness of having done wrong to bind her by a promise made in an
impulsive moment, he had intimated that it was a relief to him to give
her up, and in the face of the cold, unpitying world, she was powerless
to act. Still she was hopeful amidst it all; it was no serious quarrel;
he had spoken of his wish to remain her friend, and by one of the many
chances of life, it would not be difficult for him to discover that it
_was_ love which drew her to him, and not the pity which is akin to it.
It might all be explained when the right moment came round; but as the
days passed, and no Sidney appeared, her heart sank more, and she read
the future in store for her through a medium less highly coloured by her
fancy.

A week after the explanation between Sidney and her, she went in search
of Mattie. Always in trouble thinking of Mattie--seeking from her that
consolation which her own thoughts denied her. Mattie was still in
Tenchester Street, although Ann Packet had gone back to the Hinchford
service. Mattie was strong enough to shift for herself again--to set
about packing her scanty wardrobe for removal to her fathers home; she
was alone and busy with her preparations for departure, when Harriet
Wesden came into the room.

After the first salutations had been exchanged--and flying remarks upon
Mattie's better health and brighter looks had been made--our heroine
looked steadily at Harriet, and asked what was the matter.

"Am I so altered that you should think anything had happened, Mattie?"

"There is not the look I like to see _there_," said Mattie, pointing to
Harriet Wesden's face.

"It's not a happy look, is it?" she asked, with a little sigh.

"Not very."

"Sit down here beside me, and let me tell you why the happy looks have
gone for ever."

"For ever! Oh! I'll not believe that."

"You'll never guess what I am going to tell you?"

"Sidney and you have quarrelled."

"Yes--no--not exactly quarrelled--what a girl you are to guess things!
Sidney and I, by mutual consent, have cancelled our engagement."

"I am sorry," said Mattie, after a moment's silence; "sorry, not that
the engagement has been broken for awhile, for it will be renewed
again--"

"Never!--never!"

"But that any difference should have arisen between you two. As for not
making it up again," said Mattie, cheerfully, "oh! we can't believe
that, we two who understand Sidney Hinchford so well."

"There will never be an engagement between him and me again," said
Harriet; "over for once and all, Mattie."

"I say there will be," said Mattie, in an equally decisive manner. "Have
I lived so long to see it all ended thus? I say it shall be!" cried
Mattie, in an excited manner, that surprised even Harriet, who knew
Mattie's character so well; "and we shall see, in good time, which is
the true prophetess."

"Mattie, you don't know Sidney, after all."

"Tell me the story--I am very anxious."

And with a woman's keen interest in love matters--her own, or anybody
else's, as the case might be--Mattie clasped her hands together, and
bent forward, all eagerness for Harriet's narrative.

"It's all through your father--that father of yours, who comes upon the
scene, and brings misery with him at once!" said Harriet, a little
petulantly.

"Hush, Harriet!--remember that he is my father, now!" said Mattie, who
had found one more to defend in life, and to live for, "and I am
learning to love him, and to understand him better every day."

"Yes--yes--you will forgive me--I am always offending some one with my
hasty words. This is how the quarrel came about."

Harriet launched into her story at once; in a torrent of hurried
explanations the details were poured forth, and Mattie, in a short
while, knew as much as Harriet Wesden, which was not all however, as we,
who are behind the scenes of this little drama, are aware.

"Perhaps it serves _us_ right," said Mattie, pluralizing the case after
her old fashion; "we kept something back, and Sidney is straightforward
in everything, and hates deceit, even innocent deceit like ours,
practised for your good name's sake. Did you tell him that?"

"I don't know what I told him," answered Harriet, sadly. "I said
nothing--I was found guilty, and there was no answer left me."

"We shall live this down, I think," said Mattie, confidently. "After
all, there's nothing very serious about it--if he don't suspect us of
behaving wrongly on that night."

"Sidney suspect that of me! Oh! no, no--not so bad as that!"

"Then it will all come right in time," cried Mattie. "He has loved us
all his life, and will not fling himself from us in his pride and anger,
as--as other men would do, more selfish and unjust than he. I see the
future brightening--we will wait patiently, and not be cast down by this
slight trouble."

"Slight trouble!" exclaimed Harriet. "Oh! Mattie, if you only understood
what love was like, you would guess my--my sense of desolation."

Harriet flung herself on the bosom of the old faithful friend, whose
face, over her shoulder, became suddenly, and for an instant only, very
white and lined.

"I will try and guess," she said, in a low voice. "It must be desolate;
I--I may know better some day!"

Then Mattie set herself the task of comforting this child--a child
still, she thought, in her impulsiveness, and in that weakness which
gave way like a child at the first trouble, and sought help and comfort
from others, rather than from her own heart. And Mattie, who had the
gift--that rare rich gift above all price--of comforting those who are
afflicted, succeeded in putting the facts of the case in their best and
less distorted light, and was rewarded before the interview was
over--and when Harriet remembered it--by the new fact of how one
revelation had brought about another, and cleared up the mystery of
Mattie's absence from home to the man who had suspected her.

"I broke the promise--there was nothing to keep back, when I had my own
story to relate."

"He knows all this," said Mattie, "and he----"

"He is very sorry for all that harshness which drove you from us--I am
sure of it."

"Why, it is brightening all round," said Mattie; "we shall have no
secret in the midst of us, and all will be well now!"

Both had forgotten the letter, wherein absence of all true affection was
asserted; Harriet believed it destroyed, and Mattie did not think to
remind her of the danger--in her heart believed it even far removed from
her.

They parted hopefully; Mattie made the best of the position, and was
really trustful in a good result. Sidney Hinchford loved Harriet, and
she could not understand a man loving on, and yet holding aloof from the
idol he would fain worship still.

Sidney Hinchford, a few days afterwards, came to make his last inquiries
concerning Mattie's health--had he waited another day he would have
found empty rooms and a desolate hearth--and Mattie seized that
opportunity to say a word. The grass never grew under the feet of Mattie
Gray, and the dark look--new to his face in its intensity of
sternness--did not deter her.

"I am sorry to hear the last news, Mr. Hinchford."

"It was to be expected," he replied shortly. He would have hastened away
from a subject that distressed him, but Mattie was not deterred by his
harsh voice.

"Not to be expected, you mean, Mr. Sidney," she said; "for she and you,
who have been together all your lives, should----"

"Pardon me, Mattie," he interrupted, decisively; "I cannot bear a third
person's interference in this matter. It lies between her and me, and
both she and I have thought it better to part, without reproach or
ill-will. She has made up her mind----"

"But----"

"And had she not," he said, catching at Mattie's wrist and holding it
firmly with his hand, as though to stay her defence by that means, "I
have made up mine, and there is nothing on earth, or in heaven, to alter
it, I swear!"

"Oh! sir," cried Mattie, dismayed at this assertion, "you will think of
this again--of her you have known from a little child, and should be
able to trust. There's not a truer, kinder heart, in all the world!"

"She is true and kind--she would even have sacrificed her happiness for
my sake--but she never loved me. I have her written evidence to that."

"The letter!--oh! the letter!"

"You knew it?--_you_ helped to deceive me, too!"

"Not deceit--all was done for your own good, Mr. Sidney--she did not
know her own mind when that letter was written; she----"

"She will never know it--she is a weak woman--God help her! She was
never fit for me!"

"Yes," was the quick denial.

"No, I say. A thousand times no!"

He stamped his foot upon the floor, and then turned away, sterner and
darker in his looks than ever. Mattie's heart sank then--for she read in
his face a resolve that love could not soften, or time ameliorate. She
lost hope herself from that day.

"I must make up for him as well as I can," said Mattie, after he had
gone; "she must not break down, because he turns away. She is young and
will get over it--let me see, now, how shall I teach my darling to
forget all this?"



CHAPTER VI.

MR. GRAY FURTHER DEVELOPED.


That is a grand trait of character in man, woman, or
child--unselfishness. It is a trait that scarcely exists, perhaps, in
its pure state; for we are selfish mortals, struggling to cut one
another's throats all our lives, and coveting our neighbour's goods with
a rare intensity. It is a selfish globe on which we are spinning, and it
is natural to think deeply--think altogether, perhaps--of _our_ loves,
_our_ successes, _our_ chances of fame, fortune, happiness, rather than
of other people's. For the reason that it has been our lot to drop upon
an exception to this rule--as near an exception as this rule _sans_
exception will allow--do we hold Mattie a first place in our affections,
and think her story--approaching its turbulent stage--worth the telling.

Springing from a low estate, and saved as by a miracle--this flower put
forth strange buds and blossoms after its transplanting. It outlived the
past, and turned quickly to the light, as though light had been its
craving from the first, and only a better chance, and a purer moral
atmosphere, were needed to wholly change it. Mattie passed from evil to
good swiftly, grateful to the hands that had been outstretched to save
her; the untaught childhood became swiftly the days of grateful
girlhood--and from girlhood to the gentle, honest womanhood, that
thought of others' happiness, and strove hard for happiness in those she
loved, was but another step, easily made and never repented of.

She did all for the best, and strove hard to make the best of
everything--_for others_. We know no better heroine than this, and I am
very doubtful if we care for one better educated or of higher origin.
And yet, heaven be thanked, not a model heroine, who was always in the
right!

Mattie removed to her father's apartments in Union Road, Brunswick
Street, New Kent Road. Brunswick Street is an artery that lets the wild
blood of Great Dover Street into the New Kent Road--a quiet street by
day, but subject to scared strangers at night in search of the medical
students who locate here in legions. Union Road is on the right of
Brunswick Street, and a near cut, if you are fortunate enough not to
lose yourself, to Horsemonger Lane Gaol, though what you may want
_there_ is more your business than ours. Mr. Gray rented the two top
rooms of a small house in Union Road, the sitting room provided with a
sofa bedstead, which was henceforth to be of service to Mattie, when the
day's duties were over, and Mr. Gray had finished his praying.

Here settled down the new-found father and child, and began "home" once
more. Here Mattie learned by degrees to understand her father, to
appreciate the many good qualities which he possessed, and to "make
allowance"--as she always made allowance--for the few bad ones, which he
possessed also, minister of the gospel as he termed himself.

They agreed very well together; there was little to disturb the even
tenor of their way; and it fortunately happened that Mr. Gray, who was
fond of argument, was blessed with a daughter who always shunned it,
when the topics did not directly affect her. Mr. Gray, on the whole, was
a little disappointed in his daughter--agreeably disappointed, we might
have said, had not the discomfiture been so apparent on his features for
a while. He was a man fond of making converts; it had been his
profession, and he had met with success therein. He had promised himself
the pleasure of saving his daughter from the dangers and temptations of
the world, and he had found one who was out of danger and as above
temptation as he was. From Mrs. Watts' account, subsequently from Mr.
Wesden's, he had been led to expect a very different daughter to this; a
girl who had run the streets for eleven years--who had been a friendless
stray upon those streets, a thief and beggar at intervals when honesty
did not _pay_--who had afterwards left her master's house under
suspicion of a grave character--was likely to be a wilful, vicious
specimen of womanhood, and worthy of his earnest efforts to subdue.
Though he would not have owned it to himself, yet the belief in Mattie
being unregenerate and defiant had added an intensity to his search for
her; since his own better life, he had been ever in search of a
thoroughly fine specimen of impenitence to practise upon, and now even
his own daughter had disappointed him!

He discovered that she was a regular attendant at chapel--not even at
church, to whose forms he had the true dissenter's objection--that she
read her Bible regularly, and took comfort from its pages--that she was
gentle, charitable, kind, unselfish, everything that he would have liked
to make her by his intense love and application, and which he had found
ready-made to hand.

He returned thanks for all this in his usual manner, but there was an
occasional blankness of expression on his countenance; he was truly glad
to have discovered his daughter, but he found that she was never to owe
him an immense debt of gratitude for her reformation, and he had built
upon that whenever they were thrown together, father and child, at last.
Beyond his home he must look once more for the obdurate specimen that he
could attack, follow up, analyze and dissect, with the gusto of a
surgeon over "as fine a case as ever he saw in his life!"

But that home--in a very little time what a different place it was to
him! He found in Mattie all that he could have made of her, and after
awhile he was more than content. He was a man who made but little show
of earthly affection, and possibly deceived Mattie, who took his love
for duty more often than he wished, though it was his pride to abjure
all evidence of earthly affection, and to consider himself, as he termed
it, above it. He was a man who deceived himself by this--people have
that peculiar trait of character now and then, and place credence in
their own impossibilities.

Mr. Gray was a lithographer by trade--a man who would have earned more
money had not his preaching interfered with his work, and had he not
been rather too particular for a business man upon what work he engaged
himself. A crotchety, irritable being, who brought his religion into his
business, and, therefore, occasionally muddled both. On one occasion he
had been horrified by the receipt of an order to lithograph several
scenes from the last new pantomime, to be exhibited on broadsheets
outside the theatre-doors, and in tobacconists' shops; and having
declined to be an agent in such a "Worke of the Beast," had been
dismissed from the staff of a firm which he had faithfully-served for
many years. He had lived hard after that, known what it was to be
penniless and fireless, and almost bootless, but those unpleasant
sensations had their comforts for him--they were evidences of his
sacrifice for his character's sake, and he had fought on doggedly till
other employment came, which brought his head above water. He was a man
who never gave way in his opinions, or sacrificed them for his personal
convenience--a disagreeable man more often than not, but a man respected
amongst his chapel-circle, and who, when once understood--that was not
often, however--was generally liked. A man who dealt in hard truths, and
had not invariably the gentlest method of distributing them; but a man
who loved to see justice done to all oppressed, and did his best after
his own way.

His first attempt to do justice, after Mattie's acquaintance with him,
was in Mattie's favour. He understood all the reasons for Mattie's
departure from Great Suffolk Street, and he saw where Mr. Wesden had
been deceived, and in what manner he had been led by degrees to form a
false estimate of Mattie's conduct.

He was a fidgety man, we have implied--more than that, he was an
excitable and restless man.

"I must see that Mr. Wesden again--we must both see him, Mattie," he
said one evening.

"Oh! I can never face him," said Mattie, in an alarmed manner, "after
all that he has thought of me. I could not bear to ask him to confess
that he was in the wrong, if he will not confess it of his own free
will."

"But he shall, my dear!"

"I can't explain the robberies--can't prove that I was innocent of all
implication in them. I was a thief once, and he will never forget that."

"Won't he?" said Mr. Gray, decisively; "we'll see about that. I'll rouse
him, my dear, depend upon it. The first opportunity I have, I'll call
upon that man, and--rouse him."

"I hope not."

Mattie was at work at the fireside; she had taken to dress-making again,
amongst a new connection of chapel-goers introduced by her father, and
Mr. Gray was busy at his lithography. He was working hard into the
night, doing extra work, in order that he might have all the next week
free for a preaching expedition amongst the colliers, and he did not
turn from his work to express his opinion; on the contrary, bent more
earnestly over it.

"It's no good hoping, my dear, I have made up my mind; he hasn't acted
fairly by you--he hasn't made atonement--I must talk to him presently."

Mattie was glad of the postponement, and hopeful that her father, in his
multiplicity of engagements, would forget his determination--a strange
hope, for Mr. Gray never forgot anything.

"What kind of man is this Mr. Wesden, Mattie?" he asked; "I have only
seen him once, for a few minutes. Hard, isn't he?"

"Sometimes. He has altered very much lately."

"A worldly man--fond of money--grasping, in fact. Such a man is hard to
impress. I'll have a try at him, though."

"He's a very good man, father," Mattie said; "you must remember that he
saved me from the streets, and that for years and years was very good
and kind to me."

"Yes, yes--I shall pay him back some day--but he must be worldly, I
should think, and in return for all his goodness I'll make a good man of
him--see if I don't! I suppose you used to open on Sundays in Great
Suffolk Street?"

"Never."

"Hum--that's well. Not so bad as I thought. Did he go to chapel of a
Sunday, now?"

"To church--St. George's."

"Hum--that's not so bad. Not much credit in making a better man of
_him_," he muttered; "but I'll--rouse him!"

The next day he neglected his work on purpose to attempt the experiment.
He was successful enough, for there was a rough eloquence inherent in
him, and he had a fair cause to plead; and the result was, that the
roused Mr. Wesden made his appearance arm in arm with Mr. Gray at
Mattie's home.

"I've got him!" said Mr. Gray, triumphantly; "here's Mr. Wesden, Mattie.
He has come to say how very sorry he was for all that parted you and
him--haven't you, sir?"

"Very sorry," said Mr. Wesden, looking at Mattie askance; "I've been
thinking of it a long while--yes, Mattie, very sorry!"

He held out both hands to her, and Mattie ran to him, clasped them in
her own, shook them heartily, and then burst out crying on his shoulder.

"Oh! my first father!--I didn't think that you would believe wrong of me
all your life!"

"No--and it was very wrong--Mattie. And all will be right now--you and
your father must come and see us very often."

"Yes."

She turned to her father eagerly, but Mr. Gray was at his lithography,
bending closely over his work, and apparently taking no heed of this
reconciliation. He had done his share of duty, and so his interest had
vanished.

"Father--you hear?"

"I don't care about much company--when we've nothing better to do than
idle our time away, perhaps," was the far from suave reply to this.

"My daughter and yours are old friends, Mr. Gray," said Mr. Wesden,
almost entreatingly.

"Mattie won't care about much company herself--and I very much doubt
if--if that young person you allude to--is exactly fitting for my
daughter, whose character I am anxious to model after my own ideas of
what is truly womanly."

Mattie looked up at this; her father was strange in his manner that
night, and he perplexed her.

"Am I not truly womanly now, sir?" she asked, with a merry little laugh.
She was in high spirits that night.

Mr. Gray softened.

"You are a very good girl, Mattie--a very good girl indeed; there are
only a few little alterations necessary," he added, as though he was
speaking of some marble statue whose corners he might round off with a
chisel at his leisure.

"And you, sir," said Mattie, turning to Mr. Wesden again, "don't think
_any_ harm of me now! The robberies--the talk with Mr. Hinchford--" she
added, with a faint blush.

"What was that?" asked Mr. Gray, with renewed alacrity.

"Foolishness--all foolishness on my part," said Wesden; "how could I
have acted so? And yet, when it came to being out all night, the fancies
turned to truths, it seemed. Ah! no matter now."

"No matter now. Oh! I am very happy. Will you sit down here for awhile,
and tell me about Harriet and yourself--and _she_ who was always so kind
to me?"

"And thought well of you to the last. We wrangled once or twice about
that--the only thing we ever had to quarrel about, Mattie, in all our
lives together."

"Sit down and tell me about her--my true mother! You will excuse my
father--he is very busy."

"Certainly."

And after his old dreamy stare at Mr. Gray, who appeared to have
suddenly and entirely lost all interest in Mr. Wesden, he sat down by
the fireside and, talked of old times--the dear old times that Mattie
loved to hear about. Mattie was happy that night; her heart was lighter;
her character had been redeemed to him who had mistrusted her; he was
sitting again by her side--all her love for him had come back as it
were, and all his cruel thoughts of her had vanished away for ever.

Mr. Wesden talked more than he used, when one particular subject was
dilated on; and to have Mattie full of interest in that better half of
him that had gone from life on earth to life eternal, gave brightness to
his eyes, vigour to his narrative, and rendered him oblivious to time,
till a deep voice behind him broke in upon the dialogue.

"It's getting late."

"Ah! it must be," said Mr. Wesden, rising. "And you'll come now, Mattie?
You have forgiven me?"

"With all my heart--what there was to forgive!"

"And you'll let her come, Mr. Gray, now I have done her that justice?"

"When there's time."

Mr. Wesden departed; Mattie saw him down-stairs to the passage door, and
stood watching his figure, not so active as of yore, proceeding down the
dimly lighted street. When she returned to the sitting-room, she found
that her father had left his work, and was sitting with his feet on the
fender, rubbing the palms of his hands slowly together. He did not look
round when she came in; when she had taken her seat near him, he did not
look up at her. There was a change in him, which Mattie remarked, and
after a little while inquired the reason for.

"Mattie," he said, suddenly, "I didn't know that you were so fond of Mr.
Wesden, or I'd have never brought him here."

"Yes, I am fond of him--I am fond of all those who have been kind to
me--who belong unto the past, of which he and I have been speaking
to-night."

"You like him better than me?"

Mattie was too astonished to reply at once to this. She saw the reason
for his sudden reserve to Mr. Wesden in a new light; she detected a new
feature in him, that had heretofore been hidden. Years ago--like a
far-away murmur--she could fancy that her mother spoke again of her
husband's jealousy as one reason why home had been unhappy, and she had
fled from it. Mr. Gray became excited. His eyes lit up, his face flushed
a little, and his hands puckered up bits of cloth at his knees in a
nervous, irritable way.

"I shouldn't like that man to be put ever before me in everything--to be
liked better than myself--he has got a daughter of his own to love, and
must not rob me of you. I can't have it--I won't have it! My life has
been a very desolate one till now, and it is your duty to make amends
for it, and be faithful to me in the latter days."

"You may trust me, father."

She laid her hand on his, and he turned and looked into her dark eyes,
where truth and honesty were shining. He brightened up at once.

"I think I may--you'll not forget me--you'll be like a daughter to me.
Yes, I _can_ trust you, Mattie!"

This fugitive cloud was wafted away on the instant; Mattie almost forgot
the occurrence, and all was well again.



CHAPTER VII.

A DINNER PARTY.


Meanwhile Sidney Hinchford had mapped his course out for the future; he
had been ever fond of planning out his paths in life, as though no
greater planner than he were near to thwart him. That they were turned
from their course or broken short, at times, taught no lesson; he gave
up his progress upon them, but he sketched at once the new course for
his adoption, and began afresh his journey.

He had parted with Harriet Wesden for ever; so be it--it belonged to the
irreparable, and he must look it sternly in the face and live it down as
best he might. It had been all a fallacy, and he the slave of a
delusion--if, in the waking, he had suffered much, was in his heart
still suffering, let him keep an unmoved front before the world, that
should never guess at the keenness and bitterness of this
disappointment. He had his duties to pursue; he had his father to
deceive by his demeanour--he must not let the shadow of his distress
darken the little light remaining for that old man, whom he loved so
well, and who looked upon him as the only one left to love, or was worth
living for.

He told his father that the engagement was at an end; that Harriet and
he had both, by mutual consent, released each other from the contract,
and considered it better to be friends--simply friends, who could esteem
each other, and wish each other well in life. There had been no
quarrelling, he was anxious to impress on Mr. Hinchford: he had himself
suggested the separation, feeling, in the first place, that Harriet
Wesden was scarcely suited to be his wife; and in the second, that he
had been selfish and unjust to bind her to an engagement extending over
a period of years, with all uncertainty beyond.

The old gentleman scarcely comprehended the details; he understood the
result, and as it did not appear to seriously affect his son, he could
imagine that Sid had acted honourably, and for the very best. _He_ did
not want Sid to marry, and perhaps live apart from him; he knew that
much of his own happiness would vanish away at the altar, where Sid
would take some one for better, for worse, and he could not regret in
his heart anything that retained his boy at his side. In that heart he
had often thought that Harriet Wesden was scarcely fit for his son's
wife, scarcely deserving of that dear boy--there was time enough for Sid
to marry a dozen years hence--he had married late in life himself, and
why should not his son follow his example!

Sidney Hinchford heard a little of this reasoning in his turn, but
whether he admired his father's remarks or not, did not appear from the
unmoved aspect of his countenance. He was always anxious to turn the
conversation into other channels; partial in those long evenings to
backgammon with his father--a game which absorbed Mr. Hinchford's
attention, and rendered him less loquacious. Still Sidney was a fair
companion, and disguised the evidence of his disappointment well; he had
set himself the task of making the latter days of that old gentleman
free from care if possible, and he played his part well, and would have
deceived keener eyes than his father's. That father was becoming weaker
in body and mind, Sid could see; he was more feeble than his elder
brother now--success in life had tested his nervous system
more--possibly worn him out before his time. Like his son, he had had
ever a habit of keeping his chief troubles to himself, and preserving a
fair front to society. He had had a nervous wife to study, afterwards a
son to encourage by his stanch demeanour. He had been an actor
throughout the days of his tribulation, and such acting is the wear and
tear of body and mind, and produces its natural fruit at a later season.

Sidney Hinchford saw the change in him, and knew that their parting must
come, sooner than the father dreamed of. Mr. Hinchford had a knowledge
of his own defects, but not of their extent. He was ignorant how weak he
had become, as he seldom stirred from home now; and his memory, which
played him traitor, also helped him to forget its defects! He pictured
Sidney and him together for many years yet--the Hinchfords were a
long-lived race, and he did not dream of himself being an exception to
the rule.

But Sidney noted every change, and became anxious. He noted also that
the powers of mind seemed waning faster than the body, and that there
were times when his father almost forgot their poor estate, and talked
more like the rich man he had been once. He brought a doctor to see him
once, sat him down by his father's side, in the light of an office
friend, and then waited anxiously for the verdict delivered an hour
afterwards, in the passage.

"Keep him from all excitement if you can--let him have his own way as
much as possible--and there is not a great deal to fear."

Sidney cautioned Ann Packet, who was partial to a way of her own, and
then went to office more contented in mind. Over the office books, he
was sterner and graver than he used to be, and more inclined than ever
to repel the advances of his cousin.

His salary had been raised by that time; he had distinguished himself as
a good and faithful servant, and he took the wages that were due to him,
with thanks for his promotion.

One day, his uncle sent for him into the inner chamber, to speak of
matters foreign to the business of a banking house.

"Sidney, I have troubled you more than once with advice concerning my
son Maurice."

"Yes."

"He is about to offer you and your father an invitation to dine with him
next week."

"I know what to answer, sir," said Sidney, somewhat stiffly. He objected
to this advice-gratis principle, and thought that Mr. Geoffry Hinchford
might have left him to his own judgment.

"No, you don't, and that's why I sent for you. Maurice will be
thirty-one next week--it's a little family affair, almost exclusively
confined to members of the family, and I hope that you will both come."

"Sir--I----"

"Bygones are bygones; we do not make a mere pretence of having forgotten
the past--_we_ Hinchfords," said his uncle. "Sidney, I will ask it as a
favour?"

"Very well, sir. But my father is not well, and I fear not able to bear
any extra fatigue."

"I am not afraid of old Jemmy's consent," said the banker. "There, go to
your desk, and don't waste valuable time in prolixity."

Late that day Maurice Hinchford addressed his cousin. Sidney was going
down the bank steps homewards, when his cousin followed him, and passed
his arm through his.

"Sidney--you'll find two letters of mine at home. They are for you and
your father. I shall call it deuced unkind to say No to their contents!"

"Suppose we say Yes, then!"

"Thank you. The governor and I want you and your governor down at our
place next week. No excuses. Even Mr. Geoffry Hinchford will not have
them this time; that stern paterfamilias, who thinks familiarity with me
will breed the usual contempt."

"For the business--not for you, Maurice!"

"He's very anxious to make a model clerk of you; and very much afraid
that I shall spoil you. As if I were so dangerous a friend, relative, or
acquaintance! Upon my honour, I can't make it out exactly. I've had an
idea that I should be just the friend for you. Perhaps the governor is
coming round to my way of thinking, at last."

Sidney repeated his past assertions that their positions did not, and
could never correspond. Maurice laughed at this as usual.

"Haven't I told you fifty times that I don't care a fig for position,
and that a Hinchford is always a Hinchford--_i.e._, a gentleman? Sidney,
you are an incomprehensibility; when you marry that lady to whose
attractions you have confessed yourself susceptible, perhaps I shall
make you out more clearly."

Sidney's countenance changed a little--he became grave, and his cousin
noticed the difference.

"Anything wrong?" was the quick question here.

Sidney was annoyed that he had betrayed himself--he who prided himself
upon mastering all emotion when the occasion was necessary.

"Oh! no; everything right, Maurice!" he said with a forced lightness of
demeanour; "the folly of an engagement that could end in nothing,
discovered in good time, and two romantic beings sobered for their
good!"

"Why could it end in nothing?--I don't see."

"Oh! it's a long story," replied Sidney, "and you would not feel
interested in it. I was selfish to seek to bind her to a long
engagement, and we both thought so, after mature deliberation. I turn
off here--Good night!"

"Good night!"

Sidney found the invitations awaiting him at home. Mr. Hinchford had
opened his own letter, and spent the greater part of the afternoon in
perusing and reperusing it.

"What--what do you think of this, Sid?"

"Tell me what _you_ think of it."

"Well--I think, just for once, we might as well go--show them that we
know how to behave ourselves, poor as we are, Sidney."

"Very well," said Sidney, somewhat wearily; "we'll go!"

"Let me see; what have I done with that dress coat of mine?" said the
father; "how long is it since I wore it, I wonder?"

Twenty-five years, or thereabouts, since Mr. Hinchford had worn a
dress-coat, consequently a little behind the fashion just then. Sidney
Hinchford thought with a sigh of the fresh expenses incurred by the
acceptance of his cousin's invitation; he who was saving money for the
rainy days ahead of him. How long ahead now, he thought, were the years
still to intervene and leave him in God's sunlight? He could not tell;
but there was a cruel doubt, which kept him restless. Give him his sight
whilst his father lived, at least, and spare the white head further care
in this life! Afterwards, when he was alone, he thought, a little
misanthropically, it did not matter. His own trouble he could bear, and
there would be no one else--no one in all the world!--to grieve about
_him_. A few expressions of commonplace condolence for his affliction,
and then--for ever alone!

Sidney Hinchford and his father went down by railway to Redhill. The
dinner-party was for five P.M.--an early hour, to admit of London
friends return by the eleven o'clock train. At the station, Mr. Geoffry
Hinchford's carriage waited for father and son, and whirled them away to
the family mansion, whilst the less favoured, who had arrived by the
same train, sought hired conveyances.

"He treats us well--just as we deserve to be treated--just as I would
have treated him, Sid. He was always a good sort--old Jef!"

Sidney did not take heed of his father's change of opinion--the world
had been full of changes, and here was nothing to astonish him. He was
prepared for anything remarkable now, he thought--he could believe in
any transformations.

Father and son reached their relative's mansion exactly as the clock in
the turret roof of the stable-house was striking five--there were
carriages winding their way down the avenue before them, the hired flys
with their hungry occupants were bringing up the rear. Sid looked from
the carriage window, and almost repented that he had brought his father
to the festivities. But Mr. Hinchford was cool and self-possessed; it
was a return to the old life, and he seemed brighter and better for the
change.

Maurice Hinchford received them in the hall; the first face in the large
ante-room was that of Uncle Geoffry. There was no doubt of the
genuineness of their reception--it was an honest and a hearty welcome.

Sidney had mixed but little in society--few young men at his age had
seen less of men and manners, yet few men, old or young, could have been
more composed and stately. He was not anxious to look his best, or
fearful of betraying his want of knowledge; he had graver thoughts at
his heart, and being indifferent as to the effect he produced, was cool
and unmoved by the crowd of guests into which he had been suddenly
thrust. He had accepted that invitation to oblige his cousin, not
himself; and there he was, by his father's side, for Maurice's guests to
think the best or worst of him--which they pleased, he cared not.

Poor Sid at this time was inclined to be misanthropical; he looked at
all things through a distorting medium, and he had lost his natural
lightness of heart. His lip curled at the stateliness and frigidity of
his uncle's guests, and he was disposed to see a stand-offishness in
some of them which did not exist, and was only the natural ante-dinner
iciness that pervades a conglomeration of diners-out, unknown to each
other. Still it steeled Sidney somewhat; he was the poor relation, he
fancied, and some of these starchy beings scented his poverty by
instinct! Maurice introduced him to his mother and sisters--people with
whom we shall have little to do, and therefore need not dilate upon. The
greeting was a little stiff from the maternal quarter--Sidney remembered
on the instant his father's previous verdicts on the brother's
wife--cordial and cousinly enough from the sisters, two pretty girls,
the junior of Maurice, and three buxom ladies, the senior of their
brother--two married, with Maurices of their own.

Sidney endeavoured to act his best; he had not come there to look
disagreeable, though he felt so, in the first early moments of meeting;
when the signal was given to pass into the dining-room, he offered his
arm to his youngest cousin, at Maurice's suggestion, and thawed a little
at her frankness, and at the brightness of her happy looking face.

There might have been one little pang at the evidence of wealth and
position which that dining-room afforded him--for he was a Hinchford
also, and his father had been a rich man in past days--but the feeling
was evanescent, if it existed, and after one glance at his father, as
cool and collected as himself, he devoted himself to the cousin, whom he
had met for the first time in his life.

A grand dinner-party, given in grand style, as befitted a man well to do
in the world. No gardeners and stablemen turned into waiters for the
nonce, and still unmistakably gardeners and stablemen for all their limp
white neckcloths--no hired waiters from remote quarters of the world,
and looking more like undertaker's men than lacqueys--no flustered
maid-servants and nurserymaids, pressed into the service, and suffering
from nervous trepidation--this array of footmen at the back, the staff
always on hand in that palatial residence, which a lucky turn of the
wheel had reared for Geoffry Hinchford.

Sidney's cousin sang the praises of her brother all dinner-time; what a
good-tempered, good-hearted fellow he was, and how universally liked by
all with whom he came in contact. She was anxious to know what Sidney
thought of him, and whether he had been impressed by Maurice's
demeanour; and Sidney sang in a minor key to the praises of his cousin
also, not forgetting in his peculiar pride to regret that difference of
position which set Maurice apart from him.

Miss Hinchford did not see that, and was sure that Maurice would scoff
at the idea--she was sure, also, that everyone would be glad to see
Sidney at their house as often as he liked to call there. Sidney thawed
more and more; a naturally good-tempered man, with a pleasant companion
at his side, it was not in his power to preserve a gloomy aspect; he
became conversational and agreeable; he had only one care, and that was
concerning his father, to whom he glanced now and then, and whom he
always found looking the high-bred gentleman, perfectly at his ease--and
very different to the old man, whose mental infirmities had kept him
anxious lately. Mr. James Hinchford had gone back to a past in which he
had been ever at home; his pliant memory had abjured all the long
interim of poverty, lodgings in Great Suffolk Street, and a post at a
builder's desk; he remembered nothing of them that night, and was the
old Hinchford that his brother had known. To the amazement of his son,
he rose after dinner to propose the toast of the evening--somewhat out
of place, being a relation and yet a stranger almost--and spoke at
length, and with a fluency and volubility which Sidney had not remarked
before. He assumed his right to propose the toast as the oldest friend
of the family, and he did it well and gracefully enough, utterly
confounding the family physician, who had been two days compiling a long
and elaborate speech which "that white-headed gentleman opposite" had
taken completely out of his mouth.

That white-headed gentleman sat down amidst hearty plaudits, and
Maurice's health was drunk with due honours; and then Maurice--"dear old
Morry!" as his sister impetuously exclaimed--responded to the toast.

A long speech in his turn, delivered with much energy and rapidity, his
flushed and good-looking face turning to right and left of that long
array of guests around him. Sidney's heart thrilled to hear one
expression of Maurice's--an allusion to the gentleman who had proposed
his health, "his dear uncle, whose presence there tended so much to the
pleasurable feelings of that night."

"Well--he is a good fellow," said Sidney, heartily; "I wish I had a
brother like him to stand by me in life."

His cousin looked her gratitude at him for the outburst, and no one
hammered the table more lustily than Sidney at the conclusion of his
cousin's speech.

There were a few more toasts before the ladies retired at the signal
given by the hostess; there was a rustle of silk and muslin through the
broad doorway, and then the gentlemen left to themselves, and many of
them breathing freer in consequence.

There remained some twenty or twenty-five gentlemen to do honour to the
wine which shone from the array of decanters on the table; Sidney drew
his chair closer to his neighbour's, and looked round him again. His
father, perfectly at home--happy and equable--sparing with the wine,
too, as Sidney had wished, and yet had not thought filial to hint to his
sire. His father almost faced him, and Sidney, whose powerful glasses
brought him within range of vision, could return the smile bestowed in
his direction now and then. The old man, who had forgotten his poverty,
kept in remembrance the son who had shared that poverty with him.

There was more speech-making after the ladies had retired; deeper
drinking, and a wider scope of subjects. One gentleman near his father,
in a lackadaisical strain, rose to propose the health of the family
physician, who had been balked of his speech early in the evening; and
Sidney, startled somewhat by the tone of a voice that he fancied he had
heard before, peered through his glasses, and tried to make the speaker
out.

He had seen that man before, or heard that strange drawl--where or in
what company he was at fault--the man's features were indistinct at that
distance. He edged his chair nearer--even in his intense curiosity, for
which he was scarcely able to account, changed his place, and went a few
seats from the foot of the table, where Maurice was now sitting in his
mother's vacated place.

Then Sidney recognized the man--suddenly and swiftly the truth darted
upon him--he had met that man in the Borough; he had stood between him
and his offensive persecution of Harriet Wesden; he was the "prowler" of
old days--the man from whom he had extorted an apology in the public
streets, and from whom a generous and unwashed public would accept no
apology.

The old antagonism seemed to revive on the instant; he felt the man's
presence there an insult to himself; his blood warmed, and his ears
tingled; he wondered what reason had brought that man there, and whose
friend he could possibly be?

"What man is that?" he asked almost imperiously of Maurice, who, taken
aback by the question, stared at Sidney with amazement.

"A friend of mine," he answered at last; "do you know him?"

"N--no."

Sidney relapsed into silence and mastered his excitement. This was not a
time or place to mention how he had met that man, or in what
questionable pursuit; there was danger to Maurice, from so evil an
acquaintance; and in his own honesty of purpose, Sid could not
understand that the man had any right at that table, an honoured guest
there. He knew but little of polite society; did not understand that
polite society requires no reference as to the morals of its guests, and
is quite satisfied if the name be good, and the status unquestionable.
Polite society cannot trouble itself about the morals of its male
members.

Sidney sat and watched the prowler, and, in his confusion, drank more
port wine than was perhaps good for him. He fancied that his cousin
Maurice had implied a rebuke for his harsh interrogative; and he was
considering _that_, too, in his mind, and wishing, for the first time,
that he had not presented himself at his cousin's dinner-table.

The toast was drunk and responded to by the family physician, who very
ingeniously dove-tailed the remarks upon Maurice's natal day into his
own expression of thanks for the honour accorded him. Sidney omitted to
drink the stranger's health, and made no attempt to applaud the fine
words by which it had been succeeded. He sat discomfited by the
prowler's presence there--but for that man he might never have been
engaged to Harriet Wesden, and, therefore, have never experienced the
disappointment--the cruel reaction--which had followed the folly of that
betrothal.

"Sid," called his father across the table at him, "aren't you well,
lad?"

"Oh! very well," was the reply; "what is there to ail me in such
pleasant company?"

"Perhaps the gentleman is sighing for lady's society; if he will move an
adjournment, I'll second the motion," said the prowler, sauve and bland,
totally forgetful of that dark face which had glowered at him once in
London streets.

"I shall propose nothing," said Sid, curtly.

Those who heard the uncivil reply, looked towards the speaker somewhat
curiously. When the wine's in, the wit's out--had Sidney Hinchford
drowned his courtesy in his uncle's decanters? The prowler--he is a
fugitive character, whose name we need not parade at this late stage to
our readers--stared at our hero with the rest, but was not affected by
it, or understood good breeding sufficiently well to disguise all
evidence at his friend's table. He turned to Maurice with a laugh.

"Hinchford, old fellow, I leave the proposition in your hands. You who
were always a lady's man."

"Not I."

"But I say you were--I say that you are. Do you think that I have
forgotten all the _aventures amoureuses_ of Maurice Darcy--I, his sworn
brother-in-arms--his pupil?"

"Steady, Frank, steady!" cried Maurice.

But the guests were noisy, and the subject was a pleasant one to
gentlemen over their wine, with the door closed on skirts and flounces.
There were shouts of laughter at the prowler's charge--Maurice shook his
head, blushed and laughed, but appeared rather to like the accusation
than otherwise--Maurice's father, at home and at his ease, laughed with
the rest. "A young dog--a young scapegrace!" he chuckled. Even Sidney's
father laughed also--young men will be young men, he thought, and the
prowler was pleasant company, and made the time fly. It is this
after-dinner-talk, when the ladies have retired, and the bottle is not
allowed to stand still, which pleases diners-out the most. This is the
"fun of the fair," where the Merry-Andrew deals forth his jokes, and the
wine-bibber appreciates the double-entendre all the more for the singing
in his ears and the thick mist by which he is surrounded.

"Do you think that I have forgotten the stationer's daughter--by George!
that was a leaf from romance, and virtuous indignation in the ascendant.
Tell us the story, Maurice, we are all friends here; and though the
joke's against you----"

"Gentlemen, I propose that we join the ladies," said Maurice, rising,
with some confusion.

The guests laughed again noisily at this--it was so palpable an attempt
to retreat, that the dining-room rang again with peals of
laughter--Sidney Hinchford, sterner and grimmer than ever, alone sat
unmoved, until Maurice had dropped into his seat in despair, and then he
rose and looked across at his father.

"Are you ready?" he asked.

"Certainly--Sid--quite ready!"

"Oh! the ladies have a hundred topics to dwell upon over their coffee,
Sidney," said his uncle; "we must have no rebellion this side of the
house."

"I am going home, sir--you must excuse me--I cannot stay here any
longer. Come, father!"

"Home!"

"I have business at home--I am pressed for time--I will _not_ stay!" he
almost shouted.

Sidney's father, in mild bewilderment, rose and tottered after him. This
was an unpleasant wind-up to a social evening, and Sid's strange
demeanour perplexed him. But the boy's will was law, and he succumbed to
it; the boy always knew what was best--his son, Sid, was never at
fault--never!

The guests were too amazed to comprehend the movement; some of them were
inclined to consider it a joke of Sid's--an excuse to retreat to the
drawing-room; the mystery was too much for their wine-benumbed faculties
just then.

Sidney and his father were in the broad marble-paved hall; the footmen
lingering about there noted their presence--one made a skip towards the
drawing-room facing them.

"Stop!" said Sid. His memory was good, and his organ of locality better.
He walked with a steady step towards a small room at the end of the
hall--a withdrawing-room, where the hats and coats had been placed early
in the evening. He returned in a few moments with his great-coat on, his
father's coat across his arm, and two hats in his hands.

"Then--then we're really going, Sid?"

"I'm sick of this life; it is not fit for us. Why did we come?" he
asked, angrily, as he assisted his perplexed father into his great-coat.

"I--I don't know, Sid," stammered the father. "I thought that we were
spending quite a pleasant evening. Has anyone said anything?"

"Let us be off!"

Maurice Hinchford came from the dining-room towards them with a quick
step. There was excitement, even an evidence of concern upon his
handsome face.

"Sidney," he said, holding out his hand towards him, "I understand all
this; I can explain all this at a more befitting time. Don't go now--it
looks bad. It isn't quite fair to us or yourself."

"You are Maurice Darcy!" said Sid, sternly.

"It was a fool's trick, of which I have heartily repented. It----"

"You were the man who deliberately sought the ruin of an innocent girl
to whom I was engaged--you sought my disgrace and hers, and you ask me
to your house, and insult me through your friends thus shamelessly. You
make a jest----"

"On my honour, no, sir!"

"No matter--I see to whom I have been indebted; perhaps the motive which
led to past preferment--I am ashamed and mortified--I have done with you
and yours for ever. I would curse the folly that led me hither to-night,
were it not for the light in which it has placed my enemies!"

"You are rash, Sidney. To-morrow you will think better of me."

"When my cooler judgment steps in and shows me what I must sacrifice for
my position--_my place_," he replied. "Sir, you are a Hinchford--you
should know that we are a proud family by this time. I say that we have
done with you--judge me at your worst, as I judge you!--if I fail to
keep my word."

He passed his arm through his father's and led the bewildered old man
down the steps into the night air; he had been insulted, he thought, and
thus, spurning appearances, he had resented it. He could not play longer
his part of guest in that house; his old straightforward habits led him
at once to show his resentment and retire. So he shook the dust of the
house from his feet, and turned his back upon his patrons.



CHAPTER VIII.

MATTIE'S CONFESSION.


Sidney Hinchford kept his word. He returned not to service in his
uncle's bank. He gave up his chances of distinction in that quarter,
rather than be indebted to a villain, as he considered his cousin to be,
for his success in life. It was an exaggeration of virtuous indignation,
perhaps, but it was like Sidney Hinchford. He considered his cousin as
the main cause of his separation from Harriet Wesden; that man had met
her after the little Brighton romance, of which faint inklings had been
communicated to Sid by Harriet herself, and had played the lover too
well--speciously coaxing her from that which was true, unto that which
was false and dangerous, and from which her own defence had but saved
her. Evidently a deep, designing man, who had sought the ruin of the
woman Sidney had loved best in the world--Sid could not hold service
under him now the mask had dropped.

"Father, I shall leave our rich relations to themselves," he had said,
the next morning. "I am not afraid of obtaining work in other quarters.
I have done with them."

"You know best, Sid," said the father, with a sigh.

"I'll tell you the story--it is no secret now. You shall tell me how you
would have acted in my place."

Sid related the particulars of his love-engagement to his father--why it
had been broken off, and by whose means, and Mr. Hinchford listened
attentively, and exclaimed, when the narrative was ended--

"That nephew was a scamp of the first water, and we are well rid of
him."

"I am not afraid of getting other employment," said Sidney, unremindful
of his past attempts. "If I were, I think I would prefer starving to
service in that bank."

"Both of us would," added Mr. Hinchford.

Sidney thought of his father, and went out again in the old search for a
place. It was beginning life again; he was once more at the bottom of
the hill, and all the past labour was to be begun afresh. No matter, he
did not despair; he was young and strong yet; he had saved money;
upwards of a hundred pounds were put by for the rainy day, and he could
afford to wait awhile; if fortune went against him at this new outset,
his was not a nature to flinch at the first obstacle. He had always
fought his way.

But luck went with him, as it seemed to Sidney. That day he heard of the
starting of a new bank on the limited liability principle, and he sought
out the manager, stated his antecedents, offered his services, and was
engaged. He came home rejoicing to his father with the news, and after
all had been communicated, his father tendered him a letter that had
been awaiting his arrival.

Sidney looked at the letter; in the left corner of the envelope was
written "Maurice Hinchford," and Sid's first impulse was to drop it
quietly in the fire, and pay no heed to its contents. But he changed his
mind, broke the seal, and read, in a few hasty lines, Maurice's desire
for an interview with his cousin. Maurice confessed to being the Darcy
of that past evil story, and expressed a wish to enter into a little
explanation of his conduct, weak and erring as it was, but not so black
as Sidney might imagine. Sidney tore up the letter and penned his
reply--unyielding and unforgiving. He could find no valid excuse for his
cousin's conduct; he was sure there was not any, and he saw no reason
why they two should ever meet again. This, the substance of Sidney
Hinchford's reply, which was despatched, and then the curtain fell
between these two young men, and Sidney alone in the world, more grim,
more business-like, even more misanthropical than ever.

He had soon commenced work in the new bank. Before its start in the
world with the usual flourish of trumpets, he had found himself taken
into confidence, and his advice on matters monetary and commercial
followed on more than one occasion; he was, in his heart, sanguine of
success in this undertaking; he saw the road to his own honourable
advancement; his employers had been pleased with the character which
they had received from Messrs. Hinchford and Son, bankers, to whom
Sidney had referred them, with a little reluctance; before him all might
yet be bright enough.

Then came the check to his aspirations--the check which he had feared,
which he had seen advancing to rob him of the one tie that had bound him
to home. His father gave way more in body if not in mind, and became
very feeble in his gait; he had reached the end of his journey, and was
tired, dispirited, and broken down. He gave up, and took to his bed.
Sidney, returning one day from office, found him in his own room, a
poor, weak, trembling old man, set apart for ever from the toil and wear
of daily life.

His mind seemed brighter in those latter days, to have cleared for
awhile before the darkness set in.

"Sidney," he said, reaching out his thin hand to his son as he entered,
"you must not mind my giving up. I have been trying hard to keep strong,
for your sake, but the effort has tired me out, boy."

"Courage! I shall see you hale and hearty yet."

"No, Sid, it's a break up for ever. What a miserable, selfish old fellow
I have been all my life! You will get on better in the world without
me--only yourself to think of and care for then."

"Only myself!" echoed Sidney, gloomily.

The poor old gentleman would have offered more of this sort of
consolation had not Sidney stopped him. It was a cruel philosophy,
against which the son's heart protested. Sid was a man to attempt
consolation, but not capable of receiving it. His austerity had placed
him, as he thought, beyond it, and his father's efforts only stabbed him
more keenly to the quick.

Sidney tried to believe that his father's deliberate preparation was a
whim occasioned by some passing weakness, but the truth forced its way
despite him, sat down before him, haunted his dreams, would not be
thought away. The doctor gave no hopes; the physician whom he called in
only confirmed the doctor's verdict; it was a truth from which there was
no escape.

When he gave up reasoning against his own convictions, Sidney gave up
his clerkship, as suddenly, and with as little warning as he had vacated
his stool in his uncle's counting-house.

There was a choice to make between hard work day and night at the new
banking scheme--isolated completely from his dying father--and
attendance, close and unremitting, to that father who had loved him
truly and well, and Sidney did not hesitate.

"Afterwards, I can think of myself," he said; "let me brighten the days
that are left you, to the best of my power."

"Ah! but the future?" said the father, anxious concerning his son's
position in life.

"I do not care for it, or my position in it now."

"Don't say that, Sid."

"Father, I was working for you, and for your comfort in the future--now
let all thoughts of the world go away for awhile, and leave you and me
together--thus!"

He laid his hand upon the father's, which clutched his nervously.

"Oh! but what _is_ to become of you?"

"Do _you_ fear my getting on, with the long years before me wherein I
can work?"

"No, you are sure to rise, Sid."

Sidney did not answer.

"Unless you grow despondent at the difficulties in the way, or let some
secret trouble weigh you down. Sid, my dear son, there's nothing on your
mind?"

"Oh! no--nothing. Don't think that," was the quick response--the white
lie, for which Sidney Hinchford deserved forgiveness. He would keep his
sorrows to himself, and not distress that deathbed by his own vain
complainings against any affliction in store for _him_!

When the father grew weaker, he expressed a wish to see his brother
Geoffry again.

"We don't bear each other any malice--Geoffry and I, now. If you don't
mind, Sid," he said, wistfully, "I should like to shake hands with him,
and bid him good-bye."

"I will write at once, sir."

Sidney despatched his letter, and the rich banker came in his carriage
to the humble dwelling-place of his younger brother. Sidney did not see
his uncle; he bore him no malice; he was even grateful to him for past
kindnesses, but he could not face him in his bitter grief, and listen,
perhaps, to explanations which he cared nothing for in that hour. With
this new care staring him in the face, the other seemed to fade away,
and with it much of his past bitterness of spirit. Leave him to himself,
and trouble him no more!

When the interview was over, and his uncle was gone, Sidney returned to
his post by his father's bed-side.

"He has been talking about you, Sid," said the father; "he seemed
anxious to see you."

"I am not fit for company."

"Maurice is abroad, he tells me."

"Indeed!"

Sidney changed the subject, read to his father, talked to him of the old
days when the mother and wife were living--a subject on which Mr.
Hinchford loved to dilate just then. But in the long, restless nights,
when Sidney slept in the arm-chair by the fire-place--he left not his
father day or night, and would have no hired watcher--the father, who
had feigned sleep for his son's sake, lay and thought of the son's
future, and was perplexed about it. His perceptive faculties had become
wondrously acute, and he could see that Sidney Hinchford was
unhappy--had been unhappy before the illness which had cast its shadow
in that little household. There was something wrong; something which he
should never know, he felt assured. Who could help him?--who could
assist him to discover it?--who would think of Sid in the desolation
which was to be that boy's legacy, and do his, or her, best for him?

Early the next morning, when he was very weak, he said:--

"I wonder the Wesdens haven't been to see me."

"I thought they would weary you. They are scarcely friends of ours now.
I have not told them that you are ill. If you wish----"

"No, no, and they would weary you, too, my boy, and things _have_
altered very much between you. Sidney, you are sorry that they have
altered, perhaps?"

"No--glad--very glad!"

"I should like to see Mattie," he said, after a pause; "why does _she_
keep away?"

"I thought that she might disturb you, sir," was the reply; "we are
better by ourselves, and without our friend's sympathy. We are above
it!"

"Why, Sid--that's pride!"

"Call it precaution, sir, or jealousy of anyone taking my place, between
you and me, old stanch friends as we are."

His father said no more upon the question; he had been ever influenced
by his son, and borne down by his strong will. He thought now that it
was better to see no one but Sid, and the good clergyman who called
every day--better for all! Sid knew best; he had always known best
through life!

But later that day, Sidney altered his mind. He had been sitting in the
arm-chair apart from his father, revolving many things in that mind, and
maintaining a silence which his father even began to think was
strange--he whose thoughts were few and far between now--when he said
suddenly to Ann Packet, who was entering on tiptoe with a candle:--

"Ann, fetch Mattie here at once."

"Mattie, Master Sidney?--to be sure I will," she added, with alacrity;
"I've been thinking about that, oh! ever so long!"

"Be quick!--don't stop! Leave a message, if she's away. Here's money,
hire a cab there and back. Take the key with you, and let yourself in!"

"What's that for, Sid!" asked the father.

"I think she should be here--I think all should be here who have ever
known you, and whom you have expressed a wish to see. I am selfish and
cruel!"

"Oh, ho!--we don't believe that, boy!" said the father, "we know
better--oh! much better than that!"

"Why shouldn't the Wesdens come?--they are old friends--they were kind
to you and me in the old days."

"Yes, very kind. You're quite right, Sid; but if they trouble you in the
least, Sid, keep them away. I don't care about seeing anybody very much,
now."

"Father, you are worse," said Sidney, leaping to his feet.

"No, boy--better. A spasm or two through here," laying his hand upon his
chest, "which will go off presently."

"That's well."

Sidney sat down again in his old place, muttering, "I wish she would
come," and the father lay quiet and thoughtful in his bed once more.

Presently the father went off to sleep, and Sidney sat and listened,
with his face turned towards the bed, all the long, long time, until the
cab, containing Ann Packet and Mattie, drew up before the house.

They entered the house and came up-stairs together, Mattie and Ann. Sid
made no effort to stop them, though his father was in a restless sleep,
from which a step would waken him--he still sat there, gloomy and
apathetic. They entered the room, and Mr. Hinchford woke up at the
opening of the door.

"Where's Sid?" he called.

"Here," said the son, "and here's Mattie--the old friend, adviser,
comforter at last!"

"Oh! why haven't I been told this before?--why have you all kept me so
long in the dark?" said Mattie. "Oh! my dear old friend, my first kind
friend of all of them!" she cried, turning to the sick bed where Mr.
Hinchford was watching her.

"Tell him, Mattie, that I shall not be entirely alone or friendless when
the parting comes," said Sidney; "it troubles him--I see it. Ann, don't
go--one minute."

He crossed to her, laid his hand upon her arm, and went out whispering
to her, leaving Mattie and Mr. Hinchford in the room together.

"Don't let him go away--the boy mustn't leave me now!" he said, in a
terrified whisper. "Mattie--I'm worse! I have been keeping it back from
the boy till the last, but I'm awfully worse."

Mattie glanced at him, and then ran to the door and called Sidney.

"I am coming back," said he, in reply; "speak to him, Mattie, for
awhile. I am wanted here."

Mattie returned to the bed-side.

"He is wanted down-stairs, he says."

"Ah! don't call him up, then, Mattie--some one has heard of his
cleverness, and come after him to secure him. Well, it will be a
distraction to him--when--I'm gone."

"And you so ill--and I to be kept in the dark!" said Mattie, dropping
into the chair at the bed's head, and looking anxiously into the haggard
face.

"I have been thinking of you, Mattie," he said, in a low voice;
"thinking that you might be--of use--to him in the--future."

Mattie shook her head sadly.

"Why not?" was his eager question.

"He is strong, and young, and knows the world better than I. How could I
ever be of use to him?"

"He is weak--low-spirited--not like his old self now--never again,
perhaps, like his old--self! Mattie, I--seem--to think so!"

"Courage, dear friend. He will be always strong; his is not a weak
nature."

"Mattie, I think he should have married Harriet Wesden, after all," said
he; "he loved her very dearly. She loved him, and understood how good,
and honourable he was, at last. What separated them? I--I forget."

And he passed his hand over his forehead, in the old vacant way.

"No matter now, perhaps. They are parted--perhaps only for a time. I
have hoped so more than once."

"You have? You who guess--at the truth--so well. Why, Mattie, I--have
hope, then, too--that it will not be--always dark like this."

"That's not likely."

"And if the chance comes--to bring those two together--you will do it?
Oh! Mattie, you promise this--for me?"

"I promise."

"But," with a new fear visible on his face, "you will lose sight of him
before the chance--of happiness--comes to the boy. You, ever apart from
him--may not know----"

"Yes, I shall know--always!"

"He always stood your friend, remember, Mattie," said the old man, as if
endeavouring to win over Mattie heart and soul to the new cause, by all
the force of reasoning left in him. "He wasn't like--me, and
Wesden--ever inclined to waver in his thoughts of you. He believed--in
you ever--to be good and true--and you will think of this?"

"I will," was the faint reply.

Mattie had bowed her head, and it was almost hidden in the bed-clothes.
The old man's hand rested for an instant on the girl's raven hair.

"I have--a hope--that from you, and through your means, Sid--poor old
Sid!--may find peace and comfort at last. I was thinking--of your liking
for us all--this very night."

"Were you? It was kind to think of me," with a low murmur.

"And I--somehow--built my hopes in you. Do you remember how you--and
I--used to talk of Sid--in that old room, in Suffolk--Street?"

"Well."

"Keep me in his memory, when he's very sad, remind him--of me--and how I
loved him, Mattie," in a low, excited whisper. "I'm sure that he's in
trouble--that he keeps something--back from--me!"'

"A fancy, perhaps. What should he hide from you?"

"I cannot tell; it may be fancy, but it--it worries me to think of. Oh!
Mattie, you'll forget him, if that trouble--should come to him! You'll
forget--all this--and turn to that new father of yours! And I had hope
in you."

"Hope in me ever. I will not betray your trust in me. Before
all--myself, father, friends--_your son_!"

"Mattie!"

The father looked with a new surprise at our heroine. He had grown very
weak, but her hasty, impetuous voice, seemed for an instant to give new
life unto him.

"Hush! don't betray me. Never to living soul before have I dared to
tell, to breathe this! God forgive me, if I have failed to break away
from all my folly, and have thought of him too much, as I, a stray from
the streets, had never a right to think of one so well-born, honourable,
and true. You forgive me--you, his father?"

"Yes."

"You know all now. How, without one ambitious thought of linking his
name with mine, I will love him ever, and be ever, if he need it, his
true friend, and sister. I will die for him, when the time comes, and
the secret will die with me, and not shame us both. Judge me, if I am
likely to forget him, sir."

"No--no--I see all now."

"Don't mistake me; don't think at the last that I would scheme for him,
or ever marry him, to disgrace a family like yours. Don't think anything
but that I love Harriet Wesden, also, before myself, but not before him,
though I have tried so hard to live him down! and that I will do my
best--always my very best--to bring about the happiness of both of
them!"

"And there--may--be only one way, Mattie."

"Only one way, I hope."

"I trust you--God bless you!--you were always a good girl. Call the
boy--my poor boy, Sid!"

Mattie did as requested. At a slow, almost a painfully slow pace, Sidney
re-entered, his hand still on Ann Packet's arm.

"Sid--I--I think I'll say good-bye, now!"

Sidney sprung forward and caught his hands.

"Not yet--not good-bye yet, sir!"

"Why not? I don't fear to say it Sid--I'm strong at--heart--still; it's
a brave--a brave parting! No regrets--no sense of duty--neg--lected! A
kind father, I hope--a--a good son--I know! God bless you, boy!--peace
and happiness to yours--in life. Mattie--think--of him!"

Mattie bowed her head, and covered her face with her hands.

"Sidney--help her, too--if she's in trouble--ever an old friend."

"A true one!"

"True as steel--I know it. Good-bye, Sid--keep strong
for--the--old--father's sake. Will--you?"

"Yes."

"_That's well!_"

Sid bent over him and kissed him--kissed the calm face, so awfully calm
and still now!--and then turned to Mattie.

"Take me away, Mattie. I can bear no more now. He was spared one
trouble, thank God! In all his life he never guessed the end of this."

Mattie turned round, with a new fear possessing her.

"Sidney--Mr. Sidney!"

"Here--Mattie," he said, stretching forth his hand, and grasping, as it
were, furtively for hers. "I shall need friends now to help me."

"Not--oh! my God, not blind?"

"I have been blind all day!"


END OF THE SECOND VOLUME.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mattie:—A Stray (Vol 2 of 3)" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home