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Title: Mortomley's Estate, Vol. II (of 3) - A Novel
Author: Riddell, Charlotte Elizabeth Lawson Cowan
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mortomley's Estate, Vol. II (of 3) - A Novel" ***

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                               MORTOMLEY'S ESTATE.

                                    A Novel.

                                       BY

                                  MRS. RIDDELL,

                                    AUTHOR OF
             "GEORGE GEITH," "TOO MUCH ALONE," "HOME, SWEET HOME,"
                         "THE EARL'S PROMISE," ETC. ETC.

                             _IN THREE VOLUMES._

                                     VOL. II.

                                     LONDON:
                  TINSLEY BROTHERS, 8, CATHERINE STREET, STRAND.
                                      1874.

           _All rights of Translation and Reproduction are Reserved_.



                            PRINTED BY TAYLOR AND CO.,
                   LITTLE QUEEN STREET, LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS.



                                       TO

                                   Emma Martin,

                                       OF

                                 WADESMILL, HERTS,

                             THIS STORY IS DEDICATED,

                AS A TOKEN OF THE AUTHOR'S RESPECT AND AFFECTION.



                                   CONTENTS.


  CHAP.                                               PAGE

     I. MR. FORDE AT HOMEWOOD                           1

    II. KLEINWORT AND CO. IN CONSULTATION              18

   III. MR. DEAN AND HIS FUTURE RELATIVES              50

    IV. PREVISION                                      70

     V. MR. DEAN GLORIFIES HIMSELF                     85

    VI. MR. GIBBONS' OPINION ON THE STATE OF AFFAIRS  107

   VII. STRAWS                                        123

  VIII. MR. SWANLAND STIRS HIS TEA                    147

    IX. IN THE 'TIMES'                                169

     X. MR. SWANLAND WISHES TO BE INFORMED            186

    XI. MRS. MORTOMLEY'S FORTUNE                      208

   XII. LEAVING HOMEWOOD                              223

  XIII. DOLLY WRITES A LETTER                         251

   XIV. THE BEGINNING OF A NEW LIFE                   277

    XV. MR. FORDE MAKES A MISTAKE                     292



                            MORTOMLEY'S ESTATE.



                                 CHAPTER I.

                          MR. FORDE AT HOMEWOOD.


Said Mrs. Mortomley to Lenore,

"Run away, love, I do not want you here. I am busy."

"Shall I take her?" asked Rupert, seeing a little trouble in the child's
eyes, a pucker about the corners of her mouth.

"Thank you, yes," answered Dolly; and so, without leave-taking of any
kind, the little girl and Rupert departed through one of the French
windows already mentioned.

"Should you like to go to the Forest with me?" he asked, when they
turned the gable of the house and were sauntering across the side lawn
where the great walnut-tree, which was the talk of all that part of the
country, grew.

As they walked under the spreading branches, Rupert looked up and
sighed. He had a prevision that no Mortomley for ever should eat of the
fruit again.

There is an instinct which is as far beyond knowledge as omnipresence is
beyond sight, and from the moment Mortomley succumbed to Mr. Forde, and
adopted his tactics, Rupert felt his uncle's days of prosperity were at
an end.

Personally, he, Rupert Halling, could do no more good for any one by
intermeddling in his uncle's affairs.

And it was quite time he considered his own more fully, even than had
been the case latterly.

In his selfishness, however, he was good-natured, and offered to allow
Lenore to accompany him, while he pursued his meditations and perfected
his plans; at which offer Lenore, who had latterly been somewhat
neglected by every one about the house, delightedly clapped her hands
and shouted for joy.

There had been a time when Mrs. Mortomley would have dreaded taking upon
herself the responsibility of an interview with Messrs. Forde and
Kleinwort. But that dread was over now.

She was in the middle of the battle, and the Gerace nature knew no
faltering when the trumpet sounded, and every man (or in default of man,
woman) was called to do his best.

After Lenore's departure there ensued a moment's silence.

Mr. Forde was so lost in astonishment at the audacity of the whole
family that he lacked power to give expression to his feelings.

Mr. Kleinwort, having spoken, was thinking what he should say next, and
Mrs. Mortomley was struggling between her repulsion against the man and
her desire to offer some apology for a rudeness which had been as
involuntary as irresistible.

"I beg you to pardon my incivility," she began at last, bringing out her
words with a slow reluctance which was almost perceptible. "Trouble does
not tend to increase politeness."

"That is indeed true," agreed Mr. Kleinwort, "but you must remember,
madam, other people also are troubled with your troubles."

"What is the use of talking in that way," interrupted Mr. Forde. "Do you
suppose they care for anything or person but themselves? Do you imagine
if Mr. Mortomley had the smallest consideration for us, he would be laid
up at such a time as this?"

"Do you think he is not really ill, then?" inquired Mrs. Mortomley.

"I neither know nor care what he is," was the answer. "It is enough for
us to be told we cannot see him,--and he will find it more than enough
for him,--and you can tell him with my compliments that I say so."

"Yes, bankruptcy is not all pleasure," remarked Mr. Kleinwort with a
solemn shake of his round head.

"At least it must be freedom," suggested Dolly.

"You think so?" said Mr. Forde with a nasty laugh. "They'll know more
about that in six months' time. Eh! Kleinwort?"

"Most like," agreed the German. "No, madame, a man had better by much
be dead than bankrupt. I, Kleinwort, tell you no lie. You do not
understand; how should you? Mr. Mortomley does not understand neither;
how should he? You talk to him. You say, it is best we should use our
two brains to avoid so great disgrace; you think over all the good
friends who you own; you see what money can be found. That will be
better than bankruptcy; that word so ugly, bankruptcy--bad--bad."

"Let us go into the works, Kleinwort," suggested Mr. Forde at this
juncture, and he walked out into the garden followed by his friend.

"I will fetch the key," said Mrs. Mortomley, and having done so, she
would have given it to them, but Mr. Forde asked,

"Is there no person who can go with us?"

"I--I will go with you myself," she hesitated, not liking to confess
Rupert was not about the grounds, which fact she had learned during her
absence from the room; "I thought perhaps you wished to be alone."


Up the laurel walk they paced, Mr. Kleinwort going into ecstasies over
the flowers; Mr. Forde muttering, "Pretty penny it must cost to keep up
this place;" while the scent of heliotrope and late mignonette pervading
the air, made Dolly feel faint and sick as did the very peace and beauty
of the scene.

"Where are all the men?" asked Mr. Forde, as he beheld the deserted
buildings.

"They have gone for the evening," Mrs. Mortomley answered. "Excepting at
very busy times, they never work later than half-past five."

"Nice management!" commented Mr. Forde.

"I believe that is the usual hour in most factories," she ventured.

He did not contradict her, but contented himself with shaking his head
as though he would imply that it was useless further to comment on the
bad management of Homewood, and walked about the premises, peering into
this vat and that cask, as if he expected to come suddenly upon a mine
of silver, or a heap of gold dust.

Anything funnier to an uninterested spectator than Mr. Forde looking
about the colour works, to see what Mortomley had done with his money,
could not possibly be conceived; but, then, there chanced to be no
uninterested spectator,--not even Messrs Lang and Hankins, who happened
to be making up some goods accounts in a little sentry-box of an office
that stood near the outer gates.

"Who are they?" asked Hankins of his companion, who, while thrusting his
arms into his coat which he had thrown off for greater convenience
during his arithmetical calculations, answered,

"One of them, the biggest, is Forde. Let me get away before they see us!
he asks as many questions as an Old Bailey lawyer and about as civilly,
and I am afraid his being here means no good to our governor!"

"Oh! that's the chap, is it?" replied Mr. Hankins. "Well, he may ask me
as many questions as he likes;" and as one who smelleth the battle afar
off, Mr. Hankins stepped out of his sentry-box, and walked in a
_débonnaire_ manner across the yard to meet the visitors.

"Who was that went out just now?" inquired Mr. Forde.

"Our manager, sir."

"Fetch him back. I want him."

Mr. Hankins went rapidly enough to the outer gate, and passed into the
road, where he saw Lang turning a not remote corner.

Hearing the gate slam, Lang looked round and would have paused, but
Hankins made him a sign to proceed. Then Hankins, having hurried to the
corner, took up a position which commanded a good view of his friend's
retreating figure; and it was only when Lang was out of sight that he
retraced his steps to the door where, as he expected, Mr. Forde was
waiting for him.

"I couldn't overtake him, sir," he said, panting a little as if he had
made mighty efforts to do so.

"Humph!" exclaimed Mr. Forde; "I'll be bound I could have overtaken
him."

"I don't think you could, sir."

"And who asked you to think, pray?" inquired Mr. Forde.

"No one, sir. I beg your pardon; I won't do it again."

Mr. Forde looked at the man to see if he was making game of him, but
there was not a suspicion of a smile on Mr. Hankins' self-sufficient
face.

"And who are you, sir?" inquired Mr. Forde, in the tone of a man who
meant, "Now don't try to trifle with me or it will be the worse for
you."

"Oh! I am foreman here," answered Mr. Hankins.

When he repeated this conversation afterwards, which he did many and
many a time to admiring and appreciative audiences, he stated that when
Mr. Forde began to "sir" him, he said to himself, "If you are going to
get up it's time I got down, as the Irishman said when his pony got his
foot in the stirrup."

"This seems a remarkably well-conducted business," observed Mr. Forde
with a sneer.

"Well, I don't think it is what it once was," admitted Mr. Hankins with
a touching modesty. "We do what we can, but since the governor's health
has taken to failing, I am free to confess our colours ain't what they
used to be."

And Mr. Hankins picked up a leaf and began to chew the stalk in a manner
calculated to inspire confidence in his companion's bosom.

"Your colours are not what they used to be, then?" remarked Mr. Forde,
imagining he was leading the man on.

"No, they ain't, sir. Not a day passes but we have a complaint or
returns or a deuce of a row about the change in quality. And things were
never like that when the governor was at his best. Ay, it was a bad day
for Homewood when he quitted his old connection and took up with new
people."

Now Mr. Forde believed this remark referred to Mr. Mortomley's new
customers, and Mr. Kleinwort having by this time approached the pair,
drew by a look his attention to the conversation.

"You don't think the new people so good as the old, then," he said,
italicizing the observation for Mr. Kleinwort's benefit with a wink.


"I can't say for the 'people,'" answered Mr. Hankins. "It's the goods
I'm speaking about. We never used to have our materials from any but
tip-top houses, Marshalls, Humphries, and the like, but of late the
governor has dealt at some place in Thames Street, and of all the rot
that ever I saw theirs is the worst. I have often told the governor he
ought not to ask any man to take in the rubbish, but somehow or another
he ain't what he used to be, and there is no use in talking sense to
him."

With a very red face Mr. Forde turned and walked through the factory all
by himself, while Kleinwort, who enjoyed and appreciated the position as
only a foreigner could, continued to discourse with Mr. Hankins, asking
him about the value of the stock, the cost of the plant, whether the
trade could not be extended almost indefinitely, whether he was aware of
the nature of Mr. Mortomley's illness and so forth, until Mr. Forde, who
soon grew weary of his fruitless search after the concealed treasure,
shouted in his most strident tones,

"What is the good of talking to that fool, Kleinwort? Let us be getting
back again."

And he strode through the postern door into the laurel walk without
waiting for Mrs. Mortomley, who stood leaning against a desk in the
office as they passed through.

"I will follow you in a moment," she said to Mr. Kleinwort, who, all
smiles and politeness, made way hat in hand for her to precede him;
then, as the foreigner passed out through one of the arches into the
pleasant, peaceful-looking garden, she turned to Hankins, and saying,
"Get me some water--quick," fell back in a faint so suddenly that the
man had barely time to prevent her dropping to the floor.

"By jingo, she's as light as a feather!" exclaimed Mr. Hankins, and the
remark as he uttered it almost attained the dignity of an affidavit.

As it happened there stood on the desk a water-bath used for copying
letters. The contents of this sprinkled not too carefully over Dolly,
brought her back to consciousness more rapidly than might have been
expected, but she could not stand alone for a minute or so, during
which time she supported herself by clinging to the office stool.

"Are you better, ma'am?" asked Hankins anxiously. He had beheld his own
wife, when he or worldly affairs did not do according to her mind, taken
with a "turn;" but he had never seen a woman's face look like Mrs.
Mortomley's before.

"Yes, yes, thank you, I am well," she said. "And if you believe me,"
continued Mr. Hankins, addressing a select assemblage of his mates, "she
walked straight out of that office and across the court like a man
blind, it is true, but still straight with a sort of run, and shut the
door after her, and locked it; and that a woman, who looked like a
corpse, and was as near being one as she'll ever be, till she's laid in
her coffin. I wish I had pitched it heavier into Forde. I would if I had
'ave known she was going to turn up in that way."

Meantime, Mr. Forde was back in the drawing-room pishing and pshawing at
the furniture and effects, and Mr. Kleinwort was walking about the lawn
feeling, spite of his anxiety, almost a childish pleasure in treading
the velvet turf, in looking at the flowers which were still blooming
luxuriantly.

To him came Mrs. Mortomley.

"Ah! dear madame," he said, "this thing must not be; such a place, such
a plant, such a business. You think and see what can be done to prevent
so great misfortune. You have but to tell Bertram Kleinwort what to do,
and he will strive his best to fulfil."

It might have had its effect once, but Dolly, like her husband, was now
too ill to temporize.

"This must end," she said, "for good or for evil; I say we can strive no
more. We are tired--so tired of pouring water into a sieve."

"You will not like bankruptcy," he answered.

"We must take our chance," she said, and then they re-entered the house.

"Had not we better see those men," asked Mr. Forde of his friend.

"Well, yes," agreed Mr. Kleinwort.


"Shall I tell them to come to you," asked Mrs. Mortomley, but Mr. Forde
put her aside.

"I will go and find them myself," he answered, evidently under the
impression they were apocryphal creatures conjured up for the occasion.

Mrs. Mortomley sat down again. For five minutes--five blessed minutes
she imagined Messrs. Forde and Kleinwort were going to pay out the men,
and rid Homewood of their presence. Then romance gave way to reality,
and she heard Mr. Kleinwort ask,

"Well, what is your say now?"

"Stop," answered Mr. Forde, drawing on his gloves.

"You say that?"

"Yes, but," turning to Mrs. Mortomley, "your lawyer must not take the
order out; ours shall. There is no objection, I suppose?"

"I suppose not," she answered.

"If you leave the matter with us, we will not oppose," he observed.

"That will be a great relief to my husband," she said. "He did not think
any one else would."

"Well, well, we shall not, I am sure," was the unlooked-for reply. "You
shall hear from me to-morrow."

"Thank you," was Dolly's humble answer.

"Good day. I hope we shall all have better times hereafter," and he held
out his hand.

"Good day, madame," added Kleinwort, dropping a little behind. "Your
dear husband must make health, and, you madame, I shall trust ere long
time, to see red and not white. You must not mind Forde," he said,
almost in a whisper. "He is rough, he is, that is why I comed; but
good--so good when you get under his crust."

Mrs. Mortomley put her cold hand in Kleinwort's as she had put it into
that of Forde, and said good-bye to the one man as she had said it to
the other, with a wintry smile.

So they parted. Never--for ever did she see either of the two again.

Meantime, they drove back to London together in silence--silence broken
only once.

"What are you doing, Kleinwort; why don't you speak?" asked Mr. Forde.

"I am thinking--thinking, my friend," was the reply.

"Then I wish to Heaven you would not think," said the unfortunate
manager. "It is deucedly unpleasant, you know."

"You are so what you call droll," observed Mr. Kleinwort with cheerful
calmness.

An Englishman must be artificially iced before he can ever hope to
attain to a foreigner's degree of coolness.



                                 CHAPTER II.

                     KLEINWORT AND CO. IN CONSULTATION.


Drowning men catch at straws. It is not the fault of the straws that
they fail to save, and assuredly it is not the fault of the drowning men
that they carry the straws to destruction with them.

The General Chemical Company on that Friday evening when Mr. Kleinwort
was asked to bring his persuasive powers to bear on the recusant family
at Homewood, chanced to be in precisely the state of a drowning man
making frantic clutches at safety, and Mr. Forde's worst enemy might
have pitied him had he understood all Mr. Mortomley's "going" meant to
the manager of St. Vedast Wharf.

He had driven out to Homewood vowing that Mortomley, willing or
unwilling, should not stop, and it was only when he found affairs had
passed beyond his control, that he began to think whether there was no
way out of the difficulty.

Like an inspiration the idea of keeping the whole thing quiet, of
hoodwinking his directors, and of holding the ball still at his feet,
occurred to him.

He had to do with fools, and he humoured them according to their folly,
and indeed the notion of suggesting the substitution of the Company's
solicitor for the solicitor of Mr. Mortomley amounted almost to a stroke
of genius.

To Kleinwort there was a certain humour in the idea of first gibbeting a
man as a rogue, and then treating him as a simpleton. It was a feat the
German performed mentally every day, but then he kept the affair secret
between himself and his brains. He did not possess the frankness of that
"so droll Forde," and the tactics of his friend tickled him extremely.

And yet, truth to say, Mrs. Mortomley was not so supreme an idiot as
the autocrat of St. Vedast's Wharf imagined.

She had her misgivings, which Rupert pooh-poohed, declaring that peace
was well purchased at so small a price, and that for such a purpose one
lawyer was quite as good as another.

"Still, I should like to speak to Archie's solicitor about it," she
persisted.

"That is what you cannot do, for he is out of town," answered the young
man; "and very fortunate that he is, for if you went to him and he went
to Forde there would only be another row, and the whole affair perhaps
knocked on the head again."

"I thought no one could prevent Archie petitioning," she remarked.

"Neither can any one," was the reply; "but it might be made confoundedly
unpleasant for him after he had petitioned."

Which all sounded very well, and was possibly very true, but it failed
to satisfy Dolly.

Sleep had not for many a long month previously been a constant visitor
at Homewood, and whenever Mrs. Mortomley awoke, which she did twenty
times through that night, the vexed question of Mr. Benning's
interposition recurred to her.

Look at it in whatever light she would, her mind misgave her. If it made
no difference in the end, if it were no advantage to the Chemical
Company, she could not understand the object of so strange a proposal.
Rupert had indeed explained the matter by saying, "Forde wanted the
thing kept quiet;" but then why should the thing be kept quiet. In whose
interests and for whose benefit was it that such secrecy had to be
maintained. Pestered as her husband had been with demands for money,
with writs, and with sheriff's officers and their men, it seemed to Mrs.
Mortomley that all the world must already be acquainted with the
position of their affairs.

"What can the object be they have in view?" she asked over and over
again whilst she lay thinking--thinking through the long dark hours.
"How I wish Mr. Leigh were in town?" And then all at once she bethought
her that within a walk of Homewood there resided a gentleman with whose
family she had some slight acquaintance, and who chanced himself to be a
solicitor.

This fact had been stamped on Dolly's mind by hearing of the unearthly
hours at which even in the dead of winter he was in the habit of
breakfasting so as to admit of his reaching his offices, situated
somewhere at the west, by nine o'clock.

"I will ask him, and be guided by his reply," she decided, and
accordingly she rose at cock-crow and, dressing herself in all haste,
went across the fields, along the lanes to that sweet residence the
lawyer prized so much, and of which he saw so little.

She met him at his own gate, and asked permission to walk a little way
with him towards the station. "She wanted to ask only one question," she
said, "but it was necessary to preface that by a little explanation."

In as few words as sufficed for the purpose--and Heaven knows very few
suffice to tell a man is ruined--Mrs. Mortomley laid the state of the
case before her acquaintance.

"Will it make any difference to my husband if Mr. Benning applies to the
Bankruptcy Court instead of Mr. Leigh?" she finished by inquiring.

"None whatever," was the unhesitating reply.

"You are certain?" she persisted.

"Yes; I cannot see why it should alter his position or injure him in the
slightest degree."

"Does it not strike you as a very extraordinary proposition?"

"Well, yes," he agreed, "but no doubt it will be desirable for Mr.
Mortomley to raise no obstacle against their wishes. It is always
advantageous for a man to have a large creditor on his side."

"Mr. Halling says they want to keep the affair quiet," she went on. "Why
should they want that, and how should employing their own solicitor
enable them to do it?"

"I can only conjecture," was the answer, "that they desire the extent of
their own loss not to be made public, and by employing their own
solicitor they will manage to keep the application out of the papers."

"I am very, very much obliged to you," she said as they shook hands.

"Not at all," he replied. "Command me at any time if I can be of service
to you," and they parted; but she had not retraced a dozen steps before
he ran after her and said,

"I think, Mrs. Mortomley, were I in your place I should see Mr. Leigh
whenever he returns to town."

Which in all human probability Mrs. Mortomley would have done without
his recommendation. Nevertheless, the hint was kindly meant, as his
previous opinion, spoken by an utterly honourable man, had been honestly
given.

Upon the whole, however, I am not quite sure, seeing what one sees,
whether honourable men and thoroughly conscientious lawyers are exactly
the fittest people to help and counsel those who have reached the crises
of their lives.

Through the years to come, at all events,
Dolly carried a certain agonised memory of that morning walk, and the
consequences her adviser's words ensured to her and hers.

It was a fine September morning, the last fine morning that month held
in the especial year to which I refer. Had she been able to shake an
instinctive dread off her mind, she would, escaping for the hour from
the sight of sickness and the haunting feeling of men in possession,
have thoroughly enjoyed the calm landscape, the long stretches of
country across which her eyes, wearied though they were with night
watching, could roam freely. To right and to left lay the flat rich
Essex lands on which cattle were browsing peacefully, whilst at no great
distance were patches and pieces of woodland left still to tell Epping
once was more than a near neighbour to all the hamlets that formerly
nestled under its leafy shadows, and which are now becoming part and
parcel of the Great Babylon itself. In the distance she beheld dark
masses of foliage standing out darkly against the sky, showing that
there the monarchs of the forest still held the axe and the lords of the
soil at defiance, whilst ever and anon the light, rapid feet tripping
along field-paths, bordered by grass still wet and heavy with dew,
passed close by some stately park over which the silence and peace of
riches seemed brooding.

But as matters stood, the fresh morning air and the silence and the
peace conferred upon other people by the riches possessed by them
brought little balm to Dolly.

She had been told there was but one course for her to pursue, and she
had pursued it. She had been told it would lead to such comfort as was
now an utter stranger at Homewood, but she did not feel satisfied on
that point.

A woman's instincts are always keener than her reason, and by instinct
Dolly vaguely comprehended there were dangers and difficulties ahead.
Sunken rocks and treacherous sandbanks, of which the amateur pilots
who advised the management of the business craft knew nothing.

And yet she felt any sacrifice which could rid the house of its late,
and present, unwelcome guests would be worth making. In the centre of a
great field she stood still clasping her hands above her head and
breathed a luxurious sigh of relief at the idea of having Homewood to
herself and family once more.

"Without those dreadful creatures," she said quite aloud, and then she
gave her fancy wing and planned a course of papering, painting, and
white-washing after their departure, as she might have done had fever or
cholera taken up its abode for a time in the house.

Which was perhaps ungrateful in Mrs. Mortomley, seeing the obnoxious
visitors had tried to respect her feelings in every possible
manner--kept themselves as much out of sight as possible--smoked their
pipes so as to give the smallest amount of annoyance--offered such
assistance as their physical and mental habits of laziness rendered
available when Cook and Jane departed, and said to each other, they had
never seen a "house go on so regular under similar circumstances as
Homewood, nor a lady who took it all so quiet as the mistress of that
establishment."

And this was true. No one connected with Homewood "took it so quiet" as
Mrs. Mortomley.

I have a fancy that on those who turn the bravest and brightest face to
misfortune, the evil presence leaves the most permanent marks of its
passage. I think oftentimes while the face wreathes itself with smiles,
the cruel foot-prints are impressing themselves on the heart.

Whether this be so or not, it is quite certain that although Dolly never
once, never showed through all that weary campaign a sign of the white
feather, the whole thing was to her as the single drop torture.

It wore in upon her nature, it made a deep rugged channel through her
soul. And she was powerless to act. When Mortomley consented at Mr.
Forde's bidding to "go on" after he himself had decided to stop, when
Dolly consented that Mr. Benning should step into the shoes of their own
solicitor, they virtually threw up their cards and gave the game to
their adversaries.

Not less did Samson, when he confided to the keeping of a woman the
secret of his strength, dream of the dungeon and the tormentors than did
Mortomley and his wife, when they so blindly surrendered their future,
dream of the misery and poverty in store.

And yet Dolly had a prevision that evil must ensue. Well, not even the
gift of second sight can avert a man's doom when the hour draws near,
but it may help him to meet it bravely.

Mrs. Mortomley herself often thought that vague dread and uneasiness
which oppressed her when all things seemed going as they wished,
prepared her in some sort for the future she was called upon to
encounter.

Could she have been present at an interview which a couple of hours
later took place in Mr. Kleinwort's offices she would have faintly
comprehended how he and his friends wished to liquidate Mortomley's
estate.

They desired to get the whole matter into their own hands, and "keep it
quiet," but when the pros and cons of how this could be managed came to
be discussed, unforeseen difficulties arose at each stage of the
conversation.

"You had better be trustee," said Mr. Forde, turning to Henry Werner,
who for reasons best known to himself and Kleinwort and Co., had been
requested to grace the interview.

"What the devil should I be trustee for?" asked that amiable individual.
"The man does not owe me sixpence."

"All the better for you," was the reply, whereat all the rest of those
present laughed. At such times laughter does go round, and it certainly
was not unlike the sound of "thorns crackling under a pot."

"And all the better for us and those others, the rest of the creditors,
because you must be so much disinterested," added Kleinwort, in his
caressing manner, laying a fat and insinuating hand on Mr. Werner's
shoulder.

Mr. Werner shook it off as if it had been a toad.

"Don't be a fool, Kleinwort. You know I am not going to be trustee to
any estate in which the General Chemical Company is interested. And if
that Company had no interest in Mortomley, I still should refuse to take
part in the matter. I have known Mrs. Mortomley ever since her
marriage, and I would have nothing to do with anything in which she is
concerned directly or indirectly. Between her and my own wife, and you
and the other creditors, I should lead a nice life. I thank you very
much, but I do not see it at all."

"That is all very fine," remarked Mr. Forde, "considering it was through
you I knew this Mortomley, and through him we are all let into this
hole."

"If you happen to have made a mistake about either statement," observed
Mr. Werner, "you can correct it in a few days. I am in no hurry."

The manager opened his mouth to reply, but thinking better of the matter
shut it again. Whilst Mr. Benning who had been surveying the trio with
an expression of the most impartial distrust, said sharply,

"Come, gentlemen, defer the settlement of your differences to some more
suitable opportunity. I cannot stay here all day whilst you discuss
extraneous matters. Whom shall we propose for trustee?"

"Hadn't we better have Nelson," suggested Mr. Forde, with a quick glance
at Mr. Kleinwort.

"Who is Nelson," asked Mr. Werner.

"One of our clerks; don't you remember?" answered the manager
deprecatingly.

"Hadn't you better recommend the nearest crossing-sweeper?" commented
Mr. Werner. "He would do quite as well, and perhaps be considered far
more respectable."

"You come here, Forde. I know the very person. I want to tell you. Just
not for more than one second;" and with that Mr. Kleinwort, with an
apologetic smile to his other visitors, drew Mr. Forde out of the
office, and whispered a considerable amount of diplomatic advice in his
ear while they stood together on the landing.

"I cannot think it is a good thing for you to appear as Mortomley's
solicitor in this, Benning," said Mr. Werner when he and that gentleman
were left alone.

"I do not see any way in which it can be a bad thing for me," was the
calm reply. "Of course I shall keep myself safe."

"I am sure you will do that so long as you are able," argued Mr. Werner.
"The question is can you keep your employers safe?"

"I shall do the best in my power, of course, for Mr. Mortomley,"
answered Mr. Benning.

"Because if there should be any bother about the matter hereafter,"
continued Mr. Werner, as coolly as if the lawyer had not spoken, "it may
be deuced awkward for the St. Vedast Wharf folks--and--and--some other
people."

"I do not imagine there will be any bother," said Mr. Benning.

"There is no help for it if you allow Kleinwort to dictate to you."

"I do not intend to allow him to dictate to me," was the reply.

"It was such folly the pair starting off to Homewood yesterday evening
and setting Mrs. Mortomley's mane up at once."

"I do not attach much importance to that, but still I am surprised at
Kleinwort committing such a mistake; a man who thinks himself so
confoundedly clever, too."

"He is clever; he is the cleverest man I knew," commented Mr. Werner.

"I dare say he is," agreed Mr. Benning; "but you remember those who live
longest see most of the game, and some one, I doubt not, will live to
know how many trumps our little friend really holds."

Mr. Werner laughed--not pleasantly.

"You try to see the cards of all other men, Benning, but you do not show
your own."

"I have none to show," was the reply. "A man in my position cannot
afford to play at pitch and toss with fortune. Great gains and great
losses, great risks and great successes I am forced to leave to--well,
say Kleinwort. His name is as good as that of any other man with which
to finish the sentence."

"And yet to look at his office," began Mr. Werner.

Mr. Benning had been in it a dozen times before, and knew every article
it contained. Nevertheless, he apparently accepted his companion's
remark as an invitation to have still another glance, and his eyes
wandered slowly and thoughtfully over every object in the room.

When he had quite finished his scrutiny, he said,

"You are quite right. To look around his office, Mr. Kleinwort ought
never to have had a transaction with the General Chemical Company, and
if I had any young client in whom I was interested, I should advise him
never to have a transaction with Mr. Kleinwort."

"Indeed, you are mistaken," remarked Mr. Werner eagerly. "I never meant
to imply anything of the kind."

"Oh! indeed," replied the lawyer. "Well, it does not signify, but I
thought you did."

"I never do attempt conversation with any one of these fellows but I
have reason to repent it," Mr. Werner observed thoughtfully to himself,
and there was a considerable amount of truth in the remark. Conversation
in the City, if a man have anything to conceal, is about as safe and
pleasant an exercise as walking through a field set with spring guns.

Kleinwort's _pour-parler_ kept him safe enough, skirting with pleasant
phrases and apparently foolish devices round and about dangerous ground,
but Werner did not chance to be quite so great a rogue as his friend,
and he certainly regarded life and its successes much more seriously,
though not more earnestly, than the man who was good enough to "make use
of England."

Upon the whole Mr. Werner felt relieved that before Mr. Benning could
take up his parable again the door opened, and Messrs. Forde and
Kleinwort reappeared, the latter exclaiming,

"We have got him now; the right man for the right place; Duncombe, you
know Duncombe."

"I cannot say that I do," answered Mr. Benning, while Henry Werner, with
an impatient "Pshaw," turned on his heel, and walked to the window,
against the panes of which a fine drizzling rain was beginning to beat.

"It seems to me, sir," began Mr. Forde irritably, "that as you are
unwilling to make any suggestion yourself, you might find some better
employment than objecting to the suggestions of others."

"That is enough," was the reply. "Manage the affair after your own
lights, and see where they will ultimately land you."

"Who is Duncombe?" inquired Mr. Benning.

"A most respectable man; A1, sir," explained Mr. Forde. "The London
representative of Fleck, Handley and Company, whose works are at
Oldbury, Staffordshire."

"Oh!" said Mr. Benning. He was beginning to recollect something about
Fleck, Handley and Co., and their London representative also.

"A large firm in a large way," continued Mr. Forde. "They have extensive
transactions with the G. C. C. Limited."

"Which fact in itself is a proof of respectability and solvency," added
Werner with his bitter tongue.

"Ah! but they are not accountants," commented Mr. Benning, affecting
unconsciousness of the sneer. "And we must have an accountant, or we
shall meet with no end of difficulty. The position of affairs, as I
understand it, is this: Mr. Mortomley is either unable to go on or else
wishes to stop. The result is the same, let the cause be which it may.
He wishes the affair kept quiet or some of his creditors do. To effect
this object he wishes me to act for him in the matter. Now, if I am to
do so effectually, it is needful for us to have a trustee about whose
_bona fides_ there can be no question. It is not enough for us that a
man is a very honest fellow or useful or expedient. We must have some
one with a known name accustomed to this sort of work. It is perfect
waste of time racking our brains to think which Dick or Tom or Harry
will answer our purpose best. We can have no Dick or Tom or Harry. This
is not a small affair, and the Court will require some responsible man
to take the management of such an estate."

"There is no estate to manage," interposed Mr. Forde. "The whole thing
has been muddled away, or made away with."

"If that be your real opinion, the whole thing had better go into
bankruptcy at once," said Mr. Benning.

"No--no--no--no, not at all; by no means, no," exclaimed Mr. Kleinwort
as the lawyer rose as if intending to depart. "That must not be. I,
Kleinwort, say no. Forde is rash--rash. He knows not what is good or
best. He talks beyond the mark."

"Come, Forde, reckon up your respectable acquaintances, and tell us the
name of the blackest sheep you know amongst the accountant tribe,"
suggested Mr. Werner. "Your experience has been large enough, Heaven
knows."

"Will you stop jeering or not?" asked Mr. Forde. "Considering Mr.
Mortomley is your bosom friend, I think the way you talk of this matter
scarcely decent."

"Nay," answered Mr. Werner. "Mortomley has been your bosom friend it
seems to me. Certainly, had he asked my advice a few years ago, we four
would not have had the arrangement of his destiny to-day. And as for
bosom friends," he added in a lower tone, "a businessman has none, and
no friends either for that matter. Such luxuries are not for us."

"Do, for heaven's sake, let us keep to the matter in hand," exclaimed
Mr. Benning. "Will you name an accountant or shall I?"

The manager looked at Mr. Kleinwort, and then once again the German led
his, so good friend, out of the room.

Mr. Benning watched the pair till the door closed behind them, and then
turning to Mr. Werner, said,

"Will you allow me to ask you one question? How does it happen so astute
a man as you has anything to do with St. Vedast Wharf?"

"Trade, like poverty, makes one acquainted with strange bedfellows," was
the reply.

"That is very true; but why are you mixing yourself up with this man
Mortomley?"

Mr. Werner paused a moment before he answered, and a dull red streak
appeared on each side his face, while he hesitated about his answer.

Then he looked his interlocutor straight in the eyes and said,

"Because I want to keep Forde at St. Vedast Wharf for another
twelvemonth."

Mr. Benning, between his teeth, gave vent to a low but most
unlawyer-like whistle.

"That's it, is it," he commented.

"That is it," agreed Mr. Werner.

"And Kleinwort ditto?" said the lawyer, inquiringly.

"So far as I know," was the reply.

Then observed Mr. Benning,

"I am infinitely obliged by your frankness. I could not see my way
before, but I think I can discern daylight now."

"It must be through a very dark tunnel then," remarked Mr. Werner
bitterly.

"We must keep Mortomley's business moving."

"That is what Kleinwort says, but I confess I do not see how it is to be
done."

"Where there is a will there is always a way," was the calm rejoinder.
"Well, gentlemen," he added, as Mr. Kleinwort returned leading his
friend with him. "Have you found a suitable man; because if not, I
must."

"Yes, yes," answered Kleinwort irritably, for he and Mr. Forde had been
arguing a little hotly over the trustee question. "Do you happen to know
one very good man, one true dear Christian who makes long prayers, and
has snow hair hanging loose, and wears a white neckhandkerchief so pure
and faultless--"

"What is his name?" interrupted Mr. Benning.

"Asherill," answered Mr. Forde.

"You mean the old humbug in Salisbury House I suppose," commented Mr.
Benning, after a moment's pause. "Well, I don't know but that he might
serve our purpose as well as any one if he will undertake the business.
But you know, in spite of its sheep's clothing, what a cunning old wolf
it is. He understands it behoves him to be careful, and he is. Give him
a straightforward case, however small, and he is satisfied.

"He will strip the debtor clean as a whistle, and then sympathize with
the creditors over the depravity of debtors in general, and that
especial sinner of a debtor in particular. But take any estate to him,
no matter how large the liquidation of which _may_ subsequently be
called in question, and he says, even while his mouth is watering for
the _bonne bouche_,

"'No, no, thank you, my dear kind friend, very much, but I have my
prejudices, foolish no doubt, but insurmountable. Other men have not
those prejudices, and will do your work better--far better. Thank you so
very, very much. Good-bye. God bless you.'"

It was not in Kleinwort--who always loved hearing one Englishmen
ridicule or anathematize another--to refrain from laughing at the
foregoing sentence which the lawyer delivered with a solemn pomposity
Mr. Asherill himself might have envied, and even Mr. Werner smiled at
the imitation. But Mr. Forde, who could never see a joke unless he
chanced to be easy in his mind, which of late was an event of infrequent
occurrence, looked upon Kleinwort's merriment as unseemly, and telling
him not to be an ass, took up the broken thread of conversation by
remarking,

"I do not think Asherill will make any objection in this case. In the
first place there is nothing doubtful about the transaction, and in the
second place Mr. Samuel Witney, who is--in religion--a friend of his,
and who has often done him a good turn, happens to be one of our
directors."

"I should not feel inclined to place much dependence on either fact,"
said Mr. Benning. "But as I suppose you understand your own
business--let us try Asherill. I have to attend a meeting of creditors,
and shall not be able to see him to-day; but you," turning to Messrs.
Kleinwort and Werner, "had better do so, and take a note from me at the
same time."

"I have got my own business to attend to," remarked Mr. Werner.

"And so have I in most good truth," echoed Kleinwort piteously.

"Well, attend to your own and Mortomley's also for to-day. After that I
promise you shall be troubled no more about Mortomley or his estate." So
spoke Mr. Benning, and his words recommended themselves to Henry Werner.

"On that understanding," he said, "I will do what you wish."

"I must stay here till twelve," pleaded Kleinwort. "After that, any
time, anywhere."

"I will be here at quarter past twelve;" and having made this
appointment, Mr. Werner bade good morning to the lawyer and the manager,
and ran down the stone stairs leading from Kleinwort's office as if the
plague had been after him.

"There is nothing more to say I suppose," nervously suggested Mr. Forde
as the lawyer buttoned up his coat, and requested the loan of an
umbrella.

"We are going to have a nasty day," he remarked. "I will send the
umbrella back directly I get to my place. No. I don't think there is
anything more to say. I understand the position, and hope everything may
go on satisfactorily."

Mr. Forde buttoned up his coat, walked to the window, looked out at the
sky, which was by this time leaden, and at the rain, which had begun to
come down in good earnest. Then he grasped his umbrella, and after
saying, "I shall wait at the wharf till I see you, Kleinwort," heaved a
weary sigh, and departed likewise.

"My dear, dear friend, how I should like to keep you waiting there for
me, for ever," soliloquised Kleinwort, in his native tongue, which was a
very cruel speech, inasmuch as if Mr. Forde had any strong belief, it
was a faith in Kleinwort's personal attachment to himself.

In moments of confidence indeed he had told those far-seeing friends
whose confidence in the German was of that description which objects to
trust a man out of its sight, "I dare say he is a little thief, but I am
quite sure of one thing; he may swindle other people, but he will never
let in ME." A touching proof of the simplicity some persons are able to
retain in spite of their knowledge of the wickedness of their
fellow-creatures. Faith is perhaps the worst commodity with which to set
up in business in the City, since it is so seldom justified by works.

When Mr. Werner returned to keep his appointment he found Mr. Kleinwort,
his coat off, a huge cigar in his mouth, busily engaged in writing
letters.

"Just one, two minutes," he said, "then I am yours to command. Sit
down."

"No; thank you. I will wait for you outside. I wonder what you think I
am made of if you expect me to breathe in this atmosphere."

And he walked on to the landing, where Kleinwort soon joined him.

"I must have some brandy," remarked that gentleman. "I am worn out,
exhausted, faint. Look at me," and he held up his hands, which were
shaking, and pointed to his cheeks, which were livid.

Mr. Werner did look at him, though with little apparent pleasure in the
operation.

"Have what you want, then," he said. "Can't you get it there?" and he
pointed to a place on the opposite side of the street where bottles were
ranged conspicuously against the window-glass.

"There! My good Werner, of what are your thoughts made? The spirits
there sold are so bad no water was never no worse."

"I should not have thought you a judge of the quality of any water
except soda-water," answered Werner grimly.

"Ah!" was the reply; "but you are English. You have inherited nothing
good, imaginative, poetic, from your father's fatherland."

"If by that you mean I have no knowledge of the quality of every tap in
the metropolis, you are right, and, what is more, I do not want to have
anything to do with poetry or imagination if either assumes that
particular development."

"We put all those things on one side for an instant," suggested
Kleinwort, making a sudden dive into a tavern which occupied a
non-conspicuous position in an alley through which they were passing,
leaving Werner standing on the pavement wet as a brook from the torrents
of rain that were at last coming down as if a second deluge had
commenced.

When Kleinwort reappeared, which he did almost immediately, his cheeks
had resumed their natural hue, and the hand which grasped his umbrella
was steady enough.

"If I drank as much as you," commented Mr. Werner, "I should go mad."

"And if I drank as you so little I should go mad," was the answer. "You
have got in your lovely English some vulgar saying about meat and
poison."

"Yes, and you will have something which is called _delirium tremens_ one
of these days if you do not mind what you are about."

"Shall I? No, I think not. When the engine has not need to work no
longer, it will be that I lower the steam. Some day, some blessed day, I
shall return to mine own land to there take mine ease."

"I wish to God you had never left it," muttered Henry Werner, and it was
after the exchange of these amenities that the pair ascended to the
offices of Asherill and Swanland, Salisbury House.



                                CHAPTER III.

                     MR. DEAN AND HIS FUTURE RELATIVES.


It was quite dark by the time Mr. Swanland's clerks reached Homewood on
the rainy Saturday in question.

In the first place they lost their train by about half a minute, which
was not of much consequence as another started in less than half an hour
afterwards, but Mr. Bailey chose to lose his temper, and exchanged some
pleasant words first with a porter who shut the door in his face, and
afterwards with a burly policeman big enough to have carried the little
clerk off in his arms like a baby.

The young gentlemen, engaged at a few shillings a week to perform
liquidation drudgery in Messrs. Asherill and Swanland's offices, were
so accustomed to regard the members of their firm as autocrats that they
affected the airs of autocrats themselves when out of the presence
chamber, and were consequently indignant if the outer world, happily
ignorant of the nature of accountants, treated them as if they were very
ordinary mortals indeed.

Having nothing to do for half an hour save kick their heels in that
dingy, dirty, fusty, comfortless hall which the Great Eastern Railway
Company generously offers for the use of the travellers on its line who
repair to London Street, Mr. Bailey improved the occasion by delivering
a series of orations on the folly of that old sinner Asherill, who
detained them talking humbug till they lost the train, and having eased
his feelings so far, he next proceeded to relieve them further by
anathematizing Mortomley, who chose Saturday of all days in the week,
and that Saturday of all Saturdays in the year, to take up his residence
in Queer Street.

"I won't stand it," finished Mr. Bailey, while his eyes wandered over
that cheerful expanse of country which greets the traveller who journeys
by train from London to Stratford, as he nears the latter station. "I'll
give them notice on Monday. They could not get on without me. I'd like
to know where they could possibly find a man able to work as I can who
would put up with such treatment. On Monday I will give them a piece of
my mind they won't relish as much as they will their cut of roast beef
to-morrow."

Which was all very well, but as Mr. Bailey had been in the habit of
making the same statement about once a fortnight upon an average, since
liquidation came into fashion, his companion attached less importance to
it than might otherwise have been the case.

"What a day it has turned out!" was all the comment he made.

"Yes, and they are at home safe and snug before this, or on their way to
it. Well, it is of no use talking."

"I wonder if we shall have far to walk," said the junior, whose name was
Merle.

"Miles no doubt," answered Mr. Bailey, "and get drenched to the skin.
But what do they care! We are not flesh and blood to them. We are only
pounds shillings and pence."

Which was indeed a very true remark, although it emanated from Mr.
Bailey. Had he been aware how exactly his words defined his employers'
feelings, he would not perhaps have been so ready to give utterance to
them.

As matters stood, he grumbled on until they were turned out in the
drenching rain to get from Leytonstone Station to Whip's Cross as best
they could. Green Grove Lane was still leafy, and flowers bloomed gaily
in the railway gardens, and Leytonstone church stood in its graveyard a
picturesque object in the landscape, and there was a great peace about
that quiet country station with its level crossing and air of utter
repose which might have been pleasant to some people.

But it did not prove agreeable to Mr. Bailey. A soaking rain. An
indefinite goal. An unknown amount of work to be got through!

Very comprehensively and concisely Mr. Bailey read a short commination
service over Mr. Mortomley and his affairs, whilst he and Merle stood on
the down platform waiting the departure of the train ere crossing the
line.

He had got his directions from the station master, and they did not
agree with those issued at head-quarters.

"He should have gone to Snaresbrook. That was the nearest point, but,
however, he could not miss his way. It was straight as an arrow after he
get to the 'Green Man,' still keeping main road to the left."

Which instructions he followed so implicitly that the pair found
themselves finally at Leyton Green.

From thence they had to make their way back into the Newmarket Road, and
as that way lay along darksome lanes under the shade of arching trees,
through patches of Epping Forest, while all the time the rain continued
to pour down, steadily and determinedly, it may be imagined how much
Mr. Bailey was enamoured of Mortomley and his estate by the time the two
clerks reached Homewood.

But once within the portals of that place, circumstances put on a more
cheerful aspect. A bright fire blazed in the old-fashioned hall,
glimpses were caught of well lighted and comfortably furnished rooms.
Rupert, with a rare civility, addressed them with a polite hope that
they were not very wet, and Mrs. Mortomley, after reading Mr. Swanland's
note, sent to inquire if they would not like some tea.

With which, Mr. Bailey having readily responded in the affirmative, they
were provided presently. Rupert in the meantime having recommended half
a glass of brandy, which Merle gulped down thankfully, and Mr. Bailey
sipped sullenly, angry a whole one had not been advised.

When the dining-room door was shut, and the pair had made an onslaught
on the cold fowl and ham sent in with tea for their delectation, Merle
remarked,

"What a stunning place, ain't it!"

"Ay, it is a snug crib enough," replied the other, who had already
beheld wreck and ruin wrought in much finer abodes.

"They don't seem a bad sort," observed Merle, who, being young to the
business, still thought a bankrupt might be a gentleman, and who
moreover was not a tip-top swell like Bailey, whose father rented a
house at fifty pounds a year, and only let off the first floor in order
to make the two obstinate ends meet.

"What do you mean?" inquired Bailey.

"Why, asking us to have tea and all that," was the innocent answer.

"Pooh!" replied his companion. "Why, it is all over now. They don't know
it, but the whole place belongs to us, I mean to our governors. The tea
is ours, and the bread and butter and the ham, and not this fowl alone,
but every hen and chicken on the premises. Hand me over the loaf, I am
as hungry as a hunter."

Had little Mrs. Mortomley understood matters at that moment as she
understood them afterwards, she would, hospitable as was her
disposition, have turned those two nice young clerks out into the
weather, and told them to make up their accounts in the Works or Thames
Street, as they should never enter the house at Homewood so long as she
remained in it.

But she did not understand, and accordingly after tea the making out of
the liabilities proceeded under Rupert's superintendence, Mrs.
Mortomley's presence being occasionally required when any question
connected with her own department had to be answered.

"I do not see why these debts should be put down," said Dolly at last.
"Of course, all household liabilities I shall defray out of my own
money."

"No, you won't," replied Rupert brusquely. "You will want every penny of
your money for yourself, or I am much mistaken."

At length Mr. Bailey bethought him of asking Rupert about the return
trains, and finding that the last was due in three quarters of an hour,
stated that as it seemed impossible the work could be finished then, he
and Merle would be down at about eight o'clock on Monday morning.

Having given which promise he went out into the night, followed by his
junior, and Homewood was shortly after shut up, and every member of the
household, tired out with the events of the day, went early to bed, and
woke the next morning with a sense of rest and ease as strange as it
proved transitory.

In the afternoon Mr. Dean called and asked specially for Mrs. Mortomley,
and when Dolly went down to him, she found that he wished to tell her in
his own formal way that the idea of Miss Halling, his promised wife, the
future mistress of Elm Park remaining in a house where bailiffs were
unhappily located, had troubled and was troubling him exceedingly. Of
course, he felt every sympathy for Mrs. Mortomley in her sad position,
and for Mr. Mortomley in his present unfortunate circumstances, but--

"In a word," broke in Dolly, "you want Antonia to leave Homewood and go
to your sister. That is it, is it not, Mr. Dean? Of course I can make
no objection, and when affairs are arranged here she can return to be
married from her uncle's house."

For a moment Mr. Dean was touched. He saw Dolly believed matters would
be so arranged that Homewood should still belong to Mortomley, and that
she offered hospitality to a woman she cordially disliked on this
supposition. And he thought it rather nice of the little woman, whose
face he could not avoid noticing was very white and pinched, though she
carried the trouble lightly, and, in his opinion, with almost unbecoming
indifference. But Mr. Dean quickly recovered his balance. These people
were paupers. Great heavens! literally paupers, except for the few
thousands left of Mrs. Mortomley's fortune. They might ask him to lend
them money. Presuming upon their relationship to Miss Halling, they
might even expect to be asked to stay at his house--at Elm Park--a
gentleman's mansion, across the threshold of which no bankrupt's foot
had ever passed. At the bare idea of such complications, Mr. Dean turned
hot and cold alternately.

He had done much for these Mortomley people already. He had broke the
news of the impending catastrophe to Mr. Forde, and after that act of
weakness what might they not expect in the future!

When Mr. Dean thought of this he felt horrified at the possible
consequences resulting from his extraordinary amiability. Indeed, he
felt so horrified that dismay for a minute or two tied his tongue, and
it was Dolly who at last broke the silence. Leaning back in an
easy-chair, her thin white hands clasped together, her eyes too large
and bright, but still looking happy and restful, she said, "I should
like very much, Mr. Dean, to know where your thoughts are wandering?"

Mr. Dean, thus aroused, answered with a diplomatic truthfulness which
afterwards amazed himself.

"I was thinking of you and Mr. Mortomley, and Miss Halling and myself."

"Yes?" Dolly said inquiringly. There had been a time when she would have
remarked all four were interesting subjects, but on that especial
Sunday she was a different woman from the Mrs. Mortomley of Mr. Dean's
earlier recollection.

"To a lady possessed of your powers of observation," began Mr. Dean, "I
need scarcely remark that difficulties might arise were Miss Halling to
take up even a temporary abode with my sister, and therefore--"

"I comprehend what you mean, and I know why you hesitate," said Mrs.
Mortomley, as her visitor paused and cast about how to finish his
sentence, "but I really do not see what can be done. I am afraid," she
added, with a pucker of her forehead, which had latterly grown habitual
when she was troubled or perplexed. "Antonia would not like my Aunt
Celia. My aunt is goodness itself, but a very little eccentric. Still,
if she understood the position--"

"I hope you do not think me capable of adding to your anxiety at such a
time as this," interposed Mr. Dean pompously.

All unconsciously Mrs. Mortomley had managed to offend his dignity as
she had never offended it before when she suggested the idea of
quartering the future mistress of Elm Park on a spinster living upon an
extremely limited income in some remote wilds.

"I should not for a moment entertain the idea of asking any of your
relations or friends to receive the lady whom I hope soon to call my
wife. I have anxiously considered the whole matter, and after mature
deliberation have arrived at the conclusion that Mr. Rupert Halling is
the only relative with whom Miss Halling can now with propriety reside
until she gives me the right to take her to Elm Park."

"You propose then that Rupert shall leave Homewood also," said Mrs.
Mortomley. She wore a shawl thrown over her shoulders, for the rain had
made her feel chilly, and Mr. Dean did not notice that under it she
clasped both hands tightly across her heart as she spoke.

"With that view," he answered, "I took suitable apartments yesterday in
the immediate vicinity of his studio."

"I did not know he had a studio," she remarked.

"With commendable prudence and foresight he secured one a couple of
months back in the neighbourhood of the Regent's Park."

"And it was there I suppose he painted that picture he sold for twenty
pounds."

"Twenty guineas," amended Mr. Dean. "A friend of mine did pay him that
very handsome amount for a sketch of a little girl which the purchaser
imagined bore some resemblance to a deceased daughter of his own."

"His model being Lenore, doubtless."

"I should say most probably."

Dolly did not answer. She sat for a minute or two looking out at the
leaves littering the lawn, at the sodden earth, at the late blooming
flowers beaten almost into the earth by reason of the violence of the
rain--then she said,

"And so they, Antonia and Rupert, go to those lodgings you spoke of?"

"Yes, on Tuesday next, if Miss Halling can complete her preparations in
the time."

"Rats leave a sinking ship," murmured Mrs. Mortomley to herself.

"I beg your pardon," observed Mr. Dean, not catching the drift of her
pleasant sentence.

"I said," explained Dolly, speaking very slowly and distinctly, "that
rats leave a sinking ship. So the story goes at all events, and I, for
one, see no reason to doubt its truthfulness. If you think of it, what
more natural than that they should go. They are detestable creatures in
prosperity. Why should they alter their natures in adversity?"

"I am very stupid I fear," said Mr. Dean; "but I confess I fail to see
the drift of your remark."

"I can make it plain enough," she retorted. "Here are a man and a woman
who must have starved unless we or you had provided them with the
necessaries of life. It was not very pleasant for me to have Antonia
Halling here, but she has had the best we could give her; and never a
cross look or grudging word to mar her enjoyment of the good things of
this life--things she prizes very highly.

"As for Rupert, he has been treated by my husband as a brother or a son.
We made no difference between them and Lenore, except that I have
denied my child what she wanted sometimes, and they have never been
denied.

"And the end of it all is that when my husband's affairs go wrong, they
leave us, and allow a stranger to break the tidings. That is why I call
them rats, Mr. Dean--your _fiancée_ and her brother. I am sure heaven
made Antonia Halling a helpmate--meet for you--for she is as selfish, as
worldly, as calculating, and as cold as even Mr. Dean, of Elm Park."

Having finished which explicit speech, Dolly rose and gathered her shawl
more closely about her figure, bowed, and would have left the room had
Mr. Dean not hindered her departure.

"Mrs. Mortomley," he said, "I can make allowances for a lady placed as
you are; but I beg leave to say you are utterly mistaken in your
estimate of me."

"I am not mistaken," she replied. "I understand you better than you
understand yourself. Do you think I cannot see to the bottom of so
shallow a stream? Do you imagine for a moment I fail to understand, that
last Thursday night you turned the question over and over in your mind
as to whether you could give up Antonia Halling when I made you
understand the position of her uncle's affairs? You have decided and
rightly you cannot give her up. No jury would hold the non-success of a
relation a sufficient reason for jilting a woman.

"And I really believe Antonia is so thoroughly alive to her own
interests that she would take the matter into court. Good-bye, Mr. Dean.
You and your future wife are a representative couple."

"What an awful woman," said Mr. Dean, addressing himself after her
departure. "I declare," he added, speaking to Rupert, who immediately
after entered the room, "I would not marry Mrs. Mortomley if she had
twenty thousand a year."

"How rare it is to find two people so unanimous in opinion," remarked
Rupert with a sneer. He did not like Mr. Dean at the best of times, and
at that moment he had a grudge against him, because he knew it was Mr.
Dean who must have told Mr. Forde about that twenty guineas for a
sketch of the small Lenore. "I am sure poor mistaken Dolly would not
marry you if you settled fifty thousand per annum on her. But what has
she been saying to cause such vehement expression of opinion?"

"She says you and your sister are rats; that you have eaten of the best
in the ship, and leave it now it is sinking."

"Upon my honour I am afraid Mrs. Mortomley is right," was the reply.
"Hers is a view of the question which did not strike me before; but it
is not open to dispute. Still what would the dear little soul have one
do? Stay with the vessel till it disappears? If she speak the word, I
for one am willing to do so."

"I hoped to hear common sense from one member of this household at all
events," was Mr. Dean's reply, uttered loftily and contemptuously.

"So you would from me if I were not in love with my aunt," Rupert
answered tranquilly. "More or less, less sometimes than more, I have
always been in love with Dolly. She is not pretty, except occasionally,
and she can be very disagreeable; and she is some years older than
myself; and she is an adept at spending money; and upon the whole she is
not what the world considers a desirable wife for a struggling man. But
she has--to use a very vulgar expression--pluck, and by Jove if I live
to be a hundred, I shall never see a woman I admire so thoroughly as my
uncle's wife. But this is sentimental," Mr. Halling proceeded. "And I
stifle it at the command of common sense. On Tuesday I leave Homewood
for those desirable apartments in which you wish me to play propriety to
the future lady of The Elms."

Through the rain Mr. Dean drove away foaming with rage. Could he have
lived his time over again, no Miss Halling would ever have been asked to
grace his abode. No young person, with a vagabond brother in a velvet
suit, should ever have been mistress of The Elms.

But Mrs. Mortomley had put the case in a nutshell. He must marry
Antonia, though Mortomley were bankrupt ten thousand times over.

And Antonia knew it, and under the roof which had sheltered her for so
many a long night, she returned thanks for the fact to whatever deity
she actually worshipped.

It is not for me to state what god hers chanced to be, but certainly it
was not that One of whom Christians speak reverently.



                                CHAPTER IV.

                                PREVISION.


Along the front and one end of the house at Homewood ran a wide low
verandah, over which trailed masses of clematis, clustres of roses, long
sprays of honeysuckle, and delicate branches of jasmine. In the summer
and autumn so thick was the foliage, hanging in festoons from the tops
of the light iron pillars depending from the fretwork which formed the
arches, that the verandah was converted into a shaded bower, the
sunbeams only reaching it through a tracery of leaves.

Up and down under the shelter of this verandah, Rupert paced impatiently
for a few minutes after Mr. Dean's departure, the sound of the rain
pouring on the roof making a suitable accompaniment to thoughts that
were about the most anxious the young man's mind had ever held.

Now that the step had been taken and the die cast, liquidation assumed a
different aspect to that it had worn when viewed from a distance.
Something he could not have defined in the manner of the two clerks
filled him with a vague uneasiness, whilst Mr. Dean's determination that
his _fiancée_ should be exposed no longer to the contaminating
associations of Homewood annoyed him beyond expression. True, for some
time previously he had been drifting away from his uncle. Whilst Dolly
thought he was assisting her husband and still devoting himself to the
town business, he was really working for many hours a week in his new
painting-room, which he reached by taking advantage of that funny little
railway between Stratford and Victoria Park, which connects the Great
Eastern and the North London lines.

He had never entered the offices of the General Chemical Company since
the day when he opened his lips to warn his uncle of the probable
consequences of that weakness which induced him to struggle on long
after he ought to have stopped. He very rarely honoured the Thames
Street Warehouse with his presence, and he never interfered in the
business unless Mortomley asked him to arrange a disputed account or
call upon the representative of some country house who might chance when
in town to take up his quarters at a West-end hotel.

Nevertheless, he did not like the idea of cutting himself utterly adrift
from his relatives. Homewood had been home to him, more truly home than
his father's house ever proved. Spite of all the anxiety of the later
time, his residence under Mortomley's roof had been a happy period. He
liked his uncle and his wife, and the little Lenore, and--well there was
no use in looking back--the happy days were gone and past, and he must
look out for himself. He could not afford to quarrel with Mr. Dean, and
Dolly's bitter speech still rankled in his memory, but yet he had not
meant to give up Homewood entirely, and Mr. Dean must have blundered in
some way to leave such an impression on Mrs. Mortomley's mind.

"I will have it out with her at once," he decided, and he threw away his
cigar, girt up his loins for the coming struggle, and re-entered the
house.

He found Dolly in the library writing a letter. When he entered, she
raised her head to see who it was, but immediately and without remark
resumed her occupation.

There was a bright red spot flaming on each cheek, and a dangerous
sparkle in her eyes, which assured Rupert the air was not yet clear, and
that the storm might come round again at any moment.

But he knew the sooner they commenced their quarrel the more speedily it
would be over, and so plunged into the matter at once.

"Dolly, what have you been doing to Mr. Dean? He has gone off looking as
black as a thunder-cloud."

"I have been giving him a piece of my mind," she answered without
looking up, and her pen flew more rapidly over the paper.

"Your explanation is not lady-like, but it is explicit," remarked
Rupert, "I am afraid you will soon not have any mind left if you are so
generous in disposing of it."

"If my mind proves of no more use to me in the future than it has in the
past, the sooner I dispose of it all the better," was the reply.

"Do you think you are wise in commencing your present campaign by
quarrelling with everybody?" he inquired.

"Yes, if every one is like Mr. Dean and--and other people."

"Meaning me?"

"Meaning you, if you choose to take the cap and wear it."

"Do you know Mr. Dean says he would not marry you if you had twenty
thousand a year?"

"It is a matter of the utmost indifference to me what Mr. Dean says or
thinks either."

"He told me you considered Antonia and myself little, if at all, better
than rats."

"Did he happen to tell you what I thought of him?"

There was no shaming or threatening Dolly into a good temper when a mood
like this was on her. So Rupert changed his tactics.

"Do put down your pen and let us talk this matter over quietly
together."

"You had better go away and not ask me to talk at all," she answered;
but she ceased writing nevertheless.

"Do you want that letter posted?" he inquired.

"No, I shall send it by a messenger."

"It is not to Mr. Dean, is it?"

"To Mr. Dean," she repeated. "What should I write to Mr. Dean for? It is
to no one connected with Mr. Dean or you."

"Well, lay it aside for a few minutes and tell me in what way we have
annoyed you."

"You have annoyed me by want of straightforwardness. Mr. Dean has
annoyed me by his insolence, unintentional though I believe it to have
been. But that only makes the sting the sharper. Who is he that his
future wife should be taken away from Homewood the moment misfortune
threatens it? What is Antonia that she should be treated as though she
were one of the blood royal?"

"Mr. Dean is one of the most intolerable bores I ever met," replied
Rupert calmly. "And Antonia is, in my opinion, an extremely calculating
and commonplace young person. But Mr. Dean has money and his prejudices,
and I am sure you do not wish to prevent Antonia marrying the only rich
man who is ever likely to make her an offer.

"Now Mr. Dean regards a man who fails to meet his engagements as a
little lower than a felon. I believe he would quite as soon ask a
ticket-of-leave fellow to Elm Park as a merchant whose affairs are
embarrassed, and there is no use in trying to argue him out of his
notions. We must take people as they are, Dolly."

"Yes, if it is necessary to take them at all," she agreed.

"It is very necessary for me," he said. "I cannot afford to quarrel with
Mr. Dean, or to have Antonia thrown on my hands, as she would be if he
refused to marry her."

"He will not refuse," observed Dolly. "He has thought that subject over,
and decided it is too late to draw back now."

"How do you know?" asked Rupert in amazement.

"Because I taxed him with having done so, and he could not deny it. Pray
assure him next time you meet he need not fear Archie or myself
presuming on the relationship and asking him for help, and scheming for
invitations to Elm Park. So far as I am concerned I should be glad never
to see him or his wife (that is to be) again."

"Good heavens!" ejaculated Rupert. Over what awful perils he had been
gliding all unconsciously. If her conversation were as she reported it,
might not Mr. Dean well call little Mrs. Mortomley a dreadful woman.
Certainly the sooner Antonia was away from Homewood, the better for all
parties concerned.

He had been imprudent himself, but how could he imagine the nature of
the interview which preceded his own; he must see Mr. Dean again
immediately. He must carry a fictitious apology from Dolly to that
gentleman, and then arrange for their eternal separation. All these
things raced through his mind, and then he said,

"You are a perfect Ishmael, Dolly."

"Am I?" she retorted. "Well I am content. The idea pleases me, for I
always considered Ishmael's mother a much more attractive sort of woman
than Sarah, and I have no doubt Abraham thought so too."

She was recovering her good temper by slow degrees, it is true; but
still Rupert understood that the wind was shifting round to a more
genial quarter.

"Why should we--you and I--quarrel?" he suddenly asked, stretching out
his hand across the table towards her.

She did not give him hers as he evidently expected she would, but
answered,

"Because I do hate people who are secret and deceitful and not
straightforward."

"You mean about that picture?" he said.

"Yes," she agreed; "the picture was the first thing which shocked me,
and since that you leave a stranger to say you intend that I shall be
all alone through this trouble--all alone!"

There was an unconscious pathos in the way she repeated those two last
words which wrung Rupert's heart.

"I never intended to leave you alone," he replied. "I do not intend to
do so now. I must go to these confounded lodgings with Antonia, because
the powers that be insist on my going, but neither she nor Mr. Dean can
expect me to stay with her the whole day. She must get some one of her
innumerable female friends to bear her company; and I shall be here
almost continually. Upon my soul, Dolly, if I dare offend Mr. Dean,
nothing should induce me to leave Homewood at this juncture; indeed, I
told him in so many words, that if you wished me to stay I would
remain."

She did not answer for a few moments, then she said,

"You were quite safe in telling him that, Rupert. You knew I would
never ask anyone to sacrifice his own interests to my fancies."

"You are angry with me still!" he remarked, then finding she remained
silent, he went on,

"I confess I did wrong about that picture, but I did not sin
intentionally, with any idea of concealment, or separating my interests
from yours. I only held my peace, because I did not want Forde to know;
and no harm would have been done had that pompous old idiot held his
tongue, and not considered it necessary to explain that the brother of
his future wife was able to earn money for his own wants.

"The moment this liquidation business was settled, I meant to tell you
concerning that and the studio, but I was so vexed about Dean's wish for
Antonia to leave here, that I felt I could not talk to you freely. Do
you believe me? Indeed what I have said is the literal truth."

"It may be," she answered, "but it is not quite the whole truth. However
that does not signify very much. No doubt you are wise in making
provision for yourself,--but oh!"

And covering her face with her hands, she ended her sentence with a
paroxysm of tearless grief.

In a moment Rupert was beside her, "What is it, what is the matter,
Dolly? Dolly, speak to me; there is nothing on earth I will not do for
you if you only tell me what you want."

She lifted her head and looked at him as a person might who had just
returned from a journey through some strange and troubled land.

For many a day that look haunted Rupert Halling; it will haunt him at
intervals through the remainder of his life. She put back her hair which
had fallen over her face, with a painful slowness of movement foreign to
her temperament. She opened her lips to speak, but her tongue refused
its office.

Then Rupert frightened ran into the dining-room, and brought her wine,
but she put it aside, and he fetched her water, and held the tumbler
for her to drink.

As if there had been some virtue in the draught, her eyes filled with
tears--heavy tears that gathered on her lashes and then fell lingeringly
drop by drop; but soon the trouble found quicker vent, and she broke
into an almost hysterical fit of weeping.

"Cry, dear, cry, it will do you good," he said as she strove vainly to
check her sobs. "Do not try to speak at present, you will only make
yourself worse."

But Dolly would speak.

"I am so sorry you should have seen me like this" she panted. "I did not
mean to be so stupid."

He was standing beside her bathing her hair and forehead with _eau de
cologne_, but his hand shook as he poured out the scent, and he felt
altogether, as he defined the sensation to himself, "nervous as a
woman."

"Dolly," he began when she grew calm again, "what was the trouble--the
special trouble I mean--which caused all this. Do try to tell me. If it
was anything I said or did, forgive me; for I never meant to say or do
anything to hurt you."

"It was not that," she replied; then after a moment's hesitation she
went on. "A dreadful feeling came over me, Rupert, that this liquidation
will turn out badly. I have had the feeling at intervals ever since
Friday evening, and it seemed just then to overwhelm me. It may be
folly, but I cannot shake off the notion that my poor husband will be
ruined. If liquidation is what we thought, why should Mr. Dean want
Antonia to leave here? Why, if we are only asking for time in which to
pay our debts, should such disgrace attach itself to us?"

Now this was just the question Rupert had been vainly asking himself,
and he stood silent, unable to answer.

"Think it over until to-morrow," she added, noticing his hesitation. "I
am afraid you are worldly and selfish, Rupert, but I do not think you
are unfeeling, or quite ungrateful. Think it over for the sake of poor
Archie and me and little Lenore, and--I won't insult you by saying for
your own sake too. Put yourself quite out of the question, and consider
us alone. There was a time when we considered you, and though that time
is past, still I hope you can never quite forget."

She rose and stretched out both hands to him, in token of reconciliation
and her own woman's weakness which dreaded facing the dark future all
alone.

"Dolly dear," he answered, holding her hands tight, "you are so true, a
man must be a wretch to cheat you."

For evermore till Eternity Rupert Halling can never quite forget
uttering those words, nor the way in which he failed to keep the promise
they contained.



                                 CHAPTER V.

                        MR. DEAN GLORIFIES HIMSELF.


For the sake of the servants an early dinner on Sunday had always been a
custom at Homewood, and although other customs might be broken through
or forgotten in consequence of Mortomley's illness and the troubles
surrounding the household, this still obtained.

Therefore Rupert Halling had to make no comment on his intended absence,
to leave no message about his return being uncertain, when, after making
his peace with Dolly, he went straight from the library to a sort of
little cloak-room, where he donned knickerbockers, a waterproof coat, a
stiff felt hat, and selected a plain light riding-whip.

Thus armed against the weather he walked round to the stables, clapped a
saddle on the back of Mr. Mortomley's favourite black mare, Bess,
unloosed her headstall, put on her bridle, led her through the side
gate, which he closed behind him, looked once again to the girths and
drew them up a hole tighter; then after a pat and a "Gently, my beauty,
stand quiet, pet," he put one foot in the stirrup, and next instant was
square in his seat.

Madam Bess hated rain as cordially as some human beings, and tossed her
head and made a little play with her heels, and quivered a little all
over with indignation at being taken out in such weather by any one
except her master; but Rupert was a good as well as a merciful rider,
and he humoured the pretty creature's whims till she forgot to show
them, and after plunging, shying, cantering with a sideway motion,
intended to express rebellion and disgust, she settled down into a long
easy trot, which in about three quarters of an hour brought Rupert to
the gates of Elm Park.

There, one of the ostlers chancing to be at the lodge talking to the
old woman whose duty and pleasure it was to curtsey to Mr. Dean each
time he came in or went out, he dismounted and gave Bess to the man,
with strict orders to rub her down and give her a feed.

"I must take her a good round after I leave here," he remarked, "and it
is nasty weather for horses as well as men."

Now Master Rupert had always been very free of his money at Elm Park,
and no rumours of coming misfortune at Homewood had reached the people
connected with Mr. Dean's elegant mansion, so Bess was rubbed till her
coat shone like a looking-glass, and she herself kicked short impatient
kicks with one heel at a time; and she had a great feed of corn and a
long draught of water, and her heart was refreshed within her.

Meantime her rider, instead of proceeding along the avenue, which took
many and unnecessary turns, so as to give the appearance of greater
extent to Mr. Dean's domain, selected a short cut through the shrubbery
and flower-garden, finally reaching the west front of the house by
means of a light iron gate which gave entrance to a small lawn, kept
trim and smooth as a bowling-green.

At a glass door on this side of the house Rupert caught sight of a
familiar face, which brightened up as its owner recognised in the
half-drowned visitor a favourite of the house.

"Well, Mr. Housden, and how are you?" said the young man, standing
outside and shaking the wet off him after the fashion of a Newfoundland
dog.

"I keep my health wonderful considering, thank you, Mr. Rupert,"
answered the butler, for it was that functionary who stood at the glass
door contemplating the weather. "And how is the family at Homewood,
sir?"

"My uncle is very ill," was the reply; "he has not been able to be out
of his room for the last three weeks. Mrs. Mortomley and my sister and
Miss Lenore are as usual. Governor is at dinner I suppose?"

"No, sir, Mr. Dean has finished dinner, or I should not be disengaged.
He is sitting over his dessert, sir, with a bottle of his very
particular old port."

"The thermometer was so low it took that to raise it," muttered Rupert
to himself; then added, "Ask Rigby to step this way and take these
dripping things of mine, will you, Housden? I want to see Mr. Dean."

"Allow me, Mr. Rupert. Let me relieve you of your coat." And Mr.
Housden, who would have been grievously insulted had the young man
seemed to suppose he could condescend so far, took the waterproof, and
the knickerbockers, and the hat, and the whip, and conveyed them himself
to Rigby, after which he announced Mr. Halling's arrival to his master,
and received orders to show him in.

What with dinner and its accompaniments, Mr. Dean had been half dozing
in his arm-chair when his butler informed him of Mr. Halling's presence,
and he arose to meet his visitor with a stupid confusion of manner which
at once gave Rupert an advantage over him.

If he had not dined and been quite awake, and in full possession of his
business senses, he would not have greeted Rupert with that awkward--

"Yes, to be sure, Mr. Halling. Did not expect to see you again so soon;
not such an evening as this I mean."

"Oh! I don't care for rain," Rupert answered. "I ride between the
drops."

"Will you take a glass of port or what?" asked Mr. Dean, touching the
wine decanter tenderly.

"Thank you," the young man answered, "I will have some, or 'what,'
supposing it assume the shape of a tumbler of hot brandy-and-water, if
you have no objection, for I have still far to ride to-night, and I do
not want to be laid up; and besides," he added with a smile, "your port
is too strong for me, my head won't stand it."

"Housden, bring the brandy and some boiling water, boiling remember, at
once," said Mr. Dean relieved that his visitor refused to partake of the
wonderful port for which he had paid such a price per bottle that
ordinary mortals would not have dared to swallow it except in
teaspoonfuls.

"You are really very good and very generous to receive me so courteously
after the way in which we parted," remarked Rupert when they were left
alone. "The fact is I was put out to-day and I said what I ought not to
have said, and Mrs. Mortomley was put out and she said what she ought
not to have said, and we both want to apologise to you. She is sorry and
I am sorry, and I think, sir, as it was you who told Mr. Forde about
that picture your friend kindly purchased from me, which confidence in
fact caused the whole disturbance, you ought to forgive us both."

Even Mr. Dean could not swallow this sentence at one gulp.

"Do you mean," he asked doubtfully, "to say Mrs. Mortomley has expressed
her regret for the improper--yes,"--continued Mr. Dean after a pause
devoted to considering whether he had employed the right word,--"most
improper remark she made this afternoon."

"I mean to say," returned Rupert, "that Mrs. Mortomley has retracted
those observations which pointed to my being a rat, that I have
explained everything in our conduct which seem to need explanation to
her satisfaction, that we are now perfectly good friends again, and that
she has commissioned me to say she hopes you will not attach any
importance to words spoken in a time of great trouble by a woman placed
in a position of such difficulty as she is at present."

"Then upon my honour," exclaimed Mr. Dean, "the message does Mrs.
Mortomley credit. I could not have believed her capable of sending it."

"Neither could I," thought Rupert, but he added aloud. "You do not quite
know Mrs. Mortomley yet, I see. She is very impulsive, and often says a
vast deal more than she really means; but when she calms down, she is as
ready to confess she was wrong as she proved to give offence. I do not
think any human being could live in the same house with my uncle's wife
and not love her."

"Young man," said Mr. Dean with a solemn shake of his head while he
poured himself out yet another glass of that particular port, "were I in
your place I should not talk so glibly about love. There are people--yes
indeed there are who might think you meant something not quite right."

If Rupert had yielded to the impulse strongest upon him at that moment,
he would have leaned back in his chair and laughed aloud at the idea
this moral old sinner evidently attached to his words, but he had a
purpose to serve, and so with surprise not altogether simulated he said,

"Is that really your opinion, sir? then I will never use the expression
again. Esteem is a good serviceable word. Do you approve of it."

Mr. Dean looked hard at Rupert to ascertain whether the young man were
making game of him or not, but no sign of levity rewarding his scrutiny,
he answered,

"It is a very good word indeed, but one I do not consider applicable in
the present case. I am perfectly well aware that I do not possess that
facility of expression and power of repartee possessed by those persons
whose society Mrs. Mortomley at one time so much enjoyed, but I can see
as far through a millstone as any one with whom I am acquainted, and
esteem is not the word I should employ myself in this case."

"Perhaps you are right," replied Rupert carelessly; "but to return to
the original subject, she is sorry for having said what she did, and so
am I, and I have come here to apologise. When, however, I stated that if
Mrs. Mortomley wished me to remain at Homewood I would do so, I spoke
even at the risk of offending you, the literal truth. We have been
treated generously at Homewood, and on thinking the matter over, it
seemed to me that I at all events ought not to desert the ship if Mrs.
Mortomley wished me to remain on board.

"But," he continued seeing Mr. Dean's face grow dark with passion at the
prospect of his will being disputed, "she does not wish me to remain.
She sees the reasonableness of your wishing Antonia to leave Homewood
immediately, and she feels it only just that you should know she
considers under my uncle's altered circumstances, it would be better for
all communication between Elm Park and Homewood to cease."

Mr. Dean paused before he answered. Of course if he married Antonia
Halling, this was precisely the point he wished to carry, and yet there
was something in this sudden change of policy which filled him with
doubt and surprise.

Had Rupert said in so many words that Mrs. Mortomley declared she never
wished to see the owner of Elm Park again, the position would not have
been so unintelligible; but this tone of submission and conciliation was
so unlike anything he had ever associated with Mrs. Mortomley that he
could not avoid expressing his astonishment at it.

"I am quite at a loss," he said at length, "to understand the reasons
which could have induced Mrs. Mortomley to alter her course of conduct
and withdraw her expressed opinions with such rapidity."

In a moment Rupert saw his error, and hastened to repair it.

"To be quite frank," he confessed, "I put the matter rather strongly to
her, and not to weary your patience, if Mrs. Mortomley can on occasion
be stormy she can also be unselfish. She does not want to mar my
sister's prospects. She does not desire that my uncle's past kindness to
us shall ever be considered to constitute a claim upon _you_ in the
future. There is the case in a nutshell. Of course we had a much longer
conversation than that I have condensed. In a word, till my uncle has
paid his creditors and is prosperous again, you need never fear that he
or his wife will wish to renew their acquaintance with you."

Mr. Dean shook his head.

"Your uncle will never be prosperous again," he remarked.

"I hope matters are not so bad as that," answered Rupert.

"When a man," continued Mr. Dean, "lets things go so far as he has
done, he is, to all intents and purposes, commercially dead. No, Mr.
Mortomley will never hold up his head again in the business world. It is
well he has his wife's money to fall back upon, and I hope her friends
will advise him to use it prudently--"

"Do you really say, sir, you think my uncle will not be able to pull
through?"

"I do not exactly understand what you mean by pulling through," answered
Mr. Dean, "but if you have any expectation of seeing his creditors paid,
and he occupying his old standing, you will be very much disappointed,
that is all."

"But, good heavens! the business is a fine business, and there is stock
and plant and book debts, and--"

"I don't care what there is," interrupted Mr. Dean, "once an estate goes
into liquidation or bankruptcy, stock and plant and good-will and book
debts and everything else are really as valueless as old rubbish. What
is the good of machinery if it is standing still? What is the use of a
business unless it is worked, and that by somebody who understands it?
What do you suppose Homewood, and every stick of furniture in the house,
and every ounce of stock in the works would fetch under the hammer?
Pooh! don't talk to me about creditors ever being paid when once affairs
pass out of a man's own hands. There is where your uncle made his
mistake. If he had come to me for advice a couple of years ago, I could
have told him what to do."

"What ought he to have done?" asked Rupert.

"Why, faced his affairs, and then called a private and friendly meeting
of his creditors. If there were one or two who opposed, he should, with
the consent of those who did not oppose, have offered a sum to be rid of
them altogether. He should then, furnished with authentic data, have
said, "Now, here is a business worth so much a year. In so many years
you can be paid in full. I must have a small income out of the concern
for my services, and you can appoint an accountant to examine the books,
check the accounts, and divide the money every three months." He would
have been as much master in his own works as a man ever can be who is in
debt. All these writs and other disgraceful embarrassments would have
been avoided; but what is the use of talking of all this now?
Mortomley's Estate has been allowed to go to the dogs, and the dogs have
got it, and it will be a very clever creditor indeed who manages to
snatch even a morsel out of their mouths."

"But, sir," pleaded Rupert, "you advised the present course to be
adopted."

"I said there was no other course now to be adopted," amended Mr. Dean.
"Could any man in his right senses say there was another way out of the
difficulty, with men in possession and hungry creditors waiting
impatiently to sweep the place clear? It is better that none should have
money than that one should, to the exclusion of others; and this is
where your uncle will be blamed, for paying out the men who proceeded to
extremity, and not paying those who were patient and gave him time. No
doubt he will get his discharge in due course, but how will that benefit
him? He is done for commercially. He can never do any more good for
himself or those belonging to him."

"I cannot see that exactly," answered Rupert. "If he were stripped
to-morrow of every worldly effect, he could, given ordinary health, earn
a very respectable income by means of his genius."

"What is genius?" inquired Mr. Dean, who was by this time standing
before the fire and laying down the law in that manner which makes so
many very commonplace gentlemen considered oracles by their wives and
acquaintances. "Ah! you cannot tell me, I see; but I can tell you.
Genius is success. It is of no use declaring a man is clever or has
great talents or exceptional abilities. I say prove it. How are you to
prove it? Show me his banker's book, show me the receipts signed by his
tradesmen, show me the style in which he lives, show me these things,
and I will then believe he has possessed either the genius to make money
or the genius to keep money when made by his father before him."

"Then you think the man who paints a picture can have no genius unless
he is able to sell it likewise?"

"I am sure of it. That person is an idiot who, possessing a certain
amount of sense, requires as much more to make use of it. Take your
uncle's case. According to your statement he possesses genius. Well,
what has it done for him, wherein is he better at this moment than one
of his own workmen? He began life with a good business. Where is that
business now? He had a respectable connection, and what must he do but
allow himself to be drawn into a connection--pray do not suppose I mean
to speak harshly of your father, who first introduced him to it--which
seems to have been anything but respectable. Once entangled, his genius
failed to show him any way out of the net he had allowed to enclose him.
His genius cannot enable him to make good articles out of bad. He
marries a woman with money, and he tries to patch up his tottering
credit with part of her fortune. If that is what genius does for a man,
better have none say I. Now look at me," added Mr. Dean, after he had
paused to take breath, and Rupert did look at him with as strong a
feeling of repulsion as Dolly had ever felt. "No one ever accounted me
clever. My father called me plodding Billy, and said I would never do
much for myself or anybody else. What has the result been?"

If all his future had depended upon holding his peace at that moment,
Rupert must have answered,

"That you seem to have done remarkably well for yourself at any rate."

"You are right," said Mr. Dean briskly, appropriating the remark as a
compliment. "And in doing well for myself, I have done well for others.
I have employed clerks and servants. I have paid good salaries. I have
never set myself up as being ashamed of my business, and my business has
not been ashamed of me. I have never tried to push out of my own rank in
life, but I have sat at banquets side by side with a lord, and many a
time I have spoken after an earl at a public meeting. I might have stood
for member of parliament, and may yet be in the House if after a year or
two I feel disposed to interest myself in politics. Contrast my position
with that of your clever uncle and say whether you do not agree with me
that the true meaning of genius is success. Will not your sister be a
vast deal better off at Elm Park with everything money can buy, than
your little Mrs. Mortomley at Homewood with the sheriff's officer in
possession? Am not I right in what I say? Have not I reason on my side?"

"You have so much reason," answered Rupert a little sadly, "that before
long I shall come and ask your advice as to how I am to compass success.
To-night I have to take Leytonstone on my way back to Whip's Cross, a
ride all round Robin Hood's Barn, is it not?"

"What are you going to Leytonstone for?" asked Mr. Dean.

"I--I have to see a man about a picture he wants me to paint for him,"
hesitated Rupert, for he did not wish to state the real errand on which
he was bound, and, plausible romancer though he could be on occasion,
Mr. Dean's question took him by surprise.

"Ah!" remarked Mr. Dean, a comfortable feeling of conscious
righteousness diffusing a heightened colour over his face, already
highly coloured with the glow of virtue and thirty-four port. "You must
give up all that sort of work if you wish to be successful. I have never
opened a ledger on Sunday, and I have tried to put business out of my
mind altogether. If a man is to be successful, he must conform to all
the usages of the country in which he happens to be placed. Now we are
placed in England, and I do not know any country in which religion is
made so easy; and if you think of it, religion is a most useful
institution. It teaches the poor their proper place, and--"

Rupert could stand no more of this. "I have lived in a house, Mr. Dean,"
he answered, "where, I think, there was one genuine Christian at any
rate, and I agree with you and him, that Sunday labour for gentle or
simple is a thing to be avoided; but my work to-night is a work of
necessity, and the Bible pronounces no curse on our performing it in
such a case as that!"

"No, no, certainly not; I suppose you are short of money. Well, good
evening; tell Mrs. Mortomley I will try to forget all she said to-day."

"Yes, I will tell her," answered Rupert, "and thank you very much for
your kindness. Don't come out with me pray," he added,--which was an
utterly unnecessary entreaty as Mr. Dean had no intention of doing so.
"I can find my way quite well. Good-night," and he went.

But when he had reached the middle of the hall, he paused, and drew a
long deep breath.

"If I were in Antonia's place," he murmured, "sooner than marry that
self-sufficient cad, I would go down to the Lea and drown myself, or
else take poison."

Rupert really felt at the minute what he said, but the worst of it was
that such minutes never, in the young man's nature, lengthened
themselves into hours.



                                 CHAPTER VI.

                    MR. GIBBONS' OPINION ON THE STATE OF
                                  AFFAIRS.


Furnished by Rigby with his coat and hat, assisted by that personage to
put on his knickerbockers, Mr. Rupert Halling stood at the hall door
waiting for Madam Bess to be brought round.

He had wished to mount in the stable-yard, but neither Housden nor Rigby
would hear of such a thing.

"Well, it is coming down," ejaculated the butler; "Mr. Halling, sir, why
don't you send the mare back to her comfortable stall, and stay here for
the night."

"I do not mind the weather," answered Rupert, which was fortunate, for
the rain was pouring in such torrents that the noise made by the mare's
hoofs was inaudible through the rushing tempest, and it was only by help
of the ostler's lanthorn that Rupert could tell where Bess stood
shivering and cringing, as the drops pelted like hail-stones upon her.

But if the night had been ten times worse than was the case, Rupert
would still have persisted in his intention of riding round by
Leytonstone. Comfort and assurance he felt he must have, some accurate
knowledge of their actual position he was determined to obtain for
Dolly, and so he proceeded through the darkness, with the rain sweeping
in gusts up from the south-east, and expending the full force of its
fury upon horse and horseman wherever an opening in the forest glades
exposed both to its violence.

A lonely ride, lonely and dreary, the road now winding through common
lands covered with gorse, and broom and heather, now leading through
patches of the forest, now skirting gravel and sand pits, and again
passing by skeletons of new houses run up hastily and prematurely by
speculative builders.

And wherever any other road which could possibly lead back to Homewood
crossed that Rupert desired to pursue, a difference of opinion took
place between him and Bess, she being quite satisfied that the way they
ought to go was the way which led to her stable; Rupert, on the
contrary, being quite determined that she should carry him to
Leytonstone.

At length the violence of the storm somewhat abated, and as he passed
the 'Eagle,' at Snaresbrook, from behind a bank of wild watery-looking
clouds the moon rose slowly and as if reluctantly, whilst the wind grew
higher and swept over the lonely country lying towards and beyond
Barkingside in blasts that almost took away the young man's breath.

On the whole he was not sorry when he reached that great public-house
which stands where three roads meet near the pond at Leytonstone. There
he dismounted, and giving Bess in charge of a man who knew the mare and
her rider well, he walked on past the church, down the little bye-street
leading to the picturesque station, across the line, and so to a new
road intersecting an estate that had been recently cut up for building,
and where already houses were dotting the fields, where two or three
years previously there was no sign of human habitation.

One of these houses belonged to Mr. Gibbons; he had bought it for a very
low price, and nobly indifferent to the horrible newness of its
appearance, to the nakedness of its garden, and that general misery of
aspect peculiar to a suburb while in its transition state from country
to town, he removed his household goods from Islington, where he had
previously resided, and set himself at work to make a home in the
wilderness.

He was a man content to wait for trees to grow, and shrubs to mature,
and creepers to climb. His was the order of mind which can plant an
asparagus bed and believe the three years needful for it to come to
perfection will really pass away in regular course. He procured a
mulberry-tree and set it, and he would have done the same with a walnut
had the size of his garden justified the proceeding.

As it was, he looked forward to eating fruit grown on his own walls and
espaliers; he directed the formation and stocking of his garden with
great contentment. He built a greenhouse; he ordered in a Virginia
creeper and a Wistaria, which he hoped eventually to see cover the front
of his house; he put up a run for his fowls; and he talked with
unconcealed pride of his "place near the forest," where his children
grew so strong and healthy, he declared that the butcher's bills
frightened him.

To men of this sort, men who are willing to sow in the spring, and
patient enough to wait for the ripening in the autumn, England owes most
of her prosperity; but ordinary humanity may well be excused if it
shrink from the idea of settling down in a spic-and-span new house in an
unfinished neighbourhood.

Rupert's humanity, at all events, accustomed as it was to the wealth of
foliage at Homewood, to the stately trees and bushy shrubs, and matured
gardens, and lawns covered with soft old turf, recoiled with horror
from the naked coldness of Mr. Gibbon's residence, and his teeth
chattered as the uncertain moonbeams glanced hither and thither over new
brick walls, and stuccoed pillars, and British plate-glass, and all
those other items which go to compose a British villa in the nineteenth
century.

The wind, sweeping over the Essex marshes and across Wanstead flats,
brought with it heavy gusts of showers, and one of these pursued Rupert
as he ploughed his way over the loose stones and gravel which had been
laid upon the road.

"It is a nice night and a nice hour for a visit," he reflected. "I
wonder what Gibbons will say to my intruding on his privacy on the
Sabbath-day." And he paused for a moment before applying his hand to the
knocker, and listened to the vocal strength of the family, which was
employed at the moment in singing psalms in that peculiar style which
the clergy assure us is especially pleasing to the Almighty.

They, it is to be presumed, must know something about the matter.
Certainly, the performance affords pleasure to no one of God's creatures
except to the vocalists themselves. In a lull of the wind Rupert could
hear the shrill trebles of the young ladies, the cracked voice of their
mother, the gruff growling of the two sons, and the deep bass of Mr.
Gibbons himself, all engaged in singing spiritual songs in unison.

"It will be a charity to interrupt that before they bring the ceiling
down," said the visitor, and he forthwith gave such a thundering double
knock that the music ceased as if a cannon had been fired amongst the
vocalists.

Miss Amy's hands dropped powerless from the keyboard of the piano, and
Mr. Gibbons, forgetful of the sacred exercises in which he had been
engaged, first exclaimed,

"Who the devil can that be?" and then proceeded to ascertain who it was
for himself.

"I beg ten thousand pardons for intruding upon you," Rupert was
beginning, but Mr. Gibbons would listen to no apology.

"Bless my soul!" he exclaimed, "what can have brought you out such a
night? Come in and have some supper. We were just going to have supper.
The rain came down in such buckets we could not get to church, so the
young people were having a little music. ("Music!" thought Rupert.) Come
in, there is no one here except ourselves."

"You are very kind," Rupert answered, "but I cannot stop. I am wet, and
have had a long, miserable ride. I only want to ask you half-a-dozen
questions, and then I must get home. I left my mare at the 'Green Man,'
and she is drowned, poor old girl."

"Well, you must take something," said Mr. Gibbons, who in trade insisted
upon his pound of flesh if he saw the slightest hope of getting it, but
who out of trade was liberal and hospitable to a commendable degree.

"I will take nothing, thank you," Rupert replied decidedly, "except
hope, if you are able to give me that. I have been drinking
brandy-and-water at the house of my respected brother-in-law that is to
be, and I can't stand much of that sort of thing. I wonder how it is
prosperous men are able to drink what they do after dinner and never
turn a hair, whilst poor wretches who never knew what it was to have a
five-pound note between them and beggary are knocked over by a few
glasses."

They were standing by this time in a small room covered with oil-cloth,
which Mrs. Gibbons, who was a notable manager, used for cutting out her
children's garments. She neutralised the cold of the oilcloth by
standing on a wool mat; and then, as she remarked to her friends, there
was no trouble in sweeping up the clippings, as there would have been
had she laid down a carpet.

The apartment did not look cheerful. It was on a piece with the outside
of the house; but Rupert had a confidence in Mr. Gibbons which proved
more consolatory at the moment than any amount of luxurious furniture
could have done.

"What is the matter? What has gone wrong now?" asked Mr. Gibbons,
ignoring the young man's irrelevant statement, which, indeed, having a
wider experience, he did not in the least believe.

In a few sentences Rupert told him the events of the last two days.
There was no person living to whom Rupert Halling could talk so freely
as to this sharp, shrewd man of business, whom he did not like, with
whom he had not an idea in common, who he knew could, to quote an old
proverb, "lie as fast as a dog can trot," but in whose judgment he
trusted as if he had been a prophet.

Mr. Gibbons sat beside the table, his arms crossed on it, looking at
Rupert, and Rupert sat at a little distance, and spoke right on, never
stopping till he had said his say.

When the story was told Mr. Gibbons rose and took a few turns up and
down the room.

"If you think of it, Forde has not made a bad move," he remarked at
last, stopping in his walk. "He can keep the matter as quiet as he
likes, he can tell his directors what he pleases, and if there is any
game left to play he can play it without much interference. I did not
think he had it in him to devise such a scheme, but perhaps it was not
he, only Kleinwort. There is nothing that little thief could not do
except be honest."

"Will it make any difference to us?" asked Rupert, impatient of this
digression.

"That is just what I have been wondering," answered Mr. Gibbons. "I
don't see that it can. I know nothing of Swanland personally (of course,
everybody knows his partner, Asherill, the most thoroughfaced old humbug
in the City), but in his position he dare not play into Forde's hand. It
is impossible for him to make fish of one creditor and fowl of another.
Had they chosen a creature of their own for trustee, the case would have
been different; but, upon my honour, I think the matter could not stand
better than it does. If Forde does not oppose, nobody else will, I
should imagine; and all your uncle has to do now is to get well as fast
as he can, so as to push business along and pay us all a good dividend."

"Mr. Gibbons," said Rupert slowly, "what is liquidation?"

"That is rather a difficult question to answer," was the reply. "I have
understood that its object is to enable a man who really means honestly
to repay his creditors to do so. You see, the new Bankruptcy Act has
been passed so recently that we have not much knowledge of its working.
In the only case of which I have had experience, it seems to go smoothly
enough. A pianoforte-maker, who had taken out some new patent got
himself into difficulties, and the creditors asked me to look into his
affairs, and see what chance there was of their ever being repaid. I did
so, and found the estate could never pay sixpence if it was compulsorily
realised, but that there was a probability of twenty shillings if the
man could be allowed to work on without the fear of writs.

"The fellow seemed honest enough, and the creditors were inclined to be
patient--all except one fellow, who wanted to get the business into his
own hands. I soon shut his mouth; and we arranged to throw the payment
of ten shillings in the pound over three years; the rest was left to his
honour. Well, so far as I can see, every creditor will get his money in
full, and the debtor is as happy as possible, working away to pay all he
owes. He is allowed so much out of the business for his household
expenses; and, of course, I do not look him and his books up for
nothing, but still when the affair comes to be closed, it will prove
better than bankruptcy for every one concerned; and if I had been
appointed trustee to your uncle's estate, I have no doubt we might, out
of such a business as his, have arranged ten pounds a week for his
services, and paid everybody in full, with interest, in four years."

"I wish to God you had been the trustee," said Rupert earnestly.

"I echo the wish. I could have made it easy for your uncle and
beneficial to myself; but Forde does not like me. He can't take me in as
he takes in other people. However," added Mr. Gibbons, "it is a great
matter to have him with you, since, unless you were able to produce good
proof of what you have hinted to me, his opposition might be dangerous."


"Do you know," said Rupert, "Mr. Dean really frightened me to-night. He
declared my uncle was commercially dead, that he could never hold up his
head again in the City, that his estate had been allowed to go to the
dogs, and that the dogs had got it, with much more to the same effect."

"Mr. Dean is a pompous old ass," commented Mr. Gibbons.

"Please remember he is going to marry my sister," entreated Rupert.

"In that at all events he shows his sense," returned Mr. Gibbons with
ready courtesy, "but what should he know about liquidation? If Mr. Dean
thought a poor wretch were shaky, he would serve him with a trading
debtors' summons at once, and if the amount were not paid, make him
bankrupt before he could know what had happened. That is how Elm Park is
maintained. Please heaven," added Mr. Gibbons piously, "a more liberal
policy shall supply the more modest requirements of Forest View."

Which was the appropriate name of the spic-and-span new mansion, since
not a glimpse of the forest could be obtained even from its attic
windows.

"Thank you," said Rupert, rising and holding out his hand to Mr.
Gibbons, "you have relieved my mind greatly. I do not know I ever felt
more miserable than I have done to-night. Mrs. Mortomley quite unnerved
me. She has a fancy that her husband is going to be ruined."

"My dear fellow," was the reply, "when you have lived as long as I have
lived, and been married as many years as I have been married you will
know women are always having fancies. No better creature than my wife
ever breathed, but she has a prophetic feeling about some matter or
person every day of her life."

"It is quite a new thing for Dolly to be among the prophets, however,"
remarked Rupert almost involuntarily.

"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Gibbons, not understanding.

"Oh! I was speaking of Mrs. Mortomley. We always call her Dolly. Absurd,
is it not? but it is better than Dollabella."

The connection of ideas between her name and her fortune did not seem
very plain, nevertheless, as if one suggested the other, Mr. Gibbons
said,

"I suppose Mrs. Mortomley's money is all right."

"What do you mean," Rupert inquired.

"Settled on herself of course."

"Of course," the young man answered.

"That is well," answered Mr. Gibbons. "I wish you would stay and have
some supper. No? Then good night and keep up your spirits, all will turn
out for the best, be sure of that."

And so they shook hands and parted. Mr. Gibbons to return to his
psalmody, and Rupert to retrace his steps to the 'Green Man,' where he
re-mounted Bess and rode back, moonlight accompanying him, drifting rain
following his horse's heels to Whip's Cross.



                                CHAPTER VII.

                                  STRAWS.


When Rupert reached Homewood he rode direct to the stables, expecting to
find a groom waiting his arrival.

Disappointed in this expectation he hitched the mare's bridle to a hook
in the wall, flung a cloth over her, and walking round the house entered
it through the conservatory doors, which always remained hospitably
unlocked.

As he entered the hall, Esther was crossing from the direction of the
kitchens. At sight of him she started back with a "Lor', Mr. Rupert, how
you did frighten me; who ever would have thought of seeing you!"

"Why, who did you expect to see?" retorted Mr. Rupert, "and where, when
all that is settled, is Fisher?"

"He left at seven, sir. He came in to do up the horses as usual, and he
said, sir, when he was going out that he should not be back again, for
that Hankins had seen you on the road to Elm Park, and you were sure not
to be back such a night as this."

"I wish Hankins would attend to his own business and not attempt to
manage mine," muttered Rupert. "Get me a lantern, Esther. I must see to
that unfortunate mare myself."

Esther fetched him a lantern, and one of the men in possession, who had
himself formerly been the owner of some livery stables, offered to see
to the well-being of Madam Bess, but Rupert would not hear of it.

"You can bring the light if you will be so good," he said, for it was no
part of the policy at Homewood for the inhabitants to give themselves
airs above those sent to keep watch and ward over their chattels.

"But I will rub her down myself; I should not care about it, only I am
so confoundedly wet," he added, with his frank pleasant laugh.

"However, she is wetter, poor beast;" and as he spoke he passed his hand
over the mare's neck and shoulder, which attention she acknowledged by
trying to get it in her mouth.

"Frisky still, old lady," Rupert remarked; "I should have thought your
journey to-night might have taken that out of you. Come on," and he
slipped off her bridle, and holding her mane walked beside her into the
stall, where he put on her halter.

"It is too wet still to make your toilette out of doors," he went on;
"so you must be quiet while I rub you down here."

And after having taken off his hat and coat and waistcoat, Rupert set
too and groomed that mare "proper," to quote the expression of Turner,
the man who held the light.

And then he brought her a warm mash, and forked her up a comfortable
bed, which Bess at once devoted herself to pawing out behind her; having
accomplished which feat, and vaunted herself to her stable companions
about the evening's work she had performed, she lay down to sleep on the
bare pavement.

This was her pleasant fancy, which is shared by many a dog.

After all, there was much of a dog's nature about Bess--notably as far
as faithfulness and affection were concerned.

Rupert walked back to the house and asked Esther to make him some
coffee. Whilst she was preparing it, he went softly to his own room,
changed his wet clothes, washed, brushed his curly hair, and otherwise
made himself presentable; then he went downstairs again and entered the
library, where he found coffee awaiting his arrival.

"My sister is gone to bed, I suppose," he said to Esther.

"Yes, sir, Miss Halling was very tired, and thought you would not be
back to-night."

"And Mrs. Mortomley?"

"She is up still, sir."

"I must see her to-night. Will you tell her that I want to speak to her
very particularly."

"Yes, sir."

"What have you been crying about?" asked Rupert suddenly, but the girl
turned her head away and made no answer.

"Has Mrs. Mortomley been scolding you?" he persisted. At this question
Esther broke down altogether.

"It--it--is--th--first time my--mistress ever spoke cross to me, sir--,"
she sobbed.

"Well, you needn't allow that fact to vex you," Rupert answered, "for if
things go on as they have been doing, you may be very sure it will not
be the last. Now go and give her my message, and you will sleep all the
better for seeing your mistress again. Depend upon it, she is far more
sorry than you by this time."

"What a spit-fire temper Dolly is developing," thought the young man,
looking uneasily into the blazing fire. "Though it is rather turning the
proprieties upside down, I fear I must lecture my aunt," but when Mrs.
Mortomley came into the room there was an expression on her face which
changed his intention.

She had taken off the elaborate dress in which he last beheld her, and
exchanged it for a dressing-gown of brilliant scarlet, confined round
the waist by a belt of its own material, and showing, in every fold and
plait which hung loosely about her figure, how the plump shapeliness
which once needed no padding, no adventitious assistance from her
dressmaker, had changed to leanness and angles.

She had unloosed her hair, she had taken away the great pads and
enormous frizettes in which her soul once found such pleasure, and the
straight locks fell over her shoulders in a manner as natural as it was
unwonted.

"Good Heavens, Dolly," exclaimed Rupert, at sight of her, "why do you
ever wear scarlet, it makes you look like a ghost, or a corpse."

"It is warm," she answered, "and I was very cold. You wanted to see me
and I wanted to see you; but tell me your story first."

"I have been to Elm Park," he replied, "in order to make up friends with
that whited sepulchre, Mr. Dean; and I have succeeded. So much for that
which immediately concerns Antonia and myself. After I left Elm Park, I
rode round by Leytonstone and called upon Mr. Gibbons. He says that
Swanland must act fairly by you and all the creditors; that, in fact, so
far as that goes we need feel no uneasiness."

"Then, where is the cause for uneasiness?" she enquired.

"Nowhere so far as he can see," Rupert answered evasively, "but I will
tell you what I have been thinking as I came home. Of course, once this
order, whatever it may be, is taken out, we shall have no more trouble
from writs and so forth, and we need not be anxious about the business,
but we shall, I fear, want ready money. Of course there will be an
allowance to Archie, but we may not be able to get that immediately. Now
we had better look this matter in the face. How much money is there in
the house?"

Dolly put her hand in her pocket and pulled forth her purse, turning its
contents out on the table.

"I had the June interest from my money on Friday night," she remarked.
"For the first time I wrote to ask for it, and I was so thankful it
came, as otherwise the wages here could not have been paid yesterday."

"Surely, Dolly, you never paid them out of your money?"

"Not the whole amount. Lang told me he was five-and-twenty pounds short,
so I sent him to town to get the cheque changed, and gave him what he
required."

"I must see Lang about this the first thing to-morrow," Rupert remarked.
"Dolly, give me your money and let me keep it."

She gathered up the notes and gold and handed them to him. He counted
both over. "Why, Dolly," he said, "there is only thirty pounds left."

She laughed, in reply, that frank guileless laugh which never rings out
save when a woman has concealed nothing--has nothing she wishes to
conceal.

"Oh! I paid off such a number of worries yesterday. Of course, had there
been enough to get rid of even one of our distinguished visitors, I
should have done so, but as there was not, I killed such a host of
gnats. See," and going to her desk she produced a perfect packet of
receipts. "I am so thankful those little things are settled," she went
on, "if I had kept the money it would only have gone somehow--not this
'how,' I am quite certain."

"Will nothing teach her common sense?" but even as he thought, Dolly's
eyes suddenly uplifted surprised his--her brown eyes looking out from a
very white face and a confused mass of dark hair.

"What is the matter," she inquired; "of what are you thinking?"

"Of you," he answered; "I wish you were more prudent."

"I wish I were--perhaps I shall be some day," she said humbly.

Thinking of the manner in which she had without question turned her
money over to him Rupert felt doubtful.

"You had better keep two or three sovereigns," he observed.

"I fancy so," she agreed. "There is always money wanting now, and you
might not be in the way."

He looked at her across the table, and then bent down his head over the
notes and gold.

Incredible as it may seem, there was something in the woman's
face--though she was utterly ignorant of its presence--which touched
Rupert's nature to its best and deepest depths, wringing his
heart-strings.

If he had known what that something prefigured, if God had only for one
moment given him prescience that night, the man's memory might have
failed to hold something which shall never depart from him now till life
is extinguished with it.

As it was he exclaimed,

"I would to Heaven, Dolly, I had passed all my life with you and Archie.
I should in that case have been as unmercenary and unselfish as you."

"Rather," said Dolly sententiously, "you should thank Heaven for having
placed you in one of this world's strictest schools. Otherwise you might
have been a simpleton like myself, or a clever idiot like dear Archie,
but you would never have been a man who shall make his way to success as
you intend to do."

"How shall I make my way to success?" he inquired.

"I do not quite like to say out my thought," she replied. "It is Sunday
night, and what I feel may seem profane when rendered into speech.
Nevertheless, Rupert, Providence does take care of men like you. I
cannot at all tell why, since I know you are no better, indeed a great
deal worse than myself. You will get on, never fear; just as if the
vision were realized, I can see you now in a fine place, with a rich
wife."

"Stay," interrupted Rupert; "wherein this vision comes the skeleton?"

"To my imagination," she answered, "the skeleton ceases not by day or
night; it is ever present,--it is Homewood with you and your sister,
prosperous in your plans, and my husband, who sheltered you--dying."

"How you talk, Dolly? Archie is no worse."

"Is he not?" she replied. "If things do not soon change here, the whole
question will be settled in the simplest manner possible. He will die,
and there will be a funeral, and people will say,

"'Poor fellow! he held out as long as he could, and died just in the
nick of time.'"

"I know one man, at any rate, who would say nothing of the kind,"
remarked Rupert, "who would be quite certain to observe, 'Have you heard
about that fellow Mortomley? No. Well, he has taken it into his head to
die, and left me in the lurch. And after all my kindness to him too. I
declare, sir, if that man had been my brother, I could not have done
more for him--but there, that is just the return I meet with from, every
one.'"

The imitation was so admirable, and the words so exactly similar to
those she had heard used, that Dolly could not choose but laugh.

Then she stopped suddenly and said, "It is no laughing matter though."

"What makes you think Archie is worse?" asked her companion.

"He would try to get up for a short time this afternoon, and
unfortunately elected to have his chair wheeled up close to the side
window. He had not been seated there ten minutes before he saw one of
those men crossing from the kitchen-garden. He asked me who he was, and
I was obliged to tell him. He did not make any remark at the time, but
shortly afterwards said he would lie down again, and since that time he
has not dozed for a moment; he has refused to touch any nourishment, and
he scarcely answers when I speak to him. After the doctor saw him, he
asked me whether Archie had received any shock, and when I explained the
matter to him, he looked very grave and said,

"Unless his mind can be kept easy, I will not answer for the
consequences."

"Then he was an idiot to say anything of the sort," Rupert angrily
commented. "Never mind, Dolly, such a _contretemps_ shall not occur
again. I will warn these fellows that if I catch one of them prowling
about the grounds, I will horsewhip him, let the consequence be what it
may. Now, have you anything more to say, for it is growing late?"

"Yes," Mrs. Mortomley answered. "I am going to send Lenore away
to-morrow; my aunt Celia will take charge of her until things are
settled here."

"Surely this is a very sudden idea."

"It never occurred to me until this afternoon. She has wearied and
worried me, poor little mite; but I did not know what to do with her,
and I probably never should have known what to do with her, had Mr.
Dean's effusion about the impossibility of his future wife remaining at
Homewood, not opened my eyes."

"I understand," remarked Rupert. "You decided at once that if Homewood
were an unfit residence for Miss Halling, it was still more unfit for
Miss Mortomley, and I really think you are right. But who is to go with
the child; am I?"

"No, Esther is to take her. I have arranged all that. They start by an
early train to-morrow, and I hope Esther may be able to get back
to-morrow night."

"Why cannot I take Lenore?" he asked.

"Because you ought to be here," Mrs. Mortomley replied. "Those two young
men have to finish the accounts remember, and I know little or nothing
about our affairs."

"I had forgotten," he remarked. "Perhaps I ought not to be away. Now,
Dolly, have we finished business for to-night?"

"No, I have something more to tell you," she answered. "After you went
out this afternoon, and while I was finishing my letter to aunt Celia,
Esther came in and said 'Mr. Turner hoped I would excuse the liberty,
but could he be allowed to speak to me?'

"Naturally I asked who Mr. Turner was, when it transpired that one of
those creatures is so named. I did not know what he might want, and so
told her to send him in.

"'I trust you will pardon me, ma'am,' he began, 'I have not always been
in as low a position as that I now occupy, and--'

"I misunderstood his meaning, and told him that of course he must know
the whole affair was miserable for us, but that I was aware if a man
chose such a vocation, he must discharge the duties connected with it;
and that we did not want in any way to make the discharge of those
duties unpleasant to him. He waited quietly and respectfully till I had
quite finished, when he first thanked me for my kindness, and then said
I had mistaken his meaning.

"'I understand' he finished, 'that Mr. Mortomley intends to go into
liquidation.'

"I was a little surprised at this, but told him yes, Mr. Mortomley did.
There was nothing secret about the matter.

"Then in so many words he told me he was bound to write and inform his
employer that such was the case; but he went on and then paused, while
I waited curiously, I must confess, for the man's manner and the
expression of his face perplexed me.

"'The truth is, ma'am,' he gathered up courage to say at last, 'I have
been very well treated here, and I am very sorry to see things going
wrong in a house like this, and as I have seen a great deal of
bankruptcy and arrangements and all the rest of it, I thought I would
just make so bold as to say that if there are any things about the house
for which you have a particular fancy, the sooner you put them on one
side or ask some of your friends to take charge of them for you the
better.'

"I declare, Rupert, I did not comprehend at first what he meant, and
when at last he explained himself more at length, I was so amazed I
could only say we did not think of leaving Homewood or selling the
furniture, that all Mr. Mortomley wanted was time, and of course things
would remain as they were and the business be continued just as usual.

"He said he was sure he hoped all might turn out as I expected, but that
he trusted I would excuse his still recommending me to make
arrangements for the worst.

"'And do you propose that we should do that by stealing from ourselves?'
I asked.

"'Well, everything in the place is yours to-night, ma'am, certainly,' he
answered; 'that is, except for the amounts I and my companion are here
for, but that will not be the case for long when once the other man
comes in.'

"'What other man?' I said.

"'Why the trustee's man.'

"Then I got annoyed and told him he was talking nonsense, that once the
petition was granted there would be no more 'men' at Homewood; that
since the passing of the new Bankruptcy Act everything was made
comparatively pleasant for people who wanted to act honestly.

"'If you will excuse my saying so, ma'am,' he persisted, 'I think you
know even less about the working of the new Act than I do.'

"At that point I lost my temper.

"'Whether I do or not I shall not follow your advice, though I suppose
you mean it kindly. If my husband's creditors want every article in
Homewood, why, they must take even to the last chair, that is all. If I
had to turn out to-night without a shelter or a penny I would not do
what you suggest.'

"He bowed and went away without speaking another word, and of course I
thought the subject was ended.

"Quite by accident I went an hour ago to Lenore's room, and there to my
astonishment I found piled up on the drawers and tables all the
knick-knacks out of the drawing-room; the timepieces, the vases, the
statuettes, the little genuine silver we have not parted with, and a
whole tribe of other articles.

"Then I rang for Esther and asked what it meant. Turner, it appeared,
after leaving me, told her I understood nothing whatever of our real
position, and that the greatest service she could do me was to send as
much as possible to some safe place of keeping without mentioning the
matter to me.

"And acting on this, she had intended to get up about four o'clock and
pack up all she could, and take the spoil with her to Great Dassell.

"I was so angry I said sharp things to the girl I ought not to have
said. I believe I frightened her to death, and I know I have made myself
quite ill and hysterical with the passion I got into."

"Esther is happy enough now. She did it all for the best, and I have
told her how sorry I am to have spoken sharply; but, Rupert, Rupert,
what is the meaning of all this? There is something in liquidation we do
not understand."

"I do not think there is," was the reply. "This man only spoke according
to his light, which seems to be a very poor one. He simply advised that
course to be taken which would be taken by ninety-nine people out of a
hundred."

"Then if such is the case, I cannot wonder at Mr. Forde's idea that
debtors are thieves."

"And at the same time there may be some reason for the debtors' belief
that creditors are robbers."

"Oh!" cried Dolly, "that it were all ended."

"It will be some day, please God," he answered. "And now, Dolly, do get
to bed; your white face will disturb my dreams. When had you anything to
eat?"

"I don't think I have eaten anything since Thursday," she answered;
"anything, I mean, worth calling a meal."

"You will kill yourself if you go on as you are doing," he said, but she
shook her head.

"I am going to live to a hundred and forty, like the Countess of
Desmond, who died in consequence of a fall from a cherry-tree," Dolly
explained. "I shall be a great-great-great-grandmother, and I shall
inculcate upon the first, second, third, and fourth generations the
truth of that old proverb, 'Take care of the pence, and the pounds will
take care of themselves.'"

"Never mind pence or pounds either, Dolly. I wish you would take care of
yourself."

"Why?" she asked; then went on, "I wonder if on the face of the earth
besides Archie and Lenore, and Esther and Mrs. Werner, and perhaps my
Aunt Celia, there is a creature who would be really sorry if I died
to-night?"

"Do you exclude me?" Rupert marvelled.

"You have not lived long enough to be very sorry about anything except
your own affairs--about any trouble coming to those connected with you
unless their sorrow means loss of comfort to yourself."

"Do you think I am not sorry for Archie and you now?"

"I am quite sure you are," she replied bitterly. "Homewood has been a
pleasant house for you to live in; far pleasanter than Elm Park can ever
prove."

"Dolly," he interrupted, "I do not mean to call you ungrateful, but
considering how I have been working on your behalf to-day--"

"We need not discuss the question," she remarked as he stopped and
paused. "There is no necessity now for us to go into our accounts and
put down, 'I have done this, and Archie has done the other.' Before
this liquidation business is ended we shall have ample opportunity of
doing full justice each to the other--only--Rupert, I do not think you
would have been quite so ready to leave Homewood had your opinion and
that of the man Turner not to a certain extent coincided."

"You wrong me greatly," he answered, "but as you say there is no
necessity for us to discuss these questions now. Do go to bed, dear; you
will knock yourself up if you neither rest nor sleep, and then who can
see to Archie?"

"Good night," she said holding out her hand, "if I have misjudged you I
am sorry."

He held the door open for her to pass out, and watched her as she
flitted up the staircase.

Had she misjudged him Rupert wondered. No. Her instinct guided her
aright when reason might have failed to do so.

"I suppose I am a rat," he thought, "and that by some curious intuition
I did guess the ship was sinking. Knowledge and calculation had,
however, nothing to do with the matter. That I can declare. Now it will
perhaps be well for me to calculate. I do not much relish hearing a list
of benefits conferred, recited at each interview."

In his heart Rupert felt very angry. An individual must be remarkably
good looking to approve of a mirror which reflects him feature by
feature, wrinkle by wrinkle, exactly as he is!



                                CHAPTER VIII.

                        MR. SWANLAND STIRS HIS TEA.


At a few minutes before six next morning, as Messrs. Lang and Hankins
were coming up the road, still sleepy after the long rest afforded by
the previous day, they saw Rupert Halling advancing to meet them.

It was a miserable morning, raining a fine drizzling rain with a cold
wind blowing at the same time, but Rupert, careless as usual of the
state of the weather, walked along under the trees, his cap a little on
one side, his shooting-jacket flying open, whistling a low soft melody
confidentially to himself.

"Good morning," he said to the men. "No one could call this a fine one.
Lang, give the keys to Hankins and walk with me a little way; I want to
speak to you."

In a few words Mr. Halling explained his difficulty, and asked Lang to
help him out of it.

"I can manage that easily enough," was the answer. "Luckily I did not
make up my books on Saturday as I generally do. Now, sir, remember you
know nothing except that you understood I was short twenty-five pounds
for the wages. Leave all the rest to me."

"You are sure, Lang, you do not mind interfering in this."

Mr. Lang laughed a short laugh, more like a snort than an evidence of
merriment.

"Mind!" he echoed, "have I not been through the fire myself? but then I
knew what was coming and arranged accordingly. Otherwise me and my wife
and the children would not have had a bed to lie on. Mind! If the
governor or you had only told me things were coming to this pass, we
might have had a snug business at work some place else by this time, and
snapped our fingers at them all. By Heavens, to think of it!" added Mr.
Lang, stopping to look at Homewood. "I wish it had been bankruptcy
though, if it must be anything, and then we should have had some chance
of speaking out our minds about that rubbish from the General Chemical
Company."

"I did not know you had ever been bankrupt," said Rupert.

"Yes, sir; I had to fail; after the old gentleman's death," with a jerk
of his head he indicated that he meant Mr. Mortomley, senior. "I must
needs go as working partner into a firm who promised to do wonders for
me. When they had picked my skull clean, they wanted to pitch me over,
and they did pitch me over, thinking to have all the road to themselves,
but that was not good enough for me, not at all," added Mr. Lang
sarcastically. "I had a little money and I got a place and I set to
work, and I could have done well only there was not an article I dealt
in they did not offer at a lower price.

"Seeing their game I lowered my prices, then they cut theirs still
lower, and so we went on till at last what we charged did not pay men's
wages, let alone material and rent and all the rest of it.

"I being a practical man, and able to work myself, had a little the
advantage of them; and besides I knew what must come, sooner or later,
and so managed matters that when the brokers came in at last--and I was
sick to death of expecting them before they did come--there was not
enough in my house to pay the expenses of levying.

"At the works of course everything remained as usual, for there was not
an article in them ever likely to be of use to me again.

"My old partners and me smashed up about the same time, and they have
never done any good since. I met one of them only the other day and he
says,

"'Lang,' he says, 'I wish we could have agreed and stayed together,' he
says, 'we might all have been independent by this time.'

"'I wish,' I says, 'you could have acted honourable by me. It might have
been better for you in the long run. For myself, I'm pretty
comfortable, thank you. I have a good berth at Mortomley's, and needn't
lie awake half my nights thinking about the wages for Saturday.'

"And then I asked him if he would take a glass of sherry; and though he
was once a high and mighty sort of gentleman, he thanked me and did take
it. That's the fruits of competition, sir, which some people think is so
good for trade."

Turning the corner of the road sharply at this juncture, they came upon
a man who stood leaning over the close fence which on that side enclosed
the kitchen gardens at Homewood.

It was early to meet a stranger in such a neighbourhood, more especially
a stranger who not being a working man had evidently no better
employment than to stand out in damp weather surveying local landmarks.

He did not take any notice of either Rupert or his companion, continuing
to lounge against the fence and contemplate vegetable-marrows, cabbages,
and parsley.

Rupert, however, turned twice or thrice and took a long steady survey
on each occasion.

"Who is that man, Lang?" he inquired.

"Never saw him before. He looks up to no good," answered Mr. Lang.

Rupert and the manager walked a few steps further, and then began to
retrace their steps.

As they did so, they beheld the stranger lounging slowly before them,
stopping at intervals to inspect the appearance of Homewood from
different points of view, and giving the two an opportunity to pass him
again.

"Beg pardon," he said, when they were close upon him, "but can you
oblige me with a light?"

He addressed Lang, but Rupert answered him by producing a box of
matches.

"I wonder who that man can be," remarked Rupert once they were out of
earshot.

"He _is_ up to no good," said Mr. Lang emphatically.

"I don't think he is," agreed Rupert uneasily, but neither he nor Lang
could have defined the precise form of evil they believed the stranger
had set himself to compass.

Had any one at Homewood kept a diary, however, which no one did with the
exception of Lang, who prided himself not a little on the neatness and
accuracy of his day-book, there would have been little in the events of
the next eight-and-forty hours worth chronicling.

The clerks arrived as arranged, and before they had finished their work
Mr. Benning appeared to see how they were getting on and have a look
round the place, and ask a few questions of Rupert and Mrs. Mortomley,
and a great many when he got the chance of wandering about the works
unaccompanied, of Lang, Hankins, and even the rank and file of the
working men.

He came, though Rupert was unaware of the fact, to try and find out
something, but whatever that something might be he failed to make any
discovery, excepting that the extent of Mr. Mortomley's trade had not
been exaggerated, and that about the serious and possibly dangerous
nature of his illness no rational doubt could be entertained.

Having satisfied his mind on these points, he and the clerks returned
to town, taking as accurate a list of the liabilities as could be
prepared in the time with them.

The same night Esther returned from Great Dassell, eloquent in praise of
Miss Gerace, who had sadly wanted her to remain at all events till the
following morning, and from whom she brought a very kind little note,
saying she would gladly take charge of Lenore until Mr. Mortomley was
better, and their difficulties of whatever nature they might be,
overcome.

Next day Mr. Benning reappeared, accompanied by a Commissioner, to take
Mr. Mortomley's affidavit that to the best of his belief the accounts
furnished were accurate.

This ceremony occupied about half a minute, but under the circumstances
it did prove an exhilarating performance, and to any one superstitious
about such matters, the steady downfall of rain which had commenced on
the previous Saturday, and never really left off since it began, was
suggestive of a considerable amount of bad weather in the business
journey Mortomley had been compelled to undertake.

Late in the afternoon Miss Halling and her brother took their departure.
The young lady's luggage had all been despatched earlier in the day, and
Rupert's seemed to consist merely of a black leather bag. Nevertheless,
when Dolly went into his room she found it stripped of every article
belonging to him, even to the sketch of Lenore at five years of age
which always hung over the mantel-piece.

The young man had made sure of the safety of his own possessions, and
Mrs. Mortomley had sense enough to commend his wisdom.

Nevertheless there is a wisdom which hurts, and Rupert's hurt her.

"I was right," she thought, "they are rats and the ship is sinking." And
from that hour she braced up her courage to meet whatever fate might be
coming, bravely--as she certainly would have done had she in fact stood
on the deck of a vessel foundering in the midst of a wild and cruel sea.

Towards evening there arrived at Homewood a respectable looking sort of
individual, who announcing that he was the bearer of a note from Mr.
Swanland to Mrs. Mortomley, was asked without delay into the library.

Mrs. Mortomley looked at him and felt relieved. Here was a middle-aged
confidential clerk, not at all like a man in possession, and she greeted
him with civility, not to say cordiality.

"Pray sit down," she said, and Mr. Meadows seated himself with an
apparent show of deference, all the time he understood quite as well as
Mr. Bailey, there was not a chair in Homewood which did not already
belong of right, not exactly perhaps to him, but his employer.

Then Mrs. Mortomley opened the note and read--

     "Dear Madam,

     "The bearer, Mr. Meadows, will inform you that everything is going
     on satisfactorily. He may be able, I trust, to relieve you from all
     anxiety and responsibility, and I have directed him to make his
     presence as little irksome as possible. To-morrow, if possible, I
     hope to call at Homewood, in order to make arrangements for the
     future. In the meantime, dear madam,

                    "I have the honour to remain,
                             "Yours faithfully,
                                    "V. S. SWANLAND.

     "To Mrs. Mortomley,
               "Homewood,
                    "Whip's Cross."

Mrs. Mortomley read this epistle over three times. If she had not been
enlightened on the point, it would never have occurred to her that Mr.
Meadows was to be located at Homewood.

Having been enlightened, however, she asked,

"Do I understand you are to remain here?"

"It will be necessary for me to do so, madam," he answered, "until the
preliminaries are settled. In fact, it is quite possible I may have to
stay here until after the meeting of creditors."

Mrs. Mortomley paused and reflected. She did not know he was letting her
down easily, and there was a feasibility about his statements which to
her mind stamped them with a certain authenticity.

"Should you like tea or supper?" she asked after that mental
conference--unconscious still, poor Dolly! that there sat the
representative of the legal owner of Homewood and all it contained.
"Either can be sent to you here immediately."

"If you have no objection ma'am," he answered, "I will go into the
kitchen out of the way--and I can take share of what is going--"

"You are very thoughtful," said Mrs. Mortomley, "but I could not really
think of allowing such a thing. You can have your own rooms here and--"

"I would rather go into the kitchen, ma'am," he persisted. "In these
cases I like to be out of the way and give no trouble."

"That's extremely kind of you," said Mrs. Mortomley, and he failed, for
a reason, to hear the ring of sarcasm in her tone. "You shall be made
comfortable wherever you are, for I suppose now you are come--the men in
possession will go out."

"Not to-night," he answered; "I have no instructions in the matter.
To-morrow, Mr. Swanland purposes to be here, and then no doubt,
everything will be gone into and arranged."

So on Tuesday evening a third man joined the kitchen family circle at
Homewood, and added the smoke of his pipe to the smoke of those already
in possession. Wednesday came, the morning and the noon and the
afternoon passed without incident.

Dolly had been much with her husband. Mr. Meadows took occasion to
wander into the works, and was treated at first with much respect.
Really anywhere Mr. Meadows might have passed--to those who did not know
he elected to live in the kitchen--for a small manufacturer--for a
master reduced to take a clerk's place.

And Mr. Meadows had once occupied a very different position to that of
an accountant's bailiff, and how he ever chanced to occupy himself in
Mr. Swanland's service astonished all the people employed about
Homewood.

He had a good, not to say superior, address. He spoke very fair English,
he wrote a capital hand, and possessed a considerable amount of
education. The routine of business was evidently familiar to him, though
he was of course utterly ignorant of every detail of the colour trade.
Still he asked a sufficient number of pertinent questions, to convince
Lang he felt determined to acquire such a smattering of knowledge as
might enable him to talk glibly on the subject hereafter to people who
did understand about the matter.

At the end of two days Mr. Lang had taken the "new man's" measure, but
still he was puzzled to imagine what he could have been originally, and
how he ever came to adopt so low a calling.

With Hankins the first question of interest was, whether the chemicals
were still to be had from St. Vedast Wharf.

"You had better ask Mr. Swanland about that," was the answer. "He will
be here this evening."

"What does he know about chemicals or colours either?" inquired Hankins.

"Well, he is obliged to know something about everything," replied Mr.
Meadows. "He is an uncommonly clever gentleman."

"One of those who can learn without being taught, I suppose," suggested
Hankins.

"You have hit it pretty nearly," answered the other, in a tone which
checked any further inquiries at that moment on the part of Mr. Hankins.

In the evening Mr. Swanland accompanied by Mr. Benning arrived, to make,
in his double capacity of trustee and manager, arrangements for carrying
on a business of which he knew almost as much as Mrs. Mortomley did of
algebra.

Lang and Hankins and a subordinate foreman had been instructed to wait
his coming, and perhaps to this trial of patience the remark of the
latter, that "Swanland was the greatest swell for a man in possession he
had ever seen," might be ascribed.

And indeed in one way his observation was strictly true, for whereas the
individuals sent from time to time by descendants of all the twelve sons
of Jacob, to keep watch and ward over the Mortomley goods and chattels,
only came in for a slice of the estate, Mr. Swanland came for all.

At one swoop he had everything in his hand; without inventory or
formality of any kind, save announcing himself as manager and trustee,
he took a comprehensive grasp of Homewood and all it contained. The
horses in the stables, the chemicals and colours in the works, the bed
the sick man lay upon, the flowers in the garden, the exotics in the
greenhouse, the cat curled up before the hall fire, the dogs raving at
the length of their chains at the intruder, the pigeons in the dovecote,
and the monarch of the dunghill, all belonged to Mr. Swanland. On the
Saturday morning previously he had scarcely been aware that such a man
as Mortomley was in existence. If he had accidentally heard his name, no
memory of it remained; whilst as for Homewood, the place might have been
a station in Australia for aught he knew about it.

And now he was master. Nominally the servant of the creditors, and
ostensibly acting for the bankrupt, he was as truly the lord of
Mortomley, the controller of his temporal destiny, as any southern
planter ever proved of that of his slaves.

Whether the gentlemen, commercial and legal no doubt, who concocted the
Bankruptcy Act of 1869, and the other gentlemen of the Upper and Lower
Houses who made it law, ever contemplated that an utterly irresponsible
person should be placed in a responsible position it is not for me to
say, but I cannot think that any body of men out of Hanwell could have
proposed to themselves that the whole future of a bankrupt's life should
be made dependent on the choice of a trustee, since it is simple
nonsense to suppose a committee selected virtually by him and the
petitioning creditor have the slightest voice in the matter.

And if any man in business whose affairs are going at all wrong should
happen to read these lines, which unhappily is not at all probable,
since literature at such a time chiefly assumes the form of manuscript,
let him remember liquidation means no appeal, no chance of ever having
justice done him, nor even, remote contingency,--supposing the trustee a
cool hand like Mr. Swanland,--of setting himself right with the business
world.

He who goes into liquidation without first being sure of his trustee,
his lawyer, and his committee passes into an earthly hell, over the
portals of which are engraved the same words as those surmounting
Dante's 'Inferno.'

He has left hope behind. God help him, for nothing save a miracle can
ever enable him to retrace the path to the spot where she sits immortal.

At Homewood Mr. Swanland was in possession, and yet Dolly never
suspected the fact. Her first uneasiness arose from a few words uttered
by Mr. Benning.

"I suppose the business will be carried on," he remarked, sitting in the
pleasant drawing-room with his feet stretched out towards the fire and
his hands plunged in his pockets. Dolly could not avoid noticing that
all these dreadful men did keep their hands in their pockets, as if they
had no use for them anywhere else. "We must get a manager, I suppose."

Now was Dolly's opportunity.

"The business cannot be carried on except by some one who understands it
thoroughly," she said.

"I do not suppose there will be any difficulty about that," he answered.
"Competent people are always to be had if one knows how to look for
them."

"Do you mean," she inquired, "that my husband will not have the
management of his own business. Under Mr. Swanland I mean of course,"
she added.

"Mr. Mortomley's health seems quite broken up," said Mr. Benning. "It
would be simple cruelty to ask him to attend to business. After the
meeting of creditors the best thing he can do will be to go to some
pretty seaside place in Devonshire or Cornwall, and live there
comfortable upon your money."

For a minute the wretched woman sat silent facing her misery. Leave
Homewood! leave the business of which her husband thought so much!
Perhaps it was not true, perhaps she had not understood him.

"Do you really think we had better go away, away altogether," she
gasped.

"Certainly," he answered.

At that moment, that critical moment, when she was about to ask if such
a proposal were possible what the meaning of liquidation could be, Mr.
Swanland, pale, bland, pleasant, courteous, Mr. Asherill's perfect
gentleman the accountant cat, with his claws sheathed in velvet, folded
in his muff, purring complacently, re-entered the room.

"Well, Mrs. Mortomley," he said, "everything seems most satisfactory.
The trade appears good and the men employed respectable. Yes, thank you;
I will take a cup of tea."

This was between the lines, and when Mrs. Mortomley handed him the tea
she noticed how he stirred it, not at all as Mr. Asherill's perfect
gentleman should have done, but holding the spoon upright.

"It is a shame for me to be so hypercritical," she thought. "I dare say
he is a far honester man than this dreadful lawyer."

And so she inclined her ear to his pleasant words.

"Do not think, Mrs. Mortomley," he said, as he was leaving, with a
sudden uplifting of his Albino eyes, "that because I am placed here in a
disagreeable position I wish to make matters disagreeable to you. Pray
let me hear from you when you want anything, and be quite sure it is my
desire to act towards you as a friend in every way."

And he put out his hand.

Dolly took it, and thought she must by some accident have got hold of a
frog.

Kleinwort was right. Mr. Asherill's partner had no digestion and no
heart.

The more Mrs. Mortomley thought about Mr. Swanland the less she
believed in him, spite of his plausible manner and his pleasant
utterances, and when she crept into bed that night she caught herself
wondering whether there could be any good in a person whose hand was
like wet clay and who stirred his tea as the accountant stirred his.

Mr. Swanland left Homewood with an instinctive knowledge that the
_quondam_ mistress of that place disliked him, which knowledge touched
the trustee in no vulnerable point.

It made, however, some slight difference to Mrs. Mortomley in the
future, that future which, lying awake in the darkness, she vainly tried
to forecast.



                              CHAPTER IX.

                             IN THE 'TIMES.'


If there was trouble at Homewood on that especial Wednesday, it had not
been a day of unmixed pleasure to two people in the city.

His worst enemy might have pitied Mr. Forde when on opening the 'Times,'
lying over the back of the official chair at St. Vedast Wharf, the first
sentence which met his eye was,

"Before Mr. Commissioner Blank." "_Re_ Archibald Mortomley," and all the
rest of it.

The paragraph was not altogether an inch long, but it proved enough to
make Mr. Forde turn as faint and sick as many a man brave enough and
honest enough had turned before in that very office.

In imagination he saw looming in the distance ruin and beggary. He heard
the gates of St. Vedast Wharf close behind him for the last time. Things
were worse with him, much worse than they had been when Mortomley's
nephew came to say his uncle meant to go into liquidation, and Mr. Forde
felt impelled once again to take his hat.

"I wish I had left then," he muttered.

If a house be tottering, the removal of even a single stone may hasten
the impending catastrophe. As Mr. Forde believed, Mortomley was a most
important stone in the edifice of his own safety, and yet even at that
juncture it never occurred to him it was his own mad sledge-hammer blows
had driven it so completely out of place that no one could ever hope to
make it available at St. Vedast Wharf again.

Really the manager was to be pitied. If there chanced to be one thing
more than another on which he piqued himself, it was his genius for
diplomacy, and, as Mr. Gibbons said, he had done a neat thing when he
employed his own solicitor to do Mortomley's work.

If everything could have been prevailed upon to work as he intended it
should, Mr. Forde would have been comparatively at ease; but edged tools
have sometimes a knack of cutting those who play with them, and already
one of Mr. Forde's tools had inflicted upon him a nasty wound.

"I will go round to Basinghall Street," he said almost aloud, as though
some balm of Gilead might be extracted even from Salisbury House, and he
went round to find Mr. Swanland out, Mr. Asherill urbane and unctuous as
ever.

Deriving little consolation from his unsatisfactory interview with the
latter gentleman, he walked on to Kleinwort's office, only to find him
absent also, and the time of his return uncertain.

Then, because he was able to think of no other person to whom he could
speak on the subject, he turned into Werner's counting-house.

As usual, Mr. Werner was within and visible.

"Have you seen the 'Times'?" asked Mr. Forde, after the first greetings
were exchanged.

"Yes," was the short reply.

"Were you not surprised?"

"I do not know. I suppose I was. I thought you would have expressed your
wishes more clearly."

"Clearly!" No italics and no number of interjections could convey an
idea of the tone in which Mr. Forde uttered this word. "Why, sir, I told
Benning as plainly as I could speak I wanted the matter kept out of the
papers, and if that was not sufficiently explicit, I repeated the same
thing to Swanland, and now just see the mess they have got me into."

"What do your directors say?"

"I have not seen any of them yet. What I shall say to them I cannot
imagine."

And Mr. Forde beat a dismal tattoo on the corner of the desk as he
spoke.

Then ensued a pause, during which Werner looked out at the weather,
which was wet and cheerless, and Mr. Forde looked at him.

"What do you think?" asked the manager at length.

"I do not think. What is the good of thinking? If you had not been so
decided on having your own way and insisting on Benning taking out the
order, this need never have happened; but you always imagine yourself
cleverer than anybody else, and so overshot the mark. Have you been to
Swanland?"

"Yes, he was out. I saw Asherill, however, who repudiated all knowledge
of Mortomley and his affairs and Swanland and his doings. He blessed me
and gave me a tract, and said he was going to speak at a meeting this
evening on behalf of a mission to some hopeful heathens in Africa. He
presented me with tickets and asked me to give them to any friend if I
could not make use of them myself. Here they are."

Henry Werner took the tickets and tore them into small atoms, flinging
these contemptuously into his waste basket.

"If he would speak on behalf of a mission to the heathens of the City of
London, I could furnish him with some anecdotes calculated to adorn his
address," he remarked. "But to return to Mortomley. In your place I
should meet the difficulty boldly. There is nothing disgraceful about
Mortomley's debt to you; nothing disgraceful about the man, spite of all
the mud with which you have been pleased to bespatter him. His worst
crime is illness, and that illness leaves you at liberty to make good
any story you like to tell. If it were Kleinwort now--"

"Kleinwort would never serve me as Mortomley has done," interrupted Mr.
Forde.

"It is very hard to tell what any man would do till he is tried," said
Mr. Werner sententiously.

"_You_ would not fail me. _You_ would always consider me. _You_ would
remember I have a wife and family depending upon me," observed Mr. Forde
entreatingly.

"If I were in a corner myself, I am quite certain I should do nothing of
the kind," was the frank reply. "My dear fellow bring the case home. Do
_you_ never fail other people? Do _you_ always consider me for instance?
Have _you_ given throughout the whole of this affair of Mortomley's one
thought to his wife or child? No you have not, and no man in business
does. You would pitch Kleinwort and me and a score more over to-morrow
if you could do so safely, and we would pitch you over if any
extraordinary temptation came in our way. You do not believe in us, and
we do not believe in you; but we do believe we have amongst us got into
such a cursed muddle we cannot afford to throw anybody overboard who
might swim to land and tell the story of our voyage. That is the state
of the case, my friend. It is not a cheerful view of the position, but
it is the true one."

"I have no doubt you would throw anybody overboard and jeer him while he
was drowning," said Mr. Forde bitterly. "Now let Kleinwort be what he
may, he has a heart. He is not like you, Werner."

"Well that is a comfort at any rate," remarked Mr. Werner. "I do not
think I should care to be like Kleinwort."

Mr. Forde did not reply. He always got the worst of the game when he
engaged in a verbal duel with Mr. Werner, so he remained leaning against
the corner of the desk for a minute or so in silence thinking how
extremely disagreeable Werner was and how hardly every one dealt with
him.

At length he roused himself and said, "I suppose there is no good in my
staying here any longer."

"You are quite welcome to stay" was the reply; "but I agree with you
that there is no good purpose to be served by your doing so."

"What a Job's comforter you are," sighed poor Mr. Forde.

"Job came all right in the end, if you remember," Mr. Werner replied.
"If you only fare ultimately half so well as he did you will not have
much cause to complain."

"Yes, to-morrow must come, no matter how much sorrow to-day holds,"
answered Mr. Forde unconsciously paraphrasing one of Kleinwort's
utterances. "If you see any of my people, Werner, do try to make things
a little pleasant for me."

"You had better explain what you propose telling them, so that I may
know the statement I am expected to back up," said Mr. Werner. "These
things ought to be arranged beforehand."

But Mr. Forde had already banged the door and departed, so that the last
utterance failed to reach his ears.

When Mr. Werner went out during the afternoon he met Mr. Kleinwort.

"Have not you some shares in that Spanish mine Green promoted," he
inquired.

The German nodded.

"Well, I heard this morning from good authority that the mine will never
pay, that the whole thing is a swindle, and was a swindle from the
beginning."

"Ah! what a world is this," said Kleinwort with a pious and resigned
expression of countenance.

"I do not think it is too late for you to sell," suggested Mr. Werner.

The German shrugged his shoulders.

"It matters not to me," he replied.

"I thought you said you had shares," remarked his companion.

"So I have; but they are in pledge don't you call it. That dear Forde
wanted them and he has got them. How nice it is when a man has got what
he wants."

"Kleinwort, I am afraid you are a great rogue," observed Mr. Werner
severely.

"Ditto to you half countryman of mine own," answered the other raising
his hat with a gesture of mock deference. "Have you been to St. Vedast
to-day? No. Neither have I. Seemed best, I thought, to leave poor Forde
to digest that neat little paragraph in the 'Times' without
disturbance!"

"It will be a bad thing for him, I am afraid," remarked Werner.

"It will be a bad thing for me, which is matter of much more interest to
Bertram Kleinwort," was the answer. "That accursed Benning and
thrice-accursed partner of the Christian wolf,--how I wish they were
both hanging on a gibbet higher than Haman's, and that I was big man
enough to pull their legs!"

Having giving utterance to which Christian desire Mr. Kleinwort
departed, leaving even Werner astonished at the tone of deadly hatred he
concentrated in one sentence.

"I believe you would do it too, you little devil," he decided. "Well, I
will go and tell Forde about the mine, and give him a chance of
selling."

But Mr. Forde was not at the wharf.

"He had received a letter by the second post," explained one of the
clerks, "which obliged him to start at once for Newcastle."

Mr. Werner smiled. He understood the cause of that sudden journey, but
he only said, "I will look round again on Friday."

But when Friday came, it was useless for him to do so. The shares in
that especial mine were a drug in the market. Every one was hastening to
sell, and no man could be found to buy.

Meantime, however, fortune, which never proves more utterly capricious
than when we believe ourselves down for life in her black books, had
relented and done Mr. Forde a gracious turn.

On the occasion of that meeting in behalf of the heathen, to which Mr.
Forde referred so contemptuously, Samuel Witney, Esq., took the chair,
and after various missionaries and others interested in the good work
had addressed the assemblage, and votes of thanks had been returned to
everybody for something, proposed to his dear brother in religion that,
as they must return to their respective homes from the Waterloo Station,
they should walk thither together.

Perfectly well Mr. Asherill understood the reason of this suggestion,
and for one moment he hesitated whether he should not charter a cab to
the City and tell Mr. Witney the literal truth, namely, that he
generally travelled to and from his snug villa residence _viâ_ the North
London Railway.

But immediately he decided to face the difficulty. Sooner or later his
fellow Christian was certain to question him about Mortomley, and the
sooner he did so, the less difficulty there might be in answering his
inquiries.

"I was very much surprised to see in the 'Times' this morning that Mr.
Mortomley had gone into liquidation," began Mr. Witney.

"Sad affair, is it not?" said Mr. Asherill, feeling his way.

"It is sad for us. We are creditors, as of course you are aware."

"I have been given to understand as much, but I am glad to know that you
are not creditors for any large amount, that is, I mean for anything
serious. A few thousands is of course a bagatelle, to a great concern
like the General Chemical Company."

"Humph!" ejaculated Mr. Witney. He did not care to say the loss if total
would mean half dividend or none at all, and yet still he was too much
exercised in spirit to be able to remain silent under the grievance.
"One does not like to lose even a comparatively small sum," he observed
at length.

"That is quite true," agreed Mr. Asherill, casting about in his own
mind to find the real reason why Forde, Werner, and Kleinwort had all
been so desirous to keep Mortomley on his feet.

According to Mr. Witney, the state of whose feelings Mr. Asherill read
like a book, the colour-maker did not owe the Company such an amount as
to warrant the fuss made over and the anxiety exhibited about his
affairs.

"What is your opinion on the subject of dividend?" asked Mr. Witney
after a pause.

"Well, I can scarcely be said to have an opinion," was the reply. "I
have nothing to do with the matter. My young partner has it all in his
own hands. I did not wish our firm to undertake the management of the
affair."

"Why?" inquired Mr. Witney.

"I really could scarcely tell you why," answered Mr. Asherill, "except
that I have my whims and fancies, as some people would call them.
Mortomley's father was a friend of mine, and although a member of the
Church of England, a thorough Christian. He was, I assure you,"
continued Mr. Asherill, as his companion shook his head in a manner
which might either have expressed disbelief or a desire to imply that
wonders would never cease. "He gave me a helping hand once, when help
meant more than it usually does" ('more than you would have given your
brother,' added Mr. Asherill mentally) "and I did not like the notion of
winding up the son. One never knows how sadly these things may end, and
of course a trustee ought to have no personal feeling towards a
bankrupt. He ought to be as impartial as justice herself. Mr. Swanland,
however, has got the management of the estate, which from what I hear is
a good estate, a very good estate indeed," finished Mr. Asherill
unctuously, as though he were saying grace before partaking of a
plenteous and well-served dinner.

"You think there will be a good dividend then?" suggested Mr. Witney.

"Well, I did hear," was the cautious answer, "some talk of twenty
shillings in the pound, but that I do not credit. The expenses, go to
work as we may, must be considerable, and then things may not fetch the
prices expected; and, further, poor Mortomley is ill, and that is always
a drawback; but if you get fifteen shillings, come now, you would not
grumble then?"

"No, certainly; but we should like to see twenty," said Mr. Witney. "I
will call round and have a talk with Mr. Swanland on the subject."

"Do," said Mr. Asherill cordially. "He will be able to tell you all
about it, much better than I," and the two men having by this time
arrived at Waterloo, they shook hands and blessed one another and
proceeded to their respective trains, Mr. Asherill thinking as he went,
"You do not know any more than I why your manager wanted this affair
kept quiet, but you will know to your cost some day, or I am greatly
mistaken."

After all, it is never the straws which know so well the way the wind is
blowing as those who see them swept along with the gale.

"I give the Chemical Company another year," went on Mr. Asherill,
mentally continuing the subject. "That I fancy will be about long
enough for them."

And then he fell to considering whether he should like to have the
winding up of the St. Vedast Wharf estate, and decided he should not,
for the simple reason that he did not think there would be much estate
left to wind up.

There is often a touching directness about the secret motives of
professing Christians. Perhaps this may be the reason why carnal and
unconverted creatures love so little those who love themselves and
worldly prosperity so much.



                                 CHAPTER X.

                   MR. SWANLAND WISHES TO BE INFORMED.


Meantime at Homewood a nice little storm was coming up against the wind.

Concerning misfortune, Kleinwort's theory may be accepted as correct. It
is rarely the expected rain-fall, rarely the anticipated storm, which
beats down the hopes of a man's life, destroys all the fair prospect of
his future. In nine cases out of ten the tempest creeps out of some
totally unlooked-for quarter; and behold ere one can quite understand
that the morning sunshine is overcast, or the mid-day glory clouded, the
heavens are opened, and out of them proceed lightnings and thunder and
blinding tempests which blast every bud and flower and fruit a man has
looked on with hope and pride, before he can realise the nature of the
misfortune that has fallen upon him.

Now something of this kind occurred at Homewood, and it assumed the
shape first of a most polite note from Mr. Swanland, asking Mrs.
Mortomley if she could oblige him by calling at his office at eleven
o'clock on the next morning, Saturday, as he was unable to go to
Homewood, and there were two or three matters about which it was
necessary for him to see her, and next of the following:

                                     "St. Swithin's Lane, E.C.
                                              "September 29th, 187--.

     "Mrs. Mortomley,
             "Homewood.

     "Madam,

     "A Mr. Benning has been with us to make some inquiries concerning
     the moneys bequeathed to you by Miss Dollabella Chippendale, of
     which our Mr. Daniells is trustee. In Mr. Daniells' absence we have
     deferred answering these inquiries, but we think it might be
     advisable for you to request your solicitor to call upon us with
     reference to this matter, Mr. Benning, as we understand, being only
     engaged about some liquidation affair in which Mr. Mortomley is
     concerned.

                                     "Your obedient Servants,
                                          "HERSON, DANIELLS, AND CO."

Dolly sat and pondered over these letters as she had sat and pondered
over the letter signed John Jones, mentioned in a very early chapter.

That epistle she had regarded in the light of a gratuitous piece of
impertinence emanating either from Mr. Kleinwort or Mr. Forde, and under
this impression she worded the advertisement which so annoyed Mr.
Asherill; but when the last post of the next day brought those two
missives, she began to wonder whether John Jones might not really have
been some humble friend gifted with greater prescience than she
possessed, who, unknowing of the remnant of her quarter's income she
still possessed, might imagine her so short of money that even two
pounds four shillings might prove acceptable.

Moved by some incomprehensible impulse, she, the most careless of
created beings, searched for that letter and locked it away in her
dressing-case.

There was no Rupert to talk to now. Twice since his departure he had
appeared at Homewood, the first time to say Antonia was busy purchasing
her trousseau, and that old Dean had acted most generously in the matter
of money, on the next occasion to ask Dolly not to expect to see him
before Monday, as he was obliged to go down to Bath; the real truth
being Rupert had thought the Homewood matter over, and decided that
until Antonia had become Mrs. Dean, the less he saw of that place the
better.

On the occasion of his first visit, Turner, the man already mentioned as
having incited Esther to remove those vases and statuettes which seemed
to them both desirable possessions, stopped him on his way to the gate.

"You and Mr. Lang, sir, saw a man the other morning looking over the
fence, I believe?"

Rupert nodded assent.

"And you asked Lang who he was, and Lang could not tell you?"

"Yes," agreed Mr. Halling.

"Well, I know, sir; he's a detective, and there are more of them about."

Rupert stepped back as if he had received a blow, he stepped back so far
he was brought up by a tree of _arbor vitæ_, out of which he emerged
dripping with wet.

"Detectives?" he repeated, taking off his hat and smoothing it
mechanically. "What can they want here?"

"If I am not greatly out in my calculation, sir, there are those in this
business who would cheerfully give a hundred pounds to catch Mr.
Mortomley tripping, or to be able to prove he ever did trip."

"Mr. Mortomley may safely defy them then," said Rupert, but he did not
turn back and warn Dolly there were spies round and about watching the
old familiar place.

Mr. Turner stood contemplating his retreating figure.

"A fine young man," he thought, "but cut out and made up after the
world's pattern. And so he won't tell her. Well, then, I will; for a
lady like Mrs. Mortomley ought not to be kept in the dark. And her
husband too ill to look after aught for himself," added Mr. Turner, who
in truth was with the Mortomleys heart and soul, so far as the
exigencies of his delightful profession allowed him to have sympathy for
any one beyond the "one" who had put him in possession.

So he told Esther, who told her mistress, who was naturally incredulous
of, and indignant at, Turner's statement.

"Detectives!" she repeated scornfully. "Does the man suppose we are
thieves or murderers?"

"No, ma'am, but I--I do really think he is sorry for you--and--the
master."

Esther was brushing Mrs. Mortomley's hair, as she uttered this sentence
slowly, and with considerable hesitation.

In the glass she could see reflected her mistress's downcast face--the
sudden compression of her lips--the quiver about her mouth.

They had sunk very low Dolly felt, when even the bailiffs pitied them!

That was her first thought. Her next was, that in his way Turner was
trying to do his best for her and her husband, but she could not trust
herself to speak upon the subject, so she refrained from answering, and
the brushing proceeded in silence.

Next morning Esther detected some white hairs amongst the brown. Of late
this had been a matter of no rare occurrence.

"What does it signify?" Mrs. Mortomley exclaimed. "If these men stay
here much longer my hair will be white as snow. Oh! I wish!--I wish--I
wish!" she added passionately, "we had a house to ourselves once again.
If it were the humblest cottage in England in which I could shut the
door and feel we were alone, I should thank God for his mercy--"

"It cannot be for long, ma'am, Turner says--" Esther was beginning,
when Mrs. Mortomley faced round upon her.

"If you mention that man's name again, I will give you notice."

Which certainly most servants so situated would have taken without
further ceremony on the spot.

If Mrs. Mortomley had possessed the wisdom of the serpent, she would not
have arrayed herself in the gorgeous attire she selected as especially
suitable for a visit to Mr. Swanland's offices; but Dolly could not yet
realize the fact that her husband was bankrupt, that a trustee ruled at
Homewood, that the last man in possession was his lord-lieutenant, that
the men were no longer Mortomley's men, but belonged to Mr. Swanland, as
did the works and everything else, themselves scarcely excepted, about
the place.

So, arrayed like the Queen of Sheba, Dolly started away on foot to catch
the train from Leytonstone which should enable her to reach Mr.
Swanland's office by eleven.

There were horses in the stable, but Mrs. Mortomley forbade them being
harnessed for her benefit.

"It was a fine morning and she preferred walking," she said; though Mr.
Meadows with some effusion of manner assured her, if she wished, he
would have the carriage brought round directly, and he continued to
press his offer till she cut him short by saying,

"As it seems I can no longer order my carriage for myself, I shall walk.
You have taken very good care, Mr. Meadows, during the course of the
last two days to let me know I am not mistress here or my husband
master. Kindly stand aside and let me pass. I have to see your employer
at eleven o'clock."

And she opened the gate for herself, and walked out into the road as if
not Homewood alone but all the stately homes of England had belonged to
her of right; walked out to hear the worst which could befall.

It was a splendid morning. After raining for a whole week with scarcely
a moment's intermission, the weather that day seemed to have made up
its mind to turn over a new leaf and to be bright for evermore.

Athwart all the forest glades sunbeams fell in golden bars on the vivid
turf; the trees were still in full leaf, the songs of birds sounded in
Dolly's ears; all nature seemed careless and happy and prodigal; and as
the woman upon whom such trouble had fallen so suddenly looked first on
this side and on that, she thanked God involuntarily for the beauty of
this beautiful world, and then exclaimed almost aloud,

"And there _must_ be some way into the sunshine for us, if I could only
see which turning to take."

There was, my dear, and you had taken the turning. All unconsciously
your feet were already treading a path leading into the
sunshine--through dreary wastes it is true--along places stony and
thorny; across wilds hard to traverse, but still a path conducting to
the sunshine, out of the blind, maddening, perplexing darkness, into
light.

It has always been a puzzle to me why the newest offices in London are
those which seem most frequently under the hand of the house decorator.

If you happen to have an account at an old banking establishment, to
have entrusted your affairs to the management of an old-fashioned
solicitor, or to be acquainted with a broker who is one of a firm known
in the City for years, you may call upon each and all of them, season
after season, without fearing to encounter that villainous smell of
paint which meet those who do business with new people at every turn, on
every landing.

As for Salisbury House, painters, white-washers, paper-hangers, and
varnishers pervaded it with a perpetual presence.

A man given to punning once suggested the reason for this was--the
dreadful cases taken in there--but Mr. Asherill, to whom the remark was
made, would not see the intended joke, and observed it might be well for
some people, who did not possess a saving faith, if men were able to
perform a similar cleansing operation on their souls.

On the occasion of Mrs. Mortomley's first visit to Salisbury House, Mr.
Swanland's own office was undergoing a course of purification, and he
was therefore compelled to receive her in the room where a week
previously Messrs. Kleinwort and Werner had been admitted to an audience
with the senior partner.

In acknowledgment of his own comparatively subordinate standing in the
firm, Mr. Swanland's papers were ranged upon a table covered with green
baize, drawn close beside the window, while Mr. Asherill maintained his
position at the ponderous mass of mahogany and morocco leather which
occupied the centre of the room.

When Mrs. Mortomley entered, Mr. Asherill rose, and, with a profound bow
and studied courtesy of manner, handed her a chair.

Mr. Swanland availed himself of this opportunity of feebly indicating
his senior as "my partner;" then, while Mr. Benning who was present
advanced to shake hands, Mr. Asherill resumed his seat and his
occupation with an air which said plainly to all who cared to
understand,

"Now don't interrupt me or trouble me about your trumpery business. Here
am I with the whole future of mercantile London on my shoulders, and it
is absurd to expect me to give the smallest attention to this
ridiculously poor affair."

At intervals he touched his office bell, and sent the clerk who appeared
in answer, to Mr. So-and-So, to know about such and such an affair; or
had a book big enough to have contained lengthy biographies of all the
Lord Mayors of London from the time of Fitz Alwyn downwards brought in,
from which he made a feint of extracting some useful information; but
really all the time he was watching Mrs. Mortomley.

Without appearing to do so, he took her in from the enormous rolls and
plaits on the very summit of which her bonnet was perched to the
high-heeled boots, the tops of which reached high above her ankles.
There was not a flower or ruche or frill or furbelow or bow about her
dress of which he did not make a mental inventory. He noted the lace on
her mantle, and the fit and colour of her gloves; and while he thus
noticed her face, dress, manner, and tried to piece a consistent whole
out of the woman's appearance, her position, and Kleinwort's account of
her, the talk went on smoothly and easily enough at first.

"It will be necessary for us, Mrs. Mortomley, to know something about
your own money in the event of any questions being asked at the meeting
of creditors," began Mr. Swanland, after he had asked after Mr.
Mortomley and apologised for bringing her to town. "It was left to you
by a relation, I believe?"

"No," Dolly explained, "not a relation exactly. By my godmother, Miss
Chippendale."

"Before or after your marriage?"

"You need not trouble Mrs. Mortomley with all those questions," Mr.
Benning here interrupted. "I have been to Doctors' Commons and
ascertained all the particulars."

Dolly turned and looked at him as he said this; turned sharply and
suddenly, and then for the first time Mr. Asherill decided she was not
a person whom it might be quite safe to offend.

Already he saw that there was secret war between her and Mr. Benning;
already he understood she scented danger afar off, and was standing at
bay waiting for its coming.

"I am sure," said Mr. Swanland in his smoothest tone, with his blandest
and falsest smile, "I do not want to trouble Mrs. Mortomley
unnecessarily about anything; but it is for the interest of all
concerned that we should know at first precisely how we are placed. How
we are placed," repeated Mr. Swanland with some self-satisfaction at the
neatness of his sentence.

"That is just what I want to know," agreed Dolly, "though it seems to me
we could scarcely be in a more miserable position than is the case at
present."

At this juncture Mr. Asherill cleared his throat vehemently. Mr. Benning
seated with his legs stretched out crossed one foot over the other and
contemplated the polish on his boots while Mr. Swanland remarked,
"Ladies are always so hasty. They jump at conclusions so rapidly, and I
must say, if you will forgive me, Mrs. Mortomley, frequently so
erroneously."

"You mean, I suppose, that we may find ourselves in a more miserable
position still?" said Dolly flushing a little. "If that be your meaning,
let me know at once whether this fresh trouble refers to my money."

"I assure you--" began Mr. Swanland.

But she interrupted him by a quick impatient gesture.

"Why did you ask me to come here this morning? What is it you wish to be
told that Mr. Benning cannot tell you better than I?"

Mr. Asherill laid down his pen and began to turn over the leaves of his
diary softly and with a great show of interest. Mr. Benning lifted his
eyes from his boots to stare at Mrs. Mortomley, while Mr. Swanland
looking across at him asked,

"Was there anything to that effect in the will?"

"No. If you had given me five minutes' interview, as I asked, I could
have told you there was not."

"And Herson?"

"Knows nothing, or will know nothing, except the fact that money has
been withdrawn for business purposes, and that Daniells refused to allow
any more to be used, which all tallies with Forde's statements."

"Mrs. Mortomley," asked Mr. Swanland, "you can save us a vast amount of
trouble if you will kindly inform us whether there has been any
settlement made upon you of this money."

"I do not know," she answered. "I suppose so; however, the money is
mine, it was left to me."

"Of course, of course, we understand all that," said Mr. Swanland. "What
I want you to tell me is whether Mr. Mortomley ever made any settlement
of this money on you."

"No. It did not come from any of his relations or friends; it was
bequeathed to me as I have already stated by--"

"She does not know," suggested Mr. Swanland, speaking across Dolly to
Mr. Benning.

"No; but I think we may draw our own conclusions. Was the subject of
settlements ever discussed between you and your husband?" he inquired,
turning to Mrs. Mortomley.

"No; certainly not. We never had separate purses, we never could have.
What was his was mine, and what is mine shall of course always be his."

"We do not mean to suggest that you and Mr. Mortomley ever were or ever
will be on other than the most affectionate terms," retorted Mr. Benning
with a slight sneer.

"Fortunately the domestic happiness or unhappiness of our clients is not
a matter we are called upon to investigate," said Mr. Swanland with a
light laugh. "Eh, Asherill?"

Mr. Asherill looked up with an expression of face which implied he had
come up from the profoundest depths of thought to hearken to his
partner's babble.

"No, no, no," he agreed hastily. "Matrimony is an account out of which
it would take wiser heads than ours to make a fair balance-sheet," and
he was resuming his occupation, when Mrs. Mortomley addressed him.

"Sir," she said, his white hair and large head inspiring her with a
momentary confidence in his integrity and straightforwardness, "you look
like a gentleman who might have daughters of your own, daughters as old
as I am, and who may yet be--though I earnestly hope not--in as great
difficulty and perplexity as I am this day. Will you tell me what is the
meaning of all this--why do they ask so many questions about my money?"

"I do not know anything about the matter, my dear," he answered, in his
most patriarchal manner. "I have not the faintest idea what it is my
young partner has in his mind, but you may be quite certain it is
nothing except what will turn out for your good eventually. You may
trust him implicitly."

Dolly surveyed the trio while Mr. Asherill was speaking, and when he
finished she felt she had never seen at one time three men together
before less calculated to inspire confidence.

"The days of highwaymen are over," she said when describing the
interview subsequently to Mrs. Werner, "but I felt instinctively I had
got amongst banditti."

"Supposing," she said, turning to Mr. Swanland, "that there were no
settlements, how will it affect me?"

"How will it affect Mrs. Mortomley, Benning?" inquired Mr. Swanland
innocently.

"What is the use of asking such a question of me?" exclaimed Mr. Benning
irritably. "You know as well as I that in such a case what is hers is
her husband's, and--"

"Go on please," said Dolly, as he paused.

"And what is your husband's, I was going to say," he proceeded, spite of
Mr. Swanland's look of entreaty, "is his creditors'."

"Then you mean to have my money?" she said, "you mean to take the only
thing left to us?"

"There may be a settlement you know," observed Mr. Swanland in a
soothing voice.

"There is not, I feel there is not," she interrupted.

"And in any case," continued Mr. Swanland, "it is not we who take, but
the law; it is not we who have, but the creditors. We must hope for the
best, however, Mrs. Mortomley. No one will be more truly rejoiced than I
to know this money is secured to you."

She seemed as if she had not heard his sentence, but sat for a minute
like one stunned. Then she said bitterly,

"A 'Well Wisher' sent me two pounds four the other day, and I forwarded
the amount to the London Hospital. It seems to me I may yet have reason
to repent of my haste at my leisure."

In an airy manner Mr. Swanland, apparently treating her words as a mere
jest, remarked, "I am not quite sure, Mrs. Mortomley, that in my
capacity as trustee the two pounds four you mention ought not to have
been handed over to me."

If his words conveyed any meaning to her she made no sign of
understanding it. After sitting for a few moments lost in thought she
rose, and saying "I shall go at once to a solicitor," inclined her head
to the accountants and Mr. Benning, and left the office, before Mr.
Asherill could open the door for her to pass out.

That same evening Mr. Meadows received a note from his employer
containing various directions and instructions. After the signature came
a postscript, "How does it happen _Mrs._ Mortomley's letters have not
been forwarded to me? See to this _at once_, and never let me have to
complain of such negligence again."

For with all the flocks and herds of the Mortomley
Estate held in his hand, Mr. Swanland's
soul sickened, because of that two pounds four
shillings he could never now hope to liquidate.



                                CHAPTER XI.

                         MRS. MORTOMLEY'S FORTUNE.


Mr. Leigh, Mortomley's solicitor, was all that in an early chapter of
this story Mr. Asherill stated him to be, and perhaps a little more.

He was honest and honourable, a kind father, a devoted husband, an
affectionate son, and a staunch friend, but he was human, and being
human his reception of Mrs. Mortomley proved cool and formal.

No one knew more of Mortomley's estate than he--not even Mortomley
himself. His father had managed the legal affairs of Mortomley's father,
and he personally had been _au fait_ with every in and out of the son's
hopes and disappointments, successes and failures, gains and losses,
liabilities and expectations, until the death of Richard Halling.

At that time, some outspoken advice was given on the one side, which
caused a certain amount of vexation on the other; and although Mr. Leigh
had never ceased to act as the colour-maker's solicitor, still from the
day that grievous connection--so madly continued with the General
Chemical Company began--he knew so little of the actual position of his
former friend, that when Mortomley walked into his office, out of which
he was subsequently dragged by a clerk from St. Vedast Wharf, and stated
it was absolutely necessary for him to lay the state of his affairs
before his creditors, the lawyer stared at him aghast.

Then after that patched up truce with fate, the terms of which were
evolved out of the workings of Mr. Forde's ingenuity, things went on as
before, and he had no more idea his client was on the verge of
bankruptcy, until he saw that paragraph previously mentioned in the
'Times,' than he had of going into the 'Gazette' himself.

Well might Mr. Leigh consider he had been hardly done by. At least he
was an honest man, and yet Mr. Mortomley evidently preferred that a
black sheep should manage his affairs.

Faithfully, through every chance and change of life, he had dealt by his
client; and now when he really might have made some amount of money
worth having out of his estate, that client pitched him over.

And finally, as if all these injuries were not enough, here was Mrs.
Mortomley herself, a woman he had never taken to or understood, sitting
in his office, dressed out as if liquidation by arrangement meant
succession to an earldom and a hundred thousand a year.

He sat and looked at her, not speculatively, as Mr. Asherill had done,
but disapprovingly.

Mr. Leigh entertained some old-fashioned ideas, and one of these
happened to be that a woman who, at such a juncture, could think of her
dress, was not likely to be of much assistance when the evil days
arrived in which pence should take the place of pounds,--and stuffs, of
silks and satins.

Nor did he, of course, incline more favourably to Mortomley's wife, when
she explained how small a share her husband had in the selection of Mr.
Benning.

If Mortomley had not been ungrateful, she had proved herself so little
better than a simpleton, that he could not find an excuse for her folly,
in her ignorance.

All this made it hard for Dolly to tell her tale; indeed for ever Mr.
Leigh had only a hazy idea that, in the event of his having happened to
be in town instead of absent from it, things might have turned out
differently.

A week only had elapsed since Mrs. Mortomley took her early walk to seek
that vague advice and assistance, which last is never given, which first
is always utterly useless; but so many events had crowded themselves
into the space of eight days, that the incident slipped out of the
sequence of her story, and was only mentioned accidently by her.

Indeed, she was so full of the horrible idea suggested by the interview
at Salisbury House that she began at the end of her narrative, instead
of the beginning. She asked questions, and failed to answer questions
which were put to her.

"What was a settlement--had any been made--was it true, as Mr. Benning
said, that if there were no settlement, everything went to the
creditors. If so, what was to become of her husband, Lenore, and
herself?"

Mr. Leigh replied to her last inquiry first.

"There will be an allowance made out of the estate, of course," he said.

"Are you certain," she persisted; "for if they can avoid doing so, I am
sure we shall not have a penny."

Whereupon, Mr. Leigh read her a mild lecture warning her of the danger
of being prejudiced, and making enemies instead of friends. He gave her
to understand that Mr. Swanland was a member of a most respectable
profession, and that she had not the smallest reason to suppose he was
inimical to her husband, or disposed to act in other than the kindest
and most honourable manner.

With an impatient gesture Mrs. Mortomley averted her head.

"I shall never be able to make any one comprehend my meaning," she said
wearily, "until events have verified my forebodings. It seems of no use
your talking to me, Mr. Leigh, or my talking to you, for you think me
foolish and prejudiced, and I think you know just about as much of what
liquidation by arrangement really is as I did a week ago."

"In that case--" he began coldly.

"You think I ought to say good morning, and refrain from wasting your
valuable time," she interrupted.

"My dear Mrs. Mortomley," he said gently, for he saw that her eyes were
full of tears, and that her trouble was very genuine, "pray compose
yourself, and try to look calmly at your situation. You are frightening
yourself with a bugbear of your own creation, I assure you. The new
Bankruptcy Act was framed for the express purpose of relieving honest
debtors from many hardships to which they were formerly exposed, and to
assist creditors to obtain their money by a cheaper and more simple mode
than was practicable previously. You cannot suppose a trustee has the
power to act contrary to law, and the law never contemplated beggaring a
man merely because he chanced to be unfortunate. You may make your mind
quite easy about money matters. I do not say you will be able to have
the luxuries you have hitherto enjoyed;" here he made a slight stop, as
if to emphasise the fact on her comprehension, "but you will have
everything needful for your position. And with respect to your own
fortune, which I am afraid cannot be saved, there are two sides to
everything, and there are two sides to this. As a lawyer of course I
think every husband ought to secure the pecuniary future of his wife and
family, but really my unprofessional opinion is that settlements which
place a woman in a position of affluence, and consequently provide a
handsome income for a man, no matter how reckless or improvident he has
been, can scarcely be defended on any ground of right or reason. Do you
follow my meaning?"

She looked up at him as he made this inquiry, and answered,

"Do not think me rude. I cannot give my mind to what you are saying.
Possibly you are right. I heard your words, and I shall remember them
sufficiently, I have no doubt, to be able to argue the matter out by
myself at some future time--if--if we ever get into smooth water again;
but I cannot think of anything but ourselves now, I cannot. While you
are speaking my thoughts run back to Homewood, and I wonder what has
happened there, and whether, if I told this great trouble to Archie, it
would kill him outright. Through everything, I know, he has calculated
on that money for me and Lenore. If he had not been satisfied, if he had
ever doubted my right to it for a moment, do you suppose he would have
run such a risk? Do you think he would have failed to make any necessary
arrangement to keep us beyond the possibility of want?"

"I am certain he would if he could have foreseen a time like this," the
lawyer answered. "But you must remember men do not anticipate bankruptcy
as a rule. When they do, it is far too late to talk of settlements. If
every one were prudent and foreseeing, misfortunes such as these could
not occur; but bankruptcy is not a pleasant eventuality for a person to
contemplate, though it is undoubtedly true that every business man ought
to order his course just as if he expected to go into the 'Gazette'
within a week."

"We hear something like that every Sunday about living as if we were
dying, don't we, Mr. Leigh?" she asked, with a little gasping sob, "but
we none of us practise what we are told. I wonder now," Dolly added,
addressing no one in particular, but speaking her thoughts out loud,
"whether the clergy are right after all, whether, if we all go on as we
are going, we shall, men and women alike, prove utter bankrupts at the
Judgment-day. An immortality of insolvency is not a pleasant future to
contemplate; but it may be true. I dare say it will be perfectly true
for some of us."

Mr. Leigh was eminently a safe man--safe in morals, religion, politics,
and money matters, and nothing offended his ideas more than wild
utterances and random talk, for which reason Mrs. Mortomley's last
sentence proved more distasteful than even her candidly expressed doubt
as to his thorough acquaintance with the new Bankruptcy Act.

But he was kind, and if his visitor had occasionally a curious and
unpleasant way of communicating her ideas, he could see underlying all
external eccentricities that she was in fearful trouble, not because she
dreaded being unable to renew her laces and replace her silks--truth
being, Dolly had never descended even mentally to such details--but
because she had taken a phantom to nurse and reared it into a giant.

Some one, it was necessary, should adopt measures to destroy the giant,
he decided, ere it destroyed her.

"Mrs. Mortomley," he began, "you ought to get out of town for a short
time--"

"And leave my husband?"

"No, take him with you."

She shook her head. "You do not know how ill he is. No one knows how ill
he is but me, not even the doctors."

"He would get stronger if he were away, and he must be strong before the
meeting of creditors. Ask the doctors, and be guided by their advice.
Now let me entreat of you to be influenced by what they may say."

"If it were possible to move him it might be better," she said
thoughtfully, "but he could not go without me, and I suppose I ought to
be at Homewood."

"Why, are Miss Halling and her brother and all those men you told me
about not sufficient to take care of the place?" asked Mr. Leigh.

She opened her lips to tell him that Rupert and Antonia had left, but
closed them again, feeling ashamed to say how utterly desolate she and
her husband were in their extremity.

"I think I ought to stay," she remarked at last.

"Really I cannot see the necessity. The presence of Mr. Swanland's clerk
of course relieves you from all real responsibility."

"I suppose so--but still--"

"But still what?"

"When we leave Homewood we shall leave it for good. I feel that. I mean
we shall leave it altogether, whether for good or for ill, whichever may
befall."

"If you were to go from home for a few weeks, you would look at your
position much more cheerfully," answered Mr. Leigh, who was not himself
utterly unacquainted with some of the moods and tenses of a woman's
mind.

"Mr. Benning said we should be quite free to go when once the meeting of
creditors was over," Mrs. Mortomley remarked.

"That was an absurd observation," returned Mr. Leigh, "for you are
perfectly free to go now."

"Yes; but he meant _for ever_," Dolly explained. "I am not mistaken,"
she went on. "He said they could get a manager, that my husband's
health was broken, and that the best thing we could do was to go to some
pretty seaside place and live there comfortably upon my money."

Mr. Leigh's face darkened. "I must see to this," he said, speaking
apparently to himself; then added, "Trust me, Mrs. Mortomley, I will do
all in my power for you. I am afraid you have made one false step, but
we must try to remedy it as far as possible. In the meantime most
certainly I should get Mr. Mortomley away for a time. The state of his
health complicates matters very much. Have you--excuse the question, but
I know how suddenly these things sometimes come upon men of
business--have you money?"

"Yes, thank you," she answered. "I have enough for the present; at
least, Rupert has money of mine, and I can get it from him."

"And you will try to remove Mr. Mortomley," he went on, "and pray let me
hear from you, and send me your address. Do not be so despondent, Mrs.
Mortomley. Only get your husband well and everything will yet be right."


She smiled, but shook her head incredulously.

"You are very kind, Mr. Leigh," she said, "and I only hope your pleasant
words may prove true prophecies. If they do not, when once we know the
worst, whatever that may prove, we must try to bear it. I think we shall
be able," added Dolly a little defiantly, drawing herself up about a
quarter of an inch. She was so little she had generally to go about the
world stretched out as much as possible.

"She is not a bad specimen of a woman, if she only knew how to dress
herself suitably," thought Mr. Leigh after her departure, "but I am
afraid she is not the wife poor Mortomley ought to have had at a crisis
like this."

Which was really very hard upon Dolly, who had not the slightest
intention of ever reproaching Mortomley--as a model wife might have
done--because of the ruin that had come upon them.

Rather she was considering as she walked to Fenchurch Street how she
should keep knowledge of this latest misfortune from him.

And then as regarded her dress, so objectionable in the eyes of a man
who knew exactly the sort of sad-coloured garments appropriate for such
an errand as Mrs. Mortomley's, does any intelligent reader suppose it
was one atom too rich or too rare in the opinion of those four young
ladies from Chigwell with whom Mrs. Mortomley travelled on her return
journey?

Nay, rather they reported when they reached their own home, that Mrs.
Mortomley looked nicer than usual, was pleasanter and more talkative
even than her wont, and _beautifully dressed_, they added as the
crowning point in her perfections.

If they had known what Dolly thought about them, they might not have
been so enthusiastic in her praise.

Having no one near at hand in whom she could confide, she marvelled to
herself,

"I wonder whether on the face of the earth there is any creature so
utterly wearisome as a human being."



                              CHAPTER XII.

                           LEAVING HOMEWOOD.


Days passed--days longer than had ever previously been known at
Homewood--the weather, which brightened up for Mrs. Mortomley's visit to
Salisbury House, became on the Sunday as bad as ever again, and
continued rainy and miserable during the early part of the week. The men
in possession did not leave. It was understood they were to be paid. Mr.
Swanland had hoped to get rid of them without going through this
ceremony, but finding the law against him, and having an objection to
part with money, arranged for them to stay on till he had "sufficient in
hand," to quote his own phrase, to settle their claims.

Meantime on the Saturday there had been almost a turn out of the
workmen, who were kept waiting for their wages until it suited Mr.
Bailey's convenience to go down from London to pay them.

They grumbled pretty freely concerning this irregularity; so freely,
indeed, that Mr. Bailey told them if they did not like Mr. Swanland's
management they had better leave. Whereupon they said they did not like
Mr. Swanland's management if it kept them kicking their heels for five
hours when they might have been at home, and that they would leave.

On hearing this, Mr. Bailey drew in his horns, and said they had better
not be hasty, and that he would speak to Mr. Swanland. To both of which
suggestions they agreed somewhat sullenly, and so ended that week.

The next opened with the valuation of the Homewood furniture and other
effects--as a "mere matter of form," so Mr. Swanland declared--but, like
the trustee's, the auctioneer's men took possession of the place as if
it belonged to them, and without either with your leave or by your
leave, walked from room to room making their inventory.

Up to the time of their arrival Dolly had entertained hopes of inducing
her husband to make an effort to get downstairs. For days previously she
had been artfully striving to make him believe his presence in the works
was earnestly needed. She had suggested his spending an evening in the
drawing-room. She had on Sunday drawn a picture of the conservatory
sufficient to have tempted any ordinary invalid to hazard the
undertaking, but Mortomley's malady was as much mental as physical, and
not any medicine she could administer was able to cure that mind
diseased, which, no less than bodily illness, had stricken him with a
blow so sudden and so sharp.

"We will see to-morrow, dear," was all the answer she could ever elicit.

All in vain she guaranteed him immunity from indignant creditors, who
would persist in visiting Homewood in order to recite their wrongs, and
to hope Mr. Mortomley would see _them_ safe at all events; in vain she
promised that not a man in possession should cross his sight; in vain
she spoke of the brighter days dawning before them; in vain she employed
eloquence, and it may be a little deceit.

It was always, "We will see to-morrow;" but once the morrow came, the
evil hour was again deferred when Mortomley should look on the face of
his fair house dishonoured, when he should nerve himself up to pass
where sacrilegious feet had trodden down the beauty and the grace,
destroyed all the sweet memories which once clustered round and about
the place where his father had lived, where he himself was born.

And sometimes Dolly felt angry and sometimes sad, but she never felt
hopeless until those men intruding into the very room where Mortomley
sat listlessly looking out at the gloomy sky, taught him the precise
position he occupied.

With a white face Dolly watched their movements, and when in a short
time they shut the door behind them, she went up to her husband and
kissed his forehead.

"Should you not like to be away from all this?" she asked.

"Yes, if there were any place to which we could go away," was the
answer.

"We must leave," said Dolly, and then--for she was growing wise--she sat
down to calculate the cost.

She wanted to take him to the seaside, but she failed to see how that
was to be managed.

She could have done it by running into debt, for her credit was good at
those seaside places where she had been the idol of landlords and where
tradespeople had delighted at her reappearance. But she had no intention
of going into debt unless she saw some means of being able to repay
those who put trust in her honesty.

She could not take her husband to the seaside, and yet she felt he must
be got away from Homewood. The changed atmosphere of that once charming
home was killing him. With the rare sympathy which women like Dolly,
capable of putting themselves and their interests entirely on one side,
possess, she understood that air breathed by those dreadful men was
death to a person in his state of health; and she racked her brains to
think of some plan by which she might get him away, even for a
fortnight, from the sound of strange voices, from the haunting presence
of Messrs. Turner and Meadows, and the other more insignificant
sheriff's officer.

Not in the worst time they ever previously passed through, had Mrs.
Mortomley experienced such utter misery as that which fell to her lot
after Mr. Swanland took the reins of government.

She knew utter anarchy prevailed in the works. She knew the men were at
daggers drawn with each other, unanimous only in one desire viz., that
of circumventing Mr. Meadows and outwitting his vigilance. She knew the
horses were not properly attended to; and when Lang justly indignant at
the proceeding, told her Bess had been put in one of the carts and sent
out with a load for the docks, Mrs. Mortomley was fain to make an excuse
to get rid of the man, that he might not see the passion of grief his
news excited in her.

Helpless they were, both Mortomley and his wife. Ciphers where they had
once had authority; mere paupers, living on sufferance in a house no
longer theirs; by rapid degrees Dolly was learning what liquidation by
arrangement really meant, and why Mr. Kleinwort had said her husband
would find bankruptcy not all pleasure.

While she was pondering how to get away from it all, how to escape from
the sight of ills she was powerless to cure, and the sound of complaints
to which she was weary of listening, Thursday came, and with a, to her,
startling discovery. Mr. Meadows, who after the first morning or so,
decided it was more comfortable to lie in bed late than to get up early,
had on the Wednesday evening left on Mr. Lang's desk a memorandum
concerning some account-books which he wished sent up to Salisbury
House, said memorandum being pencilled on the back of part of the very
note at the end of which Mr. Swanland had made that inquiry concerning
Mr. Mortomley's letters previously recorded.

This precious morsel Lang carried to Esther, who carried it to her
mistress, who in her turn demanded from Mr. Meadows an explanation as to
how it happened his employer dared to intercept her letters.

Mr. Meadows was civil but firm. He told her Mr. Swanland had a right to
everything about the place or that came into the place. He had a right
to Mr. Mortomley's letters, and inclusively Mrs. Mortomley's. Mr.
Meadows did not think it was usual for a lady's letters to be opened;
but Mr. Swanland had law on his side. He had also law on his side when
he refused to pay the corn-chandler for oats sent in for the horses the
day before the petition was presented. Mr. Meadows had no doubt the man
thought himself hardly done by in the matter, but he must be regarded as
a creditor like every one else.

Further, Mr. Meadows admitted--for Mrs. Mortomley having at length
commenced to speak concerning her grievances, thought it too good an
opportunity to be lost about airing them all--that there might be an
appearance of injustice in setting down small country traders who had
paid for their colours in advance as creditors, but Mr. Swanland could
only deal with the estate as he found it, and if he sent on the goods
ordered, he might have to make up the different amounts out of his own
pocket. Moreover, after various indignant questions had been asked and
answered in a similar manner, Mr. Meadows professed himself unable to
imagine why Mrs. Mortomley had paid, and was paying for the maintenance
of himself and the other two gentlemen in waiting. He was quite certain
Mr. Swanland would not be able to satisfy the creditors if he repaid her
the amount so disbursed.

"I assure you, ma'am," finished Mr. Meadows, "I have often felt that I
should like to mention this matter to you, and would have done so, but
that I feared to give offence. I know you imagine I have taken too much
upon me since I came here; but indeed I have endeavoured to keep
unpleasantnesses from you. In cases like these, if a lady and gentleman
will remain in the house, as you and Mr. Mortomley have done, it is
impossible they should find things agreeable. As I have often said to
your servants, you ought to have left the morning after Mr. Swanland
came down, and then you would have been out of the way of all this."

Having delivered himself of which speech, spoken quietly and
respectfully, Mr. Meadows waited for any observation which it might
please Mrs. Mortomley to make.

She made none. She stood perfectly silent for about a minute.

Then she said--"You can go," and quite satisfied with his morning's
work, Mr. Meadows bowed and--went.

When he had closed the door after him, Mrs. Mortomley rang the bell.

"Esther," she began as the girl appeared, "directly you are at leisure
begin to pack."

"You are going to leave then, ma'am?" said Esther interrogatively.

"Yes, at once. I do not know where we shall go," she added,
understanding the unspoken question. "I must think, but upon one thing
I am determined, and that is not to stop another night in this house
until Mr. Mortomley is master of it again. And if he never is again--"

"Oh! ma'am," exclaimed the girl in protest, and then she burst into
tears.

"Don't cry," commanded her mistress imperiously. "We shall all of us
have plenty of time for crying hereafter; but there are other things to
be done now. Pack your own clothes as well as mine. I will see to your
master's, and tell Susan to put up hers also."

"Do you mean, ma'am, that you mean to leave the house with no one in it
but those men. What will become of all the things?"

"I do not care what becomes of them," was the answer. "Now go and do as
I have told you."

On her way upstairs Esther encountered Mr. Meadows, who about that house
seemed indeed ubiquitous.

"She is a good deal cut up, ain't she?" he said confidentially.

"It is no business of yours whether she is or not," Esther retorted
indignantly.

"Whether she is or not," mimicked Mr. Meadows, "you need not fly out at
a fellow like that. It is none so pleasant for me being planted in such
a beastly dull hole as this. The governor might as well have sent me to
take charge of a church and churchyard. That job would have been about
as lively as this precious Homewood place."

"Pity you and your governor are not in a churchyard together," said
Esther, with her nose very much turned up, and the corners of her mouth
very much drawn down, and her cheeks very red and her chin held very
high. "If there wasn't another trade in the world, I would rather starve
than take to yours."

Having fired which shot--one she knew would hit the bull's eye--Esther
went swiftly on her way, while Mr. Meadows proceeded, the weather being
still wet, to solace himself by smoking a pipe in the conservatory; the
consequence being that when Mrs. Werner, a couple of hours later came to
call upon Mrs. Mortomley, she found the drawing-room reeking of
tobacco.

"They will bring their beer in here next," observed Dolly when she
entered the apartment, and then she flung open the windows and commenced
telling her story, for which Mrs. Werner was utterly unprepared.

She told it with dry eyes, with two red spots burning on her cheeks,
with parched lips and a hard unnatural voice.

She did not break down when Mrs. Werner took her to her heart and cried
over her as a mother might have done.

"Oh! Dolly," she sobbed. "Dolly, my poor darling--oh! the happy days we
have spent together," and then she checked herself, and holding Dolly a
little way off looked at her through a mist of tears.

"Why did I know nothing of this?" she went on. "Dolly, why did you not
write and tell me? I thought everything was going to be straight and
comfortable. I had not an idea you were in such trouble. Yes, you are
right, you must leave Homewood. You have remained here too long
already--where do you think of going?"

"I have not been able to think," Mrs. Mortomley answered. "Advise me,
Lenny. I will do whatever you say is best."

"Will you really, darling, follow my advice for once?"

"Yes--really and truly--unless you wish us to go to Dassell. I should
not like, I could not bear to take Archie there now."

"No, dear, I do not wish you to go to Dassell. We have taken a house at
Brighton for a couple of months, and I am going down with the children
to-morrow. Come home with me this afternoon, and we can all travel
together. That is if Mr. Mortomley is fit to travel. If not you and he
must stay for a few days in town till he is able to follow. That is
settled, is not it Dolly? I have to pay a visit at Walthamstow and will
return for you in less than an hour. You will come, dear."

Dolly did not answer verbally. She only put her arms round Mrs. Werner's
neck and drawing down her face, kissed it in utter silence.

There was no need for much speech between those two women. Dolly had
known Leonora Trebasson ever since she herself was born. They had grown
up together. They had been friends always, and Mortomley's wife felt no
more hesitation about accepting a kindness from Mrs. Werner in her need
than Mrs. Werner would have experienced had it been needful for her in
the halcyon days of old to ask for shelter and welcome at Homewood.

And as the visit was to be paid at Brighton, Dolly did not find the
contemplation of Mr. Werner a drawback to the brightness of the picture.

Perfectly well she understood that when his wife and family were out of
town, he never favoured them with much of his society.

Mr. Werner's god was business, and he did not care to absent himself
for any lengthened period from the shrine at which he worshipped.

"I must just mention this to Archie," Mrs. Mortomley said at last.

"I will mention it to him," proposed Mrs. Werner. "We shall never get
him to come for his own sake, but he will do so for yours."

"Thank you, Lenny," answered Mrs. Mortomley. "It does not signify for
whose sake the move is made, so that it is made."

"Upon second thoughts," observed Mrs. Werner, "I shall not go on to
Walthamstow to-day. I will stay and carry you off with me. You can give
me some luncheon and let the horses have a feed, and that will be a far
pleasanter arrangement in every way."

Dolly laughed and summoned Esther. "Mrs. Werner will lunch here," she
said; "and find Mr. Meadows and send him to me."

"What do you want with that creature," asked her friend, and Dolly
answered, "You shall hear."

Mr. Meadows entered the room and bowed solemnly to its occupants.

"You wanted me, ma'am," he said, standing just inside the doorway and
addressing Mrs. Mortomley.

"Yes. I wished to know if you think Mr. Swanland can answer any
questions that my husband's creditors may put to him, if Mrs. Werner's
horses have a feed of corn--because if not, I must ask her coachman to
put up at the public-house."

Mr. Meadows turned white with rage at this cool question and the sneer
which accompanied it.

"That woman is a fiend," he thought, "and will trouble some of our
people yet, and serve them right too;" but he answered quietly enough,

"I am certain, madam, that Mr. Swanland would wish every consideration
to be paid to you and your friends, and I can take it upon myself to
tell this lady's coachman to put up his horses here."

"You are very good," remarked Dolly. She could not have said, "Thank
you," had the salvation of Homewood depended on her uttering the words.



"Has it come to that?" asked Mrs. Werner as Mr. Meadows retired, and
Mrs. Mortomley answered--

"It has come to that."

Mrs. Werner found it a more difficult task to induce Mortomley to accept
her invitation than she had expected it would prove; but eventually her
arguments and his love for Dolly carried the day, and he agreed to go to
Brighton, and stay with his wife's friend for a week, or perhaps ten
days.

"I must get well," he said, "before the meeting of creditors, and I feel
I can never get well here. You are very, very kind, Mrs. Werner. Dolly
and I will be but dull guests I fear; but you must put up with
our--stupidity."

And he stretched out his thin wasted hand which she took in hers, and
there came before them both a vision of the old house at Dassell,
embowered in trees, with its green lawns and stately park, its low,
spacious rooms, its quiet and its peace, where he first met Dolly in the
summer days gone by.

Looking back over one's experience of life, it seems marvellous to
recollect how few words one ever has heard spoken in times of danger or
of trial; how the once fluent tongue is paralysed by the overflowing
heart; how trouble stands sentinel beside the lips, and bars the
utterance of sentences which in happier times ran glibly and smoothly
on.

In the time of their agony, Mortomley had nothing to say, and his wife
but little.

He made no lamentation nor did she. Ruin had come upon them, and how
they should make their way through it no man could tell; but they were
silent about their griefs. It was upon the most ordinary topics Mrs.
Werner and Mortomley discoursed, whilst Dolly's utterances to Esther
were of the most commonplace description. How a portion of their luggage
was to be sent to Brighton, and the remainder, except the small amount
Dolly proposed taking with her, left at Homewood until further orders.

How Esther was to be certain to look after her own comforts, and
purchase trifling luxuries for herself, how Mrs. Mortomley depended on
her writing every day, and trusting the posting of the letters only to
Lang or Hankins--with fifty other such little charges--this was all she
found to say while packing up to leave the dear home of all her happy
married life in the possession of strangers. _And such strangers._

As she thought of it, Dolly flung open the window and looked out.

Oh! fair--fair home--smiling with your wealth of flowers under the dark
autumnal sky, can it be that when those whose hearts have been entwined
about you are gone, who have loved you with perhaps too earthly a love,
are departed, you shall turn as sweet a face and give as tender a
greeting to the future men and women destined to look upon your beauty
as you did to those who are leaving you for ever?

No, thank God, there comes a desolation of place as there comes a wreck
of person; nature seems to sympathize with humanity, and when the old
owners have been torn from the soil, the soil as if in sympathy grows
weeds instead of flowers--grows a tangle of discontent where sweet buds
were wont to climb.

If in prophetic vision Dolly had been able at that moment to see
Homewood as it appeared six months after, she would have felt comforted.
As it was, she looked forth over the sweet modest home which had been
hers and his with a terrible despair, but she bore the pain in silence.

"First or last," as Esther said afterwards, "she never heard a murmur
from husband or wife."

Which was perhaps why she loved them both so well. With every vein in
her heart that simple country girl, who was not very clever, but whose
heart stood her amply instead of brains, loved the master and mistress
upon whom misfortune had fallen so suddenly, and to her thinking so
inexplicably.

Physically she was not brave, but she would have faced death to keep
trouble from them. She was not possessed of much courage; no, not the
courage which will go downstairs alone if it hears a noise in the
night, but she would have encountered any danger had Dolly asked her to
do so.

It was well Mrs. Mortomley possessed a larger amount of common sense
than any one gave her credit for, otherwise she might have incited her
maid to deeds the execution of which would have filled Mr. Forde's soul
with rejoicing. Dolly sternly prohibited all looting from the premises.
Not a trunk she packed or saw packed, but might have borne the scrutiny
of Mr. Swanland himself, and yet the modest bonnet-box and portmanteau
carried down into the hall failed to meet with the approbation of Mr.
Swanland's man.

"I am very sorry, ma'am," he said, "but I cannot allow these things to
leave the house without Mr. Swanland's permission."

Dolly turned and looked at him. I think if a look could have struck him
dead where he stood, he had never spoken more.

With all the authority of Salisbury House behind him, Meadows quailed at
sight of her face, wondering what should follow.

But nothing followed except this:

"Take those things upstairs at once," she said, turning to Esther and
Lang, "put them in my dressing-room with the other boxes, and bring me
the key of the door."

"I do not know, madam," remarked Mr. Meadows, emboldened by what he
considered her previous submission, "whether you are aware that if you
lock the door we can break it open."

Then Dolly found tongue.

"Do it," she said; "only break open _any_ door I choose to lock, and I
will make things unpleasant for you and your master too. I have endured
at your hands and his what I believe no woman ever endured before, but
if you presume another inch I will have justice if I carry our case into
every court in England."

She did not know, poor soul, her cause had been settled in a court
whence there is no appeal, and for that very reason speaking fearlessly
her words carried weight.

Mr. Meadows shrank out of the hall as if she had struck him a blow, and
Dolly leaning against the lintel of the porch and looking at Mrs.
Werner's carriage and horses, which were framed to her by a wreath of
clematis and roses, felt for the moment as if she had won a victory.

And by her retreat she had; but it is only after the battle any one
engaged can tell when the tide of war began to turn.

It turned for the Mortomleys then. It turned when Mrs. Mortomley lifted
up her voice and defied Mr. Swanland's bailiff. In that moment she
ensured ultimate success for her husband--at a price.

The years are before him still--the years of his life full of promise,
full of hope--that past of bankruptcy, recent though it may be, is,
nevertheless, an old story, and the name of Mortomley is a power once
more.

There is nothing the man is capable of he need despair of achieving,
nothing this world can give him he need fail to grasp, and yet--and
yet--I think, I know, that rather than go forth and gather the pleasant
fruits ripening for him in distant vineyards, rather than pay the price
success exacted ultimately for her wares, the man would have laid him
down upon the bed a man in possession held in trust for his employer,
and died a pauper, entitled only to a pauper's grave.

But no man can foresee. Happily, or else how many would live miserable.

Dolly could not foresee; she could not foretell the events of even
four-and-twenty hours.

But she was nice to others in that her time of trial, and the fact
served her in good stead in the evil hours to come.

"I think," she had said to Esther, "that Lang and Hankins would like to
see Mr. Mortomley before we go. Lang had better give my husband his arm
downstairs, and Hankins can help him into the carriage."

It was nice of Dolly, it was never forgotten about her for ever. It
never will be till the children's children are greyheaded. By the
carriage door stood the pair, hats in hand, tears running down their
cheeks, speaking across Mrs. Werner to their master; their master whom
they had loved and robbed, cheated and served honestly, believed in and
grumbled concerning through years too long to count. And away in the
background were a group of men, the faces of whom appalled Mr. Meadows,
men who would have pumped on him had Mrs. Mortomley given the signal,
who loved their master, though it might be they had not acted always
honestly or straightforwardly by him, and who would at that moment have
done any wickedness in his service, had he only pleased to show them the
way.

With a mighty effort Dolly choked back her tears.

She heard the men say,

"And we wish you back, sir, better."

To which Mortomley replied,

"I hope I shall be better, but you will see me here no more."

"No more." Lang opened the door of the carriage for Dolly, who shook
hands with him and his colleague ere the vehicle drove off.

"No more." Mortomley had said in those two words farewell to Homewood.

No more for ever did a Mortomley pace the familiar walks, or cross the
remembered rooms. No more--no more--with the wail of that dirge in their
ears the men went back to their labour exceedingly sad in spirit.

Mr. Meadows, however, was not sad. He sought out Esther crying in a
convenient corner.

"Well, I am glad they are gone," he exclaimed, "and shall I tell you
why?"

"You can if you like," Esther agreed, wiping her eyes with her muslin
apron, which she had donned in honour of Mrs. Werner, "though for my
part I do not care whether you are glad or sorry."

"Well, when I came here I was told to _watch your mistress_, and it has
not been a pleasant occupation. I told Swanland it was all gammon
thinking she was not on the square. Of course we know all about that,
but he said his information from some one--Forde, I suppose, was clear,
and that money was put away, and I must find out where. As if," added
Mr. Meadows, with a gesture of ineffable contempt, "people like your
people did not fight to the last shot, did not eat the last biscuit
before surrendering. Of course I understand the whole thing, and I have
but to repeat, so far as I am concerned, I am----glad they are gone."

"Let me pass, please," said Esther with a shudder. "I do not want to
hear anything more about you or your master, or Mr. Forde--or--anybody,"
and her tone was so decided, he stepped aside and allowed her to pass
without uttering another word.



CHAPTER XIII.

DOLLY WRITES A LETTER.


It may be questioned whether that particular member of the Mortomley
family, who made ducks and drakes of the Dassell ancestral acres, felt
anything like the grief at losing his patrimony which Archibald
Mortomley endured when he stepped across the threshold of Homewood with
the conviction strong upon him that he should return there no more.

Everything in this world is comparative. To lords temporal and
spiritual, and to honourable gentlemen of the House of Commons, and to
millionaires east of Temple Bar, that clinging of the Irish peasant to
his mud cabin and couple of acres of bog, would seem a most ridiculous
piece of foolery were it not for the bullets with which Patrick
contrives to make such a tragedy out of his comical surroundings.
Nevertheless, eviction means as much misery to the shiftless Hibernian
as his cup is well capable of holding.

This is a fact, I think, we are all rather too apt to lose sight of when
considering the extent of our neighbour's misfortunes.

Because the house is not grand, or the furniture nice, or the wife
beautiful, or the children winning to our imaginations, we are apt to
think the man's loss has been light to him.

Whereas his modest home set about with gods of his own making and
creating, may have been more desirable in his eyes than Chatsworth
itself, and he may mourn over his dead with a grief less palpable, it is
true, because the work-a-day world is intolerant of grief among the poor
and lowly, but as real as that our Sovereign Lady feels for her husband,
or as that wherein the sweet singer of Israel indulged when the
messenger came swiftly and told him though not in words, "Absalom is
slain."

To a business man especially the world is in this respect hard and
unsympathetic.

Because we do not understand his trade, and should not care for it if we
did, we fancy he has regarded his mills, his works, his factory as we
look upon such erections. And yet the place where he has made his money,
or lost it, has been most part of his world to him; as much his world as
camps to the soldier, courts to the diplomatist, ball-rooms to the
beauty, Africa to Livingstone.

A man cannot continue year after year to exercise any calling, if it be
even the culture of watercresses, and not centre a large portion of his
interest in it, and to a man like Mortomley it was a simple
impossibility for his laboratory, his home, his works, his men, his
colours to become matters of indifference to him.

There had been a time when it would have well-nigh broken his heart to
leave Homewood and all its associations behind, but there were bitter
memories now superadded to the sweet recollections of the olden time,
memories which, throughout all the future, he should never be able to
recall save with a galling sense of pain.

The old Homewood was dead to him, and in its place there was a new
Homewood, the thought of which could never cross his mind save with a
sense of shame and degradation.

It had been bad enough for the sheriffs' officers to hold the place in
temporary possession, but when Mr. Swanland sent in his man Mortomley
felt all hope had departed out of his life. If he was ever to do any
good for himself and those belonging to him again, he must first go to
some quiet place where he should have a chance of getting strong once
more, and then having given up Homewood and everything belonging to him,
compulsorily it might be, but still most thoroughly, commence life anew,
commence at the very foot of the business ladder, and strive to work his
way upward to success.

To both husband and wife the sensation of driving for their own mere
ease and comfort through the suburbs of London was strange as though
they had been labouring upon the pecuniary treadmill all the years of
their life. Money anxieties had so long been present with them at bed
and at board, that they found it difficult to realise the fact that they
were free from these fetters.

By comparison beggary seemed heaven to the misery of their late
existence; and Mortomley, weak as he was, seemed benefited by the
change, whilst Dolly, all the time she had a strange feeling upon her of
having started on a pilgrimage without the faintest idea of what her
ultimate destination might prove, still experienced a sense of relief as
mile after mile lengthened itself out between her and Homewood.

Had Mrs. Mortomley and her husband been royal guests, Mrs. Werner could
not have paid them more devoted attention than was the case.

In a great airy bedchamber a fire blazed cheerfully, and on a sofa drawn
close up to the hearth she insisted on Mortomley taking his ease, where
no one could intrude to disturb him.

In the same room she and Dolly had their afternoon cup of tea, and then
Dolly and her hostess repaired to Mrs. Werner's dressing-room, and sat
chatting there until it was time for one of them to dress for dinner, to
which a select party had been invited.

Mrs. Mortomley declined to join that party, but sat idly in a great
arm-chair, watching the progress of her friend's toilette, and thinking
that Leonora grew handsomer as she grew older.

When she was fully arrayed in all the grand apparel in which it rejoiced
Mr. Werner's heart to see her decked, Dolly put her arms round her neck
and kissed and bade her good-night.

"For I shall not see you again till the morning, dear," she said. "If I
want anything I will ask your maid to get it for me. No; I shall not be
hungry, or thirsty, or anything, except thankful to remember we have
made a wise move at last and left Homewood."

"Very well, Dolly," answered Mrs. Werner, humouring her fancy. "You
shall be called in good time to-morrow, so as not to be hurried; and if
you want to write any letters you will find everything you want in my
little room," saying which she pushed aside a curtain and passed into an
apartment scarcely larger than a closet, but fitted up with dainty
furniture, pretty inlaid cabinets, and a few water-colour drawings.

"No one ever comes in here except myself," said Mrs. Werner, "and you
will be quite uninterrupted. See here is note-paper and there are
envelopes. And--"

"Thank you," interrupted Dolly, "but I shall not want to write any
letters again for ever," and with one more good-night and one more
lingering look at the stately figure, which in the pier-glass she had
mentally balanced against her own, Dolly opened the door which gave
egress on to the landing, and stepped swiftly and lightly along the
passage leading to the apartment where she had left her husband.

On the thick carpet the sound of her tread fell noiseless, and failed to
disturb the sound sleep into which Mortomley had sunk. When before had
she seen him slumber so quietly? Dolly sat down before the fire, and
still full of thankfulness for the deliverance from Homewood and its
thousand and one petty annoyances, tried to look out over the future and
shape her plans.

After she had been thus occupied for about half an hour, she suddenly
recollected she had not left with Esther an address which should find
her at Brighton, and vexed at an omission which might cause even a
night's anxiety to a girl who had been so faithful to her, she stole
quietly out of the room, intending not merely to send a note to Esther,
but also a few lines to Rupert and a letter to Miss Gerace, whose
epistles probably had been intercepted by Mr. Swanland.

In the apartment of which Mrs. Werner had made her free, the gas was
lighted. Dolly turned it up a little, and after searching for a pen to
suit her, began her correspondence.

For some time she wrote on without interruption. She finished her short
note to Esther; she scribbled a few hasty words to "My dear little
girl," and was half way through her rambling epistle to Miss Gerace,
when her attention was distracted by the sound of a door shut violently,
and by hearing Mr. Werner pronounce her husband's name in a tone of the
keenest annoyance.

"Mortomley!" he exclaimed. "Damn Mortomley!" which, though perhaps not
an unusual form of expression, fell cruelly on Dolly's ear.

With the pen still in her fingers, she rose from her chair while he went
on.

"I would rather have lost five hundred pounds than that you should have
brought either of them here. A man in business cannot afford to be
Quixotic, and I cannot afford to be mixed up with Mortomley or his
affairs. They must not stay here, that is flat, and they must not go to
Brighton. Make what excuse you like, only get them out of the house."

"I presume you do not mean to-night," said Mrs. Werner, in a voice Dolly
could have scarcely recognized as belonging to her friend.

"Hang it, Leonora," he retorted, "you need not look at me like that. I
suppose I am master in my own house, and have a right to say who shall
and who shall not visit here."

"A perfect right," she replied. "I merely asked a question, and I wait
for your answer. Am I to turn _my friend_ and her husband out of _your_
house to-night?"

"I suppose not. I suppose they must stay," he said; "but, good Heavens,
Leonora, what could you have been thinking of to bring a bankrupt and
his penniless wife here! And I involved as I am with that infernal
Chemical Company, and Forde full of the notion that as Mrs. Mortomley's
money is condemned, at any rate, he can get her to sign some antedated
paper, securing the bulk of her husband's so called debt to him. Upon my
soul it is enough to drive a fellow mad. I tell you I will not be mixed
up with the affairs of people too foolish or stupid to take care of
themselves.

"Forde will get them into some mess they will not readily extricate
themselves from; Mortomley either wants sufficient moral pluck or
physical energy to face the difficulty, and yet you bring them here!"

"They shall not trouble you after to-night," she answered.

"They had better not," exclaimed Mr. Werner, infuriated by her tone.

"And still you used to speak of Mr. Mortomley as your friend," remarked
his wife.

"How often am I to tell you a business man can have no friends except
those capable of advancing his interests, and bankruptcy cuts all ties
of that sort. If Mortomley had been possessed of sufficient common sense
to secure his flighty wife's fortune, there might have been some faint
hope for him; but as matters stand there is none. If her friends do not
come forward, they will have to apply to the parish within six months,
and serve them right too."

Dolly gathered up her letters and laid down her pen, and stole from the
room.

She had heard enough--she had heard how they stood--where lay their
danger--what they had to guard against; and she stood for a moment in
the passage leading to the apartments Mrs. Werner had selected for them,
with her hand pressed tightly over her heart, trying to realize that she
had listened to Mr. Werner's words in her waking moments instead of in a
dream.

And then next moment came the question, "When were they to go."

They could not remain another hour in Mr. Werner's house, that was
certain. She could not take her husband back to Homewood, that seemed
more impossible still. She doubted, though her experience was small,
whether any hotel-keeper would beam with smiles at sight of a sick man
accompanied by his wife and destitute of luggage.

Dolly sat down on the mat outside the bedroom door to think it all over.

They must go somewhere, and at once, where should it be?

She sat there plucking the wool out of the mat in her restless
imaginings, while her head grew hot and her eyes heavy with weary
self-communing; she heard Mr. and Mrs. Werner go down stairs; she heard
the stir and bustle of arriving guests; she listened to the buzz of
talking and the light rippling of laughter, as one drifting out to sea
in a rudderless boat might listen to the voices and the merriment of
those safe on a shore fading away in the distance; she heard the rustle
of the ladies' dresses as they passed in to dinner, and then it came to
her like an inspiration--where she should go.

"I will do it. I will," she said almost audibly, and she turned the
handle of the door gently, and crossing the room caught up her hat and
shawl, and then closing the door behind her, went carefully down stairs,
surveying the country she had to pass through over the bannisters.

Strange waiters were about and she passed through them unobserved, and
sped off to the nearest cab-stand.

There she hired a vehicle, which she left waiting her return some
half-dozen yards from Mr. Werner's house.

The door was fortunately open to admit of some guests invited to "come
in the evening," and she entered with them and, unnoticed save by Mr.
Werner's butler, crossed the hall and ran up stairs.

Arrived at her husband's side she touched him gently.

"Are you rested dear, at all? It is time for us to be going."

"Going!" he repeated, between sleeping and waking, "are we not at home?"

"No love, at Mr. Werner's."

He raised himself a little and looked at her.

"I think I have been asleep," he said. "Oh! now I remember, but I
thought we were to stay here all night. It was arranged that we were,
was it not?"

"Yes, dear, but I find it is not convenient for us to do so. Visitors
have come, and we ought not to intrude under the circumstances. There is
a cab at the door. Can you walk with my arm or shall I ring for
assistance?"

He rose, still looking dazed and bewildered, and she put her arm round
his body and he placed his arm round her neck; it was thus he had with
weak and uncertain steps often paced his room at Homewood.

Trembling over the descent of each stair, she got him at length to the
bottom of the last flight, and then beckoning one of the waiters, she
asked him to help her husband to the door, while she herself searched
for his top-coat and hat.

Whilst she was so engaged the butler appeared,

"Why, ma'am," he said, "you are surely never going back to Homewood
to-night?"

"I find we must go," she answered; "I had forgotten something. I have
left a note for Mrs. Werner upstairs, but do not tell her we have left
until all the company have left. She--she--might be uneasy. I have
borrowed a rug, tell her I will return it in a few days; and help Mr.
Mortomley to the cab. Thank you, good night, Williams," and she put
half-a-crown in his hand.

Poor Dolly! and half-crowns were not plentiful, and likely to be less
so.

The driver touched his horse, and the hansom was out of sight in a
minute.

"I wonder what _that_ means," thought Mr. Williams. "For certain the
governor was in a rare taking when he heard they were here."

But all the "takings" in which Mr. Werner had ever been were as nothing
compared with that which overwhelmed Mrs. Werner when she heard of
Dolly's departure.

She heard of that sooner than Dolly intended; for Messrs. Forde and
Kleinwort, having driven down in the evening to see what pressure could
be put upon Mrs. Mortomley to induce her to do what ought in Mr. Forde's
formula "to have been done long before, make the St. Vedast Wharf people
secure," came straight onto Mr. Werner's house in quest of the missing
lady.

"Mr. and Mrs. Mortomley have gone, sir," explained the butler, who knew
the manager as an occasional guest at his master's table.

"Gone, nonsense!" repeated Mr. Forde, pushing his way into the hall, and
looking askance at the signs of feasting pervading the Werner
establishment with an expression which said plainly,

'Just like all the rest of them. He can give parties while I am standing
on the edge of a precipice. He has no thought for _me_.'

"I assure you, sir," answered the man, "Mr. and Mrs. Mortomley left here
more than an hour ago. I assisted Mr. Mortomley into the cab myself."

"Then I must see Mr. Werner," said Mr. Forde determinedly.

"I am afraid--that he is engaged. We have company to-night, sir."

Mr. Forde turned as if he would have annihilated the speaker.

"He will see me," he shouted; "tell him I am here." And he strode into
the so-called library, the door of which stood open, followed by
Kleinwort, who, perhaps because he felt ashamed, perhaps because he was
cold, looked curiously small and down-hearted.

After all, as he confided subsequently to Mr. Werner, it was none so
pleasant being dragged across country and through town like a dog on the
chain by even a companion charming as Forde.

"Shall I take your hat," inquired Williams, whose ideas of propriety
were outraged by the sight of Mr. Forde seated in Mr. Werner's own chair
in that sacred and solemn chamber, his hat on, his fingers beating the
devil's own tattoo on the table.

"No," he growled, and the man retreated, catching sight as he went of a
significant shrug of Mr. Kleinwort's shoulders.

Almost instantly Mr. Werner appeared. The butler opened the door for him
to enter and forgot to shut it again.

"I want to see Mortomley," began Mr. Forde, without preface of any kind;
"if he is well enough to travel, he is well enough to face his
creditors."

"I will send and tell him you are here," answered Mr. Werner.

"No, I will go to him without any first message being delivered," said
the other with an angry sneer.

"Pardon me," interposed Mr. Werner, "but you will do no such thing. It
is not with any good-will of mine that Mr. Mortomley is my guest, but
since he is my guest he shall not be treated by you or anybody else like
a criminal. If he choose to see you he can do so, if he do not choose
you shall not see him."

"Do you dare say that to me?" asked Mr. Forde.

"Yes," was the reply, "and if you speak in that tone to me, I shall say
a good deal more which you may not like to hear."

"Now--now--now--Werner," interposed Kleinwort, "you are always so much
in too great haste. He meant it not. He would not order about in your
house for ten thousand worlds."

"He had better not," Mr. Werner said, cutting short the thread of Mr.
Kleinwort's eloquence, for he was indignant at being taken from his
guests, and furious at the fact of Mortomley having taken shelter under
his roof, and being instantly hunted there by Mr. Forde. "Williams," he
continued going to the door, and addressing his butler, who was bustling
about the hall,

"Let Mr. Mortomley know Mr. Forde is here, and desires a few minutes'
conversation with him. Now, gentlemen, _I_ must bid you good-night.
Williams will bring you wine or brandy if you only tell him which you
prefer."

"Beg pardon, sir," interposed Williams at this juncture, "but--"

"Did you not hear me tell you to let Mr. Mortomley know Mr. Forde wishes
to see him?" said Mr. Werner, emphasising each word with painful
distinctness.

"Yes, sir, but Mr. Mortomley is gone."

"Gone!" repeated Mr. Werner, while Mr. Forde remarked audibly, "I do not
believe a word of it."

And Kleinwort, pulling his companion's sleeve, entreated him piteously,
"To be impulsive not so much."

"Yes, sir, went away with Mrs. Mortomley in a cab an hour and a half
ago."

"Where did he go to?" asked Mr. Werner.

"Don't know, sir. No orders were given to the cabman in my presence or
hearing."

Mr. Werner stood silent for an instant, then he said, turning to
Williams,

"Ask your mistress to come down here. Say I will not detain her a
moment." And while the man went to do his bidding, he walked up and down
the room evidently as ill at ease as his visitors.

Into the room Mrs. Werner walked stately and beautiful, her rich dress
rustling over the carpet, jewels sparkling on her snowy neck, amid her
dark hair, and on her white arms.

She started at sight of the two visitors, but quickly recovering
herself, gave her hand frigidly to each in succession.

"Ah! but, madam, we have no need to ask if your health be admirable,"
Kleinwort was beginning, when Mr. Werner interrupted his ecstacy with
ruthless abruptness.

"Leonora," he said, "these gentlemen want to know where Mr. and Mrs.
Mortomley have gone. If it is no secret, pray inform them."

"They are here," she instantly replied.

"No, they are not; they left in a cab an hour ago or more. Can you
imagine where they have gone?"

"I cannot imagine that they have left," she answered. "You must be
mistaken."

"If you please, ma'am," here interrupted Williams, who had remained
standing at the door after Mrs. Werner's entrance, with an apologetic
grasp upon the handle, "Mrs. Mortomley left a note for you. She told me
not to mention this till all the company had left, but I suppose, under
present circumstances, it is correct for me to do so."

"I will go for it," Mrs. Werner said, with a little gasp, but Mr. Werner
prevented her intention. "Let your maid do so."

There ensued an awkward pause, during which Mr. Kleinwort, with much
_empressement_, handed Mrs. Werner a chair.

"No, thank you," she remarked, and the pause continued, and the depth
and gloom of the silence increased minute by minute.

At length the maid, having found the note, brought it into the room.

"Give it to me," exclaimed Mr. Forde, trying to snatch it off the
salver, but Mrs. Werner's face warned him of the impropriety he had
committed.

"The note is intended for me, Mr. Forde, I think," she said quietly, and
opened the envelope after a courteous "Pray excuse me."

As she read her face darkened.

"Where are they, where have they gone?" demanded Mr. Forde eagerly.

Mrs. Werner lifted her eyes and looked at him slowly and absently, as if
she had forgotten his existence.

"I do not know," she answered. "Mrs. Mortomley does not say, and I have
not an idea unless they have returned to Homewood. Mrs. Mortomley
unfortunately understood Mr. Werner objected to my having invited her
and her husband here, and she hastened to leave a house where their
presence was unwelcome."

Having unburdened herself of which statement, Mrs. Werner gathered up
her ample skirt, and with a distant bow to both gentlemen left the room.

Mr. Werner went after her.

"Leonora," he said as she ascended the staircase, but she never answered
him. "Leonora," he repeated, but still she made no more sign than if
she had been deaf.

Then following rapidly, he stood beside her on the landing.

"Leonora," he entreated, laying his hand on her arm with a pleading
gentleness difficult to associate with Henry Werner.

She stood quite still and looked at him with an expression he had never
seen on her face before through all their married life, which God pity
any man who ever sees it in the face of his wife, in the face of the
mother of his children.

"Do not speak to me about them to-night," she said. "Hereafter perhaps,
but not now," and her voice was changed and hard as Dolly had heard it.

"Will you give me her note?" he asked.

"Yes, it is your right," and she gave him the paper she held crushed in
her hand, a paper on which Dolly had traced mad words in wonderful
hieroglyphics.

After his guests had all departed, when the house was silent and quiet
and lonely, and he was quite by himself, Henry Werner smoothed out that
crumpled manuscript and read the sentences Dolly had written in her
haste.

There was much she had better have left unwritten, as there is in all
such effusions, much that was feminine and foolish, and passionate and
exaggerated. But it ended with two sentences which burned themselves on
Mr. Werner's brain.

     "If it were not for your sake, darling, I would wish that the man
     you have had the misfortune to marry might be beggared and ruined
     to-morrow--beggared, more completely ruined, more utterly even than
     we have been.

     "As it is, I shall never forgive him--never for ever--never.

                                                              "DOLLY."

With a shiver Mr. Werner folded up Dolly's epistle and placed it in his
pocket-book. Then he did a most unwonted thing for him; indeed, I might
say unprecedented,--he poured out nearly a glass of brandy and drank it
off.

"After all," he thought, "there is more in having a wife who is fond of
her husband than most fellows think. That little woman is as brave over
her sick husband as a hen about a brood of young chickens. I wonder if
she has taken him back to Homewood; or rather I do not wonder, for I
know she would sooner do anything than that."

And in this idea he was perfectly correct; Dolly had found a shelter
for her sick husband, but not at Homewood.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE BEGINNING OF A NEW LIFE.


Off one of the cross roads leading from Stoke Newington and Stamford
Hill to Upper Clapton, there stood a few years back, and still stand,
for aught the writer knows to the contrary, a few pairs of semi-detached
houses, undoubtedly respectable as to position and appearance, but
painfully small in their internal arrangement--houses suitable both as
regarded rent and position for a couple of maiden ladies, for a widow
and her son, for a newly married couple, or for any one in fact whose
family chanced to be as circumscribed in number as his income in amount.

All told, these desirable residences contained only seven rooms; but
the windows of those rooms overlooked, both back and front, pleasant
gardens, and the road in which they stood ended in a brick wall covered
with ivy, so that the inmates were crazed with no noise of passing
vehicles. Altogether a quiet out-of-the-world little Grove, for by that
name it was called, which a person might have wandered about Stamford
Hill and Clapton for ever without discovering, had he not chanced upon
it by accident, or happened to know some one resident in it.

But Dolly Mortomley was familiar with that out-of-the-way nook.

A widow with whom she had been well acquainted in the old Dassell days,
coming to London for the sake of being near her only son, had asked Mrs.
Mortomley to look her out a house, _small_, _genteel_, _cheap_, in a
_respectable neighbourhood_, _readily accessible to the City_--all these
requirements being italicised; and after weary searching, Dolly wrote
down triumphantly that she had found and taken the very residence
described, and that if her friend would send up her furniture, and come
and stay for a week at Homewood while the place was put in order,
everything should be made comfortable for her, so that she might walk,
without any fuss or trouble, into her new home.

Mrs. Baker was the name of the new tenant who took possession of number
eight, in which she lived for nearly two years,--to the great
contentment of tradespeople, tax-collectors, and landlord, for she lived
regularly and paid regularly, as only persons possessed of a fixed
income punctually received, can do.

At the end of that time, however, her son fell ill, and the doctors
advised that she should take him abroad for the winter.

Then ensued a difficulty. She had taken the house on a three years'
agreement, and she did not wish to sell her furniture.

Clearly then, as all her friends said, the best thing for her to do was
to let the house furnished until the end of her term, by which time she
would be able to arrange her future plans.

This was in July. October had now come, and the house was still on
view. Keys to be had at Mr. Stilton's, Blank Street, Clapton, while once
a week the rooms were swept, the furniture rubbed and dusted, and fires
lighted, by a former servant, who having married only a few months
previously, resided in the neighbourhood.

The house would not let furnished. The class of people who require
furnished houses are not those desirous of renting one at about a pound
or five-and-twenty shillings a week, and Dolly had already written to
inquire whether the chairs and tables and other effects had not better
be stored, and the residence let unfurnished.

As she sat plucking the wool out of Mr. Werner's mat, the memory of this
house had recurred to her. They would be quiet there. She could pay Mrs.
Baker's rent without saying who were her tenants. Mr. Stilton knew her
well, and would let her have the keys at once if she said the house was
taken. She would have Susan over, and she would tell no one, except
Esther and Mr. Leigh, and perhaps Rupert Halling, where she and her
husband had taken refuge, and she would nurse him back to health in that
quiet house where not a sound would disturb his rest, for she remembered
Mrs. Baker telling her the people next door had neither chick nor
child--nor piano.

It all came back to her like a vision of safety and peace. There Messrs.
Forde and Kleinwort could not intrude; there they might shut their door
and bar out the world, and not even Mr. Swanland could compel them to
shelter a man in possession; there she could go into her kitchen
undeterred by the thought of strangers loafing around the fire; there
they might have their dry morsel in quietness; there she would be free
from the scrutiny of Mr. Meadows, and the eternal bickering of workmen;
there Mr. Bayley would have no right to come at early morn and dewy eve,
and neither would Mr. Swanland's head and confidential clerk, who
appeared perpetually at Homewood to hear Mr. Meadows' report, and to
make sure the Mortomleys were not interfering with the business, or
making away with goods, or inciting the men to rebellion, or, in a
word, misconducting themselves in any way which should authorise Mr.
Swanland in taking active steps to teach them their true position.

As for Mr. Werner and all their former acquaintances, she tried to
forget she had ever called a human being friend.

"What I have to do now I must do for myself," she decided, as she drove
through the night, her husband's head pillowed on her shoulder. "If we
must pass through the valley of humiliation, it shall henceforth be
alone. We have trod it long enough in sight of the public."

Perhaps she underrated the extent of the responsibility she thus
assumed; perhaps in her anger against Mr. Werner, and her remembrance of
all the misery she had endured at Homewood, she omitted to look on the
other side of the canvas, and see the picture of solitude, anxiety,
poverty, and lingering illness ultimately painted there; but spite of
this, though she took her bold step in haste, she never repented it had
been forced upon her--never, not even when she was weary and
downhearted, not even when the burden seemed greater than she could
bear, did Dolly regret she decided not to take her husband back to
Homewood.

And yet, as she stood at the gate struggling with an unknown lock, her
heart did sink within her for a moment.

It was only for a moment, however, for when after another fight with the
key of the hall-door, she entered the house and lighted the gas with
some matches she had been wise enough to purchase on her way, together
with some other articles, a great sense of security and contentment came
over her, and she felt, so far as she was concerned, if there had not
been a bed or table in the house, if she had been compelled to sleep on
the bare boards, she would cheerfully have done so rather than pass
another night under the same roof with Mr. Meadows or any person of his
profession.

Full of this feeling she returned to the cab, and asked the driver to
assist her husband to alight. Fortunately, he was a strong, capable
fellow, or they must have sent for further assistance.

To her utter dismay, Dolly found it impossible to rouse the sick man to
a sense of what was required from him, the moderate exertion of
struggling to a standing position, and almost in despair she strove with
all her strength to lift him from his seat.

"Let me try, ma'am," said Cabby, and he took Mortomley in his arms, and
the moment after was supporting him on the side-path; then the strange
man and she managed between them to lead him up the short walk and the
little flight of steps leading to the hall door.

"Can we get him upstairs?" Dolly asked in despair, for one look at his
face under the gaslight showed her his illness had returned, that he was
as bad as he could well be.

"We can try, ma'am," was the answer.

"You must stay with him while I run up and light the gas," she remarked.

The man looked at the unpromising staircase, and at Mrs. Mortomley,
panting and out of breath, and shook his head.

"I wouldn't try it if I was you," he said.

They placed him in an arm-chair, and then with mattresses brought from
upstairs, made a comfortable enough couch in the back drawing-room.

When these preparations were completed, Dolly motioned the cabman to
follow her into the hall.

"Haven't you got anybody here with you, ma'am?" he asked, with a rough
sympathy in his voice and manner.

"I am all alone for the present," she answered. "Will you do something
for me?"

"Aye, that I will, if so be I can," was the ready answer.

"First, how much do I owe you?" and when that pecuniary matter was
settled to his entire satisfaction, Mrs. Mortomley said,

"I want you to fetch a doctor. Find one and bring him here as soon as
you can. We won't quarrel about your fare."

"I am not afraid of that," he replied, muttering to himself as he
climbed up to his box, "but I am afraid it is an undertaker rather than
a doctor you will be wanting soon."

He was not absent more than half an hour, but in that time Dolly had
arranged matters somewhat to her mind.

She discovered coals in the cellar, and a few pieces of wood in the
kitchen-grate, and so managed to light a fire in the sick-room. She
carried the chairs, upholstered in damask, and other items of
drawing-room furniture into the front room, and substituted in their
place articles from the upper rooms, which proved that Dolly had no
intention of moving her husband to the first floor for some time to
come.

From the contents of a travelling-bag, which having been taken straight
out to Mrs. Werner's carriage, had escaped Mr. Meadows' scrutiny, she
set out the dressing-table with a few toilet necessaries, and thus it
came to pass that when the doctor arrived he found the house inhabited
not merely by human beings, but by that subtle essence of womanhood
which may be felt but never described.

Already the house was a home, and this man who entered so many houses
which were not homes did involuntarily homage to her achievement.

With a quiet tread he walked to the side of his patient, and stooping
down over him felt his pulse, pulled up his eyelids, drew down the
coverings, and laid his hand on his heart, then placed his own cool palm
on the sick man's forehead. Then leaning his elbow on the mantelpiece,
he proceeded to question Dolly.

"How long has he been ill?"

"Several weeks. I cannot now remember how many," she answered, making a
movement as if to leave the room.

"He won't hear us," said the doctor. "You need not trouble yourself
about that. Some one has been attending him, I suppose?"

"Yes," she answered, "but not in this neighbourhood; we have only just
come here."

"So the cabman told me," he replied. "Has he," indicating Mortomley
with a turn of his head, "been living low?"

"He has had everything the doctor told me to give him."

"Beef-tea, wine, and so forth?"

"Yes, all sorts of wine, and everything we could think of or imagine."

"Just as I supposed," remarked the doctor. "And medicine, of course,
draughts and drops, and those sort of things?"

"Yes; all that was ordered."

"And how does it happen a man in his state of health was out at such a
time of night--out, in fact, at all?" asked the doctor suddenly.

"Because where we lived was killing him," Dolly answered; "because a
dear friend wanted to take us to Brighton with her. And--and--well if I
must tell you, other members of her family did not make us welcome when
we got to her house in London, and I was obliged to bring him here."

"That is right," he said, nodding approvingly. "Always tell the truth to
your doctor. In return I will be frank with you. What your husband
wants is not so much wine, or meat, or change, or anything of that sort
usually recommended, but sleep. If he can rest, and I think he can, that
may save him; but I tell you candidly his recovery will be tedious, and
nothing except rest _can_ save him. Good night. I will not send you any
medicine at present, but I will look round early in the morning, and see
what sort of a night he has passed."

And he held out his hand and departed, and Dolly was left alone.

When she paid the cabman for his second journey she gave him a letter,
and put him upon honour to post it at some pillar-box where the
collections were made at three in the morning.

That letter, written hurriedly and directed in pencil, ran as follows:--

                                                  "Thursday night.

     "Dear Esther,--I have decided _not_ to go with Mrs. Werner to
     Brighton. Directly you receive this, please send Susan to Mrs.
     Baker's. You know the address. I will try to get over to Homewood
     to-morrow, but cannot do so till Susan comes here. Mr. Mortomley is
     very ill. Do not mention where we are to any one till I have seen
     you.

                                            "Yours,
                                               "D. MORTOMLEY."

The cabman was faithful. Though he might never see Mrs. Mortomley again,
he honestly did her bidding, and accordingly about half-past ten o'clock
the next morning Susan arrived, bringing the following note with her
from Esther:--

                                                  "Friday morning.

     "Dear Madam,--I have not kept Susan to take any of her clothes, as
     I wanted to get her away before Meadows was up. I think you will be
     quieter at Mrs. Baker's than any place else.

     "Susan will tell you about Mr. Forde and Mr. Kleinwort; but perhaps
     you have seen them.

     "They were greatly put out at finding you gone. I would not have
     told them where, but Meadows he did. No more at present from

                                     "Your humble servant,
                                                    "E. HUMMERSON.

     "Dear Madam,--I am sorry to hear Mr. Mortomley is so ill again.
     Please do not send Susan here, as Meadows might get talking to
     her."

After reading and re-reading this epistle, Mrs. Mortomley decided not to
visit Homewood for some time to come.



                                 CHAPTER XV.

                         MR. FORDE MAKES A MISTAKE.


Matters were not progressing pleasantly at Homewood. Relieved from his
task of watching Mrs. Mortomley's movements, Mr. Meadows had spent the
evening of her departure in the company of Messrs. Lang and Hankins at
the public-house which they patronised, and the consequence was that he
came downstairs next morning very late, and feeling, after a debauch
following a period of enforced sobriety, not at all himself.

And there was nothing prepared for breakfast which he liked. Turner and
the other man having been first in the field, had finished such
delicacies as Esther had seen fit to set before them, and when at
length Mr. Meadows appeared he found to his disgust nothing to tempt his
appetite. A pot of tea, with sugar and milk accompaniments, a boiled
egg, a loaf, and a small quantity of butter, alone graced the board.

"I can't eat this, you know," said Mr. Meadows, pushing away the egg
with an expression of loathing.

"Well, you can leave it then?" retorted Esther.

"Bring me some ham," he commanded.

"There is not any," she answered.

"Then send for some."

"Send for some yourself, and send the money with it," replied Esther,
who was not destitute of that spice of the virago which gives flavour
and variety to a woman's character.

Mr. Meadows looked at her darkly, then put his hand in his
waistcoat-pocket, and produced some silver.

"Where is Susan?" he inquired.

"She is out," was the curt reply.

"When will she be in?"

"I do not know," Esther answered. "Never perhaps. She has gone after a
fresh place, and that is what I intend to do before long."

"And that is just what you won't do, my fine young woman," he declared,
"for you cannot leave without a month's notice."

"Well, we will see," she replied. "I have not to give notice to you
anyhow. I am not your servant."

"You are Mr. Swanland's, which is about the same thing," was the answer.
"You chose to stay on after he took possession here for your own
pleasure, and you will stay on now for mine, or else we will go before
the nearest magistrate and know what he says on the subject."

But he spoke to space, for Esther, too indignant to listen further, had
already left the kitchen, and he was compelled himself to go out into
the works and send a lad for the viands his soul desired.

He had not finished his repast before a cab drove up, containing Messrs.
Forde and Kleinwort.

Turner, sauntering idly about the lawn, was accosted by them.

"I want to see Mrs. Mortomley," Mr. Forde exclaimed.

"She has not returned. She left yesterday, as Mr. Meadows told you, sir,
with Mrs. Werner."

"Yes; but she has come back here."

"That she certainly has not," was the quiet reply.

The two men looked at each other; then Mr. Kleinwort said,

"We should like to speak just one word with that bright little maid,
Esther I think you call her. Will you tell her so?"

"I will find her myself," said Mr. Forde, and he strode into the house,
followed by Kleinwort. As they entered the kitchen, Meadows, looking
little better for his breakfast, rose to meet them.

"Where is Mrs. Mortomley?" repeated Mr. Forde, evidently believing that
iteration would bring him knowledge.

"At Mr. Werner's sir," Mr. Forde muttered an impatient oath.

"Where is that girl?--Esther, I mean."

Mr. Meadows went in search of her, and when she appeared, Mr. Forde
remarked once again, that he wanted to see Mrs. Mortomley.

"She is not here, sir, she went away with Mrs. Werner yesterday."

"Yes, but she left Mrs. Werner's last night, and you know where she is
now."

The arrow was shot at a venture, but it told. Esther coloured and looked
confused.

"Come now, tell us where she is," said Mr. Forde in his mildest accents.

It was not of the slightest use trying to fence with the difficulty, so
Esther grappled it.

"I do not know, sir," she answered; thinking she might as well tell a
sufficient falsehood when she was about it.

"That is not the truth," remarked Mr. Forde.

"And if I did know where she was, sir," continued Esther, "I should not
give her address to you or any one else without her permission."

"You are all a pack of thieves and swindlers together," observed Mr.
Forde; including, with a comprehensive glance, Meadows and the two men
and Esther, in the statement levelled against the Mortomley
establishment; "and I don't know that I ought not to give you all in
charge for conspiracy. I will send for a policeman, and see if he cannot
induce some of you to find your tongues."

"I wish you would hold yours for a while," interposed Kleinwort. "Fact
is, my good peoples, we want to see that dear, distressed Mrs.
Mortomley, and do much good to her and that poor invalid husband, and
after a day or two it will be too late by far. You come with me," he
added, addressing Turner; "you, I see, have brains and can understand;
let me talk with you."

And so he and Turner walked into the conservatory.

"I will give you one--two--dree--foar--five gold pounds, if you get me
the place where to find our little lady," he remarked.

But Turner shook his head.

"I can't get it for you," he said.

"But that maid so nice knows where she is. You worm it out of her. You
extract that knowledge."

"No, sir," answered Turner. "I will not. I am not aware she has the
slightest idea where her mistress is; but if she has, I am not going to
pump her to please you. Put up your money, sir. God knows I have always
thought badly enough of our calling, but I think it respectable in
comparison to the callings I have seen followed by rich people since I
came here; and badly as I want five pounds, if I could take it to play
the spy on a lady like Mrs. Mortomley, I ought to be shot--that is what
ought to be done with me; and I have no more to say."

"What can these beastly English brutes see in that Mrs. Mortomley to
make them loyal so senselessly," considered Mr. Kleinwort. "She has not
golden hair like mine dear wife, nor eyes so blue; nor presence so
imposing; nor that red and white so lovely; neither is she
house-mistress so clever; nor big brains as have some women. All she
seems to be owned of is a sharp tongue and a big temper. But these Bulls
are so stupid, they like to be goaded; they need not repose at home, as
do we whose heads know no rest abroad."

For above an hour the pair remained at Homewood, thinking what could be
done, but every one about the place they found either senselessly honest
or stupid beyond belief; and at last, wearied and angry, Mr. Forde
returned to the kitchen, and addressing Esther, remarked, "I suppose if
I leave a note here, Mrs. Mortomley will have it?"

Then answered Esther demurely, "I'm sure I don't know, sir; you had
better ask Mr. Meadows."

"What the ---- has Mr. Meadows to do with the matter," inquired Mr. Forde.

"Only, sir, that he sends all my mistress' letters to Mr. Swanland,"
explained Esther, delighted at a chance of at last airing that
grievance.

"What does she mean?" inquired Mr. Forde, turning to Meadows.

"Nothing, sir, only that Mr. Swanland, as trustee, of course opens _all_
letters."

Whereupon Mr. Forde made some remarks about Mr. Swanland, which, though
a true chronicler, I must refrain from setting forth in print.

"I should think, sir," suggested Esther, when the storm had blown over a
little, "that, if you sent a note either to Mr. Leigh or to Mrs. Werner,
my mistress would have it. She is quite certain to send her address to
them."

"Look here, my girl," said Mr. Forde, "I will give the note to you, and
trust to chance. If Mrs. Mortomley has not given her address to you,
which I believe she has, she will within twenty-four hours. Give me pen,
ink, and paper."

And though letter-writing was against all Mr. Forde's principles, he
thereupon sat down and wrote a note to Mrs. Mortomley, stating with what
regret he had heard of her consulting a solicitor, and asking for an
interview which he had no doubt would prove of ultimate advantage to
all concerned, "including Mr. Mortomley himself."

When he had finished, he laid the envelope and a florin on the table and
summoned Esther.

"That is the letter," he remarked.

She took the letter and pushed aside the florin.

"My mistress left me enough money, thank you, sir," she said; "and I
would rather not take any more from any one."

Mr. Kleinwort shrugged his shoulders as she retreated, and his friend
pocketed the florin.

"Asherill had reason," remarked the German.

"What reason, and for what?" asked Mr. Forde.

"He would do nothing with those people," was the reply; "and, my faith,
before you have finished, I think it may come to pass you shall wish you
had let them choose their own lawyer, their own trustee, and liquidated
their own estate for their own selves."

"But you yourself advised--" began Mr. Forde.

"Advised on your story which you swore was true. You said Mortomley was
shamming sick; that the nephew was a rogue and fool combined; that the
little woman had her own fortune secure; that besides, they had made one
great _coup_, and put away money beyond count. Ah! bah! you great,
stupid head--these two, man and wife, have been as senselessly honest as
foolish, as even I, looking around, using my eyes, using my ears, can
see, and you had better have treated them as such. Now I have said my
say, now do as you like for the future."

"You are a clever fellow, Kleinwort, but you do not understand England
or English people."

"That may be well," agreed Mr. Kleinwort, with a face like a judge, all
the time he was laughing to himself at the innocence of his companion.
As for Mr. Forde, what he liked to do in the future was this.

When Mrs. Mortomley received his letter she sent it to Mr. Leigh,
requesting him to attend to it; and although the lawyer considered it a
somewhat curious and involved epistle, he repaired forthwith to St.
Vedast Wharf.

Mr. Forde was within and visible.

"I have called," said Mr. Leigh, after the first ordinary courtesies had
been exchanged, "to speak about a letter you sent to Mrs. Mortomley a
few days ago."

Mr. Forde rose and put his hands in his pockets. "You will not speak to
me about it, my good sir; depend upon that," he observed.

"I think you must have misunderstood me," ventured Mr. Leigh in
amazement.

"No, sir, I have not," was the reply. "I wrote a friendly letter to Mrs.
Mortomley, and instead of coming to me herself she sends a lawyer. I
will have nothing to do with you, sir. There is the door; be kind
enough, as you came through it, to go out through it."

"Certainly," agreed Mr. Leigh, "but--"

"Leave the room, sir," roared Mr. Forde. "Will you go out of the
premises peaceably, or must I put you out?"

"Mr. Forde," remarked the lawyer, "you must be mad or drunk. In either
case I can have no wish to remain in your company. Good morning."

"Leave the room, sir," repeated Mr. Forde. He was one of those men who
think some charm lies in shouting out a certain form of words so long as
any one can be found to listen to it.

"Good morning," said Mr. Leigh again in reply, and he left St. Vedast
Wharf boiling over with rage.

As he proceeded up the lane he met a man with whom he had some
acquaintance--a man recently elected one of the directors of the General
Chemical Company, Limited.

"Why, Leigh," said this gentleman, "where are you coming from?"

"I am coming from being ordered off your premises by your manager,"
replied Mr. Leigh, still white with passion.

"My dear fellow, impossible--"

"Not merely possible, but true," was the answer. "I have a client of the
name of Mortomley, who, some years ago, became acquainted with your
firm, and who has never done a day's good since. He is now in
liquidation, and Mr. Forde wrote a note to Mrs. Mortomley, which I can
show you if you are at all interested in so small an affair, wanting to
see her. She did not want to see him, and so sent his communication on
to me; but when I went to speak to him he flamed out on me as if I had
been a pickpocket, ordered me off the premises, and behaved, as I told
him, as if he were either mad or drunk."

"Humph!" said the new director. Mr. Forde had within the previous
half-hour dealt himself a worse card than had ever before lain in his
hand. "If you want an apology, Leigh, the idiot shall send you
one--but--"

"Apology!" repeated the lawyer, "do you suppose I would accept one if
the maniac sent it; but look to yourself, Agnew. There is something
awfully rotten about your company, or I am much mistaken."

"I quite agree with you," was the reply; and the pair parted company;
but instead of entering St. Vedast Wharf, Mr. Agnew turned along a
cross lane, and thought Mr. Forde over quietly and at his leisure.

When he had thought him over he retraced his steps, and entered the
offices, where Mr. Forde greeted him as though he had never spoken an
insolent or unkind word to any one.

"Fine morning, sir," he declared. It was a curious fact that the moment
the Mortomleys left Homewood the rain ceased.

"Yes, very fine," Mr. Agnew agreed, walking to the window. He was the
most silent person Mr. Forde had ever encountered. He wore his hair
parted down the middle, he used scent, his hands were very small and
white, his clothes came from a West-end tailor, and he had married the
daughter of some country magnate. Altogether, every one liked him at the
board, because he did not interfere, because he was a gentleman, and
because, as one of his fellow-directors said,

"He is a HASS. If you want my opinion of him, that's what he is--a
HASS."

And so nobody feared and no one cultivated him, and he moaned about the
premises at various hours, asking unconnected questions, looking at the
books in a desultory sort of way, tolerated at the wharf as a simpleton
might have been, and seeing much more than any one gave him credit for.

One of the questions he asked Mr. Forde quietly and in a corner on that
especial day related to the estate Mr. Swanland was liquidating.

"About Mortomley now," he said confidentially.

"I am sorry to tell you, sir, I have been entirely deceived in that
blackguard," answered Mr. Forde. "I trusted him as I would my own
brother, and he has run away with I should be sorry to say what amount
of money; but we shall catch him yet I hope," added Mr. Forde; "and
Swanland says there will be a capital dividend. But one does not know
who is honest, one does not, indeed. I shall never advise giving another
man time."

"I really do not think I should were I you," said Mr. Agnew. "It makes
matters unpleasant if things go wrong."

"Aye, that it does," said Mr. Forde, "though that would not matter much
if all my directors were such Zanies as you," he added mentally.

For it was a curious fact that Mr. Forde conscientiously believed if he
could only be rid of the interference of his directors for a month, or
obtain an entirely new set whom he could direct as he pleased, fashioned
perhaps upon the model of Mr. Agnew, he should be able to make such play
with the resources of the Chemical Company, that he might raise it to
the pinnacle of commercial success.

Beyond keeping his situation he had really very little good for himself,
notwithstanding his man[oe]uvring, notwithstanding the risks he had run,
the almost maddening anxieties in which he had managed to entangle
himself.

Heaven knows the game had not been worth the candle, but then, when a
man begins a game, he cannot tell the end; and when the game is ended,
it is too late to fret about the cost.

If ever an essentially round person had the misfortune to be placed in a
square hole, that person was Mr. Forde; and not all his loud talk and
vehement self-exertion could fill the vacant corners or give him any
real sense of security in his position.

Nevertheless, to that position he held on as a man might cling to the
last to a sinking vessel.

So long as he could keep his head above water at St. Vedast Wharf, there
was hope that some friendly ship might rescue and bear him off to
safety.

"You wait," said Kleinwort to him, when they were discussing the
pig-headedness of the directors and the general and disgusting
ingratitude of small customers, who would keep failing, and thus drew
attention to those accounts which were of regal magnitude. "You wait; do
not inquiet yourself more than you can avoid. I have one idea that we
should be able to do much good together. Once I make a great _coup_ that
is in mine head, then we shall see much. Amongst more if Bertrand
Kleinwort cannot put a fortune in the way of his friend."

"Thank you, Kleinwort," replied Mr. Forde gratefully. "I know I can
trust _you_."

Which showed an amount of faith difficult to conceive of any one
possessing in the sceptical nineteenth century.

But Mr. Forde had an enormous capacity for believing in things he
desired should come to pass.

And this was really a great pity.



                              END OF VOL. II.



                         PRINTED BY TAYLOR AND CO.,
                LITTLE QUEEN STREET, LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS.



Transcriber's Note: Minor changes have been made to spelling and
punctuation. For example, the word hold was changed to holding and
neighbourood to neighbourhood. The oe ligature is shown as [oe].





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