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Title: Mortomley's Estate, Vol. III (of 3) - A Novel
Author: Riddell, Charlotte Elizabeth Lawson Cowan
Language: English
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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. III.



                                  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. THE MEETING OF CREDITORS                   1

    II. ONE FRIEND MOST FAITHFUL                  29

   III. WHAT MR. LANG THOUGHT                     58

    IV. MORTOMLEY'S BLUE                          86

     V. MR. SWANLAND'S CRUMPLED ROSE-LEAF        107

    VI. SAUVE QUI PEUT                           126

   VII. MORTOMLEY UNDERSTANDS AT LAST            142

  VIII. MR. WERNER ASKS A FAVOUR                 165

    IX. THE NEW YELLOW                           187

     X. A BROKEN REED                            203

    XI. TWO UNWELCOME VISITORS                   231

   XII. MRS. MORTOMLEY BREAKS THE NEWS           256

  XIII. SAD CONFIDENCES                          270

   XIV. WHAT RUPERT HAD DONE                     285

    XV. MR. ASHERILL IS PERSUADED                298

   XVI. CONCLUSION                               324



                          MORTOMLEY'S ESTATE.



                              CHAPTER I.

                      THE MEETING OF CREDITORS.


If any person ever questioned the wisdom of Mr. Asherill in taking for
his partner that perfect gentleman Mr. Swanland, his doubts must have
been dispelled had he chanced to be present at the meeting of
creditors--_re_ Archibald Mortomley.

Mr. Asherill himself would have felt proud of his junior, had his
principles permitted of his attending on the occasion.

There was a judicial calmness about Mr. Swanland, which produced its
effect on even the most refractory member of that motley throng.

It would have been almost as easy for a creditor to question the
decision of a Vice-Chancellor, as the statements of that unprejudiced
accountant.

If Mr. Swanland did not fling back his coat and unbutton his waistcoat,
and tear open his shirt and request those present to look into his
heart, and see if falsehood could there find a resting-place, he, at
least, posed himself as Justice, and held the scales, I am bound to
state, with strict impartiality between debtor and creditor.

His worst enemy could not say he favoured either. If his own brother had
gone into liquidation, he would not have turned the beam against the
creditors in favour of that misguided man.

Even-handed justice was meted out in Salisbury House. The old fable of
the two animals that stole the cheese, and asked a wiser than themselves
to decide as to the share to which each was entitled, was put on the
boards there, and acted day after day, and with a like result. In their
earnest desire to be perfectly impartial towards both sides, Messrs.
Asherill and Swanland ate up the cheese themselves.

If this proceeding failed to satisfy either creditor or debtor, it was
no fault of theirs.

No one could say they had shown favouritism; and, indeed, it would have
been very wicked if any one had, since Mr. Asherill--and inclusively Mr.
Swanland--always declared each estate as it came, and was liquidated,
left them losers by the transaction. Nevertheless, the villa residences
of both gentlemen bore no evidence of poverty; on the contrary--though
had either partner taken the trouble to visit the houses of those who
were so ill-advised as to go into liquidation instead of bankruptcy, he
would have found that the "friendly arrangement" carried on under the
paternal eye of Mr. Asherill, or the dispassionate gaze of Mr. Swanland,
had not resulted in any increase of luxury for the debtors or their
families.

Like his senior, however, Mr. Swanland was utterly indifferent to the
ruin of his clients, so long as he compassed his own success.

Heaven forbid I should say that all men of his profession are cast in
the same mould, but there can be no question that the new law throws a
fearful amount of power into the hands of any one who likes to use it
for his own advantage, and places at the same time any trustee who
desires to deal leniently with a bankrupt in a position of unpleasant
responsibility.

To put the matter plainly, if a trustee has a fancy for the cheese, he
can eat it himself, rind and all; but if he thinks this creditor has
been hardly done by, or that the debtor is a poor devil, really very
much to be pitied, he had better take care how he gives expression to
such sentiments.

It is far wiser to adopt Mr. Swanland's _rôle_, and please nobody, than
run the risk of trying to please anybody but himself.

But at a meeting of creditors when his mission was to tell a flattering
tale and get the ear of the assemblage, Mr. Swanland was a man of whom
his partner felt justly proud.

What could be neater than the way in which he placed the state of
affairs, _so far as his information went_, before the bulls of Bashan
with whom he had to deal.

Like oil on the waters came the flow of Mr. Swanland's fluent tongue.

He uttered no disparagement of Mortomley. His position was unfortunate,
doubtless, and so was the position of his creditors, but Mr. Swanland
was pleased to inform the meeting that he expected the estate to return
a very good dividend; a very good dividend indeed.

From what he could hear and from what he had seen, he was justified in
saying a large profit could be realized by carrying on the works. There
were a fine plant, an extensive connection, and a considerable amount of
stock.

It was perhaps unfortunate that Mr. Mortomley had not sooner taken his
creditors into his confidence; but, said Mr. Swanland with a touching
humility that might have done credit to Mr. Asherill himself, "we are
all liable to error."

"Mr. Mortomley acted for the best, no doubt." Here there was a murmur of
dissent from the bulk of the audience, "but whether it has proved for
the best or not in the past, at all events he has acted wisely in the
present by relinquishing everything to his creditors."

Here one sceptical wretch suggested "he hadn't given anything up till he
couldn't help hisself."

Which was indeed a statement too perfectly true to be controverted.

Mr. Swanland therefore glossed it over. "No doubt," he said, "Mr.
Mortomley would have done better for himself, and--others--had he
consulted his friends and creditors at an earlier stage of his
embarrassments, but even as matters stood, it afforded him, Mr.
Swanland, much gratification to be able to state that no real cause
existed for the gloomy view of affairs taken by a few of the gentlemen
in the room.

"He begged to be allowed to lay before the meeting a statement of Mr.
Mortomley's liabilities and probable assets." Which he did.

It was no part of Mr. Swanland's policy at this period to cover his
canvas with dark colours.

Rather he went in for Turneresque effects, and threw a lurid light upon
the profits which might be expected from the continuance of the business
under _proper supervision_; from the leasing of Homewood and its grounds
to a suitable and responsible tenant; from the sale of the effects; from
the collection of the outstanding book debts, and the appropriation of
the remaining portion of Mrs. Mortomley's fortune.

When he came to this last part of his story, over which he was rather
inclined to slur, as an inexperienced pianist slurs a difficult passage
in a new piece of music, the knowing ones amongst the creditors pricked
up their ears, and one of them, a gentleman who was quite as sharp in
his way as Mr. Gibbons, and a vast deal more honest, said,

"If you tell us, Mr. Swanland, how much the estate can pay in cash now,
we had better take that amount than await the result of liquidation;
whether it be a shilling, half-a-crown, or five shillings in the pound,
I say let us all agree to take whatever the estate can pay, and give the
bankrupt his discharge. Then if he is honest he can begin again and pay
us all off; and if he is not honest, we shall not be one bit worse off
than if we allow the concern to go on and stand by watching the whole
estate eaten up by lawyers and accountants."

There was a horrible pause; a pause during which Mr. Forde turned sick
with terror and Mr. Swanland white with rage, and more than one
non-fluent creditor cleared his throat and wetted his lips preparatory
to following the suit of the last speaker, and expressing his own humble
opinion about the subject on hand.

That pause was broken by Kleinwort.

"I mean not to be rude," he began in his broken English, which was no
better and no worse than on that evil day (for England) when he first
landed at Folkestone, "but might I make bold to inquire how large is the
little stake of that last speaker so confident, in the estate of our
poor sick Mortomley?"

"Our little stake, Mr. Kleinwort," answered the opposing creditor, "is
not quite three hundred pounds; but still three hundred pounds is more
than I and my partner care to lose totally if we can get anything out of
the fire. To the majority of people, this liquidation business is as a
new toy. Creditors are delighted with it at first. We have had some
experience of its working, however; and when a man goes into bankruptcy
we write his account down "doubtful," when he goes into liquidation we
write it off "bad."

Then arose a babel of tongues. Mr. Forde, Mr. Kleinwort, Mr. Gibbons,
and a host of other creditors, talking all at once, none listening.

To all intents and purposes there was not the slightest necessity for
this expression of opinions. Mortomley's affairs had been all settled
before the meeting of his creditors was convened. Forde had spoken, and
Kleinwort had spoken, and a few other people besides, who amongst them
virtually arranged the programme of his business future; and though an
Act of Parliament rendered this crush, by intimation, indispensable as
a matter of formality, it was, in reality, perfectly useless as a matter
of fact.

The only possible pleasure or advantage the most persistent of the
smaller creditors could derive from attending the meeting, was the
opportunity it afforded him of bemoaning his own hard fortune, and the
wickedness of Mortomley in having omitted to settle his little account
at all events.

It did not signify in the least that to these lamentations no one
listened, unless, indeed, some man gifted with a louder voice and
greater powers of endurance than his neighbours compelled the attention
of the trustee, who was always able to silence him with some calm and
plausible answer,--the indignant creditor had spoken aloud and "given
them a piece of his mind straight out,"--while, so far as Mr. Swanland
was concerned, his experience had taught him that these ebullitions were
all so many safety valves which prevented the possibility of any serious
explosion damaging his interests.

At last it became patent even to the representative man who always
announces his intention of "attending the meeting personally," of
"seeing to his own matters for hisself," and who generally tells the
assembled company that all he wants is his money--and his money he will
have--that the large creditors were with the trustee; and as the
trustee, they considered, must be friendly to Mortomley, there was no
use in pushing opposition further.

And indeed there was not. A certain number of creditors who did not
"wish to do Mr. Mortomley any harm," who had found Mr. Mortomley a very
fair dealing gentleman, and hoped he would get through his trouble all
right, had readily agreed to everything Mr. Benning's managing clerk
proposed in Mr. Mortomley's interest, and the result was that the amount
required and the numbers required to carry a majority had all been made
up long before the meeting.

Nevertheless, as he blandly suggested, Mr. Swanland liked to see
unanimity amongst the creditors. Kleinwort backing him up with a remark
to the effect that "the goods of one was for the goods of all."

"If I get my money," he observed to one splenetic individual, "you get
your money. If I get not mine, you get not yours; but look how big is
mine besides your little dot; and I am content to wait and believe. Be
you content too."

Over the choice of the gentlemen who were to form the committee of
management, and who were popularly supposed to be placed on a higher
pinnacle of power than that occupied by Mr. Swanland, there proved,
however, more difficulty than the trustee bargained for.

Not that it mattered materially to him; but opposition in any shape
chafed a temper by no means angelic, induced to a certain degree,
perhaps, by a digestion far from good.

And whatever was proposed, Mr. Gibbons and the gentleman who entertained
that rabid antipathy against lawyers and accountants set themselves
determinedly to oppose; the last individual illustrating his remarks
with a candour which, if some people in the City did not fear the
strong lights of a court as much as ladies of a certain age dread the
unflattering glare of sunshine, would infallibly have produced more than
one action for libel.

The only real fun which could be taken out of the meeting arose from
this person's comments on the capabilities for evil and impotency for
good possessed by the various candidates mentioned, and the assemblage
was almost restored to good humour when his plain speaking culminated in
a direct attack on Mr. Gibbons concerning the very estate on the
management of which that gentleman had prided himself so much when
addressing Rupert Halling.

"If I had known Mortomley contemplated any step of this kind," he
finished, "I would have taken out a debtor's summons and forced him into
the Bankruptcy Court, which he may still live to wish I had done. I hate
hole-and-corner work, and all this management of a man's assets and
debts in any shabby office on a two-pair back, with some fellow out of a
loan-office, or who has been clerk to some disreputable attorney for
trustee."

"I apprehend, sir," Mr. Forde was beginning, when Mr. Kleinwort
interposed.

"It is of no good use, Forde, talking to this gentleman gifted with so
much language. He thinks he is on the floor of your House of Commons, or
making his last address to his British public from an Old Bailey dock."

"Bravo! Kleinwort," said Mr. Benning, as a peal of laughter rewarded
this utterance.

"German thief," observed his adversary, quite audibly. Then addressing
the assemblage, added, "If you are all such idiots as to believe in any
statement of accounts dished up at a meeting of creditors such as this;
if you refuse to back me up, and are afraid to fight for the recovery of
your own money, it is of no use my speaking any longer. I wish you joy,
gentlemen, of the dividend you will receive out of this estate."

And with a mocking bow he left the room followed by Rupert Halling, who,
slipping his arm through his, walked with him along Cannon Street,
saying,

"I wish--I wish we could undo all that has been done in this matter;
that my uncle's estate could have been arranged anyhow except in
liquidation."

"Well, it cannot now, and there is no use in fretting about the matter,"
was the reply. "Of course I knew if I talked till Doomsday I could do no
good; but I never intend to cease talking till we get some decent sort
of Bankruptcy Act. Tell your uncle I bear him no malice, and that I
shall be glad to know he has got out of this affair better than I
expect. It was not for the sake of the money I spoke, but because I hate
to see a good estate eaten up by such fellows as Asherill and Swanland.
By the way, that is bad about Mrs. Mortomley's money. How could her
husband be such an idiot as not to make her safe!"

"The men who make themselves and families safe are those who let their
creditors in," said Rupert sententiously.

"I expect you will find, when Swanland has finished manipulating the
estate, that your uncle has let his creditors in to a pretty tune,"
answered the other.

"At any rate he has given up everything he had on earth," remarked
Rupert.

"So far as I am concerned, I would much rather he had kept everything
himself than given it to Swanland. I should like to meet that
congregation of asses," and he pointed back towards the Cannon Street
Hotel, "two years hence, and hear what they think of liquidation by
arrangement then."

"I must get back now. I want to hear the resolutions," said Rupert.

"Call at my office as you return and let me know the names of the
committee," observed the other; but Rupert had not the slightest idea of
doing anything of the kind. He had promised Dolly to see her
husband--who was at that moment under the same roof with his creditors,
ready to answer any inquiry they might see fit to put--safe home, and he
meant to fulfil that promise, though home now meant to his uncle merely
that little house at Clapton--though the dear old roof-tree at Whip's
Cross might shelter him or his no more for ever.

By the time Rupert re-entered the room, Mr. Swanland had been able to
complete the arrangement of Mortomley's affairs to his satisfaction.

The working of the Colour Manufactory was to be continued. A committee
of five persons was appointed, and those five persons were Messrs. Forde
and Kleinwort; an opposition colour-maker who, having ordered and paid
for some carmine which had not been delivered before the final crash,
was thus enabled to take out much more than the value of his money, in
helping to undermine the Homewood works, and keep Mortomley himself out
of the trade; that friendly creditor who knew nothing of the City, or
City ways, and was therefore quite as good as no-one; and a certain Mr.
Lloyd, who said he had no objection to serve on the committee if by
doing so he could in any way serve Mr. Mortomley.

In all questions, save one, the majority was to decide any subject in
dispute. That one excepted question was the important item of Mr.
Mortomley's discharge.

Excepting the five were of one mind on that point, Mr. Mortomley's
discharge could never take place. Unless, indeed, he paid ten shillings
in the pound--which seeing the power of paying anything had virtually
been taken from him, was, to say the least of the matter, an extremely
improbable contingency. The gentleman, however, who wished to serve Mr.
Mortomley, and Mr. Gibbons, and Mr. Leigh, and a few others, having
taken counsel together, a rider was, with much difficulty, appended to
the proceedings in the shape of a resolution to the effect that if the
committee failed to agree on the subject of the discharge, it should be
competent for the bankrupt to refer the matter to another meeting of his
creditors, said meeting to be called at his own expense, which, though
plausible enough in theory, was a reality no man in Mortomley's
position could ever hope, unless a miracle were effected in his favour,
to compass.

Moreover, the question of an allowance to Mr. Mortomley was left to the
judgment of the committee, and thus everything having been done quite
according to law, Mr. Swanland was installed solemnly as trustee and
manager of the Mortomley's Estate, and could, the moment he left that
room, snap his fingers at all the credulous folks there assembled, Mr.
Forde included in that number--Mr. Forde, who expected to sway him as he
had swayed other trustees, and who certainly when he elected that Mr.
Asherill's perfect gentleman should fill the post of liquidator, never
intended his nominee to draw as hard and fast a line against him as
against the other creditors.

Very soon, however, he was destined to be undeceived.

He tried to get Mortomley's bills renewed, but Mr. Swanland refused to
give him Mortomley's address, and warned him that if he did succeed in
obtaining the bankrupt's signature, the documents would not be worth
the paper they were written on.

He sent goods to Homewood, but they were returned on his hands.

"I must buy in the best market," said Mr. Swanland. "I am but the agent
for the creditors, you will please recollect, and have no power to show
favour to any one."

"What the devil do you mean?" inquired Mr. Forde.

"I must buy good articles at the lowest cost price," was the reply; "and
your articles are not good, and they are, further, extremely dear!"

"I rather think you forget yourself, sir," said Mr. Forde in his
loftiest manner. "You forget I made you trustee of this estate."

"I do not forget; but the days of Queen Victoria are not those of
Elizabeth," was the reply. Mr. Swanland, in his hours of elegant
leisure, had occasionally met literary people, and though he distrusted
them, stored away their utterances and quotations.

"Can't you talk English," asked Mr. Forde in reply.

"Certainly, though I should not care to talk it quite so plainly as did
her Majesty. She said, 'I made you, proud prelate, and by ---- I will
unmake you!' I say, 'You brought this estate to me, and I intend to wind
it up honestly without fear or favour.'"

"Damn you!" said Mr. Forde with a sincerity and vigour the Virgin Queen
herself might have envied.

Like Mortomley, whom he had netted, he found himself utterly taken in.

"Would to God!" he remarked, with that reference to a supreme power
people are apt to make when they have exhausted the resources of all
their own idols and found them really of very little avail, "Would to
God! I had left the management of Mortomley's Estate to that fool
Mortomley himself and his solicitor. They would have considered ME, and
this selfish brute will not."

Which was indeed quite true. A man had always better by far place
himself in the hands of a man who is a gentleman, even if he be a fool,
than of a man who is a cad, even though he be wise.

Save through misadventure, the gentleman will not throw over even a cad;
but the cad waits his opportunity and throws over friend and foe, gentle
and simple, with equal impartiality.

Mr. Swanland did at all events, and therein, situated as he chanced to
be, he was wise.

For with the best intentions in the world, Mr. Forde had hitherto always
managed to bring those trustees who were simple enough or dishonest
enough to do his bidding to ultimate grief.

When Mr. Swanland spoke of the Manager of the General Chemical Company
as so mentally short-sighted that he could only see to twelve o'clock
that day, he described his character to a nicety.

Probably, through no fault of his own in the first instance, Mr. Forde
eventually found himself traversing a path which led him at one time
along the brink of a precipice, at another across a country intersected
by deep ravines and dangerous gulleys, and any man who had fully
realised the peril of his position must either have abandoned the idea
of going further in despair, or have so utterly lost his head as to have
been dashed to pieces long before the period when this story opens.

But Mr. Forde did not realise his position, or the position of the
General Chemical Company.

He had faith if he could only hold out long enough relief would come--to
him--or to the Company. Naturally he hoped it would come to him first,
in which case he confided to a few chosen friends the fact that, if he
were to walk out of the place, the directors would have to close the
wharf-gates within four-and-twenty hours, but if relief were to pay a
preliminary visit to the Company, he knew such a stroke of good fortune
must ultimately benefit him.

With all his faith, and he had much, he believed Mr. Asherill's partner
if appointed trustee of Mortomley's Estate would be with him
hand-and-glove, and when he found Mr. Swanland was not inclined to be
hand-and-glove with any man, he bewailed in no measured terms his evil
fate to Kleinwort, who only shrugged his shoulders and said,

"You had better much have trusted the sick man and the little lady and
the swaggering nephew; you had by far best have had good temper, and not
have run to lock them up in liquidation, with your lawyer, your trustee,
your committee. That Leigh man might have been turned round a
finger--mine--and the little lady and the sick man, had you spoke
pleasant, would have gone on trying hard to do their best for another
year at least calculation. Those thousands, Forde dear friend, those
thousands! Oh! it does break mine heart to call to mind they were so
near and are so far! That demon Swanland he will liquidate it all; and
we--you Forde and I Kleinwort--we might have dealt with it had I known,
had you not spoken so hard to the little woman. I am not much of
superstitious, I do hope, dear friend, and yet I feel this will be a bad
mistake for us."

Whereupon Mr. Forde bade him hold his tongue if he could not use it to
some pleasanter purpose.

But Mr. Kleinwort refused to hold his tongue. "It was not good to lay so
many stakes upon that Archibald Mortomley horse," he persisted. "Bah!
One that could not, in your charming English, stay, that was a roarer,
so short of mercantile breath when you dug your spurs in and flogged him
with your heavy whip he dropped down as dead. It was a mistake, and then
you made bad worse with the little lady, and for this reason we shall
all suffer; we shall all cry and make bitter lamentation."

"Kleinwort, you are enough to drive a fellow mad!" expostulated his so
dear Forde.

"Yes, yes, yes. I know all that," said the German. "You never want to
hear no speech but what is pleasant and comfortable. You will not listen
to warning now, but the bad day may be nearer at hand than you think,
when you will say to me, 'You had reason, Kleinwort,'--when you will
make remark to others, 'I thought Kleinwort babbled all nonsense, but
his words were true words.'"

"Well, whether they prove true or false will not help us in this
Mortomley affair now. One good thing is the business being still carried
on. That is in our favour."

"You had better make much use of that while you can," was the reply,
"for it will not be carried on very long."

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Forde.

"Just the very thing I say--unlike you English, who always mean not what
they say. Swanland will stay colour-maker for while there is money to
lose and to spend; but you, even you my good Forde, must know he cannot
so conduct that affair as to induce those big works to pay anybody but
himself."

"I fail to understand you."

"Could you go down and make those works, of which you know nothing,
yield big profits?"

"Of course I could," was the confident answer.

"Ah! but you are so clever," said Kleinwort with a sneer, which was
lost on his companion. "I did forget you had managed so long and so well
the Wharf Vedast. It is not many who could bring such talents as you.
Swanland has them not most surely, and so I say the Colour Works will
stop one day like--that,"--and Mr. Kleinwort clapped his hands together
with a suddenness which made his companion jump.

"But he is making an enormous profit," remarked Mr. Forde.

"Ah! well, we see if we live, if we live not, those who do will see,"
answered Kleinwort, with philosophical composure, as he parted from his
companion.

"I wonder what has come to Kleinwort," thought Mr. Forde; "until lately
he was always hopeful, always pleasant. I hope to mercy nothing is going
to happen to him." And at the bare idea, self-suggested, the manager
turned pale. "Good Heavens! what would become of me in that case?" was
the unspoken sentence which flitted through his mind.

But comfort came to him next instant, in the reflection that let
Kleinwort's faults be what they might, they did not include any
inclination to deceive his friend.

"He would tell me; he would give me fair warning; if there were a leak
anywhere, he would not keep the misfortune secret from me," were the
assurances with which he restored his own courage. While all the time
the little German was mentally considering,

"That orange is about squeezed dry. A short time more and our dear Forde
will have no more cause to be anxious about the affairs of Kleinwort.
His mind will be set quite at rest. Bah! The easement will come sooner
than I intended, but it is a wise man can read the signs of the weather.
That new director would spoil our little game if I stopped it not
myself. Yes, it is nearly over, and it is well, though I should like to
have played on a little more, and kept Forde like the coffin of Mahomet
hanging for a time yet longer."



                               CHAPTER II.

                        ONE FRIEND MOST FAITHFUL.


It was Christmas Eve, and Mrs. Mortomley in the little house at Clapton
sat "counting out her money."

This ought not to have been a long process, for her resources had sunk
very low. Three months had elapsed since her husband's estate went into
liquidation, and for those three months, first at Homewood and next at
Clapton they had been living on that sum which Rupert's foresight saved
from the general wreck, so that the sovereigns lying in Dolly's lap were
easily counted. Nevertheless, as though she fancied they might grow more
numerous by handling, she let them slip through her fingers one by one,
whilst her eyes were fastened, not on the glittering gold, but on the
firelight as it now flashed over the small room and again seemed to die
away altogether.

She was quite alone in the house. Susan had gone out marketing, and
Esther, who had long left Homewood, was visiting her relations in order
to benefit her health, which had suffered severely during the weeks
succeeding to that dinner-party when Mortomley's friends proved of so
much service to his wife. Rupert, staying with them, had dragged
Mortomley, an unwilling sight-seer up to London, to inspect the glories
of the shops. Lenore was still at Dassell, and thus it came to pass that
Dolly sat alone in the firelight, counting her money and thinking
prosaically over ways and means.

She had not gone out to meet her trouble half way, but it was impossible
for her to evade the fact that poverty was coming upon them like
an armed man; and that although her husband's health was much
improved--miraculously improved said the doctor--it would still be worse
than folly to tell him nothing save a a few sovereigns stood between
them and beggary.

Through all, he had clung to the belief that Dolly's remaining thousands
were safe, that she and the child could never know want, and Dolly had
lacked courage to open his eyes, and no one else thought it worth while
to do so.

As she sat letting the sovereigns fall through her fingers as though
they had been beads on a string, Dolly's mind was full of very grave
anxiety. She had not taken Rupert into her confidence; a feeling of
distrust had arisen in her heart against him, and she did not feel
inclined to parade her troubles before a man who, to put the case in its
mildest form, was not likely to prove of much assistance to her.

Dolly was at her wits' end--no long journey some of her old detractors
would have said--all her early life she and shortness of money had been
close acquaintances, but hitherto she and no money had not even shaken
hands. A certain income, if small, had always been her or hers within
the memory of Dolly; and now, just when she wanted it most, just when
even fifty pounds a year would have seemed an anchor upon which to rest,
she found herself in London almost without money, with a husband still
in a delicate state of health, and without friends.

Yes, indeed, though a score of people at least had written to say how
delighted they would be if she and dear Mr. Mortomley would come and pay
them a long visit, she felt friendless. To many a kind soul, who knew no
better way of sympathizing with their misfortunes than ignoring them,
she entertained feelings of the keenest animosity.

Of their conventional little they offered her the best they dared offer.
How should they understand that to the Mrs. Mortomley they had known gay
and prosperous, her husband's trouble should mean looking after
pennies--thinking wearily over sixpences.

In a vague way they understood Mortomley had lost a lot of money, and
they at once offered hospitality to his wife and himself; what more
could those people do who were totally ignorant of business, and who
only imagined it meant something "horrid in the City;" but Dolly was
smarting just then under the blows she had received from Messrs.
Swanland, Dean, Forde, Kleinwort, Werner, to say nothing of the other
creditors who, in the Homewood days, had represented to Mortomley's wife
that he ought to pay up like a man, and she failed to do justice to the
delicate if ignorant kindness which tried to make her comprehend change
of circumstances could produce no coldness with acquaintances who had
shared the festivities of Homewood in the prosperous days departed.

Dolly was at her wits' end, as I have said. So far she had honestly been
able to pay her way, but the supplies were running very short indeed,
and she could see no source from which they could be replenished.

"I might sell my watch," she thought; "I suppose some jeweller would buy
it, but that money would not last long. I wish I could teach music or
sing or play, or write a novel"--poor Dolly evidently had the distressed
heroine of a work of fiction in her mind--"but I am a useless little
fool; I cannot even do worsted work or embroidery. Archie ought not to
have married me; any other woman could think of something; could have
done what Lang suggested, for instance," and the head, which still bore
its great tower of plaits and frizettes, drooped sadly while she
mechanically shifted the remaining sovereigns one after another from
hand to hand.

As she sat thus she heard the garden-gate open and shut, but imagining
that it had been opened and shut by Susan, she did not alter her
position.

Next moment, however, a knock roused her completely, and standing up she
went to the door and opened it.

A lady stood on the top step of the flight; but in the darkness, with
her eyes blind almost with looking at the firelight and the future,
Dolly did not recognize Mrs. Werner.

"Dolly," said the visitor softly.

"Nora," answered Mrs. Mortomley, and then they held one the other in a
clinging embrace.

"Come in, dear," Dolly said, and after one look round the house, the
poor little house as it seemed to her, unknowing what a haven of refuge
it had proved, Mrs. Werner did so.

"I only returned on Friday," Mrs. Werner began, sitting on the sofa and
holding both Dolly's hands in hers, "and I could not get over to you on
Saturday or yesterday, and I was doubtful about to-day, and consequently
did not write, but I wanted to see you so much, your letters have been
so short and unsatisfactory. You must tell me everything. First, how is
your husband?"

"Better," answered Mrs. Mortomley. "Better, but not well. He has gone to
London with Rupert to see the Christmas show set out in the shop
windows," Dolly added with a curious smile.

"What is he doing?" asked her friend.

"What can he do? what will they let him do?" Dolly retorted. "He might
get a situation at a pound a week, perhaps, if he were strong and well.
Don't, Leonora, you hurt me."

"I beg your pardon, darling," said Mrs. Werner, releasing her grasp of
Dolly's hands, and kissing one after another of the fingers she had
unconsciously clasped so tight; "I did not mean to hurt you, but you
ought not to speak in that way, you should not say such things."

"I speak the truth," answered Mrs. Mortomley. "It is not likely you
should be able to realise our position. I could not have imagined that
any man living in England could, unless he were in prison, be so utterly
powerless to help himself as Archie is now. When I said he might earn a
pound a week if well and strong, I was in error. He could do nothing of
the kind. He is bound to obey Mr. Swanland's bidding. He is his servant.
While he was too ill to leave the house, Mr. Swanland graciously excused
his attendance at Salisbury House; but now that he is better he has to
go there for hours each day, whether it is wet or dry, hail, rain, or
sunshine."

"But he is paid for going, of course," suggested Mrs. Werner.

"He certainly has not been paid yet," retorted Dolly; "and, what is
more, Mr. Swanland is not bound to pay him a penny."

"Then I am sure I should not go were I in his place."

"He is obliged to go," answered Mrs. Mortomley. "There is no use mincing
the matter. Archie is as utterly a slave as if his creditors had bought
him body and soul. I do not know how he bears it; why he is able to bear
it; or rather I do. If he understood our actual position, he would go
mad."

"Have you not told him, then?" asked Mrs. Werner in amazement.

"No, I dare not tell him."

"You ought to do so--"

"I ought not, Leonora. Time enough to let him know we are utterly
beggared when he is strong to bear the shock. Some day, of course, he
must be told, but I shall defer the evil time as long as possible."

Mrs. Werner sighed. She looked round the small rooms and then at Dolly's
changed face before she spoke again.

"And so everything was sold at Homewood?" she remarked at last.

"Everything," was the reply. "In the house, that is to say. The works
are still carried on. Mr. Swanland wrote to Archie to say we could have
the furniture at a certain valuation, and I answered the letter. If it
is preserved among the archives of the house of Swanland, some future
young cygnet of that ilk will marvel who the D. Mortomley was that
penned such an epistle. Fancy when he knew how we were situated making
such an offer. Just as if he believed we had a secret purse."

"He might have imagined your friends would come forward to help at such
a crisis," said Mrs. Werner gently.

"I do not think Mr. Swanland's imagination ever took such an erratic
flight as that," answered Dolly bitterly.

"Did you see the old place before it was dismantled?" inquired Mrs.
Werner. "I suppose not."

"Yes. I had to go over to point out an inlaid desk Mrs. Dean had
forgotten in the excitement of her departure. Mr. Dean went to Mr.
Swanland and mentioned the omission. Mr. Swanland said that if Mrs.
Dean would call at Homewood and point out the article in question to his
man, it should be taken to Salisbury House, there to await Mr. Dean's
orders. Mr. Dean thought Mrs. Dean could not possibly go to Homewood in
the present unhappy state of affairs. He suggested that 'his wife,
etcetera, etcetera,' and Mr. Swanland said,

"'Quite so; yes, exactly.' Lang, who happened to be in the outer office,
heard all this and told me about it.

"Then Mr. Dean and Mr. Swanland both wrote, requesting me to go to
Homewood and point out the curiosity, and though very much inclined to
say 'No,' still I went."

"Poor dear Dolly!" ejaculated Mrs. Werner, for there was a break in her
friend's voice.

"I am glad I went," Mrs. Mortomley went on; "glad I saw the old home
with its death face on. Otherwise, I might in fancy have imagined
Homewood still alive, and it is dead. I should tell you that Meadows is
no longer Mr. Swanland's lord-lieutenant there. The evening we left
Homewood he went out with some of the men and got drunk, a process he
repeated so often that at the end of a fortnight he was laid up with
what he called inflammation of the lungs, and had to be carried off the
premises. Then Mr. Swanland sent down another man, and that man took his
wife into residence with him, together with five of the very ugliest
children I ever beheld. They all squinted horribly--they all followed me
about the place--they all looked at me--'so,'" and Dolly distorted the
axis of her eyes to such an extent that Mrs. Werner covered hers up and
said,

"Don't, Dolly; pray, pray, don't. Think if your eyes should remain as
they are."

"Then they would resemble the eyes of those nice children," answered
Dolly, who, in the genial atmosphere of Mrs. Werner's presence, seemed
to be recovering her temper and her spirits. "Do let me tell you all
about it, Lenny. The mother wondered I had not taken away my beautiful
wool-work, evidently imagining I wrought those wonders of sofa-pillows
and anti-macassars, which so much impressed her, with my own hand."

"'The last lady with whom I was,' she said, 'lamented nothing so much as
her chairs; they were all done up with wool-work.'

"'Wasn't theirs forty thousand?' asked the biggest of the children, with
one eye fixed on his mother's face, and the other roaming over the
garden.

"'Yes, dear, it were a big thing,' she said hurriedly, evidently
thinking I might feel hurt to know the 'lady' had been so much greater a
personage than myself. 'She was in the public line you see, ma'am,' she
went on, 'and the house was just beautiful. She cried about them chairs,
she did. She said if she had known how things was a-going to be, she
would have got them away anyhow.' And then the wretch went on to say how
cheerful that public-house was in comparison with Homewood, and how she
did hope they would get back to London before long, and how Mr. Swanland
hated dogs; and how our men and their friends had got leave to take one
and another, except poor old Lion, who was desired by nobody,--you
remember Lion, Nora; and how she wished to gracious some one would soon
take him, for 'the creature was half-starved and so savage no one dare
go a-nigh him.'

"Then I asked how about the fowls and the pigeons and the cat; and the
children in chorus told how the fowls were all stolen and the pigeons
gone, and the cat so wild she would not come to anybody; and I wanted to
get away and cry by myself, Nora, but they would not leave me--no, not
for a moment.

"I had caught the braid of my dress on a bramble, and asked the woman to
lend me a needle and cotton to run it on again, and when she was looking
up those items and a thimble, I saw she had annexed my drawing box to
her own use. 'It was a handy box,' she said. Do not imagine I cared for
it, Lenny," added Dolly. "Unlike the lady in the public line, I had
passed beyond that state in life when one cries for lost wool-work and
desecrated girlish treasures."

"Do not go on--do not, Dolly," entreated Mrs. Werner.

"I will," answered Dolly pitilessly. "I have found my tongue and I must
speak. I went out and called the cat--called and called, and at last
from half a mile distant, as it seemed, the creature answered. I called
and she still kept answering till she came in sight, and then, when she
beheld those horrid children, she stopped--her tail straight on end, and
her ears pricked up.

"'Stay where you are,' I said to the little wretches, and I went and
caught and stroked her, and she rubbed her face against mine, and I felt
her poor ribs, and the bones were coming through her skin--oh! Lenny,
Lenny, I realized it all then--understood what our ruin meant to us and
to the dumb brutes who had trusted to us for kindness."

Mrs. Mortomley laid her head on Mrs. Werner's lap, and sobbed as if her
heart would break.

"Lion was wild with hunger," she went on after a pause. "When I
unfastened his collar the children fled indoors, frightened lest he
should eat them, and, God forgive me, I should not have cared if he
had; and the horses--I could not unloose their halters and bring those
poor brutes with me. I can talk about it no more.

"That day killed me. I do not mean that I am going to die, or any
nonsense of that sort, but I am not the same Dolly I was--not the Dolly
you knew once--and loved."

Mrs. Werner did not answer. She turned up Mrs. Mortomley's face and
looked at it through blinding tears--no, not the Dolly of the olden
time, not the Dolly she had loved so much, but another Dolly who was
dearer to her an hundredfold than any woman she had ever previously
known or ever might know again--a woman with a soft heart and a great
courage, the bravest, tenderest, truest woman, woman ever loved.

Like a far-off echo was the love she had once felt for Mortomley
himself. Like the sound of an air solemn and sweet was the love she felt
for the friend of her youth, Mortomley's wife.

Two fine natures they possessed, those friends; but the finer, the
truer, the loftier nature of the two was, spite of all her shortcomings,
possessed by the woman who chanced to be in such sore distress, and Mrs.
Werner, with her strong intellect, grasped this fact.

"What were the men about," asked Mrs. Werner after a pause, "that they
did not see after the animals you left behind?"

"My dear," said Dolly, "have you ever been in a house when the mother
just dead has left no one behind to look after the children? I think
every one must once in a lifetime have seen how the irresponsible,
unruly brats comport themselves. Homewood is in that strait. The men are
all at daggers drawn, each wants to be master, each wants to be a
gentleman of leisure. There are five foremen and three managers seeing
to the work now. Lang has left, or rather Lang has been dismissed."

"Why?" inquired Mrs. Werner.

"It is an old story now, as stories are with us--three weeks old at all
events. Some great firm who had never done business with Archie before,
sent to the Thames Street warehouse for a specimen of that wonderful
blue which he brought out eighteen months ago, and of course the letter
went on to Salisbury House.

"They knew nothing of the bankruptcy, and ordered, oh! some enormous
quantity of it to be despatched to America.

"Well, Mr. Swanland sent this order to Homewood, and Lang went up to his
office, and said plainly the blue could not be made unless Mr. Mortomley
superintended the manufacture. Hankins went up and said it could. Lang
came to Archie, and Archie wrote to Mr. Swanland offering to see that
the order was properly executed.

"Mr. Swanland wrote in reply that he would not trouble Archie personally
to superintend the manufacture, but if he would kindly send him a
memorandum of the process it might be useful.

"Archie declined to do this. He said he was quite willing to produce the
colour, but he could not give the formula.

"Mr. Swanland then appealed to Hankins, who said he knew all about the
manufacture. Lang said no one knew how to manipulate the materials but
Archie, and that Hankins had as much acquaintance with the process
needful to ensure success as a donkey with Arithmetic.

"Mr. Swanland seemed to think there was something personal in Lang's
utterances, and told him his services could be dispensed with after the
following Saturday. Lang claimed a month's notice or four weeks' wages.
Mr. Swanland declined to give either. Lang threatened to summon him, at
which idea Mr. Swanland laughed. Lang then went to a lawyer, who said he
could not summon a trustee. Lang said he would do it for the annoyance
of the thing, and so threw away half a sovereign which he now repents,
because the case cannot come on. He has got another situation, a very
good berth as he styles it. He is to have a (for him) large amount of
money to go abroad as consulting manager to some great works in course
of formation in Germany. One of the partners is an Englishman, and knew
Lang at a time when he was in business on his own account. It will be a
good thing for him," and Dolly sighed heavily.

Good things came to other people, but not to Mortomley or his wife.

"What a simpleton that Mr. Swanland must be!" remarked Mrs. Werner.

"For not accepting Archie's offer, I suppose you mean," suggested Mrs.
Mortomley. "I do not think so. What does he care about the trade, or the
colours, or anything, so long as he can find work for his clerks, and
knock up a fresh peg in his office on which to hang up the whole of the
estate? Lang says--"

"Dolly dear, I do not care to hear what Lang says," interrupted Mrs.
Werner. "I do not imagine that the utterances of an _employée_ concerning
his employer can be very profitable under any circumstances."

"Perhaps not," agreed Mrs. Mortomley; but she sighed again.

"Did you ever get your trunks away from Homewood," inquired Mrs. Werner,
in order to change the subject.

"Yes," was the short reply.

"Did Mr. Swanland send them to you, or had you to apply for them again,
or--"

"Mr. Swanland did not send them to me," said Dolly, as her friend
paused. "I applied for them, and he first agreed I should have the
boxes, and then thought it was a useless form having them removed from
Homewood. So I said nothing more on the subject, and neither did he; but
they are here."

"How did they come?" asked Mrs. Werner.

"That I cannot tell you. One Sunday evening, when I returned from
church, they were piled up in the kitchen. I promised never to say how
they were got away or who brought them; and, indeed, though half tempted
to send them back again, I was thankful to have a few decent clothes to
wear again once more."

Mrs. Werner looked down at her friend, and smiled as her glance wandered
over the pale grey silk dress and black velvet upper skirt and bodice in
which Dolly had thought fit to bemoan her lot.

Would Dolly ever be Dolly, she wondered, without her masses of hair--her
pretty dresses--her small effects of jewellery--her little graceful
knickknacks--and purely feminine deceptions.

No; they were an integral part of my heroine's imperfect character.

Honestly, and to be utterly outspoken, it was a comfort to Dolly, in the
midst of her misery, to be able to array herself in purple and fine
linen. Poor little soul! wretched though she might be and was, she did
not feel herself so completely forsaken by God and man when attired in
silk velvet and stiff silk as she might if only in a position to appear
in a linsey gown. Vanity shall we say? As you please, my readers. The
matter is really of little importance; only allow me to remark, there is
a vanity near akin to self-respect--a desire to turn the best side of
one's life's shield out for the world to see, which often invests
poverty itself with a certain grace of reticence and dignity of non
complaint, that we look for in vain amongst those who allow the
unmended rags and tatters of their lost prosperity to flaunt in the
breeze and stimulate the compassion of every passer-by.

"That reminds me, Dolly," said Mrs. Werner, after a slight pause. "I
meant to buy you a Christmas present."

"I am very glad you did not carry out your intention then," retorted
Mrs. Mortomley; "for I should not have taken the present."

Mrs. Werner laughed.

"I do not mean to buy it for you, Dolly," she remarked; "but I shall
give it to you nevertheless."

"I will not have it," her friend repeated. "I will take nothing from you
now, save love and kisses."

"Why, my dear?" asked Mrs. Werner. "In the old days Dolly Gerace would
have accepted anything Leonora Trebasson offered her as freely as
Leonora Trebasson would have taken Dolly's gift, small or large. What
has come between us? What have I done, Dolly, that you should now shut
the doors of your heart against me?"

"I have not shut the doors of my heart against you, Lenny, and you are
wicked to say anything of the kind," was the reply. "But it is no longer
you and me--it is no longer you and me, and your mother and my aunt,
but--"

"Finish your sentence, dear," said Mrs. Werner, as Dolly paused,
unwilling, in the presence of a man's wife, to terminate her utterance
with an ungracious reference to the absent husband.

"There is no necessity," answered Mrs. Mortomley; "you know what I mean
as well as I do myself."

"Let me see if you are right," was the reply, spoken almost caressingly.
"You would take anything from me, but you will have nothing from my
husband--belonging to or coming from him--directly or indirectly; is not
that your standpoint, Dolly?"

"Yes," Dolly answered. "I hate to seem ungracious, but I could receive
nothing from your hands, knowing you were but the filter through
which--"

"Mrs. Mortomley, you are eminently unhappy in your suggestions," said
her friend. "We need not pursue your curious metaphor to its inevitable
end. It is simply because I am Henry Werner's wife, and because, having
no fortune of my own, my money comes from him that you refuse my little
present."

"For once, Leonora, you have performed the marriage service over my
words and yours, and made the twain one," answered Mrs. Mortomley. "To
put the case plainly, I could take anything--a dry crust or a hundred
thousand pounds from you, but I could not take a sovereign or a
sovereign's worth from your husband."

"You mistake my husband, dear. But let that pass; or, rather, I cannot
let it pass; for I must tell you, if Henry thought you wanted his help,
he would be the first to ask me to offer it. Never shake your head,
Dolly."

"I won't, Nora, if it vexes you."

"And say to me solemnly, love, that you only object to me because I am
Henry Werner's wife; that you only refuse my present because bought with
my husband's money."

"That is true, Lenny. I could refuse nothing that came from you
yourself."

"Then, darling, you won't refuse this;" and Mrs. Werner placed in
Dolly's hands a tiny little purse and pocket-book bound together in
ivory. "Charley, my cousin--you remember Charley--sent me the contents
of that purse to buy some little trinket for myself as a memory of the
old days at Dassell. He has married an heiress, Dolly; and those waste
lands in the north, my uncle was always lamenting over, have turned out
to be a sort of El Dorado. Charley's dear kind letter reached me
yesterday, and I straightway wrote back to him, saying,

"Besides yourself I never had but one friend in all my life. I wanted to
make a present to her, and you have supplied the means. Believe me, in
granting me the power to do this you have given me ropes of pearls--to
quote Lothair--and miles on miles of diamonds; so there it is,
dear--poor Charley's Christmas gift to me, of which my husband knows
nothing."

And she rose, and fastening her fur cloak would have departed, but that
Dolly, clutching her arm, said,

"Don't go, Leonora, for an instant. Let me exorcise my demon with the
help of your presence."

"Pride, dear," suggested the other.

"I do not know--I cannot tell. He rends me to pieces, and I hate myself
and him. I want your present badly, Lenny, and yet--and yet I long to
compel you to take back your gift."

"Darling," answered Mrs. Werner, "though you are a mother, you never
knew what it was to have a mother to love you. Fancy, for a moment I am
your mother, saying, 'Dolly, keep it.' Could not that reconcile you,
love. And some day it may be I or one belonging to me shall in bitter
strait need your help; you would not then like to remember you had
refused in your trouble to be assisted by one of us. You would not wish
now to place a barrier between yourself and any one belonging to me who
might hereafter ask your aid."

"No," Dolly answered slowly. "I should not. It may be--impossible as it
now seems--that one of your children, or even you yourself, Leonora,
might hereafter stand in need of such comfort as I could give; and just
as surely as I take your present to-night, I will return your goodness
then. In the words of The Book, 'May God do so to me and more if ever
for ever I forget you and yours.'"

"Thank you, Dolly, it is a good vow for Christmas Eve. Good-bye dear, do
not come out with me."

For reply, Dolly folding a shawl around her walked along the Grove and
to the cross road where Mr. Werner's carriage was waiting.

"You ought not to be out in this damp night air," said Mrs. Werner.

But Dolly only shook her head. The footman banged the door, the coachman
touched his horses, Mrs. Werner put down the window and waved her hand,
and Dolly returned to the small house all alone. There, expecting
perhaps to find a ten-pound note in the silken folds of the new purse,
she opened Mrs. Werner's present; but, behold! it was no bank-note
which her fingers discovered, but a slip of paper on which was written,

"Pay to Mrs. Werner or order one hundred pounds," and on the back a
signature, that of "Leonora Werner."



                              CHAPTER III.

                         WHAT MR. LANG THOUGHT.


As Mrs. Werner drove home a cruel pain seemed tearing her heart to
pieces. She had loved Dolly as child, as girl, as woman, with a love
almost equalling that of a mother. She had longed for Dolly to be
different, desired to see her grasp life with a firmer hand, and learn
the lessons taught by experience as something more real than an idle
jest. Dolly's frivolity had chafed her spirit even in the old Dassell
days, but it had vexed her more since the time of her own marriage.

If she regarded the journey of existence as a serious affair, what right
had Mr. Gerace's daughter to comport herself along the way as though
she were but one of a picnic party, as though it were always first of
May and fine weather with her?

Life should have been just as momentous a business at Homewood as at the
West-End, where Henry Werner had set up his domestic gods; but Dolly
could never be brought to see the iniquity of her own light-heartedness;
and Mrs. Werner, who frequently found the hours and the days pass
heavily enough in the ponderous atmosphere of respectability which her
husband affected, could often have found it in her heart to box Dolly's
ears for her levity of deportment and lightness of heart.

And now Dolly was serious enough, and yet Mrs. Werner felt
dissatisfied--more than dissatisfied. She was in despair; the ideal
Dolly she had always regarded as possible if not probable; but the
frivolous, light-hearted, smiling Dolly she had foolishly desired to
change, could never come back with her gay tones, with her laughing
face, on this side Heaven.

Could Mrs. Werner at that moment have caught sight of the former Dolly,
she would not have rebuked her for undue merriment.

She might have talked her light, innocent, mocking talk for the length
of a summer's day without causing a shade to pass across her friend's
face; she might have laughed till the welkin rang, and Mrs. Werner would
not have marvelled how she could be so silly; she might have ridiculed
all the decorous people within a circle of fifty miles had it pleased
her, and Mrs. Werner would never have remarked she feared her powers of
mimicry would get her into trouble.

"And I thought myself better than Dolly," considered Mrs. Werner.
"Imagined I was a more faithful wife, a higher type of womanhood; I, who
could not endure what she has borne so patiently; I, who must have
compelled any man, sick or well, to bear the burden with me, who could
never forgive any man weak enough or wicked enough to compass such ruin
for his wife and family! My dear, the look in your poor face to-night,
as you sat with the firelight gleaming upon it, will haunt me till I
die."

The result of which meditation was that, the first thing on Christmas
morning, Mrs. Werner despatched this note to Dolly by a special
messenger,

    "I wish, dear, you would give me a Christmas gift,--your promise
    that so soon as Mr. Mortomley's presence can be dispensed with at
    Salisbury House, you will go away from town for a short time. I am
    quite certain your husband will never get well in London, and there
    can be no doubt but that you require a change almost as much as he
    does,
                           With fond love,
                                        Yours,
                                             LEONORA."

To which, detaining the messenger while she wrote, Mrs. Mortomley
replied,

    "Dear Lenny,--Ere this, you will have received my note written last
    night concerning your Christmas present, so I need say no more on
    that subject. But oh! Lenny, how could you steal such a march upon
    me?

    "Yes, I will promise what you ask. We will leave London the moment
    we can do so, and remain away as long as possible--if it rested with
    me, for ever. I have no desire to remain here--I shall have none to
    return here.

                                                 Always yours,
                                                             DOLLY.

    "Rupert dragged Archie about last night with the idea of doing him
    good, till he was quite exhausted, and the consequence is that he
    does not feel nearly so well this morning. Good-bye, a merry
    Christmas to you, my dear, and many, and many happy new years."

For Dolly, whatever the new year might hold in store, she made a very
pleasant Christmas for herself and others in that small house at
Clapton. Miss Gerace had sent up a hamper filled with farm-house produce
to her niece, and that hamper was supplemented by another filled with
game shot in Dassell woods.

The three--Rupert, Mortomley and Dolly--consequently sat down to as nice
a little dinner as could have been furnished at Elm Park, whither
Rupert was invited to eat turkeys and mince pies. But he preferred for
reasons of his own holding high festival with his uncle and aunt, and
Dolly rewarded him by proving as gracious and pleasant a hostess in
adversity as she had often been in the days of her prosperity.

The change Mrs. Werner beheld had been wrought almost under Rupert's
eyes by a process so gradual that it failed to affect him as it had
touched her friend.

He saw she grew thinner and paler. He knew she was more silent and
thoughtful than of old. He heard her laugh had lost its ringing
clearness, and that her smile, once so bright and sunny, had something
of a wintry gleam about it, but these changes were but the natural
consequence of what she had gone through, the legitimate scars left from
wounds received during the course of that weary battle which had been
fought out bravely if foolishly to the end.

She could be pleasant and lively enough still, he decided, as she talked
and laughed while nibbling like a squirrel as he suggested, the walnuts
he prepared for her delectation.

Aye, and she could be wise and strong too, he thought as he met her
brown eyes fixed gravely on his, while she solemnly touched his
wine-glass with her own, and hoped in a tone, which was almost a prayer,
that the coming year might prove a happier and more prosperous one to
them all.

She was vexed with Rupert for having allowed and indeed encouraged her
husband to over-exert himself, but she was pleased with Rupert for
having relinquished the gaieties of Elm Park in their favour.

It is always a pleasant thing for a woman to know or imagine her society
is preferred to that of some other woman, even though that other woman
should occupy the humble position of a man's sister, and Dolly, much as
she loved her husband, did feel gratified that on the occasion of their
first Christmas dinner after leaving Homewood, they were not compelled
to take that meal _tête-à-tête_.

True, they had invitations by the dozen, but then that was a different
matter.

The people who sent those invitations, although they understood Mr.
Mortomley was ruined, did not, could not realize the length and breadth,
and height and depth of the gulf which divided the Mortomleys of Clapton
from the Mortomleys of Homewood.

Now Rupert did understand, and she felt the better pleased with his
self-proffered company.

And as he was there she rejoiced that her aunt had sent up so
well-stocked a hamper, and she inwardly blessed Lord Darsham for having
ordered such a supply of game to be left at Eglantine Cottage; and she
was glad Rupert should see there seemed no lack of anything in their
temporary home, small though its limits might be; and above all she felt
thankful for the cheque lying safely in her new purse, which removed
such a weight and load of care from her.

"One hundred pounds," she kept mentally repeating to herself, while her
heart throbbed joyfully in accord with the air her mind was
singing--"Why, one hundred pounds properly managed--and I do now
understand how to manage money--will last for ever."

Poor Dolly, she was not such a simpleton as her ideas might lead any one
to imagine; already she had formed her plans for the future, and Rupert,
looking at her sparkling face, guessed that some good had come to or was
expected by her.

"She would never be so cheerful as she is," the young man decided, "with
only five pounds between them and beggary, unless she had got more or
knew where to get it. I will put my idea to the test presently."

And so, when after dinner and coffee Mortomley had fallen into that
evening sleep now become habitual, and which the doctor told Dolly to
encourage, Rupert drew his chair near to his companion and said in a low
tone,

"Dolly, are you rich enough to lend me fifteen pounds? I can repay you
in a fortnight or three weeks. Of course Dean would lend me that amount,
but then I do not care to ask a favour from him. Talking about money to
you and Archie never seems the same evil thing as talking about money
to other people."

Dolly looked up at him frankly. "You do not want it to-night, I
suppose?"

"No; any time within a few days, will do."

"You can have it on Thursday," she said, "that is if the weather be fine
enough for me to go to town, and I shall not want it again at present.
You need not repay me for a couple of months if you are short."

"She _has_ discovered a gold mine," decided Rupert, but he only said
aloud, "Thank you, Dolly, very much. He who gives quickly gives twice,
and you always had that grace, my dear."

Next day Mrs. Mortomley had a visitor, one who came when the afternoon
was changing into evening, and who sent up a mysterious message to Mrs.
Mortomley by Susan to the effect that "a person wanted to speak to her."

"It is Lang, ma'am," whispered Susan, as she followed her mistress
across the hall; "but he charged me not to mention his name before Mr.
Rupert. He says if you wouldn't mind stepping down and speaking to him,
he would take it as a kindness."

When Mrs. Mortomley entered the kitchen, she beheld Lang standing in
front of a bright fire, his hands crossed behind him, his face turned
towards the darkness closing outside.

"How do you do, ma'am," he began. "I hope you will excuse the liberty,
but I leave to-morrow, and I felt I could not go without just mentioning
that matter to you again."

Mrs. Mortomley at the first glance understood Mr. Lang had been
drinking--paying his last footing for a time on English soil, and
toasting prosperity to number one in a foreign land. But this made no
difference in the cordiality of her reception--sober or not sober, and
she had seen him in both states, she knew Lang could speak to the
purpose. That unhappy glass too much which overtakes the best and
cleverest of our skilled labourers on occasion, was not so rare an
accident in Mr. Lang's life that Dolly feared any forgetfulness of
etiquette in consequence.

"Pray sit down," she said, pointing to a chair, and then she would have
drawn down the blind and lit the gas had not Lang prevented her.

"I think I can do that much at any rate," he remarked; but whether his
observation had a special or a particular application, Dolly was unable
to tell.

It appeared, however, as though he was able to do "that much," for he
lit the gas and drew down the blinds, and then placed a seat for Mrs.
Mortomley.

"If you will excuse me, ma'am," he said, "but I believe it is as cheap
to sit as to stand."

"Certainly it is," agreed Dolly, and accepted the proffered civility,
Mr. Lang seating himself on the other side of the hearth.

"Yes, I am going away to-morrow," repeated Mr. Lang, with that harking
back, without a previous link to a first idea, which is so curious a
peculiarity of his class.

"I hope you will make a great success," said Dolly. With the peculiarity
of her class, she was able to appear utterly indifferent, while her
heart was aching till she heard Lang's next words.

"I shall make some money, of that I have no doubt," answered the man. "I
have the knowledge, and knowledge is what people want now-a-days; but,
bless you, I know what they'll do--they'll pick my brains and then throw
me aside like a sucked orange," he finished, with a singular involvement
of metaphor.

Mrs. Mortomley did not answer. She had some knowledge of his class,
derived from that insight which a clever woman who personally relieves
those who make their living by labour, when they are sick or distressed,
must acquire almost unconsciously, and she did not wish to lose a point
in her game by precipitancy.

"Like a sucked orange as that blackguard Swanland would have liked to
do," Mr. Lang kindly explained.

"I suppose you will start in business on your own account when you
return to England," said Mrs. Mortomley, seeing some reply was expected
from her.

"No," answered Mr. Lang slowly and solemnly; "no, no, that ain't good
enough for me, not by no means. If I can earn enough in foreign parts (I
want no secrets from a lady like you) I will put the wife into a
business. That there new Act is a jolly good thing for such as us; and
then, if you have no call for me, I'll try to get a berth as foreman.
Mrs. Mortomley," he added almost in a whisper, and bending his head
eagerly forward, "_have you found anything yet_?"

"No," she answered; "nevertheless, I think it is to be done. Lang," and
rising in her earnestness she went on, "are you true or are you false?
Can I trust you or can I not?"

"True before God, ma'am," he replied rising likewise. "And you may trust
me to the death."

"That is enough," she answered; then added imperatively, "Sit down. If
you are going to-morrow, I must speak to you now."

"Is--is there a drop of cold tea about anywhere, ma'am?" he asked,
feeling he needed something perfectly to steady his senses, and yet
fearing to touch water as though he were a mad dog.

Dolly laughed; the experience tickled her, and going to a cupboard which
held Susan's treasures, produced a pot from which she poured a cup of
cold tea.

"Milk and sugar?" she asked.

"Milk will do, thank you," said Mr. Lang, and he drank half a pint off
at a draught.

Mrs. Mortomley watched him finish with a grave smile; then she said,

"If you and I are ever to row in the same boat, Lang, you must take
less--cold tea."

"I'd take the pledge if you asked me," he answered eagerly, but Dolly
shook her head.

"Whenever Mr. Mortomley has to attend no longer at Salisbury House," she
said, "I mean to leave London."

"Well, our work can be done anywhere," said Lang reflectively.

"That is precisely what I think," agreed Mrs. Mortomley; "but before we
go further I want you to understand one thing clearly. Through
misadventure I am not going to sell my husband a second time. If I ever
find those formulæ, or if I am ever able to extract them from Mr.
Mortomley's memory, I shall keep them to myself. Do you understand? If
you like to work with me on that condition, well and good; if not, let
us wish each other fortune's best gifts, and part now, you to go to
Germany, I to do the best I can in England."

Mr. Lang paused. This was a move he had not expected; but aided,
perhaps, by the cold tea, he recovered himself immediately.

"I am quite willing to work with you and for you, ma'am, on those
conditions. If I serve you faithful, I am sure you won't leave my name
out when your books are balanced. Look here, ma'am, I did think to go in
with you share and share alike in everything, but--"

"Look _you_ here, Lang," Mrs. Mortomley interrupted, speaking very
decidedly, "My husband's brains are all that are left to him now, and I
will help no man to steal them, neither will I suffer any one to steal
them, you may depend. I am thankful to remember Mr. Swanland when he
took his business from him, was unable to take his trade secrets as
well, and I will put it in the power of no person to use Mr. Mortomley's
processes without his knowledge and permission. So now, as I said
before, if you do not like my conditions, let us abandon your plan.
About money, if we make any, I shall not be niggardly; but if you stay
with me for twenty years, you will know no more of Mr. Mortomley's
secrets than you do to-night."

Lang sat silent for a minute. He had not bargained for this. He had felt
willing enough to prosecute the plan he himself had suggested to Mrs.
Mortomley without any immediate revelations being made to him concerning
the manipulation of those choicer colours for which the Mortomleys had
long been famous, but he was not prepared for the frank assurance that
Mrs. Mortomley intended to leave him out in the cold for ever. He
intended to be utterly true to the Mortomleys; but, at the same time, he
desired naturally to serve himself, and he believed he could never hope
to do that effectually unless he were made acquainted with the means
whereby his late employer had produced those effects which rendered the
Homewood works celebrated wherever colours were bought and sold.

Who would have supposed that a lady who twelve months before could not
have told ochre from umber should all at once develop such an amount of
business capacity as to understand precisely which way Mr. Lang's
desires led, and at once put a padlock on the gate by which he hoped to
reach his goal?

Mr. Lang sat and thought this over as thoroughly as the state of his
head would permit, and Dolly sat and watched him anxiously. She was
determined not to yield a point; and yet if Lang decided to have nothing
to do with those still unopened works, the idea of which had been
originated by himself, she failed to see what she should unaided be able
to accomplish.

At last Lang spoke. "I think you are hard upon me, ma'am. If I do my
best to work up a business for Mr. Mortomley, it seems only justice I
should have some benefit from it."

"That is quite true," agreed Mrs. Mortomley.

"But I cannot have any tangible benefit unless--"

"Go on," said Dolly as he paused, "or shall I finish the sentence for
you--unless we take you so far into our confidence that we could not
safely throw you over."

"I do not think, ma'am, you ought to put it in that way," remarked Lang,
who naturally disliked such explicit utterances.

"If you can suggest any better way in which to put it, pray do so," she
replied. "The fact is, Lang, one or other of us must have faith--you in
me, or I in you. Now I think it is you who ought to have faith in me,
because so far as anything is mine to trust, you shall have perfect
control over it. I must put the most utter confidence in your honesty,
your skill, and your industry. The only trust I withhold is that which
is not mine to give, which belongs entirely to my husband; but this
much I will say, Lang,--if hereafter, when Mr. Mortomley's health is
re-established, differences should arise among us, and you desire to
leave, I would most earnestly ask him to mark his sense of all you have
done and tried to do for me by giving you two or three receipts, which
might enable you to carry on a small business successfully on your own
account."

"You would do that, ma'am?"

"Most certainly," she answered.

"Would you mind giving me your hand on it?"

Dolly laughed, and held out her hand. What a bit of a hand it was! Mr.
Lang took it in his as he might have taken a fragile piece of china, and
appeared excessively uncomfortable now he had got what he desired.

"There is one thing more I would wish to say, ma'am," he remarked, when,
this ceremony concluded, an awkward pause seemed impending.

"Why do you not say it then?" asked Mrs. Mortomley.

"Because I am afraid of offending. But I may just observe that I hope
you won't think of making Mr. Rupert one of our firm."

"Mr. Rupert!" she repeated in surprise. "He has done with business for
ever. He would never wish to be connected with it again."

"But if he did, ma'am?"

"I should not wish it," Mrs. Mortomley answered. Then added, "I would
not have Mr. Rupert in any business in which I had any interest. I am
certain he would do his best to serve me or his uncle, but I do not
think he has any especial genius for colour making."

"They do say at Swanland's," observed Mr. Lang, coughing
apologetically, "that there is a great talk of Mr. Rupert going into
business with Mr. Brett. They do say there Mr. Rupert knows all Mr.
Mortomley's processes; and if so be as how such is the case, Mr. Brett
and he will make a good thing of it."

Dolly sat silent for a minute; then she asked,

"Did Mr. Rupert know anything of the business when we were at Homewood,
Lang?"

"No, that I will take my oath he did not," was the prompt reply.

"Then by what means could he have learned anything of it since?"

"That is best known to himself, ma'am. If he found anything at Homewood,
and kept it--"

"He could not, Lang. My husband was always most careful about his
papers."

"Or if he has been able to pump Mr. Mortomley since you left Homewood."

"That is not likely either," said Dolly, and yet as she spoke she
remembered that not five minutes before Susan came to tell her Lang was
below, her husband had thrust a piece of paper over to Rupert, saying,
"There is something out of which money might be made, though I shall
never make it," and like a simpleton she had attached little importance
to the utterance, until Lang's words revealed its significance to her.

"Suppose we leave Mr. Rupert out of the question altogether," she
suggested.

"Well, ma'am, I don't see how that can well be, if Mr. Rupert is to get
the information we want and use it against us," Lang replied.

"He shall not," was the reply. "He may have caught a hint or two, but he
shall catch no more. If he and Mr. Brett go into partnership, it shall
not be with Mr. Mortomley's inventions."

"Are you sure, ma'am?"

"Perfectly sure. Mr. Mortomley is not in a state of health to detail the
methods he has employed to any one. I do not mean to say Mr. Rupert may
not have got some information, but I do say he would require as much
more to make it available, and I will take care he has no chance of
obtaining any more."

"I hope you will, ma'am," was the frank reply, "for if I may make so
free as to give you my opinion about Mr. Rupert, I think, fine young
gentleman as he is, he would sell the nearest belonging to him for a ten
pound-note."

"You have no right to say anything against Mr. Rupert,"
answered Mrs. Mortomley, "and there is no necessity for you to express
any opinion concerning him. He will have nothing to do with our
business, and therefore you need not trouble yourself about his
character."

"I meant no offence, ma'am."

"And I have taken none, but I want to talk to you about business, and we
are wasting time in speaking of extraneous matters. When shall you come
back to England?"

"Whenever you want me."

"But you have certain work to finish abroad?"

"That is true; still, I can take a run over when you are ready to start
our work. We shall have a good deal to prepare before we can begin in
earnest, and I shall set a man I can depend on to do all that, and have
everything ready for me by the time I am clear. You find the place,
ma'am, and the money, and we need not delay matters an hour."

"Want of money is no obstacle now," she answered. "I can give you
enough at any time."

"And where do you think of going?" he asked.

"Into Hertfordshire if I can find a house cheap enough. I shall look for
the house first, and the shed you require afterwards."

"Remember, we must have water," he said. "Good water and a continuous
supply."

"I shall not forget," was the reply.

"And you think you can find the memoranda?"

"I do not think I can. I think that from time to time I may be able to
obtain all particulars from Mr. Mortomley."

Lang groaned. "You do not know, ma'am, on what a trifle success hangs in
the colour trade. If you could only have got hold of the receipts the
governor wrote out when he was at his best--"

"I do not believe he ever wrote out any," said Mrs. Mortomley.

"He must have done it," was the reply. "No memory, let it be good as
might be, could carry things like that."

"If there had been a book such as you suppose, it would have gone up to
Salisbury House with the rest of my husband's books and papers. If it
ever existed Mr. Swanland has it."

"I don't think it, ma'am. If Mr. Swanland knows nothing except about
accountants' work, he has those in his employ who would have understood
the value of such a book as that."

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Dolly pettishly. "Do you suppose any one in
Mr. Swanland's office ever waded through the mass of papers Meadows sent
up to town? Why, there were tons of letters, and books and papers, in
the offices at Homewood."

"That may well be," agreed Lang; "but Mr. Mortomley never kept his
secrets among the office papers. Had he not desks and writing-tables,
and the like?"

"Yes; but we left everything in them untouched. I should have liked to
look over the papers after Meadows came, but I was afraid to meddle with
them."

"Well, it cannot be helped," remarked the man resignedly. "Mayhap, by
the time we are ready, Mr. Mortomley will be able to help us; if not, we
must depend on the colours I know something about."

And having uttered this consolatory reflection, Mr. Lang arose to
depart.

"I expect I'll have to be backwards and forwards," he observed; "and if
I am, I'll call to know how things are going on; but if not, you'll
write, ma'am."

"I will write," she answered; and so they separated.

Thinking it possible her husband might have fallen asleep, Mrs.
Mortomley, when she went upstairs, opened the drawing-room door so
gently that no one heard her enter.

At a glance she saw her husband, though awake, was lost in reverie, and
that Rupert was copying the formula Mortomley had written out into his
pocket-book.

"What are you so busy about, Rupert?" she asked, startling him by her
question.

He turned a leaf over rapidly and answered, "Making a sketch, of Archie
in a 'brown study.'"

"When you come to the accessories of the drawing, let me fill them in,"
she suggested, lifting the paper as she spoke from the table and looking
Rupert steadily in the face.

"I have no doubt you would do so better than I," he replied with
imperturbable composure. "A woman's imagination is always so much
livelier than that of a man."

She made no reply to this. She only folded up the formula and placed it
carefully beside Mrs. Werner's cheque in the pretty purse her friend had
given her.



                                 CHAPTER IV.

                              MORTOMLEY'S BLUE.


The new year brought with it much glorification of spirit to the manager
of St. Vedast Wharf and the two men whose fortunes were, to a certain
extent, associated with the temporary success of the General Chemical
Company Limited.

Never before had so satisfactory a balance-sheet been presented to the
shareholders of that company,--never before had a good dividend been so
confidently recommended,--never had accountants audited accounts so
entirely satisfactory, or checked securities so stamped with the impress
of solvency,--never had the thanks of every one been so due to any body
of directors as on that special occasion, and never had any manager,
secretary, and the other officers of any company been so efficient, so
self-denying, so hard-working, and so utterly conscientious as the
manager and other officers connected with that concern which was
travelling as fast to ruin as it knew how.

The way in which these things are managed might puzzle even a man
experienced in City ways to explain, since each company has its own
modes of cooking its accounts and hoodwinking the public. But these
things are done,--they were yesterday, they have been to-day, they will
be to-morrow; and if you live so long, my dear reader, you will hear
more about yesterday's doings, and to-day's, and to-morrow's when, a few
years hence, you peruse the case of Blank _v._ Blank, or Blank _v._ the
Blank Company Limited, or any other improving record of the same sort.

The worst of the whole matter is that our clever financiers always keep
a little in advance of the law, as our clever thieves always keep a
little in advance of our safemakers. The gentlemen of a hundred schemes
complacently fleece their victims, and Parliament--wise after--says in
solemn convocation that the British sheep shall never be shorn in such
and such a way again with impunity.

Nevertheless, though not in the same way, the sheep is shorn daily, and
the shearer escapes scot-free with the wool. Always lagging behind the
wit of the culprit comes the wit of the law. It is only the poor
wretches who have no brains to enable them to take a higher flight than
picking pockets that really suffer.

"You are a hardened ruffian," says the judge, looking through his
spectacles at the pickpocket who has been convicted about a dozen times
previously, "and I mean to send you for five years where you can pick no
more pockets," which indeed the hardened ruffian--stripping off all the
false clothing philanthropists love to deck him with--deserves most
thoroughly. But, then, what about the hardened ruffians who are never
convicted, who float their bubble companies and rob the widow and the
orphan as coolly as Bill Sykes, only with smiling faces and well-clothed
persons?

It is unfair, no doubt, these should escape as they do scot-free, and
yet I must confess time has destroyed much of my sympathy with the widow
and the orphan who entrust their substance to strangers and believe in
the possible solvency--for such as them--of twenty per cent. One is
growing particularly tired of that countryman, so familiar to Londoners,
who loses his money because two total strangers ask if he has faith
enough to trust one or the other with a ten-pound-note, and it is
difficult to help feeling that a sound flogging judiciously administered
to one of these yokels who take up so much of a magistrate's time, would
impress the rural mind throughout England much more effectually than any
number of remarks from his Worship or leaders in the daily papers.

As one grows older, one's intolerance towards dupes is only equalled by
one's intolerance towards bores. A man begins by pitying a dupe and ends
by hating him; and the reason is that a dupe has so enormous a capacity
for giving trouble and so great a propensity for getting into it.

At that especial half-yearly meeting, however, of which mention has been
made, there were very few dupes connected with the General Chemical
Company, Limited. All the new shareholders indeed, and a very small
proportion of the old might, it is true, have faith in the concern, but
as a rule the directors and the shareholders, the accountants and the
officials, knew the whole affair was a farce, got up for the purpose of
inducing the general public to invest their money in a concern with
which those privileged to peep behind the scenes were most heartily
disgusted.

Like many other debts of lesser magnitude, Mortomley's had not yet been
entered as bad. His account was kept open, in order that the ample
dividend promised by Mr. Swanland at the meeting of creditors might be
duly entered to his credit. Meanwhile his unpaid acceptances were still
skilfully manipulated as securities, thus:--On one side the books, that
everything might be done strictly and in order, appeared the entry,
"Bills returned, so much, interest thereon, so much," very little
interest being charged, the reader may be certain; and on the other,
"Bills retained, so much," which really made the bankrupt's apparent
debt to the concern when a balance was struck something merely nominal.

On the same principle, when a dividend of six per cent. for the half
year was recommended, as the profit, admirable in itself, had the slight
disadvantage of existing in paper instead of hard cash, the amount
required was paid out of capital--"loaned out of capital," as Mr. Forde
cleverly defined the transaction; and next day the shares were quoted in
the 'Times' at a premium, and those most interested in the concern shook
hands and congratulated themselves that the meeting had gone off so
well.

In fact, the worse trade chanced to be at St. Vedast Wharf, the more it
behoved those connected with the establishment to put the best face on
affairs, and, to their credit be it spoken, they did. Indeed, but for
the revelations of clerks and the sour looks of certain bankers when the
Chemical Company was mentioned, even City folks would have had but a
very vague idea of the struggle St. Vedast Wharf had to maintain in
order to keep itself above water. Poor Mr. Forde knew most about that
struggle, and so did those unfortunates who were desperately holding on
by the piles of the rotten structure in order to escape drowning; but,
though none of them realized the fact, it was just as true that St.
Vedast Wharf could not go on keeping up false appearances for ever--as
Mortomley had found it, that to carry on a business with men in
possession was not a game capable of indefinite prolongation.

As Mr. Kleinwort had prophesied, the colour works at Homewood were
eventually stopped with a suddenness for which no one connected either
with the manufacturing or liquidating part of the business was at all
prepared. All in a hurry Mr. Swanland summoned a meeting of the
Committee, and informed them that as he could no longer carry on the
works with a reasonable hope of profit, he thought the best thing which
could be done would be to sell off the stock, advertise the lease of the
premises for sale, and offer the goodwill of the business to
competition.

All of which Mr. Forde naturally opposed; but his being the only
dissentient voice amongst the members of the Committee, all of whom had
long ago become perfectly sick of Mortomley's Estate, and Mortomley's
affairs, the course recommended by the trustee was decided upon.

"What dividend are you going to give us then?" asked the man who had put
so "good a thing" in Mr. Swanland's way.

"Impossible to tell till we see what the stock fetches," was the reply.

"But surely out of the profits of working the business, you can declare
a first dividend? My directors would be very much pleased to see
something tangible out of the concern," remonstrated Mr. Forde; hearing
which the opposition colour maker laughed, and said, "No doubt they
would," and Mr. Swanland declared the whole statement about profit and
so forth had been an imposition. He would not say any person had
wilfully deceived him, but the more he saw of the Homewood works, the
more fully he felt satisfied they had never returned anything except a
loss.

It was all very well to represent the profit on goods sent out as
large--no doubt it was large apparently; but when those goods came to be
returned on hand with freight and dock charges, and law charges, and
Heaven only knew what besides, the profit became a loss.

That was his, Mr. Swanland's, experience; and, of course, as Mr.
Swanland's management could not be supposed other than perfect, his
experience was generally accepted as correct. When he said Mortomley
could never have made a sixpence out of the concern, creditors shook
their heads, and said,

"Ah! that is how our money went," as if legitimate business was some
sort of game, at which any man in his senses would continue to play if
he were not making a profit out of it.

However, the trustee who understands his business, always hints that his
client is either a rogue or a fool. It is safer, perhaps, to imply the
latter, because in that case the trustee obtains credit for kindliness
of feeling; but there may be occasions on which it is necessary to speak
more strongly, and this proved to be one of them.

That unhappy Mortomley had given up everything he possessed on earth,
except his own and his wife's wearing apparel, to Mr. Swanland, acting
for the debtor and the creditors, and still Mr. Swanland was not
satisfied.

Which was particularly hard, seeing the creditors were far from charmed
with either Mortomley or his trustee, and that Mortomley, who had once
hoped to pay everybody, and retain Homewood, was less charmed still.

Why Mortomley felt dissatisfied has been explained. Why the creditors
were dissatisfied can easily be understood, when it is stated that as
week after week passed away, their hopes of a dividend grew less and
less.

At first, when they repaired to Mr. Swanland's office for information
concerning a dividend, they asked "when?" but afterwards they began to
ask "what?" And thus, by easy degrees, they were let down to "never,"
and "nothing."

This was usually the case at Asherill's, except when the risk of a
company chanced to be unlimited, and the contributaries solvent, or when
a company was limited, and the shares had not been so fully paid up but
that the promoters, and the advertising agent, and the liquidator, and
the lawyers could afford to leave, perhaps, threepence in the pound for
other creditors.

Given a private estate, and it generally came out from Asherill's clear
of meat as a picked bone. For this pleasing comparison I am, indeed,
indebted to an expression used in Salisbury House.

"We have been rather slack lately," said a clerk jubilantly, "but we
have got a meaty bone now."

And why should the young fellow not have been jubilant? Before Calcraft
retired from that profession which he so much adorned, he was pleased
doubtless to know a man had been sentenced to be hung by the neck till
he was dead.

There is a pleasing adaptability about human nature which enables it to
forget the possible pain the gratification of its own pleasure may
involve to its fellow-creature; and there can be no question but that
Mr. Swanland regarded, and perhaps reasonably, the insane struggles of
victims, who felt the hooks of liquidation troublesome, as Calcraft
might the mad fight of a criminal against the needful pinioning which
enabled matters to go off so decently and quietly about eight o'clock on
certain Monday mornings in his memory.

Nevertheless, and though he, at all events, must have had his innings
out of Mortomley's estate, Mr. Swanland felt disgusted at the result of
his own management of the affair.

Not because he had failed to pay the creditors even a farthing in the
pound. To do Mr. Swanland strict justice, he looked upon creditors as he
looked upon a debtor, namely, as natural enemies. He hated a debtor
because the debtor's creditors gave him trouble, and he hated creditors
because they gave him trouble; therefore he was, putting so much
personal profit in the bankrupt scale, able to hold the beam straight,
and declare both bankrupt and creditor to be equally obnoxious.

Mr. Swanland was a just man, and therefore conscientiously he could not
declare the beam fell in favour of disliking one more than the other. He
disliked them equally, when each had served his purpose, and he wished
to throw both aside. The trustee's reason for feeling disgusted with
Mortomley's estate was a very simple one. He had not made out of it what
he expected. He had netted nothing like the amount he conceived was to
be realised with good management.

Not that he feared a loss, _bien entendu_,--such an error had never yet
been written in the books of Salisbury House; but he knew he had done
that which touched his professional pride almost as keenly. He had lost
profit. He had felt so certain of himself and the _employées_, and the
works and the customers; he had entertained so genuine a contempt for
Mortomley's intellect; such a profound distrust of his capacity to
transact the simplest business matter in a business manner; that he
really believed when he took the management of the Homewood works upon
himself that he had the ball at his feet.

Visions even of paying a dividend may have been vouchsafed to him.
Certainly some extraordinary hallucination at one time held him in
thrall, for after he had pocketed considerable sums of money, he
actually returned much of it freely in the shape of wages to Mortomley's
Estate.

There were those who said Mr. Swanland, finding himself doing so
glorious a trade, had serious thoughts of buying in the plant at
Homewood, with a view of pursuing the amusement of colour-making in his
harmless moments. Be this as it may, he really had felt very proud of
his success, and readily fell into the habit of speaking of Mortomley as
a poor creature who did not understand the slightest detail of his own
business.

Probably, his culminating hour of triumph was that which brought to
Salisbury House the order for Mortomley's New Blue which Dolly mentioned
to Mrs. Werner. He was like a child in his personal glorification.

"If I had only leisure to attend to such matters fully, see what a trade
I could build up," he said to the opposition colour-maker; "poor
Mortomley never had any transactions with this firm, and ere my
management of affairs is three months' old I have this letter."

"But still, you must remember, it was Mortomley who made the colour,"
remarked his opponent, who felt a certain _esprit de corps_ and longed
to do battle for his order when he heard a man, whom amongst his
intimate friends he concisely referred to as "that fool of an
accountant," undervaluing those productions he personally would have
given something considerable to know how to manipulate.

"Oh! anybody can make a colour," observed Mr. Swanland, who had been
turning out Brunswick Greens, Prussian Blues, Chrome Reds, and Spanish
Browns with a celerity and a success which fairly overpowered his
reason.

"Perhaps so," agreed the other, who certainly felt no desire to see
Mortomley reinstated at Homewood. "At the same time, it may be well for
you to be cautious about that New Blue; Mortomley never sent out much of
it, and you might drop a lot of money if anything should happen to go
wrong."

"Pooh!" returned Mr. Swanland, "nothing can go wrong--nothing ever has
gone wrong."

With reference to which remark, Henry Werner, when the story was
repeated to him,--for it was repeated to every one interested in
Mortomley's Estate who had sufficient knowledge of the trade to
appreciate Mr. Swanland's humorous thoughts on the subject of
colour-making--observed that there was an old saying about "a pitcher
going once too often to the well."

With respect to Mortomley's Blue, Mr. Swanland certainly had perilled
the pitcher containing his profits. To Salisbury House there came an
awful experience in the shape of one of the partners in the large firm
that had sent the great order which lifted Mr. Swanland to the seventh
heaven of self-glorification.

No letter could have sufficed to express the wrath felt by the
principals in the house of Miller, Lennox, and Co. when they heard from
their correspondents abroad, enclosing a sample of the "Blue" Mr.
Swanland had forwarded to them; no manager or clerk could, they knew, be
trusted to utter their sentiments in the matter, and accordingly Mr.
Miller himself, after having first called at the Thames Street warehouse
and been referred thence to Basinghall Street, entered the offices of
Messrs. Asherill and Swanland in a white heat.

Never, he declared, never in the forty years he had been in business had
so utterly disgraceful a transaction come under his notice. All in vain
Mr. Swanland explained,--all in vain he blustered,--in vain Mr. Asherill
entreated Mr. Miller to be reasonable, that gentleman stuck to his
point.

"There," he said, laying one packet on the table, "is the blue we
ordered,--there is the blue you sent."

"And a very good blue too; I see no difference between them," retorted
Mr. Swanland.

"Good God! sir, don't you know the difference between Prussian Blue and
Mortomley's Blue? Have you been managing a colour-works even for a
month, and mean to say you are unaware that Mortomley's Blue is the very
best blue ever made? Why, if we had a clerk who made such a confession I
would bundle him neck and crop out of the office."

"You forget, sir, I am not a maker of colours; I am an accountant,"
suggested Mr. Swanland with dignity.

"Then why don't you stick to your accounts, and leave the making of
colours to some one who does understand his trade? I suppose this is a
fresh development of that precious egg, the new Bankruptcy Act, laid by
a lot of astute scoundrels in the City and hatched by a parcel of old
women in the House of Commons. Heaven help Mortomley if he has put his
affairs into such hands as yours say I. That stuff," and he
contemptuously indicated Mr. Hankins' blue, "is on its way back, and you
may make the best of it; one farthing we shall never pay you, and you
may consider yourselves fortunate that, in consideration of your gross
ignorance, I refrain from instructing our solicitors to proceed against
you for damages."

"It is all very well to say you will not pay," Mr. Swanland was
beginning, when the other interrupted him with,

"Pay, sir! I will never pay. You may carry the case to the House of
Lords if you like,--you may leave the goods at the Docks till the
charges amount to treble their original value, and still whistle for
your money. All I trust is this may prove a lesson to you not to meddle
in affairs of which you evidently understand a little less than my
five-year-old grandson."

And having made this statement, he walked out of the office, and in the
mental books of Miller, Lennox, and Co. there stands at the present
moment a black cross against Mr. Swanland's name. A black cross quite
undeserved as regarded the matter of the blue. In his soul Mr. Swanland
did believe the order had been executed as given; he had trusted to the
integrity of Hankins in making the blue, and to the honour of Messrs.
Miller and Lennox about paying for it, and his soul sank within him at
sound of Mr. Miller's parting words.

To make matters easier, Mr. Asherill, who had been an interested
auditor, remarked in a Commination-service sort of tone, "I advised you
to have nothing to do with Mortomley's affairs, but, as usual, you
disregarded my advice."

Hearing that, Mr. Swanland turned from the window where in a
make-believe convivial fashion he had been conversing with himself and
his liver, and said, "Shut up."

"_I beg your pardon_," remarked Mr. Asherill all in italics, "what did
you observe?"

He really thought his ears must have deceived him.

"I did not observe anything; I asked you to shut up unless you could
find something pleasanter to say to a fellow worried as I am than 'I
told you so.'"

Mr. Asherill had, of course, long ceased playing whist, nevertheless he
at that moment marked "one" against that perfect gentleman--his young
partner.



                                  CHAPTER V.

                      MR. SWANLAND'S CRUMPLED ROSE-LEAF.


That unlucky American order proved the worst blow Mr. Swanland had ever
received. It hurt his purse, his pride, and his personal affection,
since, let him scold Hankins as much as he chose--and he did choose to
make a vast number of unpleasant remarks to that person before he
discharged him with contumely and without notice; let him load his last
man in possession with reproaches, and assure him that the next time
such a thing occurred he should leave his employment instantly; let him
express an opinion that Mortomley deserved to be sent to prison because
he refused to divulge the secrets of his trade,--he could not blind
himself to the fact that the annoyance was really attributable to his
own utter incompetence and presumption; that he had made a fatal mistake
when he supposed a manufacturing business was as easy to manage as he
had found it to realise the stock-in-trade of a publican, or to dispose
of the watches and rings and bracelets of a jeweller in course of
liquidation. Nevertheless, it was a comfort to rail against Mortomley,
and he railed accordingly.

"If he had fallen in the hands of any other trustee in London, I believe
he would have found himself in custody ere this," observed Mr. Swanland,
venting his indignation and praising his clemency in the same sentence.
"The idea of a man withholding information likely to prove of benefit to
his creditors!"

"Shocking!" agreed Kleinwort, to whom he made the remark. "Shocking! but
why, dear creature, give you not this so tiresome blackguard to the
police? They would take from you and him all trouble; perhaps you feel
fear though of the little woman, is it so?"

"Thank Heaven I am afraid of nobody," retorted Mr. Swanland; "that is
more I expect than some of your friends could say."

"Very like, my friends are not all as you; there are some great
scoundrels in this England of yours." With which parting shot Kleinwort
waddled off, leaving the trustee with the feeling that he had been
making game of his calamity.

And, in truth, Mr. Swanland could have borne the pecuniary loss (of
profit) Mortomley's Blue entailed upon him with much greater equanimity
than the ridicule he was compelled to bear in consequence.

The story got wind, as such stories do, and was made the basis of a
series of those jokes at which City men laugh, as a child laughs when
its nurse bids it do so at her uplifted finger.

He heard about blue till he hated the sight and name of the colour. He
was asked how he felt after that "rather blue transaction." One man
accosting him in the street remarked he looked a little blue,--another
inquired if he was in the blues; when the Prussians were named in his
presence, some one cried out, "Hush! Prussians are a sore subject just
now with Swanland."

These pleasantries Mr. Swanland tried at first to carry off lightly.
"You mistake," he explained in answer to the last observation, "Prussian
Blue is not a sore subject with me, though I admit bronze may be."

"You are quite sure it is not brass, Swanland?" suggested a young
fellow, adjusting his eyeglass at the same time, in order to survey the
trustee more accurately.

"No," was the reply, "I have plenty of that I am thankful to say."

"You have cause for thankfulness," remarked the other, "for in your
profession you must require a good stock of the article."

Altogether, what with questions about the colour of his children's eyes,
observations to the effect that no doubt he would take his "annual trip
this year inland, to a green country, instead of the sea, the deep blue
sea,"--remarks that he would be certain to bet on Cambridge, as their
colour must be least inoffensive, and various other witticisms of the
same kind, which by the force of mere iteration finally grew amusing to
listeners,--the unfortunate trustee's life became a weariness to him.

In his chamber he cursed Mortomley, and a bird of the air carried the
tidings to Mr. Asherill, who in one and the same breath rebuked his
junior for profanity, and excused his profanity upon account of the
unfortunate impetuosity of youth.

"You had better conciliate Mortomley," said the senior partner, "and
induce him to make this waste stuff valuable. I have no doubt he is
clever enough to help you through, and that he would do so for a
five-pound-note."

Acting upon which hint, Mr. Swanland upon some trumpery pretence
requested Mortomley's presence at his office, and having got him there
he placed a little parcel open upon the table and said,

"By the bye, Mr. Mortomley, I have been asked if you could manufacture a
few tons of a colour such as that into your new blue."

Mortomley never even touched the sample before him, though he answered
at once,

"No, I could not."

"But you have not examined it, sir," expostulated Mr. Swanland.

"I do not want to examine it," was the reply, "the colour is dry. Do you
suppose, for a moment, it is possible to do anything with a colour after
it has dried?"

Now Mr. Swanland had supposed it was quite possible to do so, and
therefore entreated Mr. Mortomley to look closely at the parcel lying
before him.

"What is it?" asked the trustee.

"It is very inferior Prussian blue," was the reply, "and if your friend
have, as you say, got a few tons of it, he had better make it up into
balls, and sell it to the wholesale houses that supply the oil shops,
which in turn supply the laundresses. Ball blue is all it is fit for."

That unhappy Mortomley could not have made a less fortunate reply had
he studied the subject for a week. Mr. Swanland's patience had been so
exercised with allusions to the getting up of his linen; offers to give
him the names and addresses of washerwomen who might buy a pound or two
of blue if he allowed a liberal discount; inquiries as to whether he had
not been obliged to apply for a few policemen to keep the staircase at
Salisbury House clear for ladies of the washtub persuasion, who had
heard of the great bargains Asherill and Swanland were offering in
colours, that the slightest allusion to a laundress now affected him as
a red rag does a turkey cock.

"You are pleased to be facetious," he observed in a tone which caused
Mortomley to turn round and stare at the trustee, while he answered,

"Facetious! there is nothing to be facetious about in the matter. I
should say, if your friend have a lot of this wretched stuff thrown on
his hands, he must consider the affair something beyond a joke."

Mr. Swanland took a short walk up and down his office, then, the better
apparently for this exercise, he paused and said,

"That wretched stuff, as you call it, was made at Homewood."

Mortomley sat silent for a moment before he remarked,

"I am very sorry to hear it."

"You are not, sir," retorted Mr. Swanland.

"I am," was the reply. "Do you suppose I lost all care for my own trade
reputation when, unfortunately, part of it was given over to your
keeping?"

And the two men, both now standing, looked straight and dangerously the
one at the other.

"Come, Mr. Mortomley," said Mr. Swanland at last, breaking the spell by
withdrawing his eyes, in the same fashion as inquisitive folks in
Ireland used to be compelled to turn their gaze from the Leprechaun,
"we need not bandy hard words about this unfortunate business, though, I
must say, you are the first bankrupt in whose affairs I ever had any
concern, who refused to assist me to the extent of his power."

"I have not refused to assist you," was the reply; "on the contrary.
You, however, preferred my men to me, and you have reaped the fruits of
your preference, that is all."

"That is not all," said Mr. Swanland, "you were bound to make over your
formulæ to me."

"I think not," was the reply. "I do not profess to know much of this new
law by virtue of which I have been stripped of everything, and my
creditors have not been benefited to the extent of a single shilling,
but, still, I imagine no law can take away not merely a man's goods, but
also his brains. If you can get any Vice-Chancellor to compel me to
explain how to make my colours, without my assistance, of course I must
bow to his decision, though, in that case, I should take leave to tell
his Honour that although some colour-maker might be able to make use of
the information, an accountant certainly never could."

Hearing which sentence Mr. Swanland stared. He had never before seen
Mortomley roused. He did not know each man has his weak point, and that
Mortomley's pregnable spot lay close to the colours himself had
begotten.

Homewood, his business, his house, his furniture, his horses, his
carriages, his plant, his connection, Mortomley had yielded without a
struggle, but his mental children he could not so relinquish, nor would
he. Upon that point Mortomley, generally pliable, was firm, and
consequently, after an amount of bickering only a degree less unpleasant
to the trustee than to the bankrupt, Mortomley shook the dust of
Salisbury House off his feet, declaring his intention of never entering
it again.

As he passed down the staircase he met Mr. Asherill.

"Ah! Mr. Mortomley, and _how_ are _you_?" cried that gentleman with
effusion. "Getting on pretty well, eh? Had your discharge, of course?
No. Why they ought to have given it to you long ago. So glad to see you
looking so well. _Good_-bye, God bless you."

Never in his life had Mortomley felt more tempted to do anything than he
did at that moment to pitch the old hypocrite downstairs.

"My discharge!" he exclaimed, when he was recounting the incidents of
the day to his wife, "and the vagabond knew it was never intended I
should have it. Looking well! why, just as I was going out into the
street, Gibbons ran up against me.

"'What's the matter, Mortomley?' he said, 'you look like a ghost,' and
he made me go back into the passage, and sent for some brandy, and he
hailed a cab, and remarking, 'Perhaps you have not got much money loose
about you, take this, and you can pay me when you are next in town, six
months hence will do,' he forced his purse into my hand. I used to think
hardly of Gibbons, but he is not a bad fellow as times go."

"You will never go to Salisbury House again, Archie?" she asked.

"Never, Dolly. Never, that I declare most positively."

"Cannot we go into the country, then, for a time?" she suggested.

"I should like to go anywhere away from London," he answered.

After a short time she led the conversation back to his interview with
Mr. Swanland.

"I cannot imagine," she said, "how it happens that amongst the papers
that went from Homewood they never happened to find any of your
formulæ."

"It would have puzzled them to do that," he answered, opening his tired
eyes and looking at her with an expression she could not exactly
understand.

"You must have had formulæ," she persisted.

"Well, yes," he agreed; "perhaps you think they extended to eight
volumes of manuscript bound in morocco. You poor little woman, it would
be a bad thing for colour-makers if trade secrets were not more easily
carried than all that comes to. Look," and taking out his pocket-book he
handed her a couple of sheets of note-paper, "every receipt of mine
worth having is written down there; they are all clear enough to me,
though if I lost them to-morrow they would prove Greek to any other
person."

"Could you explain them to me?" she asked.

"Not now, dear," he answered, "I feel very tired; I think I could go to
sleep." Which utterance proved the commencement of another relapse; but
Dolly was not dismayed, on the contrary she wrote the very next day to
Lang and said,

"Whenever Mr. Mortomley is well enough to leave town we shall go to a
cottage I have taken in Hertfordshire. _All the special colours can now
be made without difficulty._ There is a barn near the cottage which may
be rented."

That was sufficient for Lang. Within a week he had got leave of absence,
and was on his way back to England. He saw the barn, he measured up its
size, he made out a list of the articles necessary, and received
sufficient money from Mrs. Mortomley to pay for them.

He tried to get a fresh order from the firm that had wanted the new
blue, but Mr. Miller shook his head.

"We have had enough of dealing with Mr. Mortomley at second-hand," he
said, "when he is in a position to come to us and enter into an
arrangement personally, possibly we may be able to do business." Which
was just--though he did not know it--as if he had said, "When Mr.
Mortomley has been to the moon and comes back again, we will resume
negotiations with him."

"However, there is a trade to be done, ma'am," said Lang confidently,
"and when I have finished my job, which will be in six weeks, I am
thankful to say, for I am sick of the place and of those outlandish
foreigners who can talk nothing but gibberish, we will do it."

"We shall have to be content with small beginnings though," suggested
Mrs. Mortomley, whose views were indeed of the most modest description.

"And then at the end of a twelvemonth we shall not be ashamed to count
our profits," agreed Lang, and he left assuring Dolly that his stay
among the "mounseers," as he styled all persons who had not been
privileged to first see the light in Great Britain, would be short as he
could make it.

He had set his heart upon being back in time to attend the final sale at
Homewood; but if he was quick Mr. Swanland proved quicker, and before
his return another act in the liquidation play was finished, and all the
vats, coppers, mills, boilers, and other paraphernalia in which
Mortomley's soul had once rejoiced were scattered to the four winds of
Heaven.

When Dolly saw the preliminary advertisements announcing that the
extensive and valuable plant of a colour-maker would shortly be offered
for sale, she lowered her flag so far as to write to Mr. Dean asking him
to buy Black Bess.

She requested this, she said, as a special favour,--she would be more
than grateful if he could give the pretty creature a good home. To which
Mr. Dean indited a long and pompous reply. He stated that his stables
only held so many horses, that each stall had its occupant, that he had
long given up riding, and that Black Bess would not be a match for any
carriage horse of the height he habitually purchased; he remarked that
she was too light even for his single brougham, and that it would be a
pity to keep such an animal merely to run to and from the station in a
dog-cart. Finally, Mr. Dean believed excessive affection for any dumb
animal to be a mistake; Providence had given them for the use of man,
and if when a horse ceased to be of service to a person in a superior
rank of life, it were retained in idleness from any feeling of
sentiment, what, asked Mr. Dean, would those in an inferior station do
for animals? This was not very _apropos_ of Black Bess--at that stage of
her existence, at all events,--but it was _apropos_ of the fact that Mr.
Dean had the day before sold a horse which for fifteen years had served
him faithfully, and got its knees cut through the carelessness of a
spruce young groom,--sold this creature to which he might well have
given the run of the meadows in summer and the straw-yards in winter,
for six pounds.

Antonia, on whom all the traditions of Homewood had not been spent in
vain, remonstrated with her husband on "the cruelty of sending the old
thing away," but her words produced no effect on Mr. Dean.

"Archie Mortomley never would sell a horse that had been long about
Homewood," she said.

"I dare say not, my dear," answered Mr. Dean; "but then you see it is
attention to these small details that has enabled me to keep Elm Park.
It was the want of that attention which drove Mr. Mortomley out of
Homewood."

Upon the top of this came Mrs. Mortomley's letter. Mr. Dean devoted a
whole morning to answering that letter, and then insisted upon reading
his effusion aloud to his wife.

"I think I have put that very clearly," he said when he had quite
finished; "I hope Mrs. Mortomley will lay what I have expressed to
heart."

"If you knew anything of Mrs. Mortomley you would never send her that
epistle," retorted Antonia. "She will read it to her friends, she will
mimic your tone, your accent, your manner; she will borrow a pair of
eyeglasses, and let them drop off her nose in the middle of each
sentence; and, in a word, she will make the written wisdom of Mr. Dean
of Elm Park as thoroughly ridiculous as I have often heard her make your
spoken remarks."

Mr. Dean reddened, but answered with considerable presence of mind that
the possession of such a wife had no doubt hastened Mortomley's ruin as
much as his fatal inattention to small details.

"Perhaps so," agreed Mrs. Dean, "but still she will help him to bear
being ruined with equanimity. Dolly never was dull, and, I declare, when
one comes to realize how fearfully dull almost every person is, I feel
as if she must, by that one virtue, have condoned all the rest of her
sins."

Which was really a very hard phrase for Mr. Dean to hear proceed from
the lips of the woman he had honoured so far as to make mistress of Elm
Park.

But Mrs. Dean was mistaken about Dolly, and Mr. Dean need have felt no
fear that ever again she would make him the butt at which to aim the
shafts of ridicule. For her the champagne of mirth had ceased to
sparkle; for her there was no fun in pompous respectability; for her the
glittering sparkle of wit had come to be but as a flare of light to one
with a maddening headache.

The cakes and ale of life had been for her, but they were for her no
more. Dolly, my Dolly, you were right when you said that last look on
the dead face of Homewood killed you,--for the Dolly of an earlier time,
so bright, so gracious, so happy, so young-looking, as girl, as wife, as
mother, you were from thenceforth never beheld by human being.



                              CHAPTER VI.

                            SAUVE QUI PEUT.


When Mr. Swanland had sold off all the plant of Homewood, and got the
best prices he could for Mortomley's carts and horses, Black Bess
included, who had for months been so badly groomed that the auctioneer
entered her as "One Brown Mare, Black Bess,"--he began to cast about him
how anything more could be got out of Mortomley.

He knew he had about squeezed the orange dry, but he knew a considerable
amount of juice had been lost--through "no fault of his own,"--and he
consequently set his wits to work to see how that spilled liquor could
be replaced.

It was not long before inspiration came to him, and when it did he
summoned another meeting of the committee.

At that meeting he gravely proposed that Mortomley should be invited to
bid for the remaining book debts, the books, and his discharge. The
question was discussed gravely--and as gravely agreed to--though three,
at all events, of the committee intended Mortomley never should have his
discharge; and accordingly the same evening Mr. Swanland, who really
could not dictate to a shorthand-writer, did something which passed
muster for dictation, so that eventually Mortomley received a letter
asking him to make an offer for the purchase of all the good things duly
mentioned.

Now considering that Mortomley had been stripped as clean of all worldly
belongings as the Biblical traveller who fell among thieves; considering
a man in process of liquidation is in the same state as regards the
inability to make personal contracts as a bankrupt; considering Dolly
had not a halfpenny left of her fortune, and that friends possessed of
great wealth are not in the habit of rushing forward at such times as
these with frantic entreaties for their purses to be made use of,--there
was a humour about this letter which might have excited the risible
muscles of a looker-on.

But there was no looker-on--there were only the players; there were only
Dolly and Mr. Swanland in fact, and arrayed in her grey silk skirt, in
her black velvet puffings, in her great plaits of hair, in her atom of a
bonnet, in light gloves, in the smallest of jackets, and the largest of
what then did service for _pouffs_, Dolly went to have her quarrel out
with the trustee.

In which laudable design she was frustrated. Mr. Swanland chanced to be
at home laid up with bronchitis, so Dolly saw instead Mr. Asherill, and
expressed to him her opinion about the demerits of the firm.

She was not at all reticent in what she said, and Mr. Asherill, spite of
his hypocritical manners and suave address, got the worst of it.

He tried quoting Scripture, but Dolly outdid him there. He tried
platitudes, but Dolly ridiculed both them and him. He tried
conciliation, and she defied him.

"That is a dreadful woman," thought Mr. Asherill, when she finally
sailed out of the office, leaving a general impression of silk, velvet,
flowers, lace, feathers, and eau-de-cologne behind her. "I'll never see
her again."

Poor Dolly, she must have been less or more than woman had she failed to
array herself in her most gorgeous apparel when she went forth to do
battle with her enemies.

There had been a latent hope in Mr. Swanland's mind that the Mortomleys
either were possessed of money or knew of those who would advance it,
and he felt, therefore, proportionably disappointed when Mr. Asherill
assured him it was all "no good."

"She has her clothes and he has his brains if it ever please the
Almighty to restore him his full faculties," summed up Mr. Asherill,
"but they have nothing else; on that point you may give yourself no
further trouble. Have you heard about Kleinwort?"

"Kleinwort, no! What about him?"

"He has gone."

"Gone! Where?"

"Ah! now you puzzle me. He has left England, at all events."

"And Forde?"

"I suppose we shall know more about Forde three months hence."

Was it true? Aye, indeed, it was. The little foreigner who loved his so
dear Forde, the clever adventurer, sworn to see that devoted friend safe
at all events,--the gross humbug, who had for years and years been
cheating, not more honest, perhaps, but slower English folks, as only
foreigners can, had performed as neat a dance upon horseshoes as that
other celebrated foreigner who posted to Dover whilst an audience that
had paid fabulous prices in expectation of seeing the performance sat in
a London theatre waiting his advent.

Mr. Kleinwort was gone.

In spite of that half-yearly meeting already mentioned, where every
person connected with St. Vedast Wharf made believe to be so pleased
with everything, Mr. Forde found, as the weeks and months went by, that
matters were becoming very difficult for him to manage--horribly
difficult in fact.

His directors grew more captious and more interfering. They wanted to
know a vast deal too much of the actual working of the concern. Instead
of spreading out their arms any further, they were inclined to narrow
the limits of their operations. They thought it was high time to put
several transactions of the Company upon a more business footing, and
words were dropped occasionally about their intention for the future, of
placing their trade upon some more solid basis, which words filled Mr.
Forde with misgiving.

Amongst other persons with whom the directors desired to curtail their
dealings, was Mr. Kleinwort, and about the same period Mr. Agnew
casually observed that he thought the various mining speculations in
which the Company were so largely engaged, might, with advantage, be
gradually and with caution closed.

He remarked that he thought such outside transactions were calculated to
divert attention from their more legitimate operations, and said he
considered unless the capital of the Company could be largely increased,
it would be more prudent, in the then state of the money-market and
general want of confidence in the public in limited companies, to
confine themselves to a different, if apparently less remunerative,
class of business. Of these words of wisdom Mr. Forde spoke scoffingly
to Mr. Kleinwort, but they made him uneasy nevertheless; and he proposed
to Kleinwort that he and Werner and the German should take Mortomley's
works, the lease of which--it was after the sale of plant at
Homewood--could be had for a nominal price, so that they might have
something to fall back on, in case the directors at St. Vedast Wharf
should at any time take it into their heads to close transactions with
Mr. Kleinwort, and, as a natural consequence, to dismiss Mr. Forde.

"They are ungrateful enough, for anything," finished the manager, and to
this Kleinwort agreed.

"They have hearts as the nether millstone," he said, "and, what is
worse, their brains are all soft, addled; but still we will not take the
colour-works yet. I have one plan, but the pear is not ripe quite. When
it is, you will know, and then you shall exclaim--'Oh! what a clever
little fellow is that Kleinwort of mine.'"

Whatever opinions Mr. Forde might entertain about Mr. Kleinwort's
cleverness, his directors were becoming somewhat doubtful concerning his
solvency.

"He is expecting a bill from a correspondent of his in Germany for a
large amount in a few days, and he has promised to let me have it,"
explained Mr. Forde, and then, after his tormentors left him free, he
sent round to Mr. Kleinwort, saying, "You _must_ let me have that
foreign bill without delay," to which Kleinwort turning down a piece of
the paper, wrote "Tomorrow," and putting the manager's note in a fresh
envelope returned it to him.

In fault of any better security then obtainable, this bill would next
day have been placed to Mr. Kleinwort's credit on the books of the firm,
had Mr. Agnew not chanced to take it in his hand. After looking at it
for a moment, his eye fell on the date of the stamp, and he at once
wrote a few words on a scrap of paper and pushed the memorandum and the
acceptance over to the chairman.

"Had not we better request Mr. Kleinwort to attend and explain," he
asked.

To which the chairman agreeing, Mr. Forde, who had left the board-room
for a moment, and now reappeared, was asked to send to Mr. Kleinwort and
say the directors would be glad if he could come round for a few
minutes.

"There is something wrong about that acceptance," wrote the manager in
pencil. "For God's sake think what it can be, and show yourself at
once."

Round came the German to show himself. He entered the board-room wiping
his forehead, and after smiling and bowing, said,

"You did wish to see me, gentlemen," and he stole a quick look at the
faces turned to his. "Yes, about this bill," suggested Mr. Agnew. "May
I inquire on what date you sent it to Germany?"

"I never sent that bill to Germany at all," answered Kleinwort. "I did
send one, his fellow, ten days' back, but he have not returned; he will
not now. My good friend and correspondent turned up last night at mine
house from Denmark, where he had business, and he gave me his signature
not ten minutes before it was despatched to this your place."

Hearing which the chairman nodded to Mr. Agnew, and said, "That explains
the matter," adding, "thank you, Mr. Kleinwort; we are very sorry to
have given you so much trouble."

"No, no, no, not trouble, by no means," declared the German vehemently,
and he passed out of the board-room and left the wharf as he had entered
it, wiping the perspiration off his forehead.

"Pouf!" he exclaimed, as he re-entered his office, and after pulling off
his coat poured out half-a-tumbler of neat brandy, and swallowed it at
a draught. "There has been too much of this, Kleinwort, my dear fellow,
a few straws more would break even thy camel's back."

During the remainder of that day Mr. Kleinwort was too busy to spare
more than a minute even to Mr. Forde, when that gentleman called to see
him. The next morning he was too ill to come to business, and Mr. Forde,
who felt anxious naturally concerning the health of a man, bound to
stand by him through all chances and changes, went up to his house to
ascertain what was the matter.

"I must get away for a week," declared the invalid, who looked ill
enough to have warranted his saying he must get away for three months.
"It has all been too much for me. A few days' quiet, and the sea, and
the shells, and the bright ships sailing by, and I come back better than
well. I go on Monday to Hastings, and you must so manage as to come to
spend Saturday and Sunday in that peace so profound. Promise that it be
we see you."

In perfect good faith Mr. Forde did promise that Kleinwort should be
gratified thus far, but it was not in his nature to let a man go away
from town and fail to remind him by means of every night's post about
the trouble and anxiety he had left behind him. To these communications
the manager received no reply whatever until the fourth day, when having
despatched a more pressing and irritable note than usual there arrived
this telegram.

"Monday will not be long. All suspense for you then over. Till then
torment not me with business. We expect you for Saturday."

But it so happened that when Saturday came Mr. Forde found himself
unable to leave London, and was compelled to telegraph apologies and
regrets to his friend.

He waited at the wharf for an hour after the clerks left, expecting a
reply to this communication, but at the end of that time wended his way
home, thinking that most probably Mr. Kleinwort would address his answer
there. Night closed, however, and no telegram arrived.

"He was out, no doubt," considered Mr. Forde, "and, as he is to be in
London so soon, did not think it worth while to send a message till his
return;" and with these comforting reflections, and the still more
comforting fact of Monday, which was to end all suspense, being close at
hand, Mr. Forde went to bed and slept soundly.

Monday came, and Mr. Forde was at Mr. Kleinwort's office so early that
the head clerk was just turning the key in the lock as he reached the
landing.

"Mr. Kleinwort come yet?" asked Mr. Forde.

"I have not seen him, sir. I should scarcely think he could be here
yet."

"Any letter from him?" asked the manager, entering the office, and
taking the letters out of the clerk's unresisting hands he looked at
each superscription curiously.

"I will look round again shortly," he remarked, after he had examined
the correspondence once more, and felt in the letter-box to make sure no
missive had been overlooked.

"Very well, sir," said Mr. Kleinwort's clerk.

The day wore on, and Mr. Forde looked "round again" often, but still
with the same result. He telegraphed to Hastings, but elicited no reply.
By the evening's post he wrote requesting that a telegram might be sent
to the wharf immediately on receipt of his letter to say by which train
Mr. Kleinwort might be expected in town.

He received no telegram; nothing had been heard from Mr. Kleinwort at
that gentleman's office; the head clerk feared he could not be so well;
and Mr. Forde started off by the next train to Hastings.

Arrived there, he ascertained Mr. and Mrs. Kleinwort had left for London
on the previous Friday evening.

By the time Mr. Forde again reached the City all business was over for
the day, and the offices closed for the night, therefore the unhappy
manager, dreading he knew not what, fearing some evil to which he felt
afraid to give a shape or a name, repaired to Mr. Kleinwort's private
residence.

He looked up at the house, and as he did so his heart sank within him;
not a light was to be seen in any one of the windows, the lower
shutters were closed, there was straw littering about the garden. His
worst enemy might have pitied him as he stood there hoping he was
dreaming, hoping he should wake to find that he had been struggling with
some horrible nightmare.

When he could gather strength to do it, he began knocking at the
door--knocking till he woke the deserted house with echoes that
simulated the sound of hurrying feet--knocking till the neighbours
opened their doors, and put their heads out of the windows to ascertain
what was the matter.

"There is no one in that house, sir," shouted an irascible gentleman
from the next balcony.

"There is no use in your trying to knock the door down. The house is
empty, sir. The family left a week ago, and the last of the furniture
was removed on Saturday."

"Where have they gone?" asked Mr. Forde in a weak husky voice, which
sounded to his own ears like that of some different person.

"To South America. Mr. Kleinwort has got an appointment there under his
own government."

That was enough. The manager knew for certain Kleinwort had thrown him
over, that he had eight days' start of any one who might try to follow.

How it had been managed; how the Hastings juggle was performed; who had
helped him to hoodwink those who might be interested concerning his
whereabouts, he felt too sick and dizzy even to imagine.

There was only a single fact he was able to realise; namely, that
between him and ruin there stood now but one man, and that man Henry
Werner.



                               CHAPTER VII.

                      MORTOMLEY UNDERSTANDS AT LAST.


The summer following that autumn and winter when Mortomley's Estate was
in full course of liquidation proved, if not the hottest ever
remembered, at least sufficiently warm to render Londoners who had to
remain in town extremely impatient of their captivity, and to induce all
those who could get away to make a rush for any place within a
reasonable distance where sea-breezes or fresh air could be obtained.

It was a summer in which everything was as dull as can well be imagined.
Trade was dreadful; each man seemed losing money, and no man confessed
to a balance of five pounds at his bankers'. If City people were to be
believed, a series of unprecedented misfortunes compelled them, one and
all, to ask for outstanding accounts and to request the return of such
small amounts of money as in moments of mental aberration they had been
induced to lend to their impecunious friends, whilst it happened most
unfortunately that a series of disappointments and misfortunes equally
unprecedented prevented the payment of accounts and the return of loans.

Making, however, due allowance for excuses and exaggeration, things were
very bad indeed. That badness affected all trades--touched all ranks.
People were not rich enough to be ill, they could not afford to die, and
so even the doctors and the undertakers found things hard, and believed
fees and feathers had gone out of fashion.

"Persons in course of liquidation were to be envied," so Mr. Swanland
with a faint attempt at humour assured his visitors, while Mr. Asherill
declared that really he wished he could go into the 'Gazette' and so get
a holiday.

If you were on sufficiently intimate terms to inquire concerning the
fruitful vine and the olive branches belonging to any City man, you were
certain to hear the vine and the olives had been transplanted
temporarily to some easily accessible resting-place, to which the
husband and father declared to you upon his word of honour he had not
the means of proceeding on that especial Saturday afternoon when you
spoke to him in Finch Lane.

Nevertheless, had your way been his, you would have met him an hour
after, taking his ticket for some well-known terminus.

Even Mr. Dean could not manage to leave town, and Mrs. Dean was,
therefore, at Scarborough with some Essex friends who had invited her to
join their party.

Mrs. Werner was at Dassell with her children, The old lord was dead, and
that Charley, who had once wished to marry his cousin, proposed taking
up his residence at the family seat. If this resolution were carried
out, Mrs. Trebasson intended to leave the hall, notwithstanding her
nephew's cordially expressed hope that she would still consider it her
home.

Naturally, therefore, Mrs. Werner availed herself of the opportunity,
still left of paying a long visit to the old place, and Mr. Werner had
begged her not to hurry back, as "he could do very well without
her"--which utterance he did not intend to be ungracious, neither did
his wife so understand it.

As for Mortomley and his wife, they were far away from London.

In one of the most remote parts of Hertfordshire where woods cover the
lonely country for miles, where the silvery Lea flows through green
fields on its way to the sea, never dreaming of the horror and filth it
will have to encounter ere mingling with the Thames--where the dells are
in the sweet spring time carpeted with violets, blue and white, that
load the air with perfume--where rabbits scud away through copses
starred with primroses--where jays plume their brilliant feathers in the
golden sunshine--where squirrels look with bright curious eyes at the
solitary passer-by--where pheasants scarcely move out of the way of a
stranger's footsteps--where, save for the singing of birds, and the
humming of insects, and the bleating of sheep, there is a silence that
can be felt--Dolly had found a home.

As seen from the road as picturesque a cottage as painter need have
desired to see, but only a poor scrap of a cottage architecturally
considered--a labourer's cottage originally, and yet truly as Dolly
described it to Mrs. Werner--a very pretty little place.

The ground on which it stood rose suddenly from the road, and the tiny
garden in front sloped down to the highway at a sharp angle. On one side
was a large orchard, which went with the house, and on the other a great
field of growing wheat already turning colour.

Behind the cottage was first its own ample vegetable garden, and then
one of the woods I have mentioned, which formed a background for the
red-tiled roof and tumbledown chimneys of the Mortomleys' new home.

Dolly had seen the advertisement of a place she thought might suit to
let in this locality, and so chanced to penetrate into wilds so far from
London.

As usual, the place advertised was in every respect undesirable, and
Dolly wore herself out wandering about interminable lanes looking for a
vacant cottage and finding none.

All this was in the early spring when the leaves were only putting
forth, when Daffodils, Mezerion, and American currant alone decked the
modest flower-gardens--when nature, in a word, had not yet decked
herself in the beautiful garments of May, or in the glorious apparel of
the year's maturer age.

But Dolly knew how that pleasant country place would look when the
hawthorn was in bloom, and the roses climbing over the rustic porches,
and the corn cut and standing in goodly sheaves under the summer sun.

There was not a mood or tense of country life Dolly did not understand
and love, and she felt like a child disappointed of a new toy while
wending her way back to the station to think her search had proved all
in vain.

She was in this mood as she drew near the cottage I have described.

"I could be quite satisfied even with that," she considered. "I could
soon make it look different," and she stood leaning over the gate and
picturing the place with grass close under the window, with a few
evergreens planted against the palings, with a rustic garden-chair with
rustic baskets filled with flowers, on the scrap of lawn she herself had
imagined.

As she so stood an old woman came to the door and looked down the walk
at the stranger curiously.

"I was admiring your dear little place," said Dolly apologetically. "I
think it is so sweet and quiet."

The woman trotted down to the gate on hearing these words of praise, and
answered,

"Aye, it is main pretty in the summer, when the flowers are in full
blow, and the trees in full leaf. I tell my master we shall often think
of it in the strange land we are going to."

Now this sentence perplexed Dolly; owing to the tone in which it was
spoken, she could not tell whether the woman meant she and her husband
were going to heaven or to foreign parts, so she asked no question.

She only said, "I am sure you will think it no trouble to give me a
glass of water. I have been walking a long way, and I am very tired."

"Come in and rest yourself then," the old lady exclaimed heartily, and
she conducted Dolly indoors, and dusted a chair for her, and brought her
the water ice-cold; and having elicited that Mrs. Mortomley had come all
the way from London, that she had walked miles, that she had been to
look at Hughes's house, and that neither bite nor sup had passed her
lips since breakfast save that glass of cold water, she asked if her
visitor would not like a cup of tea. The kettle was on, she said, and
she could mash the tea in a few minutes.

Dolly was delighted, she wanted the tea, and she rejoiced in the
adventure. What though the bread was home-made bread and as heavy as
lead, to quote poor Hood; what though the tea was "mashed" till it was
black in the face; what though the sugar was brown and of a treacley
consistence,--the guest brought to the repast an appetite which charmed
her hostess and amazed herself.

While Dolly sipped her tea, for she understood the teapot had no great
force of resistance and could not hold out to great extremity, and the
"darling old lady," as Mrs. Mortomley called her for ever afterwards,
drank hers out of a saucer, the two women got into a friendly
conversation, and the elder told the younger how she and her master were
going to America to their only son, who, after being "awful wild," and a
"fearful radical," often going well-nigh to break his father's heart,
who had set "great store" by his boy, had started off fifteen years
previously "for Ameriky unbeknown to living soul."

Arrived there it was the old story of the prodigal repeated, with a
difference.

At home he had wasted his substance and neglected his parents. Abroad he
repented him of his evil doings, and worked as hard in a strange
country as he had idled in England.

He had married well, and was a rich man, and all he desired now was that
his father and mother should make their home near him, share his
prosperity, and see their grand-children.

"And so, ma'am, we are going as soon as ever we can let the house and
sell our bits of furniture. The house we could get rid of fast enough,
but no one wants the furniture, and my husband he is loth to let it go
for what the brokers offer."

"What do they offer?" asked Dolly.

"For every stick and stool in the house thirty shillings."

"And how much do you think they ought to give?" asked Dolly.

"Why my master he says as how we ought not to take less nor five pound
for the furniture, and two pound for the cropped garden and fowl-house,
and sty and woodshed, all of which he builded with his own hands; but
there's a sight of counting in that money, and people like us have all
their beds and chairs and tables, and I wish he'd take the dealer's
offer and be done with it, for I am longing to see my boy once more."

Dolly turned her face aside, and looked at the fire.

"What is the rent of this place?" she inquired.

"Four pound eleven a year, ma'am; and though that do sound high, still
it is a cheap place at the money, for there's a fine big garden and that
orchard you see, and it needn't stand empty an hour if only my master
would give in about the furniture."

"How many rooms have you?" Dolly asked.

"We have as good as four upstair; but two of them are open like on the
stairs. We use them for storing things, and there is this house; we call
the front room 'the house' in these parts, ma'am, and the back place,
and another back place where the stairs lead out, and--"

"Might I see it?" Dolly entreated, "I should like to see it so much."

"You'll excuse the place being in a bit of a muddle?" answered the
other, as she led the way about her small territory.

"Good Heavens! if this is a muddle, what must apple-pie order be?"
thought Mrs. Mortomley, as she looked at the well-scrubbed stairs, at
the snow-white boards, at the chest of drawers bees-waxed till she saw
her own reflection in them better than in the looking-glass, off which
half the quicksilver had peeled; at the patch-work counterpane, which,
though probably half a century old, still shone forth resplendent with
red and yellow and green, and all the colours of the rainbow.

"I do not care to see the garden," said Dolly when they were once more
in the back place; "and I have seen the orchard. I will take the house
off your hands, and your furniture, and your crops, at your own price; I
have not so much money with me, but I will leave you what I have in my
purse, and I will send down again any day you name, in order to pay you
the balance still owing and to take possession."

"You, ma'am!" repeated the woman.

"Yes," answered Dolly; "I have a husband who is in bad health, and I
must get him away from London for a short time. We cannot afford to take
a large house. We can make this answer our purpose, so now give me a
receipt for three pounds ten, on account--and--"

"I can't write," was the reply.

"Well, I will leave my address, and your husband can send me one,"
suggested Dolly.

"He is no more a schollard nor me," said the woman.

Was this the reason Dolly wondered, why at their age they were willing
to give up their home and country and go so far away to join the whilom
prodigal? Not to be able to send a line, without that line being indited
by other fingers, seen by other eyes; not to be able to understand the
contents of a letter save by the aid of a third person's reading! It was
certainly very pitiful, Dolly considered.

"It is of no consequence," she remarked, after a moment's pause devoted
to thinking this aspect of the educational question over. "Here are
three pounds ten shillings, and perhaps you can get some of your
neighbours to send me a line, saying when you wish to leave. Good-bye, I
hope you may have a pleasant voyage, and find your son well and happy at
the end of it."

And so Dolly retired mistress of the position; and so all unconsciously
she had frustrated the schemes of the poor old father, who, not wishing
to cross his wife, and not wanting to leave England, had put what he
considered a prohibitory price on his effects, and refused to leave
unless that were given for them.

"It is God's will, and I dare not gainsay it," he muttered to himself,
when he grasped the full meaning of his wife's breathless revelation.
"But it is nought less nor a miracle--what parson tells us a Sundays
ain't a bit more wonderful. It is main hard though, for me at my age
though, to be taken at my word like this."

From which utterance it will be seen he never thought of going back from
his word; indeed, regarding Dolly's visit as he did, it is probable he
imagined some judgment might fall upon him if he tried to put any
further impediment in the way.

As for Dolly, once she got possession of the place, she sent Esther down
with full directions how she was to proceed to make it habitable. Papers
were forwarded from London--papers cheap, light, pretty; and with the
help of two local workmen, who "contracted" for the job, the whole house
was whitewashed, papered, and painted, in ten days. Dogs took the place
of the old-fashioned rickety grate, the outer door was taken off its
hinges, and a new one, the upper part of which was of glass, put in its
place. A modest porch of trellis-work shaded this door, and over it grew
roses and honeysuckle, which were duly trained by a superannuated
labourer, who, thankful for a week's work, laid down that grass-plot
Dolly's heart desired, at a rate of wage which made Mrs. Mortomley feel
ashamed as she paid him the price agreed on.

To persons who have been accustomed to yield up their houses to a
professional decorator, and allow him to work his will as to cost of
material and price of labour, and the amount of improvement to be
effected, it may seem that Mrs. Mortomley must, in making her old
cottage into a new one, have spent a considerable sum of money.

This was not the case; and yet when Dolly came to go through her
accounts, which meant, in her case, counting over the sovereigns still
remaining, she felt she had exceeded the original estimate it was her
intention to adhere to, and that she must economize very strictly in the
future if her noble was not soon to be brought down to ninepence.

Mr. Mortomley had with much difficulty extracted ten pounds from the
treasury at Salisbury House, for his attendance at Mr. Swanland's
offices, and a wonderful thing had happened to Dolly.

Rupert not merely repaid the money he borrowed, but added twenty pounds
to the amount.

"I have had a great piece of good fortune happen to me," he wrote, "and
I send you share of it; I leave for the Continent next month, in company
with Mr. Althorpe, a young gentleman possessed of plenty of money and no
brains to speak of. He pays all my expenses, and gives me a handsome
salary in addition. You may expect to see me next Saturday. I long to
see your cottage, and will arrange to stay until Tuesday morning."

So Rupert was the first visitor, recalling the old days departed, who
crossed the threshold of the new home, and to whom Dolly could expatiate
on the improvements she had effected.

"You have done wonders," said Rupert, standing beside her in the little
garden which commanded a view of the Lee, winding away through pleasant
meadows. "It is really a marvellous little nest to have constructed out
of your materials, but," he added suddenly, "Archie does not like
it--Archie is breaking his heart here."

"Archie will have to like it," returned Dolly, and there was a tone in
her voice Rupert had never heard in it before. "There is no good in a
man kicking against the pricks, and pining for things even those who
love him best cannot give him. I shall have to tell him, Rupert; I feel
that, whether ill or well, it is time he took his share of the burden
with me. The sooner he knows, the sooner he will be able to look our
position straight in the face. I wish I was not such a coward. I cannot
endure the idea of letting him into the secret that everything has gone,
that there is not a thing left."

She spoke less passionately than despairingly. In truth, the change from
which she had anticipated such good results, proved the last straw which
broke her back.

She, understanding their position, had felt thankful to realise that
even so humble a home was possible for them until her husband's health
should be re-established, and the sight of his ill-concealed despair
when he beheld the cottage, proved a shock as great to her as his new
home to Mortomley.

For months and months she had been reconciling herself to the
inevitable--schooling herself to forget the past and look forward to a
future when Archie would take an interest in the modest little factory
she and Lang were to prepare, and learn to find happiness in the tiny
home she had tried so hard to beautify--but it came upon him suddenly.
He had not realised the full change in his circumstances when he left
Homewood, or when he struggled back to consciousness from long illness
at Upper Clapton; not when he had to attend at Mr. Swanland's offices;
not when the Thames Street warehouse was closed, and one of his own
clerks started a feeble business there on the strength of his late
employer's name and connection; not when the last sale took place at
Homewood--no, not once till on the morning after his arrival at Wood
Cottage, (so Dolly christened the new home), he rose early, and walking
round the house and surveying his small territory, comprehended vaguely
there was something still for him to know; that Dolly was keeping some
terrible secret.

"He knows all about it as well as you, you may depend," Rupert said in
reply to Dolly's last sentence; "nothing you can tell him now will be
news to him."

But Dolly shook her head.

Her instinct was clearer than Rupert's reason, and she felt certain if
her husband only knew the worst, he would nerve himself to face it more
bravely than he could this vague intangible trouble.

"I will tell him," she declared to Rupert, and then like a coward put
off doing so till Mortomley himself broke the ice by asking,

"Dolly, how long do you propose remaining in this charming locality?"

"Do you not think it charming?" she inquired. "I think the walks about
are lovely, and the air so pure, and the scenery so calm and peaceful--"

"Granted, my love; but it is a place one would soon grow very tired of.
I must honestly confess I find time hang very heavily on my hands
already."

"Don't say that, don't," she entreated.

"But, Dolly, if it be true why should I not say it?" he inquired.

"Because, my poor dear," and Dolly laid a trembling hand on his
shoulder, "I am afraid you will have to stay here and learn to like and
find your interests in it."

He took her hand in his, and turned so that he could see her face.

"What is it, dear, you are keeping from me? Is there any difficulty
about getting the interest of your money. Mr. Daniells is in London I
know, and the matter now ought to be put right. Tell me all about it,
dear--why are we in this place, and why do you say we must remain here?"

"Because," Dolly began, and then stopped, hesitating how to frame her
sentence.

"Because what?" he asked a little impatiently. "Come, dear, out with it;
the trouble will not seem half so great or insurmountable when you share
it with me. Because--"

"Because I have no money, Archie, now, except just a very, very little;
because that has gone like everything else."

"Do you mean your fortune?" he asked.

"Yes, dear, the whole of it," she answered, determined he should know
the worst at last.

"My God!" said Mortomley, and the expression sounded strange, coming
from the lips of a man who rarely gave vent to any vehemence of feeling.
"What a fool I have been! what a wicked, short-sighted, senseless fool!
why don't you speak hardly to me, Dolly--I who have ruined you and
Lenore?"

She stooped down and kissed him.

"Archie, I don't care a straw about the money; I did at first, and I was
afraid, but I am not afraid now; if only you will be content and brave,
and ready to believe small beginnings sometimes make great endings."

But he made no reply. He only rose, and walking to the door flung it
open, and stood looking out over the pleasant landscape.

Dolly feigned not to notice him. She went to her work-table and began
turning over her tapes and cottons with restless fingers, waiting,
waiting for her husband to speak.

Then in a moment there came a tremendous crash, and Mortomley was lying
on the matting which covered the floor, like one dead.



                               CHAPTER VIII.

                          MR. WERNER ASKS A FAVOUR.


About the very happiest hour of Dolly Mortomley's life was one in which
her husband, still weak and languid, after watching her gliding about
his sick-room, said--feebly it is true, but still as his wife had not
heard him speak since the time of his first attack at Homewood--"My poor
Dolly."

It was the voice of the olden time--of the never-to-be-forgotten past,
when if she made burdens he was strong enough to carry them. In that
pleasant country place the cloud which had for so long a time obscured
his mental vision, was rent asunder, and the man's faculties that had
so long lain dormant, were given back to him once more.

Dolly was right. No one save herself knew how ill Mortomley had been
during all that weary time at Homewood, during the long sickness at
Clapton, during all the months which followed when superficial observers
deemed him well.

Though on that bright summer's morning, with his haggard face turned
towards the sunlight, he looked more like a man ready for his coffin
than fit to engage once more in the battle of life, there was a future
possible for Mortomley again--possible even in those remote wilds where
newspapers never came, except by post, and then irregularly; where the
rector called upon them once a week at least; where the rector's wife
visited Dolly every day during the worst part of her husband's illness;
where fruit and flowers came every day from the Great House of the
neighbourhood by direction of the owner, who was rarely resident; and
where the gentry who were resident thought it not beneath their dignity
to leave cards for the poor little woman who was in such sore
affliction, and who would have been so lonely without the kindly
sympathy of those who had--seeing her at church--considered her style of
dress most unsuitable, perfectly unaware that Dolly was wearing out the
silks and satins and laces and feathers of a happier time with
intentions of the truest economy.

But Dolly was no longer unhappy.

"I am so thankful," she said to the rector's wife that day; "my husband
is dreadfully weak still, I know, but he will get better--I feel
it--I--"

But there she stopped; she could not tell any one of the old sweet
memories those three words, "My poor Dolly," brought back to her mind;
she could not explain how when she heard them spoken she understood
Archie, her Archie, had been for a long time away, and was now come back
and lying feeble it is true, but still on the highway to health in that
upstairs chamber which her love had made so pretty for him.

Thus the scales of happiness vibrate, up to-day for one, down to-morrow
for another.

It had been the turn of Messrs. Forde and Kleinwort once to stand
between Dolly and the sunshine; it was the turn of both now to stand
aside while the Mortomleys basked in it; from that very morning when
Archie came back to life and reason, Mr. Forde knew for certain
Kleinwort's little game was played out and that he had left England,
himself not much the better for all his playing at pitch-and-toss with
fortune, and every man he had ever been connected with the poorer and
the sadder, and the more desperate, for his acquaintance.

Just a week after that day Dolly sat in "the house," as she still
continued to call the front room, all alone.

She held work in her hand, but she was not sewing, she had a song in her
heart, but she was not singing it audibly. She was very happy, and
though she had cause for anxiety best known to herself, hers was not a
nature to dwell upon the dark side of a picture so long as there was a
bright one to it.

Upstairs Mortomley lay asleep, the soft pure air fanning his temples,
and the songs of birds and the perfume of flowers influencing and
colouring the matter of his dreams.

Lenore was at the Rectory spending the day. Esther had gone to the
nearest town to make some purchases, and Mrs. Mortomley sat all alone.

Along the road, through the gate, up the narrow walk, came a visitor. He
never looked to right or left, he never paused or hesitated for a
moment, but strode straight to the door and knocked.

The door opened into "the house," which was indeed the only sitting-room
the Mortomleys boasted, and Dolly rising, advanced to give him
admittance. Through the glass she saw him and he saw her. For a second
she hesitated, and then opening the door said, with no tone of welcome
in her voice,

"Mr. Werner."

"Yes, Mrs. Mortomley, it is I," he answered. "May I come in?"

"You can come in if you like. As a matter of taste, I should not have
thought you would like--"

"As a matter of taste, perhaps not," was the reply. "As a matter of
necessity, I must."

After he entered they remained standing. Mrs. Mortomley would not ask
him to sit down, and for a moment his glance wandered over the room with
its floor paved with white bricks, shining and bright like marble, over
the centre of which was spread some India matting.

He took in the whole interior with that rapidity of perception which was
natural to him. He noticed the great ferns and bright flowers piled up
in the fireplace. He saw wonderful palms and distorted cacti, all
presents given to Dolly, the pots hidden away in moss, which gave so
oriental a character to the quaint and modest home.

He beheld the poor furniture made graceful and pretty by Dolly's taste
and skill, and in the foreground of the picture he saw Mrs. Mortomley, a
mere shadow of the Mrs. Mortomley he remembered, it is true, clad in a
gorgeous muslin which had seen service at Homewood, her hair done up
over frizzetts which seemed trying to reach to the seventh heaven, her
frills as ample and her skirts as much puffed as though she was living
in a Belgravian mansion.

There was no pathos of poverty about Dolly. To look at her no human
being could have conceived she had passed through such an ordeal as that
I have endeavoured to describe.

Somehow one does associate sadly-made dresses and hair gathered up in a
small knob at the back of the head with adversity, and well as Mr.
Werner knew Dolly her appearance astonished him.

"How is your husband?" he inquired at last.

"I cannot at all see why you should inquire," she replied, "but as you
have inquired I am happy to say he is better, that I believe he will get
well now, well and strong and capable."

"What is he doing now?"

"He is asleep, or was ten minutes ago."

"I did not mean that, I meant in the way of business."

"I decline to answer any questions relating to our private affairs,"
said Dolly defiantly.

Mr. Werner merely smiled in comment, a sad smile, full of some meaning
which Dolly could not fathom.

"May I sit down?" he asked after a moment's pause.

"Certainly, though I should not have imagined you would care to sit down
in my husband's house."

"If I had not known Mrs. Mortomley to be an exceptional woman, I should
not have entered her husband's house at all."

"Mrs. Mortomley is so exceptional a woman that she desires no
compliments from Mr. Werner," was the reply.

He smiled again and said,

"And I in good faith am in no mood to pay compliments to any one--not
even to you, whom I want to do me a favour."

"Recalling the past, I cannot help remarking that diffidence does not
appear to be one of your strongest characteristics."

"Recalling the past, you will do me this kindness for the sake of my
wife."

Dolly did not answer. She wanted to understand what this favour might be
before she committed herself.

"I cannot sit," he said, "unless you are seated also, and I am tired
mentally and bodily. I assure you when I have told you all I have come
to tell, you will not regret having extended to me courtesy as well as
attention."

He placed a chair for her, and then took one himself.

"I have come to speak to you about a very serious matter--" he began.

"If it is anything concerning Archie do not go on," she interrupted
entreatingly. "I have been so happy this morning, and I cannot bear to
hear ill news now--I cannot!" she repeated passionately.

"Strange as it may appear to you," he said calmly, "there are other
persons in England than Mr. and Mrs. Mortomley. It is a singular fact,
but true nevertheless, that they are only two souls out of a population
of thirty millions. I am bringing no bad news to you about your husband
or his affairs; my news is bad for Leonora."

"But she is not ill," said Dolly quickly, "for I had a letter from her
this morning."

"No; she is quite well, and the children are well, and I am well. There
is an exhaustive budget of the state of the family health. But still
what I have to say does effect Leonora. You remember your friend,
Kleinwort, Mrs. Mortomley?"

"I once saw a detestable little German called Kleinwort," she said.

"And you remember his--so dear--Forde?"

"I remember him also."

"Well, a week ago that so dear Forde found that his devoted friend,
under a pretence of ill-health and paying a visit to Hastings, had taken
French leave of this country and got ten days' start of any one who
might feel inclined to follow. He was not able to secure much booty in
his retreat; but I fancy, all told, he has taken seven or eight thousand
pounds with him, and he has let the General Chemical Company in for an
amount which seems simply fabulous.

"So far Kleinwort, now for myself. A few years ago no man in London need
have desired to be in a better position than that I occupied. I was
healthy, wealthy, and, as I thought, wise; I was doing a safe trade, I
had a good connection; I was as honest as City people have any right to
be, and--But why do I talk of this? I am not reciting my own biography.

"Well, the crash of 1866 came. In that crash most people lost a pot of
money. Richard Halling did (and your husband's estate has since suffered
for it), and I did also. If I had stopped then I could not have paid a
shilling in the pound; but no one knew this, my credit was good and my
business capacity highly esteemed. So I went on, and tried my best to
regain the standing I alone knew I had lost."

A carafe of water stood on a table close to where he sat. He poured out
a glass and drank eagerly ere he proceeded.

"Not to weary you with details, in an evil hour my path crossed that of
Forde. He wanted to build up the standing of the General Chemical
Company; I wanted to ensure the stability of my own.

"Mutually we lied to each other; mutually we deceived each other. I
thought him a capable scoundrel; he thought me a grasping millionaire.
The day came when I understood thoroughly he had no genius whatever,
even for blackguardism, but was simply a man to whom his situation was
so important that he would have sacrificed his first-born to retain his
post; a man who would have been honest enough had no temptation been
presented to him; a man who was not possessed of sufficient moral
courage to be either a saint or a sinner, who was always halting between
two opinions, and whilst treading the flowery paths leading to
perdition, cast regretful glances back to the dusty roads and stony
highways traversed by successful virtue, whilst I--"

He paused and then went on.

"Ever since 1866 I have been a mere adventurer, building up my credit
upon one rotten foundation after another, believing foolishly it may be
and yet sincerely the turn would come some day, and that I should
eventually be able to retrieve all--pay all."

"And I still believe," he proceeded after a moment's pause, "that I
could have got out safe, had Swanland, for the sake of advertising
himself, not advertised your husband's failure. Had I been able to carry
out my plans, the General Chemical Company and I had parted company
months ago. I reckoned on being able to bribe Forde to help me to do
this. He rose to the bait, but he had not power to fulfil his part of
the bargain. There was an antagonistic influence at work, and we never
traced it to its source until a few days since. Then we found that a new
director had been quietly looking into your affair, and as a natural
consequence into the affairs of other customers. He discovered how bills
had been manipulated and accounts cooked, how one security had been
made to do duty for six, and much more to the same effect. It was all
clumsy botched work, but either it had really deceived the other
directors or they pretended it had, which comes to about the same thing.
However, to cut the story short, Kleinwort, who foresaw the turn affairs
would take, has gone, and I, who did not foresee, must go also."

"Go where?" Dolly inquired.

"I am uncertain," he answered; "but it is useless my remaining to face
the consequences of my own acts."

"But do you mean to say," asked Mrs. Mortomley, "that you intend to go
away and never return to England?"

"That is precisely my meaning."

"And what will Leonora say?"

"She will be very much shocked at first, I do not doubt," was the reply;
"but eventually, I hope, she will understand I took the best course
possible under the circumstances, and that brings me to the favour I
want you to do me. I want you to take charge of this parcel, and give it
to my wife at the end of six months. Give it to her when she is alone,
and do not mention in the meantime to any one that you have seen me, or
that a packet from me is in your possession. You understand what I
mean?"

"I think so," said Dolly. "There is money in the packet, and--"

"You are shrewder than I thought," he remarked. "There is money in that
parcel. You understand now why I ask you to take charge of it? Have you
any objection to do so?"

"None whatever," was the quick reply.

"And if questions are asked?"

"I know nothing," she answered.

"You will be silent to Leonora?"

"Yes. I understand what you want, and I will do it. Tell me one thing,
however. Some day Leonora will join you?"

"I have faith that it is not impossible," he said, rising as he spoke.
"Good-bye, Mrs. Mortomley. God bless you." And without thought he put
out his hand.

Then Dolly drew back, flushing crimson. "I do this for your wife, Mr.
Werner," she said, "not for you. I cannot forget."

"You can forgive though, I hope," he pleaded. "Mrs. Mortomley, I wish
before we part you would say, 'I forgive you, and I hope God will.' It
is not a long sentence."

"It is a hard one," she answered; "so hard that I cannot say it."

"For my wife's sake?"

"One cannot forgive for the sake of a third person, however dear."

"Do you remember how you wished, or said you should wish, but for her,
that I might be beggared and ruined--beggared more completely, ruined
more utterly than you had been? The words have never died out of my
memory."

"Did I say so?" Dolly asked, a little shocked, as people are sometimes
apt to be, at the sound of their own hot words repeated in cold blood.
"I have no doubt," she went on, "that I meant every syllable at the
time, but I ought not to have meant it--I am sure I should not wish my
worst enemy to pass through all we have been compelled to endure."

"In that case it will be the easier for you to shake hands and say we
part friends."

"I cannot do what you ask," she said. "I might forgive had the injury
been to me alone; but I cannot forget all you said about my husband, who
would not have turned a dog from his door, let alone a man he had known
for years. And you never wrote through all the weary months that
followed to say you were sorry--you never came or sent to know whether
he was living or dead--whether we were starving or had plenty. I can say
with all my heart, I hope you will never through your own experience
know what we suffered; but I cannot say we part friends. I cannot say I
shall ever feel as a friend towards you."

"I think you will, nevertheless, Mrs. Mortomley," he said quietly. "I
think if you knew all I have suffered recently, all I was suffering when
Leonora told me that night you were in the house, you would not be so
hard on me now; but I cannot argue the matter with a woman who has
fought her husband's battle so bravely and so persistently. There was a
time when I did not like you, when I thought your husband had made a
mistake in marrying you, when I regarded my wife's affection for you as
an infatuation, and would have stopped the intimacy had it been
possible; but I tell you now I find myself utterly in error. Regarding
life from my present standpoint, I think Archie Mortomley richer in
being your husband than I should consider him had he a fine business or
thousands lying idle at his bankers. One can but be happy. Looking back,
I believe I may honestly say since I came to man's estate, I have never
known a day's true happiness."

"It is to come," she said eagerly; "there are, there must be years of
happiness in store for you and Lenny."

"I do not think there ever can for either of us," he answered, and
having said this he rose wearily, and would have passed out through the
door but that Dolly stopped him.

"Do not go away without eating something," she said. "We have not much
to offer, but still--"

"I cannot eat salt with a woman who feels herself unable to forgive me,"
he interrupted. "Good-bye, Mrs. Mortomley. I need not tell you to love
my wife all the same, for I know she has been staunch to you through
every reverse."

And he was gone. Down the walk Dolly watched his retreating figure;
along the dusty high-road she watched the man who was ruined pass slowly
away, and then she relented. It seemed to come to her in a moment that,
in this as in other things, she was but the steward of the man she had
married so long as he was unable to see to his affairs for himself, and
she knew he would in an instant have held out the right hand of
fellowship to Mr. Werner.

I remember once being much impressed by this expression used concerning
a girl recently married.

"She is exactly suited to him; but many men would not care to give
their honour into her keeping."

Now this remark had no reference to any divorce scandal possible with
the woman. So far as such matters are concerned, any one who had ever
known her, might safely have made affidavit she was and would be as
utterly without reproach as without fear; but there is another, and if
one may say so, without fear of censure, higher sense in which a woman
holds her husband's honour in her hand, and that was the sense in which
the remark was made.

Just and courteous towards her tradespeople, a gentlewoman in her
dealings with servants, not keen and sharp with porters and cab-drivers,
considerate to the governess, a stranger within her gates--beyond all
things fair in her dealings with her husband's friends--all these points
ought not, I think, to be forgotten when one speaks of a man's honour
held by a woman.

For truly, she can fail in no single incident I have mentioned without
casting a shadow on the judgment of the man who chose her, and it is
more than probable Dolly thought this too, for ere Mr. Werner had got a
hundred yards from the gate she had sped down the walk, and was flying
along the road after him.

"Mr. Werner!" she cried panting.

And then he stopped and retraced his steps towards her.

"I cannot bear it," she said.

And he noticed she had to sit down on the bank by the wayside to recover
her breath.

"I cannot endure, when you are so unhappy, to be hard, as you call it. I
know Archie would be vexed if he knew I refused to be friends with you.
So please, Mr. Werner, do come back and have some fruit and milk--and I
do forgive you from my heart."

"There is something else, Dolly," he observed.

Sooner or later it came natural to all men and all women when nature
asserted itself, to call Mortomley's poor Dolly by her Christian name.

"What else?" she asked. "Oh! I remember, and I am afraid that is a great
deal easier. I do hope God will forgive you too, and us all, and I pray
he will make you and my dear Lenny very happy in the future."

He stood, with her hand clasped in his, looking at her intently.

"You will not be sorry for this hereafter," he said at last. "When the
evil day comes to you which must come to all, you may be glad to
remember the words you have spoken this minute. Thank you very, very
much. No," he added, in answer to a request that he would return to Wood
Cottage; "I have had pleasant tidings spoken to me, and I will leave
with their sound in my ears. Good-bye. When you say your prayers
to-night do not forget to remember me."



                                  CHAPTER IX.

                                THE NEW YELLOW.


All that night, after saying her prayers--in which she remembered Mr.
Werner and his wife, and all other people who were in sore
distress--Mrs. Mortomley lay awake, a strange sense of trouble
oppressing her.

It was like the old bad times come back again; it was a return of the
later evil days at Homewood, to lie in the semi-darkness of the summer
night and think of Mr. Werner ruined, Mr. Werner beggared.

How would his wife bear it? Dolly knew her friend pretty well, yet she
could not answer this question to her own satisfaction. Mrs. Werner was
a noble, generous-hearted, unselfish woman, and yet Dolly comprehended
in some vague, instinctive sort of way that wealth and position and
social consideration were very dear to this fresh bankrupt's wife.

There are some people who do not much care whether they walk or drive
through the world's thoroughfares; indeed, there are those who, given
the choice, would prefer to walk. Now Mrs. Werner's mind was not so
ill-regulated an one as all this comes to. Most emphatically she liked
her carriages and horses and servants, and all the luxuries money can
purchase. She had married for these things, as Mrs. Mortomley understood
perfectly, and Dolly did not think--no, she did not, that Leonora would
be satisfied to relinquish them.

Further, Mr. Werner had always set himself up as such a model of
business capacity and business prudence, that he really had no right to
fall into difficulties; certainly not to continue to flounder through
difficulties as, according to his own confession, had been the case for
years.

He had been living a lie, just one of the things Dolly knew his wife
would find it most difficult to forgive. Had he told her duty demanded
the sacrifice, she might--Mrs. Mortomley understood--have agreed to live
in a house at twenty pounds a year, and wear print dresses, and be
extremely strict about the tea and sugar, but she could not have done
this with a good grace.

Nevertheless, Dolly believed she could have borne that better than the
consciousness that the rich raiment she purchased, the luxurious dinner
she provided, the rare wines they drank, had been paid for by a man all
the time virtually bankrupt--a man keeping up an appearance so as to
obtain fresh credit, and defer the striking of that hour of reckoning
which could now be deferred no longer.

Mrs. Mortomley loved Mrs. Werner, and she did not love Mr. Werner, yet
certainly her sympathies were that night with the man rather than with
the woman.

One's affections are not perhaps strong for the naughty boy who is
always persecuting one's cat, and stoning one's dog, and slaying one's
chickens, or stealing one's fruit, and yet, when the wicked little
wretch comes to grief and goes home with a battered face and cut shins,
one's heart is more one with him than with the strong-minded mother, a
strict disciplinarian, who we know will lecture or beat him for his
sins, as the case may be.

I do not say it is right, for I cannot think it is, that our sympathies
should generally be with the evil-doer, but it is very difficult not to
feel sorry for the man who, being down, is struck his bitterest blow by
those of his own household; and Dolly--well, Dolly did not think if she
were in Mr. Werner's shoes she would like to tell the unvarnished truth
to Leonora.

Upon the whole Dolly decided he was wise to go abroad, instead of
remaining to face the domestic difficulty. "He will write to her," she
thought, "tell her all, and she will be very indignant, and think about
honour and honesty, and all the rest of it; but she will not, if he is
wise, know where to address a letter to him at present. Then she will
grow anxious, both about him and the future of the children, and at the
end of six months I give her this parcel, when the whole affair is
settled and she need feel no scruples about taking the money, and then
she will feel touched to remember he thought of her, and then she will
relent and we will find out where he is; perhaps he may write now and
then to me, and she will go to him, or he will come back to her, my poor
dear Lenny!"

Having completed which pleasing programme of the Werners' future, Mrs.
Mortomley ought to have gone to sleep, but she could not do so, and
towards four o'clock she became so intolerant of her own wakefulness
that she rose and, stealing into the room where Lenore lay fast asleep,
dressed herself noiselessly and went downstairs, and, letting herself
out, walked across the road and along a footpath leading to the Lea,
which crossed the field in which stood the shed where she had
established her factory.

Not a likely-looking building, and yet it is in the least pretentious
factories that fortunes are made,--successes won; and Mrs. Mortomley
thanked God every time she looked across the meadow and beheld the
red-tiled roof which covered the "Hertfordshire Colour Works" that Lang
had so strenuously and--as it turned out--so wisely advised her to
establish.

The name of Mortomley had a certain power still, and, though the
business letters were signed in Dolly's scrawl, "D. Mortomley," people
did not stop to inquire whether it was an A or a D who was able to
supply them with the colours they required.

Neither was the new company worse thought of because they were able to
supply so very little. The public, always liable to be gulled, did not
attribute this to any paucity of means of production, but rather to the
extent of orders received by the "Hertfordshire Colour Company." Acting
under Lang's advice, Dolly had taken the business bull by the horns, and
the moment she had settled upon a residence, a neat circular informed
all the customers whose names Lang could recollect, or Dolly wring at
intervals out of her husband's intermittent memory, that future orders
intended for Mortomley and Co. should be addressed to Newham, Herts.
Further, she amazed Mr. Swanland by giving directions at the post-office
that all letters intended for her husband should be forwarded to that
address; and as no fewer than three other persons had applied for the
letters, each claiming a right in them, the post-office was somewhat
perplexed. First, Mr. Swanland, who, after Dolly had proved to him by
chapter and verse that he could claim no letters after the expiration of
three months from the meeting of creditors, was forced to strike his
flag; secondly, the Thames Street clerk, who had--being trusted by Mr.
Swanland--been opening the town letters and suppressing them during the
time when the accountant had a right to their possession, and who, so
far as I know, is opening and suppressing them to this day; and, third,
Hankins, who, being a modified sort of blackguard, made all right with
the postmen who delivered at Homewood by representing himself as Mr.
Mortomley's chief in absence, and forwarded some letters and retained
others.

Dolly never got a tithe of the letters; the battle was one beyond her
strength to fight, but it was a battle any accountant worth his salt
would have prevented ever being necessary.

Still, in spite of all, the Mortomleys were prospering. The business was
a very poor and a very small affair, but, after paying Lang, who was not
a cheap coadjutor, and deducting all expenses, Dolly, even in those
early days, felt she could safely take a pound a week out of the
returns; and, my dear readers, I can assure you that if you have ever
known what it is to look nothing a year in the face, you would be very
thankful indeed to be able to reckon upon fifty-two pounds as a
certainty.

And so Dolly regarded the red-tiled shed gratefully, and did her work in
it carefully, for still, as her husband's substitute, she had her work
to do. The special amount of water required, the final grains of the
special ingredient that shed a lustre over the Mortomley colours! hers
it was to add those trifles which ensured success. Had the manipulation
been confided to any other, the secret must have passed out of
Mortomley's keeping.

Was not she faithful to her trust! Lang himself never could tell when
the magic touch was given which illumined the colours they sent to
market. Sometimes in the twilight, sometimes when the moonbeams streamed
through the skylights, sometimes in the early, early morning, but always
in due and proper time, Dolly took her slight but all-important share of
the labour, and she did so on the morning after her interview with Mr.
Werner.

As she did so some faint idea that perhaps he might be able hereafter to
help her husband, and her husband help him, crossed her mind. She did
not like Mr. Werner, but she had a vague comprehension that he was
gifted with some business quality Mortomley lacked, while Mortomley had
capabilities a man such as Henry Werner might materially assist to
develop.

Already Dolly was beginning to experience that difficulty which always
arises when labour goes into partnership with capital. Very faithfully
she believed Lang was dealing with her, but he never seemed contented.
He never lost an opportunity of letting her know he considered if she
would only put full faith in him, the business might be quadrupled.

Jealousy, which is at the root of all strikes, had taken up its abode in
Mr. Lang's bosom, and though he tried to avoid giving expression to it,
still Mrs. Mortomley knew the fire was there and smouldering.

Like a bad general she kept conceding point after point to keep him in a
good humour, and the result was greater dissatisfaction; and less
confidence in her fairness of dealing, as week after week rolled by.

She raised his wages, for he had settled wages as a matter of course.
She gave him a larger share of the profits; she allowed him unlimited
control over the buying and selling; and still Mr. Lang thought himself
hardly done by.

He could not say openly he wanted Mrs. Mortomley to place the whole of
her husband's formulæ at his discretion, but that was what he really did
want; and if he had dared to make the observation, he would have
remarked that no woman ought to know so much as Mrs. Mortomley had
managed to learn about the process of manufacturing colours.

It was impossible for Dolly not to feel anxious about that future time,
when her husband and Lang must come into collision, for she knew
perfectly well he ought to have some one on whom he could depend to
share the burden with him, and she did not for an instant believe he and
her present factotum would be able to stable their horses together, even
for a couple of months.

Therefore she could not help considering, that if, when the first
trouble and worry were over, Mr. Werner and her husband liked to try to
push their fortunes together, she should not feel at all sorry. Lang
might have a present of a few recipes, and go away to make a fortune of
his own, or he might remain and, under Mr. Werner's stricter
discipline, prove more content.

Thinking in a vague rambling sort of way of all these things, Dolly
walked slowly along the field-path, a little to the left of which stood
the shed, which seemed in her eyes fair as any palace. There was peace
in all directions. The fields whence the hay had been carried were
glittering with dew, and the cows were lying with the early sun shining
upon them, chewing the cud industriously.

At the end of the field flowed the Lea, and a boat was moored to the
bank, indicating, as Dolly imagined, the presence of some ardent angler,
though she could not discern his whereabouts.

Everything was quiet--so quiet that the stillness of the hour and the
scene seemed to lay a quieting hand on Dolly's heart, which was wont
sometimes to beat too rapidly and unevenly.

It seemed as if the world and its cares could not come to such a
place,--as if there were some virtue of repose in that country Eden
into which the serpent of strife and trouble could not enter.

And so with a light buoyant step Dolly left the main path and tripped
along that leading to the shed, styled in pretentious circulars, The
Hertfordshire Colour Works.

All at once she stood still, staring like one who did not believe the
evidence of her senses, for as she neared the door of the works it was
opened cautiously, and a man's face looked out as if reconnoitring.

At sight of Mrs. Mortomley the face was withdrawn, and the door closed
with a bang.

For a second Dolly hesitated, and something as like physical fear as she
had ever experienced seemed to hold her back. Though within sight of her
house, she was utterly unprotected.

There was not a creature within call. There was a man, who certainly had
no right on the premises, within the works, and Lang was not likely to
appear for another half-hour at any rate.

Nevertheless, after that second's pause Dolly went on. She pulled out
her key and put it in the lock, and found the key would not turn because
the lock had been set on the inside. "Open the door whoever you may be,"
she cried, but there came no answer, only a sound as of some moving
about, to which there succeeded a sudden stillness, then a smash of
glass, then a rattle of loosened tiles, and finally a man running off as
fast as his legs would take him in the direction of the Lea. He jumped
into the boat she had seen moored, unloosed his rope, and seizing his
oars was fifty yards distant before Mrs. Mortomley could reach the bank
of the river.

She retraced her steps to the shed, and sat down beside the door until
Lang should arrive.

When he did, his first comment on the affair was--

"You'll get yourself murdered one of these nights or mornings, ma'am,
coming out all alone with no soul to help you if any one had a mind to
do you harm."

"I shall have protection with me for the future," she said calmly.
"Now, what do you suppose that man was doing here?"

"He was after the Yellow," pronounced Mr. Lang solemnly. "There'll be
many a one after that now it has gone to market. There'll be people, I
know, who wouldn't mind standing five hundred pounds if they could only
buy our process. Like enough that fellow has burst open the drawer and
gone away with the receipt."

"I do not think that very likely, as I never leave a paper of any
importance in the drawer," Dolly answered.

"Well, if you carry that receipt about with you I should not care, if I
was in your place, about coming across these fields alone."

"Don't talk nonsense, Lang," was the reply, "but go and get a ladder and
open the door, and let us see what the man has really been doing."

When the door was opened, they found Lang's prophecy fulfilled. The
drawer was broken open and all the parcels it contained abstracted.

"I'll be bound the fellow has spoiled all our colours too," remarked Mr.
Lang, but in this he chanced to be mistaken. Their colours then in
process of making turned out as good as ever.

"I wouldn't for fifty pounds this had happened," remarked Lang.

"Nor I, for five times fifty," Mrs. Mortomley answered; and without
uttering another word, she walked slowly and thoughtfully back to Wood
Cottage.



                                 CHAPTER X.

                               A BROKEN REED.


That morning's post brought with it a letter from Miss Gerace, which
bore on the envelope these words:--

                    "IMMEDIATE DELIVERY IS REQUESTED."

"What on earth can be the matter with my aunt now?" thought Dolly as she
opened it.

Next moment Lenore called out, "Mamma, mamma!" and Esther, happening to
be bringing in the kettle at that instant, exclaimed, "Oh! ma'am, what
has happened?"

But Dolly put them both aside, and sitting down all of a tremble, spread
the letter on the table, for her hands were shaking so she could not
hold it steady, and read to herself,

    "Dreadful news has reached us to-night; a telegram to say _Mr.
    Werner is dead_. Leonora is like one distracted, and poor Mrs.
    Trebasson completely prostrated. Leonora left by the express, and I
    write to entreat you to go to her at once. We forgot to ask her Lord
    Darsham's present address. Get it and telegraph to him immediately.
    Mrs. Trebasson wishes me to go to London to see if I can be of any
    use, so I shall see you soon. Do not lose a moment in going to
    Leonora.
                                               "Yours,
                                                    "A. G."

Dolly rose up like a person who had received some dreadful blow.

"Fetch me my hat and shawl, Esther," she said. "I must go to London by
the next train."

"But you have not had any breakfast ma'am," expostulated the girl.

Mrs. Mortomley made no reply. She only walked through the open door and
began pacing up and down the plot of grass.

Lenore ran after her crying, "My dear, dear mamma, what is the matter?"
and Esther followed with "Oh! my dear mistress, speak to me."

"Mrs. Werner is in great trouble, and I must go to her. Do not ask me
anything more," was the reply, and then Dolly leaned up against a great
tree growing in the hedgerow, and shut her eyes, and felt as if the
earth were going round and round. She understood, if no one else
did,--she comprehended that of his own free will Henry Werner had gone
on the longest and darkest journey the human mind can imagine--that his
message to his wife would be given from one who sent it, knowing ere
eight hours of the six months had elapsed he would have passed into
eternity. This was why he had spoken so freely to her, and this was the
reason he had extorted her forgiveness, and asked her to remember him in
her prayers. Every other consideration in life was for the moment
blotted out by the shadow of that man dead--dead by his own act--dead
because the trouble was too great to be contended with, because the ruin
was too utter to be endured.

Dolly went upstairs. She had paused by the way and swallowed some wine
and water, to enable her tongue to perform its office.

"Archie," she said, as she nervously smoothed her husband's pillows, "I
must go to London, and I want you to be quiet and satisfied while I am
away. Leonora is in dreadful distress, and wants me. Mr. Werner is
dangerously ill, not expected to recover, and she has great need of me.
I do not like leaving you, dear, but--"

"Go at once," he interrupted. "Kiss me and go, dear. I shall do very
well indeed. Poor Werner! It is a curious thing I was dreaming about him
yesterday. I dreamt he was here, and--"

"I must go, love," she said, unable to bear the interview longer.
"Good-bye."

And she was gone.

Now it so happened that Mrs. Mortomley chanced, without any reference to
Mrs. Werner, to know Lord Darsham's then address, and consequently the
moment she got into town she telegraphed this message to him.

"Leonora's husband has committed suicide. Pray come to her at once."

Mrs. Mortomley only sent this message because she considered that, by
stating what she believed to be the literal truth, she would bring
Leonora's cousin more rapidly to her assistance. In the then state of
her nerves, sudden death by the Visitation of God seemed to her so
slight a misfortune that she fancied pure death would appear a trifle to
Lord Darsham.

That any one could ever really have supposed Mr. Werner died through
illness or misadventure, never occurred to Dolly, who felt quite
positive he had fully made up his mind to destroy himself when with her
on the preceding day, and it was therefore with a frightful shock she
learned upon arriving at her friend's house that every soul in it
believed Mr. Werner, who was suffering from a severe attack of
neuralgia, had died accidentally while inhaling chloroform to lull the
pain.

"What a dreadful thing I have done!" she thought. "How shall I ever be
able to make it right with Lord Darsham?"

And then Dolly went upstairs into that very room where Mr. and Mrs.
Werner had held their colloquy about the Mortomleys, and found Mrs.
Werner as nearly insane as a rational woman can ever be.

She was full of self-reproach, and Dolly thanked God for it. Knowing
what she knew of the man's misery, it would have tried her almost beyond
endurance to have listened to the faintest whisper of self-pity, but
there was none.

Nothing save sorrow for the husband, taken so suddenly, for his children
left orphaned, for the years during which she might have made him
happier.

"I thought myself a good wife," she moaned, "but I was not a good wife.
I helped him as I imagined, but, Dolly dear, an ounce of love is worth a
pound of pride any day. He wanted, he must have wanted, something more
when he returned to this great cold, handsome house than a woman to sit
at the head of his dinner table. I have thought about it all at Dassell,
Dolly darling. I made up my mind, God helping me, to be more a wife to
him than I had ever been, and it is all too late--too late--too late."

"I am afraid he had a great deal on his mind," Dolly ventured.

"Yes, there can be no doubt about that. He was so fond of business, and
thought so much of money, and--"

"We won't talk about it, dear, now," Mrs. Mortomley said softly.

"Have you--seen him?" Mrs. Werner asked, after a pause.

"No," Dolly answered. "I should like to do so, though, if I may."

"You have quite forgiven him?"

"I had done that, Lenny, thank God, before this."

Just a faint pressure of the trembling fingers, and Dolly rose to go
downstairs.

"Williams, I want to see your master," she said, and Williams forthwith
conducted her into the same room where Messrs. Forde and Kleinwort had
sat on that night when they came to Mr. Werner's house in quest of
Mortomley.

There in the same dress he wore when last she saw him alive, he lay
stiff and dead.

"Why has not something been done with him?" Dolly asked shuddering. "Why
do you let him lie there like that?"

"We must not move him until after the inquest," said the man.

Mrs. Mortomley crept upstairs again--in her folly what had she done?

But for her this inquest might have passed over quietly, and a verdict
of killed by an accidental dose of chloroform returned.

The hours of that day lengthened themselves into years, and when at last
Miss Gerace arrived, she found her niece looking the picture of death
itself.

"My dear child, you must go home," she said, gazing in shocked amazement
at Dolly's changed face and figure. "All this is too much for you."

But Dolly said, "No; if you love me, aunt, go to Wood Cottage and take
care of Archie till I can leave Leonora. I must see the end of it. I
will tell you why some day. I cannot leave now."

So Miss Gerace went to Wood Cottage, and wrapping her bonnet in a
handkerchief laid it on the drawers in Lenore's room, and so solemnly
set up her Lares and Penates in Dolly's house, and she broke the news of
Mr. Werner's sudden death wisely and calmly to Mr. Mortomley, who turned
his head from the light and lay very still and quiet, thinking mighty
solemn thoughts for an hour afterwards.

"I think my poor Dolly ought not to stay there," he said at last. "She
has had trouble enough of her own to bear lately."

"And I think your Dolly is at this moment just where God means her to
be," answered Miss Gerace, a little gruffly, for she herself was uneasy
about her niece's appearance, and in her heart considered Dolly stood in
as much need of tender care as Mrs. Werner.

Just about the time when Miss Gerace was leaving, in order to make the,
to her, unaccustomed journey to London, Mr. Forde sat alone in his
office waiting impatiently for the appearance of Werner, or a note from
him.

"You shall hear from me to-morrow before midday, without fail," Werner
had promised on the previous forenoon, and whatever his faults he had
never failed in a promise of this nature before.

"Ah! if that little wretch Kleinwort, who loved always to be talking
evil about Werner, had only been like him, I need never have been
reduced to the straits in which I find myself to-day," thought the
unfortunate manager.

"Had any one planted an acre of reeds, Mr. Forde would have gone on
transferring his simple faith from one to another till the last one
broke." So Henry Werner declared; and no person understood so well as he
that when his collapse ensued, the last poor reed on which the manager
leaned would be broken to pieces.

That very morning when Mr. Forde waited for his constituents, as for
some reason best known to himself he had latterly began to call the
customers of the General Chemical Company, he had gone through one of
those interviews with his directors, which, to quote his own phrase,
"made him feel old," and he had pretty good grounds for believing that
if Henry Werner, the last big card in his hand, failed to win him a
trick he could not stay at St. Vedast Wharf.

In that case all must come out. The shareholders would begin to ask
troublesome questions which the directors must answer; and he--well--he,
with all his heart and soul wished when he put on his hat over
Mortomley's affairs, he had kept it on and left St. Vedast Wharf for
ever, shaking the dust off his shoes as he did so.

But now all he had to hope for was that Henry Werner would obey his
commands, issued in no doubtful terms, and bring that which might
satisfy his, Mr. Forde's, directors.

Werner had ordered him out of his office, indeed, words grew so high
between them; but he had still said he should be heard of by midday, and
now it was one o'clock and neither he nor any tidings had come.

Mr. Forde felt he could not endure being treated in this way any longer,
so he walked across to Mr. Werner's office, where he asked young
Carless, once in Mortomley's Thames Street Warehouse, if his master was
in.

"He has not come yet," was the answer; and had Mr. Forde been looking at
the clerks' faces instead of thinking of Mr. Werner's shortcomings, he
would have noticed an expression on them which might well have puzzled
his comprehension.

"I will wait for him," and Mr. Forde made a step towards the inner
office as if intending to take up a position there.

"Better sit down here," said one of the senior clerks, offering him a
chair; "the inner office is locked."

"Locked! who locked it?" asked Mr. Forde angrily.

"Mr. Werner, when he left yesterday," was the reply.

Ten minutes passed, quarter of an hour struck, then the manager said,

"It does not seem of much use my waiting here. Tell Mr. Werner to come
round to me the instant he arrives--the instant, remember. What are you
looking at each other for in that manner?" he continued, shouting at
them passionately. "Do you mean to do what I tell you or not?"

All the clerks but one drew back a little abashed; they had silently
countenanced the perpetration of a grim practical joke, which, while the
clock went on ticking, seemed to grow flat and stale and unprofitable to
each of them save Carless.

He it was who now answered.

"Perhaps you are not aware that our governor is dead."

"You had better take care, sir," said Mr. Forde. "I do not know whether
Mr. Werner has granted you a licence for impertinence, but if he
has--by--he shall rue it and you too."

"It is true though," interposed a man sitting in a dark part of the
office, who had not hitherto spoken, but remained, his head supported by
his hands, reading 'The Times.'

"What is true," demanded the manager.

"That Mr. Werner is dead. I had occasion to go to his house this morning
and found that he died last night."

"It is a lie; it is a ---- put off. He is gone like that villain
Kleinwort; but he need not think to escape me. I will find him if he is
above ground!"

"You won't have far to go then," was the reply. "He is lying stiff and
safe enough in his own study."

"And he is gone to a land with which we have no extradition treaty,"
observed Carless, as Mr. Forde banged the door behind him.

"Hold your tongue, do," entreated the 'Times'' student, who, having been
in a fashion confidential clerk to Mr. Werner, had some comprehension
how the matter stood. "Our governor has been badgered into his grave,
and I only hope they will call me on the inquest that I may be able to
state my belief."

"And he was not half a bad sort, the governor," said Carless, shutting
up the day-book.

"I say let's all go to the funeral," suggested a third; and so these
young men wrote their employer's epitaph.

Meantime Mr. Forde was proceeding westward as fast as the legs of a
swift horse could take him. To describe what he felt would be as
impossible as to detail the contents and occupants of each vehicle the
hansom passed--the hopes and fears--the miseries and joys hidden behind
the walls of the countless houses, which lay to left and right of his
route.

He believed; he did not believe. He dreaded; no it was all a sham. Now
in imagination he started himself with the detectives in pursuit, again
with dry parched lips he was answering the questions of his directors.

If he had realized the fact, he suffered in the course of that rapid
drive enough misery to have driven many a man insane. Misery of his own
causing if you will, but misery all the harder to endure on that
account.

Happily for himself, however, Mr. Forde was a person who did not
realize. He was a man who before he had grasped the worst decided there
must be some means of escape from it, and accordingly, the first words
he uttered to Williams were--

"Now, then, what's all this?"

"Have not you heard, sir," answered that well-trained functionary,
startled for once out of his propriety of demeanour by Mr. Forde's
tremendous knock, by Mr. Forde's loud utterance, "my master died last
night!"

"Died! Nonsense; went away you mean."

"Passed away, sir, if you prefer that expression," acquiesced the man.
"He had been out all day, and when he returned in the evening he said it
was of no use serving dinner, for he was suffering such agonies from
neuralgia that he could not eat anything. He had called at the doctor's
on his way, but he was not at home.

"He asked me to bring him a cup of strong coffee, which I did.

"About eight o'clock I went in to the study to light the gas, and when I
opened the door there was a strong smell of some apothecary's stuff,"
(here the man became visibly affected), "and something in that and the
way my master was lying on the sofa attracted my attention. I spoke to
him, but he did not answer me. I lifted his arm which was hanging over
on the carpet, but it fell again when I let it go.

"Then I ran out of the house for a doctor. I had seen a doctor's
carriage standing at the next door. He came in and looked at him. I
asked what could be done, and he said 'Nothing, the poor gentleman is
dead.'"

"Where is he?" asked Mr. Forde, who had listened impatiently to this
statement.

"In the study, sir."

Mr. Forde crossed the hall and turned the handle of the door, but the
door was locked.

"Have you the key?" he asked. "Yes, sir," answered Williams, fumbling in
his pocket nervously--the fact being that, notwithstanding his large
experience of the world and knowledge of society, he had never before
come in contact with any one who did not consider it necessary at all
events, to assume a certain sympathy with misfortune, and it is no
exaggeration to say Mr. Forde's utter callousness frightened the man.

He had never previously seen a human being whose intense thought for
self swallowed up every thought for other people; to whom the death or
ruin of any number of his fellow-creatures was simply a bagatelle when
compared with any misfortune which could touch himself.

"If you cannot unlock the door, let me do it," remarked Mr. Forde,
taking the key out of Williams' fingers, and shooting back the bolt with
a quick sharp click; with a steady determined step he crossed the room.

"Raise that blind," he said.

Williams hesitated, but then obeyed, and at the same moment Mr. Forde
drew aside, with no faltering or gentle touch, the handkerchief which
covered the dead man's face.

There he lay, as he had died. There was no sneer curling the lip now, no
scowl disfiguring the forehead. There was no expression of despair, no
look of anguish. Death was fast smoothing the hard lines out of that
dark face; and as Mr. Forde realized all this--realized there was no
deception about the matter--that no insult could reach his sense, no
dread affect him more, he could have cursed the man who long and long
before had told him if ever misfortune came upon him he should know how
to meet it. This was how he had met it; this was what he had in his mind
then. Mr. Forde understood perfectly that when once he found the battle
going against him, when once he found the tide setting too strongly for
him to resist its flow, he had always meant to end the difficulty thus.

"Yes, he is dead sure enough," commented Mr. Forde at length. "He has
taken precious good care to leave other people in the lurch as any one
who ever knew Henry Werner might safely have sworn he would do."

"I do not quite understand, sir," said the butler deprecatingly.

"Oh! you don't, my friend. Well, perhaps not; perhaps you think your
master really had neuralgia, and really took that stuff to cure it."

"Certainly, sir."

"Oh! you do, do you? Well, then, I can tell you, the coward took it
because he was afraid to meet his creditors, because he was afraid to
meet me, because he knew he was a beggar, and that if he did not do
something of this sort, his fine feathers would be stripped off, and he
and his turned out into the world without a shilling, as better people
have been before now.

"I must see his wife before I leave," he added abruptly.

"See Mrs. Werner, sir? Impossible."

"Impossible! Why is it impossible? Who is she that she should not be
seen; who is she that she should not hear what I have to say? She has
had all the smooth, she must now take her share of the rough."

"My mistress, sir, is very ill," remarked Williams, who really was in a
state of mind baffling description.

He believed Mr. Forde was mad, but he could not determine how to get him
out of the house.

"Ill," repeated Mr. Forde; "and so am I very ill, yet I have to be
about. I shall have to face my directors to-morrow over that villain's
affairs. Sick or well I shall have to be in the City. Don't talk to me
about illness. I must and I will see Mrs. Werner, and you may go and
tell her so."

"If you will please to walk into the dining-room, sir, I will deliver
your message," said the butler. He really was afraid of leaving Mr.
Forde alone with the corpse, uncertain whether, in default of the living
man, he might not wreak his vengeance on the dead, and it was with a
gasp of relief he saw Mr. Forde out of the study, and locked the door
behind him.

"Ask Mrs. Mortomley to speak to me for a minute," he whispered to Mrs.
Werner's maid, and when Dolly came to him on the landing, he told her
all Mr. Forde had said.

Dolly listened to the end, then she answered,

"Tell Mr. Forde from me, that if he waits in this house for ever, he
shall never speak to Mrs. Werner, but that if he has any communication
to make, Lord Darsham will see him this evening at eight o'clock."

Downstairs went Williams with this message, which Dolly, leaning over
the banisters, heard him deliver in less curt language.

"I know nothing of Lord Darsham," answered Mr. Forde, walking up and
down the hall. "I have had no transactions with him, but I have with
that fellow," an intimation indicating Werner lying dead in the study.
"He has robbed us, and ruined me, and by--I will see his wife."

"Williams," rang out Dolly's voice at this juncture, clear and shrill,
and yet with an undertone of intensified passion in it, "if that person
insists on remaining in a house where there is so much misery, send for
a policeman. I will take the responsibility."

And forthwith Dolly retreated to Mrs. Werner's dressing-room, and bolted
the doors of that and her friend's apartment.

She had once been brave, but the days and the weeks and the months had
been draining her courage. Physically, she felt she was not strong
enough to encounter one of the people who had compassed her husband's
ruin; and though she would have fought for Leonora till she died, still
her woman's nature warned her to shun a fight if possible.

"You will go now please, sir," urged poor Williams, "and come back and
see his lordship to-night."

Whereupon Mr. Forde anathematized his lordship, and asked,

"How does that woman, that wife of Mortomley's, come here?"

"She was sent for, sir; my mistress has been quieter since her arrival.
They are old friends."

"Humph," ejaculated Mr. Forde; "then any fool can tell where Henry
Werner's money went." And he permitted himself to be edged out to the
door-step by Williams, who took an early opportunity of saying he was
wanted and of shutting the door hastily on that unwelcome visitor.

All that afternoon Williams surveyed callers doubtfully from a side
window before opening the door. Had Mr. Forde again appeared, he would
have put up the chain, and parleyed with him like a beleaguered city to
the opposing force.

About six o'clock Lord Darsham came rattling up in a hansom. He had
telegraphed back a reply to Dolly, and followed that reply as fast as an
express train could bring him.

She ran downstairs, thankful for his arrival, and after years, long,
long years, the Vicar of Dassell's little girl and Charley Trebasson,
Leonora's first lover, met again.

"I should have known you anywhere," he said, after the first words of
greeting and exclamations of pity and horror were uttered.

"Am I so little changed?" she asked, with a forced smile.

"Ah! you are so much changed," he answered; "you look so many years too
old, you look so much too thin. What is the matter with you Mrs.
Mortomley? I cannot bear to--"

"Never mind me," she said almost brusquely; "Your business now is with
Leonora; I ought not to have sent you that telegram, you must forget
it."

"Is Mr. Werner not dead then?" he asked.

"Dead! yes, indeed he is poor fellow!" she answered; "but I acted on a
fancy when I telegraphed that he committed suicide. He took chloroform
to relieve the pain of neuralgia, and the chloroform killed him."

Mrs. Werner's cousin looked Mrs. Mortomley steadily in the face while
she uttered this sentence, then, when she paused and hesitated, he said,

"You had better be perfectly frank with me. I remember, if you do not,
how when you were a child, it was of no use your trying to tell a fib
because your eyes betrayed you, and I must say to you now, as I often
said to you then, speak the truth, for with that tell-tale face no one
will believe you when you try to invent a likely falsehood."

"To be perfectly straightforward then," answered Dolly; "when I sent
that telegram to you I believed Mr. Werner had destroyed himself; when
I arrived here, I found every one believed his death was due entirely to
accident."

"And may I inquire why you believed he had committed suicide?"

"No," she replied; "that is my secret, and for very special reasons I
want to have nothing to do with the matter--special reasons," she
repeated; "not selfish, pray understand. I did not think of the inquest;
I did not think of anything except that, on Leonora's account, you ought
to be here, when I wrote that telegram, and--"

"I know what you mean," he interrupted; seeing the subject affected her
deeply, and he took a turn up and down the room before he spoke again.

"What could have induced him to kill himself?" he said, at length
stopping abruptly in his walk.

"A Mr. Forde, who has been here to-day, demanding to see Leonora, and
who is coming this evening to see you, told Williams he was afraid to
meet his creditors. Williams, who has never seen the slightest evidence
of shortness of money about this house, inclines to the opinion that Mr.
Forde is mad, and I have done my best to confirm that opinion, but Mr.
Forde I believe to be right; I am afraid you will find he destroyed
himself, because he was a ruined man."

There was silence for a minute, broken only by the sound of Dolly's
suppressed sobs.

"Poor fellow," said Lord Darsham; "he must have suffered horribly before
it came to this."

"Only those who have gone through such an ordeal can imagine what he
must have endured," she answered simply; "depend upon it his heart was
broken days before he died."

"I never liked Werner," commented her auditor. "I always thought him a
self-contained money-worshiping snob, and I never believed, spite of the
purple and fine linen, that Leonora was happy in her marriage, but I am
sorry for him now. A man who commits suicide must have an enormous
capacity for misery, and a man who has an enormous capacity for misery
must have had an enormous capacity for something better, had any
opportunity for developing it occurred."

"You will forget my telegram," she entreated.

"I shall say nothing about it, which will amount to much the same
thing," he answered.



                                CHAPTER XI.

                          TWO UNWELCOME VISITORS.


The business of living goes on all the same let who will retire from
active participation in it, and, accordingly, Mrs. Mortomley and Lord
Darsham sat down to dinner, although the whilom master of the house lay
dead in that small room on the other side the hall, where he had made
his exit from this world. But, in truth, that dinner was a very funereal
affair. There was a something ghastly in eating of the ruined man's
substance; in drinking of the wines he had selected; in occupying the
apartment where he must often have sat at table with a guest no one else
could see facing him; and the conversation in Williams's presence,
compulsorily of no private nature, flagged as conversation did not often
flag when Dolly held one of the battledores.

With great persuasion Mrs. Werner had been induced to swallow a draught
ordered for her by the family physician, and she lay in a sleep as sound
and almost as dreamless as that which enfolded the silent figure lying
all alone in the twilight of the summer's evening.

Thirty hours before, he was alive; and now, his spirit had started on
the long, lonesome journey; and through the gloom of the Valley of the
Shadow no human eye could follow him.

Dolly could not get over the horror of it all; and when Mr. Forde's
knock woke the echoes of the house, she started from her seat in an
access of terror, and exclaiming,

"Oh! let me get upstairs before he comes in," left the room, and ran
upstairs to Mrs. Werner's apartment.

Meanwhile, Williams, before answering the summons, inquired whether his
Lordship would be pleased to see the expected visitor, and if so,
where.

"Yes," was the answer; "show him in here."

Mr. Forde entered. He had employed the interval between his two visits
in alternating between two opinions. One, that Henry Werner would come
to life again; the other, that Lord Darsham would wipe off the
deceased's indebtedness to the St. Vedast Wharf Company.

As the last would be by far the most satisfactory result to him, he
finally decided that a miracle would not be wrought in Henry Werner's
favour, but that Lord Darsham would pay, which Mr. Forde decided would
be better than a miracle.

Full of this idea, he entered the room with so subdued an expression,
and so deferential a manner, and so sympathising a face, that Lord
Darsham, who had heard Williams's account of his demeanour a few hours
previously, could scarcely believe the evidence of his eyes.

"Sad affair this, my Lord," remarked Mr. Forde when Williams, having
placed a chair for the visitor, had left the room.

"My Lord" agreed that it was a very sad affair.

"Particularly under the circumstances, my Lord," proceeded Mr. Forde.

"My Lord" thought that sudden death, under any circumstances must always
be regarded as very awful.

"And when a man dies by his own act--" Mr. Forde was commencing, when
Lord Darsham stopped him.

"Pardon me for interrupting you," he said, "but will you kindly inform
me upon what circumstance you ground your opinion that Mr. Werner did
die by his own act?"

"The state of his affairs, my Lord."

"Are his affairs embarrassed?"

"If you are not aware of the fact, my Lord, you are fortunate; for that
proves he is not in your Lordship's debt."

"He certainly owes me no money," was the reply. "But all this is not an
answer to my question. I entirely fail to see the connection between
his death and his debts. Is it a usual thing in the City for a man to
kill himself when he finds he cannot pay his way?"

"Not usual, my Lord; but still, such things are; and when one hears a
man in difficulties has taken chloroform for neuralgia, and is found
dead in consequence, one draws one's own conclusions."

"Well, I do not know," said the other thoughtfully; "but it seems to me
very hard that because a man owes money any one should imagine he has
thought it necessary to destroy himself. Mr. Werner, I imagine, was not
destitute of friends who would have been willing to assist him; at all
events, Mrs. Werner was not. To the utmost of their ability, I think I
may say, all her relations would have helped her husband had they been
aware of his embarrassments."

"That remark does you honour, my Lord. The sentiment is precisely what I
should have expected to hear you utter. In fact, I felt so satisfied you
would wish, for Mrs. Werner's sake, to keep this matter quiet, that, at
some inconvenience to myself, I ran up this evening to talk the affair
over."

"He is coming to some point now; he has, in his eagerness, forgotten to
milord me," thought Mrs. Werner's cousin, and he said aloud,

"I am much obliged; it was very kind and thoughtful of you, Mr. Forde."

"Don't mention it, I beg, my Lord," replied that gentleman. "Anything I
could do to serve you or Mrs. Werner would give me the greatest
pleasure. It is a very sad thing--very sad, indeed; but I think the
affair can be kept quiet if I tell my directors you are prepared to meet
their claims upon Mr. Werner. I do not wish to be troublesome, but I
think if you gave me a scrap of writing to that effect (the merest line
would do, just to prove that what I say is all _bonâ fide_), it might
make matters easier."

Lord Darsham stared at the speaker in unfeigned amazement.

"I am utterly at a loss to understand your meaning," he said.

"I merely meant that, as it is your Lordship's honourable intention to
wipe off Mr. Werner's liability to our firm, the sooner my directors are
satisfied on that point, the better it will be for every one concerned."

"I have not the slightest intention of paying any of Mr. Werner's
debts," was the reply. "I cannot imagine what could have induced you to
leap to such a conclusion."

"Your own words, my Lord--your own words!" retorted Mr. Forde, growing a
little hot. "Your Lordship said distinctly that had Mrs. Werner's
relations, amongst whom of course I reckon your Lordship, been aware of
Mr. Werner's embarrassments, he would have received substantial
assistance from the family."

"So he would," agreed Lord Darsham. "Had assistance been possible, we
should have given it."

"Then it follows as a matter of course, my Lord, that so far as lies in
your Lordship's power you will like to save his honour by paying his
debts."

"Such a deduction follows by no means," said Lord Darsham decidedly. "We
should have been very glad for Mrs. Werner's sake to assist her husband;
but we cannot assist him now. It is impossible we should have the
slightest interest in his creditors, and I can say most emphatically
they will never receive one penny from me."

"Do you consider this honourable conduct, my Lord?" asked Mr. Forde.

"Decidedly I do. While Mr. Werner was living we should have been willing
to help him, as I have already stated; now he is dead, he is beyond the
possibility of help."

"Now he is dead, it is a very easy thing for your Lordship to say you
would have helped him had he been living," observed Mr. Forde
tauntingly, with the nearest approach to a sneer of which his features
were capable.

Lord Darsham made no reply. He only smiled, and taking a fern from the
basket nearest to where he sat, laid it on the cloth and contemplated
its tracery.

"Am I to understand that it is your Lordship's deliberate determination
to do nothing?" asked Mr. Forde after a, to him, heart-breaking pause.

"I shall certainly not pay his debts, if that is what you mean," was the
reply.

Mr. Forde sat silent for a moment. He could scarcely believe in such
depravity. He had thought some degree of right and proper feeling
prevailed amongst the aristocracy, and now here was a lord, a creature
who happened to be a lord, who deliberately said he would not pay Henry
Werner's liabilities to the General Chemical Company, Limited!

At length he said,

"Perhaps your Lordship is not aware that this is a very serious matter
to me?"

"I am very sorry to hear it," was the reply, but Lord Darsham did not
look in the least sorry.

"If your Lordship will do nothing to enable me to tide over the anger of
my directors, I shall have to leave, and what will become of my wife and
children I cannot imagine. Your Lordship ought to consider them and me;
brought to beggary through the misconduct and cowardice of your
relative. Your Lordship will see me safe through this matter?" he
finished entreatingly.

"Mr. Forde," said his Lordship very gravely and very decidedly, "I wish
you would take my 'no' as final. In the first place, Mr. Werner was not
my relative; in the second, he is dead; in the third, if his affairs
should prove to be in the hopeless state you indicate, I shall have to
maintain his wife and family; and in the fourth, a man who violates
decency towards the dead and respect towards the living by using such
language as you thought fit to employ when speaking to-day to a servant,
must be held to have forfeited all claim to pity and consideration if he
ever possessed any."

"Why, what did I say?" inquired Mr. Forde.

Incredible as it may seem, he retained no recollection of having used
any phrase capable of giving the slightest offence. He had but one
idea--money--and of how he expressed himself when trying to get it or
when he found he had lost it, he had no more remembrance than a man of
his utterances in delirium.

"If your memory is so bad you must not come to me to refresh it,"
answered Lord Darsham. "I will only say that the next time you wish to
propitiate a man's friends, it may be more prudent for you not to open
proceedings by telling his servants he is a coward, who has committed
suicide because he feared to meet his creditors."

"That was true though," explained Mr. Forde.

"You are not in a position to know whether it is true or false," was the
reply; "but whether true or false, it was a most unseemly observation."

"I am the best judge of that, sir!" retorted Mr. Forde, rising as Lord
Darsham rose, and buttoning his coat up. "And when all comes out about
Henry Werner which must come out, you will be sorry you did not try to
come to some sort of a settlement with me. I hold his forged
acceptances for thousands, sir--thousands! I held him in the hollow of
my hand. I could have transported him any hour, but I refrained, and
this is all I get for my forbearance. I will make your ears tingle yet,
my Lord Darsham."

Without answering a word, Lord Darsham walked to the fireplace and rang
the bell, which Williams answered with unwonted celerity.

"Show Mr. Forde out," said Mrs. Werner's cousin, "and never let him
enter the house again."

"You do not mean it, my Lord; you cannot," urged the unfortunate
believer in human reeds, with a desperation which was almost pathetic.
"You will do something in the matter; you will think over it. Consider
my wife and children."

"Mr. Forde, I have nothing to do, and I will have nothing to do, with
you or your wife or your children."

Lord Darsham's tone was as conclusive as his words. Nevertheless, Mr.
Forde would have clung to this last straw, and shown him still more
reasons why he should make all right with his directors, had not
Williams taken him by the arm and half pushed, half dragged him to the
front door, and thrust him without ceremony out into the night.

"I really think the best thing I could do would be to go and drown
myself," he thought, as he looked up at the window of the room where
Henry Werner lay dead; but he was not of the stuff suicides are made of.

He neither drowned nor hanged himself, swallowed poison nor cut his
throat. He went home and slept upon his trouble instead.

To Mrs. Mortomley's relief, the coroner's inquest, held to find out the
why and wherefore attending Mr. Werner's decease, resulted in a verdict
of "Accidental Death." The jury, it is perhaps unnecessary to state,
added a recommendation that chloroform should never be inhaled save
under the advice and in the presence of a medical man.

What good purpose they proposed to effect by this advice was known only
to themselves, but the next day it appeared in all the dignity of print
in the daily papers, and was in due time copied from them into the
country papers, and so read in London and throughout the provinces by
all whom it might or might not concern.

Whatever Williams' opinion of Mr. Forde's utterances might be, after a
night's reflection he was too discreet a servant to give utterance to
it, and consequently his statements were perfectly satisfactory to
jurymen and coroner alike. The City and the West End were so far apart
that not a whisper of embarrassment had reached the ears of the two
doctors who gave evidence in the case. The dead man had been far too
astute to leave even a scrap of writing indicating his design, and it
was with a feeling of no common satisfaction that Lord Darsham, after
that anxious hour was over, gave an attendant undertaker audience, and
instructed him to provide a strictly private funeral for the morning
next but one following.

Having done this, he walked with a lighter heart to his hotel, having
told Mrs. Mortomley he would see her again the following day, but he
had not left the house ten minutes before a man sprucely dressed, jaunty
in manner, fluent of speech, assured as to demeanour, rang at the
visitors' bell and asked to see Mr. Werner.

"Mr. Werner is dead," answered Williams, looking doubtfully at the
new-comer, who wore a geranium in his coat, and used a toothpick freely
during the interview.

"I heard something about that. Awkward, ain't it?" remarked the
free-and-easy individual. "I'll have to see Mrs. Werner, that is all,"
he added, after a moment's pause.

"My mistress cannot see any one," Williams replied, closing the door
about an inch, as he saw an intention on the stranger's part of entering
uninvited.

The other laughed, and put his foot on the threshold.

"Not so fast, my friend," he said. "I have come concerning a little
matter which must be attended to immediately. We can talk about it more
at our ease inside," and with a quick and unexpected movement he put
Williams on one side and stood within the hall. "That is all right," he
said, drawing his breath with a sigh of relief. "Now I want half a
year's rent, that is my business."

"There is no one here who can attend to any business at present,"
replied Williams. "My master is lying dead in the house. The funeral is
to be the day after to-morrow. My mistress has not left her room since
yesterday morning, and Lord Darsham has just gone to his hotel."

"Then you had better send to his hotel after him," answered the visitor,
sitting down on one of the hall chairs and commencing music-hall
reminiscences by softly whistling a negro melody through his teeth.

Now, it is a fact, Williams had not the faintest idea who or what this
man really was. He had lived all his life, if not in the best families,
at least in families that paid their way, and knew nothing of duns or
writs, or summonses or sheriff's officers, and he, therefore, stood
looking in astonishment, not unmixed with indignation, at the gentleman
possessed of musical proclivities till that person, out of patience
with his hesitation, exclaimed,

"Now then, stupid, are you going to send for that lord you were speaking
of, or are you not? I can't wait here all day while you are making up
your small brains into a big parcel. If you don't look sharp I must
leave a man in possession, and I don't expect your people would thank
you much for that."

"Will you tell me what you mean?" Williams entreated.

First the death, then Mr. Forde, then this--it was too much experience
thrust upon him all at once.

"I mean," said the other, speaking very slowly, and looking very
intently at Williams from under the brim of his hat, which was tilted
well over his eyes, "that I am sent here to get two quarters' rent, and
that I must either have it or leave a man in charge of enough to cover
the amount. So now you had better see about the getting the money, for I
ain't a-going to waste my blessed time here much longer for any man
living or dead--Lords or Commons."

And he rose as if to give emphasis to his words, rose and yawned and
stretched himself, after which performances he sat down again.

"If you wait for a few minutes I will see what can be done," said
Williams, his thoughts turning in this dire extremity to Mrs. Mortomley.

"I'll wait, never fear," answered the other; and he took a newspaper
from his pocket and began to read it with a nonchalant manner which
fairly appalled the butler.

Dolly was sitting alone in the great drawing-room, that which Mr. Werner
had furnished so gorgeously after his own taste--a taste Mrs. Mortomley
always considered vile, when Williams came quietly in.

"I beg your pardon, ma'am, but a most unpleasant thing has occurred, and
I thought it better to mention it to you. A person is below who says he
wants two quarters' rent, and that he must have it."

"I do not know where or from whom he is to get it then," remarked Mrs.
Mortomley, lifting her heavy eyes from the book she was reading.

"But--excuse me, ma'am, I hardly like to repeat his words, only I really
do not know how to get rid of him. He says he must leave a man in
possession if he is not paid immediately."

"If he must we cannot prevent him," Dolly answered. She had gone through
it all. She understood this was the beginning of the end for her friend
Leonora, and she felt no good could possible accrue from exciting
herself about the matter.

Not so Williams; fortunately he attributed Mrs. Mortomley's indifference
to non-comprehension, otherwise her _sang froid_ would have shocked him
beyond measure. Personally he felt he could scarcely outlive the
degradation of being in the house with a bailiff. He was willing to make
any exertion, to endure any sacrifice, to avert so great a calamity.

"Had not I better go for his Lordship?" he suggested.

"You can if you like," she answered; "but I do not think your doing so
can serve any good purpose. In the first place you may not find Lord
Darsham at his hotel; in the second, I do not believe this man would
wait till you could return. Then, these people never will take a cheque,
and it is long past bank hours, and finally, I very much doubt whether
Lord Darsham ought to pay any account until he has seen Mr. Werner's
lawyers."

Williams was scandalized. She not merely understood what it meant
perfectly, but she took the whole matter as coolly as though told her
milliner had called about fitting on a dress. It was time he asserted
his position and vindicated his respectability; so he ventured,

"These things are very unpleasant, ma'am."

Dolly looked at him and understood that, shown the slightest loophole of
an excuse, he would have given notice on the instant. Now this was
precisely what she wished to avoid. That the servants must be dispersed
and the house dismantled she knew, but she wanted Leonora back amongst
her own people, and the body of the poor pretender, who had wrought such
evil for himself and others, laid in its quiet grave before the work of
destruction commenced, and so she answered,

"Yes, indeed, Williams, they are and must seem particularly unpleasant
to you. I ought to have thought of that. I will see this person myself."
And before Williams could interpose, or by look or hint explain to her
how much worse than improper he considered her personal interference,
she had descended the staircase and was crossing the hall.

At sight of her the man rose from his seat, and believing her to be Mrs.
Werner, he began some awkward apology for his presence.

Then Dolly explained she was only a friend staying in the house; that
she feared at so late an hour in the evening it would be useless sending
for Lord Darsham, and that in short, she worded it delicately but
explicitly, he had better do whatever was necessary, and go about his
business.

Which without the slightest unnecessary delay he did. First he opened
the outer door, and whistled for his man as if whistling for a dog. Then
he made a rapid inventory of a few articles in the dining-room, and
after handing a paper to Mrs. Mortomley, took his leave.

Then appeared Williams, more erect in his respectability, more severe in
his deportment, more correct in his speech than ever. He had made up his
mind. He would give notice to Lord Darsham in the morning.

"Where would it please you, ma'am, for that person to pass the night?"
he inquired.

Dolly went out into the hall where sat one of the men who had been such
unwelcome visitors at Homewood.

Recognising her, he stood up and touched his forehead respectfully.

"It is you then," she remarked; "that is fortunate. Of course, there is
no necessity for you to remain here."

"I am afraid I must, ma'am, orders is orders, and--"

"You can leave quite easily," she interrupted, "and you know that. You
can come back in the morning. You must dress in black and wear a white
cravat, and ask for Mr. Williams, and the servants will imagine you come
from the undertaker. I will give you a sovereign if you oblige me in
this matter, and I am sure Lord Darsham will not forget you either.
Take the key with you if you like."

Still the man hesitated. He looked at the sovereign lying in his hand,
and then at Mrs. Mortomley. Then he ventured,

"Is--is there anything else in? I know you are a lady as wouldn't
deceive me."

"Nothing," she answered.

"Or expected?" he went on.

"There is nothing expected," was the reply. "But something may come,
although I do not think it in the least degree probable. If it does, I
will say you are already in possession; no harm shall come to you."

"I must stay for a little while, for fear of the governor coming back,
but I will leave before ten o'clock if that will do?"

"That will do," said Mrs. Mortomley.

What a contagion there is in vice!

As vice, or indeed as worse than vice, Williams regarded these mysteries
with which Mrs. Mortomley was evidently _au courant_, and yet there
seemed a fascination about it all to the butler.

As such things were to be, why should he not master their details?
Although he despised the French, he knew a knowledge of their language
sometimes stood a man in good stead, and in like manner if sovereigns
were being flung about in this reckless fashion, why should he, through
superior address, not have the manipulation of them? His knowledge of
mankind taught him half-a-crown would have compassed Mrs. Mortomley's
desires as completely as twenty shillings, and Williams sighed over that
balance of seventeen shillings and sixpence, as Mr. Swanland had sighed
over John Jones' two pounds ten shillings.

"I want you, Williams," said Mrs. Mortomley, when his meditations had
assumed the form of regrets, and he followed her into the dining-room.

"You had better let that man have some supper," she said. "I suppose you
can manage to do so, and if for a day or two you are able so to arrange
matters that no one shall suspect who or what he is, I am certain Lord
Darsham will be very much obliged. And I can only say for my own part,
I am very much obliged and--" a slight pantomime of offer and protest
and final acceptance, and another of Dolly's sovereigns had gone the way
which so many sovereigns, that can ill be spared, do go in this prosaic
world.

Williams did not give notice next morning to Lord Darsham, and his
forbearance was rewarded.



                                  CHAPTER XII.

                         MRS. MORTOMLEY BREAKS THE NEWS.


Mrs. Werner, clad in the deepest of mourning, in the most unbecoming of
caps, sat in that small room where Dolly had overheard Mr. Werner's
utterances concerning her husband. Her cousin had been closeted with her
for nearly an hour. Faithfully he agreed with Mrs. Mortomley that he
would break the news of the dead man's embarrassments to his widow, and,
indeed, it was plain no time ought to be lost in acquainting Mrs. Werner
with the actual state of her finances.

"She has ordered mourning for the whole household," observed Lord
Darsham, "and she has intimated her wish that a milliner should go to
Dassell to see the children's dresses are properly made. Now, with every
wish--"

"I comprehend, my Lord, and have already countermanded her orders, or,
at least, have requested that their execution may be delayed."

Something in the tone of her voice, something in the stress she laid on
the words my lord, struck the person she addressed with a sense of
uneasiness.

"Good Heavens! Mrs. Mortomley, you don't suppose I grudge Leonora this
small expense. You do not think so meanly of me as that, I hope. But,
still, with an execution in the house I cannot imagine that Leonora--"

"If Leonora knew how she is situated," Mrs. Mortomley again interrupted,
"she would clothe herself in sackcloth; she would have all her coloured
dresses dyed black rather than incur one penny of needless expense, and
she ought to know, and you ought to tell her."

Which Lord Darsham finally agreed to do, and then left the revelation to
Mrs. Mortomley.

"She must be told, and at once," thought Dolly, as she dragged wearily
up the staircase, to find Mrs. Werner sitting in her widow's weeds, all
alone.

"Lenny," she began, "I want to speak to you very seriously. I think you
ought to go back to Dassell without any unnecessary delay."

Mrs. Werner half rose from her seat.

"Are any of the children ill," she asked, "or is it my mother?"

"Your mother is well as far as I know," answered Mrs. Mortomley, "and so
are the children; but there are evils almost as hard to bear as illness,
and--"

"You know, Dolly, I can bear anything better than suspense," said Mrs.
Werner.

"I know nothing of the kind," was the reply. "My own impression is, you
or any woman could endure suspense better than bad news, and my news is
bad."

"What is it like?"

"It is very like a change of fortune," answered Mrs. Mortomley. "Did it
never occur to you, Lenny, that of late you have been living at a
tremendous rate?"

"I was aware we spent a considerable sum of money," said Mrs. Werner;
"but Mr. Werner wished it; and his business was good, and--"

"My dear," interrupted Dolly, "his business, poor man, was not good. He
was forced to keep up an appearance in order to preserve his credit, and
he was far from being rich when he died."

"You are not in earnest?" asked Mrs. Werner, an expression of horror
coming into her face, for which her friend knew too well how to account;
then added, "Oh! Dolly, tell me the worst at once?"

"I do not know either the best or the worst myself yet," was the answer.
"Only of one thing I am certain, that you and the children are not left
so well off as we might have hoped would be the case."

"That was what Charley came to tell me a little while since," remarked
Mrs. Werner.

"Yes, his heart failed him as mine would have done, Leonora, but I felt
you ought to know."

"Dolly, do you think this had anything to do with his death?" asked Mrs.
Werner, so suddenly that the question taking Dolly unprepared she stood
mute, unable to answer.

"You _do_ think so then?" said Mrs. Werner.

"I only think, remember, Leonora. God alone knows."

"Leave me," entreated the miserable woman. "I will try to bear it, but,
oh! leave me to bear it alone."

Dolly crept down to the drawing-room, where Lord Darsham anxiously
awaited her return.

"Have you told her?" he asked. "Has she decided on her future plans?"

"I have told her as much as I can tell her at present," was the reply.
"When she has recovered a little from the shock, she will form her
plans, no doubt. Meantime, my Lord, I think I could help you, and
Leonora too, if you would tell me your plans with regard to your cousin
and her family."

"Before I answer your question, will you answer one of mine? What have I
done, Mrs. Mortomley, that your tone and manner have changed towards me
so utterly? You are misjudging me in some way. You fancy because
Leonora is poor, I shall not be so willing to help her as if she had
been left well-dowered. Is it not so?"

"'Conscience makes cowards of us all,'" remarked Dolly, with a bitter
little laugh. "It is you who have changed. Poverty and money; these two
things are the touchstones of love, esteem, friendship. Have I not seen
it? Do I not know it? I was wrong to expect a miracle; but I did hope
for better things from you."

"And what have I done to forfeit your good opinion?" he asked. "Could a
brother have taken more responsibility upon himself than I have done? I
would have paid out that fellow downstairs, but you advised me not to
part with money which might be useful to Leonora. Have not I told you I
will see to her and the children? Is it not merely to save her annoyance
I urge the necessity for her departure from this wretched house? Surely,
you are hard to please?"

"I am not at all hard to please, and you know that," she answered. "When
first you heard of Mr. Werner's reverses, you were goodness itself; you
were as utterly unworldly and disinterested as--well, as my own husband
is.

"But you had not then stood face to face with that ruin which overtakes
a commercial man. A loss of income; the reduction of a household; having
to live frugally, and dress plainly; these things never seem terrible to
friends and acquaintances who are not called upon to practise such
economy in their own persons. What has tried you is just what tries
every one who is privileged to see the process by which men, unable to
meet their engagements, are stripped of everything they possess.

"That man in possession horrified you almost as much as he did Williams.
Being brought into contact with Mr. Forde disgusted you. Lord Darsham
began to wonder with how much of this sort of thing he might become
connected, and, though quite willing to do his duty, he could not avoid
thinking duty a very unpleasant necessity."

"You are exhaustive, Mrs. Mortomley."

"It is a subject I have studied," she said. "Do you suppose any human
being could pass through all this, as I have done, and come out
innocent and believing. The bulk of friends I class under two
heads:--those who know, and those who do not know what ruin means. The
first simply turn their backs on the ruined man altogether; the second
ask him to dinner, or to stay with them for a week, a fortnight, or a
month."

"I am not going to ask my cousin to dinner, neither do I intend to turn
my back on her," he remarked, unable, angry though he was, to avoid
smiling at Dolly's sweeping assertions.

"No, but what are you about to do for her; what are you able and willing
to do for her? If you mean--supposing she is utterly beggared--to say, I
will allow you so much a year certain, say so to her soon. If, on the
other hand, you are uncertain as to what you can do in the future, let
her think if there be any way in which she can help herself, and assist
her to the best of your ability. You would be doing her a greater
kindness to leave her to let lodgings or keep a school, than to make her
a pensioner on your--kindness shall we say?--for an uncertain income."

Lord Darsham took a turn or two up and down the room, then he said,

"You hit hard, but you hit fair. I will consider what I ought to do, and
can do; and then--"

"It will not cost you much," she observed as he paused. "A woman may
care for these things," with a gesture she indicated the furniture and
appointments of that stately room. "Most women, I suppose, do like
pretty and costly surroundings, but if she be a woman like Leonora she
can give them all up when she knows it is right she should. You cannot
imagine how much we can do with a little when necessary. Do you
recollect sending Leonora a hundred pounds last Christmas?"

"I do, and she gave it away, and I was angry with her in consequence."

"She gave it to me," said Dolly boldly, though her face flushed a little
as she made the confession. "And do you know what I did with it? I
started a business--a colour manufactory--and we are living on the
profits of that factory now, and when my dear husband gets strong
again, I shall be able to begin and pay that hundred pounds back to
Leonora."

"She won't take a penny of it," he exclaimed.

"Yes she will," answered Mrs. Mortomley, "because we understand each
other, Leonora and I! Shall I ever forget that Christmas Eve! I had five
sovereigns between us and nothing. A husband making nothing, and ill,
and obliged to go up each day to see the trustee of his Estate. I was
miserable. I was lonely. I was wishing I had been brought up to work of
any kind, so that I might earn a few shillings a week, when Leonora
came,--Leonora in her silks and furs, with her dear kind face; and she
would make me take your cheque, and I declare, when I opened and looked
at it, after she drove away, I felt as if it and she had come straight
from God."

"Dolly," he said, "had I only known--"

"You might have brought me more," she went on; "but you could never have
brought it in the same way. She knew all; she had seen the bailiffs at
Homewood; she had seen friend after friend desert us; she had seen
insults heaped on our heads; she had seen her own husband turn against
mine when misfortunes overtook us; but it made no difference with her,
and for that reason I shall stand between Leonora and trouble so long as
I am able."

It was inconsequent language; but Lord Darsham knew well enough what she
meant by it. He had felt that if being mixed up with business and Mr.
Werner's affairs, and Mrs. Werner's adversity, included executions for
debt, and interviews with such men as Mr. Forde, and taking the sole
charge of his cousin and her children for life, then indeed he had
become involved in an affair much more disagreeable and of considerably
greater magnitude than could prove pleasant, and he had felt compassion
for himself at being placed in such a situation.

But Dolly, the Dolly he remembered when she was but a tiny bit of a
child--in the days in which his cousin Leonora called her Sunbeam--had
put the matter in its true light before him.

If he was going to do anything for his cousin, he ought to do it
efficiently. Dolly, as he himself said, hit hard; but she did hit
fairly. As she put it, he was free to do or he was free to leave undone;
but he was not free to allow Leonora to feel his kindness a burden, her
position insecure.

No, Dolly was right; the matter ought to be put on a proper footing. It
would never do for him to pay this, that, and the other, and in his
heart feel Mrs. Werner, whom he once wished to marry, was spending too
much money. Even in that matter of dress, Dolly's common sense had
stepped in to the rescue.

"Mrs. Mortomley," he said at length, "will you go with Leonora to
Dassell, and when I have arranged affairs here so far as they are
capable of arrangement, I can follow you and we shall be able together
to decide on our future plans?"

"I should not like to go," Dolly answered; "but if she and you wish it I
will go."

As it proved, however, nothing on earth was further from Leonora's
desires.

"I cannot return to Dassell yet," she said to her friend. "Mamma's
questions would kill me. Dolly, will you take me home with you,
to-morrow?"

"Aye, that I will, darling," answered the brave little woman, utterly
regardless of ways and means in her anxiety to pleasure that distracted
heart.

"Stay with me for a little while, please," whispered Mrs. Werner. She
was afraid, now she had once looked upon the face of her trouble, of
being left to contemplate it through the darksome hours of the summer
night.

"I am going to sleep on the sofa, and if you want me at any hour or
minute you have but to say 'Dolly.'"

Next morning a curious discovery was made. Mrs. Werner's jewellery,
which she never took with her to Dassell, had all disappeared.

This led to an investigation of the contents of the plate closet, which
seemed extremely short of silver, but this Williams explained by stating
that when the family went to Brighton the previous winter, his master
had for greater security removed the bulk of the plate to his bankers.

These matters were not mentioned to Mrs. Werner, but they filled Lord
Darsham with a terrible uneasiness.

He felt thankful that his cousin was leaving that huge town house which
lawyers and auctioneers, and bankruptcy messengers, were soon to fill
with their pervading presence.

"May I come and see you, Mrs. Mortomley?" he asked, as he bade her
good-bye at the Great Eastern terminus.

"Certainly," she answered. "Our cottage is a small one, but, as the
Americans say, it opens into all out of doors."

He retained her hand for a moment, looked earnestly in her face as she
said this, then the train was off, and, she smiling at him, bowed and
kissed her finger in acknowledgment of his uplifted hat.

They were gone, and he walked slowly out of the station full of a fancy
her words had conjured up.



                              CHAPTER XIII.

                             SAD CONFIDENCES.


Winter was gone, spring had come, and if the song of the turtle dove was
not heard in the land, the wood-pigeons made noise enough about the
Mortomleys' house to almost deafen its occupants.

Spring had come, spring in its garments of vivid green, decked and
studded with primrose stars; spring, bringing the perfume of
up-springing sap, of tender violets, of early hyacinths to refresh the
sense; spring with its promise of daisies and buttercups, of fragrant
hawthorn, of budding wild roses.

With everything beautiful decking the earth in honour of her advent,
spring came smiling that year across the fair English landscape.
Sunshine and blue sky everywhere overhead; underfoot springing grass and
luxuriant wheat and flowers, and bud and leaf; and at the first, and
when the first spring bird's twitter announced that the loveliest season
of all the English year was close at hand, Dolly's spirits rose like the
heart of a giant refreshed to give the sweet visitor greeting.

She had been ailing and languid all through the tedious winter, but at
sight of the sunshine, at sound of the songs of birds, somewhat of her
former brightness returned.

"I know now," she said, "how glad that poor dove must have been to get
out of the ark. I never used to be tired of winter, but latterly the
winters have seemed so long and cold and dreary."

"And yet we have kept up glorious fires this winter," remarked
Mortomley, to whom health and comparative youth seemed to have been
restored as by a miracle.

"Yes," agreed his wife, "what should we have done without the great logs
of woodand you--aunt?" and she held out a grateful hand to Miss Gerace,
who never intended to go back to Dassell any more, who had given up her
house, her maid, her furniture to 'the ladies,' as they were styled in
that far-away region, Mesdames Trebasson and Werner; who never intended
to leave Dolly again, and who had with tears in her eyes entreated her
niece's forgiveness because she had, thinking Mrs. Mortomley could never
come to want, sunk the principal of her money in an annuity.

"You dear old thing," said Dolly trying to laugh away her own tears,
"when you are lost to me and mine, we shall not cry the less because you
could not leave us enough to buy mourning," and it was then Miss Gerace
and Dolly agreed they were not to part company again.

In good truth, how Dolly would have got through that winter without her
aunt's presence and her aunt's money she did not know.

Life had been a hard enough struggle when she was strong to battle, but
not long after Mrs. Werner left the little cottage, Dolly felt a
weakness come upon her against which she was impotent to struggle, which
made it easy to persuade her to take her morning cup of tea in bed, and
do little save sit near the grateful warmth of that pleasant wood-fire
through the day.

The doctor came; a pleasant chatty country doctor, who was accustomed to
patients who liked to dwell on their ailments, and who, though Mrs.
Mortomley puzzled him, never imagined she could be so stupid as to tell
him fibs.

According to all known rules Dolly ought to have had one or two very
sufficient pains, one or two very decided symptoms, but Dolly had no
pains and no symptoms. She was only tired she declared, exhausted
mentally and bodily if he preferred that form of expression, and she
should be well in the spring.

That was all any one could make out of Mrs. Mortomley, and when the
spring came it seemed to justify her prediction.

With the bright weather Dolly revived. She sat in the sunshine, she
donned her brightest apparel, she ate with a relish the simple country
fare, and she requested the kindly rector to say one day from the
reading-desk that Dollabella Mortomley desired to return thanks for
"mercies vouchsafed."

"For what mercies, my dear?" asked the good rector, who could not look
at her wistful, eager face quite unmoved.

"God has vouchsafed me another spring," she answered; "one of almost
unalloyed happiness."

And so the sunshine of old returned and stayed with her to the end.

With the spring came Mrs. Werner. Her friend had requested her visit
long before; but she delayed complying with that request till an almost
imperative message brought her South.

Then Dolly gave her that packet, the secret of which she had kept so
faithfully, and when Mrs. Werner opened it, she found notes to the
amount of two thousand pounds and a letter, her dead husband's
confession and fare-well.

"I cannot retain this money," said Mrs. Werner.

"Do so for a week and then we will talk about it," Mrs. Mortomley
answered, and for a week the widow maintained silence, walking alone
through those Hertfordshire woods, and for the first time keeping her
vigil with the dead.

"Do not send that money to lawyer, trustee, or creditor, Lenny," said
Mrs. Mortomley when they came to talk the matter over. "Remember your
marriage vows and obey your husband. He risked much to save that for
you; do not frustrate his intentions. When the expenses come out of
that, it would be a penny in the pound to the creditors; and if you
could send it direct to the creditors, they would not thank you for it.
Poor Lang--oh how sorry I am Archie and Lang could not get on together,
for he was one in a thousand--said to me once,

"'Look here, ma'am, creditors are this sort of folks. If you had paid
them nineteen and elevenpence in the pound, and stripped yourself of
everything to pay them that, and they saw your clean shirt lying on the
bed ready for you to put on, they would want the shirt on the bed to pay
the odd penny.' Keep that two thousand pounds, my dear. I, who have been
through it all, tell you any human being who allows sentiment to
influence business pays for his folly with his life."

"Dolly!"

"I mean what I say, Lenny; but you need not employ a crier to circulate
the news. It will not be yet; but it must be some time. Had we laid
aside two thousand pounds, I might have lived to be as old as your
friend the Countess of Desmond."

To Mrs. Werner the way in which those who were with Dolly continually,
refused to believe in anything very serious being the matter with her,
seemed at first incredible, but after a time she too found the fact of
danger hard to realise. Death and Dolly appeared as far removed from
each other as light and darkness, and yet she was going, surely, if
slowly out of the day into the night.

"I am thankful to see her so much better," remarked Miss Gerace, in
answer to some observation of Mrs. Werner's. "She did look shockingly
ill through the winter. I was quite uneasy about her, but now she has
recovered her spirits and her appetite, and is getting quite a colour in
her cheeks."

Mrs. Werner remained silent for a moment, then with an effort she said,
"Dear Miss Gerace, can not you see what that colour is--don't you know
Dolly paints?"

If she had declared Dolly to be a pickpocket, Miss Gerace could not have
been more shocked. Forthwith she took her niece to task about this
iniquity, which Mrs. Mortomley did not deny, though she tried to laugh
off the accusation.

"What is the harm of sometimes painting the lily?" she observed. "If
Leonora had either been as stupid or as wise as she ought to have been,
I should eventually have worked up that colour to one of robust health,
but as you all appear to object to my looking beautiful, I think I shall
take out my frizettes, let down my hair, wear a dressing-wrapper all
day long, and adopt the appearance and manners of an untidy ghost."

"My dear, you should not talk in that light way," expostulated Miss
Gerace; "though you may not know it, illness is a very serious thing."

Not know it! There was a little quiver about Dolly's mouth which might
have told a tale to the woman who had lived so long, if her
understanding of her niece's nature had been as thorough as that
possessed by Mrs. Werner.

Not know it! Had she lain awake through the long, long winter nights,
and the scarcely less dreary spring mornings, reconciling herself to the
idea of that long, lonely journey, thinking thoughts that lay between
herself and her God, without coming to a full comprehension of the fact
that not even sorrow is more solemn and awful than mortal sickness.

She knew all about it.

"But I never could bear the sight of sad faces," she said to Mrs.
Werner, "and if you frighten aunt and make Archie think there is
something very much amiss with me, you will render all our lives
miserable."

Mrs. Werner sighed. It was against her preconceived ideas that a woman
should smile and laugh and be still the very sunshine of her home all
the time a fatal disease was working its will upon her, and yet she felt
in her heart Dolly's was the soundest philosophy, if only she could be
induced to take care of herself to lengthen out the time before----

No, she could not even mentally finish the sentence. If Dolly would not
make an effort to save her own life, some one should fight against death
in her behalf.

"It is wrong of you," she said, "knowing how precious you are to us all;
you should use every effort to get well again. You ought to have
first-rate advice. You ought to have change of air. You ought to have
everything nourishing and tempting in the way of food. I shall take
charge of you myself now. You belong to me as much as to your husband. I
am sure no man ever loved a woman more than I have loved you."

"Come here, Lenny," was the answer. "Come close beside me, dear--here in
the sunshine, and let us settle all this at once, never to speak of it
again. For myself, for my own very individual self's sake," she went on,
taking Mrs. Werner's hand in hers, and stroking it absently, "I am not
certain that if I could, I should care to live, unless, indeed, I were
able to find some waters of Lethe in which I might plunge and forget all
the misery, all the humiliation of the past. There are some people who
cannot forget. I am one of them. There are some who cannot remember and
be quite happy; that is my case. There are some who think life not much
worth having unless they can be very happy in it; I fear I hold some
such heretical doctrine."

She stopped and kissed Mrs. Werner, smiling all the time the bright
smile of old.

"So much for myself," she said, "but for Archie's sake, for Lenore's,
for yours, not least for the sake of my poor aunt who has grown so to
love me, just when it would have been well for her to have done nothing
of the kind, I would stay if I could--I would spend money and time and
thought, to get strong again.

"I have consulted doctors, I have told great physicians every symptom of
my complaint, though I do not choose to be quite frank with a medical
man, who, knowing Archie, might make the poor fellow wretched before
there is any necessity for him to be told the truth.

"I have followed every scrap of advice so far as I possibly could, I
have taken care of myself, and the result is I am here still; and it may
be, if affairs continue to go well with us, that I may remain for a long
time yet, as time counts in such cases. And now, Lenny, do not let us
speak of this ever again."

"But cannot you get away from this place?" asked Mrs. Werner.

"I am as well here as I should be anywhere else," was the reply; "and it
would be folly to move to a fresh neighbourhood just when the works are
really beginning to return a good income. Besides, though the house is
small, I love it; and those woods are, to my mind, the very realization
of peace."

"How did it happen Lang left you?"

"I can scarcely tell you, such a variety of reasons went to make up the
sum total of his discontent. Of course, till Archie took the reins, he
had everything almost his own way; he bought and he sold and he kept the
books and he employed whom he liked, and finally he lost his head as all
people of his class do. I dare say you never had a cook able to grill a
chop, who did not fancy you never could get on without her. Well, of
course, Archie found this unpleasant. Lang got discontented and jealous
and very troublesome, and made things uncomfortable for himself and
every one else.

"At last matters came to a crisis about a clerk who had such good
testimonials, we thought he would prove a treasure. We shortly found he
was anything rather than a treasure however, and Archie would have got
rid of him at once if Lang had not come up one evening and given us the
choice of parting with him or Roberts--that was the clerk's name.

"He said, he Lang, need not remain long out of a situation; that Hart,
Mayfield, and Company had offered him a good salary, and that if he was
not put on some different footing with us, he would go to those able to
appreciate his services.

"So Archie answered he had better go to them, and he went and we were
all very sorry, Lang included,--he repented, and would have stayed at
the last, but I don't see how Archie could have kept him."

"Neither do I," said Mrs. Werner; and then she asked, "Now that Mr.
Mortomley is making money, is he not afraid of Mr. Swanland demanding a
share of the profits?"

Dolly laughed. "Everything is in the name of Miss Gerace, and you cannot
think how pleased the old darling is when we joke about her colour-works
and ask how orders are coming in for her new blue and her famous yellow.
She is learning to write a plain commercial hand so as to take the whole
of the correspondence. I cannot tell you the comfort she is to me. I do
not know what Archie and I and the child would have done without her
all through the dull, dark winter days."

Mrs. Werner did not answer; she was wondering at that moment how Archie
and Miss Gerace and the child would do without Dolly through the days of
the sorrowful summers and winters yet to come.



                              CHAPTER XIV.

                          WHAT RUPERT HAD DONE.


Mrs. Werner had returned to Dassell carrying with her that legacy, the
disposal of which was still as great a perplexity and trouble as ever.
The hawthorn-trees were in full bloom, the dog-roses showing for
blossom, the woods resonant with the songs of birds, and Dolly sat one
day out in the sweet sunshine all alone.

She had wandered slowly through the woods to a spot where, the trees
ceasing to impede the view, she could see far away over the luxuriant
champaign through which the Lea wound its devious way, glittering in the
distance like a thread of silver.

There she sat down to rest on a felled tree, and the beauty of the
landscape stole into her heart, and with it a feeling of infinite peace.
For the moment life and its cares, past troubles, the fear of sorrow
coming to those dear to her in the future, dropped from off her spirit;
as for a few minutes a heavy burden, that must be taken up again, may be
cast aside. She felt better than she had done for months previously, and
at once her buoyant nature grasped at the hope that perhaps her disease
was stayed, that she might live a few years longer to see her husband
again free, without that shadow of bankruptcy and unpaid debt pursuing
him.

His discharge was the one earthly good Dolly still desired with an
exceeding longing; and under that bright clear sky, with that sweet
peaceful country stretching out before her eyes, even so wild a dream as
freedom for the man she loved and pitied with a love and pity exceeding
that of a wife seemed not incapable of fulfilment.

Along the path which, cutting first across the fields and then through
the wood, led straight as a crow's flight from the nearest railway
station to the high-road, which their little cottage overlooked, she saw
a man advancing towards the spot she occupied.

Not a young man, not a labouring man, not any person resident in the
neighbourhood, but a stranger, evidently, for he often paused and looked
around, as if doubtful of being in the right way, and when he had got a
little distance into the wood he stopped and hesitated, and then
retracing his steps, took off his hat, and asked Dolly if she could
kindly direct him to

"Mortomley's Colour Works?"

She gave him the information, and then added,

"If you want to see Mr. Mortomley, he is not at home to-day."

"That is very unfortunate," remarked the stranger.

"Is your business with him very important?" she asked, a fear born of
the experiences of that time she could never recall without a shudder
prompting the question, "I am Mrs. Mortomley," she explained with a
nervous laugh and a vivid blush. "Perhaps you could tell me what it is
you want; and that might save you trouble and spare him."

He did not quite understand what she meant by her last expression. How
could he tell that now, as in that far away time when Mortomley had been
ruined, her first thought, her sole desire was to spare him, the man
over whom a sorrow impended, the coming of which she could not retard?

"You are very kind," said the gentleman courteously; "but I could not
think of troubling you about the matter. I must see Mr. Mortomley,
however, and if you name a time when he is likely to be at home, I will
call."

She felt certain, now, that something dreadful was about to happen.

"I wish," she said, rising; "I do wish you would give me some idea of
the nature of your business. I am not very strong, and I cannot bear
anxiety as I used to be able to do; and if you will not tell me why you
want to see my husband, I shall be imagining all sorts of evil. I beg
your pardon for speaking so vehemently," she added, seeing a look of
amazement in the stranger's face; "but you do not know what we have gone
through."

Looking at her more closely he could form some idea.

"Pray sit down," he entreated. "I am so sorry to have alarmed you. Why
you are trembling as if you thought I meant to do your husband some
great injury, and I only want to speak to him about a colour I
understand he manufactures!"

"What--his new blue?" asked Dolly, brightening up in a moment.

"No; his new yellow," was the reply.

It would have been impossible for any one to avoid being amused at the
sudden change in Mrs. Mortomley's expression, and almost in spite of
himself the stranger smiled as he answered.

Dolly's face reflected that smile, and as he saw the sunshine in her
eyes uplifted to his, the stranger, though he had come on no friendly
errand to Mortomley, felt himself drawn by an irresistible attraction,
to be friends with Mortomley's wife.

"Won't you be seated?" she asked. If he had been young and handsome as
he was old and plain, Dolly would, without thought of evil, have issued
a precisely similar invitation, and the stranger smiled again as he
availed himself of it. And seeing that, Dolly smiled once more while she
asked him what he wanted to say to her husband about the new yellow.

"I wanted to know, in the first instance, if he really manufactured it,"
was the reply.

"Oh! yes; quantities," she answered. "He could sell fifty times as much
if he had a larger place to make it in. Do you want some?"

"No," said the stranger; "I do not."

Now this puzzled Mrs. Mortomley, and so she tried back.

"What did you want to know in the second instance?" she asked.

"Really, Mrs. Mortomley," he was beginning, when she interrupted him.

"It is of no use your trying to deceive me; you have got something
unpleasant to say to my husband--what is it?"

"Well, the fact is, he has no right to be making that yellow."

"He has every right," she retorted, "for he invented it; and if you come
from Mr. Swanland, you can tell him that I say Mr. Mortomley will
manufacture any colour he pleases."

It was a privilege accorded to few people, but the new-comer certainly
had the benefit of seeing Dolly in all the moods of which her nature was
capable in a single interview.

"I do not come from Mr. Swanland," was the reply; "indeed, I do not know
who Mr. Swanland is. That is my name," and he handed her his card; "and
the reason why I say Mr. Mortomley has no right to make that yellow is
because he sold his secret to me."

Dolly looked at the speaker as a tigress might have done had he touched
her cub. She got first red with passion, and then that red turned to a
white heat, and her heart seemed to stand still with rage, then suddenly
it gave a great bound of relief, and she said to that elderly gentleman
quite solemnly, and yet with a certain cheerful assurance in her tone,--

"You are mad!"

"Indeed I am not," was the reply. "I hold a receipt for the money I paid
for your husband's secret, and I think I have just cause for complaint
when I find the formulæ given to me imperfect, and Mr. Mortomley sending
a colour into the market which according to equity is mine exclusively."

"Show me the receipt you speak of," she said. "There is some great
mistake--you are labouring under some gross delusion."

For answer he opened his pocket-book and handed her a paper, which
proved to be a receipt for two hundred and fifty pounds paid by Charles
Douglas, Esquire, for the formulæ of a new yellow.

This document was signed

                       "For Archibald Mortomley,
                                         "R. HALLING."

and in a moment Dolly understood what had been done.

"The viper!" she said; "and he knew we were beggars when he robbed us of
the money. And we had sheltered him and his sister and--"

"For mercy's sake calm yourself, Mrs. Mortomley," entreated Mr. Douglas,
as she broke into a perfect agony of grief. "I would not for all the
value of the money, I would not even for the worth of the colour, have
so distressed you. I will destroy the receipt and never mention the
affair again if you will only promise not to fret yourself about the
matter."

"You will not destroy that receipt," she said, rising. "You shall come
home with me and hear how my husband has been cheated, just as you have
been cheated."

In utter silence they walked together through the wood to the little
cottage which was Mortomley's home, at sight of which Mr. Douglas
experienced an amazement impossible to describe.

On the threshold Mr. Mortomley, who had returned unexpectedly, met his
wife and her companion.

"Dolly," he said, "where have you been? what is the matter?"

"This gentleman, Mr. Douglas, will tell you," she answered. "He wants to
speak to you about the new yellow."

"Yes, I came to have a talk with you on that subject, and unfortunately
I met with Mrs. Mortomley on my way here; unfortunately for her, I mean,
for I am afraid I have, most unintentionally, caused her great distress.
I dare say you know my name as a colour manufacturer, Mr. Mortomley. I
have long known yours, and I am very happy to make your acquaintance."

And so saying he held out his hand, and thus this man--good, generous,
and rich--this man so wealthy that he could at the time of Mortomley's
greatest prosperity have bought up everything he owned in the world,
and scarcely have missed the amount, came unexpectedly into the lives of
Dolly and her husband.

He had meant to curse, and behold he remained to bless altogether.

From the moment his eyes fell on Mortomley, he "took to him," as the
homely phrase expresses that fancy at first sight some men experience
for each other, and some women too; and when from Dolly, at a subsequent
period, he heard the particulars of that story I have tried in these
pages to tell, his heart sank when he contrasted all he might and would
have done for husband and wife with all he might ever do now, when it
was too late to do much for one of them, at all events.

Fain would Mortomley with his wide charity, which, as Dolly declared,
amounted in some cases to weakness, have excused and softened Rupert's
perfidy; but Mr. Douglas said, and truly, that the offence was one which
admitted of no gentle shading--which was beyond excuse, "though," he
added with a kindly smile at Mortomley's troubled face, "I see, not
beyond your powers of forgiveness."

"I think forgiveness of injuries an entire mistake," said Dolly from the
depths of her arm-chair.

"If so it is a divine one," remarked Mr. Douglas. And then Mrs.
Mortomley understood their visitor, who by that time had become their
guest,--for all this conversation took place after dinner--and the
sister, of whom he had spoken more than once, were what she called, and
often herself wished to be, "good."

Nevertheless, she said subsequently to her husband, "I shall tell Rupert
what I think of his conduct the very first time I see him. You may
forgive if you like, but I will reprove; it only encourages people to be
wicked to be tender with their faults, and I do not mean to be tender
with him."

But when the time came she was not very hard; she said to him as they
stood at the gate of the cottage together, the last time he ever saw her
alive, "Rupert, I want you to know we are not ignorant of how, when we
were so poor, you sold Archie's secret to Mr. Douglas. Now, there are
some things I can understand; I can under pressure imagine Lazarus
robbing Dives, and a man in extremity forging and telling falsehoods to
save his credit, but I cannot understand the nature of the person who
shall steal twopence-halfpenny from the pocket of a blind old widow, or
who, when the man who befriended him is sick and incompetent, takes that
opportunity to rob him of the only possession left. You need not try to
defend yourself, Rupert, because your conduct is indefensible."

"I shall not try," he said huskily; "I was wrong."

"That is enough; do not vex yourself about the matter now," she
answered, "for, Rupert, unintentionally when you took Archie's ewe lamb,
you gave him that which will turn eventually into a great flock of
sheep."



                                CHAPTER XV.

                         MR. ASHERILL IS PERSUADED.


There could be no doubt but that Mortomley and Mr. Douglas were two men
who ought, according to human wisdom, to have met earlier. Though a
colour manufacturer, the latter had, through want of the inventive or
combinative quality, been compelled to run in old grooves, while the
former lacked precisely that firmness of character and mastery of detail
which had made the northern merchant's fortune.

Mr. Douglas was one of those men who feel they cannot stand still and
let the world get in advance of them, even though their pockets do
chance to be stuffed with gold, and almost at the first glance,
certainly after half an hour's conversation, he knew Mortomley was that
other business half which himself required and for which he had been
vainly seeking through years among all sorts and conditions of men.

As has been said in an early chapter of this story, Mortomley's genius
was essentially imaginative.

"Give him a laboratory and ease of mind, and there is scarcely a
difficulty in our trade he could not overcome," thought Mr. Douglas. "If
he can make a purely vegetable green, as he says he can, and I believe
he says only what is literally true, he ought to make his fortune, and I
should feel very much inclined to help him to do it." But when,
subsequently, he broached this idea, Mortomley shook his head.

"I can never make a fortune unless I am able to procure my discharge,
and if I live to be as old as Methuselah I shall never obtain that."

It was on this occasion that he gave Mr. Douglas a slight sketch of his
experiences of liquidation. All the deeper tints, all the darker
shadows, all the lurid colouring, Dolly added at a later period in the
garden at Homewood, a place, Mr. Douglas said, he particularly wished to
see.

Unknown to Mortomley, his wife and his new friend travelled from a
little country station, then newly set up among the green Hertfordshire
fields, to Stratford, which Mrs. Mortomley described in a brief sentence
as the "dirtiest place on earth," then they changed carriages for
Leytonstone, whence they drove along the road Dolly remembered so well
to Homewood.

The hinges of the front gate were broken, and they entered the grounds
without let or hindrance. Everything had been permitted to go to wreck;
the red-thorn-trees had been cut down for fuel, the rare shrubs were
hacked and hewn to pieces, the great evergreens were torn about or dead,
the clematis and the honeysuckle trailed along the ground over part of
the verandah, which had been dragged down by the boys climbing over it;
the laurel walk was almost completely destroyed, and upon the lawn,
where beds filled with flowers made the summer ever beautiful, a stray
horse grazed peacefully.

Within, the same tale of ruin was to be read as they had found written
outside. The children who squinted and the mother that bore them still
were in residence, and there was not a paper on the walls, not an inch
of paint, upon which defacing fingers had omitted to leave a mark.

The kitchen-garden was a mass of weeds and the drive knee deep in grass.
Where those children ought to have walked, they had refrained from
treading, but through the shrubberies they had made a path, marking
their route, Indian fashion, on the trees.

In the remembered summer-house, where so many a pleasant group had in
the old times collected, Dolly sat down to await the return of their new
friend.

He wanted to look at the "works" now bare of plant, at the great yards
once filled with casks and carboys, alive with the stir of workmen and
the clamour of trade,--all silent now, silent as the grave. At the time
of Mortomley's commercial death came the sleek undertaker from Salisbury
House, and took away all they could bury of the man and his
surroundings.

Empty were the stalls of Homewood, bare of oats the mangers, falling to
decay the pigeon-houses, tenantless the byres and styes, denuded the
barns, but in fancy Mr. Douglas filled them all again with plenty and to
spare. Yes, he would buy the lease of Homewood, and once again it should
blossom as the rose.

He opened his project cautiously to Mrs. Mortomley. The prospect of
returning to the beloved home might, he thought, prove too much for her
if the idea were broached without due preparation, so he tried, sitting
in the summer-house to lead up to it, but found his auditor
unsympathetic.

"She had loved Homewood dearly."

"Did she not love it now?"

"Yes, as one loves the dead."

"Should not she like to live there once more?"

"No; she could never forget, never while life lasted, what she had
suffered there."

And then she told her tale--told it looking with dry eyes over the
desolate wilderness which had once been so fair a home--told it all,
simply and without colouring, as a Frenchman might--supposing a
Frenchman capable of telling an unvarnished narrative--relate how the
Uhlans entered his modest habitation, and, not without insult, stripped
it bare.

"But do not you think your husband would like to come back here?" he
inquired after a long pause.

"Back here?" she repeated, "I think I understand now your intention; but
do not try to carry it out; Archie would never be happy here without
me."

"Is your objection to Homewood, then, so rooted?" he inquired, with a
disappointed smile.

For answer she only turned away her head, and he repeated his question.

Then she said, "I should not like my poor husband to arrange his future
with any reference to me."

She had been so bright, so cheerful, so eager about Mortomley's
prosperity, so reticent concerning her own ailments, that Mr. Douglas
had learned to think he must have erred in imagining that when first he
looked in her face he looked in the face of a woman for whom the fiat
had gone forth, but now, by her forced silence, by the unshed tears in
her voice when she finally answered, he understood.

He knew that she had faced her danger, and that to the last she was
keeping a bold front to the enemy, for the sake of another; aye! ever
and always, Dolly was faithful to that trust.

Without another word of explanation they left Homewood.

Tenderly, as she passed one special spot, Dolly gathered a sprig of
myrtle, and kissing it, would have placed it in her purse, but, thinking
twice about the matter, she held it in her hand till they were near the
front gate, when she cast it from her.

Strong to the last, brave as tender, was it any marvel this man who had
never called any woman wife, never held a child of his own to his
heart, felt that had Mrs. Mortomley been his wife or his daughter, he
could sooner have parted with life than with her.

"There is only one thing you can do for me," she observed as she lay
back in the railway carriage on their way home. "Get my husband's
discharge and that will be worth more than gold and silver to me."

"I will do my best, my dear," he answered; "but I fear the difficulties
are almost insurmountable."

In truth he had been interesting himself greatly about this very matter,
and he did not see, unless a useless expense were incurred, how the
desire of Dolly's heart was to be compassed.

That fatal clause rendering the concurrence of the whole of the
committee necessary had been paraded ostentatiously before his face by
Mr. Swanland.

True, Mr. Kleinwort was not in England or likely to return to it, and
Mr. Forde had nothing now to do with the General Chemical Company,
Limited, which had indeed itself ceased to exist, having been purchased
by Hewitt and Date for a sum which paid the original shareholders about
a sovereign in the twenty-five pound share.

The directors had made a gallant fight in order to continue the
business, but their courage proved useless. The next morning after that
night when Lord Darsham told Williams to show Mr. Forde the door, the
manager had risen with the firm intention of handing in his resignation
that forenoon, but on the way to St. Vedast Wharf he met Mr. Gibbons.

"Bad business that about Werner," said that gentleman.

"It's a bad business for me," answered Mr. Forde lugubriously; "I shall
have to resign to-day, and what is to become of me and those poor
creatures at home God alone knows."

"Nonsense!" retorted Mr. Gibbons; "why should you resign unless you have
some consideration given you for doing so? Put a bold front on the
matter, and say you did the best for the directors and the shareholders,
and you are ready to answer any questions that may be put. They will
give you a cool two hundred to walk out. That is what I should do if I
were in your place."

And that was precisely what Mr. Forde did; the result being that he got
not only two hundred but three hundred pounds given out of the
directors' own pockets, if he would resign at once and follow his friend
Kleinwort to South America.

And so that chapter in City history ended, with only this addendum, Mr.
Forde never went to South America, though the directors said and
believed he did.

With the three hundred pounds he travelled as far as Liverpool, where he
set up in business with his correspondent Tom, and where people hear
very little indeed about his wife and children, who live in an extremely
small house situate at Everton.

_Sic transit gloria mundi_, the ex-manager might well exclaim, did he
understand the meaning of that phrase, while pacing the pavement of
those dreary streets to and from his humble habitation, when he
contrasts the actual present with the once possible future himself had
conceived.

Mr. Forde's departure from London caused another absentee; and as the
opposition colour maker had by this time gone into liquidation, and
would have cheerfully given his vote for Mortomley's immediate discharge
had any one offered him five pounds, Mr. Swanland might certainly have
helped the bankrupt to freedom had he chosen to do so. But Mr. Swanland
did not choose to do so, and Mr. Douglas was afraid to tell Dolly this.

"It will come in time," she said calmly, "or if it never does, some
other way will open for my husband."

"Yes," remarked her new friend, "I can promise that, but you must
promise in return to go down to my little place in Devonshire, and try
to get well again. Smiles says, change of air may do wonders for you."

Smiles was an eminent doctor, the kind old man had feed liberally to
come to Wood Cottage and pass his opinion upon Mrs. Mortomley's state,
and Mr. Smiles had said pleasant things, and deceived every one, save
Dolly, as to her real condition.

Nevertheless, Dolly imagining the evil hour might be deferred, promised
and fulfilled. She went into Devonshire, and with all her might tried to
get well again.

The "little place" to which Mr. Douglas referred so carelessly, was as
sweet a cottage ornée as eye ever rested on; and to say that Dolly
revelled in the place and the peace and the scenery, is scarcely to
convey an idea of the amount of happiness she contrived to extract for
herself out of sea, and land, and sky.

There was but one cloud hovering over her, one worldly affair perplexing
her, but that affair she meant to bequeath to Leonora Werner. Through
Lord Darsham's influence and that of Mr. Douglas combined, she knew they
would, with the facts she had jotted down, satisfy a second meeting of
creditors that if Mortomley's estate in liquidation yielded nothing in
the pound, no blame could be attached to Mortomley or Mortomley's wife;
and that consequently, according even to the wording of that iniquitous
Act of 1869, the bankrupt was entitled to his discharge.

Between herself and her husband there lay no secret. _She had told him._
One quiet Sunday evening she said simply, "It is best you should know,
dear." Her own hand dealt the inevitable blow. It had to be given, and
with the subtle sympathy of old she comprehended that if dealt by her,
he would feel the keen agony of the stroke less at the time, less in the
dreary hereafter.

"I shall stay as long as I can, Archie," she added; that was all the
hope she was able to give him, and she gave it. She loved sitting on the
beach alone; that is, as regarded her own friends and family, for she
liked to talk with children and grown-up people who, unknowing of her
danger and attracted merely by her delicate appearance, made
acquaintance readily with the "sick lady."

Dolly liked to say she was better, and see no sad wistful look follow
her answer.

Amongst the few visitors to that remote place was a lady with whom Mrs.
Mortomley delighted each day to exchange a few words. She was old and
prim, and fond of religious conversation, and a trifle didactic; but
Dolly felt she was true, and Dolly had always liked people who were
genuine.

Perhaps that was the reason she was so deeply affected when Lang came
all the way from London to see her and say "Good-bye." He was to live in
the Hertfordshire cottage and work the colour manufactory for his own
benefit, and his old master had given him a few specialities, and he
would have been happy but for Mrs. Mortomley's illness and the
recollection of the gross perfidy of Harte and Mayfield, who had not
merely sent one of their own clerks to take service with Mortomley to
discover his secrets, but seduced him (Lang) away with offers of higher
wages, and then turned him adrift the moment their purpose was served.

"But, thank God!" said Lang fervently, "they never could make the
yellow--that secret is dark enough still. I shall always believe it was
some blackguard from their place frightened you that morning. I beg
pardon, you were not frightened, though any other lady would have been."

And then they had much more talk, which I have not space to repeat, even
if I thought it could prove interesting, and she sent the man away with
her photograph carefully placed in a new pocket-book, in anticipation of
becoming his own employer.

"Hang it up in some place for the children to see," said Dolly; and it
does hang up now, duly framed and glazed, where not merely the children,
but all visitors can behold the likeness of Mortomley's faithful wife,
which is a digression from the elderly lady with white sausage-like
curls, who happened to be Mrs. Asherill.

One day Dolly was sitting on the beach as usual, when she beheld her
nameless friend walking towards her arm-in-arm with Mr. Asherill.

Then Dolly, instinctively guessing the lady with whom she had passed a
few pleasant half hours was the wife of that detested man, kept her
eyes so fastened on the book lying in her lap that Mr. Asherill had a
chance of passing by in silence, of which chance he availed himself.

Not the next morning, which was Sunday, but the next but one, Mrs.
Asherill called at the cottage and asked to see Mrs. Mortomley, whom she
found sitting in an easy-chair near the window.

"I was not well enough to go to the beach to-day," said Dolly, holding
out her hand. "How good of you to come here!"

"I could not rest without coming," was the reply. "It seems dreadful
that two people like you and my husband should so misunderstand each
other, as I am afraid is the case."

"Do we misunderstand each other?" asked Mrs. Mortomley. "Sit down, Mrs.
Asherill, and imagine I am little Peterkin, and tell me 'what they
killed each other for.'"

"I do not know exactly what you mean, my dear," remarked the elder
woman, "but I have felt miserable ever since Saturday. My husband spoke
about you bitterly as I have never heard him speak about any one
before, and told me to walk in some other direction so that I might not
have to speak to you again."

"And what did you tell him?" asked Dolly cheerfully.

"Oh! I made no reply. I meant to call and ask you when and why you had
quarrelled, as I should so much like you and my dear, good, kind husband
to be friends."

"Come," thought Dolly, "the man has one good point, he is kind to a
woman neither young nor handsome; but perhaps she has money."

Which conjecture was true; but, on the other hand, he had been kind and
tender to a woman without a sixpence--always ailing, always complaining,
to whom he gave the best cup of tea--in those days of bitter griping
poverty mentioned far, far back in this story.

"Till Saturday I did not know who you were," said Mrs. Mortomley, after
a pause, "and I suppose you did not know who I was. In fact, neither of
us was aware we ought to have waged war when we met, instead of sitting
peacefully together talking on all sorts of topics. Now we have found
out that you are you and that I am I. What are we to do? I am afraid we
cannot remain good friends."

"But my husband could not avert your misfortunes. He told me distinctly
he refused to undertake the management of Mr. Mortomley's affairs, and
that it was quite against his wish Mr. Swanland meddled in the matter."

Dolly sighed wearily.

"I am afraid Mr. Asherill was right," she said, "and that you had better
not have come here to-day. I do not wish to speak hardly of any man now,
least of all hardly of any man to his wife, but still, I cannot help
saying I think we have bitter cause to hate the very names of Asherill
and Swanland."

"That I am sure you have not," answered Mrs. Asherill--"at least, not
that of my husband. I must tell you something, just to show how utterly
you have misjudged him. Do you remember a particularly wet Saturday in
September, 18--?"

"Perfectly," said Mrs. Mortomley. "I shall never forget it."

"Nor I, for that day I heard of the death of an old and very dear
friend--about the last friend left--whom I had known since girlhood.
That evening Mr. Asherill returned home much later than usual, and very
much depressed. After dinner he explained to me that he was much
concerned about Mr. Mortomley, whose affairs had fallen into
embarrassment, and he proposed that we should send fifty pounds of poor
Rosa's legacy as an anonymous present to his wife. Now, my dear, no
doubt you never guessed from whom that little offering came?"

"I certainly never did, and for a sufficient reason," was the reply, "It
never reached me."

"Ah! you forget," said Mrs. Asherill; "no doubt you had enough on your
mind at that time to cause you to forget even more important matters
than our poor gift--for it was mine as well as his; but I can recall the
circumstance to your recollection; you will remember all about it, when
I say you acknowledged the amount, with grateful thanks, in the 'Daily
News.'"

"I never did," persisted Dolly; "such an occurrence could not have
slipped my memory. I never received that money--never acknowledged
having received it. I do recollect--" she was proceeding, when she
stopped suddenly.

In a moment she understood the position, but she was not mean enough to
take advantage of the opportunity thus presented. She could not tell
Mrs. Asherill the true version of the affair; she could not ring the
bell and bid Esther bring her dressing-case, and produce from the place
where it had lain so long, John Jones's letter enclosing two pounds ten.

"There has been some great mistake about this matter, Mrs. Asherill,"
she said after a pause. "I never received that fifty pounds; and I
should like to have an opportunity of speaking to Mr. Asherill on the
subject. Ask him to call here next Saturday. Tell him I shall take it
as a great kindness if he will favour me with a few minutes'
conversation. I have no doubt," added Dolly a little hypocritically, for
she wanted to send poor Mrs. Asherill away happy, "we shall be able to
arrive at some understanding." And she stretched out her hand, which
Mrs. Asherill took and pressed; then, moved by some impulse she could
scarcely have defined, she stooped down and touched the lips of
Mortomley's wife, murmuring,

"I wish--I wish, my dear, you were strong and well again."

"Do not fret about me," was the quiet reply. "I shall be well--quite
well, some day."

For the remainder of that week Dolly employed herself at intervals in
writing. She was always jotting down memoranda; always asking Esther
questions about what was done and left undone after their departure. She
wrote to Lang, and received a perfect manuscript from him in reply. She
wrote to Mr. Leigh, asking him to search the 'Daily News' of a
particular week in a particular year for an advertisement which she
specified, and by return of post that was forwarded. Finally, she sent a
note to Mr. Asherill, directed to Salisbury House, and then she waited
patiently for Saturday.

On the evening of that day Mr. Asherill presented himself at the
cottage.

He came intending, spite of the character for sanctity he maintained, to
tell many a falsehood in explanation of aught which might seem strange
to Mrs. Mortomley; indeed, to put the case plainly, _any_ falsehood
which might best serve his turn.

His wife had, of course, communicated to him all Mr. Mortomley's wife
had said to her, and he walked over to the cottage, thinking how, with
his best manner, he might humbug the little woman Mr. Douglas had taken
under his fatherly care.

But Dolly's greeting surprised him.

"Thank you very much for coming, Mr. Asherill," she said, holding out
her hand; "I think we may shake hands now, for do you know, I fancy I
am at the present moment a better Christian than yourself."

"It fills my soul with joy to hear you say so," he was beginning, when
she interrupted him.

"I want to speak to you on business very important to myself," she said.
"I want you to do something for me; I did something for you the other
day--I kept silence when speech would have made your wife miserable. I
did not show her John Jones' letter; I did not tell her of the first
advertisement in the 'Daily News;' I did not even try to unmask you; so
having established a claim on your gratitude, I want you to gratify the
request of a dying woman, for I am dying," she added, speaking with the
utmost calmness.

"God bless me!" exclaimed Mr. Asherill, surprised for once out of his
worldly and religious conventionality.

"I do not think He will," said Dolly gravely, "unless you alter very
much indeed."

"I was not thinking of myself when I made so unmet an exclamation," he
explained.

"Oh! of me?" remarked Dolly. "Yes, indeed, what I said was quite true--I
shall not be here very long, and I am afraid I cannot go quite happily
unless I see some near prospect of my husband obtaining his discharge."

Hearing this, Mr. Asherill shook his head--he was sorry--he feared--he
lamented--but he felt compelled to say, he saw no chance of Mr.
Mortomley ever getting free till he had paid ten shillings in the pound.

Then Dolly showed him her hand--showed him the memoranda she had made,
the evidence of utter incompetence, of gross mismanagement, of senseless
neglect that might be laid before another meeting of creditors.

She showed him that with energy and money the story of Mortomley's
Estate might be made something more real than an empty tale; something
out of which a man's freedom unjustly withheld could be justly
purchased.

"You can get it for him without all that fuss and trouble," she said at
last wearily, folding up the papers and laying them aside. "It is to be
done quietly, I know; and if you like you can do it."

He remained silent for a few minutes, then he spoke--

"I do not like talking about business on a Sunday, but still this is a
work of necessity. I will think the matter over and see you again
to-morrow."

"Very well," answered Mrs. Mortomley, adding slily "this is a work of
very great necessity."

Mr. Asherill thought it was, at all events. He did not like the turn
affairs had taken; and the more he reflected, the more inclined he felt
to throw Mr. Swanland over and take sides with Mortomley.

He had, after a fashion, hunted with the hounds, but now, he believed,
it might prove both more pleasant and more profitable to run with the
hare.

He retraced every step already trodden by his firm. He calculated every
inch it would be necessary for him to travel in the future, and the
result was, he said to Mrs. Mortomley,

"I think I can do what you require. Some money may be necessary, but
perhaps I had better see Mr. Douglas about that?"

"Yes," agreed Dolly, "or Lord Darsham, he has promised help if pecuniary
help is needed."



                                CHAPTER XVI.

                                 CONCLUSION.


It came one glorious morning towards the end of August, when the
sunlight was dancing over the Lea, and there was a glory of brightness
on the earth as well as on the water.

Mrs. Mortomley sat in an easy-chair drawn close up by the open window,
and every now and then those around looked at her with furtive and
apprehensive glances. There was no longer any effort at disguise. Her
aunt, Mrs. Werner, Mr. and Miss Douglas, Mortomley himself, comprehended
the end was very near, and only little Lenore was kept in ignorance.
Dolly insisted upon this and on having her sent to Dassell till all
should be over.

"God bless you, my child!" was the mother's fare-well, uttered without a
tear.

She wept her tears afterwards when she was all alone.

"I do not feel nearly so well this morning," said Mrs. Mortomley at
last. "I do wish, oh! how I wish that London letter would come!"

"Never mind the letter, dear," entreated her husband.

"But I must mind," she answered. "I have so hoped it would come in
time."

"So it will," said Mr. Douglas kindly, "you may be quite certain of
that, my dear."

She murmured some words, the sense of which was only caught by Mrs.
Werner.

"Not in my time, though."

At that moment the post arrived, and amongst the letters was that Dolly
had hoped she might live to read.

Her husband was free, and with a happy smile Dolly leaned back in her
chair and scanned the lines as well as weakness would let her.

"You ought not to have risen this morning," said Miss Gerace severely.

"Oh! aunt, I was so weary of the night," and then they looked at each
other sadly.

"I wish you would all go away and leave me with Archie," said Mrs.
Mortomley, after a short pause, and accordingly they went, and husband
and wife were left alone.

She had nothing to say to him. If she had she could not have said it to
him then. He sat holding her hand in his, and she lay, her head resting
on the back of the chair, her figure supported by pillows, her eyes
closed, hovering as if loth to go, on the very confines of that life
which had to her been so full of joy, and so full of sorrow.

All at once she half raised herself from the chair, and, turning towards
her husband, said,

"Archie," whilst her whole face seemed to beam with love and happiness.

She had never, when he was near, left Homewood without turning at the
gate to smile and wave her hand to Mortomley; and it seemed to him
then, and he will always retain the pleasant fancy, that from the very
shore of Eternity, with the glad light of Heaven shining upon and
beautifying her face, she spoke that one word, she turned back for an
instant to smile fare-well.


                                 THE END.



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



      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

A number of printing errors have been corrected. For example,
"solilicitor" is now "solicitor," "acquaintaince" is now "acquaintance,"
"beleagured" is now "beleaguered," and "suroundings" is
now "surroundings."





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