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

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


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

Title: Mrs. Day's Daughters
Author: Mann, Mary E.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mrs. Day's Daughters" ***

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



Stan Goodman, Beth Trapaga, Tonya Allen, and the Online Distributed


MRS. DAY'S DAUGHTERS

By

MARY E. MANN



  "The common growth of Mother Earth
  Suffices me--her tears, her mirth,
  Her humblest mirth and tears."



CONTENTS

CHAPTER
I      Their Large Hours
II     Something Wrong At The Office
III    Forcus's Family Ale
IV     Disaster
V      Deleah's Errand
VI     Sour Misfortune
VII    Husband And Father
VIII   The Way Out
IX     For The Widow And The Fatherless
X      Exiles From Life's Revels
XI     The Attractive Bessie
XII    The Attractive Deleah
XIII   The Gay, Gilded Scene
XIV    A Tea-Party In Bridge Street
XV     The Manchester Man
XVI    For Bernard
XVII   What Is It Now?
XVIII  The Dangerous Scrooge
XIX    When Beauty Calls
XX     Sir Francis Makes A Call
XXI    In For It!
XXII   The Importunate Mr. Gibbon
XXIII  Deleah Has No Dignity
XXIV   The Cold-Hearted Fates
XXV    To Make Reparation
XXVI   A Householder
XXVII  Promotion For Mrs. Day
XXVIII At Laburnum Villa
XXIX   A Prohibition Cancelled
XXX    Deleah Grows Up
XXXI   Bessie's Hour
XXXII  The Man With The Mad Eyes
XXXIII The Moment Of Triumph



CHAPTER I

Their Large Hours


It was three o'clock in the morning when the guests danced Sir Roger de
Coverley at Mrs. William Day's New Year's party. They would as soon have
thought of having supper without trifle, tipsy-cake, and syllabub, in those
days, as of finishing the evening without Sir Roger. Dancing had begun at
seven-thirty. The lady at the piano was drooping with weariness. Violin and
'cello yawned over their bows; only spasmodically and half-heartedly the
thrum and jingle of the tambourine fell on the ear.

The last was an instrument not included in the small band of the
professional musicians, but was twisted and shaken and thumped on hand and
knee and toe by no less an amateur than Mr. William Day himself.

The master of the house was too stout for dancing, of too restless and
irritable a temperament for the role of looker-on. He loved noise, always;
above all, noise made by himself. He thought no entertainment really
successful at which you could hear yourself speak. He would have preferred
a big drum whereby to inspirit the dancers, but failing that, clashed the
bells of the tambourine in their ears.

"The tambourine is such fun!" the dancers always said, who, out of breath
from polka, or schottische, or galop, paused at his side. "A dance at your
house would not be the same thing at all without your tambourine, Mr. Day."

He banged it the louder for such compliments, turned it on his broad thumb,
shook it over his great head with its shock of sand-coloured and grey hair;
making, as the more saturnine of his guests confided in each other, "a most
infernal row."

But an exercise of eight hours is long enough for even the most agreeable
performance, and by the time Sir Roger de Coverley had brought the
programme to an end the clash and rattle of the tambourine was only
fitfully heard. Perceiving which, Deleah Day, younger daughter of the
house, a slight, dark-haired, dark-eyed girl of sixteen, left her place in
one of the two sides of the figure, extending nearly the length of the
room, ran to her father, and taking the tambourine from him pulled upon his
hands.

"Yes, papa! Yes!" she urged him. "Every year since I was able to toddle you
have danced Sir Roger with me--and you shall!"

He shouted his protest, laughed uproariously when he yielded, and all in
the noisy way, which to his thinking contributed to enjoyment. Presently,
standing opposite the upright, pretty figure of his daughter, he was
brawling to her what a naughty rogue she was, and calling on all to witness
that he was about to make an exhibition of himself for the pleasure of his
tyrant--his little Deleah. Then, turning, with his hands on the shoulders
of the young man before him, he was racing down the room to join hands with
the laughing Deleah at the end of the procession, ducking his heavy,
short-necked head, to squeeze his broad figure with her slight one under
the archway of raised arms, dashing to his place opposite his daughter at
the top of the room again. Breathless, laughing, spluttering, stamping, he
went through it all.

And now he and his little partner are themselves top-couple, and must
dance the half length of the room to be swung round by the pair dancing
to meet them; must be swung by right hand, by left, by both hands; must
dance to bow, dance to caper with the opposite couple, back to back. And
William Day, who had loved dancing till he grew too fat to dance, and was
extraordinarily light on his feet for such a big, heavily-made man, never
cried for mercy, but cheered on his companions, and footed it to the end.

"Never again!" he declared when the dance was over, and he stood smacking
his chest, panting, struggling for breath with which to bid his guests
good-night, "You'll never any of you catch me making such a fool of myself
again."

"Why, papa, you danced it beautifully! Every single year you shall dance
Sir Roger de Coverley, and you shall always dance it with me."

He shouted that he would not. He always shouted. He would have felt himself
falling behind himself on this festive occasion if he had been less
boisterous to the end.

"I think it has been the nicest of all our parties," Deleah declared to her
sister, as the girls went to their room.

"I've certainly enjoyed it the most," said Bessie. "And Reggie said so had
he."

"You danced six times with Reggie, Bess. I counted."

"It is a pity you were not better employed. You wanted to dance with him
yourself, I suppose?"

"Why, I did!" Deleah cried, and laughed "I danced the Lancers with
him--_twice_. And in the grand chain he lifted me off my feet. He's most
beautifully strong, Reggie is! Did he lift you off your feet, Bess?"

"Reggie would know better than to take such a liberty," Bess said, who was
not dark and _petite_ like her sister, but plump and fair and somewhat
heavily built. "And you're too old for such romping, yourself, Deleah; and
you've nicely spoilt your frock with it!"

"Yards of frilling gone," Deleah said happily, as if the loss of so much
material was a merit. "Just a teeny bit came off to start with; Tom Marston
caught his toe in it, and went, galloping the whole length of the room
carrying it with him and his partner before I could stop him. Oh, _how_ I
laughed!"

"Mama won't laugh! She said you must wear the same frock at the Arkwrights'
dance next week."

"The white silk, underneath, is all right--look! Only a new net skirt over
it. Mama won't mind it in the least."

"If you have a new net over-skirt I shall have one too. You're not to have
an evening frock more than me. So come! I shall have blue again. Blue
tarlatan with white frillings on the flounces. Blue is my colour. Reggie
said so to-night."

"I suppose he admired you in that wreath of forget-me-nots?"

"He didn't say I was to tell you, if he did! You go to bed, and to sleep,
Deleah; and don't interfere."

"I'm getting out of my clothes as fast as I can. Why aren't you getting out
of yours, Bess?"

"I'm not going to bed yet. I'm waiting for mama. I've something to say to
her."

"What about? Oh, Bess, do tell! I always tell you everything."

She paused, stepped out of her dress which lay a heap of shining silk and
billowy net upon the floor, looked at her sister. "It's something about
Reggie," she declared with eager interest. "Yes, it is! Oh, Bessie, tell me
first. Your face is as red as red! Tell me first!"

You mind your own business, Deda; and brush your hair."

"I'm not going to brush it, to-night: I can't. It's so tangly. I'm just
going to say my prayers, and hop into bed."

"Mama won't like it if you don't brush your hair. I shall tell her if you
don't, Deda."

"Tell her, then!" Deda challenged, and hurried into her nightgown, and
flung herself on her knees by the side of her bed, and hid her face in her
hands, preparatory to making her devotions.

A soft tapping on the door before it opened, and Mrs. Day, candlestick in
hand, appeared. A pretty woman of medium height, middle-aged, as women
allowed themselves to be frankly, fifty years ago. She wore a handsome
dress of green satin, a head-dress of white lace, green velvet and pink
roses almost covering her plentiful dark hair.

"Not in bed yet?" she whispered, and looked at the small white kneeling
figure of the younger girl, her hair hanging in a dusky mass of waves and
curls and tangles upon her back. Deleah was hurrying conscientiously
through the established form of her orisons, trying to achieve the
prescribed sum of her supplications before her mother left.

"Can I speak to you for a minute, mama?" Bess demanded, with an air of
importance. "Not here," glancing at Deleah; "outside; just a minute."

"Pray God bless dear papa and mama, sister and brothers, and friends. Make
us all good and bring us safe to heaven at last. Amen," Deleah gabbled, her
face upon the white quilt, her ears open.

"Certainly, dear." Mrs. Day stepped back, closing the door behind her
daughter and herself.

"I don't want Deda to know. She's such a blab, mama."

"Oh, my dear, I don't like to hear you say that!"

"But she is. And she listens to things." Here Bessie pushed the door behind
her open, to reveal the culprit in her white nightgown on the other side of
it. "I should be ashamed to be a Paul Pry!" Bessie said with indignation
and scorn.

Deleah was not at all abashed. "Mama, I don't see why, when nice,
interesting things happen, I should not know them as well as Bessie!" she
complained.

She was sent to bed, however, and tucked up there, and kissed, and enjoined
by an indulgent, reproving mother to be a good girl, and to go quietly to
sleep. What mother could be angry with Deleah, looking at her rose and
white face amid the tumult of tossed dark curls upon her pillow!

Then Bessie led her mother into an unoccupied room, hard by, upon the
landing, and began to unfold her tale.

"Mama, it is about Reggie." The room was only lit by the flame of the
candle Mrs. Day held, but there was light enough to show the blushes on
Bessie's young plump cheeks. "Mama, he has said something about _that_
again. _You_ know."

"About his being engaged to you?"

Bessie, cheeks and eyes aglow and alight, ecstatically nodded; her fair
bosom in its garniture of white tulle and forget-me-nots, rose and fell.
"What two pretty daughters I have!" Mrs. Day said to herself, and, being a
devout woman, gave thanks accordingly.

"Well, dear, and what did you say?"

"I said--I don't know what I said, mama. We were dancing that last
galop--the Orlando Furioso one, you know--and the room was so full, and
other couples were rushing down upon us--people are so horribly selfish
when they dance, and some of them dance so boisterously."

"It would be a very nice engagement for you, Bessie. I suppose there was
not a girl here to-night who would not gladly take him."

"I know that. I know that, mama. So does he--Reggie."

"He did not say so, I hope?"

"No. Reggie does not always want exactly to _say_ things."

"But what did he say to you, dear? Is the matter any forwarder than it was
the last time you spoke of it to me?"

"Well, I suppose so, mama."

"You mean you and Reggie Forcus consider yourselves engaged?"

"I think so. But it was so difficult to catch every word in that galop. If
he did not say the _exact words_ he said as much."

"Did he say anything about speaking to papa?"

"No. But I said it."

"_You_ said it, Bessie?"'

"Well, mama! Reggie did not seem to wish to be bothered."

"I see."

"Not quite yet, you understand."

"I see."

In the pause that followed the mother's large eyes, surrounded by dark
rings, and set rather deeply in the dusky paleness of her well-featured
face, dwelt consideringly upon her daughter's round cheeks with their fair
smooth skin, upon her grey-green eyes, and smooth fair hair.

"It is not very satisfactory, I'm afraid, Bessie," she said reluctantly at
length.

Bessie's face fell. "I thought I'd better tell you."

"Certainly, my dear."

"I wonder what we ought to do, mama?"

"To do, Bessie?"

"I thought, perhaps, if Reggie does not speak to papa, that papa might
speak to Reggie?"

Mrs. Day shook a sharply dissenting head. "That would not be the same thing
at all, my dear child."

"What ought we to do, then? I thought you would know. Mothers have to
arrange these things, haven't they?"

"Well, you see, Bessie, usually the young man--"

"I know. But Reggie does not wish to. If you must know, mama, he said so,
in so many words."

"Then, Bessie--!"

"But I think that something ought to be done. You ought to do something--or
papa. _Everything_ can't be left to me!"

The tip of Bessie's nose grew pink, her lip quivered, tears showed in her
pale blue eyes. Mrs. Day laid a soothing hand upon her arm.

"We won't talk of it any more now," she said. "We are both tired. We will
sleep on it, Bessie. Go to bed, dear, and leave everything till the
morning."

Her silver candlestick in her hand, Mrs. Day trailed her rich green satin
across the landing, pausing at the door of Bernard, her second-born, coming
between Bessie and Deleah. She listened a moment, then rapped upon the
door. "In bed, dear?"

"Yes, mother."

"Lights out?"

"A half hour ago."

"Not smoking, Bernard?"

"Of course not. Go away."

To the bedside of the youngest child she betook herself next. Franky, who
had been sent to bed several hours before the rest, was sound asleep.
There were nine years between this child and Deleah; Franky was the baby,
the darling of them all. The mother, tired as she was with the duties and
responsibilities of the evening, stood long to look upon the sleeping
face of the boy. His dark hair, allowed, through mother's pride in its
beauty, to grow longer than was fitting for a boy, curled damply about
his brow, his small, dark, delicately aquiline features were like the
pretty Deleah's. The elder boy and girl, fair of skin, with straight hair
of a pale, lustreless gold, resembled their father; Mrs. William Day was
not so far blinded by love of her husband as not to rejoice in secret
that at least two of her children "favoured" herself.

The mother sat for a few minutes on the bed, her candle shaded by her
hand, to watch the child's regular breathing. "My darling Franky!" she
whispered aloud; and to herself she said, "If only they could all always
keep Franky's age!" She smiled as she sighed, thinking of Bessie and her
love affair, about which she had many doubts; of Bernard, who, in spite
of prayers and chidings, would smoke in bed, and had once set fire to his
bedclothes; of Deleah, even, who, schoolgirl as she was, had, and held
to, her own ideas, and was not so easy to manage as she had been. If a
mother could always keep her children about her, to be no older, no more
difficult to make happy than Franky!

She sighed, kissed the child, pushed from his face the admired curls, then
dragged her rich, voluminous draperies to her own room, where her husband
was already, by his silence she judged, asleep.

There was a pier-glass in the large, handsomely furnished bedroom. Mrs. Day
caught her reflection in it as she approached, and paused before it. Bessie
had thought her new green satin might have been made a yard or so fuller in
the skirt. Did it really need that alteration, she wondered? She lit the
candles branching from the long glass and standing before it seriously
debated the point with herself. Walking away from the glass, her head
turned over her shoulder, she examined the back effect; walked to meet
herself, gravely doubtful still; gathered the fullness of the skirt in her
hand, released it, spreading out the rich folds. Then, something making her
turn her head sharply to the big bed with its red moreen curtains hanging
straightly down beside its four carved posts, her eyes met the wide open
eyes of the man lying there.

"Oh!" she cried. "How you startled me, William! I thought you were asleep.
How silly you must have thought me!"

"Not more than usual," William growled. He held the idea--it was more
prevalent perhaps at that period than this--that wives were the better for
being snubbed and insulted.

"I was deciding if to have my evening dress altered or not."

"You are never in want of an excuse for posturing before the glass. What
does it matter at your time of life how your dress looks? Come to bed, and
give me a chance to get to sleep."

Mrs. Day extinguished again the candles she had lit, and began docilely to
unrobe herself. As she did so she talked.

"It all went off very well to-night, I think, William?"

"First-rate. Champagne-cup ran short."

"There should have been enough. The Barkers at their party never have
champagne at all."

"When you're about it, do the thing well. What's a few pounds more here and
there, when the end comes!"

"The end, William?"

"The end of the year. When the bills come in."

"How did you think Bessie looked to-night?"

"I thought my little Deleah was the belle of the ball."

"Deleah is a child only. You never have eyes but for Deleah."

"Bess was all right."

"I thought she looked so fair and sweet. Her neck and arms are like milk,
William. I wonder if Reggie Forcus--means anything?"

"Ba-a! Not he! No such luck."

"I really don't see why. I don't see why our girls should not have as good
luck as other people's. Reggie will marry some one, I suppose."

"Now, don't be a silly fool if you can help it; and don't encourage the
girl to run her head at any such nonsense. Francis Forcus will no more
allow his brother to marry your daughter than the queen will allow him to
marry one of hers. I told you that before."

"But Bessie--poor child--thinks differently."

"Tell Bessie not to be an ass then; and come to bed."

She went to bed; and, spite of her disturbing thoughts of Bessie and her
love affair, went to sleep.

"Oh, dear!" she said as she lay down. "What a lot of bother there'll be for
the servants, getting the house straight, tomorrow; and they so late to
bed! The drawing-room carpet to put down again, and all the furniture to
move into place. And it only seems the other day since we went through the
same thing on last New Year's Eve."

"Turning the house upside down is what women like. It's what they're made
for."

"I wonder how many more dances we shall have to give before both the girls
are married, and off our hands! I'm sure I shall never take the trouble to
give one for the boys."

"Shan't you, indeed!"

"Why do you speak like that, William? I don't know that I have said
anything for you to jeer at."

"Oh, go to sleep! And let's hope you won't have any worse troubles than the
laying down or taking up of a carpet."

The old servant Emily, who had lived with the Days since their marriage,
and was as much friend as servant to her mistress and the young people, had
once, in speaking of her master, made the memorable pronouncement that he
was "Apples abroad and crabs at home." This speech, being interpreted,
meant that the noisy, boisterous good temper and high spirit which his
acquaintances witnessed in him did not always characterise the deportment
of the head of the house in the bosom of his family.

He lay for a time, staring at the dying fire which was on his side of the
room. He lay still, to let his wife believe he was asleep, but was too
irritable and restless to lie so for long. He turned about on his pillow,
cautiously at first, so as not to wake her; yet when she did not awake was
aggrieved, and sharply called her name.

"You sleep like a pig," he said. "I have not closed my eyes since I came to
bed."

The fact that she could sleep and he could not was to him a grievance which
dated from their marriage, twenty years ago. Poor Mrs. Day had grown to
think her predilection to indulge in slumber when she went to bed was a
failing to be apologised for and hidden, if possible. She was often driven
fictitiously to protest that she also had lain wakeful. He received a like
statement when she made it now in contemptuous silence.

"I have been thinking about what you tell me of Bess and young Forcus," the
father said. "Of course, if there were, by chance, anything in it it would
be a very good thing for the girl."

"I am glad you see it in that light at last, William. I have always, of
course, known that it would be a good thing."

"What I have been thinking is, perhaps I had better go and see Francis
Forcus about it."

"Reggie's brother? Oh, no, William! I would not do that."

"And why not, pray? You and I can never look at a thing in the same light
for two minutes at a time. If I want to rest on my oars you're badgering me
to be up and doing. If I begin to see it's time for me to interfere, it's
'Oh, no, William!' There never was your equal for contradiction."

"All the same I should not go to Sir Francis."

"And why not? What's your reason? What is there against it? If his brother,
who is dependent on him for the present as if he were his son, is going to
marry my daughter, he and I will have to talk it over, I suppose?"

"Yes. But not until Reggie has spoken to you. At present he has not said a
word, except to Bessie. I think Reggie should. I think--"

"Never mind what you think. Let's come to facts. Is there or is there not
anything serious in this affair?"

"Bessie says there is."

"Can't you give a plain answer to a plain question? Is young Forcus, who is
always hanging about the place, making love to my girl or is he not?"

"He has certainly paid her attention."

"Is he engaged to her?"

"Bessie considers herself engaged. But as I tell Bessie--"

"I don't want that. What you think, or what you tell Bessie. I want facts
to go upon. Without facts you can't expect me to act."

"I really do not wish you to act, William."

"Leave that to me. I am not asking what you wish," William snapped at her;
and then turning on his side he seemed to go to sleep.



CHAPTER II

Something Wrong At The Office


Mrs. Day had decided to spend the first morning of the New Year in
superintending the relaying of the drawing-room carpet and the reducing
her house to its habitual order after the dance. Bessie had decided
otherwise. She had decided that she should be driven in the carriage, her
mother beside her, to some flooded and frozen meadows, three miles out of
the town, where many of the young people who had danced last night had
arranged to go to skate. Deleah and the boys had started to walk there
immediately after breakfast. Bessie, who could not skate, wished to be
there also, but did not choose to walk, and could not be allowed to be in
the carriage alone.

The girl, very fair and pretty in her velvet jacket with the ermine
collar and cuffs, seated in the victoria by her mother's side, eagerly
scanned the broad expanse of ice for the familiar figure of the young man
who had paid her such particular attention during the memorable galop.
She looked in vain. There were several of last night's partners who came
to the side of the carriage and asked for the ladies' health after the
fatigue of the dance, and descanted on their own freedom, or otherwise,
from weariness. Deleah, her face the colour of a wild rose, her loose
dark hair curling crisply in the frosty air, shouted greetings to her
mother as she flew past, a little erect, graceful figure keeping her
elegant poise with the ease of the young and fearless. Now and again she
was seen to be fleeing, laughing as she went, from the pursuit of a
skater who wished to make a circuit of the flooded meadow holding
Deleah's hand. The girl was at once a romp and shy. She laughed with
dancing eyes as she flew ahead; but captured, had a frightened, anxious
look, her eyes appealing to her mother as she passed in protest and for
protection.

"Deleah will be a flirt when she grows up," Bessie said, who knew that her
mother was regarding the pretty child with admiration.

"Do you think so, my dear? I hope not, Bessie."

"She will! And she wants looking after. I thought, for a girl not yet
'out,' she was very forward last night. Reggie thought so too."

"I'm afraid you put it into his head, Bessie."

"As if Reggie had not got ideas of his own! Without my even so much as
_hinting_ he said he supposed she knew she was pretty."

"Reggie isn't here to-day, Bessie."

"I think he will come. He said he would come, and as I could not skate he
promised to push me in a chair on the ice. We need not go home yet, mama. I
like watching the skating."

But she only watched the arrivals; and Reggie Forcus was never among them.

"Perhaps he's gone to speak to papa," she said brightly after a silence."
No doubt he thought, after all, it would be better to get things settled. I
expect that is what Reggie has done, mama."

"I would not think so much about it, if I were you, my dear. Wait until
matters have arranged themselves."

"Yes, but ought not we to do something to arrange them?" Bessie persisted.

"It is not usual, Bessie."

"But, mama, am I to lose Reggie for any nonsense of that sort? Usual or not
usual I think you or papa should speak to him."

To pacify her the mother admitted that her father had even thought of doing
so.

"Then I hope papa will have the sense to do it; and to get the whole thing
settled," Bessie said.

She awaited in feverish expectancy the return of her father from his
office, that evening, welcoming him with bright eyes and eager looks,
trying to read in his face that which she longed to hear from his lips. But
Mr. Day had arrived home in a temper of mind the reverse of encouraging. In
gloomy silence he sat through the meal which families of the upper middle
classes then took instead of dinner at the dinner hour. A comfortable,
informal meal at which a big silver tea-tray and great silver tea-urn and
heavily embossed tea-services, took a prominent part; where rolls and
patties and huge hams and much-decorated tongues were present; and hot
toast and muffins and many cakes. No servants waited; there was no
centre-piece of flowers; but the gas from the many branches of the great
chandelier of scintillating cut glass overhead shone on the silver and
china and the appetising viands to which the Days always did such ample
justice in a very agreeable way.

But to-night the master of the house, seated opposite his wife at her
tea-tray, ate nothing of the generous fare. He had a black look on his
heavy face, and short snarling replies for those who ventured to address
him. Such a mood was not altogether unusual with him; when it was
understood among them that something had gone wrong at the office and
that it was safest to leave him alone. But Bessie, whose characteristic
it was never, for a moment, under whatever stress of circumstances, to
forget her own individual interests, kept whispering to her mother, by
whose side she sat, urging her to ask of her father that which she
desired to know.

"Ask him, mama. Do ask him!"

"H'sh, my dear!" a frown and a cautioning glance in the direction of the
scowling face.

Bessie's foot upon her mother's beneath the table. "Mama, why are you so
silly? Ask him! Ask him!"

The mother was never for long proof against the entreaties or commands of
her offspring. "Have you seen anything of Reggie Forcus to-day, William?"
presently she asked.

The man at the other end of the table glared upon her for a moment with
angry eyes. "No!" he thundered. "But I have seen Francis Forcus, which was
quite enough for me."

A silence fell. Bessie's heart beat loudly, the colour left her face. Her
father turned to her as he said the last words. "Yes, papa?" she faltered.

"Your mother sent me to him on a fool's errand," he said. Then, scowling
upon daughter and wife, he gulped down a cup of tea, pushed his chair
noisily back and went from the room.

As the door closed behind him, Bessie burst into tears.

The boys and Deleah looked at her in consternation. "What's up now?" they
asked of each other with lifted eyebrows.

"Bessie, my dear child! You must not give way so. You really must summon up
a little pride," the mother chided.

"It's all very well for you!" Bessie retorted chokingly, and sobbed on.
She felt for her handkerchief, and having none of her own grabbed without
any thanks that which Deleah threw across the table. Deleah, shocked at
the spectacle, watched her sister. "Whatever happened I would not cry
before every one like that," she said to herself. Bernard, the elder boy,
who lived in a chronic state of quarrelling with Bessie, openly giggled.
Franky, having pulled his mother's face down to his own, was whispering,
"What is it, mama? What is the matter with Bessie, now? Does she feel
sick?" To feel sick was Franky's idea of the greatest earthly misery.

Having wiped her eyes on Deleah's handkerchief Bessie rolled it into a
ball and flung it across the table, with greater force of will than
directness of aim, at Bernard's face. "You beast!" she choked. "Mama,
Bernard's laughing at me. Oughtn't Bernard to know how to behave better?
Because I'm so unhappy isn't a reason I should be laughed at."

Whereat they all laughed--Bessie was so ridiculous, they thought; and Mrs.
Day, putting out a kind hand to the angrily sobbing girl, led her from the
room. "You're all too bad," she said, looking back at the sniggering group.
"Bernard, you should know better."

"Bessie's such an old ass!" the boy excused himself. "I want some more tea,
mother. I won't have this her sopping handkerchief fell in. All her beastly
tears in my cup!"

"Deleah must pour it out for you," the mother said, and closed the door
behind herself and her daughter.

"I won't be called an ass by Bernard! I won't be made fun of by them all!"
Bessie cried. "You should go back, and punish them, mama."

Mrs. Day, murmuring words of soothing, led her to the foot of the stairs,
and watched the girl mounting slowly to her room, crying audibly, childish
fashion, as she went. "You must try to have more self-control," she said.

"But why did papa look at me in such a horrible manner?"

"You know what your father is, Bessie. So often irritable at home when
things have gone wrong at the office. Go to your room till your tears are
dry; I will see your father and find out if there is anything to tell you."

Mr. Day was in the room they called the breakfast-room. Looking upon it
with the housewife's desire for neatness Mrs. Day often spoke of it as the
Pig-sty, but it was the room they all of them loved best in the house. It
was here the children learned their lessons for school, the ladies worked,
Franky played. It was spacious and cheerful, and held nothing that rough
usage would spoil. All the most comfortable chairs in the house were pulled
up to the hearth, upon which Franky's cats were allowed to lie, and
Bernard's dog. A canary, Deleah's especial protégée, hung in the window.

Mr. Day had pulled a chair too small for his huge bulk in front of the
fire, and sat, looking huddled and uncomfortable, his feet drawn up beneath
his chair, his knees dropped, staring at the bars.

"Is anything the matter, William?" his wife asked. "Aren't you going out
again, this evening?"

Every night of his life, except the Sunday night, when on no account would
he have missed going to church with his family, he went to a club in the
town where whist and three-card loo were played--for higher stakes, it was
whispered, than most of its members could spare.

"You have taken off your boots, William: aren't you going to your club?"

"No; I'm not going to my club."

"In heaven's name why?"

"Because my club's seen the last of me."

She looked at him aghast, hearing the news with real dismay. She never
would have admitted, even to herself, being a kind woman and a dutiful
wife, that she preferred her husband out of her presence rather than in
it--her children would not have whispered such a disloyalty; yet if he was
going to pass his evenings in the bosom of his family, for the future, each
of them would know in his or her heart that the peacefullest and most
enjoyable hours of the day would be spoilt.

"Have you had any unpleasantness over cards, William?"

He turned savagely upon her where she stood by the corner of the
mantelpiece. "What the devil did you send me on that fool's errand to
Francis Forcus for?" he asked.

"_I_ send you, William?"

"I went because of the lying report you brought me."

"William, I--!"

"You led me to believe Bessie and young Forcus were engaged. Now did you or
did you not lead me to believe it? Speak the truth if you can. Did you or
did you not?"

"I only--"

"Did you lead me to believe it?"

"Yes, then; if you will have it so."

"And made me look a fool! I thought it was too good to be true--only you
stuck to it. You were so d--d sure. You would have it so. Nothing would
turn you."

"William, you must remember I advised you not to go."

"Did I ask your advice? Did I ever stoop to ask for it? I acted on
information which you gave me. Went--and got kicked out."

"Kicked out? William!"

"Practically. I don't mean to say the man actually used his boot. If he
had he couldn't have expressed plainer what he meant. Francis Forcus
never had a civil word to fling at me in all his life. But for your
infernal, silly cackle I'd as soon have gone to the devil as to him. If
I'd only had myself and my own feeling to think about--Bessie or no
Bessie--I'd have hanged myself sooner than have gone to him. But I'd got
more than that."

His voice had fallen from its bullying key to a toneless melancholy. Mrs.
Day, who had been standing hitherto, seated herself in the chair by the
chimney corner, and looked at her husband's blunt profile as he sat
before the fire with a sick feeling of impending disaster, and a dismayed
inquiry in her dark eyes.

"I'd got you and the children to think about," the man added.

"What could Sir Francis have said to you, William?"

Her husband turned savagely upon her. "Say? He said there was no engagement
between his brother--his '_young_ brother'--and my daughter. That such an
engagement would never receive his sanction. That he was not aware his
'_young_ brother'--he's always sticking the word down your throat; the
sanctimonious prig--I longed to kick him!--was on terms of intimacy with
any one in my family."

"William!" Mrs. Day, cut to the quick, called protestingly upon her
husband's name. "I hope you answered him there. I hope you did!"

"I said the young beggar was always hanging about my house. That he had
danced half the night with my daughter--and--and made love to her."

"And then? And then, William?"

"He said, 'I wish all acquaintanceship to cease. I beg you not to invite my
young brother to your house again.'"

"He said that?"

"Damn him! Yes."

"But that was an insult!" The poor woman was pale with surprise and dismay.
She stared breathlessly upon her husband. "Didn't you show him you felt it
was an insult, William?"

William moved his huge shoulders. "What do you think?"

"Tell me what you said to him."

"I swore at him for ten minutes. He didn't know if he stood on his head or
his heels when I'd done with him. Then I came away."

"I don't think that _swearing_ would improve matters."

"Perhaps you'll tell me what would improve them? It's what I want to hear,
and more than I know."

"Poor Bessie! Oh, poor, poor Bessie!"

"Ah!" poor Bessie's father said, and his short-necked head fell upon his
breast, and he gazed drearily at the fire again.

Mrs. Day got up and stood, her white hand glittering with its rings laid
upon the black marble of the mantelpiece, thinking of Bessie.

"I would go to the club, William," presently she advised. "It can't make
matters any better to sit at home and mope over them."

"Didn't I tell you I wasn't going to the club? D'you think I'm like a
woman, and don't know my own mind?"

"I thought it would be pleasanter for you," she said; and then she left
him. Her mind was full of Bessie, and the blow which must be given to
Bessie's hopes.

"I don't know how I shall ever find the heart to tell her," she said to
herself as she went from the room.



CHAPTER III

Forcus's Family Ale


It was the period when to rob a poor man--or a rich one, for that
matter--of his beer would have been a crime to arouse to furious expression
the popular sense of justice; when beer was on the master's table as well
as in the servants' hall; when every cellar of the well-to-do held its
great cask for family consumption, and no one had thought of attempting to
convert the poor man from indulgence in his national beverage. It was the
period when brewers made huge fortunes--and that in spite of the fact that
they used good malt and hops in their brewings--nor dreamed, save, perhaps,
in their worst nightmare, of the interference of Government in their
monopoly. In Brockenham and its county the liquor brewed at the Hope
Brewery was considered the best tipple procurable. Nothing slipped down the
local throat so satisfactorily as Forcus and Son's Family Ale; and the
present representatives of the firm were easily the wealthiest people in
the town.

There were but two of them at the time: Francis Forcus--Sir Francis, for
the last twelve months, he having been knighted in the second year of his
mayoralty on the visit of a Royal Personage to his native town--and
Reginald, his brother, born twenty years after himself of his father's
second marriage, and now in his twenty-fourth year. Very good-looking, very
good-natured, very gay and friendly and accessible the younger brother was.
Perhaps the most admired and popular young man in the town. His
simple-minded pursuit of pleasure occupied a great deal of his time, and
prevented his spending much of it at the Brewery where his brother made it
a point of honour to pass three or four hours every day. But now and again
Mr. Reginald appeared at the enormous pile of buildings, rising out of the
slow-flowing river on which Brockenham stands, and where the famous Family
Ale was composed. Now and then he would amuse himself for an hour,
sauntering in the sunshine about the wide, brightly gravelled yards,
inspecting the huge dray-horses in their stables, exchanging "the top of
the morning," as he facetiously called it to them, with the draymen. He was
seldom tempted to appear where the brewing operations were actually in
process, but he never took his departure without looking in upon his
brother in the spacious and comfortable room overlooking the river in which
that gentleman sat conscientiously for three or four hours a day to read
the _Times_ and the local newspaper.

He paid his call upon the senior partner earlier than usual on the morning
after Mrs. Day's New Year's Dance, but not so early that Sir Francis Forcus
had not received a visitor before him. A visitor who had upset the
equanimity of that always outwardly unruffled, and carefully self-contained
person.

"You are up with the worm, this morning, Reggie," he said.

He was not at all a typical brewer in appearance, his tall, imposing figure
being clothed in no superfluous flesh, his face, with its peculiarly set
expression, being pale and handsome. His black hair, worn rather long,
after the fashion of the day, was brushed smoothly from his temples; he was
shaved but for the close-growing whiskers, which reached half-way down his
cheeks.

"To what are we indebted for the honour of so early a call?" he inquired
with a twist of his in-drawn lips.

"You were off before I was down this morning," the young man said. "I just
looked in to tell you I was going out. That's all."

"You look in rather frequently on the same errand, I believe. Would it be
indiscreet on my part to ask where you are going?"

"Not in the least," Reggie declared easily. He lifted for his brother's
inspection a pair of skates which he had held dangling at his side.
"They've flooded the meadows at Tooley. The ice ought to be in first-rate
order, this morning."

"So it is in the moat at home. Half a score people were skating there
already as I drove away this morning. Tooley is five miles off. Why need
you take the trouble to go to Tooley?"

"Several people, last night, said they were going. I thought I might as
well go too."

"Where were you last night, Reggie? I don't want to tie you at home, by any
means, but sometimes I like to know where you have been."

"All right, Francis. Of course. There was a dance at the Days' in Queen
Anne Street. I've gone to it every New Year's Night, for years. I went
there."

"I see." The light hazel eyes of Sir Francis, according strangely with his
black hair and palely dusky complexion, considered his brother's cheerful
countenance.

"I'm going to ask you not to go to the Days' in Queen Anne Street any more,
Reggie," he said.

Reggie widely stared. "I don't think my going there, when I wish, and they
ask me, can do any harm to any one," he protested.

"Sit down, will you?" his brother said, and pointed to the chair on the
other side of the table by which he sat.

"I think not, now. I think I'll be off. The ice mayn't keep--"

The other still pointed to the chair. "What I want to say to you won't
keep--emphatically. Sit down," he said, and down Reggie sat.

He was by no means embarrassed, or afraid. His brother had stood to him in
place of a father since his own father had died when he was a boy at
school, but he lectured him as little as possible, and very rarely thwarted
him. "Get over it as quick as you can, Francis," was all he said.

"Did you meet Mr. Day going away as you came in?"

"Mr. Day? No."

"He has just left me. He came to tell me that you," he looked during a
moment's pause in Reggie's wide eyes, "were engaged to be married to his
daughter."

"Well! Come! That's a good 'un!" Reggie was surprised, his brother saw, but
not so satisfactorily taken aback as he had hoped.

"Is it so?"

"No."

"Then, what did the man mean by daring to say it to me?"

Reggie maintained an instant's quite undisconcerted silence; then, "You
see, she says it too," he said.

"She?"

"Bessie."

"Day's daughter? She must be stopped saying it."

"Oh, I don't know. Girls do say that sort of thing."

"I think not. Unless they are privileged to say it. Miss Day, you say, has
nothing to go upon?"

"Oh, well, you know!" Reggie sat back from the table, putting his hands in
his pockets, leaning in his chair at his ease, with the air of talking as
one man of the world to another.

"But I do not know. I am waiting for you to tell me."

"You don't want me to go into detail, I suppose?"

"You mean you have indulged in a flirtation with this girl, and she has
tried to grab you?"

Reggie gave the subject a moment's thought. "I won't quite admit that," he
said conscientiously. "She, somehow, seems to think I've gone further than
I have gone. She said something to me last night about my speaking to her
father."

"Instead of which her father is sent to speak to me. Now, look here,
Reggie, you and I have never, so far, had any unpleasantness--have we? Do
not let us have it over this. A daughter of William Day's is about the last
person on earth it would be desirable for you to marry."

"I'm not thinking of marrying any one yet, Francis."

"I should hope not! Were you going to meet Miss Day on the ice?"

"Well, she said she'd be there. A whole lot of them were going."

"Stay away, will you? To oblige me?"

"If you put it that way--"

"Thank you. I don't want our name"--he was as proud of the brewery as if it
had been a dukedom; he said "our name" as though he spoke of a sacred
thing--"mixed up with the name of Mr. William Day."

"He's a nice, good-natured old fellow. You should have heard him banging
away with his tambourine, last night."

"I'm going to tell you something in confidence. On the strength of your
engagement to his daughter--wait! I know you are not engaged to her--Mr.
William Day came here to borrow five hundred pounds of me."

"Good-night!"

"I refused him the loan, of course. Wait a minute! What I was going to say
is this: I happen to know why he wanted that money. Why it was important
for him to get it at once. It was to pacify a certain client of his who is
pressing him. She authorised him to sell some shares, which he did; but she
can't get a settlement."

"I say! That's pretty bad, isn't it?"

"And it's the one case of which I happen to know the history. There are
others, I am told, and more flagrant than this."

"Will he have to smash up?"

"I hope it will be no worse. I hope--well, we shall see. I have told you
this to show you how specially distasteful to me was what the man said to
me to-day. You understand, don't you?"

Reggie said he understood. "It was quite premature," he declared. "Quite!"
But he looked very thoughtful.

"You will keep clear of them, remember."

"I think I'm best out of their way for the present."

"Instead of skating this morning I wish you'd go over to Runnydale and have
a look at that thorough-bred Candy is breaking for me."

Sir Francis knew his man. If Bessie Day had held for him ten times her
attraction an errand which had a horse for its objective would have proved
more attractive still to Reginald Forcus. With hardly a pang he assented.

The young man spent a happy and profitable day at Runnydale with old Candy,
a horse-dealer, much affected by the well-to-do youth of the neighbourhood,
he having a racy tongue, and a fund of anecdote, and a pleasant, joking,
familiar way of transferring money from their pockets to his own. He
returned in time for dinner at Cashelthorpe, his brother's country-house a
few miles out of Brockenham, which the younger man also made his home. The
two dined alone, as was usual of late, the delicate health of Lady Forcus
compelling her often to keep her room.

"You remember what I told you about Day's affairs this morning?" Sir
Francis asked, looking across the table at his brother as they sat down to
their soup.

Of course Reggie remembered.

"Where do you suppose Mr. William Day is spending his evening?"

Reggie paused with his spoon on its way to his mouth to say he hoped in the
bosom of Mr. William Day's family.

"He is spending it in prison."

The spoon fell back into its plate, and Reggie's face grew white. "It can't
be true! I'll never believe it!"

"What did you expect, after what I told you? Unless he had made a bolt of
it."

"Oh, poor old fellow! But what's the poor old fellow done, then?"

"Done? Fraudulently appropriated his clients' money and adapted it to his
own uses."

"Poor old Day! Oh, poor old devil!"

"Well, get your dinner, my dear boy."

"He was slapping me on the shoulder, and I was drinking his champagne, last
night!"

The younger Forcus recovered sufficiently to eat the fish, but his soup had
to be removed untasted. He sat, with both hands gripping his table-napkin
as it lay across his knees, his eyes on the table-cloth, seeing the pretty
Deleah and her fat but agile father dancing down the gay ball-room. In
prison! Some one he had known, and touched hands with! Prison!

"I wonder of what the poor old fellow was thinking as he banged away at his
tambourine last night!" Reggie said.



CHAPTER IV

Disaster


Shortly after Mrs. Day had left her husband sitting in his stocking-feet
over the breakfast-room fire, she, in the midst of her children at their
several occupations but attentive to what went on beyond, heard his heavy
step in the hall, heard the front door open and close.

"Your father has gone to the club, after all," she said, and gave a sigh of
relief as she worked away at her embroidery, making holes in a strip of
muslin and stitching round them, for the adornment of the elder daughter's
petticoat. She was a timid woman, in spite of her fine and handsome
appearance, with a great fear of the unusual. It was her husband's habit to
go out. The thought of him sitting alone and idle in the other room had
been weighing on her mind.

The children paid no attention; they were all a little tired and languid
and disinclined for their usual amusements after the excitement of last
night's dance and the exertion of their morning on the ice. Even Deleah,
the reader of the family, neglected her book to lie back in her chair and
gaze into the fire, the music of galop, and rattle of her father's
tambourine humming in her ears; before her eyes figures chasing each other
over the blue sheet of ice or flying rhythmically over polished boards.

Franky having temporarily deserted his paint-box and the _Illustrated News_
he had designed to colour for many tinted sheets of gelatine, saved from
the crackers on last night's supper table, now held them in turn before his
eyes. "Mama, you're all red--all lovely red, like roses," or "Bessie,
you're frightful--you're white as if you felt sick," he cried, accordingly
as a red or a green transparency was before his eyes.

The game called "Tactics," over which Bessie and Bernard nightly
quarrelled, had been so far neglected; a circumstance not to be regretted,
since Bessie generally played a losing game in tears, and signalised
Bernard's victory by upsetting the board and flinging the red and white
ivory pegs in his face.

For, the last night's dance, which had been an engrossing topic for several
weeks before it had come off, now that it was over must still be talked
about.

How silly Deleah had looked when her white satin shoe had come off and shot
across the slippery floor in the last waltz; and she would not stop, for
all that, but finished the dance without it.

"Were your shoes too big, Deleah?"

"A little, mama. They were a pair of Bessie's last year's ones, that were
too small for her."

"There you go! At me again!" Bessie cried. "Deda is proud because her foot
is smaller than mine, mama. If you're a little weed of a thing like Deda,
of course your feet are narrow and small. They have to be. There's no merit
in it."

"And I suppose Deleah danced her silk stockings into holes?"

"No, mama! Mr. Frost, I was waltzing with, held me up most beautifully; so
that after the shoe came off my feet never once touched the floor."

"Lucky it wasn't you, Bessie! It would have been the finish of poor Frost
to have tried to carry such a lump as you."

"Mama, will you speak to Bernard, and ask him not to be always saying rude
things about me."

"Hush, Bessie! Nonsense! Bernard, my dear, do try to be more polite to your
sister."

"Mama, here's a motter I rather like in this green cracker.

 "'What I most admire in you
  Are your eyes of lovely blue.'

"What would you have done, Deleah, if a gentleman had pulled the cracker
with you? Because your eyes aren't blue; they're yellow-brown."

"I should have passed it on to Bernard."

"And why wouldn't you have passed it on to me, pray, miss. My eyes are as
blue as Bernard's, I suppose?"

"Your eyes are green," from a Bernard ever ready for the fray.

"Mama! Mama! He's at me again! Bernard is at me again! He says my eyes are
green!"

"Come, come, children! Hush, Bessie! You are too bad, Bernard. Now then,
we have not yet decided who was the belle of the ball, last night."

It was while they gave their opinion on this momentous subject that Franky
fell asleep over his cracker papers and was sent to bed, an hour before
his time, his mother going up to hear him say his prayers, as was her
nightly custom. She was crossing the hall on her return when the front
door opened and the master of the house, to his wife's astonishment,
reappearing, stepped in again.

"Lydia!" he whispered, and with an odd shrinking from him, she noticed
that there was something furtive in his manner, and that his voice, wont
to sound alarmingly through the house on his return to it, was husky and
hushed. "Lydia, how much money have you in the house?"

"Money!" his wife repeated, and gazed upon him with alarm in her eyes.

"Money--I gave you a cheque for ten pounds on Monday. How much of it is
left?"

Most of it had gone in expenses for the dance. "I have only about thirty
shillings left, William." Without knowing why, her voice, like his, had
sunk to the tone of mystery.

"Give it me, then. Quick!"

She hesitated, fearfully questioning: "Has anything--?"

"Never mind now. Get it. Get all you can lay your hands on. Quick!"

Her purse was in the pocket hidden in the many folds of her silk dress.
There was not quite so much in it as she had reckoned; she slipped the
sovereign and few shillings with trembling fingers into his hand.

"I could ask Bernard, and Bessie, William."

"No! I won't take their money," he said. "This will get me to London."

"To London?"

"I am going up by the mail."

"But why in this hurry?"

Not the prospect of the sudden journey, but the something secret and
horribly unfamiliar in his manner frightened her. He came a step further
into the hall and picking up a dark muffler from a chair, wound it round
his neck. She saw that his face was livid, and looked suddenly flabby, and
that his hands were shaking.

"Business," he whispered. "Don't worry."

As he turned to the door, she laid a hand on his arm. "Something is wrong.
I have felt it all the evening. Tell me, have you had losses, William?"

He nodded, without looking at her. "That's about the tune of it."

"You should have told me."

"I've told you now. You'll hear about it soon enough."

She gripped his arm. "Don't go like this! Whatever it is, don't run away.
Is it very bad? Is it--" the word that stood for the worst business
misfortune she could imagine, trembled and died on her lips--"is it
_Failure_?"

He pulled his muffler about his face, his hat lower upon his brow: "You've
hit it," he said. "It's that."

Her hand slid from his coat-sleeve, he slipped through the half-open door,
and shuffled down the three white steps which led to the silent street.
Then, as white, half-stupefied, she watched him, he turned and climbed the
steps again and stood beside her.

"You had better go to George Boult," he said. "Boult will tell you what to
do. Are you listening? Go to Boult."

"But aren't you coming back to-morrow, William? You can't leave us like
this! You must come back!"

He was going down the steps again. There was a moon clear in a frosty sky.
How white the steps shone! For all her life she remembered the big,
unwieldy figure of her husband shuffling down them.

"I don't know what my movements may be. Just at present they are
uncertain." Arrived on the pavement he turned his miserable, furtive eyes
on her as she stood in the open door, the brightly-lit hall of home behind
her. "Shut the door," he said with something of his old passionate
irritability of manner. "I don't want all the world to know I'm going away
to-night. Shut the door!"

She obeyed him, as ever when he used that tone to her, with nervous haste.
William Day waited a moment to hear the bolts slipping into place. It was
a duty he performed himself every night of his life as he went up to bed.
The door was bolted with him on the wrong side of it, now. Never, he knew,
in all the years to come would he turn the lock of security on the
sleeping house and shuffle upstairs, bed-candle in hand, to warmth and
comfort and peaceful sleep again.

Mrs. Day, going back into the hall, came to a standstill beneath the
hanging lamp, trying to collect her thoughts, trying to realise, but
totally unable to do so, that ruin had come upon her home, her children,
herself. Ruin which she had seen visit the homes of other people,
devastate them; but whose shadow she had never imagined falling on the
fortunes of her own.

On the William Days; so well-to-do; so respected in the place; who had
their annual dance last night, all the nicest, most desirable people of
the town present. No one's dance was so nicely managed, so spirited, so
successful as theirs.

She was actually thinking of the dance as she stood there, dazed, in the
gas-lit hall. They would never give another New Year's dance.

William, with all his faults, was never mean. "Don't spoil the ship for a
ha'po'rth of tar," was a favourite motto of his. She had ever thought it a
proverb both pleasant and wise. She was not an extravagant woman, but she
also liked to have things well done, and had no sympathy with
cheese-paring ways. The house was well and handsomely furnished, she and
the children had plenty of dress, their table was an excellent one, all of
them indulging in an amused contempt of the domestic economies of their
friends. Servants stayed with them for years, and it was easy to fill
their places when they left. They kept one more of them than was needed,
for comfort's sake. She was a good mistress; he, for all his passionate
rating of his dependents at times, was a good master.

Was all this finished now? Was it possible? The old pleasant, natural
order of things--the only order to which she had ever been accustomed.
Finished now?

And if so what would follow?

Furniture sale. Dust of strange feet in the familiar rooms. People she
would never have dreamed of admitting there pulling about her carpets,
poking her feather-beds, turning up their noses at the breakfast-room
chair-covers which were shabby, there was no good in denying it; and with
her not by to explain they preferred them so. No more expensive
paint-boxes and toys for Franky; Bessie and darling Deleah in shabby hats;
Bernard without pocket-money, made a banker's clerk, perhaps--she had
heard her husband say bank-clerks had no prospects, poor beggars!
Bernard--her handsome Bernard to be a "poor beggar"--!

A sudden vertigo seized her: the hall was whirling round; she stretched a
hand blindly for support, and pulled over an umbrella-stand which fell
with a crash and clatter.

The girls and Bernard came running out. "What on earth are you doing,
mama? Have you hurt yourself? What is it?"

She had subsided upon a hall-chair, her face was ghastly, all her strength
seemed gone. "I felt faint. I am better," she got out, and looked
strangely round upon them all. Her gaze wandered lingeringly from object
to object in the hall as if she had never seen it before. She shivered
violently with deadly cold. "I will go to bed," she said.

The children helped her upstairs. She leant on Bessie's arm, the arm of
Deleah was round her waist. The stairway was broad, there was room for all
three. Bernard stood on the mat below and watched with an anxious face.

"Sure I can't do anything, mother?" he kept saying.

They were all so fond of her, so frightened if for a moment she seemed to
fail them. She could not get rid of them till they had undressed her and
put her to bed. Until they themselves went to bed they kept coming back
and peeping in at her. "Papa will be back soon; mind you send him for us
if you feel at all ill," they adjured her.

"Mama, you are sure it is not because I worried you about Reggie Forcus?"
a contrite Bessie asked. "Because he is sure to come to-morrow--you think
so, don't you?--and we shall make it all right, in spite of Sir Francis.
Promise not to worry, mama."

Twice in the night Deleah slipped from her own warm bed to stand, an
anxious little figure, shivering in her nightgown, her dark curls
streaming down her back, a suspensive ear to the keyhole of her mother's
door. People fainted because they had heart disease. Of heart disease they
also died. She dared not go in, because papa was there, but waited,
trembling with cold and fear, until her mother's sigh reassured her.

In the morning the mistress of the house came down with a pale face and
dark rings about her deeply-set large eyes. She could not smile, she could
not eat, she hardly spoke, but she was better, she said.

The children would have to know; but she could not bring herself to tell
them. That their father was not in the house they did not perceive, but
put down his absence from the breakfast-table to the fact that he had
over-slept himself.

A great fire blazed on the hearth. A stack of muffins was being kept warm
in a silver dish on a brass stand before it. Fish, and broiled kidneys
were on the table; a ham, and a brawn, and a glazed tongue on the
sideboard. Mrs. Day always drank coffee at her breakfast, Deleah liked
cocoa, the rest took tea; all three were served.

Mrs. Day surveyed these signs of comfort and luxury with a numb feeling at
her heart. All this, and such as this, would have to go. How would the
children endure life without it. Was this lavish amount of food
"extravagance"? she asked herself, for the first time. Was it possible
she, with her well-filled table on which she had prided herself, had
conduced to the misfortune? She was a woman whose conscience was very
easily touched, and she began to blame herself. "But I never dreamed!" she
said, "I never dreamed!"

Bessie could eat neither fish nor kidneys, that morning. "Mama, there was
some game-pie left, last night. Mayn't I have some of it?"

The servant was rung for to bring the game-pie. "If there are any oyster
patties we might have them in, mother," Bernard suggested.

The mother, sadly gazing, assented. Nothing would she have denied them,
that morning--her poor children who were so soon to be deprived of
game-pies and oysters for ever!

They were in the midst of breakfast, their voices a little subdued because
mama was not well, yet with an enjoyable sense of freedom because papa,
who was so often irritable at that meal, had not yet come down, when
suddenly the door opened and without any announcement Mr. George Boult
walked in.

He was a man they all knew as a friend and associate of the master of the
house, but he had never been held in favour by its mistress nor her
children, who indeed had but the slightest acquaintance with him. He had
been a school-fellow of William Day's at the Brockenham Grammar School; a
kind of comradeship had existed between the two from that time till now.
George Boult had assumed for years the habit of dropping in at Queen Anne
Street on Sunday afternoons to smoke a cigar and drink a glass of wine
with the lawyer, but it was a function the men had enjoyed _tête-à-tête_:
as an intimate in the family circle he had not been admitted.

Boult could have bought up all the superior people who turned up their
noses at him, his friend frequently declared; it had been a standing
grievance of his against his wife that she declined to put Mr. Boult's
name on the list of people invited to her parties.

George Boult was a self-made man; the process of manufacture recent, and
unfortunately fresh in people's minds. "If I invite the man who keeps the
draper's shop the professional people won't come to meet him," Mrs. Day
pointed out, and remained obdurate on the point. But because he, who did
not in the least wish to go to her parties, could not be invited to them,
a little awkwardness in the relations of her husband's Sunday afternoon
visitor and Mrs. Day had arisen.

His appearance thus early in the morning, and in the midst of their meal
was a matter more than a little surprising to them all. He was a short,
rather podgy man, with fair whiskers curled upon red cheeks, a common,
up-turned, broad-nostrilled nose, a wide, thick-lipped mouth; quick,
observant, but by no means beautiful eyes, a protruding chin, and a roll
of flesh which showed above his collar at the back of his neck. Well and
carefully he was dressed, however, and wore that air of conscious
prosperity to be observed in the man who has carved his own fortunes and
is proud of the fact.

He grasped, in his broad, short-fingered, red one, the white hand of Mrs.
Day, who went forward to meet him. "I got a verbal message from your
husband last night, asking me to look you up the first thing this
morning," he said. "This is a sad business for you all; I am sorry--very
sorry."

Mrs. Day took her place behind her tea-cups again, lacking the strength to
stand.

"Do the children know?" he asked, in a tone, muffled indeed, but quite
audible in the children's ears.

Mrs. Day shook her head. "But they must know," she said.

"Know what?" they all asked, alert for news, but suspecting no evil. Even
Franky looked up from his toast and marmalade with an inquiring glance.
Perhaps the circus was coming, and there would be another procession, with
elephants and camels walking through the streets, and unseen but loudly
roaring lions dragged in their cages.

"There is bad news, my dears," Mrs. Day began, but very faintly; she
clasped her hands upon the edge of the tea-tray, the cups and saucers
jingled with their shaking. "Poor papa is in trouble. Tell them," she
whispered to the man who stood beside her. "I can't tell them."

Mr. Boult fixed Bessie with the gaze of his slightly protruding eyes of
stone-coloured blue. She was the eldest, the only one who could really be
said to be grown up. For all his tail coat and smart neckties, Bernard at
seventeen was only a boy still.

"What is the matter with papa? Where is papa?" Bessie asked him.

"Just at present--we hope only for a short time until we can bail him
out--your papa is in prison," George Boult said.

He had known it would be a blow to them, but he was a man entirely without
imagination, and therefore quite incapable of putting himself in another
person's place. Rumours had been afloat in the business world. Money,
which the jog-trot profession of law alone could never have brought him
in, had been spent: more than once the suspicion of what would be the end
of his old school-friend had crossed his mind. But that the possibility of
such a, to them, hideous calamity, had never presented itself to the man's
wife and children he had not considered, nor was he capable of
appreciating the sorrow and shame they would suffer by such a disgrace.

He had not a high opinion of William Day's wife and family; they were
people who thought the world a place for play rather than hard work, who
frequented theatres and concert-rooms, and dances. It was not likely they
could feel anything very much. He was unprepared for the effect of his
words.

They were young, they were undisciplined, they were quite unused to
misfortune. The children met the news of its appearance among them by a
loud yell of terrified protest. Mrs. Day had flung herself upon him,
grasped him, clung to him.

"Not William! Not my husband! No! No! No!" she shrieked.

"I thought you knew! I thought you knew!" George Boult said. The woman
hurt him by her grip upon his arms; what a din was in his ears!

"Papa! Oh, papa! Papa!" Bessie screamed.

Franky was screaming too. He had got down from the table and rushed round
to his younger sister, who, white, and shaking like a leaf, took the child
in her arms. Bernard had risen, ashen-faced, staring. "It isn't true!" he
shouted savagely at his father's traducer. "It's a lie!"

"Didn't you know?" George Boult kept saying to the poor woman who was
shaking him by the force of her trembling as she clung to him. "I would
have prepared you--I thought you knew."

"I thought it was bankruptcy," she got out between her chattering teeth.
"I didn't know it was--disgrace. Are you sure? Quite sure?"

"Quite. There is not the shadow of a chance it is not true. A police
officer brought me a message from him from the station-house last night."

She let go his arms, and sank into her chair again; and Franky, who could
find no comfort in Deleah's embrace, left her, and still screaming his
terrified "Papa! papa! papa!" flew to hang upon his mother's neck.

Deleah crept round to Bernard. "Oh, Bernard, what can we do?" she said.
"What ought we to do?"

Bernard, who had sunk into his chair, only laid his arms upon the table,
his head upon his arms, and sobbed.

George Boult thought they were taking it very badly. "This comes of too
much pleasuring," he told himself. He looked round upon the miserable
group, feeling shocked and helpless. He had gone there to see if he could
be of use. How was it possible to help people who behaved like this! He
was a widower, but had no children of his own. If he had been more
fortunate in that respect what serious-minded, well-conducted boys and
girls they would have been: not squeaking over misfortune, but standing up
to it when it came; looking about them, open-eyed, for ways of making
money, marrying money, and getting on. The children of William Day and
their mother were acting like a set of lunatics only fit for Bedlam.

"I'm sorry to have to spring it upon you suddenly. I thought your mama
knew," he said again. "But it's a thing that had to be known--and perhaps
as well one time as another. It's a thing that has got to be borne, too,
and made the best of."

It was quite easy to play the philosopher if only they would have
listened, but they would not. Mrs. Day was rocking herself backwards and
forwards in her chair, the screaming Franky in her arms; Bessie had flung
herself upon the floor and was beating it with her palms and calling upon
the name of papa. George Boult was sorry for their misfortune, but he
looked on and listened with distaste. To have no more spunk than that!

"Which of you can I speak to?" he asked sharply at last. He crossed the
room and touched Bernard's heaving shoulders. "Come out," he said; and
Bernard, openly blubbering, got up, and followed his father's friend from
the room. In the hall George Boult laid a steadying hand upon the poor
boy's arm. "You must bear this like a man, Bernard," he said. "You're not
a child, nor a woman; try to be a man."

"What's he done? What's my father done?" the boy asked. He blew his nose
and wiped his eyes, and made an effort to hold himself upright.

"It's a question of some money belonging to a client."

"To a client, sir?"

"Your father invested a large sum of money for her, then sold the shares,
and did not buy others or give her the money."

"But--he would have done--in time. He--meant to do it."

"Your father has got to prove that."

"My father will do it," with a sob.

"I hope so. There's another matter we need not go into now. Her signature
authorising the sale she disputes."

"My father--will explain."

"Perhaps. He'll be up before the magistrates to-day. I shall attend, and
shall offer myself to go bail for him. They'll probably want two. Who is
there you can ask?"

Bernard did not know. He had not his wits sufficiently about him even to
think. "I can ask my mother," he said. He was sobbing again, fallen limply
against the wall, his face hidden.

"Do remember you've got to play the man," George Boult said. He felt
helpless in the presence of such surprising helplessness. He looked at the
heaving shoulders of the youth with an astonished distaste. What was to be
done with material so soft as this! "I am sorry I have been the bearer of
such ill news, but there is no good in my stopping now. I'll drop in, tell
your mother, when you're all more used to it. Wonderful how quickly people
do get used to things! Meantime, remember, I'll stand bail for your father
if you can find another. And there's no time to lose. You must shake
yourself together and set about it at once."

"Helpless set!" he said to himself as he let himself out and passed down
the three glistening white steps into the quiet street. "Hysterical,
useless, helpless set! Fit only for pleasure-seeking and money-spending.
What is to become of them now?"

They were certainly helpless. When Bernard went back to the room where
breakfast--the meal to be for ever unfinished--stood about, and told them
they had, there and then, to find some one willing to bail out his father,
none of them understood, or knew what to do.

"Do you know of any one we could ask, mother?" Mrs. Day sat, her brow
clasped tightly in her two hands as if she really feared her head would
split. "Let me think! Let me think!" she said piteously, but was incapable
of thinking.

"Would any of the people who were here at the dance--the Challises, the
Hollingsbys, the Buttifers, the Frosts, do it? Which of them shall we
ask?"

"I don't think one of them would do it. They would not care."

"But they're often here--to dinner, and so on."

"Don't ask them."

"Who then, mama?" Deleah questioned. She had made less noise than the
others, and there was about her an air of purpose, lacking in the rest,
although her childish face looked stricken.

"There is no one I should like you to ask a favour of."

"But we must ask some one."

"Let it be some one we do not know, then."

"Could we ask Sir Francis Forcus? He is very rich."

"I will go somewhere--I will ask--some one," Mrs. Day said; but, trying to
stand, she fell back in her chair, and her frightened children saw that
she had fainted.

They laid her on the sofa, and over her prostrate body renewed the subject
of the bail.

"Bessie must go," Deleah said.

"Then, I won't, miss!" said Bessie, and sobbed and choked and screamed at
her sister: "I won't! I won't!"

"Bernard must go."

"It would come better from a woman," Bernard said.

In the end it was Deleah who went--the little petted, sheltered Deleah,
who had never gone before on any errand of more moment than for the
matching of Berlin wools, or for the changing of the three-volume novel at
the Public Library.

"Deleah can't go--Deleah mustn't!" the prostrate mother on the sofa
gasped. She looked like a corpse beneath the cloths soaked in
eau-de-cologne-and-water which Bessie had arranged over her brow. "We
can't ask Sir Francis. Call Deleah back. Stop her."

But Deleah would not be stopped. It was a question of getting her father
out of prison, and they had been told to lose no time. While Bessie and
her mother and Bernard were still declaring she must not go she had run up
to her room for her hat and jacket; and lest they should catch and stop
her, she would not stay in the house to put them on, but flung them anyhow
upon her when once outside the door. Then, with her little wild white face
almost lost in the masses of loose dark hair escaped from the net she wore
in the morning, and falling anyhow beneath her hat, and her small bare
hands grasping the jacket she would not stop to button at her throat, she
ran through the streets.

Was that really Deleah running there, and on that errand? Deleah, who at
that hour was usually walking sedately to school; saying over to herself
her French poetry, perhaps, as she went, or taking a last peep in her
geography book, to make sure once again of the latitude and longitude of
Montreal, or to impress more firmly on her mind the imports and exports of
Prussia.

To get to her school she had to pass her father's office; and sometimes,
if it pleased him to start early enough, he would walk there with his
little daughter, her hand tucked within his arm. With her he was never
savage, and rarely irritable; on these walks his mood would be playful and
jocose, and they would incite each other to play the truant from office
and school, and pretend they were off on a holiday jaunt together.

And now her laughing, noisy, loving, boisterous father was in prison--in
prison!--and she was running to beg the help of a stranger to take him
out.

She gave no thought to the man to whom she was going, nor to the words she
would say to him. The difficulty of asking such a favour of such a
stranger did not distress her. Her father--her father--her father! was her
only thought.



CHAPTER V

Deleah's Errand


It chanced that Sir Francis Forcus drove to the Brewery an hour earlier
than usual that morning, and--a circumstance of rare occurrence--that
Reginald was pleased to drive with him. Both men came together into the
private room of the elder, where Deleah, for an hour which had seemed a
lifetime, awaited them.

If Sir Francis had ever seen William Day's little daughter, he had
forgotten her. It was Reggie, at whom Deleah never looked, who called her
name in his pleasant, good-natured tone of welcome.

"Why, it is Deleah!" he cried out, as if Deleah, of all the people in the
world, was the person he most wanted to see. "This is Deleah Day,
Francis."

He liked little Deleah--what young man with eyes in his head did not like
her!--she was so pretty; far and away prettier than Bessie, who had in
Francis's word tried to grab him. She was the jolliest little thing to
laugh with and to dance with; light as a feather--you could sweep her off
her feet and dance on with her, never feeling her weight upon your arm.

He held out his hand to her now, but she did not see it. Her own hands
were clasped. Without clasping them she would not have knelt to ask
anything of God. She went across the room and lifted her little white
stricken face to Sir Francis above the clasped hands, and gazed at him
with an agony of prayer in her eyes.

"My papa is in prison," she said. "I have come to ask you to take him
out."

Sir Francis looked at her in astonishment, not unmoved; at the back of his
mind the thought that this was one of a family who had impertinently
intruded on him, with whom, emphatically, he wished to have nothing to do.
Because this girl was so young and pretty they had sent her!

"Will you take my papa out of prison?"

"My poor child, I fear that is beyond me. Beyond any one now."

She squeezed the clasped hands painfully together, her eyes clung to his
face: "No: you can! You can! I heard them say so," she said. "Mr. George
Boult and you can take him out if you will. You can do it with money. He
said so. You can do it to-day."

"She means go bail for him," Reginald explained under his breath.

"But why should I do that?" Sir Francis asked, turning upon his brother.
"Her father was no friend--not even an acquaintance--of mine." He was most
anxious that point should be established. "People in--in Mr. Day's
position get their friends to bail them," he said to the girl. "And I
shall not be present; I am going out of town to-day."

"No! you must not go!" Deleah sobbed. "You must do it. There is no one
else. I don't know where to go--I don't know what to do. We none of us
know. You must! You must!"

Half because her strength was failing her, and half because it was the
attitude of prayer, she went to her knees, her head thrown back, looking
up at him, her clasped hands beneath her upturned chin.

How could any man, however cold, reserved, remote, inimical to her cause,
even, turn a deaf ear to such an appeal, remain adamant before her
helplessness, her trustfulness, her childish beauty and self-abandonment!

"Who sent you to me?" he asked.

"No one. I came," she whispered. The change in his tone had weakened her,
she began to shake from head to foot.

"They should have picked on a fitter person for such an errand. It is a
cruelty to have sent such a child as you," he said.

He held out his hand to raise her; but Reggie went to her and lifted her
and placed her in a comfortable chair. "It'll be all right. He'll do it.
Don't you fret," he whispered, soothing her.

She did not heed him, her eyes were on the elder man, who had gone to a
cupboard in the room from whence he produced a decanter of sherry. It was
in that primitive time when in trouble of mind or body, to "take a glass
of wine" was the customary thing. He was always stiff and distant in
bearing, and just now he was annoyed and aggrieved to feel that he was
being "had," as the word of a later age puts it. But his heart was sound.
To look on that trembling, frightened child, and to remember the errand on
which she had been sent he found to be an upsetting thing.

"Sip a little sherry," he said, and passed the glass to his brother to
hold to her lips.

But Deleah took no notice of the glass, she seemed unaware of the presence
of Reggie, her eyes clinging to the face of Reggie's brother: "Will you do
it? Will you save him? Will you?" she implored.

Then, with a gloomy brow, Sir Francis consented. "Very well. I will be in
the way, this afternoon. You say Mr. Boult also will be in the way? If we
can do anything we will."

"It's all right, Deleah," Reggie said. "I told you it would be all right."

"And, remember," Sir Francis adjured her, "that what I do, I do for
you--and for you alone."

Her petition, she understood, was granted; her clasped hands fell from
their attitude of prayer, but her strained eyes still clung to Sir
Francis's face. She did not attempt to thank him; words were inadequate to
express what she felt--she did not think of using them; but there was
adoration of him in her eyes.

With his promise to help, resentment had died out of the man. He took the
glass which Reggie had put down, and himself held it to her lips. "Sip a
little; it will give you strength," he said in the voice of authority; and
she obediently sipped.

"I'll go," she said, but held him with her adoring child's eyes for a
minute still, then slipped from the chair and went to the door. But there
she turned, and with her head pitifully lifted faced the two men. "My papa
has done nothing wrong," she said. "They have put him in prison, but it is
a mistake. Papa has done nothing wrong."

"Poor child!" Sir Francis said, and turned away. The scene had been
painful. He was anxious that it should be over.

Reginald had gone to the door and opened it for her. "You keep your
spirits up," he said coaxingly. "Don't you go and be unhappy, Deleah." He
was passing through the door with her, whispering cheery words, but his
brother called him sharply back.

"Reggie, come here!"

"In a minute."

"No, now. I want you."

There were certain tones of his brother's voice which the younger man had,
so far, never dreamed of disregarding. He reappeared in the room and
closed the door on Deleah's retreating figure.

"Where were you going?"

"Nowhere, in particular. To walk part of the way home with that poor
little girl."

"Stop here, will you? I want you."

Sir Francis Forcus was not going to allow his brother to be seen in the
streets of Brockenham with any member of Mr. William Day's family, that
morning.



CHAPTER VI

Sour Misfortune


Mrs. Day, in looking back over the miserable weeks and months and years
that succeeded her last New Year's party, was inclined to award the palm
for wretchedness to the weeks which intervened between her husband's
appearance before the magistrates and the Spring Assizes at which his
trial came on. It is more than possible that if George Boult and Sir
Francis Forcus had refused to stand bail for him, and he had remained for
those ten weeks in prison, he would have been less unhappy there than was
possible to him, a consciously guilty man, in the changed atmosphere of
his home.

What had happened had changed for him for ever his relations with wife and
children. Among the latter he sat as one beaten, cowed, estranged. With
Franky, alone, for ever again, did he approach to any intimacy. Franky,
who, now that that strange talk of his father being in prison was over,
and his father here at home once more, holding no apprehension of the
future, troubled his head no further about the matter. Him he sometimes
took upon his knee, as of old. To Franky he would give languid advice
about the pictures he was colouring, about the amount of cobbler's wax to
affix to the skipjack he was making, about the rigging of his walnut
ships.

Of Deleah--Deleah, who had been his pet, whom he had acknowledged openly
to be his favourite child--he was shy. He had been told how it had been
she who had arranged the matter of his bail. His little Deleah, to have
gone on such an errand for him! He would have liked never to meet again
those pretty trusting eyes of hers that had been full of pride in and love
for him.

When he had first come home she had cried heart-brokenly against him, had
hung with her arms about his neck, sobbing out that she knew--she
knew--she knew he had done nothing wrong. He had had to push her roughly
from him. He did not wish to go through a scene like that again!

To Bessie and his son, who maintained a sullen condemnatory attitude
towards him, he never spoke if he could avoid doing so.

Towards his wife he held an altogether different demeanour.

The troubles which had come upon him had been induced by his good-natured
desire to meet the heavy expenses of an extravagant household. Money which
he could not earn in the legitimate exercise of his profession, nor come
by honestly, had been spent. Who had had the spending of it but she--his
wife? Of his grievous undoing, then, it was she who was the sole cause.

Of this explanation he delivered himself to her in the first hour of his
return to his home.

She was too stricken, too dumbfounded, too much overwhelmed with shame and
sorrow for him to resent the attack upon herself, or to attempt reprisals.
Of her defenceless submission he took advantage, and presently had brought
himself honestly to believe that on his wife's shoulders lay the
responsibility of his downfall.

His counsel advised him to plead guilty. There was not in any one's mind a
doubt of what the verdict must be. The few who cared for him could only
hope for a light sentence.

When Deleah heard he was not even to deny his guilt she hid herself in her
bedroom, and lay there for hours, face downwards upon the floor. The
carpet was wet with her tears, its scent in her nostrils. For all her life
that snuffy, stuffy smell brought back to her the time of her
uncontrolled, rebellious anguish and her cruel shame.

Was it true? Was it possible? Could this horrible thing have happened in
her home? Deleah's, who had known there only careless, happy days? Was
this man who was to plead guilty to forgery, who had robbed a poor woman
of every farthing she possessed, who was to pass years, perhaps, in
prison, really her father? Who had been sometimes so affectionate to them
all, always so loving and indulgent to her; who had sat in the square
family pew with them all on the Sunday morning, and said grace every day
at meals; who had often told them funny tales, shouting with laughter over
his own jokes; who had banged the tambourine and joined in Sir Roger de
Coverley only a few nights ago?

Bessie and Bernard, drawn together by their misfortune, and forgetting to
torment one another, talked, their heads close together, over the tragedy
which had befallen. They were angry, outraged, seeing what their father
had done as it affected themselves, and they did not spare him. Sometimes
to them--the elder boy and girl--Mrs. Day felt constrained to talk. It was
a relief to pent-up feelings to talk, if only to say, "What will become of
us? How are we to live? What, in the name of God, are we to do?" To these
three, from companionship in misfortune, some consolation was afforded.

But Deleah spoke no word--except to the carpet.

All of them had much leisure. Mrs. Day and Bessie would not show their
faces out of doors. Bernard, who was spending a last quarter at school in
order to pass the Senior Cambridge Exam. before going into his father's
office, decided to work for it at home, rather than at school, where all
the other fellows _knew_. A letter was received from the head-mistress of
the Establishment, "all of whose pupils were the daughters of professional
men," and where Deleah was receiving her education, saying that, until the
dark cloud was lifted which at present overshadowed her family, it would
be better for Deleah Day to take a holiday.

"In any case, I would not have gone there again," Deleah said. "The girls
are always talking about who their fathers are, and looking down on each
other. Not but what there were some upon whose fathers I also looked down.
The Clarks--the wholesale shoe-makers--you could hardly call them
_professional_, could you? But now--oh, what nonsense it all seems now!"

The education of Franky had been carried on hitherto by Bessie. In a
lamentably desultory fashion it is true; but now that, for economy's sake,
they had restricted themselves to a fire in only one sitting-room the poor
child's tuition had to be abandoned. It would have been impossible to live
within the four walls wherein the elder daughter and the younger son
fought through the difficulties of imparting and acquiring knowledge.
Either Franky, on his back, on the floor, was screaming and dangerously
waving his legs, or an infuriate Bessie was chasing him round the table.
The spelling-book was more often used as a weapon of attack than a primer,
and Bessie's voice screaming out the information that C A T spelt Cat
could be heard in the street.

Economies in coal, economies in every direction they had to practise.
Money, where it had been so plentiful was all at once painfully scarce;
credit, which had seemed unlimited, there was none. George Boult, taking
things in hand, and trying to bring some order out of chaos, handed over
weekly to Mrs. Day two pounds for housekeeping. The change from lavishness
to penury bewildered the poor woman, and the change from a table loaded
with good things to one that was nearly bare was not skilfully made. For a
time, until experience taught her, things they could have done without she
continued to buy, and that which was really necessary they went without.
And that allowance, poor as it seemed to her, could not go on for long. It
was by no means certain that enough legally remained to them to repay Mr.
Boult for these disbursements. If they had been willing to live upon his
means he was not at all a generous man; he did not encourage them to
expect pecuniary help from him.

"What do you advise? Have you no plan? What are we all to do?" Mrs. Day
asked of her husband.

"You must hang on till I come out. If we're lucky it will only be a matter
of a few months."

"But even for a few months, William, what are we to do?"

"You must work," William said. "Earn something. It will be a change for
you. I've kept the lot of you in idleness till now. Now you'll learn what
it is to work. It won't do you any harm."

"All that is so easy to say. But what work are we to do? Where are we to
work? I cannot see that we shall have a roof over our heads."

Then the wretched man, who knew no more than she what would become of them
all, and was infinitely the more wretched on that account, broke into a
torrent of oaths. "Haven't I enough to bear?" he asked her. "Haven't I
myself to think about? Is mine such a pleasant prospect, that you come to
pester me, giving me no peace? How do other women manage? Women that have
never had husbands to slave for them as I have slaved for you."

Poor Mrs. Day, the least pugnacious of women, who at the best of times had
scarcely known how to hold her own with him, fled before the unreasonable,
miserable man.

Bessie, in talking to her brother over the hopelessness of their position,
used the child's time-honoured reproach against the parent. "Papa and mama
should not have had children if they were going to make such a muddle as
this," she argued. Bessie had not wanted to be born, she declared. Her
father and mother were responsible. They must at least say what was to be
done. Papa, she declared to Bernard, should be made to say.

"Papa, when Deleah and I want our hats and dresses for the spring, what
are we to do?" she asked her father, with that note of aggression in her
voice with which he had become familiar from her.

"Do? Go without them," he promptly replied.

"You know very well we can't go without clothes, papa."

"Then go to the devil," papa said, and getting up slouched from the room.

Bernard, too, who was more afraid of the altered man than Bessie, and for
long shrank from any conversation with him, was at last induced by his
mother to consult his father as to his own future.

"There isn't much use that I can see, sir, in my sweating away at my books
for this exam," he said.

"Oh? Why not?"

"Supposing that I get through it, what am I to do then?"

"You must do the best you can. This Senior Cambridge Exam, they tell me,
is a door to any of the professions."

"But you want money to enter a profession, sir. From what I hear we have
none."

"Your hearing has not played you false in that direction. What I had you
managed to spend, among you. I was the goose that laid the golden egg; now
circumstances forbid my laying any more--for a time. You must look after
yourselves."

"But if you could only give us some idea of how to set about it."

Then, upon him, too, his father, having shown a greater measure of
forbearance so far than he accorded the mere women of his family, turned
savagely. The poor wretch did not know how to help them, did not know what
to advise them to do: to frighten them was his only resource.

"Haven't I got enough to think about?" he shouted at the boy. "You and
your mother and sisters come and badger--and badger me--"

"All right, sir. I won't badger you any more."

"All I ask is to be let alone--to be granted a little peace. You have no
mercy--none!"

But after that conversation the boy gave up even the pretence of studying.
"Where's the good?" he asked of Bessie. "If I passed the blessed thing,
where's the good? I shall have to be an errand boy, I suppose, or sweep a
crossing. I don't want a Senior Cambridge Certificate for that."

The womankind did their best to persuade him to persevere, but he declared
that he could not study in his bedroom without a fire, nor could he so
much as drive a word into his head if he had to sit in the same room as
his father.

That room where their pleasant evenings had been passed while Mr. Day
played his cards at the club, presented altogether a different aspect in
these sad times when that unhappy man formed part of the circle. The poor,
bulky wretch sat always over the fire--literally over it, his chair-feet
touching the fender, his own feet as often as not on the bars; the rest of
the family withdrawn as much as possible from the hearth. If there was
talk among them as they sat at their table with their sewing, their
painting, their books--and being young they talked, and even sometimes
laughed--he resented the fact that they could do so, and sometimes snarled
round upon them with a request for silence. But equally, it seemed, did he
resent their silence when it fell, and would make sarcastic remarks to
them when they withdrew on the liveliness of the society they provided for
him.

An undue amount of the weekly two pounds for housekeeping money went to
find the master of the house tobacco. There was some good port wine in the
cellar; he might as well drink it while he had the chance, William Day
thought. What else had he to do but smoke and drink; and he did both, all
day long.

He had not been a drinking man, although he had ever taken his share of
the good things of life, nor an idle one. His family looked on now at his
altered habits with fear and a growing disgust. It was surprising how, in
the loss of his own self-respect and the knowledge that he had lost the
respect of those who had loved him, the man altered. With astonishment
they, who had known him all their lives, saw him in a few short weeks
become selfish, greedy, unmannerly, even unclean. The ash from his pipe
fell on his coat, he would not brush it away; he had evidently given up
the use of a nail-brush; his hair hung over his forehead; his untrimmed
beard and whiskers stuck out round the big face which was flabby now, and
unwholesome.

Missing the luxuries from his table, he forgot the niceties he had
hitherto observed there. When he came to his meals with unwashed hands,
took to himself, with apparently no thought for the rest, the best of what
he found there, the elder boy and girl would look at each other with angry
condemnation in their eyes. Such lapses from a hitherto observed code of
good manners Mrs. Day bore with an apparently apathetic indifference. For
years, truth to tell, she had ceased to love the man, and the little
deviations, which read so trivially but mean in daily life so much, were
almost unnoticed by her in the stupefying sense of the misfortune which
had befallen them all.

It was only Deleah, devotedly loving her father, who perceived the real
tragedy at the back of this neglect of personal and family obligations;
only she who dimly understood that this disfiguring outward alteration was
but the sign of an inner, more pitiful change; only she who had the
insight to read in her father's savage ways the despair, the scorn of
himself, the rage with destiny, the bitter enmity against a world in which
he was no longer to exist. Only Deleah felt in her heart the sorrow of it
all--Deleah who was a reader of Thackeray, of Trollope, of Dickens, of
Tennyson; whose eyes had wept for imaginary woes before these bitter drops
had been wrung from them for her own; who had learnt that tears were not
the only signs of an anguished heart; and knew that the love of position,
of home, of a fair name even were not the chief things for which they as a
family should have mourned.

And so the slow weeks, even the slow months passed. The muddy, narrow
pavements of Brockenham grew dry and dusty in the biting east winds.
People at whom Mrs. Day and her daughters peeped through curtained windows
walked by with snowdrops, with violets, and presently with cowslips in
their hands. Spring, so slow in coming, yet so dreaded by them all, was
coming at last. Easter was here. Easter too soon was here!--and the Easter
Assizes.



CHAPTER VII

Husband And Father


On the evening before the morning on which his trial was to take place, a
different creature seemed to be in the place lately occupied by William
Day.

For one thing, his appearance was improved. A barber, sent for, that
afternoon, had cut off the greasy, disguising locks of sand-coloured hair,
and trimmed the wildly luxuriant beard which had given the man such a
slovenly, unfamiliar appearance. His upper lip was once more shaved.

"I don't mind kissing you now, papa," Franky said, who had shirked
saluting the stubbly face.

This improvement being completed, he made a change in his clothes, and at
their tea-time appeared among them all in his black cloth, long-skirted
coat, his "pepper and salt" trousers. As another outward sign of his moral
degradation he had dispensed with linen at throat and wrists lately, but
now his heavy chin sank once more into the enclosure of a collar whose
stiffly starched points reached to the middle of his cheeks. The pin which
adorned his thickly padded necktie was large in size, consisting of a
gold-rimmed glass case in which was exhibited, braided and intertwined,
hair cut from the heads of his four children. They had all of them clubbed
together to prepare this offering for papa on last St. Valentine's Day.

And with the resumption of a more careful toilette the poor man had gone
back to the decent demeanour of happier days. He said nothing; was,
indeed, in a state of black depression which he made no attempt to hide,
but he outraged no longer the sensitive feelings of his family by his
behaviour.

"Papa is just like what he used to look," Franky said, when he beheld the
renovation of his parent's appearance. "Shall we paint pictures this
evening, papa?"

They tried to hush the child, but Franky saw no reason why he should not
make his request, nor why it should be refused. He fetched his paint-box
and a store of pictures he had cut from some old papers.

"You do sunsets so much more beautifully than me, papa. If you'd just do
the sunsets for me!"

And presently the father had drawn a chair by the side of his little
son's, and was showing him how to mix his colours, and admonishing him not
to suck his paintbrushes, as on the happy winter evenings before the
crash.

It was a landscape with mill and marshland and water, the child had
chosen, and there was a large space to be occupied with the sunset at
which his parent excelled, and much scraping and mixing of carmine and
yellow ochre and cobalt blues. So that Franky's bed-time was here before
the picture was finished. He was sent off as usual, protesting and in
tears.

"You'll help me to finish it to-morrow night, papa? Promise you'll help me
to-morrow night!" he entreated, through his weeping. But Bessie, whose
task it was to see him to bed, pulled the child relentlessly from the
room, and slammed the door upon them both.

George Boult had come in, for a last talk with his friend. His presence
was never desired by the family, but it relieved the tension, somewhat, of
that sad evening.

The two men sat with their pipes, and a bottle of that much diminished
store of "eighteen forty-sevens" was broached. But presently it was
noticed that although William Day held his pipe in his hand he did not
smoke. With the other hand he shaded his eyes from the gas light, and he
said nothing. One by one the young people crept off to bed, and presently
Mrs. Day, whose attempt to keep up a conversation with the visitor had
quickly failed, also stood up to go.

"Are you leaving us, Lydia?" the husband said when he became aware of her
intention.

"I will not go if you wish me to stay, William."

"No, no. Go, and get some sleep."

Then, as for a moment she stood, hesitating at the door, longing to escape
from that sad presence, yet miserable to go: "Do the best you can for my
poor wife," Day said to his friend. "She has been a good wife to me."

She had lived with him for twenty years, and had, perhaps, never heard a
word of praise from him before. When at last it came it was too much for
her to bear, and she went, sobbing loudly, from the room.

An hour later when the unhappy master of the house had for the last time
attended his friend to the hall-door, watched him down the steps into the
quiet street, given a silent nod to the other's silent gesture of farewell
as he turned to walk down the echoing pavement; when he had put out the
gas in the sitting-room and hall, and dragged himself--who can divine with
what heaviness of heart?--heavily up the stairs, he came upon a little
white night-gowned figure, watching for him on the landing, outside his
bedroom door.

It was Deleah who had waited for him there.

"It is only I, papa," she said when he stopped short at sight of her.
"Only your little Deleah that I--I--loves you so."

"Be off to bed, this instant," he said, and pointed an angry finger in the
direction of her room.

But she put her arms about his neck and clung to him with stifled sobbing,
till with the choke of his own sobbing she felt his great chest heave
beneath her clinging form.

When he had flung himself upon the bed beside his wife he was choking and
sobbing still, in a fashion dreadful to hear.

"William!" she said timidly, and put a shaking hand upon his shoulder. "Is
there anything I can do or say that can help you, William?"

He did not answer her, but the bed shook with his rending sobs; and she
lay and sobbed beside him.

When at length such calm as comes from exhaustion fell: "I did it for you
and the children," he said. "I thought, with luck, I could have put it
right. But it was for all of you I did it. You will remember that?"

"I will remember it while I live," she said. "You may be quite sure that
neither your children nor I will ever forget."

"Deleah upset me. She should have been in bed"--it was so he excused his
tears to her--"I should not have broken down like this if she had not
unmanned me. The child should have gone to bed."

She heard him swallow down his tears, and then he began again: "Deleah and
Franky have always been--have always been--"

"The dearest," she supplied, understanding him. "The dearest of your
children, William?"

"Tell them that--after to-morrow, will you?"

She promised. "Bessie and Bernard have not such winning ways, perhaps, but
they love you, William, I am sure."

To this he made no answer. After a time she spoke to him again: "Have you
anything else to say to me, William? There have been too few words between
us of late. It has been my fault, perhaps. But now, have you anything to
say that might comfort us both to remember?"

"Nothing." He said the word drearily, but not unkindly, and she did not
resent his silence. Full well she knew that volumes, if he could have
spoken them, could not have lightened her helplessness in the present and
terror of the future, nor his despair.

She lay for a few minutes, the tears pouring down her cheeks, unchecked in
the darkness, then she forced herself to say the only few words she could
think of which might comfort him in the time to come.

"William, I won't talk to you, I won't disturb you. I want you to go to
sleep, to get a night's rest, if you can; but just this one thing I do
wish to say to you--I do want you to remember. It is that you must be sure
never to think I feel any anger against you. Only pity--only pity,
William; and such a sorrow for you that I cannot put it into words. I have
wanted to tell you all along, but--"

She left it there, and he received what she said in silence.

Only once again he spoke. "This has been Hell," he said, and she knew he
spoke of the weeks he had spent, an alien in his own home, awaiting his
trial. "Hell! Whatever comes, I am glad this is over."

Then he turned on his side, away from her, and lay quite quiet; and
presently she knew with thanksgiving that he slept.



CHAPTER VIII

The Way Out


The prisoner in accordance with his counsel's advice pleaded Guilty. It
was only a question of the length of the sentence, therefore, and the
judge before whom William Day appeared did not err on the side of mercy.
The heaviest sentence that it was in his power to allot to a malefactor of
that class he passed upon William Day.

None of his own were present, but the Court was filled with people to whom
the prisoner was a familiar figure of everyday life.

It was all but impossible to look upon this big, important-looking man in
the well-cut clothes, holding till the last few weeks among them the
position of gentleman, and believe that it was a criminal standing before
their eyes. The attraction of gazing at, of gloating upon, such a
phenomenon was great. He had been a hectoring kind of man, walking very
noisily among his fellows, taking to himself a great deal of room. Such an
one gives offence frequently if unconsciously. There was none who saw
William Day standing up for his sentence in the dock that day who bore a
grudge, or remembered.

With some there he had assumed an insolent superiority, with other few,
whose position entitled them to choose their acquaintance, he had been
unwarrantably familiar. For the minute he held his place after sentence
was pronounced his eyes travelled slowly but with a dreadful look of
appeal over the familiar faces. Over faces of tradespeople, with whom he
had dealt; of clients for whom he had done business; of people with whom
he had dined and whom he had entertained in return; of men who had driven
him in cabs, blacked his boots, carried his portmanteaux. The slowly
travelling gaze had in it something of a sick despair, something of a wild
appeal. The men over whom it passed, bore it in absolute, breathless
silence, but they never forgot it.

The great cheeks that had seemed ready to burst with good-living, hung
loose and flabby now, the hands that had been prompt with the grasp of
friendship, that had waved greetings from window or pavement, that had
ever been generous in giving, clung to the rail of the dock, the knuckles
whitened with the tension. The tongue that had been so loud in dispute, so
rough in anger, so boisterous in welcome, lay dry and silent in the mouth
which had lopped open.

There was a feeling upon many of those who momentarily encountered the
dreadful gaze that they were responsible; they longed to exonerate
themselves, to say to him, "I, at least, had nothing to do with it. I am
sorry, William Day. Indeed I am sorry." It was a relief when he turned, at
the warder's touch on his arm, and went below.

In the room where he was allowed to sit for a time before being driven to
prison his lawyer came to speak to him; the confidential clerk from his
own office; his friend, George Boult.

"It is very severe," George Boult kept saying with nervous reiteration.
"Very severe."

The prisoner did not speak. He was wearing, arranged across his heavy
paunch, a handsome chain of gold. With fingers stiff from their hold upon
the dock-rail he began, bunglingly, to detach this chain from his
waistcoat. His watch came out with it--a big watch, with a double gold
case. He opened the outer case in an aimless way, mechanically, and for no
object, it seemed, for he did not look at the time. Then, without a word
he held out the watch and chain to his friend, and lifted the fingers
which had fumbled with the watch-case to his lead-coloured lips.

Within a quarter of an hour from the time that William Day had listened to
his heavy sentence of penal servitude he lay on his back, dead.



CHAPTER IX

For The Widow And The Fatherless


At the initiative of George Boult a subscription was opened for "the widow
and children of the late William Day, who had left them without any means
of support."

This sad and irrefutable statement was made in an advertisement in the
local newspaper, and was written, in Mr. Boult's own round and clerkly
hand, on the top of the list of subscribers hanging in conspicuous places
in the Banks, the Public Library, the principal shops of the town.

It was said by those competent to form an opinion that the engineering of
this scheme to help poor Mrs. Day and her children should have been in
other hands. That George Boult's social position in the town did not
entitle him to head the list. A banker's name should have figured there,
or the name of the M. P. for Brockenham, or Sir Francis Forcus's name.
With such an influential person to lead the way it was argued that the
smaller fry would have been more willing to follow suit. It was also
whispered that one of such persons of wealth and note would have led off
with at least a hundred pounds. George Boult's name was down for fifty.

It was a large amount for him to give--not because he could not well have
afforded more, but because he was all unaccustomed to giving. He had been
known to be the unhappy man's friend, and because he headed the list with
his fifty pounds it was said that no one liked to outdo that donation. Sir
Francis Forcus, in order to avoid hurting those sensitive feelings with
which Mr. Boult was accredited, had the happy thought to put his own name
down for fifty pounds, and those of his wife and his young brother, each
for the same amount.

There were two more names down for like sums, after which came a few for
ten pounds, a few more for five pounds; there were numerous donations of
one pound; after which the subscriptions dropped to ten shillings, to
five--

Poor Mrs. Day, casting a sick eye down the list as it continued to appear,
once a week, in the local paper, felt ashamed by the paltriness of the
amounts which were being amassed in her behalf. "Collected by a
well-wisher, six and nine." Several people, modestly content that their
initials only should appear, presented two and six.

"Sympathy" was down for a shilling. How degraded she felt as she read!
Though, why a gift of a shilling should have hurt her more than the gift
of fifty pounds she could not have explained.

When, after dragging on far several weeks, the subscription list was
closed the sum collected only amounted to a little over six hundred
pounds.

George Boult had been ready to pledge himself that it would have risen to
a thousand. He had spared no trouble in the collection of the sum. The
list of subscribers hung in a conspicuous place in his shop. He never
failed to call to it the attention of his well-to-do customers. A case
more needing help was never before the public of Brockenham, he would
point out to them.

But the public of Brockenham, severely shocked by the tragic circumstances
of William Day's death, recovered quickly from the blow, to say that the
death had been the best thing which could happen to the family. To be rid
of such a man, to have no more attaching to them the reproach of a father
and husband in prison, removed half the woeful load of misfortune from the
case. That the children were mostly of an age to earn their own livings,
their mother still fairly young and strong, were facts also remembered.
Then the word began to be passed about from mouth to mouth--spoken in a
whisper at first, but presently a word which might be spoken without fear
of rebuke in any ear--that the Day family had always been eaten up with
pride, and that the lawyer's troubles had come about through the
extravagance of his wife.

The sum of six hundred and forty-nine pounds being collected, what to do
with it was the next thing to decide.

The day after the subscription list was closed Mrs. Day went to an
interview with George Boult in order to set before him a proposition, the
result of the unanimous conclusion to which she and her children after
many tearful consultations had come.

"Of course I must have some plan to put before him," the mother had said,
pathetically conscious that however helpless she felt she must by no means
appear to be so. "It would not do for us to have made no plans, after the
interest Mr. Boult has taken; and his fifty pounds."

"I wish we could chuck it in his face," Bernard said; he was well on his
way, poor boy, to exemplify the truth of the proverb that scornful dogs
eat dirty puddings.

"Of all the people who have given, Mr. Boult is the one I would most love
to send his money back to," Bessie agreed. "We may be able to wipe the
rest off our minds in time, but we shall never be allowed to forget the
fifty pounds of the detestable Boult."

"He was poor papa's friend--the only one. He was good to papa," Deleah
said, but to herself alone. For in that unhappy household was a law,
unwritten, unspoken, but binding none the less, that the name of the
husband and father should never be spoken.

"We must remember that the fifty pounds seems a great deal to him," Mrs.
Day reminded them. "The least we can do is to pay him the compliment of
telling him what we intend to do with the money."

However, she found, on interviewing George Boult, that no such delicate
attention was expected from her. The money he had raised was money for him
to handle--for the benefit of Mrs. Day and her children of course, but
without reference to what might be their feelings in the matter.

He was not a man to doubt his own wisdom, or to seek to confirm an opinion
with the approval of others, or to hesitate in the pursuit of a course
which to his perceptions appeared desirable. Also, having mapped out his
plan or set out on his chosen path he never afterwards allowed to himself
that there were others. A simple method which reduced to nothing for him
the chances of regret or mental worry.

He was an eminently successful tradesman. His draper's business, which had
been on a par with the businesses of half a dozen drapers when he had
originally started in Brockenham, was now easily the first of its kind,
not only in the town but in the county. It was natural that he should
believe in trade--natural that he should fix his faith to nothing else as
a means of money-making.

"There's nothing like business," he said to Mrs. Day.

She was seated in his private counting-room on the upper floor of the big
shop--it was half a dozen shops joined into one now. To reach that room
she had to pass through an ante-room full of entering clerks, busy at
their desks. They lifted their heads from their quill-driving to look at
the poor woman as she went by. She went with hanging head, her thick
widow's veil over her face, the thought in her mind, "Perhaps among the
poor clerks that collection of six shillings and ninepence had been made."
Perhaps one of the chilblain-fingered girls behind the counters down below
had been the "Sympathiser" to whom she had been indebted for a shilling.

She was humbled to the earth. It was so she would have described her
condition, as she walked to her interview with George Boult. If she had
been told that her heart, on the contrary, was filled with pride, and
beating high with rebellion, and that it was just the want of humility
within her, who yet contrived to present a humble bearing, which made
everything so unnecessarily painful, she would not have believed.

When, seated opposite to him at the small square leather-covered
writing-table in the draper's counting-house, she turned back her veil, he
noticed at once the ravages which grief and shame and anxiety had made in
her face. He was quick to notice, because, practical, hard-working,
hard-headed widower as he was, he had an eye for female beauty, and the
handsome dark face of his friend's wife--the woman who, in the days of her
haughtiness, had turned her back on him and kept him at arm's length--he
had unwillingly admired.

The face of Lydia Day now was that of a woman who had been plump but was
so no longer. The cheeks which had been firm and full were pendulous, the
healthily pale but brunette complexion was of a leaden pallor; in the
darkened skin beneath the deep-set, large dark eyes, little puckers
showed. Her figure, too, had fallen away. She had lost her proud,
self-assured carriage.

"It's finished her off, as far as looks go," George Boult said to himself,
not entirely without satisfaction. He was one of those who firmly believed
his friend's ruin lay at her door. William Day had robbed to minister to
his wife's extravagance and pride. It was well that she should be humbled.

"There is nothing like business," he repeated. "And I have decided to
invest the little capital of six hundred and forty-nine pounds and a few
odd shillings I have raised for you, in a business which will yield a good
return, and enable you to make a living for your two younger children. A
groshery business, in short."

"Grocery?" repeated Mrs. Day, gazing blankly at him.

"Groshery," he said shortly, and looked hardily at her with his lips set,
his chin stuck out, and his quick observant eyes on her face.

"Grocery?" she reiterated faintly, at a loss for anything else to say.

"You know that nice bright little business in Bridge Street? Carr's. Old
Jonas Carr's. He is retiring, you know--or perhaps you don't know--it's
been kept secret for business purposes. I am glad to have got hold of it
in the nick of time, and I am putting your little capital into the
business."

"Indeed!"

"It's a stroke of wonderful luck, I consider--its falling in, just now."

"But I do not quite understand. Will someone who is taking the shop allow
a good interest, do you mean?"

"Not exactly that, ma'am." He gave a sound that might have been caused by
a smothered chuckle, or have been meant for a snort of contempt, and going
from the table, placed himself upon the hearthrug, where he paused, making
a prayer perhaps for patience to be given him to deal with this fool in
her untrained, untaught folly.

"Not exactly," he went on. "I am taking the business for you to work,
ma'am. Jonas Carr is an old man now, but he has lived out of the business,
and brought up his children out of it, and this with only antiquated
methods. With new life put into the concern, and with altogether
up-to-date management, there is the making there, in my opinion--and I
think I may say my opinion on such a matter is of value--of an excellent
little business."

"For me to work?" Mrs. Day asked in feeble protest. "Me? A _grocery_
business?"

"Why not?" He eyed her relentlessly, biting his finger nails. "What did
you think you were going to do with the money which I have collected for
you? Spend it? And collect again?"

"Not that, Mr. Boult. Certainly not that." She looked down at the
black-gloved hands which lay in her lap. They trembled; to keep them
steady she caught them one in the other. "I have been talking it over with
my children, and we have decided, if you approve, to take a good-sized
house by the sea, where we could all live together, and take in lodgers.
That would be a way of making a living which would come easier to my girls
and me than any other."

"Easier? Yes. The misfortune is, ma'am, that the things which are easier
in the beginning are always difficult to finish up. We'll begin the other
way round, if you please." He bit the nail a minute longer, looked at it,
put it out of sight behind his coat tails. "Ah no; that scheme won't do at
all," he said, quite pleasantly. "I know these lodgings, and the miserable
women who keep them, and can only make ends meet by thieving the lodgers'
mutton. The groshery line is altogether on another shelf. You and your
daughters can not only make a living at it, you can make money. Make
money."

Mrs. Day lifted her head, tried to capture something of her old bearing,
tried to get a note of firmness into her voice. "I do not really think I
could keep a shop," she said. "Above all, a grocery shop. I could not
undertake it, Mr. Boult; and I am sure the girls would not like it at all;
nor my son."

"What then?" he asked her, very quiet.

"I think my own plan. The house by the sea. We should escape from
Brockenham, which we much wish to do; we should begin again where
we--where our story--is not known. For the children's sake it would be
best. For us all it would be more--suitable."

"But I have told you, ma'am, the plan is out of the question." He turned
from her and kicked the coal in the grate, working off his irritation in
that harmless fashion. Then, facing the poor lady again he adopted a tone
intended to show her he was not to be trifled with. "Understand at once,
Mrs. Day, I will be no party to the money subscribed on the tacit
understanding that it is to be properly invested for you and your
children, being thrown away in any such hopeless, silly fashion. Your
husband asked me to stand your friend; to do my best for you. As I
understand the position, you have no one else to look to?"

He paused, but she said nothing. William Day's relatives had been poorer,
less well placed than he. As he had risen he had left them behind,
forgotten them. Mrs. Day had been the only child of parents long since
dead.

"Since there is no one else, I am willing to be your friend--within
limits, of course. I have been instrumental in securing for you this sum
of money--many fortunes have been made with less. To begin with I did not
have half the capital. In doing so I made myself responsible for its being
put to a proper use. I intend to see that it is done."

Mrs. Day was mute. The eyes looking out from their dark-stained orbits
were hopeless.

Mr. Boult having paused for the reply which did not come, went on in a
lighter tone. "There is a very good-sized house over Carr's shop. I went
over it, and in deed into everything before deciding. There are six
bed-rooms and a living room of unusual size. This gives you the
opportunity of taking a lodger. I have already spoken to my new buyer
about it. My Manchester man. He is anxious to board with a pleasant
family, he tells me. So there you have a lodger ready to your hand, ma'am;
since you fancy lodgers."

Mrs. Day had a feeling of oppression in the breathless air of the
counting-house, of being smothered by George Boult. She untied the broad
strings of ribbon and crape of her widow's bonnet, and looked round
anxiously for a window. There was none, the counting-house being lighted
by a sky-light. Two big tears rolled down her cheeks, she drew a long
breath like a great sigh.

"I am giving my Manchester man a good salary," the draper went on. "He
would easily be able to spare you thirty shillings a week for board and
lodging, and I should not advise you to take a penny less."

Mrs. Day with an effort pulled herself together. "The man who is to manage
the shop would want a room in the house, I suppose?" she suggested.

"Manage the shop? What shop?"

"The shop you have been speaking of--the grocer's shop."

"You yourself will manage it," Boult said. "Nice bright little concern as
it is, the business won't keep a man; you will manage it, assisted on busy
days by your eldest daughter."

But although Mrs. Day could not fight for herself, she was capable of
defending her children. "To that I could not consent," she said; "I would
never allow Bessie--Bessie!--to wait in a grocer's shop."

"It would not hurt her, ma'am. It would do her good."

Mrs. Day was silent, but her silence was eloquent. With shaking fingers
she tied her bonnet strings--the wide black strings that wanted pulling
out, the narrow white ones which must be arranged above them.

Boult, seeing that she was preparing to depart, assumed a more friendly
tone. "You must not feel that you are being hustled into this thing," he
said. "The money is, of course, in a sense, yours, although I have had to
decide what to do with it."

Mrs. Day rose to go, Boult came forward with his hand extended.

"Anything that has to do with the people's food or drink _pays_," he said
encouragingly. "If I had my time over again I would take up with the
groshery line instead of the drapery. People must have food, ma'am. They
must have it, even before frocks and furbelows."

"About Bernard?" Mrs. Day asked, waiving, not without dignity, the other
subject.

"I have thought of sending Bernard to Ingleby. I have opened a branch
there. It is not a big concern at present, of course, but the boy can
learn the business there, and if he has anything in him--I shall keep my
eye on him--he can come to us later."

Then he grasped the hand she unwillingly extended.

"You see I promised poor William," he told her, by way of explaining his
kind interest in her affairs. "And however thankless the task may be, I
shall keep my word."

She could not answer him, but when he released her hand she bowed her head
and went away.



Before Mrs. Day betook herself home she turned her feet in the direction
of Bridge Street. It was situated in a busy part of the town, but was only
a short and not by any means prosperous thoroughfare connecting two of the
principal streets. Standing on the opposite pavement Mrs. Day contemplated
the grocer's shop from which Mr. Jonas Carr was retiring. His name in
small white letters was painted on the black lintel of the door: "Jonas
Carr, licensed to sell tobacco and snuff." A dingy-looking little shop;
not such a shop as any of those on which the wife of William Day had
bestowed her custom, and she had never been within its door.

The three windows above the shop looked dirty, and closely over them were
stretched dirty lace curtains. The windows on the higher floor were
dirtier still, and in place of the lace curtains were crooked-hanging
blinds.

Poor Mrs. Day set her lips tightly as she looked. Then she crossed the
street and entered the shop. Mr. Carr, behind the counter, a toothless,
unpleasant-looking old man, was exhibiting in an apathetic manner a piece
of fat bacon to a customer.

"You can have the streaky if you prefer it," he said.

The customer did prefer the streaky, and took it, half wrapped, under her
shawl, and went.

"And what for you, pray?"

Mrs. Day asked for a quarter of a pound of tea, and while he served her
looked about at the dark little dirty shop with its mingled odours.

When she left the establishment of Jonas Carr her spirits had risen. The
whole thing was ludicrous. Imagine the name of Lydia Day, "licensed to
sell tobacco and snuff," painted over the door! Imagine her--her!--behind
the counter of that squalid little shop! Imagine Bessie, and her exquisite
young Deleah passing their lives in that upper room behind the net
curtains! It was ridiculous, grotesque, impossible, and could not be.

But she was to find with astonishingly small waste of time that it could
be.

And it was.



CHAPTER X

Exiles From Life's Revels


For the first year that Mrs. Day waited behind the counter of the Bridge
Street shop more trade was done there than in the most prosperous period
of old Jonas Carr's tenancy. Quite half the ladies of Brockenham left
their particular grocers to bestow their custom on the widow. From
kindness of heart, from curiosity, from the impulse to do as others were
doing, people flocked to purchase their tea and sugar of Lydia Day,
licensed also to supply them, if desired, with tobacco and snuff. George
Boult's prognostications of the success of the venture seemed to be more
than fulfilled.

Bessie stoutly refusing to go into the shop--it took more than George
Boult to manage Bessie!--he was constrained to sanction the engaging of a
youth to assist behind the counter. Mr. Pretty, therefore--he was called
"Mr." for business purposes, his tender years hardly entitling him to the
designation--and a boy to go errands, composed the staff.

From eight in the morning till eight at night the shop was open; and even
when it was supposed to be closed, Mrs. Day could not enjoy an undisturbed
rest with her daughters and Franky in their upstairs sitting-room. For the
neighbouring tradesmen, all of whom had stretched out friendly hands to
the poor lady so unwillingly becoming one of them, had the bad habit of
forgetting to make their purchases till after shop hours, when they would
send their maids-of-all-work to the private door for the supper cheese, or
the breakfast coffee they had too late discovered they were "out of."

Bessie and Deleah fought against the humouring of these out-of-season
customers. Often they attempted to hold their tired mother forcibly in her
chair when she would arise to go to them. "Let people get their goods at
regulation hours, or refuse to serve them," said the Manchester man, now
an inmate of the Day household. But when the grievance was put before
George Boult he was of a different opinion.

"Refuse to serve them over-night, and they go somewhere else in the
morning," he asserted. "The maxim I have held by all my life is, 'Business
is Never Done.' And you may take my word for it, ma'am, _successful_
business never is done. Write that out on a card, Miss Bessie, and hang it
over your mantelpiece."

"No, thank you," from a scornful Bessie with an averted head. "As it
happens I don't at all agree with you, Mr. Boult."

So poor Mrs. Day, who did not grumble, but who nevertheless knew herself
to be a martyr, would rise from her delicious rest in her chair over the
fire, accompanied by Deleah to hold the candle, would descend to the
cellar to cut the cheese--both the women were terrified of the cellar, the
unilluminated caves and corners, the beetles, the rats. In the shop again,
they would take down one of the monster green canisters, purchased of the
retiring Jonas Carr for the purpose of striking awe into the bosoms of
customers, but a few of which did, of a truth, hold tea, and select the
special mixture to the taste of the laggard customer. It was an
aggravation of the hardship when, in place of the maid, the mistress would
run in. In that case Mrs. Day must stand for a half hour to listen to talk
of the neighbour's children's colds, the neighbour's servant's
delinquencies, the neighbour's husband's shortcomings.

Bessie was always cross with her mother when she returned. "It makes
everything so uncomfortable and spoils the evening," she complained. "The
only time we have for comfort, mama. You might remember!"

As the Christmas season approached Mr. Boult was inspired with an idea
which was productive of good commercial results, but was the cause of
added extreme discomfort to them all. Mrs. Day, he ordained, was not only
to advertise home-made mincemeat, but to make the mincemeat at home, and
of a quality not procurable in shops. The housewives of Brockenham made
their own mincemeat because the article on the market was not palatable,
the tyrant of the family declared. Every one of them would be glad to be
saved trouble. Then, let Mrs. Day, for whom he had procured an excellent
receipt, make it for them. The sale would be enormous.

So they advertised the precious stuff from the beginning of December; and
from a fortnight before this time to the end of the second week in
January, the little family worked at stoning raisins (there were no
machines to make the task easy then), chopping almonds and suet and apples
and orange peel, late into the night, and sometimes on into the early
hours of the morning.

For the sale, as predicted, was great. It taxed the powers of the women to
their utmost to keep up the supply. Orders poured in, orders were
repeated; customers called to assure Mrs. Day that while she lived to do
it for them they would never be bothered to make the stuff again. Others
came with the intention to wheedle the receipt from the shop-woman. Such
was the unbusiness-like disposition of the poor creature, she would at
once have surrendered it, had the prescription been hers to give. But
George Boult, knowing with whom he had to deal, had laid an embargo on the
property.

It was during the stress of that first Christmas in Bridge Street that the
relations between the Days and their boarder, the Manchester man, hitherto
somewhat strained and distant, became easy and familiar.

Beside the comfortable chair in the chimney corner which had been
apportioned him, a small table was drawn up which held, always ready to
his use, his tobacco jar, his pipe, his book, his papers. To this, the
evening meal which he shared with the family over, he would retire,
preferring silence and, generally pretended, absorption in his book to the
obtrusion of his conversation on the widow and her daughters. But in the
harassment of the time of mincemeat the lodger's shyness evaporated or his
reserve broke down. He could not see women, dropping with sleep and
weariness, working themselves half to death over their hated tasks while
he sat at ease with his pipe and his newspaper.

"Why should you ladies spend your evenings in the kitchen?" he asked. "It
is comfortabler in here. Chop your plums and grate your nutmegs and things
here. You won't disturb me."

Bessie at once demurred. "We will keep our sitting-room, at least, free of
the shop, thank you," she said.

"If Mr. Gibbon doesn't like being in here alone, mayn't he bring his pipe
and see us chop in the kitchen," Franky suggested.

The lodger had become possessed of a pistol, bought second-hand, with a
view to practise on the stray cats who made a happy meeting-place of the
Days' back yard. But, one of the girls proving tender-hearted on the
subject of cats, bottles were substituted, Franky being admitted to the
perfect joy of seeing Mr. Gibbon try to hit them from his bedroom window.
An honour and privilege highly appreciated by the child.

Mr. Gibbon would not bring his pipe, but presently he appeared among them,
and drew up a chair to the table between Bessie and Deleah, and proceeded
quite cleverly to cut up the orange and lemon peel, a task allotted him by
Deleah.

"It is quite the nicest and least messy of all the things," she told him.

Deleah was careful at all times to show little special politeness to their
boarder. She had it on her mind that he lived among them, lonely and
apart, and often anxiously she pondered in her own mind the question did
poor Mr. Gibbon get his money's worth?

"Deleah always chops the candied peel herself," Bessie explained. "She
eats it, and feeds Franky on it. Mama, I should think Deda will soon take
all the profit off your mincemeat if she eats the citron peel."

"Don't eat the citron peel, my dear," mama dutifully admonished the pretty
younger daughter.

"Only the tiniest little bit, mama. Kind of hard bits that you can't cut
up. Bessie can take my place, and I can grate the nutmegs if she likes."

"But last night, Miss Deleah grated her thumb as well. We can't have any
of your thumbs, Miss Deleah, in the mincemeat."

It was Emily who made that observation. Emily who had gone into the family
nineteen years ago as nurse to the eldest child. She had stuck by them in
their reverse of fortune--indeed it had never entered either her mind or
theirs, so completely had the long service made her one of them, that she
could do anything else--and she now occupied the position of "general" in
the upstairs kitchen of Bridge Street. She was chopping suet at the
present moment, standing apart, at a side table, because Bessie had
declared that to see the suet cut made her feel ill.

"Miss Bessie's more nice than wise," Emily commented; but she removed her
material from the young lady's vicinity.

"I'm glad to know that I'm nice, at any rate," Bessie said, with her head
on one side. "So long as I'm nice, Emily--?"

"Oh there's more than me in the world that think you that, I suppose, Miss
Bessie."

"I don't know, I'm sure," Miss Bessie languidly murmured. "I only know I'm
very tired."

"Give up for to-night then, dear, and go to bed."

"Nonsense, mama. As if I could leave you all! Why should not I work as
well as poor Mr. Gibbon, for instance?"

"Some are made for work and some aren't, I suppose," that gentleman said,
with a side glance at Bessie's white hands. "I'm one of the workers. I
don't mind tackling your nutmegs after I've finished my lemons, if you'll
say the word, Miss Bessie."

"Mama, I wonder what Mr. Boult would say if he came in now and found me
working like a slave at ten o'clock at night?"

"Nothing complimentary, dear, I fear."

"Horrid, rude man! Yesterday afternoon he found me sitting over the fire
reading. I was in your comfortable chair, Mr. Gibbon--I hope you don't
mind?"

"I hope you'll always do it the honour of sitting in it, Miss Bessie; and
you, Miss Deleah--"

"I was gloriously comfortable; and Mr. Boult took upon him to lecture me."

"Well, he doesn't stop at much! but how he ever screws up his courage to
lecture _you_, Miss Bessie, passes everything," said the polite Manchester
man.

"I thought you'd be surprised," and Miss Day smiled obliquely at the
nutmegs. "He called me names, too."

"Names, Bessie! Surely not! What can you mean by 'names'?"

"He called me a drone, mama. A drone in a busy hive."

"And how did you answer him, Bessie?"

"I just went on, toasting my toes at the fire, and reading my book."

"And what then, Miss Bessie?"

"Oh, then he sat down opposite to me and preached me a sermon. A sermon of
five minutes, by the clock. He said--"

"We don't want to hear any sermons, thank you," from a petulant, tired
Franky. In the stress of their work the poor child's hour for retiring was
often overlooked.

"Go to bed, Franky. Go off, this minute. Mama, send Franky to bed."

"Oh, go at once to bed, my darling boy."

Franky, crying that he wanted to sit by Deleah and see her cut the citron
peel, was removed: "I hate Bessie," he announced at the door.

"Go! spoilt little wretch!" cried Bessie, threatening him with the nutmeg
grater. "Mama, Franky is becoming as rude as a horrid little street boy."

"Never mind, my dear. Tell me what Mr. Boult said in the sermon."

"He said my happiness as well as my duty was to work. He said my
'peevishness,' and my 'nervy fits'--wasn't it rude of him!--came from
idleness. He did, Mr. Gibbon, he said it in so many words."

"I hope you gave him one for hisself, Miss Bessie?"

"Oh, I hope not!" from an alarmed mother.

"It is what he wants, ma'am; and it is what he never gets. It is bully,
bully, bully, all the day, with the governor. And unless Miss Bessie
stands up to him--"

"You may trust me not to be afraid. All the rest are afraid. Not I! I just
raised my eyes to him, and said 'I wonder you dare to use such words to
me, Mr. Boult!' You should have seen him look! 'It's because I take an
interest in you,' he said; quite quiet, like any other man. It does him
good to snub him, mama."

"It was kind of him to say he takes an interest," Deleah put in.

"Now if he was only a handsome young gentleman, and Miss Bessie could take
an interest in him, there'd be more sense," Emily remarked from her side
table.

"Don't be such a ridiculous old thing, Emily!"

"Well, he've got his kerridge!"

"And a pretty sight he looks driving in it! podgy, fat, vulgar man!"

"Miss Bessie would never look twice in that direction, I'm sure," Mr.
Gibbon declared, and Mrs. Day gave one of her now seldom heard laughs.

"How can you all talk such nonsense?" she said.

"Oh, do let us do it!" Deleah pleaded. "It so helps with the citron peel,
mama."

Deleah said very little in those days. The shock, the grief for the cruel
end of a father, for all his faults most dearly loved, told more on her
than on any of his other children. She had not felt the sense of injury
against him which had helped Bessie to support the tragedy of his death,
nor had she Bessie's engrossing preoccupations with herself, her looks,
her fancies, her love affairs. Bernard at George Boult's little branch
shop in the country town of Ingleby, chained body and soul to the heavy
drudgery of uncongenial occupation, thought of his father only with rage
and resentment. Franky, childlike, had apparently forgotten.

Deleah could not forget. Night by night her pillow was wet with tears shed
for him on whose neck she had sobbed for those never-to-be-forgotten
minutes of his last night on earth. She tortured herself with a secret,
unearned remorse. Forgetting her habitual love and dutifulness, her mind
would dwell on some remembered occasion when she told herself she had
failed him. When she had pretended not to notice a hand held out for hers,
or had shirked some little service she might have done him.

Of none such small sins against him had the father been aware, but she was
tormented by the belief that she had wounded him. He seemed ever to be
looking at her with reproachful eyes. She forgot his ill temper, his
unlovableness, his want of consideration for any one but himself, during
the last wretched weeks of his sojourn among them, and saw him only as he
had been upon that last night before his trial, heard always the great sob
which had seemed to rend his chest as she had leant upon it.

Her seventeenth birthday was past now, and it seemed to her mother that
her young daughter had grown of a still more exceeding prettiness. Poor
Mrs. Day often longed for a sympathetic ear into which to breathe her
maternal admiration. With Bessie the subject of Deleah's beauty was like a
red rag to a bull. Emily, the general and confidential friend of the
family, was not an altogether satisfactory confidante on that matter,
because in her eyes, blinded by affection, the whole family was equally
beautiful.

"You've got handsome children, ma'am. I've knowed it since folk used to
crowd round my pram to have a look at them when I wheeled 'em out, times
gone by, as babies. Ofttimes the pavement got blocked, as you've heard me
mention before. There's no two opinions about their looks, and we know
which side they got them from."

There were no two opinions about that, at any rate. Not even the most
charitable critic could have credited poor William Day with good looks;
and the tired pathetic face of his widow was a handsome face still.



CHAPTER XI

The Attractive Bessie


Having been permitted to take his place among them, and to chop material
for mincemeat at their kitchen table, it was felt by them all that their
boarder could never be a stranger to the widow and her children again.
Through pride and through shyness they had held him at arm's length, but
now that they had joked together about George Boult's peculiarities, and
he had ventured with playful force to take the nutmeg grater from Bessie's
weary fingers, valiantly completing her task himself, it would have been
impossible, even if desirable, to return to their earlier relations.

Bessie, who had treated him with a carefully masked hauteur in the
beginning, was among the first to place him on terms of easy familiarity.
She had strongly resented the inclusion of a stranger in their family
circle, and presently was welcoming his presence there as supplying the
one item of interest in the _ménage_.

"A year ago, mama, we should not have admitted Mr. Boult's Manchester man
to the same table with us. And now, here we are keeping his plates hot, if
he comes in late, and telling him all our secrets."

"Mama and I don't tell Mr. Gibbon any secrets," Deleah said.

"I dare say Mr. Gibbon does not want to hear them. As for me I find, when
you live in the same house with a man, it's impossible to keep him at
arm's length."

"Who wants to keep him at arm's length? I only mentioned I did not feel
called upon to tell him any secrets."

"And I only said he wouldn't care to hear your secrets--if you have any."

"I haven't," Deleah admitted, laughing.

"I have, then. And I shall tell them to who I like, spite of Deda's
pertness, mama."

"Say to 'whom you like,' Bessie."

"Mama, will you speak to Deleah? She is being impertinent to me again."

How impossible it would have been to entertain Reggie Forcus and Mr.
Gibbon at the same board, Bessie often felt. But the days when Reggie had
dropped in to meals with the prosperous Days in Queen Anne Street were
over for ever. Half a loaf was better than no bread. To know that a male
creature, who could not be indifferent to her, was an inmate of the house
was as she often said to herself--something.

She took no interest in him, of course. A young man out of a draper's
shop! But it was more amusing to subjugate even such an one as he than to
have no one at her feet.

So, at the hour when Boult's great shutters went up over the front of the
six shops in Market Street, and the Manchester man was free to go to his
evening meal, Bessie took an extreme care to be ready to receive him. She
had allowed herself to become a little slovenly over her appearance in the
day-time--who was there to look at her, or care what she wore in the
sitting-room over the shop? But by supper-time she would have changed into
her most becoming frock, would have arranged her hair to the greatest
advantage, would have rubbed with a rough towel, or beaten with a
hair-brush the plump, fair cheeks she considered too pale.

There was always an irregularity about the meals in the Day family. The
shopkeeper was often kept below for an hour after the time she should have
been seated at the board above, and when she was detained in such a way,
Deleah would always stay too, to help her mother. But Bessie had ordained
that the meal should go on without them. It was not right that a man, at
work all day, should be kept waiting for his food at night. And so it
often happened that he and she would sit, _tête-à-tête_, over the cold
meat and pickles, of which, with the addition of bottled beer for the
boarder, the meal consisted.

Many intimate items of her own heart history did Bessie confide to the
politely attentive ear of Mr. Charles Gibbon. She did not receive
confidences in return, or ask for them. What could the young shopman have
to relate to compare with the interest attending Bessie's revelations?

He was no prince in disguise as it would have been so pleasant to discover
him to be--this short, thickly-made, middle-aged man, with the prominent,
bright, dark eyes, the large dark head, the knobbly red forehead, whose
parents had kept a small draper's shop in a small market-town in the
county.

What could a man so born and nurtured have to give Bessie in return for
the stories of the high life to which she had been accustomed? But he must
consider himself flattered by Bessie's condescension, he must see how
attractive she looked seated beneath the three-branched bronze gas-burner
to preside at his supper.

Emily, bringing in the hot sweet pudding to replace the cold meat, would
wag a facetiously warning head at the young lady behind the back of the
unconscious Mr. Gibbon. "Don't you go leading that nice young chap on to
make a fool of hisself over you, Miss Bessie," she would caution the girl,
the next day.

"He can take care of himself. Make your mind quite easy," Bessie would
answer, well pleased. She loved to discuss such topics with her devoted
admirer, Emily, and liked to be accused of breaking hearts.

"We shall be late for supper again," Mrs. Day, busy with daybook and
ledger in the shop, would say to the young daughter beside her.

"Never mind, mama. Perhaps it is charity not to hurry," Deleah on one
occasion responded.

"Oh, nonsense, dear!" said Mrs. Day, looking up with alarm in her tired
eyes.

"Well, if Mr. Gibbon is in love with Bessie?"

"'If,' indeed!"

"That will be the end of it. You'll see."

"The end indeed, Deleah!"

"You think Bessie would not take him?"

"Bessie will, at least, wait till he asks her."

"But should you object, mama? He is not a gentleman, I suppose; Bessie
says he's not. But I think we've got to accept things and people and our
place, as we are; not always to be looking back to what used to be. I
often wish Bessie would see it like that, mama."

"We should be all happier if we could, I have no doubt," poor Mrs. Day
sighed. The poor lady could not always keep before her mind the fate of
Lot's wife, and often cast longing eyes towards the pleasant, easeful land
that had been home.

"And I am not always inclined to take Bessie's opinion as to what is a
lady or what is a gentleman."

"Bessie does not think so much as you do, Deleah."

"I don't know that I think: I feel," Deleah explained.

While she waited for her mother to finish her books she was weighing out
and making up into half-ounce packets the tobacco Lydia Day was licensed
to sell. She dropped her voice to a more confidential tone, although she
and her mother were alone in the shop, where they were doing their
evening's work by the aid of the one melancholy gas-burner, to which they
restricted themselves after business hours. It gave insufficient light for
the low-ceilinged, narrow length of the place.

"Do you think, mama, Bessie ought to be always saying horrid things about
Mr. Boult? Making fun of him, mimicking him, complaining of everything he
does; not only to you and me, but to Mr. Gibbon? to Emily--to any one who
will listen? Do you think a lady--what you and I think a lady, not what
Bessie thinks--would do that?"

"Bessie is sensitive--and very proud. We must not forget that--poor
Bessie! And Mr. Boult's methods are not always pleasant, Deleah."

"No. But he has been our friend. He has stuck to us. Who else has, of all
the people with whom we were friendly? And we were never nice to him, in
the old days--not asking him to our parties, you remember, and never being
friendly to him on Sunday afternoons. Oh, how I wish we had been, mama!"

Mrs. Day acquiesced, but not with enthusiasm. She did not like George
Boult well enough to regret having kept him at arm's length while she
could.

"I am sure we ought to be grateful to him," Mrs. Day admitted. She was
very tired; the scent of the tobacco Deleah was pulling about, staining
the tips of her small white fingers, was in her nostrils; she did not feel
especially grateful.

"Then, when Bessie is laying down the law about what a lady should do I
wish you would remind her, mama, that a lady must show gratitude for
kindness."

"And why, my dear, are you suddenly fighting the battles of poor Mr.
Boult?"

"That is a secret," Deleah said. "But one day, if you are good, I will
tell you."



The sitting-room, with supper nicely laid, with Bessie nicely dressed,
fair and plump and attractive in the gas light, happily chatting to Mr.
Gibbon, looked a Paradise of Rest in the eyes of poor wearied Mrs. Day.
The room was in fact a very pleasant one; long, low, with broad seats
before each of the three windows looking into the street; with a tall and
narrow oak mantelpiece opposite the three windows; with panelled oak
walls, heavy oak rafters, supporting the low ceiling, old brass finger
plates high up on the oaken door--all as in the days when old Jonas Carr's
grandfather first kept shop in Bridge Street. It was made sweet with
flowers too. A basket of pink tulips set in moss occupied the central
position on the supper-table, and some pots of primulas, fully in bloom,
were on the window-seats; above that window upon the corner of whose seat
Miss Deleah Day liked to sit, her slight and supple body curled into as
small as possible a space in order not to incommode the primulas, a brass
birdcage holding a canary was hung.

Bessie was carrying on an animated but evidently confidential conversation
with the boarder, as mother and daughter came into the room.

"He was riding past again to-day," she was saying. "I took care that he
should not have the pleasure of thinking I was looking out for him; but
peeping behind the curtains I could see him gazing up at the window. What
consolation the poor thing finds in just looking at a window I'm sure I
don't know."

"He sees you there, Miss Bessie. Or hopes to see you."

"You can't see me from the street."

"From the opposite pavement you can. I know, because I have seen Miss
Deleah sitting there; with her book, and the bird, and the flowers."

Bessie's attention was caught by that piece of intelligence. "Can you? Are
you sure?" she asked; and at that moment, unpropitious for her, Deleah
appeared with her mother.

"Mama! When Deda sits on the window-seat in the corner she can be seen
from the street!"

"Well, my dear?"

"Well, mama! You don't wish Deda to make herself conspicuous, I suppose?"

"Who says I make myself conspicuous?" an ireful Deleah demands. "Who has
been saying anything about me?"

"I," the Manchester man hurriedly admits. "I did not say you were
conspicuous, Miss Deleah. I only said I had seen you sitting there with
your book--among the flowers."

"She is not to sit there again, mama. Will you please say so? Deda, you
are not to sit in the window again. We can't help living above a grocer's
shop, but we need not make a display of ourselves."

"If it offends Mr. Gibbon he does not need to look at the window. I shall
certainly sit there if I wish."

"Come, come, my dears. There is enough about it. Pray let us have supper
in peace."

"You've had a tiring day, ma'am," says Mr. Gibbon. "Let me persuade you to
have a glass of ale with your beef, to-night. Just to revive you. Forcus's
Family Ale is the finest pick-me-up."

"Reggie Forcus has ridden past three times this afternoon, mama," Bessie
informed her parent. Then turned sharply on her sister, "You were at
school, miss."

"I met him as I came away," said Deleah, seating herself at the table. "I
wish the pleasure had been yours instead of mine, Bessie."

"Did he stop to speak?"

"Of course he stopped. He always stops."

"Well?"

"He asked for you."

"He always does, I suppose?"

"Always."

"There!" said Bessie on the note of triumph, looking round.

"There!" echoed Deleah as she helped herself to the mustard Mr. Gibbon was
offering her.

"Mama, do you hear Deda? She is not to mock me."

"Bread, Miss Deleah? Pickles, Mrs. Day?" hastily interposes an obsequious
Mr. Gibbon. He was assiduous in his attentions on the ladies, ever
anxiously polite and kind. That he found his happiness among them and was
eager to gain and to retain their favour he plainly showed. If he
sometimes jarred on their fastidiousness he did not know it.

"Any interesting incident in the day's trade, ma'am?" he asked, as he
busied himself in supplying their wants.

Nothing much. The Quaker lady had been again for sugar. Again Mrs. Day had
unconditionally pledged herself that the canes from which it had been
derived had not been grown by slaves.

"And have they?" Deleah asked.

"I'm sure, my dear, I don't know if they have or they haven't," a harassed
grocer-woman acknowledged. Her conscience was becoming blunted in the
stress and strain of business life. "She took a pound of it as usual, and
that's all I can say about it."

"But, mama! For the sake of the profit on a pound of sugar!"

"There's no profit on it at all, Bessie. If she had taken a quarter of a
pound of tea with it there would have been three-ha'pence into our
pockets. But she did not. So you see I perjured myself for nothing."

"Don't let the thought trouble you for an instant, ma'am," Mr. Gibbon
advised. "None of us can afford to be too nice in trade. We've got to
live, Miss Bessie. Customers don't think so--they'd skin us if they
could--but we have. I'm of Mr. Boult's mind on that subject, although
there isn't much I uphold him in. 'Let us do our best for the public while
it pays reasonable prices,' he says, 'and when it won't, let us _do_ the
public.'"

"All that is so low, Mr. Gibbon."

"But it's business, Miss Bessie. Business is low."

"Oh, don't let us talk about it now," Deleah pleads.

"Deleah has a secret. She's dying to tell us all," Deleah's mother said.

"It's something Deleah's been up to!"

"No, Bess. Calm yourself. Calm all yourselves."

"But how can we? Out with it, darling."

"It's nothing, mama."

"Nothing?"

"Only an idea of mine."

"Something you've been and made up, Deda!"

"Something I'm as sure of, Bessie, as I am that you're always dying to
find fault with me. Thank you, Mr. Gibbon, I've got _three_ pieces of
bread already, look!"

"You've handed Deleah bread three times in as many minutes, Mr. Gibbon."

"Hand the bread _only_ to Bessie, Mr. Gibbon. (Mama, I _must_ answer
_sometimes_.")

"We're waiting for the secret, dear."

"It's about our mysterious presents, mama. Mr. Gibbon, you have heard us
talk about our unknown benefactor who loads us with delightful things, and
yet is so ungenerous he won't give us the pleasure of saying 'thank you.'"

Yes. Mr. Gibbon had heard that there was some one who sometimes sent Miss
Deleah flowers.

"They're always sent to Deleah--but I suppose they're meant for all of
us," Bessie said.

"And because they came in my name only, gave me the first clue," Deleah
said. "Let me see, we began with violets, didn't we? And in January, when
they were scarce and expensive. Lovely bunches of violets 'for Miss
Deleah.' Miss Deleah's name done in printing characters, so that no one
should discover by the handwriting. Then we went on to a basket of
sweets--sweets of my very most particular kind, such as none of us can
afford any longer to look at. Oh, my mouth waters to think of them even
now! No, I didn't ask for any more water in my glass, thank you, Mr.
Gibbon."

"We all know what you had, Deleah; we thought we were going to hear who
sent them."

"Patience! Patience, good people all! Let me see, what came next? Oh, the
bird in the cage. And there he is still in his cage for you all to see,"
and Deleah leant back in her chair, and threw her pretty head over her
shoulder to look at the canary hanging above the left-hand window where
was her favourite seat. "Then the azalea. The lovely rose-pink azalea; and
after that--oh, I forget. But always something coming--something that we
cannot afford to buy, but which has made our sitting-room delightful; and
horrid Bridge Street a bearable place to live in. Now you have all been
dying to find out who it is that has given us these delightful things; but
I have always known; and at last I am going to tell you."

"Then, if you knew you should have told us. Deda ought not to have been so
sly about it, mama, if she knew."

"We shall each have one guess; and Bessie, as a reward for her
good-nature, shall have the first. Now, Bessie?"

"I've known all along, too, miss. And what's more, I've known that
although they were sent to you, they were meant for me. Reggie Forcus."

"Wrong. Here is Emily with the pudding. Emily, you shall have a guess; who
is it who sends the flowers, and the books and the birds in the cages--?"

"One of the masters at the school that has fell in love with you, Miss
Deleah." Emily gave her opinion without hesitation, going on with her
business of changing the plates.

"Wrong again, Mr. Gibbon? Now, I give you a tip. Think of the least likely
person in all the world."

"The Quaker lady who objects to slave-grown sugar."

Deleah laughed as she shook her head. "That is most ingenious. And would
be delightful; but it is wrong. Now, mama. The least likely person in all
the world, remember."

"Mr. George Boult."

"Mama has it. It is Mr. Boult."

"Oh, my dear child, I hope not!"

"Scrooge?" cried Bessie. "Never!" Bessie herself had bestowed the name of
Scrooge on the successful draper, to whom, as far as his personal
appearance went, it was absurdly inappropriate.

"It is Scrooge;--a converted Scrooge; and I, I suppose, am Tiny Tim. And
he has heaped benefits on me, mama; meaning thereby to benefit the
family."

"Oh, my dear, it can't be! I am sure you are wrong, Deleah. Mr. Gibbon, do
say she is wrong. It can't possibly be Mr. Boult."

Mr. Gibbon only threw back his head and loudly laughed.

Deleah was a little hurt that the boarder should have forgone his usual
careful politeness to receive the exposition of her idea with ridicule.
She contemplated him gravely till he stopped laughing and gazed with an
apologetic, anxious gravity in his protruding, extraordinarily speaking
eyes back at her. Then she turned from him to her mother.

"Why do you think it impossible, mama? Because Mr. Boult can't _say_
agreeable things is no reason he cannot do them. Don't you know that there
are poor shut-up souls who want to be nice, who long to be loved--who have
to speak in the dumb language because they can't articulate?"

"Miss Deleah is right. That is so. That is so!" Mr. Gibbon eagerly
affirmed.

"Well, then, Mr. Boult isn't blessed with a tongue to say smooth things;
but the bird in the cage, the basket of sweets, the rose-pink azalea--they
are his kind and polite speeches."

"My dear, what nonsense!" cried Mrs. Day, who did not wish to believe in
Mr. Boult as the author of such agreeable attentions.

But the Manchester man assented with enthusiasm: "Miss Deleah is right,
ma'am," he said. "A man who could not get at Miss Deleah to say things to
her might try to say them so."

"And you think Mr. Boult wants to say things to Deleah?" a scornful Bessie
demanded.

"No, I don't, since you ask me. No, Miss Bessie."

"I should think not! And why, pray, should he have pitched on Deda?"

"Oh, why should any one pitch on me?" Deleah asks, lays down knife and
fork, spreads hands abroad, as if inviting with exaggerated humility an
inspection of her poor claims to favouritism.

"But--if it were Mr. Boult I think I can understand why it might be
Deleah," Mrs. Day said slowly, looking down. She was remembering how her
poor husband had made no secret of the fact that the younger girl was his
pet; and she recalled also that for her father's sake it was Deleah who
treated the arrogant, tyrannical man with unfailing respect and courtesy.

"Yes. And I can understand it too, mama," Deleah softly said.

"Well, them that live'll see," Emily remarked sententiously as she removed
the remains of the sago pudding.



CHAPTER XII

The Attractive Deleah


An engagement had been secured for Deleah Day as assistant English
governess at a ladies' school. At Miss Chaplin's seminary she was employed
in hearing lessons learnt by heart from Brewers' _Guide to Knowledge,
Mangnall's Questions_, Mrs. Markham's _History of England_; in reading
aloud while her pupils tatted or crocheted mats and antimacassars; in
struggling with them through the intricacies, never mastered by herself,
of Rule of Three and Vulgar Fractions, from nine every morning till five
every afternoon; with the exception of the Wednesday, when there was a
half-holiday, and the Saturday, when there was no school at all.

The slightness of Deleah's figure and the fragility of her small face,
with its innocent, unconscious allurement, were increased by the black
garments she still wore. To cast off her mourning for her unhappy father
would be, she felt, a slight to him.

"It is as if Bessie had forgotten," she said to herself, seeing her sister
in the blues and pinks in which she began as summer came on again to array
herself, for supper and the Manchester man. "I do not forget."

Black was not a fashionable wear in that age, only being used for
mourning. A woman wearing black did it to proclaim she sorrowed for the
dead. The sentiment attached to her sable garments heightened the interest
awakened by Deleah's slight form and her winsome face;--made her clear
skin paler; made her eyes shine more jewel-like beneath the fine line of
her black brows.

Among the members of her own sex were, at the period of her eighteenth
birthday, all the captives to her charms of which Deleah was aware. There
is no such ardent lover as a schoolgirl when she conceives a passion for
another girl at school; and half a dozen of the little pupils at Miss
Chaplin's were head over ears in love with Deleah Day. They sighed at her,
their adoring eyes clung to her face, they suffered agonies of jealousy
through her. They were cast down by a word, elated by a smile.

One of the girls then acquiring a polite education at Miss Chaplin's
seminary remembers to this day how she slept, night after night, with a
glove--such a worn and shabby glove--of the young English teacher beneath
her pillow. She possesses still an album called "The Deleah Book," wherein
is pasted an atrocious photograph--all photographs (cartes-de-visite they
were called)--were libellous and atrocious in those days--of a girl in a
black frock, the skirt a little distended at the feet by the small hoop of
the day, a short black jacket, with black hair parted in the middle over a
smudge of a face and gathered into a net at the back of the neck. Beneath
it is written Deleah's name and the date.

In "The Deleah Book," too, are treasured, scrawled there in the schoolgirl
writing, the words of wit and wisdom gathered from the idol's lips,
together with such precious items of information and memorabilia as the
following:

"Tennyson is the favourite poet of D. D."

"Of all flowers the rose is the Queen, and is the best loved of D. D."

"To remember to keep back unkind words. D. D."

"If we knew all we should find there are excuses for all. D. D."

"(Note). Burnt almonds are the favourite sweet of D. D. and 'Abide with
Me' is D. D.'s favourite hymn."

Their ways lying in the same direction, it was this young devotee who was
privileged to walk home with the passionately admired D. D. On a certain
afternoon as they made their way through the quiet streets of the old town
their talk was of a long-advertised concert to take place that evening, at
which a great singer was to appear.

"How much you will enjoy it, Kitty," Deleah was saying with a little
girlish longing. "Not only the concert, but everything. Let me picture it.
You will run home when you leave me--me in horrid Bridge Street!--and in
your bedroom there will be a fire lit, and on the bed your pretty evening
frock will be spread, and your lace petticoat, and your silk stockings--"

"Oh, how do you know all that, Miss Day? You know everything! But I shan't
enjoy the concert a bit. I shall not. Do you know why? Because you will
not be there."

"Oh, nonsense, Kitty! Nonsense! Nonsense!"

"I shall be thinking of you all the time, and wishing--oh wishing! Miss
Day, do you believe it is true that if we keep on wishing with all our
strength--not a selfish pig of a wish, you know, but something nice for
another person--the wish ever, _ever_ comes true?"

"Every wish is as a prayer with God," quoted Deleah, unquestioning in her
child's heart the literal truth of the words.

"Then, Miss Day, this is not Kitty Miller walking with you any longer, but
one big solid Wish--Oh, there he is again, Miss Day! There is young Mr.
Forcus--look!"

"I see him. I am not going to stop. Let us walk on quicker, Kitty."

"Isn't it strange that he should always be riding here, just when we come
out of school, Miss Day?"

"Never mind. No; you are not to look round, Kitty."

"How _beautifully_ he pulls off his hat! He had a most dreadfully
disappointed look when you would not stop, Miss Day. I think you are very
cruel."

"Never mind. No, Kitty! Don't, dear. No lady looks back when a gentleman
passes her."

(A new entry appeared in "The Deleah Book" that night: "No lady looks
round when a gentleman passes her. D. D.")

"Miss Day!"--with a soft, irrepressible giggle--"He has turned his horse
and is riding after us."

"Never mind. Let us hurry on."

But when the mare was pulled up beside her, her hoofs clattering on the
cobble-stones of the street, Miss Day, in spite of herself, must stop.

"How do, Deleah?" Kitty Miller had again the privilege of seeing how
beautifully the hat came off, exposing for quite an appreciable time the
young man's fair, smooth head. "Whoa, Nance!" to the satin-skinned, black
mare, who objected to being pulled into the gutter running by the side of
the pavement. "I say--there was something I particularly wanted to say to
you, Deleah. Whoa! Steady, old girl! I say--how's Bessie?"

"Bessie is very well, thank you, Mr. Forcus."

"'Mr. Forcus?' Come, I say, Deleah! you aren't going to put me at arm's
length, that fashion! I was going to ask you--How is Bessie?"

"Very well, thank you."

"I haven't seen Bessie for ages."

"Is it so long?"

"I was wondering if I might look in sometimes on Mrs. Day--"

"Mama is always busy, thank you."

"At your place, then?--Just to see--Bessie?"

"I'm sure I don't know. You'd better ask Bessie herself."

"I'll ask her when I call. Whoa! Steady, you fool! Steady! What time could
I come when I shouldn't be in the way?"

"We're always busy. Always. I think perhaps you'd better not come at all."

"Thank you! Why?"

"You used to come, if you remember; and you gave up coming," Deleah said.
The small face turned to him was unsmiling and proud. The clear eyes of
pale hazel looked past the fine young man on the beautiful fidgeting
horse.

"I'm more my own master now," he said. "I should like to look in upon you
all again, Deleah."

"You had better not. Good-bye."

"Wait! Wait! One minute! I say, are you going to this concert to-night?"

"Of course. All of us. Even Franky. Half-guinea places. Why need you ask?"

"But if I get you some tickets? You and Bessie and Mrs. Day? I will, you
know. I will, Deleah, if you'll say you'll go--"

"The tickets were all sold a fortnight ago. You're too late," she said;
and then she smiled her winning smile, in spite of herself, upon him and
moved on.

Kitty was waiting for the older girl a few paces farther on. "There!" she
said, her eyes wide with awe. "There, Miss Day! My wish nearly came true!
Oh, if he could have got you tickets and you would have gone, how
heavenly, heavenly everything would have been to-night!"



Tea was ready in the sitting-room above the shop when Deleah reached home.
Tea with thick bread-and-butter, dry toast, water-cress, little dishes of
sliced ham, and pastry-tarts made in Emily's best fashion; and Bessie and
Franky were already seated at the table.

By Deleah's plate a letter was lying. A letter at which she looked
dubiously, shrinking a little from opening it; for it was addressed, in a
fashion which had become embarrassingly familiar to her, in carefully
printed characters.

"It's money, this time, we think," Franky cried, jumping in his chair.
"Make haste, Deda."

"We're simply dying to know what he's sent you. How slow you are!" Bessie
scolded.

Reluctantly Deleah broke the envelope and drew forth two tickets for the
evening's concert.

"The ten-shilling places!" Bessie cried. "We'll go, Deleah. We'll go!"

Deleah looked with a little distrust at the tickets lying beside her
plate. "It's all very well, but I should so much prefer presents without
all this mystery about them. Months ago I would have thanked Mr. Boult if
you and mama would have allowed me. I am sure it would have been better. I
am sure we ought to thank him."

"That doesn't matter now. We've got to think about the concert. I'm going
to it, and I can't go without you."

"I don't know if we ought to go, Bessie--"

"Why not, pray?"

Deleah was silent.

"Because of papa? He's been dead nearly two years. Are we never to show
our noses among other people again? You do carry things to extremes,
Deda!"

Deleah accepted the reproach meekly, having nothing to say--nothing, that
is, which Bessie would understand.

Then the boarder came in, for it was early closing afternoon, and took his
place by the side of Franky.

"Some more mysterious presents," Bessie said, smiling upon him. "Very
useful ones, this time, and just what I should have wished for."

"Tickets for the concert," Deleah explained, pushing them across to him.
"Ten-shilling ones. Poor Mr. Boult hates music. I heard him say once that
he believed every one hated it, and that when they pretended to like it it
was only affectation and humbug. What pleasure can he possibly get in
giving us these tickets for which we may not even thank him?"

"He'll have the pleasure of knowing that you are happy, and that he has
made you so, Miss Deleah. And you too, of course, Miss Bessie."

"But Mr. Boult no more sent those tickets, than he sent the bird in the
cage, or the--!"

"Oh, you're thinking of Reggie Forcus again," Deleah interrupted
impatiently. "Such nonsense, Bessie!"

"She thinks a lot more of him than he does of her," Franky announced,
munching his bread-and-butter.

Bessie got up from her place at the tea-tray and with purpose in her eyes
walked round the table. "You take that for impertinence, sir!" she said,
and administered a stinging slap to Franky's cheek. His intention of
immediate retaliation was frustrated by Mr. Gibbon's seizing the tea-spoon
he was about to hurl at his assailant.

"I hate Bessie," Franky said; but he was used to having his face slapped
by his elder sister, and went on munching his bread-and-butter and
water-cress, not much the worse.

"We can't go to the concert, Bessie," Deleah was presently saying. "We've
got no evening frocks."

"Oh, but we have!" Bessie quickly reminded her. "The frocks which were new
for our party and never worn again."

"We _can't_ wear them!" Deleah pleaded. She felt that she could never
endure even to look at those garments again.

"But we can, and we will," Bessie declared. She was a very practical
person in matters connected with millinery and dressmaking, and in a
minute had planned the slight alterations and additional furbishings
required for their party frocks. Black ribbons instead of blue run in the
lace of the bodices. Deleah's skirt would be short, but who would see that
if Deleah were sitting down?

Deleah drooped as she listened, leaving the tea in her cup and the
bread-and-butter untouched on her plate.

"Elbows off the table, Deda," Franky reminded her, who was frequently
commanded to remove his own.

Deleah took no heed. She sat with brow leaning upon the hand which
screened her face, looking back upon that evening before the shadow of
misfortune and disgrace had touched them all; when she had worn her new
white silk frock, and papa had played the tambourine.

Bessie had gone, leaving her tea also, untasted; hurrying away to Emily,
who would help her to pull off the forget-me-nots from her frock, and to
substitute the black ribbon which would be more decorous. Bessie's pale,
full cheeks were pink with excitement, her eyes shone.

"Black will look better than blue, even--although that _was_ your
colour--against your white skin," Emily encouraged her.

Mr. Gibbon had made himself a neat sandwich of water-cress and thin
bread-and-butter. He paused in the act of daintily sprinkling it with salt
pinched in finger and thumb, and looked at Deleah across the table, her
hand hiding her face. So long he looked at her, so long she remained
unconscious of him, that Franky ventured in their preoccupation to help
himself to a third piece of cake, his allowance being two.

"Miss Deleah, if you don't want to go to this concert to-night, why go?" at
length the boarder ventured to ask. Deleah dropped the shielding hand; she
had for the moment forgotten the presence of Mr. Charles Gibbon.

"Bessie wants to go. Of course, I must go with her," she said.

"But why 'of course,' if you don't wish? Whoever sent those tickets--"

"Mr. Boult sent them."

"Well, then, Mr. Boult sent them to make you happy; not unhappier."

"I know. I am really quite grateful, Mr. Gibbon. It was only those
dresses. We wore them at a dance at our house--the evening
before--everything. I can't think how Bessie can! But she does not feel
things as I do. She never did feel like--dying--of pity--and sorrow--as I
did." She lifted her cup to her lips to hide the fact that tears were
rolling down her face.

Mr. Gibbon sighed heavily. He pushed his own cup away from him as a signal
perhaps that for him also the tea was spoilt. "But why need you go in that
particular frock, Miss Deleah?"

"I haven't another."

"The one you have on."

"This one? Oh!"

She laughed with the tears in her eyes, and looked down at her school
frock--a black skirt and a white muslin "garibaldi" (the garment so called
at that time being extremely like the shirt blouse, or waist, as the
Americans have it, of to-day). "Oh, how funny men are!" she said. "To
think I could go in the half-guinea places in such a dress!"

"It's a beautiful dress, isn't it! It seems so to me. And I don't think it
matters at all what you wear, Miss Deleah."

He spoke in a hushed voice, as if conscious of saying something of
tremendous import. Deleah accepted the remark as a simple statement of a
fact.

"It doesn't matter, perhaps, really. But Bessie thinks differently. Most
people do. I shall have to wear what Bessie wishes."

"I notice you are always the one to give way, Miss Deleah."

"No--not always, Mr. Gibbon."

"Can I do anything? I would do _anything_--" He spoke in the same hushed
voice; with his arms extended on each side of his plate, he was gripping
the edge of the table tightly, "Anything!"

"I know. I know you are a true friend. I know she talks to you. She talks
about Mr. Reggie Forcus. Bessie can't see that things are different with
us--at least she sees, of course, but she does not realise that they must
be different; not only now, but for ever. She never sees us with other
people's eyes. It never comes home to her that the friends we had we can
never have again. What have people like the Forcuses to do with us!"

"I think that Mr. Reggie Forcus, mighty as he thinks hisself, or the
Prince of Wales, come to that, might feel hisself honoured to be taken
notice of by you, Miss Deleah--or by Miss Bessie."

Deleah laughed in spite of herself. "You are too kind, Mr. Gibbon."

She got up from her chair and picked up the concert tickets and twisted
them about in her fingers with a little distaste of them. "All this is
very kind of Mr. Boult, of course," she said: "and one likes to be sure
there is a generous heart beneath that--well, that atrocious manner of
his. But we're under mountains of obligation to people already, and we can
do without concert tickets. We can do without--" She was going to say
without flowers, but she leant across the table and stooped her face above
the pot of heliotrope that graced the centre of the humble board, then
lifted it, shaking her head. "No; we could not do without the flowers,"
she said. "I do thank the good man for his flowers; and I shall tell him
so the first time I see him. I have made up my mind."

"I would not if I were you, Miss Deleah."

"But why not? Do tell me why not?"

"Mr. Boult is a good business man. He's my chief, and I'm not going to
speak against him; but I don't quite see him buying you flowers."

"You know he loved my poor father, don't you?" she asked him in a lowered
voice. She had never mentioned the dead man's name to him before; her
cheek paled, he saw, as she did so now. "And I was my father's pet. You
will not think me vain for saying that, will you? Mama will tell you it is
not my selfish fancy alone. Mama will tell you it is true."

"Indeed, Miss Deleah, I can quite believe it."

"He was a good father to us all, and fond of us all, but of me he would
talk always if he could get any to listen. He liked me to sit on his
knee--I was younger then--to walk with him, and wait on him--" Her voice
broke; she waited a minute before she went on. "And so I suppose Mr. Boult
sends these things to me for papa's sake. I could not explain before; but
you understand, do you not?"

He quite understood her point of view, Mr. Gibbon said, looking at the
tablecloth.

"I knew you would, when I could explain. I think poor Mr. Boult likes me
to take what he sends, for papa's sake--as if it really came from papa.
You see what I mean? And I can't help thinking there is something
beautiful in that thought of his."

Mr. Gibbon reflectively agreed. It was a beautiful thought, come to think
of it, he said.

"Well, then--?" said Deleah.

"Well then, Miss Deleah, don't you think by mentioning the matter to him,
you'll spoil all that? His intention, his beautiful thought, and the rest
of it."

"Perhaps!" Deleah acquiesced seriously. "I must think about what you say."

"You've done me a great honour to mention it, Miss Deleah. You won't think
I'm taking upon myself in any way to give you my opinion?"

"Oh, Mr. Gibbon! How could I ever think such a thing!" Deleah said, but
began at once to be a little ashamed of the confidence she had made. With
a man who could ask if he was "taking upon himself" she ought to have been
more reserved, she thought.



CHAPTER XIII

The Gay, Gilded Scene


Mrs. Day, being told that her daughters proposed to go unchaperoned to the
Assembly Rooms that night, declared that for them to do so was unheard-of
and not to be sanctioned. But, under the strain of adversity the poor
woman's will, never a strong one, had weakened. She was painfully
conscious of her own helplessness in the grip of circumstances, and was
always troubled with doubts as to the wisdom of her own judgment. By the
time her day's work was over she was too tired to stand up against any
power she came into collision with. In all that concerned Bessie she was
absolutely feeble. Bessie was victor always, not by reason of superior
strength but through fractiousness, through stubbornness, through a
hysterical determination to talk the opposing voices down, through her
habit of crying like a baby when contradicted, and flinging things about.

So, on this particular occasion, the elder daughter avowing in a high,
excited voice that not many pleasures came in her way, and that when one
did come she meant to take it, let her mother be pleased or let her be
teased, the objections were speedily silenced.

Leaving the shop for once in the care of Mr. Pretty, Mrs. Day went
upstairs for the pleasure of seeing her girls once more in gala attire.

"I have taken the liberty of ordering a fly for the young ladies," Mr.
Gibbon said as he and the mother sat awaiting the appearance of the pair.

"Oh, Mr. Gibbon, if you would go with them, and see them safe to the
Assembly Rooms I should be so much obliged."

Mr. Gibbon, with great solemnity of mien, thoroughly realising the
responsibility of the office, undertook to do so. He, for his part, was
going to take his chance of hearing the great singer with the expenditure
of a shilling only. He would be in the Promenade, but his eyes should be
on the Miss Days, and if protection were required by them he would be at
hand.

Mrs. Day was by no means sure in her anxious heart that her daughters
might not need the strong arm of the male to defend them. She thought as
she surveyed them while they awaited the arrival of the fly that no mother
had ever possessed such treasures to guard. Bessie was always especially
comely in evening dress. Her plump, clearly pale cheeks were now pink with
excitement. Her white skin against the black ribbon round her throat and
threaded through the lace over her ample young bosom was dazzlingly fair.

"Mama, I'm afraid my frock is dreadfully short; even now that Emily has
let down the hem," Deleah said, looking anxiously toward her extremities.
"It shows _all_ my feet!"

It showed the ankles too, truth to say; but what did that _matter_ when
the feet were so small and pretty, and the ankles so elegantly slim?

The wonder to the mother was to see how, since that white silk dress had
been worn before, the girl's beauty had grown to perfection.

"Do you think it looks ridiculous, mama?" referring anxiously to the
scantiness of the skirt and the unblushing exposure of the feet.

"Not at all ridiculous, my dear." What did any imperfection of raiment
matter with a face and head like Deleah's; as exquisitely moulded, as
delicately poised on her slender throat as a flower on its stalk? "There's
a tiny bit of hair awry," the mother said, caught the girl's little chin
in her hand and passed her fingers over the shadowy black hair for the
mere pleasure of caressing it.

When Mr. Gibbon came in presently it was seen he had changed into
dress-clothes, in which attire he had never before appeared.

"But, Mr. Gibbon, you need not have taken the trouble to dress for the
shilling places!" Mrs. Day told him.

"I am to have the honour of escorting the two young ladies," he said.

He was red in the face, and appeared bashful and ill at ease in the
costume which they saw was a new one.

"To think of his a-gettin' hisself up like that!" Emily said with an
amused scorn of the poor man as the cab containing the three drove off.
"There's no doubt what he've set his mind on, 'm. But Miss Bessie ain't
for such as him. She'll look higher."

When Mr. Reginald Forcus came into the Assembly Rooms with his brother and
the sister who since the death of Lady Forcus kept house at Cashelthorpe,
and made his way to seats not very far removed from those the sisters
occupied, Bessie impulsively seized a bit of Deleah's bare arm in her
finger and thumb. She pinched it unconsciously but with such painful
emphasis that in the morning Deleah discovered the place to be black and
blue.

"There he is! Quite close to us! _Now_ perhaps you will believe! I always
knew it was he who sent the tickets, and sent all the flowers and things!
and he sent them for me--only you always took them to yourself, Deda."

She was very smiling, very happy and excited and flushed, through the
concert. She looked so pretty, so like the Bessie of the "party" days of
old, that Deleah thought not only Reginald Forcus but every man who saw
her must admire her pretty sister.

When the "half" arrived, and the ten minutes in which the audience is
permitted to stretch its legs and crane its neck, and acknowledge the
presence of its acquaintance, behold the younger Forcus eagerly
recognising the sisters, and bowing in response to Miss Bessie's delighted
smiles and nods.

"Oh, what a pretty girl!" a woman's voice said. There had come a sudden
lull in the buzz of talk, and the exclamation reached the ears of many
more than his for whom it was intended.

Deleah felt sure it was Bessie who was being admired. She looked quickly
at the speaker. It was that middle-aged sister with the pleasant, kind
face who had come to take the place of Sir Francis Forcus's dead wife. It
was to Sir Francis she had spoken, but she might have been proclaiming the
fact of her discovery of a pretty girl, for the general benefit; so
complete had been the temporary calm into which her speech had broken.
Heads were turned, and several pairs of eyes were fixed upon Deleah.

By a good many present the sisters were recognised, and here and there a
smile was turned on them, and here and there a cool, discreet little bow
was made. And more often the people who knew them, having involuntarily
looked, looked away again; for them the girls' presence there, in a
fashionable company and the most expensive seats, was an offence.

"People we were asked a little time ago to keep from starving!" they said
to themselves. "If Mrs. Day's daughters can afford this sort of thing, we
might as well have kept our guineas in our pockets."

When the audience resumed their seats Bessie kept her eyes pretty
constantly directed upon the smooth fair head of Reggie Forcus. Perhaps he
was conscious of her gaze and found it a compelling one, for again and
again he turned round to look at the sisters, and always Bessie's eyes
caught and held his.

Except to the accompaniment of the singing of her own heart the poor girl
was unconscious of the music. If it was to the evening's nightingale she
listened or to the twittering of the inferior songstresses of the grove
who lifted up their voices when the queen was silent she could hardly have
said; the melody her heart was chanting triumphantly drowned every note of
theirs.

"It has been heavenly," she said, when it was all over, and they stood up
for the singing of "God Save the Queen." "In all my life, Deleah, I have
never enjoyed a concert so much before."

While she said it she was lingering in her place, stopping the gangway for
people anxious to make their way out, pretending to arrange her own cloak
and her sister's, in the endeavour to time their exit to that of the
Forcus family. She did manage it too; and in the crush as they all
approached the door Bessie's happy shoulder was rubbing against the
shoulder of the attractive Reggie.

"It's been first-rate, hasn't it?" he said, as if the two years in which
he had had no speech with the girl were as nothing, and they had parted
yesterday. "Wasn't _She_ fine! Glad I came. I wouldn't have missed her for
anything."

"Heavenly!" Bessie acquiesced, then quickly introduced the personal note.
"I wonder you knew me! I thought I was quite forgotten, and was surprised
when you bowed."

"Ages since we met, isn't it? I did think about coming to call, but I
suppose Mrs. Day is busy?"

"I'm not busy. And I'm always at home. Do come."

"Rather! Shall I call your carriage?"

"Will you?"

So the words "Miss Days' carriage" were passed from mouth to mouth; men
yelled it in the street, the officials in the porch of the Hall bawled it
to one another, a man in the crowd nearer the door turned his head and
shouted "Miss Days' carriage" into the concert room. The air was
reverberating with the cry, it seemed to poor Deleah. How could Bessie
have made them conspicuous in that way!

Sir Francis Forcus had been looking with some curiosity at the girl to
whom his brother was speaking, wedged into the crowd just in front of him;
the younger girl at her sister's back was by his side. He glanced at her
now, and saw it was she to whose loveliness his sister had called public
attention. The Days, of course! He remembered when he heard the name
called; remembered all about them.

"Good-evening. How do you do?" he said, looking down upon Deleah.

And Deleah, recalling the last occasion on which she had heard his voice,
lifted a pale and speechless face to him, for all her answer.

Some big and important Person at the back, impatient of the delay, here
attempted to battle her way through the crowd congested by the too narrow
doors. Sir Francis turned and looked at her reprovingly.

"It's no good, Lady Elizabeth. You'll have to wait like the rest of us.
It's only a matter of a few minutes."

"Oh, do hurry up in front there!" Lady Elizabeth called back to him,
laughing, but imperious. The pressure she and her party were making still
continued, with the result that Deleah was driven roughly forward.

"Gently! Gently!" Sir Francis called again, and Deleah felt that his hands
were on her shoulders and he was shielding her with his arms as much as
possible from the crushing of the crowd.

A minute, and they were through the doorway into the spacious porch, where
individual movement was possible, and the fresh night air blew, and Deleah
could see the light from the big lamp over the archway flaring on the top
of her shabby old fly, while behind it was a long line of handsome
carriages whose drivers vituperated the driver of the cab, in his broken
hat. At the window was Bessie's face. Bessie's excited voice was heard
shrilly calling on Deleah's name.

"Deda! Deda! Where _on earth_ have you got to?"

"Miss Days' carriage stops the way"--the cry which made one Miss Day long
to hide her minished head in the earth--woke the echoes again.

Deleah half turned her head on its long neck, whispered a shy "thank you"
to the tall gentleman at her back; and darted away.

"Oh here you are, Deleah! Come along," Reggie Forcus cried, appearing
before her. "We thought we'd lost you. Take my arm."

But before Deleah could comply another arm was proffered, and proffered in
a manner so brusque and so determined that the young Forcus fell back
involuntarily.

"Thank you. Miss Deleah is in my charge," a voice said; and Deleah felt
herself dragged through the crowded porch, and over the pavement to the
cab-door, on the arm of Mr. Charles Gibbon.

"You'll excuse me," he said, looking in upon the sisters through the cab
window when the door was shut. "I hope you young ladies did not think I
intruded. But your mother had asked me to keep an eye on you."

"And pray why didn't you come with Reggie?" Bessie demanded indignantly as
the fly at last moved on.

Deleah laughed hysterically. "I was torn away from him," she said. "He all
but knocked Reggie down, and seized upon me." She indicated the form of
Mr. Gibbon, dimly seen, seated sentinel on the box beside the
broken-hatted driver.

"Impertinence!" Bessie said. "We have to be civil to him at home, but when
we are among other people I think he might leave us to our friends."

"Reggie Forcus hasn't been much of a friend."

"He is going to be for the future. He asked leave to call. It is a little
awkward as you are always at the school, and mama is always
downstairs"--(Bessie had never yet brought herself to say "Mother is in
the shop") "I would have asked him to come in the evenings, but _he_"
(again a nod towards the figure of the guardian-angel on the box-seat) "is
always there."

"Well, why not?"

"Can't you understand that Reggie might not care to meet a young man out
of a draper's shop?"

"But he comes to call on people in a gro--"

"That's different," Bessie quickly announced. "We weren't always there,
remember."

"Wednesday afternoons I am at home after three. Saturdays I am at home all
day."

"I know," Bessie said, but did not promise to avail herself of the
protection offered by her sister's presence on those occasions.



CHAPTER XIV

A Tea-Party In Bridge Street


His time being so fully occupied in his own business during the week, and
those hours he had been wont to pass with his friend William Day being
still unfilled, Mr. George Boult had fallen into the evil habit of coming
to hold a business consultation with the widow on the Sunday afternoons.
The Day family complained bitterly of this custom. The poor grocer-woman's
one blessed day was no longer hers, to be passed from morn to eve in the
midst of her children, in rest and peace and forgetfulness of business
worries.

She was too tired for church, she always pleaded; but it was not fatigue
alone which kept her from public worship. She was accustomed to her place
behind the counter now, and in the work-days of the week was too busy for
regret, too anxious to sell her goods to feel any shame in the occupation.
But on that day when the rest of the world of women went forth with
husbands and children to take their places, dressed in their best, in
family pews, she felt that she lacked the courage to show her face. She
who had queened it with the best of them; she who was the widow of a man
who had killed himself to escape from prison! She for whom "sympathisers"
and "well-wishers" had collected their sixpenny-pieces that she and hers
might be saved from starving.

So she sent the girls to church with Franky, on the Sunday morning, while
she, prayer-book in hand, would sit in Deleah's favourite window-seat,
beneath the canary's cage, to watch the smart and prosperous Sabbath
people airing their newest clothes on the opposite pavement of the street.

Presently Emily, her preparations for dinner made, would come to stand
beside her mistress's chair, to turn a critical eye upon the passers-by
beneath. Emily knew the names of most of the people of any consideration
who passed; knew, and could at length relate the history of themselves and
their domestic economies.

"There's Mrs. Hamley, m'm. I haven't never seen her in that black lace
shawl before."

"Perhaps she's laid it by from last summer," Mrs. Day would suggest.

"Not she!" Here Emily would lean over the back of her mistress's chair and
crane her neck to get a better view of the raiment in question. "Bran'
new, I'll lay a guinea! And her still fifteen pound in your debt!"

"Here come the Briggses! Look out, m'm!" presently she would cry. "Well,
and ain't they figged out! The whole four of the girls--and every one of
'em in a new bonnet! And them buyin' a pound-and-a-half of butter a week
for the whole fam'ly! Tha's what I always say, m'm; the Briggses is a
fam'ly that save out of their insides to put it on their bids. Now, here
come the best-lookin' young ladies and young gentleman we have set eyes on
yet." And then Mrs. Day's own daughters, with Franky clinging to Deleah's
arm, would be seen to approach.

"We think so, don't we, Emily? It's because they're our own, you know,"
the mistress would say, with her deprecating smile. "It's because they're
ours, that they seem to look so nice."

But in her heart she heartily agreed with Emily that hers was indeed a
charming family.

In the evening Bessie would go off to church again, escorted by Emily, but
Deleah would stay with her mother. They would sit together in peaceful,
delicious idleness over the winter fire, or, it being summer, they would
go forth, escaping by backways and narrow lanes of the old town from the
crowded pavements to the quiet roads with their formal rows of trees,
their flower-packed gardens and trim hedges. Slowly they would pace along,
enjoying the sweeter air of the suburbs, or, gardenless themselves, would
stand to peep through garden-gates at the well-ordered array of geranium,
calceolaria, verbena; sniffing the fragrance from the serried rows of
stocks, the patches of mignonette, or the blossoming lime-trees overhead.

When on that scented Sabbath peacefulness the warm dark would begin to
descend, it sometimes happened that the boarder, Charles Gibbon, who also
loved the scent of flower and of shrub, and enjoyed the soft air of
evening upon his cheek, would meet or overtake Mrs. Day and her daughter
as they sauntered homewards; and in a very friendly and pleasant way the
three would finish their walk together.

But about the Sunday afternoons there was a less agreeable tale to tell.
The young ladies retired with their books to their bedrooms, on those
occasions; Franky took refuge with Emily in the kitchen, a store of
oranges and nuts having been laid in by that faithful retainer for his
entertainment there. The Manchester man saw more than enough of his
employer on week-days, and would have preferred to pass a Sabbath
afternoon in the cellar with the coals, to spending that portion of his
precious holiday with his employer. Poor Mrs. Day was compelled therefore
to receive her taskmaster and benefactor alone.

Then had her books to be produced, her order-sheet criticised; then was
comparison made between this week's takings and those of the corresponding
week last year. If, as too often happened, alas! the sales had been less,
the poor apologetic tradeswoman had to suffer for it.

"You are losing custom. You must not lose it," the tradesman would
bluster. Or "Your expenses are too much. You are eaten up with expenses,"
he would insist. "You don't see how you can reduce them? Do with less
help, my good lady. What do people do who can't afford help? Go without
it, and do the work themselves. It's what you must do. It is indeed, I do
assure you. Cut down your expenses. Cut them down! Cut them down!"

"It is easier to say that than to do it," poor Mrs. Day would demur. "We
have nothing superfluous."

"You will be surprised how much you can do without if you really make the
effort. Get rid of your assistant in the shop. Get rid of your servant. A
servant is a very pleasant possession, but if we can't afford to keep one,
we can't. What is Miss Bessie doing all day long?"

"Bessie is useful in the house. Bessie is not strong," Bessie's mother
would plead; and George Boult would snort the suggestion to scorn.

"A little extra work would be the best physic for Miss Bessie." She had
put on a good stone of flesh since he had seen her last, he would declare.
Work never killed half the women that idleness killed.

On a Sunday afternoon soon after that concert to which the girls had been
escorted by the lodger, George Boult, his business exhortation finished,
sprang on the poor mother the news that her son at the branch shop at
Ingleby was not giving satisfaction.

A complaint of incivility to a customer had come to the ear of the local
manager, who had reported to the Head at Brockenham, delivering himself of
the opinion at the same time that the young man played billiards at the
Rose and Crown more than was consistent with his means, or the devotion he
should have shown to his employer's interests.

Lydia Day listened, her dark, handsome face of a lead white, while the man
seated at the table opposite to her condemned her son utterly as one who
was flinging away a fine chance. He, George Boult, had been thrown, at
Bernard's age, on his own resources. Never that he could recall had a
helping hand been held to him. (Men of the stamp of George Boult never
recognise the helping hand.) Work had been his pleasure. Had he played
billiards? Had he shown temper before a customer? No! Or thought of his
own pleasure before his employer's advantage? Never!

Very eloquent he was on the strenuous period of his own youth, recounting
the virtues he had displayed and the vices he had shunned, holding up his
shining example before the dimmed eyes of the poor mother, listening with
sick politeness, her heart so heavy in her breast. The excuses she made
for her Bernard to herself she dared not put forward. The fact that he was
his father's son; the contrast between the life he had known and that he
was called on to live; his youth; his exile from home and home influences;
his empty pockets; his tastes which had been formed when money seemed
plentiful.

"I implore you to be patient with the boy," was about all she thought it
wise to say; that and the promise she made to write at once to Bernard to
beg of him to consider his circumstances and Mr. Boult's goodness, and to
change what was amiss.

Bernard, her darling, handsome son! While she said it she saw him in a
thousand pictures stored in her mother's heart. All that was desirable he
had seemed to her; she had never thought of wishing him to change!

"Let him know he is on his trial," George Boult said.

"He is being carefully watched and reported on. Do not tell him this, but
tell him the impression he has made on Adams" (Adams was the manager at
Ingleby) "is not a satisfactory one; and Adams is a man whose opinions I
hold very high. Tell him he is having the chance of his life; warn him not
to abuse it."

He was still trampling the poor woman's heart beneath the prancings of his
own eloquence, when the ringing of the street-door bell created a
diversion.

Downstairs went Miss Bessie, her fair hair ruffled, her cheek flushed from
its pressure upon her pillow, to take in, as she imagined, in the absence
of Emily, the afternoon's milk.

It was not the anticipated milk, however, that Bessie found upon the
doorstep, but no less a delightful surprise than the exquisite person of
Mr. Reginald Forcus.

"Ah, how do, Bessie? I thought I'd give you a look. I hope I am not _de
trop?_" he asked. He pronounced the last words as they are spelt, not
because he did not know better, but because he liked to be amusing, and
the mispronunciation of words was the kind of fun he appreciated.

With effusion, Bessie bade him enter; but in her mind were distracting
thoughts of the condition of her chignon, and the present occupancy of the
only sitting-room.

"There's some one upstairs with mama," she told him, anxiously smiling
upon him, her grey-green eyes glinting with pleasure. "The Mr. Boult, you
know, who helps her with her books and things when she'll let him. You
won't mind?"

"Happy, I'm sure. You're all alone, week-days," he said as he mounted the
stairs behind her--stairs very dark and very steep, starting from the
almost unmitigated blackness of the hall upon which the front door opened.
"I thought if I looked in on the Sunday afternoons I should find the
others as well, perhaps."

"You'll find mama," Bessie said, wondering a little at his concern for the
proprieties. "Here is Reggie, mama," she said. And Mrs. Day, her heart
full of her own unhappy boy, went forward with a weary step, and
smilelessly held out a welcoming hand.

"You are very kind to come, Reggie," she said. "This is our good friend,
Mr. George Boult; Mr. Reginald Forcus."

"I take it young Mr. Forcus and I don't need any introduction," the draper
said.

The Forcus family did not deal at his shop; the deference therefore which
the draper never failed to pay his customers was not needed here. He shook
poor Reggie's hand mercilessly, and inquired after Sir Francis. Mr. George
Boult had recently been made a magistrate; Sir Francis and he sat on the
same bench.

"You are extremely well known to me by sight," he went on, still
exercising the visitor's hand. "I should say there are few people in
Brockenham better known to me by sight."

"I go past your place pretty often," Reggie admitted.

"You'd see me four or five times a day if you were looking out."

"Oh, I'm not always behind my own shop window," Mr. Boult said, not too
well pleased. When he was not talking to a customer why should he be
reminded of the shop? Since he had been able to write J.P. after his name,
he had more than once been secretly desirous of temporarily forgetting the
successful drapery establishment.

He was always disposed to lose himself in wonder at his own marvellous
achievements. Time was when the members of the great brewery firm were as
far above his head as the stars of heaven above the pebbles of the street.
Yet here he was now, to all intents and purposes on a par with them. Where
was the difference? A successful business man, he was--what more were
they? Still, since Sir Francis had taken to addressing him as "Boult"
without any prefix to the name, when they met in the magisterial room, the
desire to ingratiate himself with any member of the Forcus family was very
warm within him.

"Whenever I do see you, I am struck with the handsomeness of the animal
you ride, Mr. Forcus," he was saying presently. "I think this young
gentleman rides the handsomest animal in the town, Miss Bessie. I'm a
great admirer of handsome animals, Mr. Forcus."

"Is that so? Really?" said Reggie, supremely indifferent. He had no
objection whatever to make the acquaintance of old Boult, the
linen-draper--although, of course, that difference between a successful
draper and a successful brewer which Mr. Boult was incapable of discerning
was quite clear to him--but he was not in the least interested in him; and
what should the old fellow know about a horse?

"Isn't Deleah at home to-day? I thought I should have caught Deleah. That
is why I dropped in on the Sunday."

Deleah was out walking with Franky, Mrs. Day told him, thankful that
Bessie, who had slipped away with a view to the adjustment of the
disarranged chignon, was not present to hear that explanation.

"I meet Deleah sometimes as she comes home from school," the young man
artlessly continued. "I dare say she's told you I sometimes meet her?"

No, Mrs. Day did not remember hearing Deleah mention that interesting
fact.

"No harm in that, I suppose, Mrs. Day? You don't object, if Deleah
doesn't?"

"Harm?" repeated Mrs. Day, only half conscious of what was said, thinking
of Bernard going wretchedly about his hated work with a "sharp watch" set
on his doings.

"I mean I wouldn't do anything to annoy you or Deleah--"

It was a relief that at that moment Bessie descended, her hair in order, a
look of pleasant excitement on her plump face. No one need half-heartedly
try to carry on a conversation with Reggie when once Bessie was present to
monopolise him.

And then Deleah and Franky, their cheeks rosy from exercise, appeared.
Franky went to his mother and climbed on her lap, and Deleah sat close to
her side, a little too apparently, perhaps, leaving the young man and
Bessie to carry on their sparkling conversation uninterrupted.

When Emily came in, to lay the tea-table, the two men got up to go. "Mama,
Reggie will stay if you ask him," Bessie said. How triumphant she felt,
how her eyes sparkled when Reggie said at once he should like to--rather!

"And Mr. Boult will stay to tea too, mama," Deleah said quickly. She did
not need the heavy silence which fell to tell she had offended; not
Bessie's warning scowl, nor her mother's piteous look of appeal. As no one
seconded the invitation, "Do stay," Deleah said. And he gracefully
yielded.

"Since you are so polite, I don't mind if I do," he said. He really felt
honoured by the invitation, the first he had ever received in that house.
The long low-ceilinged sitting-room above the grocer's shop was tenanted
by ladies of whom in days gone by he had felt a certain awe. Down in the
world as they were now, he never forgot that ancient attitude of theirs.
Even when he bullied Mrs. Day, and advised her daughters to do the work of
servants, he had not forgotten. Perhaps at such times he remembered it
more than ever.

His wife, dead for the last seven years, had been of a different make from
these women. Finding nothing in himself to debar him from being an
ornament in any society, he saw very well that the late Mrs. George Boult
had been, as he put it, "of another kidney." He had been fairly content
with her while he had her; she had been a good housekeeper; and had not
crossed him in his wish to save money; but looking back upon the poor
woman, he saw plainly that she had not the appearance of these ladies, nor
had she spoken like them, nor possessed the ways of them. She had been all
very well for his then condition, but times had changed for him; and here
he was, well pleased to be sitting at the board of people who would not at
one time have received the late Mrs. Boult under their roof, on terms of
equality with Sir Francis Forcus's brother!

He was a rich man himself, and going, he would see to it, to be richer,
but the income of the Forcuses he knew was perhaps seven times as much as
his own; and he was one of that large body of good sort of people who love
to be in the society of men richer than themselves.

"We so much enjoyed the concert, Mr. Boult," Deleah said to him.

"The concert?" Mr. Boult repeated. He wished to talk to Bessie, having it
on his conscience to advise her to do without a servant, and he did not
feel called upon to exert himself "to do the polite," as he phrased it, to
the younger girl.

"Some kind friend sent us stalls for the concert," explained Deleah,
flushing. "It was so kind of the unknown person, and such a delightful
treat."

"Stalls? The half-guinea places, do you mean?" There was astonished
disapproval in eyes and voice.

"Wasn't it sweet of Someone?" Deleah went on, bent on expressing her
gratitude to the shy donor. "It was the same Someone, I suppose, who sent
the lilies-of-the-valley, yesterday, and my darling canary; look! It is
Someone to whom we can never be grateful enough!"

"Better keep your gratitude for the more substantial benefits you have all
received." He was thinking, Mrs. Day knew, of the fifty pounds which had
headed the subscription-list. "Lilies were sixpence the bunch in the
market yesterday."

"But it isn't the cost," Deleah explained; her face was rose-red with her
effort to say that which she had determined should be said to the man they
all disliked, but who was showing himself by the thoughtful little
attentions to which she alluded, in his true colours. "It isn't the cost
alone, it is the kind thought for which we are so grateful."

"Oh, come, Deleah!" Reggie interrupted. "I offered you tickets, you
remember, and you weren't a bit grateful for the kind thought. And as for
the lilies, I dare say I could send you flowers every morning from the
conservatories at home, if you'd care for them."

"I should not in the least care for them from your conservatories. Don't
send them, Reggie, or we should have to send them back."

"Why, pray? Speak for yourself, please," Bessie cried. "If you've any
flowers going begging I'm not above taking them, Reggie, remember."

"The flowers aren't mine," Reggie reminded her at once. "They grow
there--tons of them--and no one to look at them now, but Francis and Ada.
Yet, if I want to send a few to a girl there's questions asked, and a
sickening fuss made. I order them from the nurseryman rather than have the
fag of it."

"Well--?"

"Oh, all right. I'll order some for you, Bessie."

Then, when tea was all but finished, a step was heard upon the stairs, and
presently Mr. Gibbon came in. At the sight of the other two men his face
fell perceptibly. To him also the Sabbath was a precious time. The hour,
especially, which brought the meal over which they need not hurry for any
evening work; in the room made sweet with flowers; in the company of the
three charming ladies; on the table the extra delicacies Emily always
provided for the occasion.

Boult! Forcus! The two men whom, least on earth, he desired to see there.

"Hallo, Gibbon!" his chief said; and the man addressed felt in his bones
that the tone was unmistakably that of the employer to the employed. "Been
getting forward for to-morrow, I suppose?"

No, Gibbon said, he had not; and he spoke curtly, and kept his heavy head
up, and drew his brows together, and was somewhat offensive in manner, in
the effort to show he was not subservient. He bowed sulkily to Mr.
Reginald Forcus, when Mrs. Day murmured that gentleman's name. The fact
that the young man when he came of an age to take the third share which
was to be his in the brewery would be rolling in money, was nothing to
him, and he wished to show to all present it was not! At the concert he,
who was ugly, and short, and poor, and of no account in the world, had had
the best of the elegant young man with his fortune and the name which was
one to conjure with in Brockenham. He had wrested Deleah from him, and
pushed him on one side. He did not propose to smile amiably at him across
the tea-table after that.

He was going to Lancashire to buy goods for his department to-morrow--he
was absent there for four or five days every three weeks. This was his
last evening of Paradise for a while; and the Serpent had entered there!

"You are late," Bessie rebuked him sweetly. "And you must wait for more
tea to be made. Where have you been, pray? Give an account of yourself."

He had walked out five miles, he told her, to the garden of a friend who
had a small conservatory. He had hoped to be rewarded with some flowers to
return with, but had only been accorded the three roses he held in his
hand.

"Very sweet of you to bring them for me, all the same," Bessie said,
smiling graciously.

Gibbon was, however, shy or sullen this evening, for he seemed by no means
anxious to relinquish the flowers; and when he did so he laid them between
his plate and Deleah's, who promptly put them into Bessie's extended hand.
When pinned in the bosom of her grey frock the flowers had a charming
effect, to which she called the attention of all present.

"Aren't they sweet, mama! Mr. Boult, Reggie, aren't they simply sweet! And
poor Mr. Gibbon to have walked so many miles for them!"

And so, at cross purposes, with heart-burnings and some bitterness of
spirit, they got through their Sunday tea.

"It would have been delightful if you had not invited your old Scrooge,"
Bessie, who, at any rate, had thoroughly enjoyed herself, flung at her
sister.



CHAPTER XV

The Manchester Man


Mrs. Day had retired to write her letter to Bernard in the privacy of her
own room, and Bessie, in radiant spirits, had gone off to dress for
evening service, where she was to go escorted by Franky and Emily. Deleah
was left in charge of the boarder.

It was a point of honour with them all that the young man should have his
money's worth while under their roof, and above all, should have his meals
in comfort. The cup which Bessie had poured out for him stood cold and
untasted by his side. Deleah took it from him. Certainly he should not
have the dregs of the tea-pot; she would brew a fresh pot for him.

"I beg you will not trouble, Miss Deleah. It is my fault in being late."

He, who held the creed that a gentleman must never allow a lady to wait on
him (unless she was his mother, or he was married to her), must follow
Miss Deleah to the kitchen, also on the upper floor, must watch her rinse
the tea-pot, must advise with her as to the amount of tea required to make
the three large cups he always drank, must himself pour the boiling water,
she, with many exhortations from him to be very careful lest she scalded
her fingers, holding the tea-pot. There was something delightfully
homelike and familiar in this sharing of simple duties.

Deleah, returned to the sitting-room where she sat to fill his cup and to
cut him bread-and-butter, was as lovely a vision as any man could desire
to see at his board. Pleasantly and gaily she chattered, waiting on him
with her dainty hands. He, tongue-tied, answering little, embarrassed and
ill at ease in that sweet society.

For a year and a half he had lived in the dingy house above the shop in
Bridge Street. He had for eighteen months enjoyed that propinquity, that
familiar intercourse, which is all that is necessary to make many an ugly
woman beautiful in the eyes of the man in enjoyment of her society. It is
small wonder then, if the poor Manchester man exaggerated in his own mind
those unusual charms which Deleah incontestably possessed.

A year and a half! And in all that time he could never recall an occasion
when he had been left for any length of time alone with Deleah, before. It
was Bessie who had constituted herself his especial friend, had seized on
him, talked to him, made confidences to him, and satisfied herself it was
his wish to talk to her. Deleah, he knew, had looked on him as Bessie's
property. He had resented this assumption, but had not known how to
dispute it.

Besides being of a loveliness which he had come to think unsurpassed, she
was so gentle, so tender-hearted, so pitiful, this young Deleah; so
adorably kind. She had learnt in that grief and shame which he knew had
befallen her a lesson, taught her he was sure by the pitying angels of
God; to think no sorrow too trivial to be despised, to be tender even to
the scratched finger, the bruised shins of the poor men and women
scrambling painfully along the tough and thorny path of life.

He was a short and broad and ugly man, approaching middle age; of a
commonplace cut of features, of poor birth, of mean fortunes, of small
account in the scheme of things; but he had an eye for beauty; he had a
soul; and his eye was filled with a beauty completely satisfying his
conception; and with his soul he worshipped the soul of Deleah.

"I am sorry," he suddenly said, cutting across some little triviality of
hers with which she was striving to cover his silence--"sorry you did not
have even one of the roses I walked ten miles to get for you."

"I?" she glanced fleetingly at him. "Oh, it does not matter, of course.
Bessie has them, and she loves them so. I had far rather Bessie had them."

He gazed upon her, reproachful but silent.

"Bessie so loves flowers," she said, remembering how Bessie had pounced
upon the poor roses before they had been offered. It had not been a pretty
sight--but Bessie--poor Bessie!--did such things.

"Miss Bessie so loves them to wear in her dress," he corrected.

And at that moment Miss Bessie burst into the room, attired for conquest
and for church, the flowers which the boarder had walked so far to
procure, pinned, as was the mode of the day, beneath the collar of her
jacket. Gibbon glanced grudgingly at them, nestling becomingly enough
under Bessie's plump chin.

"Oh, how glum you look!" cried Bessie in the best of spirits.

"Not glum at all," said Mr. Gibbon with something less than his usual
politeness of tone.

"Only cross? Ah! I am so afraid of you! I must run away."

She beckoned to Deleah, who followed her to the tiny landing. "The
Honourable Charles has got his back up because of Reggie," she whispered,
"and Reggie is furious because of the Honourable Charles's flowers. Did
you hear how he snapped at me just now?"

"Why should Mr. Gibbon be angry because of Reggie?"

"Oh, my dear innocent babe! Don't you know that men are sometimes jealous?"

"Yes. I know it. And I know another thing: and that is you were doing your
best to make them jealous."

Bessie laughed delightedly as at a compliment: "I leave one of them to
you. Try to get him into a better frame of mind before I come back," she
said, and turned to run downstairs.

Deleah leaned over the railing of the tiny landing, lit by a single
gas-jet above her head, to watch her go. She liked to see Bessie
good-tempered and in good spirits, and if to believe that every man she
knew was in love with her made her so, Deleah was willing to humour her.
About the devotion of young Forcus for Bessie she had her doubts, but that
of the lodger she took as a matter of course.

He was still seated at the table when she returned to him; the
bread-and-butter she had cut for him untouched on his plate, his tea
untasted.

"I thought perhaps you were not coming back," he said. He sighed, as if
relieved from an anxiety which had been painful. "Miss Deleah, I wish very
much to speak to you."

There were a few things in the matter of deportment he had learnt since
living over the grocer's shop; one was that a man must not sit while a
lady is standing. So he stood up in his place now, and waited till she had
taken hers again behind the tea-urn.

"Oh, but, Mr. Gibbon, do eat your tea!"

He pushed his plate away: "I don't want to eat. I want to talk to you."

Glancing at him she saw that his face, ordinarily of a deep-diffused red,
was as pale as it is possible for such a face to become. Often when she
had felt his eyes upon her and had looked up frankly to meet them, she had
noticed how quickly he had averted them, almost as if detected in a crime.
Now she found them fixed upon her face.

"There is something I have made up my mind to tell you," he said.

"It won't take long, I hope? Because as Emily is at church I have to clear
the tea-things."

She jumped up at once and began to do so. "He is going to tell me about
Bessie," she said to herself. She did not particularly desire his
confidence, and with a little more clatter and fussiness than was
necessary to the task, she put the cups and plates on the tray.

In a preoccupied manner he helped her to do this, took the tray from her,
when it was laden, to the kitchen, while she carried the eatables. Coming
back, together they folded the tablecloth. A pleasant enough occupation to
be shared with a pretty girl; but it was evident, although his trade had
made his blunt fingers deft at the handling of material, and he was
carefully observant of the practice which must be followed in the art,
that he was thinking of other things than maintaining the creases in the
tablecloth.

"There!" said Deleah, as an announcement that their light labours were
finished. She had put the cloth away in the press, and turned to find the
Honourable Charles, as she and Bessie to themselves always called their
boarder, standing with his back to the little dresser at which Emily made
her pastry, his arms crossed upon his chest.

"Now you can go and sit down in comfort, and smoke the pipe of peace on my
special window-seat--I give you permission--and watch the good people
going to church."

"That is, if you are coming."

"I think I'll go first and see what has become of mama."

"This will do, for a few minutes, Miss Deleah. We will stop here," he
said.

So Deleah, there being no escape, perched herself on the corner of the
table where the plates and tea-cups were collected until Emily should
return to wash them, and waited for what he had to say.

He found some difficulty in beginning apparently, and frowned upon the
matting covering the floor.

"It's about myself," at length he began with an effort painful to see; his
hands seemed to be pulling tensely upon his folded arms, the blunt fingers
of the broad red hands showed white upon the coat-sleeves, his face was
still of the muddy pink which with him stood for pallor.

"I hope you won't think it intruding of me to talk about myself."

"Which in other words means about Bessie," said Deleah to herself, strung
up, now that it was inevitable, for the revelation.

"It's about my prospects. Perhaps you think I haven't got any, Miss
Deleah. Or any position, to speak of? I have not, I know. Not like your
friend, Mr. Forcus. He's got this thousands a year, where at most I can
hope for hundreds, I suppose."

Deleah divined the sore feeling in his mind and hastened to bring the
balm: "Reggie Forcus might have millions where he will have thousands--and
the more he had the less likely would he be to affect any of us. He has
been here this afternoon, and if he remembers he may come again. But that
is simply the whim of an idle young man who at the moment can think of
nothing more amusing to do."

"I thought he seemed to take a good deal of interest. I caught him
looking--"

"At Bessie? He likes her, of course, and there was once a great
friendship. If--things--hadn't happened, I dare say it might have come to
more than friendship. But they did happen, and--" She broke off. Never
could she without suffering and difficulty allude to the tragedy which had
cost them so dear.

"I assure you, Mr. Gibbon," she began again, and smiled encouragingly upon
him, "you are of far more importance to us than Mr. Reginald Forcus is
ever likely to be."

"I thank you for telling me that," he said, and his fingers strained
tighter upon his coat-sleeves.

Then he lifted his eyes and looked at her as she sat, perched with ease
and grace among the tea-cups on the kitchen table. Every movement of hers
was made, every posture taken, with ease and grace. It happened, for
Deleah's fortune, to be the day of the small woman; the day when she of
inches was pronounced a gawk, and she of five feet and a little--slim of
waist, of foot, of hand, of ankle--slid with ease and naturalness into a
man's heart.

"Thank you for that," said the Manchester man again, with a kind of hoarse
fervour in his voice. "You are always kind. I don't think the angels in
heaven are kinder than you."

A statement at which Deleah among the tea-cups laughed light-heartedly.

"No. Don't laugh," he said almost fiercely. "It is true! I believe it with
all my soul."

He looked from her to the floor at his feet again, frowning upon it,
striving for the calmness to proceed with that which he had to say in the
order he had taught himself to believe was best for his case.

"I'm getting two hundred a year," he said. "This year, come Christmas, I'm
to have a rise to two hundred and fifty. Next year"--he paused, set his
lips tightly--"next year I mean to ask for a share in the business."

"Do you?" said Deleah with polite interest. "Do you really think you will
get it, Mr. Gibbon?"

"I shall get it, fast enough. I shall get it, for this reason: if Boult
doesn't give it me I shall leave him. Boult can't afford to lose me. I
don't want to boast, but it's true. He can't afford to lose me, and he
knows it. Do you know," and he lifted his head, speaking more naturally
and looking at her with pride in his achievement, "in the two years I have
been in the concern I have _doubled_ the takings in my department?"

"Really? How very clever of you, Mr. Gibbon! You _must_ be pleased!"

He looked at her, and laughed hopelessly. "You don't understand these
things, Miss Deleah. You don't realise that what I have done means much."

"Oh, but I do, Mr. Gibbon! I have always thought that you must be a quite
wonderful business man; so quiet, so regular, thinking of nothing but your
work."

"I do think of other things," he said fervidly. "I want to get on. I want
to improve myself, and my position. There's an end I'm working for. If a
man sets an end before him, and works for all he's worth to get it, does
he get it, Miss Deleah?"

"He gets it. Never doubt it!"

"Well then, see! When I get my share of the business I shall work the
whole show up as I have worked my own department. The other establishments
in the same line can put their shutters up. It's the biggest drapery
business in the town now--Boult is proud enough to ram that fact down your
throat--but I shall make it the biggest drapery business in the Eastern
Counties."

"How splendid of you, Mr. Gibbon! And supposing Mr. Boult won't give you
the share?"

"I am not sure it would not be better. In that case I shall start on my
own. Not in a shop. I shall open a warehouse for the sale of my goods,
alone."

"Those calicoes, and prints, and 'drabbets,' you go to Manchester to buy?"
put in Deleah, anxious to show that she understood.

"Manchester goods. I shall carry with me all the little customers who come
to me now to take my advice what they shall buy, and a lot of shopkeepers
of a better class, who will deal with a wholesale mean but will not buy
their goods of Boult."

"Poor Mr. Boult!"

"He must look after hisself. I heard Miss Bessie say the other day that
the wholesale line was genteeler than retail--." He broke off and looked
questioningly at Deleah, who had formed no opinion on the subject.

"Bessie knows about these things," she assured him. "Then, you will become
a very rich man, Mr. Gibbon. And will go away, and never help us to make
mincemeat any more, or to clear the table after Sunday tea. You will drive
your carriage with a _pair_ of horses--not one miserable screw like Mr.
Boult--and you will live in a fine house, and grow roses, and build
conservatories; won't you?"

"Yes," he assented solemnly. Then he unfolded his arms and' stretching
them sideways gripped with each hand the ledge of the dresser against
which he leant. "I shall want you to come with me," he said.

"Me!" said Deleah. The shock of the surprise made her for a moment
breathless. She sat and gazed at him with wide eyes for what seemed an
age, saying nothing; and he also, for the moment incapable of further
speech, gazed back. At last "Bessie?" Deleah got out. "You mean Bessie?"

"Why should I mean Bessie? _Bessie!_" he said, and flung the thought of
her from him with scorn. "Why should I mean Bessie? I mean you--you--you!"
he said, and endured her silence with eyes that clung desperately to her
face.

"When I leave here, to go into that fine house--with the carriage
and--conservatories--will you come too?"

"Oh, no!" Deleah said, whispering, with drooping head.

Then they sat opposite each other on table and dresser and were silent,
while the blood sang loudly in Deleah's ears, and beat with such cruel
throbbing in the man's temples that he did not know how to endure the
agony, and thought that his head must burst.

When Deleah at last lifted her eyes and looked at him the change in his
face frightened her, his breath came hard and noisily as if he had been
running. Was it possible he could feel like that--this quiet, inoffensive,
uninteresting, middle-aged boarder, who had never appeared to feel
anything particularly before? About her?

"I am so sorry," she said in genuine distress, horribly grieved at and
ashamed of her part in his pain. "I thought it was Bessie."

"You have refused me? You mean it--absolutely? There is no hope for me?"

Deleah shivered. It was the regulation phrase used by the rejected lover
in the novel of the day. It had thrilled Deleah a hundred times as she had
read it. There was nothing stilted or theatrical in the words as Charles
Gibbon said them, but they brought home to her the unwelcome fact that he
was in deadly earnest, that he loved her, and she was dealing him a cruel
blow. She felt miserable, humiliated, ashamed. It was preposterous, out of
all proportion, that he should have had to ask such a question, in such a
tone, of little Deleah Day.

"I am so very sorry, Mr. Gibbon," she said again, and he heard in a
silence that made her heart ache.

"Shall you go away?" she asked him presently. In books the lover being
rejected removed himself for a time in order to recover from the blow. She
was relieved to find in the boarder's case this was not considered
necessary.

"Why should I go away?" he asked.

"It will be better to go on just the same," she advised eagerly. "Bessie
need never know."

"Bessie!" he said again contemptuously; he loosed his grip of the dresser,
and swung round, standing with his back to her, that she might not see his
face. "You've crushed every hope I had; you've--broken me; and you talk to
me of Bessie. What, in the name of heaven or hell, do you suppose I care
for _Bessie_; or whether she knows or not?"

Deleah, keeping her place on the table, listened to the altered, choked
voice of him with astonishment. Their unfailingly polite--too polite! and
retiring boarder! Was it really he, standing with his back to her,
speaking of Bessie--Bessie!--in such a tone!

"You see, I never knew! I never guessed," she excused herself helplessly.

"No. I don't suppose you gave me a thought. Morning, noon and night you
were everything to me. There was nothing else. I have worked for you,
lived for you--"

His back was towards her--the horrible thought that he was crying came to
her; his voice was rough and broken.

"If I had only guessed--" she said in hideous distress and embarrassment.
She had thought, as all girls do, of one day getting an offer of marriage;
that it could ever be such a miserable experience as this she had not
imagined. If it had only been a stranger, she thought foolishly; some one
outside her life, of whom she had seen little! But Mr. Gibbon--their
boarder! The sight of him in their home circle had become as familiar to
her as might have been the sight of her brother: she could not reconcile
herself to the thought that this man in the horribly unfamiliar guise was
he. "If I had only guessed--!"

"And if you had?" he asked, but hopelessly, without turning round.

"I could have told you the sooner. There wouldn't have been such
a--waste."

She slipped off the table, and stood beside it in a painful state of
indecision. She longed to get away from the sight of him, to escape; but
at the same time, being Deleah, she also longed to comfort.

"I shall not even tell mama," she promised. "We shall go on just as usual.
And soon--soon we shall forget it has happened."

"Shall we?"

"Oh, yes! It is astonishing how we can put things away, in the back of our
minds, and go on as if they weren't there at all. Quite astonishing."

"We oughtn't to make a piece of work about our sorrows if we can get along
with them as easily as that!"

"Oh, not our sorrows, of course." She remembered how the sorrow of her
father's dreadful end was with her still and would be while she lived.
"Our sorrow, of course, Mr. Gibbon, we cannot forget. But a little thing
that goes amiss like this--a little disappointment--"

"I see," he said. Then he gave a sound, half choke, half hiccough, that
was meant for a laugh; and presently he turned round. "Then, we will go on
as before, Miss Deleah. You need not be afraid any one will learn of
this--'little disappointment'--from me. I am pretty well used to hiding
what I feel. It comes easy when you've once learnt that nobody cares."

"Oh, Mr. Gibbon. Don't please say that. I care."

"No, you don't. You don't care like I want you to. What's the good of
anything else? Have we finished clearing away the tea-things, Miss Deleah?
Anything more that I can help you with?"

She shook her head, looking at him with eyes which implored him not to be
bitter or unhappy. And as she looked, seeing the familiar red face and
squat strong figure of him in a new light an idea struck her.

"Mr. Gibbon," she said, "it was _you_ who sent the concert tickets, and
all the flowers and fruit, and the canary in its lovely cage. It was
you--you!"

"No, no! Mr. Boult, of course, Miss Deleah. You found out who it was, long
ago. Kind, generous Mr. Boult!"

"And I took them all, and never thanked you--!" She put out a hand to
delay him as he walked past her to the door; but he took no heed, and
without another word she let him go.

"What have you done with your roses?" Deleah asked. Bessie tucked in her
plump chin and looked down upon the place beneath her jacket collar where
they had been pinned. "I must have lost them coming out of church!" she
said. "Pray do not let the Honourable Charles hear of it."

The three poor roses! Deleah's roses, the boarder had tramped the ten
miles to get for her!



CHAPTER XVI

For Bernard


Sir Francis Forcus was standing with his back to the empty fireplace in
his private room at the Brewery, a copy of the local daily newspaper in
his hand. It was a pleasant room, although the view from the two open
windows was only of the tall black wharves and warehouses across the way.
You must lean from the window to catch sight of the black river flowing
beneath, upon which the Brewery was built; of the great wherries and
barges unloading below; to see the canoes and pleasure boats, escaping
from the polluted waters, the bricks and mortars of the locality, to the
sunlit stream flowing between fair gardens and green pastures of the
country, a half-mile farther on.

From a window in one of the black, ill-looking wharves across the way an
imprisoned lark was singing, rewarding man for his cruel treatment with
the best he had to give, after the manner of the brute creation, whose
avenging is not yet. A ray of sunlight straggling in--in more open, more
favoured localities, the sun lay broadly over all on that spring
morning--touched the face of Sir Francis, which wore a by no means
well-pleased expression. In the paper he was reading, wet from the press,
was an account of a steeplechase in which his brother's name had largely
figured. He had not won the race, nor distinguished himself in any way,
except by the number and severity of his falls, and the fact that he had
killed his horse; but the _Brockenham Star_ was, to a large extent, the
property of the firm of big brewers, and had therefore made the most of
the young man's exploits.

"The boy will break his neck yet," the reader said to himself. He was not
largely in his brother's confidence. The death of the horse was news to
him; he had not even known there was a steeplechase.

"What good is he doing with all this?" Sir Francis asked of himself,
sternly looking off the paper. "He takes no interest in the Brewery. He is
a man in years, and has never done a half-hour's work in his life."

Sir Francis's own half-hours of work would not have totalled up to much,
but he had business ability, nevertheless. At certain hours of the day he
was always to be found, as now, at his post, and what he did not do
himself he took care that those he paid should do efficiently.

Above the mantelpiece hung the portrait of the founder of the Brewery, or
rather of the man who had worked up the business already founded into a
phenomenally successful one. Often as the elder partner looked upon the
sensible, kindly, handsome-featured face, he reminded himself how very
dear to his father in his old age had been this unbusiness-like,
pleasure-loving, steeplechase-riding younger son, who had been but a boy
at school when the old man had died. Very frequently it was necessary for
him to remind himself of the fact; for between the duty-loving,
serious-minded, middle-aged, sorrowing widower and his half-brother was
very little in common.

A clerk opening the door announced that a lady had called who was waiting
to see Sir Francis.

"A lady? My sister--Miss Forcus?"

"A young lady. She didn't give her name."

"Ask it, please."

Back came the clerk with a slip of paper on which was written a name Sir
Francis read to himself, and then aloud, looking questioningly upon the
clerk, "Miss Deleah Day. Miss Deleah Day?"

The clerk, having no information to give or suggestion to offer, continued
to look respectfully at his employer's boots.

"Show her in, please," Sir Francis said; and in a minute the door was
opened and Deleah appeared.

Sir Francis, the _Brockenham Star_ depending from his left hand, bowed in
his solemn fashion to the girl, and going forward turned a chair round
from the writing-table, in which be indicated his desire that she should
sit. How white and frightened she looked; what a young, little,
extraordinary pretty thing! Full well he remembered the last occasion of
her presence in his room. What had sent her to him now? What did she want?
He recalled how Reggie, whose name, it seemed to him, was always being
mentioned in some undesirable connection or other, had got himself mixed
up with this girl's objectionable family. Reggie, he wondered? Or was it
that the mother's wretched grocery business had failed, as he had always
expected it to do, and he was to be asked for another contribution towards
setting her going again?

With those thoughts passing through his mind, he went back to his old
position by the fireplace, standing up stiff and straight and tall, upon
the hearth, to survey his visitor from there.

"You were so kind once," Deleah said, and he heard that she had a
difficulty in keeping her voice steady, and saw that her lips shook "--so
very kind when I came to you before, that I have come again."

Too apprehensive of what her errand might be to say that he was glad to
see her, he bowed his head in sign of courteous attention, and waited.

As she had come on her hateful errand, she had thought of how she would
prepare the ground, in some way leading up to the petition she had to
make, but speech was too difficult, and she could barely deliver herself
of the necessary words: "I have come to ask you to give me fifty pounds,"
she said.

Sir Francis's eyes opened largely upon her, but he did not speak. To say
at once that he would give the poor child--the tool no doubt of her
family, sent by them to work upon him because she was so pretty and young
and appealing--fifty pounds without further explanation would be simply
silly: to say that he would not did not enter his head.

She had waited for an encouraging word; none coming; painfully she
laboured on: "I say 'give' because I am not sure I could ever pay you--I
earn so very little money. But if I ever can pay you, you may trust me
that I shall."

"I am sure you will," the rich man said, and waited for her to go on with
her story. But she sat in an embarrassed silence before him, her head
drooping, frightened and ashamed.

"We will call it 'lent,' shall we?" presently he said. "You will feel
happier so. And there will be no hurry. No hurry, at all."

"Oh thank you! I do thank you so much. I want to tell you--"

"No, no," he said and held up a hand to check the words upon her lips. It
was ridiculous to give away money in such a fashion, but he had a feeling
that if he knew its destination he should give it with more reluctance.

"But I must tell you, please. I wanted to tell you before, but--" Her eyes
avoided his face and wandered distressedly round the room. How well she
remembered it! It was here she had come to beg this man--this
stranger!--to keep her father out of prison. And now her brother--now
Bernard! Was there any girl in all the world so overwhelmed with shame as
she! "It is my brother--" she got out. "He--I have brought his letter."

She found her pocket, and brought forth the letter which had come to her
by the morning post, ravaging her heart, turning the sunshine black,
making the song of the imprisoned lark opposite into a dirge, plunging her
back into the woe which had been hers at the time of her father's
disgrace. She drew the miserable letter from its envelope and held it to
Sir Francis in trembling fingers.

"No," he said, and waved it away. "It is perhaps something that your
brother would rather not have known. Something which can remain between
you and him. And this--this fifty pounds"--he had gone to his
writing-table, pulled a cheque-book from a drawer, was writing within it
as he spoke--"this also is between you and me. No one, besides, needs ever
to know a word of it."

The chair he had arranged for her to sit in was by the writing-table; he,
sitting on the opposite side of it, lifted his eyes to her face without
lifting his head: "You wish this made out to your brother or yourself?"

"To my brother."

"Will you tell me his name?"

"Bernard William."

She watched his strong white hand move over the paper, writing so easily
the words that were of such moment to her. How the great ruby in the ring
he wore on the hand which held the pen seemed to glow and burn in the
sunlight. On the little finger of his other hand was a plain small circlet
she knew to be from the finger of his dead wife. She noticed in the strong
light from the window how the smooth black hair had grown grey about the
ears, how lines which had not been there before had graved themselves in
the handsome, impassive face. Was he very unhappy too, Deleah wondered, in
the midst of her own trouble? Did he still mourn, as they said he had
done, so heavily, for the lost wife?

He pushed the cheque across the table to her. "There!" he said.

He had caught her gaze fixed with its sorrowful questioning upon his face,
and he put away from him his doubt, his annoyance, and in spite of himself
smiled encouragement into her pleading, beautiful, innocently worshipping
eyes.

"Do not be unhappy," he said. "This will put things right, we will hope;
and set your brother on his feet again. You must not look so sad."

At the words--he had been wrong to speak so kindly--the clear hazel of her
eyes was suffused with tears. The eyes were doubly beautiful so.

"'I'll not believe but Desdemona's honest'" he found himself replying to
that annoying little voice which kept whispering, "Have they put her on to
me?"

Deleah kept her wet eyes strained upon him, lest in lowering them the
tears should overflow. "I don't know what you can think of me," she said
falteringly. "I don't know how I had courage to come. I only had Bernard's
letter this morning; he said--it--must be done to-day. My mother must not
know: there is no one else: I had no one to ask. You had been so good to
me once--I thought of you."

"I quite understand. Quite. Quite."

"I was a child then," she laboured on, forcing herself to try to express
what she felt ought to be said; "and although I had no right to trouble
you, to a child things may be forgiven. But now--but now--!"

"But now," he repeated, and smiled his faint smile again. To him she was
but a child still, and his tone conveyed that message.

"I am very much ashamed," she said. "And so--so grateful."

She folded the cheque, put it in her cheap, little-used purse, and stood
up. So humiliated she felt, she hesitated to put out her hand, lest he
should think it presumptuous on her part to expect him to shake hands with
her.

"Where is this brother of yours? What is he doing?" he asked.

"He is at Ingleby. Mr. George Boult put him into one of his shops in the
country."

"Oh! George Boult?"

Something in tone depreciatory of the man caused Deleah to say quickly,
"He has been very good to us. He helped mama about the grocer's shop; and
advises her."

"So I have heard." He was thinking to himself if the unsatisfactory
brother had to look for mercy for any misdoings to George Boult he would
be in a sorry case.

"He is very young--my poor brother," Deleah put in. "And I suppose he has
made bad friends. He never has a holiday. He can never come home to mama
and us--"

"Ah, that is bad. And can't you go over to him? I am sure that you could
do him good." For the thought came to him, as he looked down upon the
sorrowful girl in her neat, cheap frock, standing so shyly before him,
that he had never seen goodness written so legibly on the face of any
human being as on that of this daughter of a thief and sister of a
never-do-well.

"Railway travelling is expensive, and we are obliged to live very
carefully," Deleah said. "Poor mama has made one or two bad debts lately.
And so many people, who pay in the end, are so very slow to do so." Deleah
shook her head slowly and sorrowfully over these sluggards. "Also, I am
occupied, of course, all day long."

"May I know in what way?"

"I teach," Deleah said, and lifted her head with a kind of pride in the
avowal which was very pretty. "I am second English governess at Miss
Chaplin's school for young ladies. I earn enough there to buy my own
clothes and Franky's."

Her courage was coming back to her; instead of the difficulty she had
experienced in dragging out the words necessary to explain and condone her
errand, she now had the impulse to tell him things, to make him
confidences.

"And who is Franky?"

"He is my little brother. Very much younger than the rest, and the pet
with all of us. Mama says, but for Franky, she thinks she could never have
survived the troubles she has had. I think we all felt that. We could not
be always crying and melancholy in the company of a little boy who does
not understand, and who wants so much to enjoy himself. For Franky's sake
we have to be cheerful. He is only nine. Only seven when--all
that--happened to papa."

"Franky must not go into one of George Boult's shops," Sir Francis said.
"When Franky is old enough to leave school--to begin to earn his
living--come and tell me, will you?"

Her face lit, till it was lovely as a sun-kissed flower. "Oh, I will! Oh,
thank you," she said; and then she did put out her hand, and for an
instant her fingers closed with all their soft strength round the hand he
gave her. "Oh, thank you!" she said again.

Then he opened the door for her, and she went.



Deleah, when she had sent off the cheque, whose receipt must have
surprised him exceedingly, to her brother, felt herself to be almost
bursting with the desire to confide in some one the history of her visit
to the rich brewer. She longed to descant on his looks, to repeat his
words, above all to tell of the heavenly promise contained in that last
divine sentence concerning Franky. No one must be told; but Deleah was
over young to be burdened with a secret; it made her restless. She could
not sit with Bessie, to hear her discuss the pattern of the sleeve she was
cutting out for a new Sunday frock. She ran down to the shop, for the
relief of being near her mother.

Mrs. Day glanced at her with welcoming eyes and turned at once again
attentively upon her customer, a good lady difficult to please in the
matter of candles.

"A tallow candle will do very well for the servants to gutter down, in the
kitchen," she was irritably declaring. "But neither my daughter nor me can
abide the smell of tallow; and your wax ones are a cruel price. Cruel,
Mrs. Day! I suppose you could not make a reduction by my taking two
packets?"

Mrs. Day shook a patient head. "We really get almost nothing out of them,
as it is," she sadly protested. "These candles--called composite--ladies
are beginning to buy them for servants' use as well as their own. I sell
more composites now than either wax or tallow."

"You couldn't oblige me with one or two to try?--Oh, good afternoon, Miss
Day. So you are not above coming into the shop sometimes, to bear your
mama company?"

"Above it!" said Deleah; and because she had to be as sweet as sugar to
her mother's customers, she smiled upon Mrs. Potter, who turned from the
counter to engage her in talk.

"What for you, my dear?" Mrs. Day's next customer was a very shabby, very
small boy, his grimy, eager face appearing just above the counter.

"A ha'p'r' o' acids, like th' last." He held up the coin in his fist to
assure her of the good faith of the transaction.

"You give me more 'n that, last time, for a ha'p'ny. You ha'n't weighed
'em," the customer grumbled.

"Lucky for you I have not! Here! Take your ha'penny and be off."

Many customers of that unremunerative order had the widow. When the ragged
little ones happened to be about the age of Franky they were sure of
bouncing weight, and of getting their money returned. She smiled upon the
scaramouch now, who was watched from the door by half a dozen
confederates. The ha'penny was common property apparently, for each was
presently clamouring for his share.

These screws of sweets and quarter pounds of broken biscuits given to the
children of the very poor afforded her the only pleasure Mrs. Day got out
of her long hours behind the grocery counter. For, in spite of the greed
and selfishness of human nature, perhaps the most keenly felt deprivations
of the one who has been rich and now is poor is the inability to put the
hand lightly in the pocket, and with no thought if it can be afforded or
no, to give to those who ask.

While Mrs. Day had been attending to her own customers with one ear, she
had been hearing with the other a discussion going on at the opposite
corner as to the price and the quality of the butter.

"Ours is from the best dairy," young--very young!--Mr. Pretty was assuring
the poor, respectable woman who was hanging back from putting his
assertion to the test. "Fresh in, every day, mum. Like to put a bit on
your tongue to try it?"

The woman did so, tasting the morsel with an anxious look. "But I can't
afford to give you one-and-two the pound, if I can buy it a penny less,
only a little way down the street."

"You don't get butter there like this, ma'am;" and young Mr. Pretty, who
should have been Master Pretty surely, by rights, conveyed a piece of
butter to his own tongue, and tasted it loudly, looking very wise.

"'Best quality, one and a penny.' I see it ticketed up as I come by
Coman's." She turned round to the mistress of the shop. "I have always
dealt along of you for butter, ma'am," she said. "I haven't no wish to
leave you, but where I buy my butter--stand to reason I must buy the rest
of my grosheries."

"If Coman is down to that; you shall have it for the same sum;" Mrs. Day
promised. Her butter had already been "dropped" twice before, that day, in
order to keep pace with the passion for underselling of the new grocer,
who had, for the undoing of the widow and the orphan, opened a shop lower
down the street. Our poor retailer was selling her sugars, too, for less
than she gave for them.

"You must do so for a time," George Boult had informed her. "Coman can't
go on like this for ever. He'll get tired of the game soon--if I know
anything of trade and tradesmen--then you can stick it on to your goods
again."

While the subject of the butter was being debated, the child Franky came
in from afternoon school. He was day-boarder at a cheap academy to which
other small tradesmen's sons were sent--a school very inferior to that to
which Bernard had gone. Companionship with rough, common children had not
improved the manners of Franky, nor his habit of speech. He dashed in,
with no thought of the deference due to customers, pushed out of his way
the lady just deciding to let Mrs. Day try to procure in the town a candle
more to her taste, rushed round the counter to his mother.

"C'n I go in to tea with Willy Spratt? Willy Spratt's ma says I may go to
tea with 'm. I wish to, very much. C'n I go?"

"No, my dear. We like you to have tea with us. We can't spare you."

"C'n I go, ma? C'n I go? Willy Spratt's waitin' outside."

Willy Spratt was the son of the cutler and his wife, across the way. Very
good customers of Mrs. Day, very good people; but--

"You haven't spoken to Mrs. Potter, Franky," Deleah said to divert the
child's mind. "You know Mrs. Potter, sir. Where are your manners?"

"Quite 'ell, I thank ye," said Franky without a glance in the direction of
the good lady in question, who had not the intention to inquire for his
health. "C'n I go, ma? Willy's waitin' outside; and c'n I go?"

"Oh go!" his poor mother said. "Go! But, Franky dear, _don't_ pull your
cap in that hideous fashion over your eyes."

But Franky had ducked his head from beneath his mother's hand, dashed
round the counter, and was away to the society of the expectant Willy.

In an interregnum of peace between the going and coming of customers Mrs.
Day moaned to Deleah over the grievous subject of Franky's deterioration.
"He even brushes his hair, and wears his cap, in the fashion of that
dreadful Willy Spratt. Being so young he does not stand a chance. He must
grow into just a common little boy."

"Never, mama!" Deleah, the unfailing comforter, declared. "Why, Franky
looks like a creature of a different mould from Willy Spratt. Franky, with
that dear little nose of his, is distinctly aristocratic. Don't laugh! He
is indeed. You and he are, you know; and any one can see it."

"Nonsense, my dear," the mother said, but smiled and was comforted on that
score. "It is inevitable, I suppose," she went on, "that we fall into the
way of speech of those around us. But it vexes me. Have you noticed that
even Bessie habitually speaks of Mr. Gibbon now without the 'Mr.'?
'Gibbon' said this or 'Gibbon' did that. I don't like to mention it to
her, but it offends my ear."

"I wouldn't say anything," Deleah counselled. "We know that Bessie is--so
very easily upset."

"Poor Bessie!" the mother said. Both of them had a vision of Bessie
drumming her heels on the floor in the hysterics into which a few
thwarting words would throw her. "What about Bessie's love affairs?" Mrs.
Day presently asked. "I should be so thankful to see Bessie with a home of
her own. She would be so happy, married. But--?"

She paused questioningly upon the "but," knowing it to be a very large
one.

"I don't think Reggie means anything, mama."

"No," acquiesced Mrs. Day, sadly shaking her head. "I can't think how
Bessie can be so blind. Yet, if it were otherwise, what an escape out of
Bridge Street it would be for her."

Deleah was silent.

"Or for you?"

Deleah laughed with her colour high: "I would not marry Reggie Forcus if
he were stuffed with gold, mama."

Mrs. Day turned away to wait upon the untidy little servant girl from over
the way whose family had suddenly "run out of vinegar."

Her eyes had been sharp enough to see on which of her daughters' faces it
was that Reginald Forcus's gaze dwelt; she had divined the attraction
which drew the pleasure-loving, much sought young man to sit patiently for
hours in the evening, watching the girls at their work. She looked,
drearily, the vinegar being measured and the customer gone, between the
intervening biscuit tins and pickle jars into the street. She had begun to
cherish a dream that if not Bessie it might be her pretty Deleah who,
through Reggie, should find a way out.

"Supposing he really wanted to marry either of us you would not surely
like it, would you, mama?"

And Mrs. Day was obliged to admit with a kind of shame that she would.

"That silly, irresponsible, baby of a young man; without two ideas in his
head!"

But the mother knew if his head was empty, his pocket was not. He might
not be clever, or have much stability of character, but oh, how many
things which made life pleasant he possessed! She who had had them, and
had lost them, was not one to underrate the value of worldly goods.

"I suppose the end will be Bessie must marry Mr. Gibbon," she said, with
an effort at resignation and putting away from her unwillingly the golden
dream. "I should not blame Bessie," she went on judicially. "He is a good
and steady-going man, although so very quiet. Have you noticed, my dear,
how very quiet Mr. Gibbon has become?"

"Yes, mama."

"I suppose it is love which makes him so quiet."

She supposed so, Deleah said. That he had been quieter still would have
pleased her better. She could have spared his fierce "I love you,"
whispered behind the tablecloth when he and she had stooped simultaneously
to pick up a knife which had fallen yesterday; his impassioned "Only look
at me!" fiercely breathed last night over the candlestick he put into her
hand. Both Bessie and her mother looked on the Honourable Charles as
Bessie's property. Deleah was frightened at, and ashamed of, these
irregular demonstrations.

"He is a commonplace, uninteresting looking man--but for something there
in his eyes. I don't know if you have noticed what I mean, Deleah?--Yet he
will make a safe husband, with no thought in his head but for Bessie; and
I suppose we must make up our minds to the sacrifice."



CHAPTER XVII

What Is It Now?


"Any message for your son, ma'am?" Mr. Gibbon inquired one night at
supper-time of the widow, and announced that business called him to
Ingleby on the next morning.

He did not add that he went with special instructions to inquire into
complaints again made of Bernard Day by the manager of the branch shop,
and to bring back a report on which George Boult could act.

"The boy will have to be removed from Ingleby," the draper said. "I want
to know if I am justified in discharging him on the spot, or whether I may
risk giving him another chance."

Mr. Boult had stayed his hand from dealing summarily with the young man,
as it had been his instinct to do. After all, he was William Day's son;
the son of the one friend whom, in all his life, he had made. The son of
the widow of Bridge Street, also; and he, George Boult, had been the
arbiter of her destiny, of the destiny of her children, and was proud of
the fact. The result had not been altogether satisfactory. No amount of
teaching or of bullying would ever make a business woman of the mother;
but then he knew that he had enjoyed the teaching and bullying. He felt
a glow of satisfaction, when he read her name in the small white letters
on a black ground above the shop door, "Lydia Day, licensed to sell tobacco
and snuff," and remembered it was he who had caused that legend to be
written there. It pleased him to recall the handsome woman in her silks
and laces, who had extended a patronising hand to him, now and again, on
those Sunday afternoons he had spent with her husband--the haughty-looking,
dark-skinned, dark-eyed beauty, as he conjured her to his mind's eye--and
then to enter the gloomy little shop, and to see this same woman--was it
in truth the same?--her black gown covered by a large white, bibbed apron,
white sleeves to her elbows, standing behind the counter, to weigh treacle
into a customer's jar, or to descant on the merits of various scrubbing
soaps.

"My doing," George Boult said to himself, and was pleased.

His mother had many messages for Bernard, of course. A parcel of a couple
of shirts for him too, which she and the girls had made for him, stitching
busily together after the day's work was done. He was to write oftener. He
was to send her his socks to mend. To take long walks into the country;
and not by any means to be tempted to spend his evenings at the horrid
hotel which Mr. Boult had complained to his mother he frequented.

In the morning a little parcel was put into the boarder's hand, with the
request that he would give it to Bernard. It contained a sovereign the
poor woman, who had not a penny to spare, had taken from a sum due to meet
a certain account, that day. The boy's salary was so very, very small; the
wholesale house must wait for payment.

When Deleah arrived home from her school on the afternoon of that day, she
found the shop in charge of Mr. Pretty alone, a state of things never
permitted except at meal-times. Deleah went into the house and ran
upstairs with a foreboding mind. Reaching the dark landing upon which the
sitting-room opened, her heart sank within her at the sound of loud
weeping proceeding from that room. Her mother was dying, or dead, bemoaned
by Bessie, she decided, her thoughts leaping to the worst that could
befall.

It was a relief to her, therefore, to see Mrs. Day seated in her
accustomed chair, grey and stricken of face, but alive, and as she
maintained an upright position, presumably well. The mother was looking
straight before her with blindly staring eyes, paying no heed to Bessie,
stretched upon the sofa, uttering howl upon howl.

"What is it now?" Deleah asked, standing in the doorway as if struck
there. "Tell me quickly what it is." Her mind flew afield in search of
awful possibilities. "Is Bernard dead?" she asked.

"Oh, I wish he were! I wish he were!" Bessie cried, and flung herself into
a sitting position. "I wish he were. Bernard is worse, far worse than
dead. Bernard has enlisted for a soldier!"

Deleah shut the door and came forward into the room. "Is that all?" she
asked. Her poor little face was white, her eyes wild with fear. That
Bernard was in prison had been what she dreaded to hear. "Oh, mama, if
that is all, it is not so terrible."

Then there came a knock at the door and Charles Gibbon came in. Deleah
turned upon him: "You should not have told them; you should have told me,"
she reproached him.

"I don't think so," he said bluntly. "Why should you bear the brunt of
everything?"

Mrs. Day was incapable of speech, her poor lips shaking, the hands
twitching which lay helpless on her lap.

Bessie looked at her. "Poor mama! Poor mama!" she moaned. "This will kill
mama! The disgrace will kill her!"

"Hush!" said the Honourable Charles, and turned upon her, shocking her
into silence. "You should have more control over yourself, Miss Bessie.
Hysterics never helped any one in the world, yet."

"Hysterics!" repeated Bessie, but was so astonished that she ceased to
moan.

"Mrs. Day," the boarder went on, "I told you the news about your son a
little abruptly perhaps, but I did not consider I was telling you bad
news. Many"--he was going to say "better men" but changed it into--"many
better off than he have done the same thing, and it has been the making of
them. I tell you straight, under all the circumstances, I think he has
done the best thing he could."

"I must buy him off, of course," Mrs. Day said, paying no heed. "Do you
know how to set about it, Mr. Gibbon; and what it costs?"

If Mr. Gibbon knew he did not say.

"To think of Bernard being a common soldier--a private!" Bessie began
again, and shook once more with sobs. "If he comes here, Deleah, do you
think he will expect us to walk out with him? We can never be seen with
Bernard again--never! Never! Never!"

She had quarrelled continually with Bernard, but she had been fond of him,
and proud of his good looks. Poor Bessie's grief was selfishly shown, but
it was genuine grief all the same.

"Discipline will be the best thing in the world for him," the boarder
promised. "A friend of mine who also went to the b---- who also enlisted,
for certain reasons, is an officer now."

"Bernard will have no luck," Bessie declared. "No luck ever comes our
way."

"There's no good waiting for luck, Miss Bessie--"

"Will Mr. Boult buy him off?" the widow interrupted. No argument weighed
with her. She listened to no attempt at comfort. "I must go to Mr. Boult
at once, and ask him to do it."

"If you take my advice, you won't, ma'am. If you ask him ever so, he
won't."

"I will beg him, on my knees," the poor lady said.

Deleah followed Gibbon to the landing. "Is there anything you are keeping
back?" she whispered to him. "You can tell me. I am not Bessie."

"The boy's been a fool--but there's nothing that can't be hushed up."

Her eyes full of fear clung to his face; she was determined to hear the
worst. "You must tell me," she persisted.

"A couple of bills were paid over the counter; only for small amounts.
Your brother did not--did not--"

"You mean he took the money for himself?"

How white her face was! The sound of Bessie's sighs and moans came from
the sitting-room. Deleah opened another door on the landing. It was that
of her mother's bedroom, but she cared nothing for that. With a hand on
the boarder's arm she led him in there, and shut the door.

"Bernard stole the money?" she whispered. She had no thought of herself,
or of who it was she held by the arm, had forgotten that he loved her. To
know the worst, and to know it at once, so that in some way her mother
might be spared the knowledge, was what she wanted.

She had no pity on herself, but he had pity for her--abounding,
overwhelming pity; the brave little white-faced girl, who did not moan,
nor fling herself about, nor talk nonsense; who had courage, who faced
things.

"Your brother gave the receipts all right," he said slowly, "but he
omitted to enter the accounts as paid in the ledger."

"And the money? What did he do with the money?"

"The money is all right. The firm loses nothing."

"How do you mean? Tell me."

"The money was found in his room."

"Who found it?"

"I found it. It was only for a small amount."

"And paid it in? So that they lose nothing? So that they all know that
Bernard had only been careless? That he was not a thief?"

"It's all right," he assured her. "There's nothing for you to worry
about--now."

"You are sure you are keeping nothing back? You would not deceive me?
There is nothing more?"

Gibbon hesitated; he was not a man who told lies; and there was something
more. "It seems he made debts--debts that out of his salary it was
impossible for your brother to pay."

"Yes?"

"But he did pay them."

"He did? Then--?"

"You see, Miss Deleah, they're wishful to know where he got the money from
to pay with."

She looked at him with knit brows anxiously for a minute, then her face
cleared and a glad light was in her eyes. "Why, I can tell them!" she
said, "I sent him the money to pay the debts."

"It was fifty pounds--about. _You_ sent it?"

"Oh, the money was not mine. It was Sir Francis Forcus's money. I asked
him for it. You can tell them I sent it, Mr. Gibbon; but tell them no
more. Sir Francis wished it to be a secret between him and me."

"Oh!" Gibbon said, and roughly shook her hand from his arm.

"You don't believe me?"

"I believe you fast enough; oh, yes."

"Then why are you angry?"

"You might have come to me. Why didn't you come to me?"

"Oh, I don't know," Deleah said. The several reasons she could have given
it seemed kinder to withhold.

He pounced upon her, his eyes blazing. "I don't like these '_secrets_'
between a man and a girl."

Deleah drew back with a little offence. "If you knew at all what Sir
Francis is like you would not say such a thing as that, Mr. Gibbon."

"What is he like?"

"Infinitely--infinitely above everything that is not kind and
generous--and noble."

"He is just like any other man, except that he has more money."

Deleah put on her little air of dignity. "I thank you for telling me
everything about my brother," she said. "I am so relieved that there was
nothing worse to hear."

He watched her as she walked across the gloomy little square of landing
and entered the other room. When she held her small head so poised on its
long graceful throat, when the corners of her lips were ever so little
turned down, the small rounded chin turned up, and the wonderful black
eyelashes swept her cheeks he was afraid of her, little bit of a girl of
less than half his age as she was; a girl who had been a child but two
years ago, when he had come to the house. A girl whose lips as far as he
had ever heard had never spoken one ungentle word; a girl who had pity on
drowning flies, and carefully turned away her foot from the abject worm.
But then he was always trembling before her, either with love or fear.

The impulse to tell her that the purse-proud brewer was not the only man
who had done the wretched brother a service for her sake possessed him.
The few pounds he had put, in order that he might find them there, in
Bernard's room, had been infinitely more to him than the fifty pounds to
Sir Francis Forcus. And he was one who saved his money anxiously for the
end he had in view. Would she call him "kind and generous and noble" if he
told her? He more than doubted it.

"We can't possibly walk about with Bernard in the dress of a private
soldier," Bessie was saying when Deleah returned to the sitting-room. "We
have come down, mama, I know, but we have not come down so low as that;
and Bernard can't expect it of us."

"I shall buy him off, if I have to sell the clothes off my back," Mrs. Day
said, oblivious of the fact that her wardrobe in the market might perhaps
have fetched the sum of thirty shillings.

"I would not be in too great a hurry, mama."

"You think nothing about the sufferings of your poor brother, Deleah. My
darling son."

"I do think of him. I think he will be very angry if this is done at once.
You must wait until he has had time to get sick of it."

"As soon as the shop is closed I shall go to Mr. Boult and beg of him to
help me to buy him off," Mrs. Day persisted.

She rose up stiffly from her chair and stood beside it, her hand grasping
its back, waiting for the strength to come to her to take up the burthen
of business again. Ah, if only she had leisure for grieving, if she might
lie on the sofa and cry, as Bessie was doing, what a luxury it would have
been!

The assistant had been left to "get up" an order for her most important
customer in her absence. He had put the wrong sugars into parcels, and the
wrong tea. In reaching the tin of "foy grass" from the top shelf, he had
knocked down and broken a bottle of piccalilli, catching its contents in
the crystallised sugar drawer. Mrs. Day was very gentle with him, who was
younger even than poor Bernard.



CHAPTER XVIII

The Dangerous Scrooge


Mrs. Day was spared the errand to Mr. George Boult on which she had been
bent, for that gentleman, before the time for putting up shutters was
reached, having had an interview with his Manchester man, sought the widow
in her shop.

Since having been made a magistrate, it was to be observed that certain
changes had taken place in the appearance and the attire of the successful
draper. He affected now the light-coloured tweed suit of the country
gentlemen, rather than the black decorous garments of trade. A deerstalker
replaced the tall hat to which his head was accustomed, and he wore it, as
was the fashion among the younger generation at that period, ever so
little on one side. His short beard was trimmed to a point, his moustache
turned upwards at the ends, on his hands were gloves of tawny-coloured
leather. Altogether he now presented a figure which, in spite of the undue
protuberance of stomach, and the shortness and thickness of neck, he had
the satisfaction of knowing to be strangely rejuvenated and quite
up-to-date.

"Business not very lively to-day, ma'am?" he said in his quick, hard way,
looking round upon the empty shop.

It was about everybody's tea-time. A slack hour, Mrs. Day reminded him.

"Coman's was full, as I came by," he told her. "He's got a sugar in his
window at three-ha'pence; one great placard quoting primest butter at
elevenpence; another setting forth that a quarter pound of tea would be
given away with every half-crown spent in the shop."

Mrs. Day sighed despondently. "We can't cope with him," she said. "There
is no good in trying."

"What do you intend to do then? Do you suppose families will buy their
groshery" (he was always pronouncing it "groshery") "of you when they can
buy it cheaper, a few shops farther down? Why should they, ma'am, come to
think of it?"

"They won't, of course," Mrs. Day acquiesced, "but we may as well be
ruined through lack of custom as through selling our goods for less than
we give for them."

"I'll tell you what will ruin you," he said brusquely. "And that is lack
of spunk." He derived a pleasure from the belief, apparently; he announced
it with so much gusto. "In business you must not be a coward, ma'am. You
must go for the man that's 'underselling' you, stand up to him, pay him
out of his own coin."

Poor Mrs. Day heard him with a fainting spirit, dreary-eyed. What did she
care for paying out Coman, down the street! Her heart was full of Bernard.

"Now look here, ma'am; _re_-dress your window. Where's your young man?
Where's Pretty?" Pretty, who cordially loathed George Boult, reluctantly
appeared. "Look here, young man; to-night, when you've up-shuttered, clear
out half your window. Shove it full of the best sugar you've got. Put a
card on it--one that'll shout at 'em as they pass. Letters that long, do
you see, and black--_black_. 'Our three-ha'penny sugar. Comparisons
invited.' Just that. See? And, look here again, ma'am, stick a ha'penny,
or a penny a pound, on to your other goods, to make up. Understand?"

Mrs. Day faintly admitted that she understood.

"Oh, these things are easy enough to manage, get the hang of 'em. I don't
object to this underselling on Coman's part. A little conflict in trade
wakes interest, stirs us all up, customers and salesmen. We're too much
inclined in Brockenham to go to sleep. We must wake up, Mrs. Day. That's
our motter."

Then, with hardly a pause, and with no change of tone, he went on to the
subject so near to her heart. "I have come in to speak to you, ma'am,
about this boy of yours. He has conducted himself towards me with the
basest ingratitude--but that we need not refer to, that don't matter,
although I must say, considering what I have done for you all--"

Mrs. Day glanced towards Mr. Pretty, pricking his ears, and dismissed him
to his task of grinding coffee in the cellar.

"Mr. Boult, if you would spare me!" she pleaded with a pitiful kind of
dignity. "We owe you a great deal, I know; not one of us is ungrateful.
But I beg you to be so considerate as to spare me complaints of my son."

"I don't forget you are his mother, ma'am. I don't forget it for a moment.
Otherwise--"

"What Bernard has done is the cause of the greatest grief to me--grief I
do not really know how to support. I was coming to see you, Mr. Boult.
Coming to ask you--to beg of you--"

He lifted his square-looking hand, clad in the new orange-coloured glove,
to silence her. "Don't ask it," he said. "I know what you want me to do.
Gibbon prepared me. You wish me to buy off this ungain-doing son. Not a
penny of my money shall go to do it. Not a penny!"

He brought the hand down smartly upon the counter, to emphasize the words.
Mrs. Day, gazing sad-eyed at him, said nothing.

"The boy has behaved like an ill-conditioned, ignorant cub--Well! I'll
spare you. We know how he's behaved. Let him pay for it. He'll get a
sickener, I don't doubt. Serve him right. Serve him well right."

"But, Mr. Boult--he is my son."

"What difference does that make, my dear lady? Every ungain-doing boy is
some mother's son."

"If Bernard could have one more chance!"

"He's got it. By buying him off you are trying to do away with his chance.
The boy's been brought up too soft. Give him hardships; it's the best
physic for him."

"Think of the forced companionship with those he must associate with!"

"When he could pick his companions he chose the worst he could find. He's
amongst a rougher crew now, but a far and away better one for him."

The tears were running down Mrs. Day's cheeks. She wiped them away
furtively with her hand, but he saw them. Saw, and resented them with the
impatient sense of injury a woman's tears arouse in that order of man. He
turned his back upon her, and began fingering the lemons displayed in a
box on the other counter.

"Think over what I've said, ma'am. Words of wisdom you've heard, and every
one of 'em for your good. And see that your young man carries out my
suggestion for the window to-morrow, will you? Miss Bessie upstairs?"

Mrs. Day, staring into the street through her tears, said she believed her
daughter was in the sitting-room.

"I'll just run up and pay my respects to Miss Bessie, then."

He had adopted the habit, of late, of going up to pay his respects in that
quarter after every business interview in the shop. Bessie pretended to
look upon the predilection for her society as presumption on George
Boult's part.

"A man as old as my own father!" she often said to Emily, with whom she
had many confidences.

"All the more reason for him to come fascinatin' round you," Emily
declared.

How this ill-favoured, more than middle-aged spinster came to be an
authority on affairs of the heart she would have found it difficult to
explain; but she had ever an opinion to offer on such matters, and she
gave it with a weightiness and a conclusiveness which rendered it final.

"It's when they gets past the time that females is likely to cast an eye
to them that they're dangerous--so madly are they then overcome with
love," she asserted.

"I don't think old Scrooge will ever be dangerous," Bessie regretfully
demurred. She was much interested. "What do you mean by 'dangerous,'
Emily?"

Emily would not descend to detail. She nodded a wise head. "You look out!"
she counselled. "And remember, Miss Bessie, I'm always at hand when he's
near."

The idea that the elderly draper might suddenly become riotous, gave
always a zest to the _tête-à-tête_ which otherwise it might have lacked.
She was, truth to tell, a little disappointed to find him after each visit
no more alarming than he had been before. She even tried to pique him into
an exhibition of the "dangerous" symptom, treating him with the caprice
and the disdain she dared not have shown but for Emily's repeated
assurance she could play as she liked with him and he would never take
offence. The mother, Deleah, even little Franky, had to mind their "P's
and Q's" with the man who, as he himself had phrased it, "stood at the
back of them." Bessie was on a different plane, she told herself, and
could do as she liked.

"I've been bullying your mother about that ill-doing brother of yours," he
said. "I thought I'd better say a word or two to you on the same subject."

"Thank you, Mr. Boult. You have forgotten to take off your hat."

He took it off with reluctance, because it concealed the bald top of his
head, and without being asked to do so, seated himself in the chair
opposite hers.

Every man carries about with him his ideal of what a woman should look
like, although he probably changes it a good many times before he arrives
at the age, in Emily's opinion, dangerous for a lover. At the mature age
of fifty-five, George Boult's ideal happened to be realised by Bessie Day.
Fair-skinned she was, and very plump. Her waist was small, exceedingly, as
was in accordance with the taste of that day, but her hips and bust were
large; there was a promise of a double chin to come later. The necklace of
Venus showed alluringly in her full young throat, and in the knuckles of
her small white hands were dimples.

"Is that how you pass your days?" George Boult asked her, pointing to the
book she still held in her hands.

"Reading? A part of my day. A very good way, too, to pass it. Don't you
think so?"

"I call it a sinful way. A sinful waste of time."

"Oh, Mr. Boult! But it is only stupid, uncultured people who don't read."

"I read my newspaper every day," he said, as if she had accused him. "It
is all that business people have time for."

"I'm so glad I'm not a business person, then."

"You never will be! One of the idle ones of the earth, Miss Bessie. Those
that toil not neither do they spin."

"A lily of the field," Bessie reminded him.

"I have told you before, a fine, healthy young woman like you has no right
to be sitting over the fire in idleness."

"What do you suggest I should do?"

"Go down and wait in the shop. Why not? If you would do so your mother
could get rid of Pretty."

Bessie turned on him a face flushed with anger: "I will never wait in the
shop," she said. "I hate the shop. I hate all shops, except to spend money
in."

"Ah, you'd do that, I don't doubt," he said, with a certain bitterness. He
utterly condemned the fat, lazy girl. He would have liked to see her down
on her knees scrubbing the boards. He would have enjoyed the chance to
punish her for her frivolity, the impertinence, the nonsense, that yet in
some unaccountable way attracted him. He looked angrily at her, and Bessie
watched him. Perhaps he was going to show the "dangerousness" incident to
his time of life at last.

"As you're all going on now, I'm afraid you won't have much money to
spend," he contented himself with saying; and then he began on the other
subject. "And what about this wretched boy?"

"I'll thank you not to call him a wretched boy to me, Mr. Boult."

"What else is he? He is a wretched boy."

"He is my brother."

"Yah, yah!" said Mr. Boult, unable to find articulate expression for his
contempt. "More's the pity for you! Your mother's running her head at
buying the young ass off. I've told her I would not give her a farthing
for any such purpose."

"Did she ask you for a farthing?"

"All I ever intend to do for Master Bernard I have done. I give you all
notice. If you choose to get him home here, to dangle about, eating you
women out of house and home, don't look to me to help you."

"Mr. Boult, we are unfortunate, but we aren't quite friendless."

"I'm glad to hear it. It's news."

"Let me tell you that there are others--"

"Pity they didn't come forward sooner!"

In his soul he believed that no family had ever possessed such a guide,
philosopher and friend as he had been to them. For much he would not have
credited the suggestion that he must share the honour of having befriended
them with another.

"If you've got another friend like me up your sleeve you'd best bring him
forward, and let him put a little more money into the business. That's
what's wanted, Miss Bessie."

He got up from his chair and advanced a step upon her: "Who are these
mighty friends then? Out with them."

"Suppose I don't choose to tell you?"

"I should expect you've got your reasons. I will bid you good-afternoon,
Miss Bessie." He thrust out his hand to her.

"What is that for?" Bessie inquired, looking with disdainful curiosity
upon the yellow dogskin. "You shouldn't shake hands with a lady with your
glove on, Mr. Boult."

At that he drew back the hand, put on his hat, and walked away.

"Good-afternoon, Mr. Boult."

"Yah! Yah!" Mr. Boult responded from the landing.

And as he went down the dark staircase and out at the private door he said
to himself some words the reverse of complimentary to Miss Bessie.



CHAPTER XIX

When Beauty Calls


"Oh, Reggie!" Deleah said in a tone of supreme annoyance.

She regarded the young man walking to meet her--his rather dandified but
sufficiently handsome figure resplendent in the latest and best cut of
coat, waistcoat and hat, the newest thing in neckties about his throat,
the ropiest arrangement of gold chain looped across his person--with a
severe expression of disapproval on her face.

"Now, what are you doing here?" she demanded of him as he turned and
walked by her side. "Isn't it too bad of you, Reggie! I told you that Miss
Chaplin had heard of your 'hanging about' for me, as she called it; and
that I had promised it should not occur again. I have gone a longer way
home, through far less pleasant streets, to escape you--yet here you are,
waylaying me again."

"Don't be angry with me, dear; I can't help it," the young man pleaded.

"Can't help it!" she repeated, softly scornful. "You'll get me dismissed
from the school. That will be our next misfortune."

"I wish the old woman would dismiss you. I wish she'd turn you out, so
that you hadn't a penny except what I could give you; or anywhere to go
except to come to me."

"How many times have I asked you not to say that sort of thing?"

"But, hang it all, why shouldn't I? A man knows his own mind at my age, I
suppose--?"

"You thought you knew it a year ago when all the town was talking of you
and Harriet Hart. You thought you knew it two--or was it three years
before that?--when you said you were in love with Bessie."

"Parcel of silly rot, Deleah! They tell you anything, my dear. Don't you
believe it. I've never been in love--not head over ears, as I am now--in
all my life before. You may believe it."

"I don't wish to believe it. Let us forget it. Do, Reggie!"

"No; let's have it out. You know what I mean. I mean I want you to marry
me, dear."

"Nonsense!"

"I can tell you there's no nonsense about it. It's downright, deadly
earnest. And I'll tell you another thing, Deleah, since you have dragged
in Bessie: that you've no need to be jealous of her--"

"Jealous! Really, Reggie! Oh, what a conceited young man!"

"Hold on. I'll come to that presently. I'm telling you that even when I
seemed sweet on Bessie, years ago, I used to think about you. I used to
think you were the prettiest little girl I'd ever set eyes on. And so you
were; I used to think what a beauty you'd be; and you are. There's no one
among the girls I've seen to touch you. You top the lot. You needn't
laugh, dear. I mean it."

"But if you do--I'm much obliged to you--but it makes no difference,
Reggie."

"And as to my being conceited--you're always hinting I'm conceited--I'm no
more so than any young man would be in my place, with a lot of girls
trying to catch him--Ah, there you go! Don't jump on me, Deleah. You know
what I mean. Lots of girls are looking out to get married, and I've got
money, and I've got a name--"

"On the Brewers' carts. 'Forcus and Sons; Brewers.'"

"It's a name I ain't ashamed of, and one that's pretty well known, at any
rate!"

"And my name, or my mother's name, is over a shop-doorway, 'licensed to
sell tobacco and snuff'; and it's a name that we can't be proud of,
Reggie."

"But I'll put up with it, Deleah. I've made up my mind, and I'll go
through with it. The name wouldn't be yours any longer, dear, when you'd
taken mine; and as for the grocer's shop--"

"Why, here it is!" Deleah said. "And so good-bye, Reggie."

"I was coming in with you."

"You can't unless I ask you."

"And you're not going to? You're not very polite or kind to me, Deleah,
upon my word!"

"Indeed, I am very, very kind, Reggie. And that you'll say when you are
wiser. And so, good-bye. Run away and get wiser, Reggie."



"Deleah, something must be done for Bernard," Mrs. Day said with
desperation in her tone. She had called the girl into her bedroom to hold
conference away from the excitable Bessie. "Something I must do for my
poor boy, or I feel that I shall go out of my senses. You must help me to
do something, Deleah. Look at this."

From her pocket she drew forth a letter received that morning from the
unhappy son. Deleah read it with a painful mingling of pity and contempt.

It was indeed an afflicting letter for any mother to receive; and Mrs. Day
had too long been fed on the bread of affliction.

"You see, he begs of me to do something--to buy him off."

"Yes. I think his letter is abject."

"Don't, dear! Your blaming him makes it worse for me to bear, not better.
Somehow this thing must be done--_somehow_, if I am to know any peace, to
be able to go on. Deleah, Reggie Forcus would do anything for you. Ask
Reggie Forcus to do this."

"Oh, mama! No!"

"My account is overdrawn at the Bank. I dare not ask for a further amount.
What would these few pounds be to him? He spends as much on a dinner for a
few men at the Royal."

"I can't ask him. Can't you see I must not?"

"I see what you mean. But oh, Deleah, we seem to have come to the bottom
of things. What to us, in the very depths, are all those rules and
niceties that happier people observe? You see what my boy says? He is 'in
hell.' He says it in so many words. My boy! My Bernard!"

With that Mrs. Day flung her arms upon the table by which she was sitting,
and her head upon her arms, and gave way to bitter weeping: "My boy! My
boy! My poor dear, precious Bernard!" she sobbed despairingly.

The sight made Deleah almost desperate: "I can't do what you ask. I can't
possibly ask Reggie. But--there is another person--"

She stopped there, saying to herself, "The third time The third time! I
can't ask him for money the third time!"

"Bernard! My Bernard!" cried the mother, her face hidden on her arms.

"Mama, pray do not cry so dreadfully--you break my heart. I can't do what
you ask, but I will do what I can," Deleah promised.



CHAPTER XX

Sir Francis Makes A Call


The letter in which Deleah, in her most careful handwriting and in formal
language, set forth her prayer that for her mother's sake Sir Francis
Forcus, who had already shown her family such generous kindness, should
buy off her brother Bernard; he, having left Mr. George Boult's shop at
Ingleby, and now enlisted in such and such a regiment--was addressed to
that gentleman at his private residence, The Court, Cashelthorpe.

He read the letter among others as he ate his breakfast, gave a shrug and
a snort of impatience, and put it aside on a little heap of those which
required answering.

Before starting for town he singled it out from the rest and read it
again. Then, standing up, the letter still in his hand, he gave vent to
his feelings on the subject, for the enlightenment of his sister.

"They've put that pretty child on to me again," he said. "This is from
that little Day girl you fell in love with, last year, in the Assembly
Rooms, Ada." He tossed the letter into her lap.

"That sweetly pretty little thing at the concert?" She read the letter.
"What shall you do?" she asked.

"Decline."

"Oh, Francis! Why?"

"Because the boy is a ne'er-do-well. I have heard of him before. He is
safest where he is."

"She'll think it so unkind, poor child."

"It can't be helped."

"Would it cost much to buy him off?"

"It isn't the money."

"The principle?"

"No. Nor yet, altogether, the principle."

"It would be kind and good-natured to do what the poor little thing asks."

"Yes. But for the sake of seeming good-natured I'm not going to be made a
tool of."

"You'll simply write back, then, that you won't do it?" She laughed a
little, looking across at him as he stood up, tall and solemn and
handsome, with his back to the fire. "To do that will cost you more than
just enclosing the money."

"That is not the question, Ada. I shall write, or"--he paused a minute,
putting his lips together as his habit was when making up his mind to a
course which did not altogether please him--"I'll go and see her," he
finished.

"That will be kinder," the sister said. To be kind was Ada Forcus's
religion; it is possible she could not have professed a better one, or one
more likely to benefit mankind.

"They live at the shop, I suppose?" he asked.

"Over the shop, poor things. I am so very sorry for that poor Mrs. Day."

"You deal with her, don't you? You do what you can?"

"I tell them to get _some_ things there every week."

"And they do?"

"You know how difficult servants are. Mrs. Twiss makes a grievance of it.
They won't drink the tea in the kitchen; the currants are not so good. She
always gets the matches there, and the blacking. Everything else Mrs.
Twiss finds so much better at Wolsey's--"

"And Wolsey, no doubt, gives her a percentage on her order. However--."

Sir Francis fulfilled his intention of calling to see Deleah on the
subject of her letter on the afternoon of that same day.

Miss Deleah was not home from school yet, he was informed by Emily,
answering the door. She would not most likelies be many minutes. Would he
walk in, and wait?

The gentleman, acquiescing, was shown up the steep staircase and across
the dark landing. Emily had no need to ask his name--there was not a soul
in Brockenham probably who did not know by sight the rich brewer. With a
feeling of proud satisfaction the old servant threw open the sitting-room
door and announced on a sounding note of triumph, "Sir Francis Forcus."

Emerging from the gloom of hall, staircase and landing his eyes were
almost dazzled by the unexpected brightness and pleasantness of the long
room, lit at the street end by the three deep-seated windows. Everywhere
were evidences of occupation by refined women. The street below was hot
and squalid and dusty, but the room with its shaded wide-open windows was
cool. In one of them Deleah's bird was singing, and the plants in bloom on
the wide seats beneath had been pushed on one side to make room for
Deleah's little pile of books. Bessie's workbox was open on the table. A
picture or two of no commercial value, but saved with the solid, handsome
furniture from the prosperous days of the family, hung on the panelled and
painted walls.

By the side of the rosewood workbox with its over-flowing contents of
muslin and ribbon to be used in the concoction of an afternoon apron which
she was engaged on, Miss Day was sitting. Near by, his hands on the raised
sash of Deleah's special window, leaning forward to look into the street,
her companion stood. It was not until Bessie had come forward to greet the
unexpected, astounding visitor, that Sir Francis, turning to look at the
other occupant of the room, recognised his brother.

Whatever surprise he may have felt he did not show.

"Hullo!" Reggie said, turning round, and looking a little foolish. He
raised a finger to his fair, smooth hair, in mock-respectful salutation.

"Oh, it's you!" Sir Francis said, and paid the young brother no further
attention.

The very opposite in manner to the ever-popular Reggie, with his easy
manners and his never-failing good temper, Sir Francis, cool, reserved,
spare of speech, and in uncongenial society, truth to tell, unconquerably
shy, was a difficult person with whom to make talk. He said a few
constrained words to Bessie, with whose presence on the scene he had not
reckoned any more than with that of his brother; and Bessie, struggling
valiantly to appear at ease with him, and failing utterly, answered them
according to her kind.

"Very warm, to-day."

Bessie was afraid he felt it so in this stuffy, airless street.

"But you are delightfully in the shade here."

Bessie, straightening her back and pouting her vivid lips, told how the
weather made her long for a garden, a river, and waving trees, or the
sea-shore.

"Or anything you can't get," Sir Francis commented to himself, looking
with distaste at the plump, foolish, pink and white face of the young
woman with whom he had been entrapped into intercourse. "You have some
roses, I see," he said aloud.

"They are sent to me," smiled a conscious Bessie. She did not consider
herself to be lying. What was sent to Deleah she continued to persuade
herself was intended for her.

"I know whose money goes for that," Sir Francis inwardly ejaculated. He
glanced at his brother, hanging his foolish head from the window again.
"I'm glad I came, after all. I'll put a stop to this," he resolved.

"Your gardens at Cashelthorpe must be charming now, Sir Francis."

Sir Francis admitted without emotion that they were charming.

"That's why you're leaving them, and going off to Scotland next week,"
Reggie supposed, drawing in his head from the window.

"It must be delightful to travel," gushed Bessie, seizing on the topic.
She exacted a programme from him, punctuated by her "Delightful!
Delightful!" of the places he was intending to visit.

And so for a few minutes, Bessie struggling with all her poor wits to do
so, they kept up a painfully lagging conversation. And all the time the
poor girl was desperately supplying improbable, and impossible reasons to
account to herself for the bewildering fact of his visit; all the time Sir
Francis was wondering how quickly without incivility he could get away;
all the time Reggie, as he watched for the figure of Deleah coming down
the street, was muttering to himself, "He's on my track again, hang him!"

At the end of the difficult ten minutes Sir Francis rose: "Coming my way?"
he inquired of Reggie.

"Not just this minute, old man," said Reggie, who knew better.

"Mind you don't tumble downstairs," he called after his departing brother.

Sir Francis gazing stonily in his direction did not deign to thank him for
the not all unnecessary caution. Emily awaiting him in the little hall at
the bottom of the stairs, had set the outer door open to light the
distinguished visitor upon his way.

"Miss Deleah should be in by now, sir," she said as he passed out. Fain
would she have all Brockenham to see him issuing from that door, yet fain
would she have kept him there for Deleah.

"It is of no consequence, I will write," he said, and departed with a
sense of escape.

"Well!" Bessie breathed, as the door closed on the visitor. "Wasn't that
extraordinary! What on earth--?"

Her feelings would not allow her to finish the sentence. She looked the
rest at Reggie, eyes and mouth open, the fluster into which the visit had
thrown her still visibly palpitating in all her person.

"Oh, the dear old boy came to look after me," Reggie explained, calmly
indifferent. "I shall get it hot now."

"But _why_?"

"He won't like my being at home here, like this, you know," the ingenuous
youth admitted.

"But, Reggie, you're your own master, aren't you?"

Reggie said he jolly well was, and leaned his head out of the window, to
look for Deleah again. He knew very well why she was so long in coming,
she had gone ever so far out of her way in order to escape from his
attendance on her. It was not very flattering to his _amour propre_, but
it piqued him, in his indolent, spoilt habit. Bessie would have run into
his arms, he knew right well, not away from them, and so would three or
four other pretty girls be knew. But he did not want Bessie or the others.
It was Deleah he wanted. And--Bessie was right there--he was his own
master.

Sir Francis as he walked away was making plans to frustrate those resolves
for his own management of his affairs which Reggie was making in the
window overhead. He had turned aside quite easily the young man's foolish
bent in this direction, once before. It might be more difficult now, but
he would spare no effort to do it effectually again. He was not favourably
impressed by the young woman he had just left; her plump prettiness had
not appealed to him; nor the mauve-coloured ribbons streaming down her
back. As for her family history it was not only undesirable, it was
disreputable.

So, walking with his usually composed mien through the streets of his
native town, perhaps its best known and most imposing figure, but in a
ruffled and indignant frame of mind, he forgot all about Deleah Day and
his errand to her until he saw her come, hurrying along the pavement in
his direction.

Of all the people in the world she least desired to meet Sir Francis
Forcus until he had answered the letter it had cost her so much to write.
Would he let her pass him? She redoubled her pace, and making him a shy
little bow, tried to hurry by, but with a word of apology he stopped her.

"I got your letter, Miss Day," he said; and then looking at her, at her
youth, her beauty, her helplessness, the shrinking grace of her figure,
the fear of him that was expressed in her down-dropped head and averted
gaze, the rich man's heart failed him; he found that he could not tell her
he would not grant her request. "I wanted to tell you I will do what you
ask," he found himself lamely substituting for the firm refusal he had
intended. "But at the same time you will forgive my saying I think you are
wrong."

"You mean mama should not buy Reggie off?"

"I am sure she would be far wiser not to do so."

"Then I will tell mama what you say. Other people have told her so; but
coming from you it might carry more weight." Deleah, in her innocent way
was a flatterer, he perceived; but she did not gush like Bessie. He
thanked his lucky stars for that.

She stood before him, plainly longing to escape, her light figure almost
poised for flight. Overwhelmed she was by the consciousness of the
shabbiness of her school frock and worn gloves; pitilessly the sun shone
on them, bringing out the poorness of their quality, and all the defects
of long use and age. It shone on him almost blindingly it seemed to her;
so that to look at him, so fine, so grave, so grand, as he stood before
her hurt her eyes. They had met in one of the principal streets of the
town; the men who passed them looked such miserable creatures, she
thought, beside his tall figure. How had she the presumption to have
pestered him with her degrading troubles!

"Mama was in such sorrow about Bernard," she was impelled to excuse
herself. "Mama wished me to ask your brother, who knew Bernard very well;
but I thought it better not to trouble him. I thought it better, as you
had helped me before, to ask you to help again."

"It is better to come to me," he said with great gravity.

"Your brother is very generous," she went on saying in her nervousness
anything that came into her head. "He would have given us the money
without a thought as to whether it was right or wrong. I should have felt
we were taking advantage of him. It did not seem to me to be right to ask
him."

He wondered as he heard her how she had come to be a Day; and then he too
found himself plunging into a subject he had not, a moment before,
intended to mention.

"I called to see you at your house, just now. I found my brother there.
May I ask if he is a frequent visitor?"

The small face which had been so clearly pale was suddenly like a scarlet
rose. "Just lately a very frequent visitor," she said; and, in spite of
her shyness, she lifted her head and looked him straight in the face.

"A young man who is idle can never understand that other people are busy,"
he said. "I am sure that you are all too much occupied to wish to have my
brother always hanging about."

Deleah looked at him in silence. She understood perfectly what he meant.
What was there for her to say?

"I shall try and waken him to the perception that he is trespassing on
valuable time, and making a bore of himself," he said; smiled to make his
words acceptable, raised his hat to go on his way; yet delayed for a
minute still.

"In the matter of your brother, you understand, I will do what you ask."

"I shall persuade mama to give up her idea of buying him off."

"What is his regiment?" She told him, and that it was at Aldershot. A
couple of years ago it happened to have been quartered at Brockenham. "I
know several of the officers," Sir Francis remembered. "I could write to
Colonel Greene about your brother. If it did him no good it couldn't do
him any harm; and there is the chance that Greene would take an interest
in him."

Deleah said with an averted head that that would be very good of him; and
making him a grave little bow hurried away.



CHAPTER XXI

In For It!


"I shall keep out of his way for a day or two--put up at the Royal instead
of going home," Reggie had explained to Bessie in the quarter of an hour
he was _tête-à-tête_ with her before Deleah came in. "By the time he sees
me again he'll have forgotten all about finding me here."

"I suppose you don't see that all this fuss about being 'found' in our
house is not very complimentary to us?" Bessie said.

"Oh hang!" said Reggie. "How can I help it if he objects? You all know
very well you're good enough for me."

He was not a clever nor a tactful young man, although quite good-natured.
He did not intend to offend, and never understood why he sometimes did so.
Bessie was "touchy," as he often declared, but she bore no malice. So long
as she had the young man dangling around, so long as she could dress for
him, put on her long mauve ribbons for him, do up her hair for him in a
chignon whose dimensions should surpass those of any other chignon in
Brockenham, so long as Emily continued to make him the subject for her
winks and nods and innuendoes, she lived in her Paradise and was fairly
content.

But by putting up at the Royal Reggie did not long evade the discussion he
foresaw might be unpleasant; for on the very next morning, before he had
arisen from his bed he received a message from his brother asking for his
presence at a certain hour at the Brewery.

"I'm in for it now," he said to himself when he got the message; but he
did not dream of disregarding it.

He presented himself, therefore, punctually enough, in the pleasant
private room which looked out upon the river flowing black and oily so far
beneath; where the portrait of the father of the two men hung above Sir
Francis's head as he stood upon the hearthrug.

"Oh, there you are, Reggie! Good-morning."

"Here I am. Sharp as a new pin, and bright as a button."

"I hope I have not upset any plans for the day by sending for you;
but--You have not been overworking yourself of late, have you?"

"Thank you, no," Reggie said, choosing to ignore the sarcasm, if any were
intended.

"You're looking very nice, and fit, I'm sure. That brown velvet coat is
the latest, I suppose? Looks a little as if you were thinking of giving up
Beer for the Arts, eh? I've been wondering if you'd like to travel for a
year?"

Reggie sat down and stared at his brother, with a perplexed vacuity of
eye. This was not at all what he had expected. He thought of Deleah in a
flash. If Deleah would marry him and go with him, the very thing!

"You haven't been about the world very much," the brother went on.
"Neither have I, you will say. But I can't be spared. You--perhaps--can.
We will try, at any rate, to carry on the business without you."

Reggie, accepting the remark in all seriousness, nodded a solemn head in
silence.

"You might even combine business with pleasure, which I am sure would meet
with your approval."

"When do you want me to go? I can't be ready for some little time."

"Why not? If you go at all I want you to go at once."

"What do you call at once?"

"Next week, at latest."

Reggie shook his head. He couldn't be sure of Deleah in that time. How
long would it take to get married, he wondered.

"No, thank you. I really don't care for it. I couldn't possibly get away
so soon."

"Why not?"

"There are the Widdimouth races next week, and I've booked several
engagements for the week after."

"The fact is I want you to get away for a time, Reggie. This place is all
very well if you've got a business or a profession to attend to, but
simply to idle away your time here isn't healthy."

"What's wrong with Brockenham?" Reggie asked, who had a great admiration
for his native town. "Any one been gossiping about me again?"

"No one has mentioned you to me. But Ada was hearing an interesting piece
of news about you, yesterday."

"Ada's as bad as the other old women."

"Nonsense. You had better go, Reggie. I mean it."

Reggie passed a ringed hand over his smooth, fair hair, felt his
moustache, opening his mouth beneath the caressing fingers as he did so.

"The engagements you mention are negligible ones?"

Reggie nodded, gazing at his brother, busy with the corners of the
moustache, making up his mind for a plunge. "Fact is," he got out, "I'm
thinking of settling down."

Sir Francis left his position on the hearthrug, walked across to the
table, to arrange more symmetrically some papers which lay there;
returning, took up his place on the hearth again. "Getting married, you
mean?" he asked.

Reggie nodded, still holding his mouth open, the more satisfactorily to
handle the moustache.

"My dear fellow, that intention need not deter you. You have held it so
often before. Go away for twelve months, at least. Get engaged, if you are
still so inclined, when you come home."

"Perhaps," amended Reggie artlessly, "if I were to put off going for a
month, or even a couple of months, we might get married, and she could go
too."

"Who is the lady at the present moment, may I ask?"

"I expect you've formed a pretty good guess," said Reggie, bold as a lion.
"You saw me there yesterday."

"A daughter of Mrs. Day, at the grocer's shop; widow of----? But we
needn't go into that."

"It doesn't seem necessary. Her daughter."

"Well--!" said Sir Francis slowly. "You have given me one reason more, my
dear boy, and that a supreme one, for hastening your departure. Take my
advice--you will never regret it--and go to-morrow."

"No," Reggie said, and then both were silent.

When the elder again began, he had changed his easy, almost indifferent
tone for one firmer and less indulgent.

"What you propose is impossible," he said.

"I don't see it."

"Have you thought what you would be marrying? The grocer's shop, the
debts, the helpless mother, the disreputable private soldier of a brother
(he enlisted, I am told, to save himself from prison, as the father killed
himself for the same purpose). A charming family with which to ally
yourself, truly!"

"I don't intend to marry the family. I should allow the mother--not a bad
sort at all. I'm fond of her--a hundred a year, to shut the shop up. I
should--"

"Nonsense! The idea is ridiculous; monstrous. Get married if you must, but
take a girl of your own position in life. Easy enough to find--"

"I don't care a hang about position!"

"Then, more fool you. But if you don't, at least marry a woman that has
honest blood in her veins--for your children's sake."

Reggie turned away his head sulkily. "The Days were good enough for me
before they fell into trouble," he said.

His brother lifted his head and squared his shoulders, standing up tall
and imposing before the empty grate. "William Day was never good enough
for me," he said.

"I don't see that a girl is to be made to suffer all her life because her
father was not good enough for you," Reggie said sulkily.

"Try not to be an ass, my dear fellow. You don't suppose you can be
allowed to do a mad thing like this without my telling you what I think of
it. You know, I have never had much opinion of your judgment--except,
perhaps, in the matter of horses; but in your admiration for this Miss Day
your taste is to my thinking astoundingly bad. I call her a commonplace,
almost vulgar young woman."

"Vulgar? _Vulgar!_"

"She is pretentious, she is affected, she is gushing--what is that but to
be vulgar? She is not even pretty--"

"Not pretty!" Reggie cried, and started up from his chair. "Not pretty!
Deleah Day!"

"Deleah! The young one?"

"I've been telling you so, all along, haven't I? Who did you think it
was?"

"It was the other, when we spoke of the Days before," Sir Francis reminded
him, but flatly, and his face had fallen.

Here was more serious matter. Not that flaunting extravagant queen, not
Bessie with her plump prettiness, her cheap wiles, her nets that were
spread in the sight of man; but Deleah, the dainty, charmingly pretty
child. The marriage would be none the less hideously undesirable on the
social side, and from the point of view of the family; but it would be
infinitely more difficult to stop. Sir Francis, in his widowed estate,
with twenty years more of experience on his head, was yet not so old but
that he could picture how deeply, how dangerously in love a young man of
his brother's age could imagine himself with Deleah Day.

Reggie was recalling attention to himself by a loud snort of contempt.
"I'm not very likely to have thought of Bessie when Deleah was on the
spot," he said.

"Except that the younger sister has a more attractive appearance, all the
objections remain the same in either case."

"The Days are down-pins, I admit," Reggie said dispassionately; "and the
father and brother were rotten; but no one'll think of those things when
they look at Deleah. I'm not afraid."

Sir Francis contemplated his young brother meditatively. "Let us know
precisely how we stand, Reggie. Are you actually engaged to this girl?"

"Oh, yes! I'm engaged to her, right enough."

"What does being 'engaged right enough' mean exactly?" There had been a
something indicating a want of confidence in Reggie's tone.

"There's no doubt about me. I'm running straight."

"But the girl? What has she to say to it?"

"The fact is, she's afraid of Bessie. She can't get over it that I was
once considered to be Bessie's property--by Bessie. I never was; but
Bessie chose to lay claim to me."

"So, although you are engaged to Miss Deleah Day, Miss Deleah Day, so far
as I understand the matter, is not engaged to you?"

"That's about how we stand at present, I suppose."

"I see," Sir Francis said.



CHAPTER XXII

The Importunate Mr. Gibbon


The news that the addresses of young Mr. Forcus were being paid not to her
but to her younger sister could not altogether have come as a surprise to
Bessie. She must have noticed the direction of the young man's admiring
glances; she must have known why, when alone with her, he watched the
street till Deleah came in; she must in a measure have been prepared for
the fact that he had now declared himself Deleah's lover, and had even
sought the approval of Mrs. Day on his suit.

But Bessie had no dignity. She gave herself away without reserve whenever
occasion offered. She abused Deleah, she scolded her mother, she wept
noisily over her wrongs. She declared that there was positive indecency on
Deleah's part in encouraging the love-making of a young man who had once,
however long ago it was, made love to her.

"I don't think Deleah did encourage him, Bessie."

"Would he have done it without? You remember what Reggie was in those
days, mama, and how he _wanted_ encouragement--"

"My dear, Deleah has far too much self-respect--"

"There you go! Always Deleah. I suppose if Deleah took up a dinner-knife
and stabbed me to the heart you would make excuses for her!"

"Oh, Bessie, do not be unjust."

"It is you that are unjust. It is you that have spoilt Deleah, with
petting and praising and telling her how pretty she is--"

"My dear Bessie!"

"You don't say it in so many words, but you are always _looking it_ at
her. You are, mama! I see you doing it. And when Deda comes home I shall
tell her what I think of the way she has behaved to me--the sneaky way; I
shan't spare her. She shall hear it all. And then if we live together for
twenty years I won't speak to Deleah again. I won't, mama! I won't! I
won't!"

Poor Mrs. Day hurried away, carrying her harassed face and all her
maternal cares into the even more perplexing area of business worries; but
Emily having heard the raised voice of her young mistress--Bessie was
always shrill when unhinged--went at once to her assistance.

Bessie had taken to the sofa--that mid-Victorian sanctuary for the
afflicted fair--and encouraged by the sympathy of the faithful servant,
must begin to cry, must begin to laugh, must go on to screaming and
pommelling the horsehair with her heels, as was her custom when moved.
Emily, postponing for the purpose the washing up of her dinner-things, sat
beside the sofa till Bessie grew calm enough to become attentive, when,
she sympathetically listened, and flattered, and soothed.

"There's others as is ready to die for you, and ask no better, if Deleah
have snatched away this one," Emily declared. "There's one of 'em, that to
my mind, for real affection and stiddiness, is worth a dozen of your
Forcuses." And Bessie, listening greedily, knew that the family boarder,
George Boult's Manchester man, was indicated. "There's him to your hand.
You can have him for the taking," Emily promised; and Bessie quieted down,
meditating.

"You've treated this one cruel, Miss Bessie. You have that! And him
sittin' by, his heart fit to fly out at you, sayin' nothin'; while this
other young chap, his flower in his button-hole, his horse a-pawin' up the
stones in the street down below, is a-carryin' on."

"I have neglected the poor Honourable Charles lately, I admit," said
Bessie with a remorseful sigh.

"And him that patient--that faithful! Well, now, Miss Bessie, you listen
to me. Turn your back on Reggie--give him the cold shoulder--see how he'll
like it! And you pay your addresses to our young man. The mistress was
a-telling me how he's made a partner with Mr. Boult an'll be rich as him,
if not richer, some day. You'd drive your kerridge, my dear; and Reggie
hisself couldn't give you more."

Bessie stretched herself complacently, and feigned a yawn, to indicate
that the subject was rather beneath her notice: "I dare say I might do
worse," she admitted.

By such judicious means was the injured Bessie restored to something of
her former calm.

Mrs. Day, running up presently to see how her daughter was bearing up,
found her sitting up on the sofa, drinking tea, her plump cheeks flushed,
the light of excitement in her eyes.

"Mama," she said, "there is something I have been wanting to ask you.
Should you object very much if I and the Honourable Charles made a match
of it, after all?"

Mrs. Day looked doubtfully at the girl without answering. She had her own
ideas on the subject of the Honourable Charles's intentions.

"I mean should you think I am marrying beneath me, and that kind of
thing?"

"No, my dear. I should certainly not make any objection on that score. Has
something occurred, then, to put the idea into your head, to-day?"

"I suppose you can understand, mama, that I do not wish to see my younger
sister married before me? If Deleah thinks she is going to put that kind
of slight on me she's mistaken. It's what I won't put up with from her,
and so I tell her; and so I tell you. It's--it's--"

"Yes, yes, my dear. Pray don't excite yourself again, Bessie."

"So, if Deleah persists in taking Reggie--and she'll richly deserve all
she'll get with him--I shall make up my mind to Gibbon."

"_Mr._ Gibbon, Bessie."

"Mr. Gibbon, then. I don't think he's a man to be ashamed of, do you?"

"Certainly not. I believe he is quite a steady and honourable young man. A
little moody, perhaps--"

"There's a cause for that. And if Deleah, when she's Mrs. Forcus, is
ashamed of him it won't matter to me, because I'm ashamed of Deleah, and
so I mean to tell her when she comes home."

"And you think that Mr. Gibbon _means_--?"

Bessie gave a scornful laugh: "If you haven't eyes in your head to see,
mama, ask Emily!"

Ah, if these things might be! Mrs. Day thought as she descended again to
her duties behind the counter. If only her girls could find homes for
themselves, how thankful she would be. For the business was doing badly;
all the customers who were worth keeping had fallen away; the little
capital she had had in hand had dwindled, disappeared. In that morning's
paper she had read that the regiment in which Bernard had enlisted was
ordered to India. Too late now to buy him off, even if she had been
permitted to do so. If she had not been compelled to show a calm face
above her counter she would have passed the day in tears at the thought of
the privations and sufferings before her boy. Her poor young Bernard.

So tired she was of it all: of smiling, with tears raining upon her heart,
of listening to the complaints of customers, the grievance of poor Bessie
upstairs--poor unreasonable, self-centred Bessie, whom yet she so
loved--when she was herself like to drown in trouble. If only the girls
could find homes--Deleah she knew would provide for Franky--she would shut
up the hateful shop, would give up the humiliating struggle--she being an
earthen vessel--to swim with the hateful Coman who was of iron. She would
then, she thought, go to bed and to sleep, and would sleep and sleep, and
never get up again. Orthodox Christian as she was, in her anxious,
worried, and wearied existence the joys of Heaven did not tempt her so
much as the possibility of enjoying a long, uninterrupted sleep.

She was kept late in the shop that night, and when at length she went
upstairs she found only a glum family party already at the supper-table
awaiting her.

Franky, who generally talked, whoever else was silent, was conspicuous by
his absence, he having been ordered out of the room by his sister Bessie
because his clothes smelt.

This was a constant source of grievance and friction between the eldest
and youngest hope of the house. The poor boy had not many changes of
raiment, and he being of an age to dabble in any mess that came handy
without reference to his sister's olfactory nerves, there was no denying
the fact that his little brown tunic, his worn little trousers had
acquired a very _boyey_ smell. Unless under the protection of his mother's
presence, therefore, he was often exiled to the kitchen to get his meals
with Emily. He never went without protest and tears and often kicks, on
his own part, and fisticuffs on Bessie's, who remained behind, after such
encounters, flustered by victory, and ready to quarrel with any one on the
spot.

To-night, however, ignoring the presence of Deleah, she had intended to be
very gracious to the boarder, who as ill-luck would have it did not come
in to his supper at all. Under the discouraging influence of Bessie's
silence conversation fell flat between Deleah and her mother. The meal
over, Mrs. Day, more than, usually tired, announced her intention of going
to bed, an example quickly followed by Bessie, who wished to avoid at that
moment a _tête-à-tête_ with Deleah.

It happened to-night, that as soon as mother and sister had gone, and
before Deleah had finished clearing away the books and work and Franky's
painting things, which had been in use earlier in the evening, the boarder
came in.

It was extraordinarily seldom that the Honourable Charles found himself
alone with the younger daughter of the house--whether by chance, her
management, or the management of others, he could not tell.

Deleah Day, in her cotton frock of white with tiny black spots, a wide,
embroidered collar tied with black ribbon at her throat, her black,
thickly waving hair brushed behind her ears and gathered at the back of
her small head, was an agreeable figure at the hearth to greet any poor
worker on his return to rest and fireside.

He did not want any supper, would have none. His appetite was poor of
late, he came down in the mornings looking as if he had not slept all
night. Business, now that his interest in it had increased, seemed to be
making too great demands on his time and health.

"You must smoke," Deleah said, and put the tobacco jar at his elbow. She
always touched it with lingering fingers: it was that out of which William
Day had been wont to fill his evening pipe. She placed by him the little
decanter of whisky from which the boarder, by the admixture of lemon and
hot water, would brew himself a nightcap. He appeared to ignore these
preparations for his comfort.

"I was just clearing away, before going to bed," she told him.

She did wish to go--ardently. But the more desirous she was to avoid a
_tête-à-tête_, the more she knew in her kind heart that she must not show
her anxiety. So she sat down at the corner of the table opposite to him,
and began hurriedly to show how perfectly at ease she was by telling him
of mama's headache; and how she believed it was due to the fact that poor
mama was worried about business; which, since the horrid Coman had opened
opposite for the express purpose, it seemed, of underselling Mrs. Day, had
been so unsatisfactory.

The Manchester man had nothing encouraging to say on that theme. Indeed,
his utterances on any subject they had all found to be irritatingly
constrained and limited of late.

He made use to-night of an oft-repeated phrase of his when talk had been
made of Mrs. Day's difficulties. "I know nothing of the grocery line. It's
altogether distinct from the drapery, of course."

"I wish you'd gone in for grocery, Mr. Gibbon. Then you could have helped
us."

"You've heard, I suppose, I've fixed it up with the Governor, the way I
spoke to you about? You've heard I'm to be taken into partnership at
Michaelmas?"

"I am very glad."

"I wonder if you are?"

"Why not? Of course."

"You remember what you said about the fine house I was to live in?"

"When are you going to take it, Mr. Gibbon?"

"When will you come to live in it, Miss Deleah?"

She was sitting in a low chair and leaning negligently upon the table, her
cheek in her hand, her fingers lost in the masses of her black waving
hair, her eyes turned with polite interest upon his face. She dropped them
now, and looked at the tablecloth without speaking.

"When?" he repeated, and was breathless again in the horrible way she
remembered.

"I told you: I am not going to live in it at all, Mr. Gibbon."

He leaned towards her, throwing himself forward on his arms that were
folded upon the table; she felt his eyes glowering upon her down-bent
face: "Oh, yes, Miss Deleah!" he implored.

"I told you before," she said; and then distressedly like a child wearied
by importunities, "Oh I wish you--I wish every one would leave me alone!"

It was all very well to be pretty and admired, but not much gratification,
thanks to Bessie's jealousy, and untoward circumstances, had Deleah
experienced so far from looks or lovers.

There was a young assistant music-master, coming twice a week to Miss
Chaplin's, who had taken to blushing and paling when Deleah spoke to him.
To her great embarrassment a rosebud or a spray of forget-me-not would be
found deposited on the chair in which she sat to play propriety when the
pupils took their lessons. On the days when with great difficulty she
managed to elude Reggie, a lout of a grammar-school sixth-form boy, whose
name even she did not know, would watch her exit from the school, and
stalk at her heels, keeping sentinel over her, in a way that she felt was
making her ridiculous, to her own door. She had caught Mr. Pretty peeping
between the biscuit tins to watch her down the street. He would leave any
customer he was serving to rush forward with hateful assiduousness with a
stool for her to sit on, as soon as she entered the shop. He would entice
Franky, who had a great admiration for Mr. Pretty, to sit in the cellar
with him of evenings to talk about the younger sister. There was Reggie
always pestering; and now here again were the unwelcome attentions of the
Honourable Charles.

"I do so much wish you would all leave me alone!"

"How can I leave you alone when I so much love you, Deleah."

"Oh!" said Deleah, impatiently sighing.

She knew how young ladies comported themselves under such circumstances in
the delightful books of her dear Anthony Trollope; but she was neither
angry, nor frightened, nor particularly shy; nor did she feel the
inclination to throw herself into any man's arms, and to rest her head on
his shoulder. She was uncomfortable under these declarations of love, and
felt that she was being made ludicrous; that was all.

"You know it, don't you, Deleah?"

"Yes. I know it; since you tell me so."

"And believe in it? Believe in my desperate love?"

"I am sure you don't tell stories, Mr. Gibbon."

"Well?"

"I think it is a pity."

"Why?"

"I think you might love some one else."

"No! I want you."

"You can't have me," said Deleah, pettishly, and feeling more hopelessly
inadequate than ever.

"I can," Gibbon said, and he said it quite fiercely. "I can! I can! I can!
Do you hear?"

"I think I will go to bed." Deleah sprang up; she so longed for flight;
she looked anxiously to the closed door which was on his side of the
table.

Gibbon also rose to his feet. "Look at me, Deleah," he said. She looked,
and saw the paleness of his face. It made her sick as well as sorry to see
how pale the man had become. "Does this mean Mr. Reginald Forcus?"

"Certainly not!"

"You are not engaged to him?"

"Certainly not!"

"Look at me; keep on looking." His eyes held hers, she was compelled to
look. "Do you like him better than me? He is the best chance, out and out;
but for all that he mayn't be the best man. Do you like him the best?"

"I don't know that I do."

"Now. I've something else to ask you."

"No! I think you are too bad. I am very tired. Let me go to bed, Mr.
Gibbon."

"Answer me first. How about the other one?"

"The _other_ one! I don't know what you mean."

"Sir Francis--that gave you the fifty pound. How about him?"

Deleah's eyes, staring into his, dilated, her face grew whiter than his
own. "I don't know what you can mean," she said. "Sir Francis Forcus and
me? Me! _Me!_ Deleah Day!" She whispered the words in a kind of awe.
Almost there seemed sacrilege in them.

"Why not? Why not?"

"I think you must be mad, Mr. Gibbon."

"I am. I often am. Quite mad. Mad with love of you."

"Oh!"

"Why do you sigh like that?"

"I so much wish you wouldn't."

"Wouldn't what?"

"Be so ridiculous."

"Is that all you have to say to me?"

"That--and good-night."

"I did not think you could be so cruel."

"I am not cruel," Deleah said; and then, quite unexpected by her, a sob
rose in her throat, and it was all that she could do to keep the tears of
self-pity back. "I am not cruel, but you so torment me. I want to be kind
to you, but I do not want to hear about all this--which sounds so
ridiculous to me. You are older than I am--you should know better. You
should know how silly it is to talk to a girl like me such nonsense. And I
want to go to bed, Mr. Gibbon. Will you please stand away and let me go to
bed?"

He put his hand on the door-knob as if to open it for her, but held it
there. "This isn't the end," he said.

"Oh, no!" she sighed with dreary prescience.

"I am working for you from morning till night--only for you--so that I can
put you in a nice house, and make a lady of you. Only for you! And all
night long I can't rest for thinking of you. Mine'll be an awful night,
to-night."

"Oh, Mr. Gibbon, I'm so dreadfully sorry!"

"Then, can't you say a word to me before you go? Can't you say you'll
think of it?"

"Of course I shall think of it; I can't help thinking of it. But I don't
wish to talk of it any more. Let me go now, will you? Let me go to bed!
Good-night, Mr. Gibbon."

"Say 'Good-night, Charlie.' They call me 'Charlie' at home."

There was no help for it if she wished to escape. "Good-night, Charlie,"
she mumbled, and rushed away to her own room, in a condition between
laughing and crying which recalled Bessie's attacks.

"It is all so ridiculous!" she kept saying to herself as she undressed.
"'Good-night, Charlie!' Imagine my having called him 'Charlie.' Charlie,
indeed!" She set her teeth at the remembrance. "I would rather have hit
him than called him Charlie!"

But as she undressed herself the more serious side of the position
presented itself for consideration. Her mother wanted her to get
married--she had owned as much, and she had an absolute faith in her
mother's wisdom. Did girls marry men feeling about them as she felt about
this man and Reggie Forcus, she wondered? It was indisputable that men,
"horrider than they," as she phrased it to herself, found quite nice girls
to marry them. Ought she to take one or the other? She did not wish
to--but ought she?

She got into her night-dress, brushed her hair, even said her prayers--the
self-same prayers in the identical words she had said by her bedside in
Queen Anne Street on the night of the New Year's party, long ago; she had
not even left her father's name out of her petitions--debating these
things. She slept in a tiny bedroom through Mrs. Day's, and when she got
up from her knees she took her candle and went into her mother's room. "I
will hear what mama has to say about it," she told herself.

Mrs. Day was lying awake in the darkness, thinking of Bernard and the
dangers of India.

"Mama," Deleah said, holding the candle aloft to peer at her mother. Its
light fell on her own charming face half hidden in the loose waves of
curling black hair. "You aren't asleep, are you? Of course you aren't! I
believe you lie there all night, staring into the shadows and thinking of
miserable things! I wonder if it would really make things better, if you
would like it very much, that she also has made up her mind to marry Mr.
Gibbon!"

Deleah stared for a minute, and then she laughed; and Mrs. Day saw that
she laughed whole-heartedly. "Bessie takes all my young men!" she said.
"You see, mama, with the best will in the world to please you, I can't get
married; so there's an end of it; and I may as well go to bed."

"Come and kiss me, dear."

Mrs. Day put a detaining arm round the girl's shoulders. "Nothing of this
makes you unhappy, Deleah?"

"It only makes me want to laugh," Deleah said.



CHAPTER XXIII

Deleah Has No Dignity


A day or so after her encounter with the local magnate in the principal
street of Brockenham, Deleah found herself, to her extreme surprise, on
her way to the Hope Brewery, in response to a letter from Sir Francis
Forcus, asking her to call on him there on a matter of business. He had
named the afternoon hour in which she was released from school.

"I sent for you, because I wished to see you alone, and I thought it might
be difficult to do so at your own house," Sir Francis said.

His address was more formal, his appearance more formidable than ever, she
thought, as he indicated the chair in which he wished her to sit, and took
his own seat, entrenched behind his writing-table, at some distance from
her. "I hope it is not objectionable to you to come to me here, my own
house being so far away?"

Deleah shyly, but quite honestly, said that she did not mind in the least.
"He is going to tell me that, after all, he has decided to buy Bernard
off," she told herself, but was not allowed to maintain that illusion
long.

"I have a word or two I wished to say to you about my young brother,
Reginald," he said, plunging into his subject.

He sat, his face a little averted from her, looking down at the papers on
his desk, and spoke in a tone as cold and non-committal as if he read what
he had to say to her, written there.

Deleah receiving his communication in uncomfortable silence, he went on:
"For several reasons--some of them business ones--it has been arranged for
my brother to leave Brockenham for a year. To travel!"

Pausing there, she still finding nothing to say, he added, looking closer
at the paper on the desk, "He will not go."

"I am sorry," Deleah shyly said.

"He won't go, because of you." Then he turned his face to her, and Deleah
saw that his face expressed cold disapproval. "I am quite sure you do not
wish to stand in Reginald's light, Miss Day?"

"Oh no."

"I was sure of it. And therefore I was encouraged to send for you. It will
be better that we talk matters over a little. You have influence over
Reggie?"

"I think not." Once or twice she had tried to impose her own ideas of what
was right and fitting upon the young man, and had failed. Why should she
pretend to any influence?

"But of course you have. I want to ask you to be unselfish enough to exert
it for my brother's good."

"I would do that gladly if I could."

"Then, send him away. It will be doing him an inestimable benefit."

"I can tell him it would be better for him to go; but he is not easily
made to do a thing he does not like.

"He tells me--without any engagement on your part--he considers himself
bound to you."

She shook her head quickly, her face rose-red: "Oh no!"

"He is always being engaged to--somebody: poor Reggie!"

"Is he?" she asked innocently.

"Reginald is my brother," he went on, and he turned his gaze from her face
and looked at the finger-nails of his left hand with an absorbed
attention. "He is, however, so much younger than myself that he has almost
been like my son. You will give me credit, I am sure, for not wishing to
disparage Reginald, when I tell you that this is not by any means the
first time Reginald has thought of marriage." He paused, and smiled awry
to himself as he contemplated the finger-nails. "Or, rather, I should put
it, not the first time he has talked to young ladies of being engaged to
them."

Deleah sat silent, determined not to speak till speech was absolutely
demanded of her.

"It has not cost my brother much to change his mind," Sir Francis said,
and dropped his hand and looked at the pretty girl sitting before him.

"Since he has to do it so often, that is well," Deleah said.

"It is well, in a way," Sir Francis agreed. "But supposing that he took an
irretrievable step, and then changed his mind?"

"That would be more serious," Deleah admitted.

"You understand what I mean, Miss Day?"

"Perfectly. You mean, supposing he married me and then repented, not
having been given time to repent beforehand. Having been taken at his word
as soon as he spoke--and snatched up."

"That is putting the case more strongly than I had thought of doing;
but--"

"But it is what you mean?"

"You are not offended, I hope?"

"No; because I quite understand. It would be surprising if you did not
feel as you do about it."

Her voice shook a little, and Sir Francis felt compunction. After all,
from the girl's side of the question, what a sacrifice this was he was so
coolly demanding of her. He felt suddenly ashamed, and half afraid of what
he had taken upon himself to do.

"I hope you believe I am actuated by no feeling antagonistic to yourself,
Miss Day?"

"I think I understand that," she said gently.

And he knew that she comprehended, and was grateful to her that she did
not say, "You hate, not me, but the grocer's shop; but the idea of an
alliance with my father's daughter, my brother's sister." "After all the
girl is a lady," he said to himself, and the thought crossed his mind: was
his empty-headed young brother likely to marry a better woman than this?
All the same, his duty in the matter was clear before him.

"And you will do what I ask? You will help me to send the boy away?"

"He won't go for my telling, I fear."

"He won't go unless you tell him;" and he permitted himself to smile
persuasively on her.

"Then I will tell him," she said gravely; and feeling that was all he
wanted with her she got up and turned to the door.

He reached it before her. "Mine has been an ungracious task," he said. "It
has seemed to me that it was demanded of me. I hope you will forgive me."
He said it quite earnestly, quite humbly, all his grand formality of
manner laid aside for the moment. And the anger and the hurt pride which
had been in her heart melted from it.

"You have been very kind to me, always. If there was anything to forgive I
would forgive you," she said simply; and her face was charming with its
look of innocent confidence in him, its wavering, shy smile.

"What I have said has been for my brother's sake," he assured her,
compunction stirring at his heart. "But I believe it to be equally good
for yours. You may not think so to-day, but you may take my word for it
that you will come to think so."

He clasped her hand reassuringly for a moment; then she went.



The letter from Sir Francis Forcus had been on Deleah's breakfast plate.
The family had the bad habit of expecting to see each other's letters.
They all knew who it was who had written, and what he had asked. At
supper, when the family met again it was expected of Deleah to describe
the interview, and publicly proclaim what had taken place.

Preferring to keep the matter to herself, she had eluded her mother and
sister by going without her tea, gaining only by the delay the addition,
to those already agog for her news, of the innocent Franky, of the
ever-curious Emily, of an Honourable Charles consumed with jealous fears.

They would not even let her take her place at table before they were upon
her. "Well?" inquired Bessie, alert, her suspicious, bright eyes upon her
sister, who appeared a little pale of face, a little languid of manner,
the effect of going without her tea, perhaps.

"Well?" Deleah echoed.

"I don't suppose it's a secret. Mama, I don't suppose Deleah has been sent
for by Sir Francis Forcus for anything she can't tell!"

Emily, pouring out the lodger's supper beer, remarked that Miss Deleah was
always one to keep things to herself, even when she had been a baby.

"I can't imagine, Deleah, what he can have wanted with you," Mrs. Day
said, in answer to Bessie's appeal.

"It was nothing much, mama."

"It couldn't have been _nothing_. At least say if it was good or bad,"
persisted the elder sister. "I don't see why Deda need be so affected and
silly, mama."

"Oh, do let me get some supper first," Deleah prayed.

"Thank you, Mr. Gibbon. Some beef, please."

Those prominent, burning eyes of the boarder, the eyes which Mrs. Day and
Bessie had discovered rescued his face from the commonplace, were upon her
face, with a desperately eager questioning. In his heart he believed that
Sir Francis had sent for her to beg her to marry either himself or his
brother. Supposing she had consented! Supposing she was going to say it
now! His red, square-looking hands shook pitiably as he carved the beef
and put it on her plate.

"Perhaps Miss Deleah would rather keep her news till I'm gone," he forced
himself to say.

"Oh no," Deleah, who would infinitely have preferred to do so, but must
not hurt his feelings, declared.

"It is about Reggie, I know," said Bessie, her eyes, filled with fierce
questioning, on the girl.

It was not till Emily had reluctantly withdrawn that Deleah confessed that
Bessie was right, and told her news defiantly, in a sentence. "Sir Francis
sent for me to ask me not to marry his brother," she said, and applied
herself to the contents of her plate as if she were really enjoying them.

For a minute, speechless with surprise, they gazed upon her.

"But _were_ you going to marry him?" Bessie at length inquired.

"No," said Deleah; "I was not."

"And did you tell him so."

"No."

"My dear Deleah!" from her mother. "You should have told him, of course."

"I didn't. I don't know why. I felt I could not. I hardly said anything, I
think."

"But now I _would_ marry him!" Bessie cried. "No man should put an insult
like that on me for nothing." Her face had flushed pink. She felt the
insult to the family very keenly. "Now you've _got_ to marry him, Deleah.
Mama, tell Deleah that for her own pride's sake she's got to marry Reggie
now."

"No!" said Mr. Gibbon. He laid down his knife and fork with a clatter, and
fixed angry eyes on Bessie.

"No!" he said, and having stared at her till, astonished, she averted her
eyes, he turned a protecting gaze on Deleah. "Miss Deleah need do nothing
of the sort," he said reassuringly.

"I certainly shall not," Deleah said.

"Are we to sit down tamely under such rudeness, then?" Bessie asked at
large. "You never assert yourself, Deda--you and mama. That's why people
dare to treat you so. Sir Francis would not have sent for me like a
servant, to give me his orders. What did you do, Deda? Stood there meekly,
like an idiot, to listen, I suppose?"

"Miss Deleah did what was right. Least said soonest mended," the boarder
declared. He had never openly stood as Deleah's champion before.

"I'm on Deda's side too," Franky said. "Deda's got the most on her side.
C'n I have another piece of tart, ma?"

"No, you can't," said Bessie promptly. "Mama, Franky cried out in his
sleep the last time he had two pieces of tart."

"C'n I have another piece of tart, ma?"

Mrs. Day explained to Franky that instead of having more tart, at that
time of night, he must go to bed; and Bessie with excitement started a new
idea.

"I suppose that was what he came here for," she cried.

"Sir Francis called, and found Reggie Forcus with me," she explained,
turning to the boarder. "He came here spying upon me. No doubt he meant to
say to me what he's said to Deleah, but he found a different person to
deal with. I didn't give him any chance to put an insult on me, I can tell
you! So he sent for Deleah, who can't defend herself."

"Poor little Deleah!" the mother said, fondly regarding the girl,
indisposed to defend herself at that moment evidently, and apparently busy
with her supper.

"Miss Deleah could find them that would defend her if she'd say the word,"
Gibbon said, greatly daring; the beef was untasted on his plate, but his
eyes devoured Deleah.

Bessie gave him a glance of astonished disapproval, and went on to
expatiate on what would have been her own conduct in Deleah's place. How
she would have listened to Sir Francis with apparent calm, saying nothing,
leading him on to his own destruction, and then--

"I did listen, I didn't say anything. I was thinking all the time how
horrid it was for him to have to do what he did."

"Well, my dear child, that was no concern of yours, you need not have been
unhappy about it."

"No, mama. But I was; and unhappy that I had to sit to listen to him. I
wanted desperately to get away, that was all. I came the very instant that
I could."

"Instead of which, I should have said," explained the eager Bessie, "I
should have said: 'Until this moment I have not given your brother a
thought, Sir Francis. But now that you have dared--_dared_ to insult me
and my family in such a way, I will tell you what I will do. I will marry
him to-morrow morning. I'd have done it too," Bessie declared, looking
round the table, eyes shining with strong self-approval.

"My dear Bessie. Don't let your feelings run away with you so much," Mrs.
Day reproved.

"Deleah has no dignity, mama. Any one can see Deleah behaved without the
least dignity."

Deleah listened miserably, pretending not to hear. She did not agree with
Bessie's idea of what was dignified, but she knew that she had cut a poor
figure. She felt humiliated, hurt, helpless. Sir Francis Forcus had been
for her her ideal of what a man and a gentleman should be. He had helped
her in the day of her necessity, and she had set him at once as her hero
on a pinnacle, and had looked up to him and worshipped him secretly, and
from afar. She knew that she had sat before him this afternoon shamed, and
helpless, and childish; filled with as much sorrow for him who was so
clumsily wounding her as for herself. She had not desired to retaliate;
she would not have been revenged on him if she could; the only effort of
which she had been capable had been the effort to make him think that she
had been as little wounded as possible, that the situation was not a
horrible one to her.

Yet when they asked her why she had not shown more spirit she could not
explain. She could only sit silent and miserable, and let them talk.

Even Mr. Gibbon, usually so preoccupied and silent now, talked. He said
that he supposed Sir Francis Forcus called hisself a gentleman, but that
he, the Manchester man, had always had his doubts on the subject, and that
one day he hoped for the opportunity of telling him that he was a _snob_.
And more, with unwanted, stammering loquacity, to that effect, with fire
of eye, with un-called-for, excited repetition.



CHAPTER XXIV

The Cold-Hearted Fates


When Mrs. Day and her daughters had retired that night, their boarder sat
up writing a letter.

Deleah found it pushed under her plate at breakfast the next morning,
Gibbon always breakfasting early and alone.

"I think you behaved nobly," the letter ran. "Do not heed what others in
their spite and jealousy may say. The man Forcus is a purse-proud snob.
But if as such he is too proud to receive you into his family, remember
that there is another that have better taste. My family is highly
respectable, but they would receive you gladly, for my sake. And as for
me, I should always think you did me honour by becoming mine. Which honour
I pray you, my beloved Deleah, to do me."

Deleah crumpled the note in her hand--she was down before her mother and
sister, that morning--and took it into the kitchen where Emily was making
the breakfast toast, and rammed it, with the poker, and a good will, into
the heart of the glowing coals.

She thought as she did so of the talk with her mother the other night in
which the name of the Honourable Charles had figured. She had only half
meant what she had said then, but now--how could she ever so lightly have
contemplated for one moment such a marriage!

"And what young chap's love-letter are you a-burnin' of now, Miss Deleah?"
Emily facetiously inquired, waving the round of toast gracefully before
the bars.

"The love-letter of a young chap who should never trust himself to write
one," Deleah told her, calmly. "His love-letter was abominable, Emily."

She had a love-letter of another sort that morning. It was brought to her,
and given in the presence of her pupils at the mal à propos moment when
Miss Chaplin had unexpectedly entered the little class-room in which the
juniors were taught, and where was Deleah's domain. Miss Chaplin had
thought that she had heard laughter issuing from this direction, and had
burst into the room to beg of Miss Day to keep the children in order.

Poor Miss Day was desperately anxious to retain her post in Miss Chaplin's
Academy, and for that reason, and because Miss Chaplin was quite aware of
the fact, she found it safe and convenient to make of the poor young
teacher the scapegoat for whatever irregularities were committed in the
school, to discharge upon her the pent-up irritabilities she dared not
vent upon the more valuable assistants, who might resent such ebullitions
at inconvenient times.

She had received notice that morning that three pupils of whom she was
proud, who did the school credit, were to leave next quarter. She had had
a "brush" with the German governess, and Fräulein had been insolent. But
Fräulein was valuable, and Miss Chaplin had bottled her wrath, to empty
it on the innocent head of Deleah.

"I must really ask you, Miss Day, to maintain better order in your class.
I heard laughing. Frequently when I pass the door I hear laughing--"

But where was Miss Day who should be responsible for such a terrible state
of things?

One of the tots of pupils had slipped off the form on which she sat, and
rolled under the table, and Deleah had crept under the table too, in
search of her, at which the other pupils had laughed. The abashed
governess received the reproof of her principal on all fours.

"Really, Miss Day!" cried the scandalised woman. "Yours is hardly a seemly
attitude to assume before the pupils, is it?"

And at that least opportune moment, the door of the class-room burst open
again and Kitty Miller, that day scholar who sometimes walked home with
Miss Day and kept "The Deleah Book," appeared. She flourished a letter in
her hand.

"What will you give me for this, Miss Day?" she cried, not till too late
perceiving the awe-inspiring figure of Miss Chaplin.

Deleah took the missive, and it would have been hard to decide whether she
who gave it or she who took it had the guiltier look.

The outraged voice of Miss Chaplin arrested Kitty Miller in the moment of
ignominious flight. "Wait!" commanded the alarming tones. Kitty stood
still, trembling as she heard. "Who employs you to convey letters to Miss
Day, Kitty?"

Kitty, the colour of beet-root, looked at Deleah, lily-white.

"Who gave you that letter, Kitty?"

And poor Kitty, looking piteously at Deleah, lied--futilely, but for the
sake of her friend--and said she did not know.

"Was it a gentleman?"

Kitty, confounded and demoralised, stammered out that she had forgotten.

Deleah came to her rescue. Deleah, who knew well that her hour had come:
"It is from Mr. Reginald Forcus," she said. She had received warnings on
the subject of Reginald Forcus before.

"And what has that gentleman to write to you of such immediate importance
that it must cause an interruption to class?" Miss Chaplin with head in
air demanded.

And Deleah looking at the note in its envelope, said she did not know.

"Open it, and see," Miss Chaplin naturally recommended.

When Deleah hesitated to comply, the schoolmistress held out her hand, but
Deleah, choosing to disregard that gesture, put the letter in her pocket.

The elder lady threw her thin lips into a tight line across her narrow
face. She really thought it immoral for a girl to receive a letter from a
gentleman, she really felt that the high tone of her school was endangered
by that flagrant breach of manners made by Deleah Day. She had to punish
iniquity, she had to protect from the evil effects of pernicious example,
the unsullied young under her care.

When Deleah, that afternoon, came upon Reggie waiting for her at the
corner of the street, a fatuous expression of joy at her approach on his
silly, good-looking face, she had received her dismissal from the school.

She was filled with anger towards him as the cause of that which was to
her a calamity.

"I have been given notice to go. _You_ have done that, Reggie," she
greeted him. "Your silly letter this morning was the finish."

"A rattling good thing too," the irreverent Reggie declared. "I'm jolly
glad to hear it."

"And what do you suppose I am to do now?"

"That's what I came to tell you. It's just spiffin' for my plans, as
you'll see, dear."

"It's not at all 'spiffin'' for mine."

"You. wait! You and I will get married, Deleah. We'll bring it off at
once, do you see?"

"Oh, no, Reggie!"

"Oh, yes, Deleah. See if we won't! I'm not doing anything underhand. I've
told Francis, straight. He's no fool. He knows when I mean a thing. And
I'm my own master."

"But you're not mine, Reggie."

"You wait a bit. We'll fight all that out afterwards. What I've got to say
to you this afternoon is this: I want to put you up on horseback."

"Absurd!"

"Wait! Only wait! Where do you think I've been this afternoon? I've been
over to Runnydale, to look at old Candy's little brown mare. It's the one
his girl has been riding. She's married, and gone away; and I've got the
promise of it for you. No! Now do wait a bit. That little mare's as safe
as a donkey; a child might ride her. All the same, I'm not going to put
you up on her till you've had lessons; and I've been and seen about that
too."

"Reggie!"

"I have, right enough. I went round to Ben Steel's when I came back from
Runnydale. He's arranged to take you out twice a week. I'm going with
you--so as you don't feel strange. I told Ben you'd take to it like a duck
to water. 'That young lady'll look stunning on horseback,' Steel said. A
little cheeky of him, but he's privileged. I say, Deleah, what'll the old
women of Brockenham say when they see you with me, a-cock-horse, riding
side by side past their windows?"

"They'll never see me doing it, Reggie. I'm not going to ride with you, my
dear boy."

"You wait! You'll change your mind when you see Laura Candy's little brown
mare. Let me bring her up for you to see, to-morrow. Look here, I'm to
send over for her to-night. Oh, hang it all, Deleah, we'll put off the
marrying for a time if you like, but I've set my heart on having some
rides together. You don't know how proud I shall be to ride with you
beside me down Broad Street, and through the market-place, and up St.
Margaret's Lane. It will give all the cackling old women something to talk
about."

It was with difficulty she made him understand that to help him to afford
food for gossip was not her ambition, that she declined his escort on
horseback through the streets of her native town, as well as his
companionship through life. The events of the day had hardened her heart;
and she succeeded in convincing him at last.

"And, Reggie, you are not to come to our house any more; you are never to
write me letters; you are not to waylay me in the streets."

"Oh, I say, Deleah! Come! You can't mean it."

"I mean every word."

"But can't I sometimes meet you by accident even?"

"If you do I shall cut you."

"And if I won't be cut?"

"I shall call a policeman."

She laughed, but she made him see that she was in earnest. He walked by
her side, crestfallen, a grieving look on his good-humoured, pleasant
face. The hunting season was not here for several months. His head and his
heart had been filled of late with Deleah, his time had been passed in
riding down Bridge Street in the hope that she might be looking out of
window, in waylaying her when she came from school, in sitting in the room
over the shop with Bessie, to get rid of time till Deleah should appear.

"If I'm to give up seeing you, and trying to see you, what on earth am I
to do?" he asked.

"You are to travel."

"Why that is what Francis has been sticking into me!

"There you are, then. Two people who know what is good for you, Reggie."

"Francis is in a deuce of a hurry. He wants me to go next week."

"And why not?"

"I don't know why not--now," a miserable Reggie admitted.

"Then go at once and tell him you are ready."

For her word's sake to his brother she wrung a reluctant assent from him,
and left him. But an hour later Emily bringing in the tea announced that a
gentleman had called to see Miss Deleah.

"You can guess who 'tis," Emily said, as she spread the cloth. "He's in
his dog-cart at the door, and his horse that resty, he says he can't come
in; but he won't keep Miss Deleah a minute."

Bessie kneeling on the window-seat, was looking down into the street:
"It's Reggie, of course," she said. Then she turned round to her sister.
"Deleah," she said, "don't be silly; _take_ Reggie. Don't be put off by
that stuck-up, conceited old brother; don't trouble any more about me, and
things I've said. It's a real chance. The best you'll ever get. _Take
it_."

She had to call the last words over the balusters, for Deleah, paying no
heed to her exhortation, was running down the stairs.

Beside Reginald Forcus in his smart dog-cart little Franky Day, to his own
delight and surprise, was sitting. He had come running down the street to
his tea, when Reggie had accosted him with the agreeable attention of a
whip-lash curved round his calves.

"Hullo, youngster!" Reggie had greeted him.

"Quite 'ell, I thank ye," Franky had responded.

"Coming for a spin with me?"

No further invitation had Franky required, but had clambered at once,
great eyes sparkling, little heart beating high, into the vacant seat
beside the driver. The exceeding honour was his to hold the reins, the
groom standing at Black Michael's head, while Reggie got down to speak to
Deleah at the door.

"Deleah," he said, "I've come to tell you I've done all you asked of me.
I've seen Francis, and I go away next week."

"Good Reggie!"

"I've done it because you asked me; and now I want you to do just one
thing for me. I know it's all over, and there's no hope for me, and after
to-night I shan't see you any more. I want you to come for a spin with me
to-night."

"No, Reggie."

"Yes, Deleah. I've got to go to Runnydale, to tell old Candy I shan't want
that little mare. Franky is coming. Franky can sit up between us,
Deleah--"

He was very proud of himself for his forethought in securing Franky.
Deleah, chaperoned by Franky, could have no excuse.

She refused him very gently, because of his subdued demeanour, and
because, absurd as it was of him, his voice had faltered when he made his
appeal, and his eyes had grown moist. "But you must not take Franky,
Reggie," she said, and called on the child to descend, and come in to his
tea.

"Le'me go, Deda! Le'me go!" Franky pleaded.

"Oh, Deleah, just to please me--this last time ever I shall see you--you
come too!" the young man tried her again. When again she refused, he flung
away from her in a rage, and mounted to his seat; the groom, leaving the
tossing head of Black Michael, sprang up behind. She called again to
Franky, but they were off without reply. Deleah, looking after them for a
minute, could see the child's excited little face beaming with delight
turned up with admiration to the young man beside him.

Then she went back into the black little entry which did duty for hall,
and mounted the steep, narrow stairs with a lagging step. How brightly the
afternoon sun had shone on Reggie, his fair, smooth hair, vivid necktie,
the flower in his coat. How the brass harness had glittered, and Black
Michael's satin coat had shone; how spick and span was Odgers, the groom,
in his green and buff livery; what an air of wealth and well-being about
every appointment.

Deleah would have liked very well to have sat behind the spirited horse by
kind Reggie's side; to have dashed forth into the sweet-smelling
country--away from cheese and coffee and their mingled odours, away from
Bessie and her complaining over the chance Deleah had thrown away; away
from the society of the boarder who looked at her with such burning eyes,
beneath a penthouse of hand, watching her every movement, who whispered
his recklessly fierce "I love you" when the least excuse could bring his
head near to hers. Away from the thought of Miss Chaplin, and the
necessity to set about finding a fresh situation.

She had not wished to marry Reggie, but now that he was lost to her past
recall, a value which for her he had not before possessed seemed to attach
to him. How easy life would have been with him! Every day Franky might
have gone for a drive; her mother could have turned her back on the
grocer's shop--

From the time she set her foot on the lower stair till she reached the
landing Deleah almost allowed herself to believe she would call the young
man, and all that he stood for to her and hers, back again. But before she
had opened the door of the sitting-room, she had remembered Sir Francis,
and his scorn of her and hers, and her face had burnt with shame.

"Well?" questioned Bessie, as she entered, her eyes glittering with
eagerness.

"He wanted me to go for a drive. I would not go. He has taken Franky."

"Franky, in his old school suit, and without having his collar changed?"

Emily, lurking around, to hear the result of this short interview on the
doorstep, was also horrified to think of the disgrace brought on the
family by the condition of Franky. "His nails is that black when he come
home from school, and often as not his face smudged. What a sight to set
in front of Odgers."

"Odgers has got his back to him."

"For all that I'd have liked to scrape the top of the dirt off him. And
he've got on the knickers with the patch at the back!"



Mrs. Day, having been up for her tea and retired again to the shop, took
her place behind the counter, and dispatched Mr. Pretty to his meal.

No customers came in. She turned her sad and patient eyes upon the street,
thinking--not of the cutler's over the way, with whose son Franky had
formed such an undesirable friendship, nor of the passers by on the narrow
pavement, nor of the tradesmen's carts rattling over the cobble stones;
thinking of Bernard on his way to India and untold danger and privations,
of Deleah and her dismissal from the school. Her pretty, good child, to
have received such shabby treatment! Deleah, who if she had chosen might
have queened it over them all. Of her steadily declining business, too,
she thought, and of how impossible it was for her to cope with Coman's,
down the street. To-morrow was the seventh, the day set apart in each
month by Mr. Boult for going into her affairs; looking through her books,
catechising her, cross-questioning her, giving her advice in his
tyrannical, bullying way. From this her thoughts glanced off to the
subject Bessie had held forth upon in her irritating, worrying fashion,
through tea.

"It is a pity the child did not have his face washed, certainly," she
said.

At last a customer! No, only the cutler's little boy, Franky's chum, from
across the way.

The cutler hired a strip of garden on one of the roads, and when tea was
over, in the summer evenings, Franky and the cutler's son ran off together
to their garden to get into what childish mischief was possible in the
restricted space.

"Franky isn't in, this evening," Mrs. Day told the boy. "He's gone for a
drive with Mr. Forcus." She gave him a screw of acid-drops for himself,
and the boy ran off.

"All ri', thenk ye. Tell Franky I looked in," he called.

The next comer was the fat little maid-of-all-work from the butcher's,
near by. She was red-haired, with a large goitre over which her afternoon
black frock would not quite button. She was hardly worked from early
morning, to late evening, and Mrs. Day, ever full of compassion for the
weak and oppressed, was kind and gentle to her.

She was generally breathless with hurry and the trouble of the goitre, and
Mrs. Day took no special notice of her panting condition now.

"What for you to-night, Alice?" she asked her.

"It's soap," Alice gasped. "Soap, and matches, and six eggs for the
morning's breakfast, and I was to tell you, if you please, as you was to
put in seven, steads of six, for one in the last lot was stale. And have
you heard, please, there's been an accident with that there Mr. Forcus's
tricky horse?"

Mrs. Day's dark eyes gazed at the girl out of a face blanched to the
pallor of the dead.

"There have, then! Master, he jus' come in and said so. His horse is kilt;
and the groom, he's cut about the face; and your little boy, what he took
a ridin' with him, have got his neck broke."



CHAPTER XXV

To Make Reparation


"Of course we must do something for them," Sir Francis said. "The
difficulty is to decide what."

He and his sister had followed in their carriage the funeral of Franky
Day. Sir Francis had wished, seeing that he must appear there, to appear
unobtrusively, but Ada had thought that she also--painful as it was--must
be present, and Ada could not go afoot. The Forcus carriage, therefore,
had been conspicuous in the meagre procession following the little coffin
to the cemetery.

"We must remember that the poor things have seen better days, and be
careful how we offer," Miss Forcus said. "I have no doubt we shall find
they would rather starve than touch our money."

"I hope they know Reggie has gone away; otherwise it might have looked
heartless his not being there to-day."

"They will understand. And Reggie could not have stood it. It was painful
enough as it was," Sir Francis said.

It had been very painful. He thought of the figure of the poor mother,
tearless, looking down into the little grave; of the poor weeping girls
clinging to her. Franky's common little school had attended, and stood,
marshalled by the meagre young master in charge, at a distance, but the
small son of the once despised cutler had advanced, pushed forwards
encouragingly by his comrades, and dropped upon the coffin a bunch of
flowers gathered from the garden on the road, where Franky and he had
loved to play. No other flowers were there. It was before the day of
floral memorial displays.

"If they would let us bear the funeral expenses, or put up a little
monument in the cemetery, or a window in their church?" Ada suggested.

"If we could do something to help them to make a living," Sir Francis
said.

The day of Franky's funeral had been the first to bring home the fact that
summer was gone. The chapel had been cold and bleak, and while they stood
around the grave it began to rain. In the drawing-room at Cashelthorpe the
fire had been lit, and tea awaited the brother and sister. Consoling as
these comforts were they could not dispel the sadness which oppressed the
kind heart of Ada Forcus.

"I shall never forget those poor things, to-day. Never!" she said, and
cried unashamedly into her tea-cup.

The man, of course, did not cry, but he too appeared for the time
overwhelmed with the shadow of what had befallen.

"I spoke to their old servant to-day," he said. "It seems the child was
called back; Reggie wouldn't listen; drove off with him."

"I am horribly sorry for Reggie. But oh, I can't forget how _little_ the
coffin looked. Francis, what a handsome family they are! I couldn't help
noticing that, even when they cried, the girls were pretty."

It was more than could have been said of Ada; and she knew it, but cried
all the same.

"The younger girl is extremely good-looking," the brother said, "and she
is a conscientious and good girl, besides."

He thought how certainly, if she had so wished it, she might have been
going to be his sister-in-law, and the reflection again quickened the
perception of the fact that something was due from the family of Forcus to
that of Day.

"I will go and see George Boult to-morrow," he said.

"The draper, do you mean? Why?"

"He is their adviser. Put the poor woman into that wretched shop. He will
know what can be done for them."

Sir Francis, however, did not find himself greatly helped in his
benevolent project by Mr. George Boult, a circumstance surprising the man
to whom the character of the successful draper was not unknown. That he
would have accepted on the widow's behalf without scruple anything that
could be got, was what was expected of him; instead of which he received
all the rich man's propositions coldly, and did not even faintly encourage
his charitable intentions.

Through his brother--however blameless in the matter--a heavy sorrow had
come upon these poor people. It would be a great relief to Sir Francis and
his family if he could be allowed in any way to be of use to them. His
name need not appear. Mr. Boult could arrange the transaction. He had
heard that the grocer's business was not successful--?

The shop must be given up. George Boult admitted the fact. The woman was
too timid for trade. All women were. No blame to her, specially. She had
been industrious, and careful. She was standing behind her counter that
very morning. He had seen her there. But what customers would care to go
to buy soap and candles of a woman half dead with grief?

"She must not be allowed to remain there," Sir Francis said. "I can easily
put in a man who will take entire charge and set Mrs. Day at liberty. I
will send a man in, to-morrow."

"I am putting one in to-day," George Boult said, who had decided to do so
on the moment only. He swelled out his chest, settled his shoulders, shook
his head in his low collar, and put on an important air. "No doubt it is
common knowledge that Mrs. Day and her family have looked to me for advice
and assistance, hitherto," he said.

"I promised William Day I would look after them. I have kept my promise,
and mean to keep it. I am obliged to you all the same."

"My offer to help in any way possible holds good, you will remember," Sir
Francis said. He would not give up his benevolent intention without a
struggle. "Is there anything which could be done for the girls?" he asked.
"The younger is teacher at a school, I believe?"

"Got the sack!" said Mr. Boult easily; and then, seeing no reason why he
should not do so, went on to explain that it was through the attentions of
Mr. Reginald Forcus that misfortune had come about. "So Miss Bessie tells
me," he finished, and inquired with the glance of a glistening eye at Sir
Francis if he had the pleasure of Miss Bessie's acquaintance. "A
remarkably fine-looking young lady is Miss Bessie," he pronounced.

He nodded a familiar farewell to his visitor when, uncomfortable and
crestfallen, the latter withdrew. The Forcuses were not even customers.
Sir Francis and he sat on the magistrates' bench together. "We are on a
par, about, now," he said to himself; and he reminded himself he also was
now entitled to put a cockade on the frowsy hat of his coachman in the
mildewed livery.

Let the high and mighty brewer put up a widow of his own to play
Providence to, and leave the especial property of George Boult alone!

Sir Francis, for his part, was more troubled in mind than ever when he
emerged from that interview. The girl dismissed from her school too! It
seemed that all the misfortunes of the poor Days must be laid at his door.
He, who hated to owe to any man, could not ease himself of that heavy
debt.

"I will go to see them," Ada said when he told the ill-success of his
mission.

"They will hate to see you."

"I shall go. I am sure they are people of nice feeling."

Of that visit, too, no very satisfactory account could be given. It had
been very painful. Mrs. Day had not been present. She had sent a message
thanking Miss Forcus for calling, and asking to be excused. There had been
only the girls. She might say only the one girl, for the elder had started
wildly crying at the appearance of Miss Forcus, and had not recovered when
she left.

"The poor little boy seems to have been their idol," Ada said with a sigh,
miserably oppressed.

The younger girl had pleased the lady very much by her demeanour; so
composed, so unselfish, so evidently aware of the trying ordeal it was for
the visitor, so sweetly striving to be gracious.

Sir Francis nodded. "I have always liked the manner of that younger girl."

"And she is quite lovely, Francis."

He did not know about the loveliness, the brother said, but he believed
her to be simple and conscientious and good. He looked at his sister's
plain face: "Every woman who is that is lovely," he announced.

"I am going there again," Ada said.

"It won't seem an intrusion?"

"I will risk it. They appear to have no friends."

After the second visit she had something more definite to relate. "I hope
you will approve, but if you don't it can't be helped," she said, "for the
thing is arranged. That younger girl, Deleah, is coming here."

"Here? On a visit, you mean?"

"She is coming to be my companion. It is the only way I can discover in
which we can be of use to them. The poor child has been receiving fifteen
pounds a year. I can give her fifty--"

"You haven't forgotten how that young fool, Reggie, made a bigger fool of
himself over this girl. Would have married her, I suppose, but for the
extraordinarily decent way the young woman behaved about it."

"Luckily Reggie is away," Ada comforted herself. "He'll have been in love
a dozen times over before he comes back again."

"But what are you going to do with the girl? Won't it bore you to have her
always about? You have never wanted a companion before."

"How do you know I have not?" his sister asked him laughing. "I didn't
know it myself, but I expect I've wanted one all the time. At last I'm
going to have one."

There was in Ada Forcus that ineradicable love of gaiety which some women
carry to the grave. Since, at the death of his wife, she had gone to keep
house for her brother small indulgence had been shown to this passion. In
the grave of his wife, not only all Sir Francis's heart had been buried,
but apparently the love of all that made for the brightness of life. By
the time the poignancy of his sorrow had worn off, to be solemn and sad of
demeanour, to shun the disturbing effects of social distraction, had
become second nature to him. By no wish of his own, but naturally and
irresistibly, that habit of melancholy which had fallen on its master
seemed to enshroud his home. He liked his brother to be with him in the
home in which he had been born, but he would not welcome his brother's
friends. He was greatly attached to the sister, who was half a dozen years
older than himself, but the idea that she could desire any other company
than his own, had not apparently presented itself.

"There are some things a man can never learn," the mid-Victorian Ada said
to herself, when Sir Francis prophesied that she would find a companion a
bore. "And one is that a woman, however happily situated in a man's house,
must have another woman easy of access to talk with, to sew with, to
whisper to."



CHAPTER XXVI

A Householder


When it was explained to her that a man was to be put into the shop to
give her a holiday, Mrs. Day refused the indulgence. Her heart was broken,
but she was not ill. To have had a little time to give to Franky--to take
him for walks in the country, to read to him, to help him with his
favourite occupation of painting old numbers of the _Illustrated News_ and
_Punch_ would have been a joy. Often she had longed for the leisure to do
these things. But now that Franky was gone, where was the use of leisure?
She did not even want the leisure to cry. She who had wept so often in
this latest sorrow could shed no tears.

Deleah cried, wetting the pillow nightly with her tears. When talking of
matters quite unconnected with the lost child the tears would come welling
up, drowning the beautiful hazel eyes; would tremble, as she tried to go
on talking, on the thick black lashes; would roll, she pretending not to
notice, down her cheeks.

Bessie cried--howled, even, lying with her face buried in the sofa
cushion, calling in a smothered voice upon Franky's name.

Emily cried, cleaning with spirits of ammonia the shabby school suit whose
odour had so offended the nostrils of the elder sister. Putting yet
another patch in the hinder portions of the trousers, the only use of such
labours being that it delayed the laying away of the little garments for
ever.

But the mother was denied such easy expression of sorrow that was beyond
words and beyond tears. "I am not ill. Mr. Pretty and I can manage," she
said, and the substitute supplied by George Boult was sent back.

Mr. Pretty was very good to her, giving up, for the time being, his
surreptitious smokes in the cellar, his skylarking with the youths of his
own age who passed the door, giving his serious attention to duties he had
consistently shirked hitherto.

Every one who came near the bereaved mother committed the common mistake
of ignoring her loss. Even her daughters did this as much as possible; so
that in the place where the child's name had been on every lip it was no
longer heard.

Those who have endured such a loss know how the ear sickens for the sound
of a name which yet the tongue refuses to utter; how the heart stirs to
the music of it when at length it is pronounced.

Mr. Pretty did not understand this, but also he did not know the accepted
creed that of the newly dead it is kindest not to speak. He had not seemed
very fond of the child, had often complained of him as a hindrance when
Franky had wished to help him to grind the coffee or to clean the
currants, yet he had laid by a store of sayings and doings which he drew
on now for his mother's ear. Stories of Franky's naughtiness, even: of his
partiality for the neighbourhood of a certain drawer which contained
preserved cherries. Of his cheek in daring to address the assistant as
"Pretty" without the Mr., and, the youth objecting, his ready substitution
of an adjective which certainly was more descriptive of his appearance. Of
his riding on Mr. Pretty's back when he, in pursuit of his duty, must
crawl on all fours under the counter; his clinging to his legs when duty
again called him to mount the steps for the topmost shelf. Nothing was too
absurd, no tiny record too trivial to be precious in the mother's ears.

A source of furtive interest to her were the movements of Willy Spratt,
the cutler's son. Instructed thereto by his parents, who may have thought
that the sight of him would be painful to the poor woman, the child gave
up, going to the shop to spend his pennies. Looking in, a little wistfully
at first, as he passed, he soon ran, singing or shouting, by the door,
with no thought of the little companion who used to wait to join him
there. When at length he took to coming in again for his screw of sweets,
Mrs. Day would look away from him resentfully, leaving him to Mr. Pretty
to serve. She could not bring herself to speak to the child who was alive
and well, and happy with his acid-drops, while Franky lay in his grave.

Of the company of Mr. Boult at that time the Days had more than enough.
Mr. Gibbon used to get up and retire to his room or go out to walk the
streets, when the head of his firm appeared. "I have enough of him in
working hours," he would excuse himself afterwards. "Mr. Boult is all very
well in his place."

"I'm sure I wish he would keep there!" Bessie would declare. She thought
the Honourable Charles was jealous; for with the elder daughter the draper
had come to indulge in a kind of heavy badinage which may have gratified
George Boult, and apparently was not displeasing to Bessie, but which
those who looked on must have found fatiguing.

Bessie always pretended to be bored by these encounters of wit with the
fat, bald-headed man who had been her father's contemporary: "You have no
right to yawn when I am talking to you, Miss Bessie," he would reprove
her. "Why do you do it?"

"Because I am tired."

"You mean because you are tired of my company? That is not the reason you
yawn, however. You yawn because you have indigestion."

"I? Indigestion? What makes you think so, pray? Do I look like
indigestion? Have I spots on my face, or a red nose?"

"No, but you are growing fat. You eat too much."

"Mr. Boult, how _dare_ you!"

"You eat too much, and work too little. You don't take exercise enough to
digest your food."

"You are making personal remarks, Mr. Boult. No gentleman can make
personal remarks to a lady unless they are complimentary--" and so on.

When Deleah went away it seemed that Bessie blossomed out into greater
attractiveness. Perhaps in the restricted spaces of Bridge Street there
had not been room enough or air enough for the development of both
sisters; or it may have been that Deleah, with her superior beauty and
winsomeness, shone the other down, and that Bessie had been conscious of
the fact. Certainly she grew more amiable, more useful, even grew prettier
and more lovable. And George Boult came often, and more often. Hardly a
night that he did not come.

The business, not paying, must be disposed of; there was no absolute cause
for hurry; Mrs. Day could hang on till an advantageous offer was made, Mr.
Boult decided. The house, open to receive him whenever it pleased him to
go, suited him. He liked the long narrow sitting-room above the shop, with
its fireplace at one end, and its three deep-seated windows at the other,
where he could sit now as in his own home, and talk to Bessie wilfully
idle, or Bessie pretending to sew--always Bessie pleasant to look upon,
and oddly stimulating, with her daring treatment of him.

Deleah gone, Franky gone, it was very snug there, especially when the
winter evenings came on, and the poor widow stayed late in her shop while
he and Bessie sat and "chaffed," as he called it, alone.

How she dared! he often asked himself. To think of all the benefits he had
bestowed on the family, and that she dared!

"What would have become of you all if I had not got up that
subscription-list, and started you in business?" he asked her.

"What's going to become of us now that the money is spent, and the
business has failed?" she retorted.

"You leave that to me," he told her, and as good as promised that the
future of the family was safe with him. He expected her, perhaps, to be
overcome with gratitude; instead of which she gave him a not unneeded
lesson in manners, advising him that a person of so much importance should
not demean himself by blowing his own trumpet.

In the sitting-room over the shop was no attraction for Charles Gibbon,
Deleah's light figure and darling face being absent from it. He could
afford a house very well now. Not the grand house of which Deleah had
spoken, but one which would suffice to his modest wants. A house with a
big garden beyond, where, supposing a lady ever came to live there who was
fond of flowers, roses might be grown, honeysuckle, jessamine trained. A
garden where a bower could be constructed large enough for two who could
eat their strawberries there, in season, or drink a glass of wine there,
on a Sunday afternoon. Far out of the town, for choice, on a road at whose
gate some one might stand watching the departure of the master, as he went
to work in the morning, welcoming him when he returned at night.

In his spare hours he occupied himself in looking for such a retreat, and
when the ideal one was found he left his rooms in Bridge Street and went
to live there.

George Boult took the trouble to walk out one Sunday afternoon to the
little trellis-covered house, a mile and a half away from the town, and
discovered the junior partner in his shirt-sleeves rolling the gravel of
the back-garden. Boult, a strict Sabbatarian, was more than a little
shocked to observe that breach of decorum. The fact that the back-garden
was not overlooked, set his mind at rest, however. "We've got to be
careful about such things. Customers are often particular," he said.

The patronage of the visitor who insisted on being taken over the small
domain was trying to the temper of its proprietor, uneasily conscious
already that the lawn was only half big enough for the croquet-hoops
ostentatiously set forth thereon; that the furniture in the dining-room
was much too big for it, and that in the drawing-room absolutely unsuited
to its purpose. He wished to forget these defects, which the other thought
it his duty conscientiously to point out.

"Very nice. Very nice. Very suitable indeed," was the verdict finally
pronounced. The Honourable Charles's soreness was not at all soothed
thereby. Since the abode, obviously in Mr. Boult's eyes, left so much to
be desired, it was no compliment to be told it was suitable. "A very nice
little cage, Gibbon. Where is the bird?"

"No hurry," Gibbon said, sullenly uncommunicative. Earnestly desiring his
departure he had strolled with his visitor to the gate. To have him on
Sunday as well as all the week was a little too much, he was saying to
himself, aloud saying nothing. And at that moment a carriage was driven
past, whose servants wore the green and tan liveries of the Forcuses. One
of the two ladies seated in the carriage, with a look of surprise on her
face, leant eagerly forward and bowed to the men at the gate. Mr. Boult,
taken unaware, made a dash at his hat, Gibbon, bare-headed, did not so
much as bend his neck in response to the salutation, but his face grew
leaden-white.

"Slap up turn-out! I suppose their carriages are always dashing by?" Mr.
Boult said; for the road on which the Laburnums stood was that which led
to Cashelthorpe.

He was generally at work at the back of the house, and could not say how
often they passed, Gibbon said.

"You'd rather be looking at your three-yard-square of croquet-lawn than at
Deleah Day in the Forcuses' carriage, Gibbon?"

Gibbon plucked a leaf from the hedge and put it in his mouth, but made no
reply to the facetious remark.

"What are they doing, driving their horses, and dragging out their
servants in the middle of a Sunday afternoon?"

They went sometimes, in the afternoon, to a service at the Cathedral,
Gibbon, who in spite of being habitually at the back of the house
evidently knew something of the Forcuses' movements, was able to
communicate.

"Little Miss Deleah thinks a mighty lot of herself, seated up there in
state."

He should not think so, Gibbon said. "What is she but a servant there? She
was a far greater lady, to my thinking, when she sat in the room over her
mother's shop."

"It's Bessie that should ride in her carriage," Mr. Boult declared.

"Perhaps she will," said Gibbon, and looked at his partner, who met the
other's eyes hardily.

"If she does," he said with sudden bluster, "the fool that owns the
carriage is a ruined man. Mark my words. Extravagant, idle young woman.
Die in the workhouse--that's what Bessie Day will do. Look here, Gibbon;
you know how things are; you know all I've done for them. I could put up
the shutters of the shop to-morrow, and they could not help theirselves.
Bessie knows it too. I have not made a secret of these things. She knows I
hold them in the hollow of my hand. Yet to hear her cheek me! The daring
of it! Gibbon," he touched the younger man's shoulder with the stiff
finger of his thick hand, "I used to think that you--eh?"

"No," said Gibbon, with decision.

"Nice little place all ready--when you've spent a few pounds more--?"

"No, thank you."

"Is that so?" Boult said, and pressed his lips together, nodding his head
and seeming to take time to turn the information over in his mind. Then he
leant forward, and again touched the other's shoulder, tapping it two or
three times by way of emphasis. "You're wise," he said, confidentially.
"Take my word for it, Gibbon, you're wise. If I were a marrying man,
which, thank Heaven, I am not, I wouldn't risk marrying Bessie Day if
there was not another woman on earth."



CHAPTER XXVII

Promotion For Mrs. Day


Deleah had lived for several months at Cashelthorpe as companion to Miss
Forcus, when on a certain Thursday afternoon she excused herself, as it
was often her habit to do, from attending on Miss Forcus, and went to pass
the hour and a half of the early-closing day with her mother and sister.

Mrs. Day was alone at the moment of her arrival, and that her mother was
in unusually low spirits was quite obvious to Deleah.

"Come for a walk with me, mama; it is not good for you to be shut up on
such a day in this stuffy room."

Mrs. Day declined, but she could not deny that the room was stuffy. No
flowers were on the table now that Gibbon's offerings had ceased. No
plants on the wide window seat. On a whatnot in a corner which had been
devoted to the child's belongings were Franky's paint-box and some of his
toys. The mother's eyes turned from Deleah, now well appointed in her
pretty muslin and hat with its long ostrich feather, and rested on these
mementoes.

"But for what happened to him you would not be where you are, Deleah," she
said.

"But you wish me to be there, mama?"

"Oh, I wish it, dear, since you are happy; only--"

She did not put the thought into words--only Franky seemed to have died
for this. Franky, who had come crying to her one day because a
school-fellow had laughed at the patch on this trousers: Franky who had
begged so hard only a few hours before his death for a little box of
conjuring tools like Willy Spratt's, which had to be denied him. Her
little Franky crushed to death beneath the wheels of the Forcus carriage!
In her heart the mother would have liked Deleah to reject the good things
offered her by the Forcus hand.

"Of course I am not happy!" Deleah said. "How can I be happy, mama, if you
are unhappy? And poor little Franky--do you think I forget him? And
Bernard, and--poor papa? And again I'm not happy because I don't _earn_
the money they pay me," Deleah said, and her cheeks grew pink at the
thought. "It is out of charity they give it me. I _can't_ earn fifty
pounds a year by just sitting in a carriage, or sewing beads on to canvas,
giving a few messages to servants, writing a few letters! I wonder if they
would be glad if I gave it all up, mama?"

"We're leaving the shop," Mrs. Day told her. "You must try to keep where
you are, for the time, Deleah. Miss Forcus is kind to you?"

"Oh, so heavenly kind!"

"And Sir Francis?"

"I suppose he knows I am in the house. Yes. Sometimes he speaks to me
quite ten words a day. Tell me about leaving the shop, mama."

"Mr. Boult has proved to me that we are not solvent."

"What does that mean? Not that we are bankrupt? Oh, mama! As if we had not
had disgrace enough without that!"

"There is no end to it," Mrs. Day said hopelessly. "But you, at least, are
out of it, Deleah." She had a dreary air of detachment about her; the
troubles that had beset them had been common to them all, but Mrs. Day
sat, on this holiday afternoon, as if she were singled out and set apart,
a queen of sorrows. Deleah resented that attitude.

"Surely you don't think I want to be out of it, mama! Do you think I want
to live in luxury while you and Bessie haven't a home?"

And at that moment Bessie appeared, coming in from the kitchen and
confidential confabulation with Emily. Her face was flushed, and her eyes
glittered with an excitement too evidently not pleasurable.

"Well! What do you think of it?" she burst forth.

"It is bad news. But everything that happens to us is bad," said Deleah,
with uncharacteristic despondency.

"Bad?" echoed Bessie. "That depends on how you look at it."

"Bankruptcy? To owe more than we can pay? I should have thought that there
was only one way of looking at it."

Bessie swung round to her mother. "You haven't told Deda!" she cried
accusingly. "She hasn't told you! Mama is going to marry Mr. Boult,
Deleah."

"To _marry_ him!" Deleah cried, as if she might have cried "to _murder_
him!" and sprang from her chair to stand before her mother. "Mama! Mama!"

Mrs. Day, sitting huddled in her chair as if she lacked the spirit to hold
herself upright, and looking all at once a dozen years older, shook a
desponding head. "I can't!" she said. "I don't think I _can_ do it."

"Well, you've got the chance," Bessie said, hardly. "And it's a good one.
Good for all of us. He's rich. He has sat here bragging of his money to
me--and that he might spend a couple of thousand a year if he liked. As if
I cared! But if it's going to be yours, mama--two thousand a year--I do
care. I do!"

"But we can't think only of ourselves, Bessie," Deleah, horrified, put in.
"We've got to think of mama. She could never endure it."

"She should have thought of that before," Bessie said. "Mama should not
have been so sly and underhand--"

"Bessie! Bessie! You can't mean what you say."

"I mean every word of it. Pretending to dislike him! Pretending to keep
out of his way!"

"Deleah, I have told your sister I nearly died of astonishment when he
spoke to me. The idea had never entered my head." Poor Mrs. Day leant the
head upon her hand and hid her face, in her misery.

"Bessie, you are not to bully mama. Do be silent. Don't mind her, mama.
What did you say to him?"

"I didn't say one way or the other."

"Such nonsense!" cried the irrepressible Bessie. "You'll have to say! and
he isn't in any doubt about it. He came to me and told me he was going to
be my papa. I could have felled him to the earth when he said it! But I
did not. I said 'You may be a papa to me a hundred times over, I will
never be a daughter to you. Never! Never! Never!'"

"But if mama did this horrible thing, you'd have to be his daughter--you'd
have to live in his house--"

"I'd live there, but I'd make it warm for him!" Bessie cried; and then her
feelings becoming too much for her, she dashed from the room, and slammed
the door behind her.

Deleah, left alone with her mother, did her best to strengthen her. "Never
mind her, mama. Do not think of any of us in this; think of yourself
alone. You could never do it."

"Bessie and he would fight like cat and dog," Mrs. Day said. "They are
always fighting now. She says such things to him, and he to her!
Environment has told on Bessie. She says things no lady should say. My
life would be unbearable."

"It is not to be thought of for a moment."

"But there are the debts I cannot pay. There is poor Bernard. I ought to
do it, Deleah. I know I ought. But I have had miseries enough."

When Deleah left her, Mrs. Day still sat a huddled heap upon the sofa. "I
have had miseries enough," she repeated; and upon that text she spoke to
herself--going over in faithful detail the troubles she had known--vainest
and most useless occupation in which a woman can indulge.

Her orphaned, dependent childhood; her marriage. It had been loveless on
her part, but she had cared a little, believing that love on her husband's
part would suffice. Was it love, ever at all? Is love possible where
tenderness, courtesy, consideration do not exist? Time going on, daily she
had suffered his incivility, the despite he did to her sense of what was
due to her as his wife, the mother of his children, the mistress of his
home. Habit, and love for her children, had made life tolerable. But for
twenty years he and she had lived side by side in the outward union of
inwardly divided minds.

Then had come his crime, its awful expiation, the terror, the disgrace,
the bitterness of the fall for her children and herself, the salt, salt
taste of the bread of charity, the drudgery which had been humiliating all
through, with failure at the end. The grievous sorrow of Bernard's
blighted career, the cruel death of her innocent comfort and consoler, her
little boy.

Were not these things enough? Great God, was it possible she still had
unspeakable agonies of mind and humiliation of body to go through? Her
eyes, so pathetic in their subdued look of patience, wandered round the
room which had been to her a haven of refuge from her sordid life in the
grocer's shop. A hat Bessie had just discarded lay upon the table. Poor
Bessie! poor undisciplined, unruly, never wholly grown-up Bessie! In the
day of cataloguing the miseries of her life she was too sadly honest to
pretend that Bessie could be a comfort to her.

A picture of Bernard painted by a local artist at a time when father and
mother were for once united in the opinion that a handsomer, more
promising boy did not exist, hung on the wall. Poor Bernard, who by last
mail from India had written to his mother that his life in barracks was a
hell.

The tired eyes wandered from that heart-breaking record of promise never
to be fulfilled to the whatnot, holding Franky's toys. Was that dust on
the lid of the paint-box?

She crossed the room, mounted a chair, took down the precious box, dusted
it tenderly with her handkerchief, looked within. Such broken odds and
ends of his gamboge, his yellow ochre, his Indian ink of which he had
prattled to his father, questioning whether carmine or vermilion should be
used for the roofs of his absurd houses; if Prussian blue or ultramarine
should be for his seas and skies. She saw again the huge man and the
little child bending over their pictures on Sunday evenings of long ago,
heard the very tones of their voices. Her tears dropped upon the shabby
old box, upon the little earthen palette on which the colours Franky had
rubbed still remained. All the bitterness had died out of her heart. Only
sadness was left, and a sense of irreparable loss.



CHAPTER XXVIII

At Laburnum Villa


Deleah as she walked homeward that afternoon (for she had overstayed her
allotted time in Bridge Street, and the carriage which was to have picked
her up at a certain point had gone on without her) determined that she
must leave Cashelthorpe. The words sounded in her own ears as if she were
sentencing herself to leave heaven.

Her mother could not be allowed to marry George Boult; she could not
remain in the shop. How were she and Bessie to live? With the vanity of
youth, which always sees itself in the foreground, Deleah thought she
perceived that it was she who must get a living for them all.

In her small distracted head she decided as she walked along that she
would hire a little house, start a little school. Perhaps some one would
pay the first quarter's rent, and she could pay it back when the pupils
came.

"Some one" in days gone by would have meant Sir Francis; but now, living
under the same roof with him, seeing in what deference he was held even by
his own sister, feeling his reserve, his aloofness from the low concerns
of such as she, she had become extraordinarily shy of that great man.
Through the daring of ignorance, trusting in that look of serenity and
nobility in his face, she had formerly approached him. She believed in his
goodness still as she believed in the goodness of God, but the awe of him
she had always felt had descended, since she had lived beneath his roof,
in a double measure upon her.

Of his sister she had no fear. She would speak to kind Miss Forcus. Miss
Forcus would tell her what to do.

Simultaneously with the formation of this resolve she arrived at the
neatly trimmed hedge of Laburnum Villa. For the moment she had forgotten
that the place held any interest for her beyond that of the other little
houses in their gay gardens she had passed. She glanced at the bright
green of the trellis-work front, at the minute weeping willow in a corner
of the grass-plot, at the roseplants destined to cover arches and to grow
into a bower, by and by. By the front door a clematis had been planted,
and the Honourable Charles was stooping over the plant, and striving to
direct, in accordance with his own idea of how it should grow, the
clinging of the tendrils.

Her light step was perhaps the one step in the world whose music could
have withdrawn his attention from that absorbing occupation. He rose to
his feet, turning sharply round; and as she wished him good-evening he
went swiftly to the gate and swung it open."

"Come in," he said. "I have been waiting for this." He had at the moment
such a commanding air, that Deleah had no thought but to obey him.

"I wish to show you my little place," he explained.

Deleah was late, as it was, and had yet some mile and a half to walk, but
concluding from the dimensions of the place that no very long detention
was threatened, did not demur. So long ago it seemed to her, who had since
travelled miles along the road of Experience and Feeling, that the Bridge
Street boarder had made love to her when he should have made love to
Bessie. He had paid her the greatest compliment it was in his power to
pay, and of late she had begun to understand something of what he might
have suffered; she wished to be kind to him and to make amends.

So, sweetly appreciative of all she saw, she walked at his side, down the
little paths, helped him to remember the names of the annuals, admired the
view of the back-yard through a vista of trellis-work arches.

"Do you like it?" he asked her.

Deleah, with her artless desire to please, declared that she liked it very
much.

He turned away with a long-drawn breath of content "Come indoors," he
commanded. He walked in front to lead the way, but stopped suddenly on the
little path and turned to ask her if she knew how long it was since he and
she had talked together.

"Quite a long time, isn't it?" Deleah answered him. "But I have not been
living at home, you know; I--"

He cut her short abruptly. "It is five months three weeks and two days,"
he said. "But the time has not been long to me. Looking back it seems that
the time has almost flown."

Deleah could not have felt flattered that this was so, but she told him
she was glad to know that he was so happy.

"Not happy," he said, "but looking forward to happiness; working for it."
With that he went on again, stopping at the hall-door. "I think I've
remembered your taste," he said as he threw the door open. "I've carried
it out everywhere as far as it was possible."

At that Deleah drew back. "I will look over your house some other time,"
she said. "It is late. I must be getting home now."

"Do you call the Forcus's place your home?"

"For the present. I am leaving there soon."

"The sooner the better. Come in."

He put a heavy and peremptory hand upon her arm and drew her over the
threshold, across the tiny passage called the hall, into one of the two
bow-windowed rooms.

"This is the dining-room," he said. "Sit down."

To free her arm from his hand she obeyed him, and with an effort to appear
very much at her ease looked about her.

"What a sweet little room!" she said.

"You like it? I thought you would. Look at the picture over the
sideboard."

It was a large print--much too large for the room--of "The Last Sleep of
Argyle," and was faced on the opposite wall by a reproduction of "The
Execution of Montrose."

"They're proof prints," he told her proudly. "I remember you went to see
those pictures, years ago, when they were on show in Brockenham, and liked
them. I've had the chairs covered with red leather 'stead of horsehair. It
costs more, but you used to say red was cheerful."

"It is so very nice, Mr. Gibbon."

"In the drawing-room there is a piano. Come and see."

She went, because of that strange new peremptoriness of manner which she
felt she had not the moral courage to disobey. The drawing-room had fresh
flowers in a vase upon the centre table.

"Did you put the flowers there, Mr. Gibbon?"

"I put them there every day. For you. I have been waiting for you to come
to see them. Everything is always ready. You like it all?"

"Yes, indeed."

"It is yours, then. It is all for you. From cowl on the chimney-pot--the
kitchen-chimney smoked; I thought it would be inconvenient--to the bunch
of honeysuckle on the table. All yours."

"Oh no, Mr. Gibbon."

"All yours. Every carpet has been laid down for you, every chair and table
bought. Every seed has been sown, every tree planted. For you."

Deleah, speechless for the moment, looked at the man with eyes grown wide
with dismay. His was no tragic figure. He wore the light-coloured, large
checked suit affected at that period by young men escaping temporarily
from the black-frocked livery of shop or office, his hair was brushed
smoothly back and shone with brilliantine, his moustache was glossy with
the same admired preparation. His face was extra pale, but Deleah knew it
had the trick of paling suddenly and for small cause. She had seen it
blanch at a chance encounter with her in the street, or accidental
touching of her hand by his. She avoided meeting his eyes--those eyes said
to hold something in their expression which redeemed his face from the
commonplace--and the wild ardour of their gaze was lost upon her.

"Everything is yours, Deleah; when will you come and take it over?"

"Mr. Gibbon, I told you before. I have not changed."

"Nor I." His lips were lead-coloured and trembling; he was indeed
trembling all over. He crossed his arms upon his chest to keep them still.
"You are going to be my wife or no one's, Deleah," he said.

She got up nervously from her chair; she tried to speak lightly. "I am
going to be no one's, Mr. Gibbon," she said. "As I walked along to-night I
have been making up my mind what to do. I shall take a small house for us
all, and try to keep a little school. You shall see how well I keep my
pupils in order. And, now and then, you shall bring me a nosegay of
flowers from your garden--"

"That won't suit me," he said. "I give you no more flowers unless you take
them all. Will you take them? Answer."

"Oh, Mr. Gibbon!"

"'Oh, Mr. Gibbon!'" and he mimicked her. "Is that the way to speak to me?
After all the years of my worship, am I still 'Mr. Gibbon' to you?"

"I suppose so," was all poor Deleah could say.

He was standing with his back to the door. He turned swiftly and locked
it, then holding the key in his shaking hand, crossed his arms again:
"Now!" he said, facing her; "we come to realities now. No more 'Oh, Mr.
Gibbon!' no more talk about flowers. Listen. I, Charles Gibbon, love you
with a passionate and desperate love that is not going to be played with.
Do you, Deleah Day, love me? Say it out, once for all; Gospel truth; as
God is in heaven to hear it."

"I don't love you."

"Do you hate me?"

Deleah was frightened, but she was angry too: "Just for the minute I think
I do."

"All the same, hating me, will you marry me, and come to live in the house
I have made for you?"

"No," said Deleah, pale and suddenly breathless. "I won't!"

He listened, panting as if from long running; his chest laboured beneath
the grip of his folded arms as if it must burst. For a long minute he
glared at her, speechless; and Deleah, glaring back at him wondered was
this man with the working, ashen face really their decorous boarder, who
had been so assiduous in passing the mustard and pouring out the water?
What had come to him? Had she done this? Did he mean to kill her?

He came slowly nearer to her, and it took all the girl's courage to hold
up her head, to face him. "I understand, at last," he said. "Now I want
you to understand too. So listen to me; and remember; and see if I lie.
You belong to me. Never mind what you feel about it. You are mine. You
belong to me. Do you hear me?"

"I hear you, Mr. Gibbon."

"Say it after me."

"I will not."

"You belong to me. Belong to me. Belong to me. And while I live you shall
belong to no one else."

He turned round then, and unlocked the door. But as she, with a haste
which was hardly dignified, would have passed him there, he threw his arms
around her, and pulled her fiercely to him, and madly kissed her face.

Frightened and outraged, she fought for liberty, and gaining it, dashed
off. She flew down the little neatly rolled gravel path, and out through
the freshly painted gate, and once on the road, as if more than life was
endangered by delay, she rushed onward at break-neck speed.

Sir Francis Forcus, solemn and serene of face, riding homeward, had his
attention drawn to a little figure which flew ahead of him. Riding up to
her, he found that she who thus fled lonely as the shades of evening fell
along the deserted road, was that little girl, his sister's protégée, who
should have been safe under the shelter of his own roof.

She stood still, breathless and disordered, as he drew up alongside of
her. "What has happened? Where is my sister? Why are you alone?" he asked,
and looked with astonished disapproval at her scared little white face.

"I was late, and missed the--carriage. I am--running--home," she panted.

He saw that there was more behind, and dismounted. Girls were not trained
for physical exertion in those days, they were not nurtured in the belief
that they must not be cowards. Deleah was trembling with terror and
exhaustion.

"Sit down," he said, and she subsided on the bank. He stood silently by
her for a minute, drawing his conclusions. "You have been frightened," he
said. "Who frightened you?"

"N-no one," gasped Deleah. "I--ran."

"From what? From whom?" And Deleah could not reply, could only feel the
blessed security of his protecting presence, could only look up at him
with the trusting, adoring eyes of a child.

He looked back upon the road they had both come; the daylight had not yet
faded from the sky, although the shades of evening were beginning to fall;
far down the road, where it curved towards the town, the lamps were being
lit. By the gate of the last "villa-residence" on the road, a man stood,
looking towards the pair by the bank.

"Was that the man who frightened you? That man by the gate?"

"N-no."

She might have saved her soul the perjury. Sir Francis, leading his horse
by the bridle, walked back in the direction of Laburnum Villa.

"Come back! Oh, please come back!" Deleah cried; but Sir Francis, paying
no heed, went on, till he stopped, bridle in one hand, riding-whip in the
other, in front of the man standing on the pathway before his gate.

"You frightened that lady."

"That lady is no business of yours."

"You are my business, you scoundrel," Sir Francis said, and lifted with a
threatening gesture the hand that held the whip.

The man did not flinch. He was no coward; he was much the smaller of the
two; he was unarmed. "No," Sir Francis said. "Not to-night," and dropped
his whip-hand. "But look out for yourself, sir. Take care. I shall have an
eye on you."

For a minute he stood confronting the man, who looked back hardily at him.
What else he had to say he said by the glance of his eye, by the set of
his lips, by his scornfully carried head; then he slowly turned his back,
led his horse from path to roadway, and swung himself into his saddle. As
he settled himself there, he found the other man by his stirrup.

"Lucky for you you did not use your whip on me, Sir Francis Forcus," he
said. "Sure as God, if you had done so I would have had your life."

Sir Francis, looking down on him, cut a light stroke upon the man's
shoulder with his whip.

"You asked for it, and you have got it," he said. "Stand out of the way,
will you?" and careless whether the other took that measure for
self-preservation or not, rode on.

Deleah, unable to see distinctly what occurred, was relieved to find the
interview so short, and Sir Francis so quickly beside her again. She had
got up from the bank, and was walking briskly homeward when he overtook
her.

"I hope you--were not unkind to him," she said timidly. "Mr. Gibbon lived
in our house once--"

"Was that Mr. Gibbon? That man with the mad eyes?"

"He was our boarder. He was always very kind."

"To you especially kind?"

"To us all."

"And am I to hear why, as he is so kind, you were running away from him,
this evening?"

"I had rather not tell."

He was a man of so much reserve himself that he respected hers. "Very
well," he said; and after a minute added, "I am quite sure you were not to
blame."

"I don't know," said Deleah, and hung her head, as she walked along.

To blame or not, she was horribly ashamed. She felt always in his society
as shy and _gauche_ as an awkward child, and was conscious that it was in
such a light he regarded her. She would have died rather than that he
should have known of that frantic struggle in Gibbon's arms, of that mad
embrace.



Deleah, who had no advantage of excellent training, happened to be
naturally musical. She played no difficult music, but her touch on the
piano was good. Her voice, by no means powerful, was true and pure and
pleasing. To Miss Forcus, who, in spite of the advantages of education,
loved the wrong things consistently in music, and liked to be moved to
tears by the plaintive songs of Claribel, it was a great pleasure to lie
back in her chair, book or embroidery fallen to the floor, and watch
Deleah's fingers tripping through the variations of Brinsley Richards's
masterpieces; to hear her tunefully lamenting that "she could not sing the
old songs," or in cheerfuller mood announcing that she might "marry the
Laird" if she would--"the Laird of high degree."

The two ladies had the small drawing-room to themselves in the evening as
a rule, but to-night, the fancy took Sir Francis to join them there.
Deleah, nervous at playing and singing before him, was too shy to ask to
be excused. She had been told that the dead wife had been a fine
instrumental performer, and that every evening she had provided for her
husband a genuine musical treat.

"I'm afraid I don't play any good music," she said. But Sir Francis, truth
to tell, shared his sister's lamentable taste, and if, as he sat silent
and pensive, beneath the shaded lamp on the round centre table, while the
girl at the piano went through her simple répertoire, his heart was
filled with memories of his lost wife, he certainly was not lamenting the
works of Mozart and Beethoven which she had so skilfully rendered.

Deleah, however, did not know this, never doubting that her benefactor was
a connoisseur of all the arts. Her fingers trembled upon wrong notes--all
undetected, had she known--her sweet voice faltered through the songs she
was wont to sing so pleasingly. She went off to bed, not daring to look
the master of the house in the face, so shocked and jarred and weary she
felt that he must be.

"Isn't she charmingly pretty and sweet?" his sister demanded of him. She
could never hear praise enough of this new acquisition of hers.

"She has attractive manners, and seems a good young woman."

"I don't allow her to touch any of poor Marion's music, Francis."

"Oh!" he said deprecating such restrictions. "What harm would her playing
Marion's music do?"

"I'm afraid she is going to leave us."

"Indeed? I have been looking on her as a fixture."

"She has been telling me the mother's shop has to be given up."

"It is a case of the shop giving up the mother, I fear."

"This poor little thing says she can't be happy living with us in luxury
while the mother and sister are in difficulties. She thinks of taking a
quite small house, and getting together a school of little children. It
seems a hopeless look-out, Francis."

"It does," he acquiesced, and took up the book he had laid down.

"But, Francis, I wish you would show a little interest. We decided when
that poor boy was killed we owed them what reparation could be made. I
feel deeply something should be done for this girl. She is too pretty, too
young, too delicate and dainty, to fight such a hard fight alone."

"She has her mother and sister."

"Nice women, I am sure, but--helpless."

"I would not call the mother helpless. She has held on, and done her best
in that hopeless shop."

"You will see that everything will be pushed on to the shoulders of this
little girl!"

"Well then--?" He looked questioningly at his sister's kind face over the
top of the book he was reading. Then his eyes fell again to its pages. "I
will think about it," he said.

After Ada Forcus had gone to bed he kept his promise:--sitting motionless
in his chair, his elbow on the arm of it, his head upon his hand--thinking
about it.



CHAPTER XXIX

A Prohibition Cancelled


"Any letter of interest?" Sir Francis asked of his sister, who, breakfast
being over, was glancing again through the correspondence the morning's
post had brought her.

"One from Reggie."

"He having a good time?"

"He says not. He says he hates travelling. Mountains and churches and
picture-galleries, he says, bore him till he cries. He talks about coming
home. I shall write and remind him he went for a year, and has only been
away eight months. A young man with money in his pocket who can't amuse
himself somewhere on the Continent of Europe must be deficient, Francis."

"Poor Reggie is not a very cultivated person. And I suppose he is--in
love." He paused on that, seeming to turn something over in his mind. "He
may as well come back," he finished. "I decided last night to tell him he
can come back if he likes."

"If he likes!" repeated an astonished Ada. "Then, of course he'll come,
and at once! He is best away. Tell him to stay where he is."

"I can't always expect to keep the boy in leading-strings. He has always
been very decent in doing the things I wish; but, as a fact, I have no
longer the slightest authority over him, or hold upon him, and he knows
it."

"Then, leave it. Say nothing. Don't write for him to come."

"I decided, last night, to write to him."

Miss Forcus was silent to show that she did not approve. She never argued
with her brother. "It is fortunate, then, that Deleah Day is going," she
said presently.

"We could not possibly have Reggie here with her. That silly affair would
be on again, in no time."

"As to that, I withdraw my objection. The boy must play his own game."

"Francis!" unbounded astonishment sat on the good, plain face of Ada
Forcus.

Her brother left his place on the hearthrug, and walked over to the broad
window at the end of the room. He stood there, tall, and fine, and
upright, his back to her, his hands lightly clasped behind him.

"Deleah is a sweet girl, Francis; but in a marriage there is more than
that to consider."

"Yes. There is a good deal to consider; but it is for Reggie and the girl
to consider--not for me."

"But surely you, too, Francis!"

"Well, then, I have considered."

"It is not Reggie alone--but all of us. You must think for all of us,
Francis. You always have done. It is not a connection to desire."

"I agree with you. The last in the world to desire. But it concerns the
pair of them, primarily. He is--he no doubt believes he is--in love with
her; and she is, I suppose, in love with him. No one has the right to
interfere."

"Think how differently you married, Francis! A rich girl of high family."

"I did not marry for that. It happened--that was all. I married Marion for
the same reason that impels Reggie to marry this girl. I remember how
little such things weighed with me in my marriage; how, once having felt
the inclination to marry her, I should have married my wife all the same
if she had been, say, the daughter of William Day. It is because I
remember that I decline any longer to interfere, or to take upon my
shoulders any responsibility in this matter."

"You are wrong, Francis. Reggie won't thank you for it, later on."

"Oh, do I want any one to thank me!" Sir Francis said with sudden, all
unusual petulance, turning round on his astonished sister, who jumped in
her chair at his tone, instantly repentant. To incur the anger of the head
of her house was the thing of which she was most on earth afraid.

"Do what you think right, of course, Francis."

"Of course I shall do what I think right."

He went to his own room, settled himself in his chair by the open window,
tore open the morning paper which it was his custom to read there. The
window opened upon a long oblong of flower-bordered lawn, enclosed by
thick square-cut yew hedges on two sides; at the end a series of glass
houses shut out the view. The eyes of Sir Francis strayed from the pages
of the newspaper to the sunshine and shadow of the freshly-cut lawn. At
the door of one of the greenhouses beyond, Deleah, in her black muslin
dress and wide black hat, was standing in conversation with Jarvis, the
head-gardener. Part of her duty, he had been told, was to wheedle Jarvis
out of the flowers Miss Forcus liked to see in her rooms, but of which he
resented the cutting.

Sir Francis looked at the pair--they were too far off for him to read
their faces, but he know how the girl would be playing her part, smiling
shyly, with appealing eyes; how Jarvis was probably denying her, being
human, for the mere delight of being asked. Presently the newspaper
dropped from his hand, and he passed out into the morning sunshine, and
walked down the flagged path dividing the lawn, the mosses growing grey
and green between the stones.

It was a morning of unclouded skies, the soft air laden with the scent of
flowers. A morning to be alive in--yes, to be happy in, spite of regrets
and doubts and cares; spite, even, of death and loss and buried love. On
such a morning a man might think of his dead wife, perhaps. Might say to
himself, "the pity of it!" but he could but be conscious that he, himself,
was alive still; that in him, solemn, responsible, middle-aged as he might
be, the fires of youth were not yet extinguished. He must feel the
fragrant wind upon his cheek, the scent of delicious airs in his nostrils,
must even, in spite of himself, use the eyes in his head to see what was
fair and sweet and gracious.

Jarvis, with his finger to his cap, retreated to his carnation-house, the
entrance of which he had been guarding.

"So you are leaving us?" Sir Francis began at once, stopping before
Deleah. "My sister has been telling me. We shall miss you very much."

"I shall never forget how good you have both been to me," Deleah said in
her shy voice, and playing with the flowers in her hands. "But I think I
ought to go."

"You will do what you think you ought, I am sure," he said; and her heart
sank at the ease with which he acquiesced.

She turned to walk towards the house, and he walked beside her. "You will
come to me if I can help you?" he said.

"If I might use your name in case no one will let me a house?"

"Of course. But you are not going to-day?"

She had not meant to do so, but since he seemed to expect it, found
herself saying that she was.

"There is another matter," he said, "and it is that I came out to speak
about. My brother Reginald is coming home."

"Really? Is that so?" She spoke without any show of interest. "I thought
he had gone for a year."

"That was the original plan. But he went because I wished it--at that
time. He has always been to me a docile, dear fellow, and I fear I
presumed on that. I had no right to order his goings and comings--to order
his life. None."

"I think it was Franky's death. I think he was glad to go--"

"That is as may be. I am going to tell him, now, to come back."

Deleah, feeling that this was a matter in which she had no concern, walked
on, saying nothing.

"And now," Sir Francis went on, "I am going to ask you to alter your mind
about leaving us. Since Reggie is coming back to us, won't you stay?"

Deleah lifted her head, and regarded him in silent astonishment.

He went on. "You have not forgotten what I said to you on a certain matter
some months ago, although you have sweetly held yourself as if you did not
remember. I now wish to recall the words I said then."

He waited. It was difficult to carry on a conversation in which she would
take no part.

"I see that I was wrong. That which I feared might be for Reggie's
undoing, I now believe would be for his good. Will you do me the great
kindness to forget that former talk we had; or if you cannot forget, to
act as though it had not taken place?"

Their walk had brought them opposite the morning-room window at which Miss
Forcus was now standing looking out, wondering what Francis had found to
say to the girl to whom he so seldom spoke.

Deleah with an effort found her voice. "That time--when you spoke to me
about your brother--I had not promised to marry him."

"I know," he said very gently, for her voice showed him that she was
distressed. "But Reggie wished it very much. And, perhaps, but for my
having taken action, you would have done?"

"I don't know," Deleah said, her head hung over the flowers in her hands.
Her hat was big, he could not, if he would, see her face. "Mama and Bessie
wished it--"

"And--but for me--you would have wished it?"

"I don't know."

She gave him an instant's imploring glance. Surely he must understand how
difficult it was for her to explain to him how she felt about Reggie! The
Reggie he was so nobly offering her. The Reggie, that not only her mother
and Bessie, but now Sir Francis himself wished her to marry, and that
therefore, undoubtedly she would have to marry. She could not tell him
this, could only stand before him--for they had come to a pause in the
middle of the gravel sweep before the big hall door--with hanging head,
pulling nervously at the stalks of her flowers, and repeat with a
childishness he must despise, "I don't know."

"Well, we shall see," he said encouragingly. "But at least you will not
hurry away? You will stay with us until Reggie comes home? Go to my sister
and tell her so. Will you?"

"If you wish it," Deleah said.

Miss Forcus, who under no circumstance could have been cold or
inhospitable, received the intimation that Deleah was to stay until
Reginald came home with less than accustomed warmth.

"Of course, my dear! You know I hated the thought of your going; but why
is it to be for Reggie especially? Were you and Reggie such friends?"

Deleah admitted without enthusiasm that they were certainly friends.

"Then, no doubt he will be glad to see you," Miss Forcus said, and thought
to herself that now she was going to have the daughter of a felon for her
sister-in-law.

By way of solace to her family pride she turned from the impending,
disastrous marriage of the step-brother to that satisfying alliance her
own brother had made. The daughter of a baronet had been his wife--the
sister-in-law of a peer. The baronet was a banker, and rich. If the little
son had lived he would have inherited his grandfather's fortune which now
had gone to the son of Lord Brace. Lord Brace, who was an Irish peer,
wanted the money more than Francis, certainly, who had a sufficient
fortune of his own, even without that considerable one his wife had
received from her mother, and had left to him.

All such facts, which Ada Forcus generally accepted as a matter of course,
she now produced for the benefit of Deleah, meekly counting the stitches
of the Madonna lily, which when worked in beads, grounded in amber silk
and framed in gold, would be converted into a screen, to hang on the
marble mantelpiece in the Cashelthorpe drawing-room.

About the wife whom Sir Francis had loved and lost, who had lived for two
years in this beautiful home, sitting to read, and eat, and sew, in her
husband's company, walking the gardens by his side, cared for and tended
and watched over by him, Deleah had dreamed many dreams. Beautiful as an
angel she had pictured her, and with an angel's nature, to be so loved, so
inexpressibly mourned by him. She had dreamed dreams, but had asked no
questions. She asked them now.

"Was she so very beautiful--Lady Forcus?"

Not to say strictly beautiful; which had surprised them all, Francis
having ever been a beauty lover. She had what was called a _dear_ face.
And such manners! Such a dignity! Such an air of high-breeding! "I used to
say to myself, 'Small wonder that Francis is your slave.'"

"And was he?"

"He was, indeed. Bound to her, hand and foot; with no thought but to
please her, no wish but what was hers."

Deleah sighed for very fullness of heart.

"But only because of his love for her, understand. Not because she had him
in the very least under her thumb."

Deleah shook a sympathetic head. "I am sure he could not be that."

"He has never been the same since her death. Never! And never will be
again."

"One would not wish him to be. It would spoil it," Deleah sighed.

Miss Forcus echoed the sigh. "Well, I do not know," she admitted. "People
die, but the world has to go on, Deleah. If the child had lived it would
have been different; but it seems to me a pity there should be no one to
come after Francis, to bear his name, and inherit his fortune. Of course
there is Reggie; but--"

She stopped there, remembering that in all probability the son of Reggie
would be the grandson of William and Lydia Day--felon, and bankrupt
grocer. The thought choked her. Had Francis remembered it? "Whoever
marries Reggie will marry a rotten reed," she said impetuously. "I pity
the girl who does it, from my heart."

"So do I," said Deleah quietly, and knitted her brow, chasing a tiny
fugitive bead with the point of her needle.

Miss Forcus heard with surprise and satisfaction, yet was afraid to
believe. What penniless girl, whose hand was her own to bestow, would
refuse the wealthy young Forcus? Longing for further assurance, and
greatly daring, she risked the question: "You knew Reggie so well, then,
yet did not fall in love with him?"

"I? Oh, no!" Deleah said. She lifted her head from the frame over which
she was stooping and looked calmly in the other woman's face; and Miss
Forcus was struck with the perception of what a gentle dignity the girl
had. A dignity less arresting, perhaps, than that she had admired so much
in Francis's wife, but as effective.

"Ah, well!" she smiled, immensely relieved, and overjoyed to find she
might again take her protégée to her heart. "We shall see who there is
that will be good and great enough for you, Deleah. He will have to be
both to deserve you."

"He will have to be both before I love him," Deleah said calmly, but with
the colour in her cheeks. She put her head on one side to contemplate the
lily growing so slowly under her fingers. "'I needs must love the highest
when I see it,'" she said, half to herself.

For while she had been talking and listening she had been thinking of that
sacrifice which she had but now thought was demanded of her; and she had
made up her mind not to make it.

When Sir Francis came in, that evening, he found lying on his
writing-table a little note with the signature "Deleah Day." "I hope you
will excuse me that I have altered my mind and decided to go home at
once," it ran. "I think I am wanted there. I hope you will not think I do
not feel all your kindness. I do feel it with all my heart."

Carrying this scanty missive open in his hand, Sir Francis sought his
sister.

"Yes, she has gone," that lady said. "She evidently wished it, and I drove
her back to-day."

"Then how about Reggie?"

"You were quite deceived about Reggie, Francis. You are, indeed. Deleah
will never marry Reggie. She as good as told me so. I never was more
thankful. It would have been so terribly unsuitable. She told me she was
writing to you. What does she say?"

Sir Francis did not choose to see the hand held out for Deleah's little
note. He folded it, and walked to the window, looking out thoughtfully
upon the garden, his hands behind his back, the letter, held by its corner
in one of them, waggling up and down.

"She told me she had written," Miss Forcus said again, by way of reminder.

"She simply says she has gone."

"I shall miss her dreadfully. She is the dearest girl. Never have I seen
one so lovely and so little vain."

"She is too lovely to be vain," Sir Francis said.

And at the tone rather than the words Miss Forcus lifted a startled head,
and gazed and gazed upon her brother's stately back, upon the hands
clasped behind it, holding the letter, waggling up and down, he would not
let out of his keeping.

Over another letter which Sir Francis received the next morning, he
laughed as he read. He tossed it across the table to his sister. "What a
fellow!" he said.

"From Reggie? I wish you had not written to him to come home, Francis."

"He's not coming. Don't alarm yourself. He says the Worradykes have turned
up at Nice--"

"They followed him! They've no doubt taken Daisy. I would stake my
existence they've taken Daisy!"

"You are quite right. Daisy is there. Reggie has promised to go on with
them to Rome."

"_Now_ she'll catch him!" prophesied the lady. "Good gracious! Supposing
things were as you thought and Deleah had waited to welcome him home! What
a quandary we should have been in then, Francis!"



CHAPTER XXX

Deleah Grows Up


It was Thursday afternoon: the day on which the shops of Brockenham closed
at two. George Boult, who had taken to visiting Bridge Street on the
Thursday half-holiday as well as the Sunday, must be expected this
afternoon. One way or other Mrs. Day would have to answer that proposition
of his which had filled her with such a misery of doubt.

Very little on his part had been said at the time of the offer. He would
be the happier for a lady at the head of his table, he had said; she and
her daughters wanted a home. Both were perhaps too old for sentiment, both
were old enough to take what chance of happiness and comfort life still
offered them. "Think it over, ma'am," he had said. "I'll look in on
Thursday. I don't anticipate you'll have thought of a better plan."

She had not, unless to drown herself was a better plan.

She had no impulse to suicide, but was a woman of unlimited selflessness,
who, believing that her death would make life easier to her children,
would have gone to it without any fuss.

Sometimes, with little Franky, on a Sunday afternoon, she had walked by
the side of the river where it ran away from the ugly black wharves upon
its shores to the meadows where Franky loved to see the toads slip down
through the weeds to the clear water, loved to get his boots wet in trying
to catch the darting minnows in his hands, loved to gather the
forget-me-nots, and river-mint, and ragged robin, to carry home to Deleah.
She knew exactly the spot, where if she was only sure it would be best for
Bessie, for Deleah, for poor, poor Bernard, she would slip down the
shelving bank and go wading, wading in, till out of her depth and weighed
down by her clothes she would sink out of sight, out of trouble, out of
life. She had no illusions about the enfolding in the "cool and comforting
arms of death." She knew quite well the horror of it, the choke, with the
rank, foul-tasting river in her mouth, its weeds and offal winding her
limbs. But that would pass, and she would be out of it. Far rather would
she be dead at the bottom of the river than married to her benefactor, Mr.
George Boult. If only she was sure it might be best for the children.

"I wonder what's to become of me while you're having your interesting
interview with Scrooge?" Bessie said at dinner-time. "It's raining, so I
can't go out for a walk."

"I am going for one," Mrs. Day said, having decided on that course at the
instant of announcing the intention.

"But I thought Scrooge was coming?"

"I know. I can't see him. I really can't. You see him for me, Bessie."

"Really, mama, how absurd! Is the old man wanting to marry me? Are you to
have the billing and cooing by proxy?"

There was no mistake about it, adversity had not improved Bessie; her
mother had to admit to herself that she was even sometimes vulgar. "You
might have spared me that, I think, Bessie," poor Mrs. Day said. She was
deeply offended and hurt. She would not wait to finish her dinner, but
went down into the shop and busied herself there till Mr. Pretty had put
the shutters up. Then she dressed herself in the widow's bonnet she still
wore, the shabby silk mantle with its deep border of crape, the black
gloves so much the worse for wear, and saying no further word to Bessie
went out.

"Of course I know where she's gone," said Bessie to Emily, her unfailing
confidante. "To Franky's grave. It isn't the place to make her a lively
companion when she comes back again; and it isn't very cheerful for me to
have to sit at home and think of her there."

"'Tis mother-like, Miss Bessie." Franky's grave held attraction for Emily
also, who visited it every Sunday of her life.

"Yes, but, Emily, oughtn't mama to think of me as well as of Franky? And
I've no patience with her. I think she ought to make up her mind, and have
done with it. Quite young girls, with all their lives before them, make
marriages for money, why should she make such a fuss?"

"The young ones don't know what they're a-doing, perhaps; and your ma
does," the sage Emily hazarded.

"And if the old man comes to-day what do you suppose I'm to say to him?"

"There never was a time yet when you didn't know what to say, Miss
Bessie."

"It's all very well. Why should I be mixed up in it? I shall just say
nothing."

"Then he can sit and look at you, and that's what he likes."

Bessie's eyes glinted: "But if he likes it--and he has always acted as if
he did--then why? why? why--?" She spread out the palms of her plump,
white little hands, making the dramatic inquiry of Emily, who, with a
black rag dipped in whitening, was polishing the "brights," as she called
her tin and pewter ware.

"Ah," Emily said; "he's one of your cautious ones, Boult is. Them that are
young and fascinatin' aren't the best of housekeepers, per'aps."

Bessie stood silent for a minute, watching the vigorous rubbing of a
dish-cover. "You go and change your frock," Emily said, glancing up at
her. "Put on that black-and-white muslin you look your nicest in--"

"I ought to wear all black for a year, Emily."

"You put on your black and white," coaxed Emily.

Mrs. Day went to Franky's grave as had been foretold, but went a long way
round to it, going first for that walk by the river, which the child and
she had been wont to take together. Finding that particular spot on the
riverbank which had been so much in her thoughts since Mr. Boult had made
his offer, she sat down there with the deliberate intention of deciding
which course to take, out of the three open to her. To be turned, with her
children, homeless and penniless upon the world; to become Boult's wife;
to drown in the river.

An effort she made to keep her mind on these issues, but could only think,
instead, of Franky. Not of Franky as he had played by the river, happily
painted his pictures, rushed off noisily with the cutler's son to school,
but of Franky sitting to eat his bread-and-butter and radishes, one spring
afternoon, his plate on his knees, removed to a distance from the
tea-table, because Bessie had declared that he smelt of putty.

It was an absurd little incident, forgotten until now, when it awoke in
her memory to wring the mother's heart without almost intolerable pain.
Banished! Not good enough to sit at the table with Bessie--her Franky, her
baby, her angel boy! In her heart she knew the boy had not cared, that, a
few tears shed, his meal was as welcome to him in one part of the room as
the other. Yet that picture of him, sitting lonely, munching in his
corner, beset her with pain too deep for tears; the little uncomplaining
figure bitterly accused her, she was reproached by the reproachless eyes.

So she sat by the river and cried there, unable to turn her mind to the
living children; to Bessie, so hard at times, but only because she was
unawakened, did not understand; to pretty, pretty Deleah with her innocent
allurements, her winning ways; to Bernard, who had written in his last
miserable letter from India that he loved her best in the world. Of these
she thought not at all; but only of the child eating his radishes in the
corner, looking solemnly at her out of his big dark eyes.

He called her from his grave, and presently she got up and went there.

Deleah, dropped by the Forcus carriage at the private door in Bridge
Street, went running up the stairs, and into the sitting-room. Bessie and
Mr. Boult, sitting side by side on the sofa in that apartment, flew rather
violently apart at the interruption of her entrance.

"Well, Deleah! What a way to dash into the room!" Bessie said; a flurried
Bessie with red cheeks, bursting into a scolding tone, to cover evident
embarrassment.

"Where is mama?" Deleah, gasping with astonishment, got out; and Bessie,
in the flurry and perturbation of the moment, flung at her the sisterly
advice to find out.

Deleah, pale of face, eyes staring, gazed speechless from Bessie on the
sofa, in the black-and-white muslin recommended by Emily, to Mr. Boult,
now engaged in peering with sudden interest into the street. Then,
shutting the door hastily upon the pair, she went to Emily, in the
kitchen.

"How long has Mr. Boult been here?"

Emily had not looked at the clock.

"Is he going to stay to tea?"

Emily would set an extra cup, on the chance of it. "You'd best go and find
your ma, Miss Deleah; she's gone to the cemetery, and have no right to be
there alone."

"I am going; and, Emily, I won't come into the house any more while that
man is there; and mama shall not."

"Now _you're_ going to make a heap of fuss!" the worried Emily said. "I
never see sech goin's on as we get nowadays. No peace anywhere."

"I'm not making any fuss. Only, you must tell Bessie to get rid of Mr.
Boult before we come home."

He did not go till Bessie, plump and attractive, a pink rose in her bosom,
had poured out tea for him, but he had been gone half an hour when the
mother and daughter returned. Mrs. Day, fagged with her long walk, was
comforted by the holding of Deleah's warm young arm, strengthened by
Deleah's brave talk. There would be another hard fight, but Deleah would
not go away any more, they would fight together.

"We can live on almost nothing, mama--you and I."

There would be Bessie, her mother reminded her; but Deleah seemed
indisposed to take Bessie into her calculations. She unfolded her scheme
of the little house and the little school of quite little children such as
she could teach.

"We shall be far happier than we have ever been in the shop. Some eggs and
milk for you and me, and now and then a little butcher's meat for Emily.
What will it cost! Surely we can manage that, mama."

"You are forgetting that there is Mr. Boult to settle with. That horrible
proposition of his must be somehow answered, Deleah."

"We will answer it to-night. I will help you to write the letter," Deleah
promised.

They wrote it between them, after Bessie had gone to bed, whither she
quickly repaired upon their return. The composition was mostly Deleah's,
and when finished it ran--

  "I did not feel equal to an interview with you, and I am sure you will
  excuse my having failed to keep the appointment. On thinking the matter
  over I have decided that the arrangement you proposed to me the other day
  is a quite unsuitable one, and I therefore write to decline. Having had
  time for reflection, I have no doubt that you agree in the wisdom of this
  decision."

"That is all, mama."

"My dear, no! It is so very cold."

"Well, we feel cold--you and I."

"But we must not forget what he did for us. We must always be grateful."

"I know. Mama, I am so tired of being grateful." Mrs. Day sighed; she was
tired of it too, truth to tell. "He is always throwing what he has done in
our faces, rubbing it into our skins. It is our gratitude which has made
him so detestable."

"It was kind of him to give that fifty pounds, and--"

"We will pay him back. We will pay him back to the last farthing, mama.
Sir Francis Forcus is _my_ friend; he said he would be; I will go to him,
and ask his advice. Only I hate--I hate to bother him."

"Then, let us try to muddle on alone."

"No. I am sure he would wish me." She waited, head on hand as she sat at
the table, looking down at, but not seeing the letter she had written for
her mother to copy. "He is such a sad man, mama," she said presently. "He
still grieves, and grieves, and grieves, for his wife."

"But he was kind to you, Deleah?"

"Yes. When he remembered. When he knew I was there. He loved her so much.
Miss Forcus has been telling me how he loved her. She was so beautiful, so
grand in manner and appearance, with such a fine character, so great and
good. There is a lovely monument to her in Cashelthrope churchyard. I went
to look at it this morning, after Miss Forcus had been speaking of her. A
white marble angel with a _heavenly_ face stands above the grave looking
upwards, a lily in her hand. Do you know what I felt, mama. I felt I would
die if I could give her back to him."

"Deleah!"

"I would," Deleah said, quite pale, and with a lip that trembled; "I would
die gladly if that could bring her back to him, and make him happy again."

Mrs. Day looked at her daughter with a rather startled attention, and
Deleah, glancing up, and catching her mother's eye, smiled brightly.
"Come, now let us send off this letter," she said.

When it was ready she ran down with it, herself, to the red pillar-box,
opposite the shop-door. "That matter is done with," she said as the letter
disappeared within the box, and she turned to re-enter. The light from the
street lamp fell on her mother's name, black letters on a white ground,
above the shop door. "Lydia Day, licensed to sell tobacco and snuff." "And
all that is nearly done with," she added, "and whatever happens I am not
sorry."

She felt curiously strong and capable; competent to work her way, afraid
of no difficulties. "It is more than time I should grow up, and at last, I
have done so," she said to herself. She went through the badly-lit little
passage, and up the steep narrow stairs, with shoulders braced and head
up. It was the having made, that day, a decision every worldly-wise person
would have condemned, but that she felt in every fibre of her being to be
a right one, which had given her that feeling of confidence in herself she
had hitherto lacked. She had chosen between comfort, luxury, the approval
and adulation of the world, with Reggie Forcus, and the hard up-hill fight
for bare existence, with liberty and her own self-respect; and choosing,
as she knew, well, she had felt herself to have grown in mental and
spiritual stature.

"What has happened to me?" she asked of herself. "I feel like going out to
fight battles, to-night."

"Mama," she said, going back into the sitting-room where her mother
awaited her, "behold I am not a child any longer. I am grown up."



CHAPTER XXXI

Bessie's Hour


For the best part of the week, Mrs. Day, attending in the vague and
preoccupied manner which had been hers since Franky's death to her few
customers, marvelled greatly and with supreme uneasiness of mind about Mr.
Boult. He took no notice of her letter, he did not come to the house. "He
is too much offended," she said to herself, wondering what form the
vengeance she anticipated would take.

At length, unable to keep silence any longer on the subject, she
questioned Bessie.

"I hope Mr. Boult was not very much annoyed at my leaving him on Thursday,
Bessie?"

"He didn't say he was," said Bessie, pertly.

"But was he? You could judge from his manner, surely?"

"If you ask me, then, I don't think he cared a ha'penny."

"I wrote to him, you know, Bessie."

"That finished it, I suppose?"

"Well, I must say I expected an answer."

"Mr. Boult has been in London lately. Perhaps it slipped his memory."

"London? That explains it. But how do you know, my dear?"

"I happen to know," Bessie said, and escaped from further questioning.

On the morning of the day when Deleah and her mother were to look over the
house which Deleah had chosen for the scene of their new start in life,
the girl went down into the shop to help her mother take stock of her
stores of teas and sugars and soaps. The enterprising Coman, having done
his best to ruin the widow's trade, had intimated his willingness to take
the business over as it stood, and at once; leaving the family at liberty
to continue in the house until Christmas.

Having her younger daughter with her behind the counter, made her morning
in the shop a different thing to Mrs. Day. She lost the weary air of
hopelessness she had worn since Franky's death, talked cheerfully to her
customers, was brisk and alert over the business she and Deleah had to do.

"It is surprising that Mr. Boult, who has always insisted on having a
finger in everything, should leave all this to us," she once said. "Our
letter must have mortally offended him, Deleah."

"Never mind, mama; we will manage without him," Deleah promised. She felt
such happy confidence in herself. "We will work," she said. "There never
were two people who worked as you and I will work."

"And I am sure, in her way, Bessie will help," Mrs. Day loyally added; but
Deleah was not quick to admit Bessie to her scheme.

"Twenty-five lemons," said Mrs. Day, having counted the stock of that
commodity. "Two of them going bad. Say twenty-three, dear."

"Twenty-three lemons," repeated Deleah, entering that number in the
stocktaking book.

"Three whole, and one half tin of ginger-nuts, at eight-pence the pound."

"Three and a half tins--Oh, wait a minute, mama." She held her pen
suspended to look through the shop-window. She looked carelessly at first,
and then with intentness. A closed carriage was passing down the narrow
street, the wheel grating against the pavement had caused her to look up.
"There is some one, all in white, in that carriage," she said.

"All in white? Have you got the ginger-nuts down, dear? Three and a half
tins--"

"It was some one so like Bessie. I believe it _was_ Bessie, mama."

"Bessie isn't likely to be sitting in a carriage, all in white. Say
'right' when you've got the items down, Deleah. Window sponges at
sixpence. Put down nineteen sponges at sixpence, Deleah."

"Wait a minute. I'd just like to run up to see what Bessie is doing. I
only caught a glimpse, but--I'll be back in one minute, mama."

Within that time she was back, a scared look on her face: "Bessie is not
in the house, mama." Mrs. Day looked up in mild surprise. "And Emily is
gone too."

"Emily? Gone?"

"The street door is locked, the key taken, and they are both gone."

"Emily has no right to go off like that in the middle of the morning.
Bessie should not allow it. I must speak to them both when they come home.
We got as far as the sponges--"

"Mama, it _was_ Bessie in white in that carriage--her face was turned
away, but I felt nearly sure. Some one was with her on the side farther
away; that was Emily." Deleah looked at her mother, as if questioning in
her own mind how much of the truth she could bear, before she went on.
"Don't be upset, mama. I was going to tell you something. I feel sure
Bessie is gone to be married to-day; and Emily has gone with her."

"Deleah!"

"Sit down for a minute. They have been so mysterious, all the
week--haven't you noticed?--and so busy; no one knew about what--"

"Married! Married! How can she be married? There is no one for her to be
married to."

"Do sit down. There is nothing to look so white about. Haven't you
guessed? I have guessed all along. It is Mr. Boult."

"Boult! Mr. George Boult?"

"Yes."

"Mr. George Boult!"

"Yes. Mr. George Boult. I keep telling you, mama. That day we wrote the
letter, I ran upstairs unexpectedly, and they were sitting on the sofa,
and that old man had got his arm round Bessie's waist."

"George Boult's arm? Bessie? _Our_ Bessie?"

"Yes. Now, don't faint, or begin to cry. I am certain they have gone to be
married."

"Bessie never would! She never would! It is _awful_ of her! It can't be!
It can't be!"

"It _is_. I am sure of it as if I were in the church, seeing it done. Oh,
mama, _don't_ give way. _Don't!_ I have told you, so that when they come
back, here as they will--they will! in half an hour, you may be quite
brave, and not give way before them."

Deleah called Mr. Pretty from the cellar to the shop, and taking her
mother's arm led her to the sitting-room. "Now if you feel you _must_
collapse or cry, mama," she adjured her parent with a touch of the scorn
the younger generation felt for elders accustomed, in that day, to meet
all crises with tears and faints, or at the least wild gesticulation--"if
you _must_, do it now, and here; so that when they come you can be calm
and dignified."

"_Our_ Bessie!" Mrs. Day kept saying, wringing her hands and looking up
with appealing eyes swimming in tears. "Our Bessie! Our pretty, attractive
Bessie! And that man! That _old_ man!"

"It won't do to go on like that when they come, mama," Deleah warned her.
"You can't tell him he is old. You must not even tell Bessie so, now.
Bessie isn't like you and me, remember, who would have been wretched and
ashamed. She thinks of his money and his carriage. She does not think she
has played an underhand game. She thinks she has been cleverer than the
rest of us. She is pleased with herself, and proud, and Emily is proud of
her. Well, if you must cry--cry, mama. Cry all you can now, so, on no
account, you shed one tear before _them_."

By the time Bessie appeared--she came without her bridegroom, who had
thought a meeting with the mother of his bride would be, under the
circumstances, awkward--Deleah's exhortations had had their effect.

Bessie--partial to "scenes" and making them, of her own, on any
occasion--expecting one now was disappointed. She came in, in her white
dress and bonnet, her fair plump face flushed, her eyes twinkling in
anticipation of the sensation she was about to create, and found mother
and sister gravely awaiting her.

"Here I am! I am married, mama," she announced.

Instead of the outburst she had expected: "Yes, my dear, so I have been
hearing," Mrs. Day said. "I don't know why you need have kept it secret
from me, but now it is done, all I can do is to wish you every possible
happiness, Bessie."

It was disappointing: very flat and tame. Mrs. Day got up and kissed her
daughter, and Deleah followed suit.

"It would have been nicer for you to have mama and me with you at your
wedding, I should have thought," Deleah said. "Isn't Mr. Boult coming to
speak to us?"

"No," said a slightly crestfallen Bessie. "He thought there would be a
fuss."

"It is too late to make a fuss, Bessie."

"Well, we thought so; and that there was no good in his being bothered; so
he's gone straight on to the station to wait for me. We go up to town by
the 1.20. I join him in half an hour. The carriage will wait."

"That's all right, dear. You'd better have something to eat before you
go."

Emily was summoned to bring refreshments. The tray was already, having
been prepared before they left for church, and on it was a small
wedding-cake bought with Emily's savings, and a bottle of port purchased
from the same meagre fund.

The white sugared cake was to be a surprise to Bessie:

"A little present from me," Emily said as she set it on the table.

"Oh, you dear old thing! You must stop to eat some. Cut the cake, Deleah."

Deleah would not usurp the bride's privilege, and Bessie, attempting the
operation without removing her glove, split it down the palm! "There, I've
spoilt my glove!" she cried, and turned upon her sister. "That's your
fault, Deleah. You should have cut the cake when I asked you." Then she
began to cry. "I get married," she sobbed; "mama and Deda care no more
than if I had gone out for a walk. No one cares. They sit there and stare,
and won't say anything; no one cares."

"Oh, Bessie, my poor girl, God knows I care!" the mother said. "But what
can I say? It is done; what can I say?"

"Say s-s-omething! Don't sit there!" Bessie sobbed. "Deda might sew up my
glove, instead of s-s-sitting there."

Deleah had already found needle and cotton. "Take your glove off, Bessie."

Bessie tried to tear it from her hand. Her tears fell on the white kid.
"It is tight. I shall never get it on again. Oh, what shall I do, mama? I
have to be there in half an hour. What's the time now? No. I can't eat the
cake, Emily. You can eat it, and Deleah, when I'm g-g-gone. Little Franky
would have liked some. Poor little Franky. I--I always loved Franky, mama.
I'm--I'm crying now because of Franky."

They all cried then, and hushed and petted her, and made her drink a glass
of poor Emily's wine, which still further flushed her cheeks, and made her
laugh across her tears. Then they had to be stern with her, and scold her,
lest she should be in hysterics. And through it all she kept looking at
the clock on the mantelpiece. "Only five minutes more, mama! Deda, Emily,
only five minutes more!"

"Dear, you're going to see the London sights," Emily comforted her, the
tears raining down her own leather-coloured cheeks. "And your own
kerridge, and all! And your man in livery a-waiting at the door! And your
gentleman that fond of you, he could eat you a'most!"

But, in spite of these considerations, Bessie spent the last five minutes
in the room she had so grumbled at having to live in on the sofa, her head
buried in the pillow, her feet kicking, in the old ungoverned fashion,
upon the horsehair cover.

Deleah fetched her own hat and the cloak which was to cover Bessie's white
muslin for travelling, and eau-de-cologne wherewith to dab the
tear-stained cheeks. "I'm coming with you, Bessie, to the station," she
promised. "Emily must come too."

"I'm a-comin'," Emily, still in her bonnet and shawl, assured her. "Don't
you never think I'm a-goin' to leave you, my dear, till I'm forced to it.
And I may as well tell you, ma'am," she went on, turning to Mrs. Day,
"that when my young lady and her husban' returns from their honeymooning,
I'm a-goin' to live along of 'em. Sorry I am to part from you and Miss
Deleah, but Bessie have always come first with me, and always will do."

Then the five minutes were up: "Good-bye, mama dear."

"Good-bye, my own precious Bessie."

"I've got three new frocks, besides this; and I'm to have some more
afterwards. The luggage was such a trouble to pack, without you and Deleah
knowing! I hope I've got everything."

"You'll write, Bessie?"

"And you'll come and stay with me, mama? There'll be the carriage to drive
out in. It will make a nice change."

"It will indeed, dear."

"Is my bonnet straight? I had the forget-me-not wreath put in because you
always said blue was my colour."

"Go now, darling. There is not another minute."

"Oh, Mama! Mama! Mama!"

"Go instantly, Bessie. Deleah, take her downstairs--"

The bridegroom, dressed for the character in blue frock-coat, lavender
trousers, with gloves and tie to match, and a flower in his buttonhole,
was in waiting to help his bride to alight. He, who had never struck her
as looking so before, suddenly appeared quite old to Deleah, in spite of
his careful array, and the whiskers which had been oiled and curled.
Bessie with the forget-me-nots surrounding her plump, fair-skinned face,
looked almost a child in comparison.

"Late!" he said, smiling upon the ladies. "But better late than never, eh,
Sister Deleah?"

"That depends on how you look at these things," said Deleah, for the first
time in her life feeling the desire to be unpleasant.

"We sprang a surprise on you, eh?"

"We were not at all surprised, Mr. Boult."

"It will have to be 'George' now, won't it? We can't have Sister Deleah
'Mr. Boult-ing' me. Eh, Bess?"

"You may call him 'George,' Deda," said a magnanimous Bessie.

"Thank you," said Deleah, in the tone of one who is not at all grateful.
She followed the happy pair to the platform. Both were too smartly dressed
for ordinary travellers, and people, guessing them to be bride and
bridegroom, looked at them with interest.

"How they all stare! I hope they find us worth looking at."

"I always have thought you were, my dear," Mr. Boult said gallantly.

Quite a little crowd collected to see Bessie handed into the first-class
carriage, on which the word 'engaged' had been pasted: "We shall be alone.
I have seen to that," the bridegroom said, proud of his man-of-the-world
ways.

Deleah climbed into the carriage with her sister. "You wish you were
coming with us?" Mr. Boult inquired facetiously.

"Not at all!"

"Your turn will come. How about Mr. Gibbon? Now that Bessie is out of the
way you can have your chance."

"Good-bye, Bessie. I do so hope you may be happy."

"You're a lucky young lady, tha's what you are!" Emily said, putting her
head into the carriage. "You couldn't marry all of 'em what was in love
with you, Bessie; but you've made a wise ch'ice--"

The guard cut her eloquence short by slamming the door. Mr. Boult,
oblivious of the fact that Bessie might also have liked to show herself,
filled up the window. Emily, determined that no item of the ritual proper
to such ceremonies should be omitted, promptly threw a handful of rice in
his face. It stung, half blinded him, but had the effect of driving him
from his position, so that Bessie for one minute could appear. The poor
face in the white tulle and forget-me-nots looked anxious, frightened,
appealing; and as the train, rushing on, carried it from them the women
left on the platform looked at each other through eyes blinded with tears.

"Poor Bessie! She is such a child always," Deleah said.

"She is that, Miss Deleah. I tell you how 'tis with me and Bessie--spite
of her having such a way with her with the gentlemen, and such a will of
her own--I have always felt I haven't never lost the little girl I had to
wait on when first I come to service with your ma."



CHAPTER XXXII

The Man With The Mad Eyes


The other women being employed in the daytime, the sitting-room had been
more especially Bessie's domain. How strange and chilling was the thought
it would be empty of Bessie for evermore. Her untidy work-basket peeped
out from under the sofa where she always pushed it on the appearance of a
visitor; the penny weekly paper in which she read of the fashions, and the
romantic love-matches of which she had dreamed while making an absolutely
sordid marriage herself, was tucked behind the cushion of her chair.
Deleah stood within the doorway for a minute, without entering, feeling
strangely bereaved and forlorn. Not much sympathy had been between the
pair, but the ties of blood are stronger than is realised till "marriage
or death or division" snaps the cord.

With a lagging step Deleah went forward into the so pathetically empty
room. On the table some flowers were lying. Two deep purple blooms of
clematis. The creeper so carefully trained to climb beside a certain hall
door came into her mind. She had noticed on an occasion she would fain
have forgotten, without knowing she had done so, that it bore two buds.
Deleah looked at the blossoms with an odd feeling of repulsion. She walked
round the table to the side that was farthest from them. Then lifting her
eyes, she saw that Charles Gibbon was standing by the opposite wall. The
open door had screened him from her on entering.

"Mr. Gibbon!" she said, and her voice faltered with dismay; only
apprehension was in her eyes.

He looked at her without speaking. It was curiously disturbing to see him
standing there, his back to the wall, saying nothing; the broad, short
figure, at one time so familiar in that room, now so alien and strange,
the commonplace, plain-featured face, tragic with its new grey hue, the
eyes--Deleah remembered with a shudder some words recently spoken about
the eyes! They were fixed upon her face.

"Won't you come and sit down, Mr. Gibbon?"

He advanced a few steps, and stood at the table opposite her.

She looked at the flowers. "You brought these?"

"For you," he said, speaking thickly. "They are the only two the clematis
had. If it had ten thousand they would have been for you."

Deleah kept her eyes upon the flowers. She felt that she could not touch
them. "You are very kind," she said.

"You would say as much as that to any stranger in the street who had
kicked a stone out of your path, and I--I--." He was stammering curiously
in his thickened voice. It seemed that the words he wanted to speak would
not come. "And I--after all that I suffer--only kind?" he got out at last.

With something of the expression of a trapped creature in her eyes, Deleah
looked past him to the door. He turned instantly, and shut it, and came
back to his place opposite her at the table.

"Your sister is married to Mr. Boult, to-day," he said. "At one time you
could not marry me because of your sister. That impediment's gone. Another
time, you had some other excuse. Again another. Come, what excuse have you
to-day?" He leant across the table to bring his face closer to hers. "You
don't intend to marry me, do you?"

She gazed at him with fear in her eyes, but did not speak. "You let me
live beside you, set my heart on you, till there was nothing else on earth
or heaven for me but you. You let me slave to serve a man I hated as a
means of getting you. You let me get ready my house--every brick in it,
every pound of paint laid on it, for you. You--"

"Mr. Gibbon, do wait! I think you are saying too much. I never deceived
you. I never said I would marry you. I tried to make you understand."

"Listen! Have you always hated me? When you took my flowers and fruit--all
the presents I lavished on you--tell me, did you hate me then?"

"Certainly I did not. I thought you very kind and generous."

"Do you hate me now?" When she told him 'no' he stretched out a shaking
hand to her across the table. "Then--?"

Deleah stepped back from the hand and shook her head.

"Why?"

No answer.

"Why?"

"Oh, where would be the use of my telling you!"

"But you shall tell me."

"No."

"Then I will tell you. You think you are going to marry some one else."

Deleah lifted her head and looked at him with proud offence. "You are not
to say that, Mr. Gibbon. It is not true."

"You think so," he persisted. "But you are not. Do you know why? Because I
will stop you. I know! know! know!" He mercilessly slapped one of his
shaking hands upon the table. "And I will stop you."

He turned away, walked to the door, stood staring at it for a moment, his
back to her, then suddenly faced her again: "Sir Francis Forcus," he said.
He walked to the table his eyes fixed on hers. "Sir Francis Forcus," he
repeated. And once again, leaning across the table to bring his face close
to hers, "Sir Francis Forcus."

Then he laughed in the girl's frightened face, and went out of the room.

Emily put an inquiring head in at the door.

"He haven't gone? Mr. Gibbon haven't gone, Miss Deleah? Well, now, when
the mistress told me he was up along of you, I hoped 'twas another weddin'
comin' off. You shouldn't have let him go so quick, my dear."

Deleah had a dazed look about the eyes. "He was horrible! I believe he is
mad," she said.

Emily clapped her hands together. "Bessie's marriage have done that! I
always told Bessie she'd send some of 'em to the lunatic asylum, or their
graves."

"I believe he is mad. Which way did he go, Emily?" She ran down into the
shop where Mrs. Day, if daughters were married or daughters were
threatened, must never forget that she was licensed to sell tobacco and
snuff, was still toiling away at her stocktaking. "Mama, did you see Mr.
Gibbon go away?"

"No. Is he gone, my dear?"

Deleah dashed to the door, still open, although the windows were
shuttered, and looked up and down the street.

"Do you want to call him back?" her mother asked of her, in mild surprise.

"I believe he is mad." Deleah was breathless, shaking with excitement or
fear. "He was in the sitting-room--hiding behind the door--waiting for
me."

"Mr. Gibbon! My dear, he couldn't have been. Why should he do that?"

"He was doing it. How did he get there?"

"He came in just as usual--there is really nothing the matter with him,
Deleah--to ask me if I knew where his pistol was that he and Franky used
to shoot at bottles with when he first came, out of his bedroom window.
You remember? I told him it was in his bedroom still, for all I knew; I
told him to run up and get it?"

"Did he get it? Had he a pistol in his pocket while he talked to me?"

Emily had followed Deleah into the shop. "He'd no pistol," she put in
confidently. "He'd never find it. I'd never liked the nasty dang'rous
thing, with Franky into every mischief, and I hid it up on the top of the
wardrobe. He'd never find it!"

"Run and see," Mrs. Day said. She began to be impressed by the look of
fear on Deleah's face; the girl was trembling violently, now, her teeth
chattering as if with extreme cold.

In less than a minute Emily was back. "He've got it," they heard her
calling as she came. "The pistol's gone. He've got it. Sure as we're
living, he's goin' to shoot hisself, on account of Bessie!"

"Nonsense!" Mrs. Day cried sharply. "Deleah, there is really nothing to be
frightened about, my dear. The pistol was Mr. Gibbon's own. He naturally
wanted it."

Deleah stood in the middle of the shop, lit by the half-open door and the
jet of gas above Mrs. Day's desk. She was squeezing her hands together,
her arms strained against her breast as if trying desperately to stop her
trembling. "Could I get there?" she said to her mother. "Could I get there
first?" Her body was bent forward as if with the impulse to run, but she
waited, squeezing herself in her arms, her brow knit, trying to steady her
thought. "If I can get there first--!" she said.

"Where, dear? Get where? What is it you want to do, Deleah?"

She seemed not to hear: "If I can get there first!" she said to herself;
then, going stumblingly, reached the door, and was gone.

The two women left, stared at each other's blank face in the mingled
lights of the shop. "She isn't running after Mr. Gibbon, surely!" Mrs. Day
said, helplessly perplexed.

"There's no good in her a-doing that. Gibbon's heart's set on Bessie,"
Emily declared.

"Do go after her, and bring her back, Emily."

The great yard of the Hope Brewery was nearly empty. A young clerk, his
pen stuck in the bushy hair above his ears, his hands in his trousers
pockets, was whistling as he walked across it, stepping lightly from the
shadows cast by the huge buildings to the sunshine of the open spaces. An
enormous drayman was backing a pair of powerful horses, in order to bring
his wagon under that portion of the wall over which a barrel hung
suspended; two other men also of gigantic proportions, with red-shining
faces and aprons tied over their ample bodies, stood to watch the
manoeuvres. A groom in charge of a saddle-horse by the entrance to the
main building patted his horse's neck as he also looked on.

Deleah, flinging herself from the door of the four-wheeler which had
brought her, dashed through the yard, consciously seeing none of these
things, which yet photographed themselves on her brain and remained
indelibly printed there till her dying day. She knew her way to the
private room of Sir Francis, and made towards it, without pausing to heed
the one or two men who endeavoured to stop and question her. In the
ante-room to the inner sanctum, a confidential clerk who always sat there
flew up from his desk.

"Excuse me, miss. A moment, please. You can't go in there. Sir Francis is
particularly engaged."

When she took no notice, he tried to reach the door before her; but
Deleah, too quick for him, dashing forward, opened, and shut it in his
face.

Sir Francis was standing in his favourite position with his back to the
mantelpiece, in riding dress, his gloves and whip in his hand. Deleah,
bolting into the room, and falling back upon the door, the more
effectually to close it upon the confidential clerk, had an instant's
vision of him in his calm unassailableness, in that unruffled perfection
of appearance, which, while it had always awakened her girlish admiration,
had ever seemed to remove him to an immeasurable distance. The sight of
him, even in what was to her a supreme moment, had its habitual effect of
pouring cold waters of discouragement upon her mood, of making her
doubtful of herself and any claim she could possibly make upon his
attention. She had been presumptuous in pushing herself into his presence.
Of course he was safe. Of course nothing could hurt him. The poor
Honourable Charles, the erstwhile draper's assistant, with his common,
thick-set figure, his hoarse voice, his unrefined accent--it was an
offence even to think of him in the same breath with this elegant
gentleman. How could this one on his high eminence of aloofness and
security be endangered by such an one as that?

To see and feel all this was the work of a moment. The moment in which she
slammed the door on the protesting clerk, the moment in which also she
felt the shock of awaking from her frenzied zeal that would have beaten
down all obstacles to save this man's life, to the perception that her
zeal would in his eyes seem an absurdity; that her presence there was
superfluous if not impertinent; that she had made a fool of herself for
nothing.

Sir Francis suffered this inexplicable noisy invasion of his privacy with
a look of annoyance and surprise breaking up the composure of his face.
Then, seeing who it was who had thus burst upon him, who leant upon the
door she had slammed, panting as if pursued, turning frightened, appealing
eyes to him, the expression of his face changed, the whole man seemed to
change. With a look such as Deleah had never dreamed it possible he could
wear he went forward to her; in a tone she had not known his voice to
take, he spoke her name.

"Deleah!" he said.

She looked at him; but in rapturous wonder at the light in his eyes,
listening spellbound to the delight of her name so spoken, forgetting who
she was, where she was, in the whirl of bliss where her senses momentarily
swam. Then he held out his hands and took hers, and held them locked in
his against his breast.

"My dear child, I was coming to you," he said. "You have come to me
instead, my little Deleah!"



CHAPTER XXXIII

The Moment Of Triumph


"While you were in my house I reckoned up the years, many times." He
smiled a little sadly, and shook his head, looking down at her. "They
never grew any less, Deleah. There are twenty-five between you and me. It
is too much! Too much!"

"No!" breathed Deleah, with upturned, adoring eyes.

"And, dear, they are not the only things between us--dividing me from you.
A love I felt--a great love I thought never to feel again--in the past--"
He looked away from her, over her head into the years that were gone. Then
his eyes came back to the eyes that were lifted to him, and he grasped her
hands tighter against his breast.

"There was Reggie, too," he said. "Poor Reggie! But I made what reparation
I could. I gave him his chance. Did he ever have a chance, Deleah?"

She shook her head. "Never!"

"What will he say to us?"

There came a rap upon the door, and Sir Francis dropped the hands he held,
and started back. "I am particularly engaged, Rogers," he said.

The door was discreetly opened to admit not Rogers, but Rogers's voice: "I
beg your pardon, sir, but there is a matter of some importance; if you
could come for a few minutes."

"I have told you I am engaged," the voice of authority protested. With a
kind of discreet reluctance the door closed again, and Sir Francis, with
the impatience of a lover whose ardour has received a momentary check,
took the girl into his arms. With a hand pushed against his chest she held
herself away from him.

"Why?" he asked her. "You are not afraid of me, Deleah?"

"Yes. Very much afraid."

"Tell me why, my dearest child?"

"Oh, you know," said Deleah, turning away her head.

"No! It is I who should be afraid of you; you, with your youth and beauty,
and sweet and gentle goodness. I confess it--all those months you lived in
my house, I was afraid."

"You said there were things between us--dividing us. You did not say what
really is there. What papa did--"

As she faltered over the words there came a louder knocking upon the door,
which opened almost at the same minute. Mr. Rogers's deprecating face
appeared there, and behind it the face of a policeman.

"A minute, sir. I won't detain you a minute," the clerk said; and Sir
Francis walked to the door with an impatient step and closed it behind
him.

Deleah, left to herself--was it for an hour? was it for a minute?--looked
with eyes dazed with happiness upon the hands that had been crushed in
his.

"I used to think that to be loved by him would be heaven," she said. "And
now--now I feel nothing. I am numb."

He came back very grave, his face unusually pale. "Your cab is waiting. I
will take you home, my dear child," he said.

She crossed the big yard again at his side. The drayman was still at his
horses' heads, the groom was taking the riding-horse round to the stables.
On the opposite side of the yard beneath one of the arches of a heavy
colonnade, a couple of policemen stood. One of them was making notes in a
book. A group of workpeople stood near by; and Deleah remembered
afterwards that there was about them and the rest an air of suspending
something they were saying or doing while their chief and the girl at his
side walked to the great entrance gates.

"A cab was waiting, by good luck," Sir Francis said as he put her in it,
and Deleah awoke, it seemed to her, for the first time since he had called
her name as she leant against his door, to full consciousness.

"It was mine," she said. "I took it to get to you quickly--before you
started for home. I was afraid you might be hurt. A man--the man who used
to lodge with us--came to me this afternoon, and he threatened you. I was
so foolish--I believed he meant it. I was afraid. I thought, as you rode
past his house to Cashelthorpe, he would wait there, behind the hedge, and
shoot you. I seemed to see him doing it. So foolish of me! Of course he
was simply frightening me; he would not dare--" She lifted the adoring
eyes to his face as he sat beside her. Who would dare indeed to harm that
Excellence! "I was afraid he had gone mad," she said, excusing the folly
of her thought.

"Poor fellow, I think he had," Sir Francis said. He held her face turned
to him, its pure oval in his hand. "Was it love of you that made him mad,
Deleah?"

She was too shy of him yet, and too modest to answer the question by word
of mouth; but he knew the answer.

"He won't trouble you any more, Deleah," he said very gently. "He won't
hurt me. He is dead."

She would not believe it. It was impossible. "He can't be! He was with me
half an hour ago. He was well as I am, and very strong. He can't be dead!"

"He seems to have come to the Brewery-yard--why we shall never know.
Perhaps with some mad intention towards me. Perhaps--. But it is all
conjecture. All we know is that he is there now. Dead."

"Was he there before me? Did he see me running through the yard--to you?"

"No one knows. No one noticed him till they found him lying behind one of
the pillars of the colonnade, shot through the head. I am going back there
now. They want me."

He lifted her from the cab and stood beside her till Emily opened the
door: "I will be with you again as soon as I can, my darling child," he
promised; and got into the cab again and drove away.

Deleah, creeping up the stairs, shut the door of the sitting-room upon
Emily, voluble of questions but getting no satisfactory answers. Shaken
with emotion, weak and shivering, she stood looking round the empty room,
peopling it with its familiar circle. There was Bessie's place, and there
Franky's especial chair. There, by the little table on one side of the
fire the boarder had sat every evening, book in hand, but eyes wandering
ever in Deleah's direction. She spoke, or laughed, or sighed, and the
change in his face showed that he listened. Bessie had to call his name
sharply twice before his attention was gained. Franky would ask some
question about the mixing of his paints. The man would answer with a kind
of anxious politeness, getting up to look over the child's shoulder.
Passing Deleah, he would stoop for the book he had purposely dropped by
her chair. "I love you!" she would hear his fierce low whisper in her ear.

She had been too depreciative of herself, too innocent of the workings of
passion, to have felt anything but irritation and annoyance at the signs
in him of a suffering she could not believe in or understand. Was it
possible, after all, that she, Deleah, whose heart was so tender, whose
ways so pitiful, who saved the drowning flies and would not willingly have
afflicted the meanest of God's creatures, by means of a pale and pretty
face only, had wrought that havoc?

With a sob in her throat she came forward into the room. Upon the table
were lying the two purple clematis flowers, backed by a spray of their own
foliage and tied with the tendrils of the plant. Deleah recalled the
repulsion with which she had seen them lying there. She put out her hand
towards them, but drew it back. She could not touch them even now.

To each of us, however mean our lives and obscure our history, living or
dead, the moment of triumph comes. To Charles Gibbon his came, when
Deleah, forgetful of her new-found bliss, and the Heaven of Happiness
opening before her, laid her head upon the table beside the poor blooms of
the clematis flower, and as if her heart were broken, cried for the fate
of the Honourable Charles.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mrs. Day's Daughters" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home