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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



BEYOND THE CITY

 

 

 

 

CHAPTERI.

THENEW-COMERS.

 

"Ifyou pleasemum" said the voice of a domesticfromsomewhere round the angle of the door"number threeis movingin.

Two littleold ladieswho were sitting at eitherside of atablesprang to their feet with ejaculationsofinterestand rushed to the window of thesitting-room.

"TakecareMonica dear" said oneshrouding herselfin thelace curtain; "don't let them see us.

"NonoBertha.  We must not give them reason to saythat theirneighbors are inquisitive.  But I think thatwe aresafe if we stand like this."

The openwindow looked out upon a sloping lawnwelltrimmedand pleasantwith fuzzy rosebushes and astar-shapedbed of sweet-william.  It was bounded bya lowwooden fencewhich screened it off from a broadmodernnew metaled road.  At the other side of this roadwere threelarge detached deep-bodied villas with peakyeaves andsmall wooden balconieseach standing in itsown littlesquare of grass and of flowers.  All threewereequally newbut numbers one and two were curtainedandsedatewith a humansociable look to them; whilenumberthreewith yawning door and unkempt gardenhadapparentlyonly just received its furniture and madeitselfready for its occupants.  A four-wheeler haddriven upto the gateand it was at this that the oldladiespeeping out bird-like from behind their curtainsdirectedan eager and questioning gaze.

The cabmanhad descendedand the passengers withinwerehanding out the articles which they desired him tocarry upto the house.  He stood red-faced and blinkingwith hiscrooked arms outstretchedwhile a male handprotrudingfrom the windowkept piling up upon him aseries ofarticles the sight of which filled the curiousold ladieswith bewilderment.

"Mygoodness me!" cried Monicathe smallerthedrierandthe more wizened of the pair.  "What do youcall thatBertha?  It looks to me like four batterpuddings."

"Thoseare what young men box each other with"saidBerthawith a conscious air of superior worldlyknowledge.

"Andthose?"

Two greatbottle-shaped pieces of yellow shining woodhad beenheaped upon the cabman.

"OhI don't know what those are" confessed Bertha.Indianclubs had never before obtruded themselves uponherpeaceful and very feminine existence.

Thesemysterious articles were followedhoweverbyotherswhich were more within theirrange ofcomprehension--bya pair of dumb-bellsa purplecricket-baga set of golf clubsand a tennis racket.Finallywhen the cabmanall top-heavy and bristlinghadstaggered off up the garden paththere emerged in averyleisurely way from the cab a bigpowerfully builtyoung manwith a bull pup under one arm and a pinksportingpaper in his hand.  The paper he crammed intothe pocketof his light yellow dust-coatand extendedhis handas if to assist some one else from the vehicle.To thesurprise of the two old ladieshoweverthe onlythingwhich his open palm received was a violent slapand a talllady bounded unassisted out of the cab.  Witha regalwave she motioned the young man towards the doorand thenwith one hand upon her hip she stood in acarelesslounging attitude by the gatekicking hertoeagainst the wall and listlessly awaiting the returnof thedriver.

As sheturned slowly roundand the sunshine struckupon herfacethe two watchers were amazed to see thatthis veryactive and energetic lady was far from being inher firstyouthso far that she had certainly come ofage againsince she first passed that landmark in life'sjourney. Her finely chiseledclean-cut facewithsomethingred Indian about the firm mouth and stronglymarkedcheek bonesshowed even at that distance tracesof thefriction of the passing years.  And yet she wasveryhandsome.  Her features were as firm in repose asthose of aGreek bustand her great dark eyes werearchedover by two brows so blackso thickand sodelicatelycurvedthat the eye turned away from theharsherdetails of the face to marvel at their grace andstrength. Her figuretoowas straight as a dartalittleportlyperhapsbut curving into magnificentoutlineswhich were half accentuated by the strangecostumewhich she wore.  Her hairblack but plentifullyshot withgreywas brushed plainly back from her highforeheadand was gathered under a small round felt hatlike thatof a manwith one sprig of feather in the bandas aconcession to her sex.  A double-breasted jacket ofsome darkfrieze-like material fitted closely to herfigurewhile her straight blue skirtuntrimmed andungatheredwas cut so short that the lower curve of herfinely-turnedlegs was plainly visible beneath itterminatingin a pair of broadflatlow-heeled andsquare-toedshoes.  Such was the lady who lounged at thegate ofnumber threeunder the curious eyes of her twooppositeneighbors.

But if herconduct and appearance had alreadysomewhatjarred upon their limited and precise sense ofthefitness of thingswhat were they to think of thenextlittle act in this tableau vivant?  The cabmanred andheavy-jowledhad come back from his laborsandheld outhis hand for his fare.  The lady passed him acointhere was a moment of mumbling and gesticulatingandsuddenly she had him with both hands by the redcravatwhich girt his neckand was shaking him as aterrierwould a rat.  Right across the pavement shethrusthimandpushing him up against the wheelshebanged hishead three several times against the side ofhis ownvehicle.

"CanI be of any use to youaunt?" asked the largeyouthframing himself in the open doorway.

"Notthe slightest" panted the enraged lady."Thereyou low blackguardthat will teach you to beimpertinentto a lady."

The cabmanlooked helplessly about him with abewilderedquestioning gazeas one to whom alone ofall menthis unheard-of and extraordinary thing hadhappened. Thenrubbing his headhe mounted slowly onto the boxand drove away with an uptossed hand appealingto theuniverse.  The lady smoothed down her dresspushedback her hair under her little felt hatandstrode inthrough the hall-doorwhich was closed behindher. As with a whisk her short skirts vanished into thedarknessthe two spectators--Miss Bertha and Miss MonicaWilliams--satlooking at each other in speechlessamazement. For fifty years they had peeped through thatlittlewindow and across that trim gardenbut never yethad such asight as this come to confound them.

"Iwish" said Monica at last"that we had kept thefield."

"I amsure I wish we had" answered her sister.

 

----

 

CHAPTERII.

BREAKINGTHE ICE.

 

Thecottage from the window of which the MissesWilliamshad looked out standsand has stood for many ayearinthat pleasant suburban district which liesbetweenNorwoodAnerleyand Forest Hill.  Longbeforethere had been a thought of a township therewhentheMetropolis was still quite a distant thingold Mr.Williamshad inhabited "The Brambles" as the littlehouse wascalledand had owned all the fields about it.Six oreight such cottages scattered over a rollingcountry-sidewere all the houses to be found there in thedays whenthe century was young.  From afarwhen thebreezecame from the norththe dulllow roar of thegreat citymight be heardlike the breaking of the tideof lifewhile along the horizon might be seen the dimcurtain ofsmokethe grim spray which that tide threwup. Graduallyhoweveras the years passedthe Cityhad thrownout a long brick-feeler here and therecurvingextendingand coalescinguntil at last thelittlecottages had been gripped round by these redtentaclesand had been absorbed to make room for themodernvilla.  Field by field the estate of old Mr.Williamshad been sold to the speculative builderandhad bornerich crops of snug suburban dwellingsarrangedin curvingcrescents and tree-lined avenues.  The fatherhad passedaway before his cottage was entirely brickedroundbuthis two daughtersto whom the property haddescendedlived to see the last vestige of country takenfromthem.  For years they had clung to the one fieldwhichfaced their windowsand it was only after muchargumentand many heartburningsthat they had at lastconsentedthat it should share the fate of the others.A broadroad was driven through their quiet domainthequarterwas re-named "The Wilderness" and three squarestaringuncompromising villas began to sprout up on theotherside.  With sore heartsthe two shy little oldmaidswatched their steady progressand speculated as towhatfashion of neighbors chance would bring into thelittlenook which had always been their own.

And atlast they were all three finished.  Woodenbalconiesand overhanging eaves had been added to themso thatin the language of the advertisementthere werevacantthree eligible Swiss-built villaswith sixteenroomsnobasementelectric bellshot and cold waterand everymodern convenienceincluding a common tennislawntobe let at L100 a yearor L1500 purchase.  Sotemptingan offer did not long remain open.  Within a fewweeks thecard had vanished from number oneand it wasknown thatAdmiral Hay DenverV. C.C. B.with Mrs.Hay Denverand their only sonwere about to move intoit. The news brought peace to the hearts of the Williamssisters. They had lived with a settled conviction thatsome wildimpossible colonysome shoutingsingingfamily ofmadcapswould break in upon their peace.Thisestablishment at least was irreproachable.  Areferenceto "Men of the Time" showed them that AdmiralHay Denverwas a most distinguished officerwho hadbegun hisactive career at Bomarsundand had ended it atAlexandriahaving managed between these two episodes tosee asmuch service as any man of his years.  From theTaku Fortsand the _Shannon_ brigadeto dhow-harryingoffZanzibarthere was no variety of naval work whichdid notappear in his record; while the Victoria Crossand theAlbert Medal for saving lifevouched for it thatin peaceas in war his courage was still of the same truetemper. Clearly a very eligible neighbor thisthe moreso as theyhad been confidentially assured by the estateagent thatMr. Harold Denverthe sonwas a most quietyounggentlemanand that he was busy from morning tonight onthe Stock Exchange.

The HayDenvers had hardly moved in before number twoalsostruck its placardand again the ladies found thatthey hadno reason to be discontented with theirneighbors. Doctor Balthazar Walker was a very well-knownname inthe medical world.  Did not his qualificationshismembershipand the record of his writings fill alonghalf-column in the "Medical Directory" from hisfirstlittle paper on the "Gouty Diathesis" in 1859 tohisexhaustive treatise upon "Affections of theVaso-MotorSystem" in 1884?  A successful medical careerwhichpromised to end in a presidentship of a college andabaronetcyhad been cut short by his sudden inheritanceof aconsiderable sum from a grateful patientwhich hadrenderedhim independent for lifeand had enabled him toturn hisattention to the more scientific part of hisprofessionwhich had always had a greater charm for himthan itsmore practical and commercial aspect.  To thisend he hadgiven up his house in Weymouth Streetand hadtaken thisopportunity of moving himselfhis scientificinstrumentsand his two charming daughters (he had beena widowerfor some years) into the more peacefulatmosphereof Norwood.

There wasthus but one villa unoccupiedand it wasno wonderthat the two maiden ladies watched with a keeninterestwhich deepened into a dire apprehensionthecuriousincidents which heralded the coming of the newtenants. They had already learned from the agent thatthe familyconsisted of two onlyMrs. Westmacottawidowandher nephewCharles Westmacott.  How simpleand howselect it had sounded!  Who could have foreseenfrom itthese fearful portents which seemed to threatenviolenceand discord among the dwellers in TheWilderness? Again the two old maids cried inheartfeltchorus that they wished they had not sold theirfield.

"Wellat leastMonica" remarked Berthaas theysat overtheir teacups that afternoon"however strangethesepeople may beit is our duty to be as polite tothem as tothe others."

"Mostcertainly" acquiesced her sister.

"Sincewe have called upon Mrs. Hay Denver and uponthe MissesWalkerwe must call upon this Mrs. Westmacottalso."

"Certainlydear.  As long as they are living uponour land Ifeel as if they were in a sense our guestsand thatit is our duty to welcome them."

"Thenwe shall call to-morrow" said Berthawithdecision.

"Yesdearwe shall.  ButohI wish it was over!"

At fouro'clock on the next daythe two maidenladies setoff upon their hospitable errand.  In theirstiffcrackling dresses of black silkwithjet-bespangledjacketsand little rows of cylindricalgrey curlsdrooping down on either side of their blackbonnetsthey looked like two old fashion plates whichhadwandered off into the wrong decade.  Half curious andhalffearfulthey knocked at the door of number threewhich wasinstantly opened by a red-headed page-boy.

YesMrs.Westmacott was at home.  He ushered theminto thefront roomfurnished as a drawing-roomwherein spiteof the fine spring weather a large fire wasburning inthe grate.  The boy took their cardsandthenasthey sat down together upon a setteehe settheirnerves in a thrill by darting behind a curtain witha shrillcryand prodding at something with his foot.The bullpup which they had seen upon the day beforeboltedfrom its hiding-placeand scuttled snarling fromthe room.

"Itwants to get at Eliza" said the youthin aconfidentialwhisper.  "Master says she would give himmore'n hebrought."  He smiled affably at the two littlestiffblack figuresand departed in search of hismistress.

"What--whatdid he say?" gasped Bertha.

"Somethingabout a----  Ohgoodness gracious!  Ohhelphelphelphelphelp!"  The two sisters hadbounded onto the setteeand stood there with staringeyes andskirts gathered inwhile they filled the wholehouse withtheir yells.  Out of a high wicker-work basketwhichstood by the fire there had risen a flatdiamond-shapedhead with wicked green eyes which cameflickeringupwardswaving gently from side to sideuntil afoot or more of glossy scaly neck was visible.Slowly thevicious head came floating upwhile at everyoscillationa fresh burst of shrieks came fromthesettee.

 

"Whatin the name of mischief!" cried a voiceandthere wasthe mistress of the house standing in thedoorway. Her gaze at first had merely taken in the factthat twostrangers were standing screaming upon her redplushsofa.  A glance at the fireplacehowevershowedher thecause of the terrorand she burst into a heartyfit oflaughter.

"Charley"she shouted"here's Eliza misbehavingagain."

"I'llsettle her" answered a masculine voiceandthe youngman dashed into the room.  He had a brownhorse-clothin his handwhich he threw over the basketmaking itfast with a piece of twine so as to effectuallyimprisonits inmatewhile his aunt ran across toreassureher visitors.

"Itis only a rock snake" she explained.

"OhBertha!"  "OhMonica!" gasped the poorexhaustedgentlewomen.

"She'shatching out some eggs.  That is why we havethe fire. Eliza always does better when she is warm.She is asweetgentle creaturebut no doubt she thoughtthat youhad designs upon her eggs.  I suppose that youdid nottouch any of them?"

"Ohlet us get awayBertha!' cried Monicawith herthinblack-gloved hands thrown forwards in abhorrence.

"Notawaybut into the next room" said Mrs.Westmacottwith the air of one whose word was law."Thiswayif you please!  It is less warm here."  Sheled theway into a very handsomely appointed librarywith threegreat cases of booksand upon the fourth sidea longyellow table littered over with papers andscientificinstruments.  "Sit hereand youthere" shecontinued. "That is right.  Now let me seewhich of youis MissWilliamsand which Miss Bertha Williams?"

"I amMiss Williams" said Monicastill palpitatingandglancing furtively about in dread of some new horror.

"Andyou liveas I understandover at the prettylittlecottage.  It is very nice of you to call so early.I don'tsuppose that we shall get onbut still theintentionis equally good."  She crossed her legs andleaned herback against the marble mantelpiece.

"Wethought that perhaps we might be of someassistance"said Berthatimidly.  "If there is anythingwhich wecould do to make you feel more at home----"

"Ohthank youI am too old a traveler to feelanythingbut at home wherever I go.  I've just come backfrom a fewmonths in the Marquesas Islandswhere I hada verypleasant visit.  That was where I got Eliza.  Inmanyrespects the Marquesas Islands now lead the world."

"Dearme!" ejaculated Miss Williams.  "In whatrespect?"

"Inthe relation of the sexes.  They have worked outthe greatproblem upon their own linesand theirisolatedgeographical position has helped them to come toaconclusion of their own.  The woman there isas sheshould bein every way the absolute equal of the male.Come inCharlesand sit down.  Is Eliza all right?"

"Allrightaunt."

"Theseare our neighborsthe Misses Williams.Perhapsthey will have some stout.  You might bring in acouple ofbottlesCharles."

"Nonothank you!  None for us!" cried her twovisitorsearnestly.

"No? I am sorry that I have no tea to offer you.  Ilook uponthe subserviency of woman as largely due to herabandoningnutritious drinks and invigorating exercisesto themale.  I do neither."  She picked up a pair offifteen-pounddumb-bells from beside the fireplace andswung themlightly about her head.  "You see what may bedone onstout" said she.

"Butdon't you think" the elder Miss Williamssuggestedtimidly"don't you thinkMrs. Westmascottthat womanhas a mission of her own?"

The ladyof the house dropped her dumb-bells with acrash uponthe floor.

"Theold cant!" she cried.  "The old shibboleth!What isthis mission which is reserved for woman?  Allthat ishumblethat is meanthat is soul-killingthatis socontemptible and so ill-paid that none other willtouch it. All that is woman's mission.  And who imposedtheselimitations upon her?  Who cooped her up withinthisnarrow sphere?  Was it Providence?  Was it nature?Noit wasthe arch enemy.  It was man."

"OhI sayauntie!" drawled her nephew.

"Itwas manCharles.  It was you and your fellows Isay thatwoman is a colossal monument to the selfishnessof man. What is all this boasted chivalry--these finewords andvague phrases?  Where is it when we wish to putit to thetest?  Man in the abstract will do anything tohelp awoman.  Of course.  How does it work when hispocket istouched?  Where is his chivalry then?  Will thedoctorshelp her to qualify? will the lawyers help her tobe calledto the bar? will the clergy tolerate her in theChurch? Ohit is close your ranks then and refer poorwoman toher mission!  Her mission!  To be thankful forcoppersand not to interfere with the men while theygrabblefor goldlike swine round a troughthat isman'sreading of the mission of women.  You may sit thereand sneerCharleswhile you look upon your victimbutyou knowthat it is truthevery word of it.

Terrifiedas they were by this sudden torrent ofwordsthetwo gentlewomen could not but smile at thesight ofthe fierydomineering victim and the bigapologeticrepresentative of mankind who sat meeklybearingall the sins of his sex.  The lady struck amatchwhipped a cigarette from a case upon themantelpieceand began to draw the smoke into her lungs.

"Ifind it very soothing when my nerves are at allruffled"she explained.  "You don't smoke?  Ahyou missone of thepurest of pleasures--one of the few pleasureswhich arewithout a reaction."

MissWilliams smoothed out her silken lap.

"Itis a pleasure" she saidwith some approach toself-assertion"which Bertha and I are rather tooold-fashionedto enjoy."

"NodoubtIt would probably make you very ill if youattemptedit.  By the wayI hope that you will come tosome ofour Guild meetings.  I shall see that tickets aresent you."

"YourGuild?"

"Itis not yet formedbut I shall lose no time informing acommittee.  It is my habit to establish abranch ofthe Emancipation Guild wherever I go.  There isa Mrs.Sanderson in Anerley who is already one of theemancipatedso that I have a nucleus.  It is only byorganizedresistanceMiss Williamsthat we can hope tohold ourown against the selfish sex.  Must you gothen?"

"Yeswe have one or two other visits to pay" saidthe eldersister.  "You willI am sureexcuse us.  Ihope thatyou will find Norwood a pleasant residence."

"Allplaces are to me simply a battle-field" sheansweredgripping first one and then the other with agrip whichcrumpled up their little thin fingers.  "Thedays forwork and healthful exercisethe evenings toBrowningand high discourseehCharles?  Good-bye!"She cameto the door with themand as they glanced backthey sawher still standing there with the yellow bullpupcuddled up under one forearmand the thin blue reekof hercigarette ascending from her lips.

"Ohwhat a dreadfuldreadful woman!" whisperedsisterBerthaas they hurried down the street.  "Thankgoodnessthat it is over."

"Butshe'll return the visit" answered the other."Ithink that we had better tell Mary that we are not athome.

 

----

 

CHAPTERIII.

DWELLERSIN THE WILDERNESS.

 

How deeplyare our destinies influenced by the mosttriflingcauses!  Had the unknown builder who erected andownedthese new villas contented himself by simplybuildingeach within its own groundsit is probable thatthesethree small groups of people would have remainedhardlyconscious of each other's existenceand thattherewould have been no opportunity for that action andreactionwhich is here set forth.  But there was a commonlink tobind them together.  To single himself out fromall otherNorwood builders the landlord had devised andlaid out acommon lawn tennis groundwhich stretchedbehind thehouses with taut-stretched netgreenclose-croppedswardand widespread whitewashed lines.Hither insearch of that hard exercise which is asnecessaryas air or food to the English temperamentcameyoung HayDenver when released from the toil of the City;hithertoocame Dr. Walker and his two fair daughtersClara andIdaand hither alsochampions of the lawncame theshort-skirtedmuscular widow and her athleticnephew. Ere the summer was gone they knew each other inthis quietnook as they might not have done after yearsof astiffer and more formal acquaintance.

Andespecially to the Admiral and the Doctor werethiscloser intimacy and companionship of value.  Eachhad a voidin his lifeas every man must have who withunexhaustedstrength steps out of the great racebuteach byhis society might help to fill up that of hisneighbor. It is true that they had not much incommonbut that is sometimes an aid rather than a bar tofriendship. Each had been an enthusiast in hisprofessionand had retained all his interest in it.  TheDoctorstill read from cover to cover his Lancet andhisMedical Journalattended all professionalgatheringsworked himself into an alternate state ofexaltationand depression over the results of theelectionof officersand reserved for himself a den ofhis ownin which before rows of little round bottlesfull ofglycerineCanadian balsamand staining agentshe stillcut sections with a microtomeand peepedthroughhis longbrassold-fashioned microscope at thearcana ofnature.  With his typical faceclean shaven onlip andchinwith a firm moutha strong jawa steadyeyeandtwo little white fluffs of whiskershe couldnever betaken for anything but what he wasa high-classBritishmedical consultant of the age of fiftyorperhapsjust a year or two older.

TheDoctorin his hey-dayhad been cool over greatthingsbut nowin his retirementhe was fussy overtrifles. The man who had operated without the quiver ofa fingerwhen not only his patient's life but his ownreputationand future were at stakewas now shaken tothe soulby a mislaid book or a careless maid.  Heremarkedit himselfand knew the reason.  "When Marywasalive" he would say"she stood between me and thelittletroubles.  I could brace myself for the big ones.My girlsare as good as girls can bebut who can know aman as hiswife knows him?"  Then his memory wouldconjure upa tuft of brown hair and a single whitethinhand overa coverletand he would feelas we have allfeltthatif we do not live and know each other afterdeaththen indeed we are tricked and betrayed by all thehighesthopes and subtlest intuitions of our nature.

The Doctorhad his compensations to make up for hisloss. The great scales of Fate had been held on a levelfor him;for where in all great London could one find twosweetergirlsmore lovingmore intelligentand moresympatheticthan Clara and Ida Walker?  So bright weretheysoquickso interested in all which interestedhimthatif it were possible for a man to be compensatedfor theloss of a good wife then Balthazar Walker mightclaim tobe so.

Clara wastall and thin and supplewith a gracefulwomanlyfigure.  There was something stately anddistinguishedin her carriage"queenly" her friendscalledherwhile her critics described her as reservedanddistant.

Such as itwashoweverit was part and parcel ofherselffor she wasand had always from herchildhoodbeendifferent from any one around her.  Therewasnothing gregarious in her nature.  She thought withher ownmindsaw with her own eyesacted from her ownimpulse. Her face was palestriking rather than prettybut withtwo great dark eyesso earnestly questioningso quickin their transitions from joy to pathossoswift intheir comment upon every word and deed aroundherthatthose eyes alone were to many more attractivethan allthe beauty of her younger sister.  Hers was astrongquiet souland it was her firm hand which hadtaken overthe duties of her motherhad ordered thehouserestrained the servantscomforted her fatherandupheld herweaker sisterfrom the day of that greatmisfortune.

Ida Walkerwas a hand's breadth smaller than Clarabut was alittle fuller in the face and plumper in thefigure. She had light yellow hairmischievous blue eyeswith thelight of humor ever twinkling in their depthsand alargeperfectly formed mouthwith that slightupwardcurve of the corners which goes with a keenappreciationof funsuggesting even in repose that alatentsmile is ever lurking at the edges of the lips.She wasmodern to the soles of her dainty littlehigh-heeledshoesfrankly fond of dress and of pleasuredevoted totennis and to comic operadelighted with adancewhich came her way only too seldomlongingever forsome new excitementand yet behind all thislighterside of her character a thoroughly goodhealthy-mindedEnglish girlthe life and soul of thehouseandthe idol of her sister and her father.  Suchwas thefamily at number two.  A peep into the remainingvilla andour introductions are complete.

AdmiralHay Denver did not belong to the floridwhite-hairedhearty school of sea-dogs which is morecommon inworks of fiction than in the Navy List.  On thecontraryhe was the representative of a much more commontype whichis the antithesis of the conventional sailor.He was athinhard-featured manwith an asceticacquilinecast of facegrizzled and hollow-cheekedclean-shavenwith the exception of the tiniest curvedpromontoryof ash-colored whisker.  An observeraccustomedto classify menmight have put him down as acanon ofthe church with a taste for lay costume and acountrylifeor as the master of a large public schoolwho joinedhis scholars in their outdoor sports.  Hislips werefirmhis chin prominenthe had a harddryeyeandhis manner was precise and formal.  Forty yearsof sterndiscipline had made him reserved and silent.Yetwhenat his ease with an equalhe could readilyassume aless quarter-deck styleand he had a fund oflittledry stories of the world and its ways which wereofinterest from one who had seen so many phases oflife. Dry and spareas lean as a jockey and as tough aswhipcordhe might be seen any day swinging hissilver-headedMalacca caneand pacing along the suburbanroads withthe same measured gait with which he had beenwont totread the poop of his flagship.  He wore a goodservicestripe upon his cheekfor on one side it waspitted andscarred where a spurt of gravel knocked up byaround-shot had struck him thirty years beforewhen heserved inthe Lancaster gun-battery.  Yet he was hale andsoundandthough he was fifteen years senior to hisfriend theDoctorhe might have passed as the youngerman.

Mrs. HayDenver's life had been a very broken oneand herrecord upon land represented a greater amount ofenduranceand self-sacrifice than his upon the sea.  Theyhad beentogether for four months after their marriageand thenhad come a hiatus of four yearsduring which hewasflitting about between St. Helena and the Oil Riversin agunboat.  Then came a blessed year of peace anddomesticityto be followed by nine yearswith only athreemonths' breakfive upon the Pacific stationandfour onthe East Indian.  After that was a respite in theshape offive years in the Channel squadronwithperiodicalruns homeand then again he was off to theMediterraneanfor three years and to Halifax forfour. Nowat lasthoweverthis old married couplewho werestill almost strangers to one anotherhad cometogetherin Norwoodwhereif their short day had beenchequeredand brokenthe evening at least promised to besweet andmellow.  In person Mrs. Hay Denver was tall andstoutwith a brightroundruddy-cheeked face stillprettywith a graciousmatronly comeliness.  Her wholelife was around of devotion and of lovewhich wasdividedbetween her husband and her only sonHarold.

This sonit was who kept them in the neighborhood ofLondonfor the Admiral was as fond of ships and of saltwater aseverand was as happy in the sheets of atwo-tonyacht as on the bridge of his sixteen-knotmonitor. Had he been untiedthe Devonshire or Hampshirecoastwould certainly have been his choice.  There wasHaroldhoweverand Harold's interests were their chiefcare. Harold was four-and-twenty now.  Three yearsbefore hehad been taken in hand by an acquaintance ofhisfather'sthe head of a considerable firm ofstock-brokersand fairly launched upon 'Change.  Histhreehundred guinea entrance fee paidhis threesuretiesof five hundred pounds each foundhis nameapprovedby the Committeeand all other formalitiescompliedwithhe found himself whirling roundaninsignificantunitin the vortex of the money marketof theworld.  Thereunder the guidance of his father'sfriendhewas instructed in the mysteries of bulling andofbearingin the strange usages of 'Change in theintricaciesof carrying over and of transferring.  Helearned toknow where to place his clients' moneywhichof thejobbers would make a price in New Zealandsandwhichwould touch nothing but American railswhich mightbe trustedand which shunned.  All thisand much morehemasteredand to such purpose that he soon began toprosperto retain the clients who had been recommened tohimandto attract fresh ones.  But the work was nevercongenial. He had inherited from his father his love ofthe air ofheavenhis affection for a manly and naturalexistence. To act as middleman between the pursuer ofwealthand the wealth which he pursuedor to stand asa humanbarometerregistering the rise and fall of thegreatmammon pressure in the marketswas not the workfor whichProvidence had placed those broad shoulders andstronglimbs upon his well knit frame.  His dark openfacetoowith his straight Grecian nosewell openedbrowneyesand round black-curled headwere all thoseof a manwho was fashioned for active physical work.Meanwhilehe was popular with his fellow brokersrespectedby his clientsand beloved at homebut hisspirit wasrestless within him and his mind chafedunceasinglyagainst his surroundings.

"Doyou knowWilly" said Mrs. Hay Denver oneevening asshe stood behind her husband's chairwith herhand uponhis shoulder"I think sometimes that Harold isnot quitehappy."

"Helooks happythe young rascal" answered theAdmiralpointing with his cigar.  It was after dinnerandthrough the open French window of the dining-room aclear viewwas to be had of the tennis court and theplayers. A set had just been finishedand young CharlesWestmacottwas hitting up the balls as high as he couldsend themin the middle of the ground.  Doctor Walker andMrs.Westmacott were pacing up and down the lawntheladywaving her racket as she emphasized her remarksandthe Doctorlistening with slanting head and little nodsofagreement.  Against the rails at the near end Haroldwasleaning in his flannels talking to the two sisterswho stoodlistening to him with their long dark shadowsstreamingdown the lawn behind them.  The girls weredressedalike in dark skirtswith light pink tennisblousesand pink bands on their straw hatsso that asthey stoodwith the soft red of the setting sun tingingtheirfacesClarademure and quietIdamischievousanddaringit was a group which might have pleasedthe eye ofa more exacting critic than the old sailor.

"Yeshe looks happymother" he repeatedwith achuckle. "It is not so long ago since it was you and Iwho werestanding like thatand I don't remember that wewere veryunhappy either.  It was croquet in our timeand theladies had not reefed in their skirts quite sotaut. What year would it be?  Just before the commissionof thePenelope."

Mrs. HayDenver ran her fingers through his grizzledhair. "It was when you came back in the Antelopejustbefore yougot your step."

"Ahthe old Antelope!  What a clipper she was!She couldsail two points nearer the wind than anythingof hertonnage in the service.  You remember hermother.You sawher come into Plymouth Bay.  Wasn't she abeauty?"

"Shewas indeeddear.  But when I say that I thinkthatHarold is not happy I mean in his daily life.  Hasit neverstruck you how thoughtfulhe is at timesandhowabsent-minded?"

"Inlove perhapsthe young dog.  He seems to havefound snugmoorings now at any rate."

"Ithink that it is very likely that you are rightWilly"answered the mother seriously.  "But with whichof them?"

"Icannot tell."

"Wellthey are very charming girlsboth ofthem. But as long as he hangs in the wind betweenthe two itcannot be serious.  After allthe boy isfour-and-twentyand he made five hundred pounds lastyear. He is better able to marry than I was when I waslieutenant."

"Ithink that we can see which it is now" remarkedtheobservant mother.  Charles Westmacott had ceased toknock thetennis balls aboutand was chatting with ClaraWalkerwhile Ida and Harold Denver were still talking bytherailing with little outbursts of laughter.  Presentlya freshset was formedand Doctor Walkerthe odd manoutcamethrough the wicket gate and strolled up thegardenwalk.

"GoodeveningMrs. Hay Denver" said heraising hisbroadstraw hat.  "May I come in?"

"GoodeveningDoctor!  Pray do!"

"Tryone of these" said the Admiralholding out hiscigar-case. "They are not bad.  I got them on theMosquitoCoast.  I was thinking of signaling to youbutyou seemedso very happy out there."

"Mrs.Westmacott is a very clever woman" said theDoctorlighting the cigar.  "By the wayyou spoke abouttheMosquito Coast just now.  Did you see much of theHyla whenyou were out there?"

"Nosuch name on the list" answered the seamanwithdecision.  "There's the Hydraa harbor defenseturret-shipbut she never leaves the home waters."

The Doctorlaughed.  "We live in two separateworlds"said he.  "The Hyla is the little green treefrogandBeale has founded some of his views onprotoplasmupon the appearancerof its nerve cells.  Itis asubject in which I take an interest."

"Therewere vermin of all sorts in the woods.  WhenI havebeen on river service I have heard it at nightlike theengine-room when you are on the measured mile.You can'tsleep for the pipingand croakingandchirping. Great Scott! what a woman that is!  She wasacross thelawn in three jumps.  She would have made acaptain ofthe foretop in the old days."

"Sheis a very remarkable woman.

"Avery cranky one."

"Avery sensible one in some things" remarked Mrs.HayDenver.

"Lookat that now!" cried the Admiralwith a lungeof hisforefinger at the Doctor.  "You mark my wordsWalkerifwe don't look out that woman will raise amutinywith her preaching.  Here's my wife disaffectedalreadyand your girls will be no better.  We mustcombinemanor there's an end of all discipline."

"Nodoubt she is a little excessive in her views."said theDoctor"but in the main I think as she does."

"BravoDoctor!" cried the lady.

"Whatturned traitor to your sex!  We'llcourt-martialyou as a deserter."

"Sheis quite right.  The professions are notsufficientlyopen to women.  They are still far too muchcircumscribedin their employments.  They are a feeblefolkthewomen who have to work for their bread--poorunorganizedtimidtaking as a favor what they mightdemand asa right.  That is why their case is not moreconstantlybefore the publicfor if their cry forredresswas as great as their grievance it would fill theworld tothe exclusion of all others.  It is all verywell forus to be courteous to the richthe refinedthose towhom life is already made easy.  It is a mereformatrick of manner.  If we are truly courteousweshallstoop to lift up struggling womanhood when shereallyneeds our help--when it is life and death to herwhethershe has it or not.  And then to cant about itbeingunwomanly to work in the higher professions.  It iswomanlyenough to starvebut unwomanly to use the brainswhich Godhas given them.  Is it not a monstrouscontention?"

TheAdmiral chuckled.  "You are like one of thesephonographsWalker" said he; "you have had all thistalkedinto youand now you are reeling it off again.It's rankmutinyevery word of itfor man has hisduties andwoman has hersbut they are as separateas theirnatures are.  I suppose that we shall have awomanhoisting her pennant on the flagship presentlyandtakingcommand of the Channel Squadron."

"Wellyou have a woman on the throne taking commandof thewhole nation" remarked his wife; "and everybodyis agreedthat she does it better than any of the men."

TheAdmiral was somewhat staggered by thishome-thrust. "That's quite another thing" said he.

"Youshould come to their next meeting.  I am to takethechair.  I have just promised Mrs. Westmacott that Iwill doso.  But it has turned chillyand it is timethat thegirls were indoors.  Good night!  I shall lookout foryou after breakfast for our constitutionalAdmiral."

The oldsailor looked after his friend with a twinklein hiseyes.

"Howold is hemother?"

"AboutfiftyI think."

"AndMrs. Westmacott?"

"Iheard that she was forty-three."

TheAdmiral rubbed his handsand shook withamusement. "We'll find one of these days that three andtwo makeone" said he.  I'll bet you a new bonnet on itmother.

 

CHAPTERIV.

A SISTER'SSECRET.

 

"TellmeMiss Walker!  You know how things shouldbe. What would you say was a good profession for a youngman oftwenty-six who has had no education worth speakingaboutandwho is not very quick by nature?"  The speakerwasCharles Westmacottand the time this same summerevening inthe tennis groundthough the shadows hadfallen nowand the game been abandoned.

The girlglanced up at himamused and surprised.

"Doyou mean yourself?"

"Precisely."

"Buthow could I tell?"

"Ihave no one to advise me.  I believe that youcould doit better than any one.  I feel confidence inyouropinion."

"Itis very flattering." She glanced up again at hisearnestquestioning facewith its Saxon eyes anddroopingflaxen mustachein some doubt as to whether hemight bejoking.  On the contraryall his attentionseemed tobe concentrated upon her answer.

"Itdepends so much upon what you can doyouknow. I do not know you sufficiently to be able to saywhatnatural gifts you have."  They were walking slowlyacross thelawn in the direction of the house.

"Ihave none.  That is to say none worth mentioning.I have nomemory and I am very slow."

"Butyou are very strong."

"Ohif that goes for anything.  I can put up ahundred-poundbar till further orders; but what sort ofa callingis that?"

Somelittle joke about being called to the barflickeredup in Miss Walker's mindbut her companion wasin suchobvious earnest that she stifled down herinclinationto laugh.

"Ican do a mile on the cinder-track in 4:50 andacross-countryin 5:20but how is that to help me?  Imight be acricket professionalbut it is not a verydignifiedposition.  Not that I care a straw aboutdignityyou knowbut I should not like to hurt the oldlady'sfeelings.

"Youraunt's?"

"Yesmy aunt's.  My parents were killed in theMutinyyou knowwhen I was a babyand she has lookedafter meever since.  She has been very good to me.  I'msorry toleave her."

"Butwhy should you leave her?"  They had reached thegardengateand the girl leaned her racket upon the topof itlooking up with grave interest at her bigwhite-flanneledcompanion.

"It'sBrowning" said he.

"What!"

"Don'ttell my aunt that I said it"--he sank hisvoice to awhisper--"I hate Browning."

ClaraWalker rippled off into such a merry peal oflaughterthat he forgot the evil things which he hadsufferedfrom the poetand burst out laughing too.

"Ican't make him out" said he.  "I trybut he isone toomany.  No doubt it is very stupid of me; I don'tdeny it. But as long as I cannot there is no usepretendingthat I can.  And then of course she feelshurtforshe is very fond of himand likes to read himaloud inthe evenings.  She is reading a piece now `PippaPasses'and I assure youMiss Walkerthat I don't evenknow whatthe title means.  You must think me a dreadfulfool."

"Butsurely he is not so incomprehensible as allthat?"she saidas an attempt at encouragement.

"Heis very bad.  There are some thingsyou knowwhich arefine.  That ride of the three DutchmenandHerve Rieland othersthey are all right.  But there wasa piece weread last week.  The first line stumped myauntandit takes a good deal to do thatfor she ridesverystraight.  `Setebos and Setebos and Setebos.'  Thatwas theline."

"Itsounds like a charm."

"Noit is a gentleman's name.  Three gentlemenIthoughtat firstbut my aunt says one.  Then he goeson`Thinketh he dwelleth in the light of the moon.'  Itwas a verytrying piece."

ClaraWalker laughed again.

"Youmust not think of leaving your aunt" she said."Thinkhow lonely she would be without you."

"WellyesI have thought of that.  But you mustrememberthat my aunt is to all intents hardlymiddle-agedand a very eligible person.  I don't thinkthat herdislike to mankind extends to individuals.  Shemight formnew tiesand then I should be a third wheelin thecoach.  It was all very well as long as I was onlya boywhen her first husband was alive."

"Butgood graciousyou don't mean that Mrs.Westmacottis going to marry again?" gasped Clara.

The youngman glanced down at her with a question inhis eyes "Ohit is only a remotepossibilityyouknow"said he.  "Stillof courseit might happenandI shouldlike to know what I ought to turn my hand to."

"Iwish I could help you" said Clara.  "But I reallyknow verylittle about such things.  HoweverI couldtalk to myfatherwho knows a very great deal of theworld."

"Iwish you would.  I should be so glad if youwould."

"ThenI certainly will.  And now I must saygood-nightMr. Westmacottfor papa will be wonderingwhere Iam."

"GoodnightMiss Walker." He pulled off his flannelcapandstalked away through the gathering darkness.

Clara hadimagined that they had been the last on thelawnbutlooking back from the steps which led up tothe Frenchwindowsshe saw two dark figures movingacrosstowards the house.  As they came nearer she coulddistinguishthat they were Harold Denver and her sisterIda. The murmur of their voices rose up to her earsandthen themusical little child-like laugh which she knewso well. "I am so delighted" she heard her sister say."Sopleased and proud.  I had no idea of it.  Your wordswere sucha surprise and a joy to me.  OhI am so glad."

"Isthat youIda?"

"Ohthere is Clara.  I must go inMr. Denver.Good-night!"

There werea few whispered wordsa laugh from Idaand a"Good-nightMiss Walker" out of the darkness.Clara tookher sister's handand they passed togetherthroughthe long folding window.  The Doctor had goneinto hisstudyand the dining-room was empty.  A singlesmall redlamp upon the sideboard was reflected tenfoldby theplate about it and the mahogany beneath itthough itssingle wick cast but a feeble light into thelargedimly shadowed room.  Ida danced off to the bigcentrallampbut Clara put her hand upon her arm.  "Iratherlike this quiet light" said she.  "Why should wenot have achat?"  She sat in the Doctor's large redplushchairand her sister cuddled down upon thefootstoolat her feetglancing up at her elder with asmile uponher lips and a mischievous gleam in her eyes.There wasa shade of anxiety in Clara's facewhichclearedaway as she gazed into her sister's frank blueeyes.

"Haveyou anything to tell medear?" she asked.

Ida gave alittle pout and shrug to her shoulder."TheSolicitor-General then opened the case for theprosecution"said she.  "You are going to cross-examinemeClaraso don't deny it.  I do wish you would havethat greysatin foulard of yours done up.  With a littletrimmingand a new white vest it would look as good asnewandit is really very dowdy."

"Youwere quite late upon the lawn" said theinexorableClara.

"YesI was rather.  So were you.  Have you anythingto tellme?"  She broke away into her merry musicallaugh.

"Iwas chatting with Mr. Westmacott."

"AndI was chatting with Mr. Denver.  By the wayClaranowtell me trulywhat do you think of Mr.Denver? Do you like him?  Honestly now!"

"Ilike him very much indeed.  I think that he is oneof themost gentlemanlymodestmanly young men that Ihave everknown.  So nowdearhave you nothing to tellme?" Clara smoothed down her sister's golden hair witha motherlygestureand stooped her face to catch theexpectedconfidence.  She could wish nothing better thanthat Idashould be the wife of Harold Denverand fromthe wordswhich she had overheard as they left the lawnthateveningshe could not doubt that there was someunderstandingbetween them.

But therecame no confession from Ida.  Only the samemischievoussmile and amused gleam in her deep blue eyes.

"Thatgrey foulard dress----" she began.

"Ohyou little tease!  Come nowI will ask you whatyou havejust asked me.  Do you like Harold Denver?"

"Ohhe's a darling!"

"Ida!"

"Wellyou asked me.  That's what I think of him.And nowyou dear old inquisitiveyou will get nothingmore outof me; so you must wait and not be too curious.I'm goingoff to see what papa is doing."  She sprang toher feetthrew her arms round her sister's neckgave her afinal squeezeand was gone.  A chorus fromOlivettesung in her clear contraltogrew fainter andfainteruntil it ended in the slam of a distant door.

But ClaraWalker still sat in the dim-lit room withher chinupon her handsand her dreamy eyes looking outinto thegathering gloom.  It was the duty of heramaidentoplay the part of a mother--to guide another inpathswhich her own steps had not yet trodden.  Since hermotherdied not a thought had been given to herselfallwas forher father and her sister.  In her own eyes shewasherself very plainand she knew that her manner wasoftenungracious when she would most wish to be gracious.She sawher face as the glass reflected itbut she didnot seethe changing play of expression which gave it itscharm--theinfinite pitythe sympathythe sweetwomanlinesswhich drew towards her all who were in doubtand introubleeven as poor slow-moving CharlesWestmacotthad been drawn to her that night.  She washerselfshe thoughtoutside the pale of love.  But itwas verydifferent with Idamerrylittlequick-wittedbright-facedIda.  She was born for love.  It was herinheritance. But she was young and innocent.  She mustnot beallowed to venture too far without help in thosedangerouswaters.  Some understanding there was betweenher andHarold Denver.  In her heart of hearts Claralike everygood womanwas a match-makerand already shehad chosenDenver of all men as the one to whom she couldmostsafely confide Ida.  He had talked to her more thanonce onthe serious topics of lifeon his aspirationson what aman could do to leave the world better for hispresence. She knew that he was a man of a noble naturehigh-mindedand earnest.  And yet she did not like thissecrecythis disinclination upon the part of one sofrank andhonest as Ida to tell her what was passing.She wouldwaitand if she got the opportunity next dayshe wouldlead Harold Denver himself on to this topic.It waspossible that she might learn from him what hersister hadrefused to tell her.

 

----

 

CHAPTER V.

A NAVALCONQUEST.

 

It was thehabit of the Doctor and the Admiral toaccompanyeach other upon a morning ramble betweenbreakfastand lunch.  The dwellers in those quiettree-linedroads were accustomed to see the two figuresthe longthinaustere seamanand the shortbustlingtweed-cladphysicianpass and repass with suchregularitythat a stopped clock has been reset by them.TheAdmiral took two steps to his companion's threebuttheyounger man was the quickerand both were equal toa goodfour and a half miles an hour.

It was alovely summer day which followed the eventswhich havebeen described.  The sky was of the deepestbluewitha few whitefleecy clouds drifting lazilyacross itand the air was filled with the low drone ofinsects orwith a sudden sharper note as bee or blueflyshot pastwith its quiveringlong-drawn humlike aninsecttuning-fork.  As the friends topped each risewhichleads up to the Crystal Palacethey could see thedun cloudsof London stretching along the northernsky-linewith spire or dome breaking through thelow-lyinghaze.  The Admiral was in high spiritsfor themorningpost had brought good news to his son.

"Itis wonderfulWalker" he was saying"positivelywonderfulthe way that boy of mine has gone ahead duringthe lastthree years.  We heard from Pearson to-day.Pearson isthe senior partneryou knowand my boy thejunior--Pearsonand Denver the firm.  Cunning old dog isPearsonas cute and as greedy as a Rio shark.  Yet hegoes offfor a fortnight's leaveand puts my boy in fullchargewith all that immense business in his handsand afreehand to do what he likes with it.  How's thatforconfidenceand he only three years upon 'Change?"

"Anyone would confide in him.  His face is asurety"said the Doctor.

"GoonWalker!"  The Admiral dug his elbow at him."Youknow my weak side.  Still it's truth all the same.I've beenblessed with a good wife and a good sonandmaybe Irelish them the more for having been cut off fromthem solong.  I have much to be thankful for!"

"Andso have I.  The best two girls that everstepped. There's Clarawho has learned up as muchmedicineas would give her the L.S.A.simply in orderthat shemay sympathize with me in my work.  But hullowhat isthis coming along?"

"Alldrawing and the wind astern!" cried the Admiral."Fourteenknots if it's one.  Whyby Georgeit is thatwoman!"

A rollingcloud of yellow dust had streamed round thecurve ofthe roadand from the heart of it had emergeda hightandem tricycle flying along at a breakneck pace.In frontsat Mrs. Westmacott clad in a heather tweedpea-jacketa skirt which just{?} passed her knees and apair ofthick gaiters of the same material.  She had agreatbundle of red papers under her armwhileCharleswho sat behind her clad in Norfolk jacket andknickerbockersbore a similar roll protruding fromeitherpocket.  Even as they watchedthe pair eased upthe ladysprang offimpaled one of her bills upon thegardenrailing of an empty houseand then jumping on toher seatagain was about to hurry onwards when her nephewdrew herattention to the two gentlemen upon thefootpath.

"Ohnowreally I didn't notice you" said shetaking afew turns of the treadle and steering themachineacross to them.  "Is it not a beautiful morning?"

"Lovely"answered the Doctor.  "You seem to be verybusy."

"I amvery busy." She pointed to the colored paperwhichstill fluttered from the railing.  "We have beenpushingour propagandayou see.  Charles and I have beenat itsince seven o'clock.  It is about our meeting.  Iwish it tobe a great success.  See!"  She smoothed outone of thebillsand the Doctor read his own name ingreatblack letters across the bottom.

"Wedon't forget our chairmanyou see.  Everybody iscoming. Those two dear little old maids oppositetheWilliamsesheld out for some time; but I have theirpromisenow.  AdmiralI am sure that you wish us well."

"Hum! I wish you no harmma'am."

"Youwill come on the platform?"

"I'llbe---- NoI don't think I can do that."

"Toour meetingthen?"

"Noma'am; I don't go out after dinner."

"Ohyesyou will come.  I will call in if I mayandchat itover with you when you come home.  We have notbreakfastedyet.  Goodbye!"  There was a whir of wheelsand theyellow cloud rolled away down the road again.  Bysomelegerdemain the Admiral found that he was clutchingin hisright hand one of the obnoxious bills.  Hecrumpledit upand threw it into the roadway.

"I'llbe hanged if I goWalker" said heas beresumedhis walk.  "I've never been hustled into doing athing yetwhether by woman or man."

"I amnot a betting man" answered the Doctor"butI ratherthink that the odds are in favor of your going."

TheAdmiral had hardly got homeand had just seatedhimself inhis dining-roomwhen the attack upon him wasrenewed. He was slowly and lovingly unfolding theTimespreparatory to the long read which led up toluncheonand had even got so far as to fasten his goldenpince-nezon to his thinhigh-bridged nosewhen heheard acrunching of gravelandlooking over the top ofhis papersaw Mrs. Westmacott coming up the garden walk.She wasstill dressed in the singular costume whichoffendedthe sailor's old-fashioned notions of proprietybut hecould not denyas he looked at herthat she wasa veryfine woman.  In many climes he had looked uponwomen ofall shades and agesbut never upon a moreclearcuthandsome facenor a more erectsuppleandwomanlyfigure.  He ceased to glower as he gazed uponherandthe frown smoothed away from his rugged brow.

"MayI come in?" said sheframing herself in theopenwindowwith a background of green sward and bluesky. "I feel like an invader deep in an enemy'scountry."

"Itis a very welcome invasionma'am" said heclearinghis throat and pulling at his high collar.  "Trythisgarden chair.  What is there that I can do for you?Shall Iring and let Mrs. Denver know that you are here?"

"Praydo not troubleAdmiral.  I only looked in withreferenceto our little chat this morning.  I wish thatyou wouldgive us your powerful support at our comingmeetingfor the improvement of the condition of woman."

"Noma'amI can't do that." He pursed up his lipsand shookhis grizzled head.

"Andwhy not?"

"Againstmy principlesma'am."

"Butwhy?"

"Becausewoman has her duties and man has his.I may beold-fashionedbut that is my view.  Whywhatis theworld coming to?  I was saying to Dr. Walker onlylast nightthat we shall have a woman wanting to commandtheChannel Fleet next."

"Thatis one of the few professions which cannot beimproved"said Mrs. Westmacottwith her sweetest smile."Poorwoman must still look to man for protection."

"Idon't like these new-fangled ideasma'am.  I tellyouhonestly that I don't.  I like disciplineand Ithinkevery one is the better for it.  Women have got agreat dealwhich they had not in the days of our fathers.They haveuniversities all for themselvesI am toldandthere arewomen doctorsI hear.  Surely they should restcontented. What more can they want?"

"Youare a sailorand sailors are always chivalrous.If youcould see how things really areyou would changeyouropinion. What are the poor things to do?  Thereare somany of them and so few things to which they canturn theirhands.  Governesses?  But there are hardly anysituations. Music and drawing?  There is not one infifty whohas any special talent in that direction.  Medicine? It is still surrounded with difficulties forwomenandit takes many years and a small fortune toqualify. Nursing?  It is hard work ill paidand nonebut thestrongest can stand it.  What would you havethem dothenAdmiral?  Sit down and starve?"

"Tuttut!  It is not so bad as that."

"Thepressure is terrible.  Advertise for a ladycompanionat ten shillings a weekwhich is less than acook'swageand see how many answers you get.  There isno hopeno outlookfor these struggling thousands.Life is adullsordid struggleleading down to acheerlessold age.  Yet when we try to bring some littleray ofhopesome chancehowever distantof somethingbetterweare told by chivalrous gentlemen that it isagainsttheir principles to help."

TheAdmiral wincedbut shook his head in dissent.

"Thereis bankingthe lawveterinary surgerygovernmentofficesthe civil serviceall these at leastshould bethrown freely open to womenif they havebrainsenough to compete successfully for them.  Then ifwoman wereunsuccessful it would be her own faultandthemajority of the population of this country could nolongercomplain that they live under a different law totheminorityand that they are held down in poverty andserfdomwith every road to independence sealed to them."

"Whatwould you propose to doma'am?"

"Toset the more obvious injustices rightand soto pavethe way for a reform.  Now look at that mandigging inthe field.  I know him.  He can neither readnor writehe is steeped in whiskyand he has as muchintelligenceas the potatoes that he is digging.  Yet theman has avotecan possibly turn the scale of anelectionand may help to decide the policy of thisempire. Nowto take the nearest examplehere am Iawoman whohave had some educationwho have traveledandwho haveseen and studied the institutions of manycountries. I hold considerable propertyand I pay moreinimperial taxes than that man spends in whiskywhichis sayinga great dealand yet I have no more directinfluenceupon the disposal of the money which I pay thanthat flywhich creeps along the wall.  Is that right?  Isit fair?"

TheAdmiral moved uneasily in his chair.  "Yours isanexceptional case" said he.

"Butno woman has a voice.  Consider that the womenare amajority in the nation.  Yet if there was aquestionof legislation upon which all women were agreedupon oneside and all the men upon the otherit wouldappearthat the matter was settled unanimously when morethan halfthe population were opposed to it.   Is thatright?"

Again theAdmiral wriggled.  It was very awkward forthegallant seaman to have a handsome woman oppositeto himbombarding him with questions to none of which hecould findan answer.  "Couldn't even get the tompionsout of hisguns" as he explained the matter to theDoctorthat evening.

"Nowthose are really the points that we shall laystressupon at the meeting.  The free and completeopening ofthe professionsthe final abolition of thezenana Icall itand the franchise to all women who payQueen'staxes above a certain sum.  Surely there isnothingunreasonable in that.  Nothing which could offendyourprinciples.  We shall have medicinelawand thechurch allrallying that night for the protection ofwoman. Is the navy to be the one profession absent?"

TheAdmiral jumped out of his chair with an evil wordin histhroat.  "Theretherema'am" he cried.  "Dropit for atime.  I have heard enough.  You've turned me apoint ortwo.  I won't deny it.  But let it stand atthat. I will think it over."

"CertainlyAdmiral.  We would not hurry you in yourdecision. But we still hope to see you on our platform."She roseand moved about in her lounging masculinefashionfrom one picture to anotherfor the walls werethicklycovered with reminiscences of the Admiral'svoyages.

"Hullo!"said she.  "Surely this ship would havefurled allher lower canvas and reefed her topsails ifshe foundherself on a lee shore with the wind on herquarter."

"Ofcourse she would.  The artist was never pastGravesendI swear.  It's the Penelope as she was onthe 14thof June1857in the throat of the Straits ofBancawith the Island of Banca on the starboard bowandSumatra onthe port.  He painted it from descriptionbutof courseas you very sensibly sayall was snug belowand shecarried storm sails and double-reefed topsailsfor it wasblowing a cyclone from the sou'east.  Icomplimentyouma'amI do indeed! "

"OhI have done a little sailoring myself--as muchas a womancan aspire toyou know.  This is the Bay ofFunchal. What a lovely frigate!"

"Lovelyyou say!  Ahshe was lovely!  That is theAndromeda. I was a mate aboard of her--sub-lieutenantthey callit nowthough I like the old name best."

"Whata lovely rake her masts haveand what a curveto herbows!  She must have been a clipper."

The oldsailor rubbed his hands and his eyesglistened. His old ships bordered close upon his wifeand hisson in his affections.

"Iknow Funchal" said the lady carelessly.  "Acouple ofyears ago I had a seven-ton cutter-riggedyachttheBansheeand we ran over to Madeira fromFalmouth."

"Youma'amin a seven-tonner?"

"Witha couple of Cornish lads for a crew.  Ohitwasglorious!  A fortnight right out in the openwith noworriesno lettersno callersno petty thoughtsnothingbut the grand works of Godthe tossing sea andthe greatsilent sky.  They talk of ridingindeedI amfond ofhorsestoobut what is there to compare withthe swoopof a little craft as she pitches down the longsteep sideof a waveand then the quiver and spring asshe istossed upwards again?  Ohif our souls couldtransmigrateI'd be a seamew above all birds that fly!But I keepyouAdmiral.  Adieu!"

The oldsailor was too transported with sympathy tosay aword.  He could only shake her broad muscular hand.She washalf-way down the garden path before she heardhimcalling herand saw his grizzled head andweather-stainedface looking out from behind thecurtains.

"Youmay put me down for the platform" he criedandvanishedabashed behind the I curtain of his Timeswhere hiswife found him at lunch time.

"Ihear that you have had quite a long chat with Mrs.Westmacott"said she.

"Yesand I think that she is one of the mostsensiblewomen that I ever knew.

"Excepton the woman's rights questionof course."

"OhI don't know.  She had a good deal to say forherself onthat also.  In factmotherI have taken aplatfomticket for her meeting."

 

----

 

CHAPTERVI.

AN OLDSTORY.

 

But thiswas not to be the only eventful conversationwhich Mrs.Westmacott held that daynor was the Admiralthe onlyperson in the Wilderness who was destined tofind hisopinions considerably changed.  Two neighboringfamiliesthe Winslows from Anerleyand theCumberbatchesfrom Gipsy Hillhad been invited to tennisby Mrs.Westmacottand the lawn was gay in the eveningwith theblazers of the young men and the bright dressesof thegirls.  To the older peoplesitting round intheirwicker-work garden chairsthe dartingstoopingspringingwhite figuresthe sweep of skirtsand twinkleof canvasshoesthe click of the rackets and sharp whizof theballswith the continual "fifteen love--fifteenall!"of the markermade up a merry and exhilaratingscene. To see their sons and daughters so flushed andhealthyand happygave them also a reflected glowand it washard to say who had most pleasure from thegamethose who played or those who watched.

Mrs.Westmacott had just finished a set when shecaught aglimpse of Clara Walker sitting alone at thefartherend of the ground.  She ran down the courtclearedthe net to the amazement of the visitorsandseatedherself beside her.  Clara's reserved and refinednatureshrank somewhat from the boisterous frankness andstrangemanners of the widowand yet her feminineinstincttold her that beneath all her peculiaritiesthere laymuch that was good and noble.  She smiled up atherthereforeand nodded a greeting.

"Whyaren't you playingthen?  Don'tfor goodness'sakebegin to be languid and young ladyish!  When yougive upactive sports you give up youth."

"Ihave played a setMrs. Westmacott."

"That'srightmy dear." She sat down beside herandtapped herupon the arm with her tennis racket.  "I likeyoumydearand I am going to call you Clara.  You arenot asaggressive as I should wishClarabut still Ilike youvery much.  Self-sacrifice is all very wellyouknowbutwe have had rather too much of it on our sideand shouldlike to see a little on the other.  What doyou thinkof my nephew Charles?"

Thequestion was so sudden and unexpected that Claragave quitea jump in her chair.  "I--I--I hardly everhavethought of your nephew Charles."

"No? Ohyou must think him well overfor I want tospeak toyou about him."

"Tome?  But why?"

"Itseemed to me most delicate.  You seeClarathematterstands in this way.  It is quite possible that Imay soonfind myself in a completely new sphere of lifewhich willinvolve fresh duties and make it impossiblefor me tokeep up a household which Charles can share."

Clarastared.  Did this mean that she was about tomarryagain?  What else could it point to?

"ThereforeCharles must have a household of his own.That isobvious.  NowI don't approve of bachelorestablishments. Do you?"

"ReallyMrs. WestmacottI have never thought of thematter."

"Ohyou little sly puss!  Was there ever a girl whoneverthought of the matter?  I think that a young man ofsix-and-twentyought to be married."

Clara feltvery uncomfortable.  The awful thought hadcome uponher that this ambassadress had come to her asa proxywith a proposal of marriage.  But how could thatbe? She had not spoken more than three or four timeswith hernephewand knew nothing more of him than he hadtold heron the evening before.  It was impossiblethen.And yetwhat could his aunt mean by this discussion ofhisprivate affairs?

"Doyou not think yourself" she persisted"that ayoung manof six-and-twenty is better married?"

"Ishould think that he is old enough to decide forhimself."

"Yesyes.  He has done so.  But Charles is just alittleshyjust a little slow in expressing himself.  Ithoughtthat I would pave the way for him.  Two women canarrangethese things so much better.  Men sometimes haveadifficulty in making themselves clear."

"Ireally hardly follow youMrs. Westmacott" criedClara indespair.

"Hehas no profession.  But he has nice tastes.  HereadsBrowning every night.  And he is most amazinglystrong. When he was younger we used to put on the glovestogetherbut I cannot persuade him to nowfor he sayshe cannotplay light enough.  I should allow him fivehundredwhich should be enough at first."

"Mydear Mrs. Westmacott" cried Clara"I assure youthat Ihave not the least idea what it is that you aretalkingof."

"Doyou think your sister Ida would have my nephewCharles?"

Her sisterIda?  Quite a little thrill of relief andofpleasure ran through her at the thought.  Ida andCharlesWestmacott.  She had never thought of it.  Andyet theyhad been a good deal together.  They had playedtennis. They had shared the tandem tricycle.  Again camethe thrillof joyand close at its heels the coldquestioningsof conscience.  Why this joy?  What was therealsource of it?  Was it that deep downsomewherepushedback in the black recesses of the soulthere wasthethought lurking that if Charles prospered in hiswooingthen Harold Denver would still be free?  How meanhowunmaidenlyhow unsisterly the thought!  She crushedit downand thrust it asidebut still it would push upits wickedlittle head.  She crimsoned with shame at herownbasenessas she turned once more to her companion.

"Ireally do not know" she said.

"Sheis not engaged?"

"Notthat I know of."

"Youspeak hesitatingly."

"BecauseI am not sure.  But he may ask.  She cannotbut beflattered."

"Quiteso.  I tell him that it is the most practicalcomplimentwhich a man can pay to a woman.  He is alittleshybut when he sets himself to do it he willdo it. He is very much in love with herI assureyou. These little lively people always do attractthe slowand heavy oneswhich is nature's device for theneutralizingof bores.  But they are all going in.  Ithink ifyou will allow me that I will just take theopportunityto tell him thatas far as you knowthereis nopositive obstacle in the way."

"Asfar as I know"Clara repeatedas the widowmoved awayto where the players were grouped round thenetorsauntering slowly towards the house.  She rose tofollowherbut her head was in a whirl with newthoughtsand she sat down again.  Which would be bestfor IdaHarold or Charles?  She thought it over with asmuchsolicitude as a mother who plans for her only child.Harold hadseemed to her to be in many ways the noblestand thebest young man whom she had known.  If ever shewas tolove a man it would be such a man as that.  Butshe mustnot think of herself.  She had reason to believethat boththese men loved her sister.  Which would be thebest forher?  But perhaps the matter was alreadydecided. She could not forget the scrap of conversationwhich shehad heard the night beforenor the secretwhich hersister had refused to confide to her.  If Idawould nottell herthere was but one person who could.She raisedher eyes and there was Harold Denverstandingbefore her.

"Youwere lost in your thoughts" said hesmiling."Ihope that they were pleasant ones."

"OhI was planning" said sherising.  "It seemsrather awaste of time as a rulefor things have a wayof workingthemselves out just as you least expect."

"Whatwere you planningthen?"

"Thefuture."

"Whose?"

"Ohmy own and Ida's."

"Andwas I included in your joint futures?

"Ihope all our friends were included."

"Don'tgo in" said heas she began to move slowlytowardsthe house.  "I wanted to have a word.  Let usstroll upand down the lawn.  Perhaps you are cold.  Ifyou areIcould bring you out a shawl."

"OhnoI am not cold."

"Iwas speaking to your sister Ida last night." Shenoticedthat there was a slight quiver in his voiceandglancingup at his darkclear-cut faceshe saw that hewas verygrave.  She felt that it was settledthat hehad cometo ask her for her sister's hand.

"Sheis a charming girl" said heafter a pause.

"Indeedshe is" cried Clara warmly.  "And no one whohas notlived with her and known her intimately cantell howcharming and good she is.  She is like a sunbeamin thehouse."

"Noone who was not good could be so absolutely happyas sheseems to be.  Heaven's last giftI thinkis amind sopure and a spirit so high that it is unable evento seewhat is impure and evil in the world around us.For aslong as we can see ithow can we be truly happy?"

"Shehas a deeper side also.  She does not turn it tothe worldand it is not natural that she shouldfor sheis veryyoung.  But she thinksand has aspirations ofher own."

"Youcannot admire her more than I do.  IndeedMissWalkerIonly ask to be brought into nearer relationshipwith herand to feel that there is a permanent bondbetweenus."

It hadcome at last.  For a moment her heart wasnumbedwithin herand then a flood of sisterly lovecarriedall before it.  Down with that dark thought whichwouldstill try to raise its unhallowed head!  She turnedto Haroldwith sparkling eyes and words of pleasure uponher lips.

"Ishould wish to be near and dear to both of you"said heas he took her hand.  "I should wish Ida to bemy sisterand you my wife."

She saidnothing.  She only stood looking at him withpartedlips and greatdarkquestioning eyes.  Thelawn hadvanished awaythe sloping gardensthe brickvillasthe darkening sky with half a pale moon beginningto showover the chimney-tops.  All was goneand she wasonlyconscious of a darkearnestpleading faceand ofa voicefar awaydisconnected from herselfthe voiceof a mantelling a woman how he loved her.  He wasunhappysaid the voicehis life was a void; there wasbut onething that could save him; he had come to theparting ofthe wayshere lay happiness and honorandall thatwas high and noble; there lay the soul-killingroundthelonely lifethe base pursuit of moneythesordidselfish aims.  He needed but the hand of thewoman thathe loved to lead him into the better path.And how heloved her his life would show.  He loved herfor hersweetnessfor her womanlinessfor her strength.He hadneed of her.  Would she not come to him?  And thenof asudden as she listened it came home to her that theman wasHarold Denverand that she was the womanandthat allGod's work was very beautiful--the green swardbeneathher feetthe rustling leavesthe long orangeslashes inthe western sky.  She spoke; she scarce knewwhat thebroken words werebut she saw the light of joyshine outon his faceand her hand was still in his astheywandered amid the twilight.  They said no morenowbutonly wandered and felt each other's presence.All wasfresh around themfamiliar and yet newtingedwith thebeauty of their new-found happiness.

"Didyou not know it before?" he asked.  "I did notdare tothink it."

"Whata mask of ice I must wear!  How could a manfeel as Ihave done without showing it?  Your sister atleastknew."

"Ida!"

"Itwas last night.  She began to praise youI saidwhat Ifeltand then in an instant it was all out."

"Butwhat could you--what could you see in me?  OhI do praythat you may not repent it!"  The gentle heartwasruffled amid its joy by the thought of its ownunworthiness.

"Repentit!  I feel that I am a saved man.  You donot knowhow degrading this city life ishow debasingand yethow absorbing.  Money for ever clinks in yourear. You can think of nothing else.  From the bottom ofmy heart Ihate itand yet how can I draw back withoutbringinggrief to my dear old father?  There was but oneway inwhich I could defy the taintand that was byhaving ahome influence so pure and so high that it maybrace meup against all that draws me down.  I have feltthatinfluence already.  I know that when I am talking toyou I am abetter man.  It is you whomust go withme throughlifeor I must walk for ever alone."

"OhHaroldI am so happy!"  Still they wanderedamid thedarkening shadowswhile one by one the starspeeped outin the blue black sky above them.  At last achillnight wind blew up from the eastand brought themback tothe realities of life.

"Youmust go in.  You will be cold."

"Myfather will wonder where I am.  Shall I sayanythingto him?"

"Ifyou likemy darling.  Or I will in the morning.I musttell my mother to-night.  I know how delighted shewill be."

"I dohope so."

"Letme take you up the garden path.  It is so dark.Your lampis not lit yet.  There is the window.  Tillto-morrowthendearest."

"Tillto-morrowHarold."

"Myown darling!"  He stoopedand their lips met forthe firsttime.  Thenas she pushed open the foldingwindowsshe heard his quickfirm step as it passed downthegraveled path.  A lamp was lit as she entered theroomandthere was Idadancing about like a mischievouslittlefairy in front of her.

"Andhave you anything to tell me?" she askedwitha solemnface.  Thensuddenly throwing her arms roundhersister's neck"Ohyou deardear old Clara!  I amsopleased.  I am so pleased."

 

 

CHAPTERVII.

VENITTANDEM FELICITAS.

 

It wasjust three days after the Doctor and theAdmiralhad congratulated each other upon the closer tiewhich wasto unite their two familiesand to turn theirfriendshipinto something even dearer and more intimatethat MissIda Walker received a letter which caused hersomesurprise and considerable amusement.  It was datedfrom nextdoorand was handed in by the red-headed pageafterbreakfast.

"DearMiss Ida" began this curious documentandthenrelapsed suddenly into the third person.  "Mr.CharlesWestmacott hopes that he may have the extremepleasureof a ride with Miss Ida Walker upon his tandemtricycle. Mr. Charles Westmacott will bring it round inhalf anhour.  You in front.  Yours very trulyCharlesWestmacott." The whole was written in a largeloose-jointedand school-boyish handvery thin on theup strokesand thick on the downas though care andpains hadgone to the fashioning of it.

Strange aswas the formthe meaning was clearenough; soIda hastened to her roomand had hardlyslipped onher light grey cycling dress when shesaw thetandem with its large occupant at the door.  Hehanded herup to her saddle with a more solemn andthoughtfulface than was usual with himand a fewmomentslater they were flying along the beautifulsmoothsuburban roads in the direction of Forest Hill.The greatlimbs of the athlete made the heavy machinespring andquiver with every stroke; while the mignongreyfigure with the laughing faceand the golden curlsblowingfrom under the little pink-banded straw hatsimplyheld firmly to her perchand let the treadleswhirlround beneath her feet.  Mile after mile they flewthe windbeating in her facethe trees dancing past intwo longranks on either sideuntil they had passedroundCroydon and were approaching Norwood once more fromthefurther side.

"Aren'tyou tired?" she askedglancing over hershoulderand turning towards him a little pink earafluffygolden curland one blue eye twinkling from theverycorner of its lid.

"Nota bit.  I am just getting my swing."

"Isn'tit wonderful to be strong?  You always remindme of asteamengine."

"Whya steamengine?"

"Wellbecause it is so powerfuland reliableandunreasoning. WellI didn't mean that lastyou knowbut--but--youknow what I mean.  What is the matter withyou?"

"Why?"

"Becauseyou have something on your mind.  You havenotlaughed once."

He brokeinto a gruesome laugh.  "I am quite jolly"said he.

"Ohnoyou are not.  And why did you write me suchadreadfully stiff letter?"

"Therenow" he cried"I was sure it was stiff.  Isaid itwas absurdly stiff."

"Thenwhy write it?"

"Itwasn't my own composition."

"Whosethen?  Your aunt's?"

"Ohno.  It was a person of the name of Slattery."

"Goodness! Who is he?"

"Iknew it would come outI felt that it would.You'veheard of Slattery the author?"

"Never."

"Heis wonderful at expressing himself.  He wrote abookcalled `The Secret Solved; orLetter-writing MadeEasy.' It gives you models of all sorts of letters."

Ida burstout laughing.  "So you actually copiedone."

"Itwas to invite a young lady to a picnicbut I setto workand soon got it changed so that it would do verywell. Slattery seems never to have asked any one to ridea tandem. But when I had written itit seemed sodreadfullystiff that I had to put a little beginning andend of myownwhich seemed to brighten it up a gooddeal."

 

"Ithought there was something funny about thebeginningand end."

"Didyou?  Fancy your noticing the difference instyle. How quick you are!  I am very slow at things likethat. I ought to have been a woodmanor game-keeperorsomething. I was made on those lines.  But I have foundsomethingnow."

"Whatis thatthen?"

"Ranching. I have a chum in Texasand he says it isa rarelife.  I am to buy a share in his business.  It isall in theopen air--shootingand ridingand sport.Wouldit--would it inconvenience you muchIdato comeout therewith me?"

Ida nearlyfell off her perch in her amazement.  Theonly wordsof which she could think were  "My goodnessme!"so she said them.

"Ifit would not upset your plansor change yourarrangementsin any way."  He had slowed down and let goof thesteering handleso that the great machine crawledaimlesslyabout from one side of the road to the other."Iknow very well that I am not clever or anything ofthat sortbut still I would do all I can to make youveryhappy.  Don't you think that in time you might cometo like mea little bit?"

Ida gave acry of fright.  "I won't like you if yourun meagainst a brick wall" she saidas the machinerasped upagainst the curb "Do attend to the steering."

"YesI will.  But tell meIdawhether you willcome withme."

"OhI don't know.  It's too absurd!  How can we talkabout suchthings when I cannot see you?  You speak tothe napeof my neckand then I have to twist my headround toanswer."

"Iknow.  That was why I put `You in front' upon myletter. I thought that it would make it easier.  But ifyou wouldprefer it I will stop the machineand then youcan sitround and talk about it."

"Goodgracious!" cried Ida.  "Fancy our sitting faceto face ona motionless tricycle in the middle of theroadandall the people looking out of their windows atus!"

"Itwould look rather funnywouldn't it?  Wellthensuppose that we both get off and push the tandemalong infront of us?"

"Ohnothis is better than that."

"Or Icould carry the thing."

Ida burstout laughing.  "That would be more absurdstill."

"Thenwe will go quietlyand I will look out for thesteering. I won't talk about it at all if you wouldrathernot.  But I really do love you very muchand youwould makeme happy if you came to Texas with meand Ithink thatperhaps after a time I could make you happytoo."

"Butyour aunt?"

"Ohshe would like it very much.  I can understandthat yourfather might not like to lose you.  I'm sure Iwouldn'teitherif I were he.  But after allAmerica isnot veryfar off nowadaysand is not so very wild.  Wewould takea grand pianoand--and--a copy of Browning.And Denverand his wife would come over to see us.  Weshould bequite a family party.  It would be jolly."

Ida satlistening to the stumbling words and awkwardphraseswhich were whispered from the back of herbutthere wassomething in Charles Westmacott's clumsiness ofspeechwhich was more moving than the words of the mosteloquentof pleaders.  He pausedhe stammeredhe caughthis breathbetween the wordsand he blurted out inlittleblunt phrases all the hopes of his heart.  If lovehad notcome to her yetthere was at least pity andsympathywhich are nearly akin to it.  Wonder there wasalso thatone so weak and frail as she should shake thisstrong mansoshould have the whole course of his lifewaitingfor her decision.  Her left hand was on thecushion ather side.  He leaned forward and took itgently inhis own.    She did not try to draw it backfrom him.

"MayI have it" said he"for life?"

"Ohdo attend to your steering" said shesmilinground athim; "and don't say any more about this to-day.Pleasedon't!"

"Whenshall I knowthen?"

"Ohto-nightto-morrowI don't know.  I must askClara. Talk about something else."

And theydid talk about something else; but her lefthand wasstill enclosed in hisand he knewwithoutaskingagainthat all was well.

 

----

 

CHAPTERVIII.

SHADOWSBEFORE.

 

Mrs.Westmacott's great meeting for theenfranchisementof woman had passed overand it had beenatriumphant success.  All the maids and matrons of thesouthernsuburbs had rallied at her summonsthere was aninfluentialplatform with Dr. Balthazar Walker in thechairandAdmiral Hay Denver among his more prominentsupporters. One benighted male had come in from theoutsidedarkness and had jeered from the further end ofthe hallbut he had been called to order by the chairpetrifiedby indignant glances from the unenfranchisedaroundhimand finally escorted to the door by CharlesWestmacott. Fiery resolutions were passedto beforwardedto a large number of leading statesmenand themeetingbroke up with the conviction that a shrewdblow hadbeen struck for the cause of woman.

But therewas one woman at least to whom the meetingand allthat was connected with it had brought anythingbutpleasure.  Clara Walker watched with a heavy heartthefriendship and close intimacy which had sprung upbetweenher father and the widow.  From week to week ithadincreased until no day ever passed without theirbeingtogether.  The coming meeting had been the excusefor thesecontinual interviewsbut now the meeting wasoverandstill the Doctor would refer every point whichrose tothe judgment of his neighbor.  He would talktootohis two daughters of her strength of characterherdecisive mindand of the necessity of theircultivatingher acquaintance and following her exampleuntil atlast it had become his most common topic ofconversation.

All thismight have passed as merely the naturalpleasurewhich an elderly man might take in the societyof anintelligent and handsome womanbut there wereotherpoints which seemed to Clara to give it a deepermeaning. She could not forget that when CharlesWestmacotthad spoken to her one night he had alluded tothepossibility of his aunt marrying again.  He must haveknown ornoticed something before he would speak uponsuch asubject.  And then again Mrs. Westmacott hadherselfsaid that she hoped to change her style oflivingshortly and take over completely new duties.  Whatcould thatmean except that she expected to marry?  Andwhom? She seemed to see few friends outside their ownlittlecircle.  She must have alluded to her father.  Itwas ahateful thoughtand yet it must be faced.

Oneevening the Doctor had been rather late at hisneighbor's. He used to go into the Admiral's afterdinnerbut now he turned more frequently in the otherdirection. When he returned Clara was sitting alone inthedrawing-room reading a magazine.  She sprang up as heenteredpushed forward his chairand ran to fetch hisslippers.

"Youare looking a little paledear" he remarked.

"OhnopapaI am very well."

"Allwell with Harold?"

"Yes. His partnerMr. Pearsonis still awayandhe isdoing all the work."

"Welldone.  He is sure to succeed.  Where is Ida?"

"Inher roomI think."

"Shewas with Charles Westmacott on the lawn not verylong ago. He seems very fond of her.  He is not verybrightbut I think he will make her a good husband."

"I amsure of itpapa.  He is very manly andreliable."

"YesI should think that he is not the sort of manwho goeswrong.  There is nothing hidden about him.  Asto hisbrightnessit really does not matterfor hisauntMrs.Westmacottis very richmuch richer than youwouldthink from her style of livingand she has madehim ahandsome provision."

"I amglad of that."

"Itis between ourselves.  I am her trusteeand soI knowsomething of her arrangements.  And when are yougoing tomarryClara?"

"Ohpapanot for some time yet.  We have notthought ofa date.

"WellreallyI don't know that there is any reasonfordelay.  He has a competence and it increases yearly.As long asyou are quite certain that your mind is madeup----"

"Ohpapa!"

"WellthenI really do not know why there should beanydelay.  And Idatoomust be married within the nextfewmonths.  Nowwhat I want to know is what I am to dowhen mytwo little companions run away from me."  Hespokelightlybut his eyes were grave as he lookedquestioninglyat his daughter.

"Dearpapayou shall not be alone.  It will be yearsbeforeHarold and I think of marryingand when we do youmust comeand live with us."

"Nonodear.  I know that you mean what yousaybut Ihave seen something of the worldand I knowthat sucharrangements never answer.  There cannot be twomasters ina houseand yet at my age my freedom is verynecessaryto me."

"Butyou would be completely free."

"Nodearyou cannot be that if you are a guest inanotherman's house.  Can you suggest no otheralternative?"

"Thatwe remain with you."

"Nono.  That is out of the question.  Mrs.Westmacottherself says that a woman's first duty is tomarry. Marriagehowevershould be an equalpartnershipas she points out.  I should wish you bothto marrybut still I should like a suggestion from youClaraasto what I should do."

"Butthere is no hurrypapa.  Let us wait.  I do notintend tomarry yet."

DoctorWalker looked disappointed.  "WellClaraifyou cansuggest nothingI suppose that I must take theinitiativemyself" said he.

"Thenwhat do you proposepapa?"  She braced herselfas one whosees the blow which is about to fall.

He lookedat her and hesitated.  "How like your poordearmother you areClara!" he cried.  "As I looked atyou thenit was as if she had come back from the grave."He stoopedtowards her and kissed her.  "Thererunaway toyour sistermy dearand do not trouble yourselfabout me. Nothing is settled yetbut you will find thatall willcome right."

Clara wentupstairs sad at heartfor she was surenow thatwhat she had feared was indeed about to come topassandthat her father was going to take Mrs.Westmacottto be his wife.  In her pure and earnest mindhermother's memory was enshrined as that of a saintandthethought that any one should take her place seemed aterribledesecration.  Even worsehoweverdid thismarriageappear when looked at from the point of view ofherfather's future.  The widow might fascinate him byherknowledge of the worldher dashher strengthherunconventionality--allthese qualities Clara was willingto allowher--but she was convinced that she would beunendurableas a life companion.  She had come to an agewhenhabits are not lightly to be changednor was she awoman whowas at all likely to attempt to change them.How woulda sensitive man like her father stand theconstantstrain of such a wifea woman who was alldecisionwith no softnessand nothing soothing in hernature? It passed as a mere eccentricity when they heardof herstout drinkingher cigarette smokingheroccasionalwhiffs at a long clay pipeher horsewhippingof adrunken servantand her companionship with thesnakeElizawhom she was in the habit of bearing aboutin herpocket.  All this would become unendurable to herfatherwhen his first infatuation was past.  For his ownsakethenas well as for her mother's memorythismatch mustbe prevented.  And yet how powerless she wasto preventit!  What could she do?  Could Harold aid her?Perhaps. Or Ida?  At least she would tell her sister andsee whatshe could suggest.

Ida was inher boudoira tiny little tapestriedroomasneat and dainty as herselfwith low walls hungwith Imariplaques and with pretty little Swiss bracketsbearingblue Kaga wareor the pure white Coalport china.In a lowchair beneath a red shaded standing lamp satIdain adiaphanous evening dress of mousseline desoietheruddy light tinging her sweet childlike faceandglowing on her golden curls.  She sprang up as hersisterenteredand threw her arms around her.

"Dearold Clara!  Come and sit down here beside me.I have nothad a chat for days.  Butohwhat a troubledface! What is it then?"  She put up her forefinger andsmoothedher sister's brow with it.

Clarapulled up a stooland sitting down beside hersisterpassed her arm round her waist.  "I am so sorryto troubleyoudear Ida" she said.  "But I do not knowwhat todo.

"There'snothing the matter with Harold?"

"OhnoIda."

"Norwith my Charles?"

"Nono."

Ida gave asigh of relief.  "You quite frightened medear"said she.  "You can't think how solemn you look.What isitthen?"

"Ibelieve that papa intends to ask Mrs. Westmacottto marryhim."

Ida burstout laughing.  "What can have put such anotioninto your headClara?"

"Itis only too trueIda.  I suspected it beforeand hehimself almost told me as much with his own lipsto-night. I don't think that it is a laughing matter."

"ReallyI could not help it.  If you had told methat thosetwo dear old ladies oppositethe MissesWilliamswere both engagedyou would not have surprisedme more. It is really too funny."

"FunnyIda!  Think of any one taking the place ofdearmother.

But hersister was of a more practical and lesssentimentalnature.  "I am sure" said she"that dearmotherwould like papa to do whatever would make him mosthappy. We shall both be awayand why should papa notpleasehimself?"

"Butthink how unhappy he will be.  You know howquiet heis in his waysand how even a little thingwill upsethim.  How could he live with a wife who wouldmake hiswhole life a series of surprises?  Fancy what awhirlwindshe must be in a house.  A man at his agecannotchange his ways.  I am sure he would bemiserable."

Ida's facegrew graverand she pondered over thematter fora few minutes.  "I really think that you areright asusual" said she at last.  "I admire Charlie'saunt verymuchyou knowand I think that she is a veryuseful andgood personbut I don't think she would do asa wife forpoor quiet papa."

"Buthe will certainly ask herand I really thinkthat sheintends to accept him.  Then it would be toolate tointerfere.  We have only a few days at the most.And whatcan we do?  How can we hope to make him changehis mind?"

Again Idapondered.  "He has never tried what it isto livewith a strong-minded woman" said she.  "If wecould onlyget him to realize it in time.  OhClaraIhave it; Ihave it!  Such a lovely plan!"  She leanedback inher chair and burst into a fit of laughter sonaturaland so hearty that Clara had to forget hertroublesand to join in it.

"Ohit is beautiful!" she gasped at last. "Poorpapa! What a time he will have!  But it's all for hisown goodas he used to say when we had to bepunishedwhen we were little.  OhClaraI do hope yourheartwon't fail you.

"Iwould do anything to save himdear."

"That'sit.  You must steel yourself by thatthought."

"Butwhat is your plan?"

"OhI am so proud of it.  We will tire him for everof thewidowand of all emancipated women.  Let me seewhat areMrs. Westmacott's main ideas?  You have listenedto hermore than I.  Women should attend less tohouseholdduties.  That is oneis it not?"

"Yesif they feel they have capabilities for higherthings. Then she thinks that every woman who has leisureshouldtake up the study of some branch of scienceandthatasfar as possibleevery woman should qualifyherselffor some trade or professionchoosing forpreferencethose which have been hitherto monopolized bymen. To enter the others would only be to intensify thepresentcompetition."

"Quite so.  That is glorious!"  Her blue eyes weredancingwith mischiefand she clapped her hands in herdelight. "What else?  She thinks that whatever a mancan do awoman should be allowed to do also--does shenot?"

"Shesays so."

"Andabout dress?  The short skirtand thedividedskirt are what she believes in?"

"Yes."

"Wemust get in some cloth."

"Why?"

"Wemust make ourselves a dress each.  A brand-newenfranchisedemancipated dressdear.  Don't you see myplan? We shall act up to all Mrs. Westmacott's views ineveryrespectand improve them when we can.  Then papawill knowwhat it is to live with a woman who claims allherrights.  OhClarait will be splendid."

Her mildersister sat speechless before so daring ascheme. "But it would be wrongIda!" she cried at last.

"Nota bit.  It is to save him."

"Ishould not dare."

"Ohyesyou would.  Harold will help.  Besideswhat otherplan have you?"

"Ihave none."

"Thenyou must take mine."

"Yes. Perhaps you are right.  Wellwe do it for agoodmotive.

"Youwill do it?"

"I donot see any other way."

"Youdear good Clara!  Now I will show you what youare todo.  We must not begin too suddenly.  It mightexcitesuspicion."

"Whatwould you dothen?"

"To-morrowwe must go to Mrs. Westmacottand sitat herfeet and learn all her views."

"Whathypocrites we shall feel!"

"Weshall be her newest and most enthusiasticconverts. Ohit will be such funClara!  Then we shallmake ourplans and send for what we wantand begin ournew life."

"I dohope that we shall not have to keep it up long.It seemsso cruel to dear papa.

"Cruel! To save him!"

"Iwish I was sure that we were doing right.  And yetwhat elsecan we do?  WellthenIdathe die is castand wewill call upon Mrs. Westmacott tomorrow.

 

----

 

CHAPTERIX.

A FAMILYPLOT.

 

Little didpoor Doctor Walker imagine as he sat athisbreakfast-table next morning that the two sweet girlswho sat oneither side of him were deep in a conspiracyand thathemunching innocently at his muffinswas thevictimagainst whom their wiles were planned.  Patientlytheywaited until at last their opening came.

"Itis a beautiful day" he remarked.  "It will dofor Mrs.Westmacott.  She was thinking of having a spinupon thetricycle."

"Thenwe must call early.  We both intended to seeher afterbreakfast."

"Ohindeed!"  The Doctor looked pleased.

"Youknowpa" said Ida"it seems to us that wereallyhave a very great advantage in having Mrs.Westmacottliving so near."

"Whysodear?"

"Wellbecause she is so advancedyou know.  If weonly studyher ways we may advance ourselves also."

"Ithink I have heard you saypapa" Clara remarked"thatshe is the type of the woman of the future."

"I amvery pleased to hear you speak so sensiblymydears. I certainly think that she is a woman whom youmay verywell take as your model.  The more intimate youare withher the better pleased I shall be."

"Thenthat is settled" said Clara demurelyand thetalkdrifted to other matters.

All themorning the two girls sat extracting fromMrs.Westmacott her most extreme view as to the duty ofthe onesex and the tyranny of the other.  Absoluteequalityeven in detailswas her ideal.  Enough of theparrot cryof unwomanly and unmaidenly.  It had beeninventedby man to scare woman away when she poached toonearlyupon his precious preserves.  Every woman shouldbeindependent.  Every woman should learn a trade.  Itwas theirduty to push in where they were leastwelcome. Then they were martyrs to the causeandpioneersto their weaker sisters.  Why should thewash-tubthe needleand the housekeeper's book beeternallytheirs?  Might they not reach higherto theconsulting-roomto the benchand even to the pulpit?Mrs.Westmacott sacrificed her tricycle ride in hereagernessover her pet subjectand her two fairdisciplesdrank in every wordand noted every suggestionfor futureuse.  That afternoon they went shopping inLondonand before evening strange packages began to behanded inat the Doctor's door.  The plot was ripe forexecutionand one of the conspirators was merry andjubilantwhile the other was very nervous and troubled.

When theDoctor came down to the dining-room nextmorninghe was surprised to find that his daughters hadalreadybeen up some time.  Ida was installed at one endof thetable with a spirit-lampa curved glass flaskandseveral bottles in front of her.   The contents ofthe flaskwere boiling furiouslywhile a villainoussmellfilled the room.  Clara lounged in an arm-chairwith herfeet upon a second onea blue-covered book inher handand a huge map of the British Islands spreadacross herlap.  "Hullo!" cried the Doctorblinking andsniffing"where's the breakfast?"

"Ohdidn't you order it?" asked Ida.

"I! No; why should I?"  He rang the bell.  "Why haveyou notlaid the breakfastJane?"

"Ifyou pleasesirMiss Ida was a workin' at thetable."

"Ohof courseJane" said the young lady calmly."I amso sorry.  I shall be ready to move in a fewminutes."

"Butwhat on earth are you doingIda?" asked theDoctor. "The smell is most offensive.  Andgoodgraciouslook at the mess which you have made upon thecloth! Whyyou have burned a hole right through."

"Ohthat is the acid" Ida answered contentedly."Mrs.Westmacott said that it would burn holes."

"Youmight have taken her word for it withouttrying"said her father dryly.

"Butlook herepa!  See what the book says:  `Thescientificmind takes nothing upon trust.  Prove allthings!' I have proved that."

"Youcertainly have.  Welluntil breakfast is readyI'llglance over the Times.  Have you seen it?"

"TheTimes?  Ohdear methis is it which I haveunder myspirit-lamp.  I am afraid there is some acidupon thattooand it is rather damp and torn.  Here itis."

The Doctortook the bedraggled paper with a ruefulface. "Everything seems to be wrong to-day" heremarked. "What is this sudden enthusiasm aboutchemistryIda?"

"OhI am trying to live up to Mrs. Westmacott'steaching."

"Quiteright! quite right!" said hethough perhapswith lessheartiness than he had shown the day before."Ahhere is breakfast at last!"

Butnothing was comfortable that morning.  There wereeggswithout egg-spoonstoast which was leathery frombeingkeptdried-up rashersand grounds in the coffee.Above allthere was that dreadful smell which pervadedeverythingand gave a horrible twang to every mouthful.

"Idon't wish to put a damper upon your studiesIda"said the Doctoras he pushed back his chair.  "ButI do thinkit would be better if you did your chemicalexperimentsa little later in the day."

"ButMrs. Westmacott says that women should riseearlyanddo their work before breakfast."

"Thenthey should choose some other room besides thebreakfast-room." The Doctor was becoming just a littleruffled. A turn in the open air would soothe himhethought. "Where are my boots?" he asked.

But theywere not in their accustomed corner by hischair. Up and down he searchedwhile the three servantstook upthe queststooping and peeping underbook-casesand drawers.  Ida had returned to her studiesand Clarato her blue-covered volumesitting absorbedanddisinterested amid the bustle and the racket.  Atlast ageneral buzz of congratulation announced that thecook haddiscovered the boots hung up among the hats inthe hall. The Doctorvery red and flustereddrew themonandstamped off to join the Admiral in his morningwalk.

As thedoor slammed Ida burst into a shout oflaughter. "You seeClara" she cried"the charm worksalready. He has gone to number one instead of to numberthree. Ohwe shall win a great victory.  You've beenvery gooddear; I could see that you were on thorns tohelp himwhen he was looking for his boots."

"Poorpapa!  It is so cruel.  And yet what are we todo?"

"Ohhe will enjoy being comfortable all the more ifwe givehim a little discomfort now.  What horriblework thischemistry is!  Look at my frock!  It is ruined.And thisdreadful smell!"  She threw open the windowandthrust herlittle golden-curled head out of it.  CharlesWestmacottwas hoeing at the other side of the gardenfence.

"Goodmorningsir" said Ida.

"Goodmorning!"  The big man leaned upon his hoe andlooked upat her.

"Haveyou any cigarettesCharles?"

"Yescertainly."

"Throwme up two."

"Hereis my case.  Can you catch!"

Aseal-skin case came with a soft thud on to thefloor. Ida opened it.  It was full.

"Whatare these?" she asked.

"Egyptians."

"Whatare some other brands?"

"OhRichmond Gemsand Turkishand Cambridge.  Butwhy?"

"Nevermind!"  She nodded to him and closed thewindow. "We must remember all thoseClara" said she."Wemust learn to talk about such things.  Mrs.Westmacottknows all about the brands of cigarettes.  Hasyour rumcome?"

"Yesdear.  It is here."

"AndI have my stout.  Come along up to my room now.This smellis too abominable.  But we must be ready forhim whenhe comes back.  If we sit at the window we shallsee himcoming down the road."

The freshmorning airand the genial company of theAdmiralhad caused the Doctor to forget his troublesandhe cameback about midday in an excellent humor.  As heopened thehall door the vile smell of chemicals whichhad spoilthis breakfast met him with a redoubledvirulence. He threw open the hall windowentered thedining-roomand stood aghast at the sight which met hiseyes.

Ida wasstill sitting among her bottleswith a litcigarettein her left hand and a glass of stout on thetablebeside her.  Clarawith another cigarettewasloungingin the easy chair with several maps spread outupon thefloor around.  Her feet were stuck up on thecoalscuttleand she had a tumblerful of somereddish-browncomposition on the smoking table close atherelbow.  The Doctor gazed from one to the other ofthemthrough the thin grey haze of smokebut his eyesrestedfinally in a settled stare of astonishment uponhis elderand more serious daughter.

"Clara!"he gasped"I could not have believed it!"

"Whatis itpapa?"

"Youare smoking!"

"Tryingtopapa.  I find it a little difficultforI have notbeen used to it."

"Butwhyin the name of goodness--"

"Mrs.Westmacott recommends it."

"Oha lady of mature years may do many things whicha younggirl must avoid."

"Ohno" cried Ida"Mrs. Westmacott says that thereshould beone law for all.  Have a cigarettepa?"

"Nothank you.  I never smoke in the morning."

"No? Perhaps you don't care for the brand. Whatare theseClara?"

"Egyptians."

"Ahwe must have some Richmond Gems or Turkish.  Iwishpawhen you go into townyou would get me someTurkish."

"Iwill do nothing of the kind.  I do not at allthink thatit is a fitting habit for young ladies.  I donot agreewith Mrs. Westmacott upon the point."

"Reallypa!  It was you who advised us to imitateher."

"Butwith discrimination.  What is it that you aredrinkingClara?"

"Rumpapa."

"Rum? In the morning?"  He sat down and rubbed hiseyes asone who tries to shake off some evil dream.  "Didyou sayrum?"

"Yespa.  They all drink it in the profession whichI am goingto take up."

"ProfessionClara?"

"Mrs.Westmacott says that every woman should followa callingand that we ought to choose those which womenhavealways avoided."

"Quiteso."

"WellI am going to act upon her advice.  I am goingto be apilot."

"Mydear Clara!  A pilot!  This is too much."

"Thisis a beautiful bookpapa.  `The LightsBeaconsBuoysChannelsand Landmarks of GreatBritain.' Here is another`The Master Mariner'sHandbook.' You can't imagine how interesting it is."

"Youare jokingClara.  You must be joking!"

"Notat allpa.  You can't think what a lot I havelearnedalready.  I'm to carry a green light to starboardand a redto portwith a white light at the mast-headand aflare-up every fifteen minutes."

"Ohwon't it look pretty at night!" cried hersister.

"AndI know the fog-signals.  One blast means that ashipsteers to starboardtwo to portthree asternfourthat it isunmanageable.  But this man asks such dreadfulquestionsat the end of each chapter.  Listen to this:`You see ared light.  The ship is on the port tack andthe windat north; what course is that ship steering toa point?'"

The Doctorrose with a gesture of despair.  "I can'timaginewhat has come over you both" said he.

"Mydear papawe are trying hard to live up to Mrs.Westmacott'sstandard."

"WellI must say that I do not admire the result.YourchemistryIdamay perhaps do no harm; but yourschemeClarais out of the question.  How a girl ofyour sensecould ever entertain such a notion is morethan I canimagine.  But I must absolutely forbid you togo furtherwith it."

"Butpa" asked Idawith an air of innocentinquiry inher big blue eyes"what are we to do whenyourcommands and Mrs. Westmacott's advice are opposed?You toldus to obey her.  She says that when women try tothrow offtheir shacklestheir fathersbrothers andhusbandsare the very first to try to rivet them onagainandthat in such a matter no man has anyauthority."

"DoesMrs. Westmacott teach you that I am not thehead of myown house?"  The Doctor flushedand hisgrizzledhair bristled in his anger.

"Certainly. She says that all heads of houses arerelics ofthe dark ages."

The Doctormuttered something and stamped his footupon thecarpet.  Then without a word he passed out intothe gardenand his daughters could see him stridingfuriouslyup and downcutting off the heads of theflowerswith a switch.

"Ohyou darling!  You played your part sosplendidly!"cried Ida.

"Buthow cruel it is!  When I saw the sorrow andsurprisein his eyes I very nearly put my arms about himand toldhim all.  Don't you think we have done enough?"

"Nonono.  Not nearly enough.  You must not turnweak nowClara.  It is so funny that I should be leadingyou. It is quite a new experience.  But I know I amright. If we go an as we are doingwe shall be ableto say allour lives that we have saved him.  And if wedon'tohClarawe should never forgive ourselves."

 

----

 

CHAPTER X.

WOMEN OFTHE FUTURE.

 

From thatday the Doctor's peace was gone.  Never wasa quietand orderly household transformed so suddenlyinto abear gardenor a happy man turned into such acompletelymiserable one.  He had never realized beforehowentirely his daughters had shielded him from all thefrictionof life.  Now that they had not only ceased toprotecthimbut had themselves become a source oftrouble tohimhe began to understand how great theblessingwas which he had enjoyedand to sigh for thehappy daysbefore his girls had come under the influenceof hisneighbor.

"Youdon't look happy" Mrs. Westmacott had remarkedto him onemorning.  "You are pale and a little offcolor. You should come with me for a ten mile spin uponthetandem."

"I amtroubled about my girls."  They were walking upand downin the garden.  From time to time there soundedfrom thehouse behind them the longsad wail of a Frenchhorn.

"Thatis Ida" said he.  "She has taken topracticingon that dreadful instrument in theintervalsof her chemistry.  And Clara is quite as bad.I declareit is getting quite unendurable."

"AhDoctorDoctor!" she criedshaking herforefingerwith a gleam of her white teeth.  "You mustlive up toyour principles--you must give your daughtersthe sameliberty as you advocate for other women."

"Libertymadamcertainly!  But this approaches tolicense."

"Thesame law for allmy friend."  She tapped himreprovinglyon the arm with her sunshade.  "When you weretwentyyour father did notI presumeobject to yourlearningchemistry or playing a musical instrument.  Youwould havethought it tyranny if he had."

"Butthere is such a sudden change in them both."

"YesI have noticed that they have been veryenthusiasticlately in the cause of liberty.  Of all mydisciplesI think that they promise to be the mostdevotedand consistentwhich is the more natural sincetheirfather is one of our most trusted champions."

The Doctorgave a twitch of impatience.  "I seem tohave lostall authority" he cried.

"Nonomy dear friend.  They are a little exuberantat havingbroken the trammels of custom.  That is all."

"Youcannot think what I have had to put up withmadam. It has been a dreadful experience.  Last nightafter Ihad extinguished the candle in my bedroomIplaced myfoot upon something smooth and hardwhichscuttledfrom under me.  Imagine my horror!  I lit thegasandcame upon a well-grown tortoise which Clara hasthoughtfit to introduce into the house.  I call it afilthycustom to have such pets."

Mrs.Westmacott dropped him a little courtesy."Thankyousir" said she.  "That is a nice little sidehit at mypoor Eliza."

"Igive you my word that I had forgotten about her"cried theDoctorflushing.  "One such pet may no doubtbeenduredbut two are more than I can bear.  Ida has amonkeywhich lives on the curtain rod.  It is a mostdreadfulcreature.  It will remain absolutely motionlessuntil itsees that you have forgotten its presenceandthen itwill suddenly bound from picture to picture allround thewallsand end by swinging down on thebell-ropeand jumping on to the top of your head.  Atbreakfastit stole a poached egg and daubed it all overthe doorhandle.  Ida calls these outrages amusingtricks."

"Ohall will come right" said the widowreassuringly.

"AndClara is as badClara who used to be sogood andsweetthe very image of her poor mother.  Sheinsistsupon this preposterous scheme of being a pilotand willtalk of nothing but revolving lights and hiddenrocksandcodes of signalsand nonsense of the kind."

"Butwhy preposterous?" asked his companion.  "Whatnobleroccupation can there be than that of stimulatingcommerceand aiding the mariner to steer safely intoport? I should think your daughter admirably adapted forsuchduties."

"ThenI must beg to differ from youmadam."

"Stillyou are inconsistent."

"ExcusememadamI do not see the matter in thesamelight.  And I should be obliged to you if you woulduse yourinfluence with my daughter to dissuade her."

"Youwish to make me inconsistent too."

"Thenyou refuse?"

"I amafraid that I cannot interfere."

The Doctorwas very angry.  "Very wellmadam" saidhe. "In that case I can only say that I have the honorto wishyou a very good morning."  He raised his broadstraw hatand strode away up the gravel pathwhile thewidowlooked after him with twinkling eyes.  She wassurprisedherself to find that she liked the Doctorbetter themore masculine and aggressive he became.  Itwasunreasonable and against all principleand yet so itwas and noargument could mend the matter.

Very hotand angrythe Doctor retired into his roomand satdown to read his paper.  Ida had retiredand thedistantwails of the bugle showed that she was upstairsin herboudoir.  Clara sat opposite to him with herexasperatingcharts and her blue book.  The Doctorglanced ather and his eyes remained fixed inastonishmentupon the front of her skirt.

"Mydear Clara" he cried"you have torn yourskirt!"

Hisdaughter laughed and smoothed out her frock.  Tohis horrorhe saw the red plush of the chair where thedressought to have been.  "It is all torn!" hecried. "What have you done?"

"Mydear papa!" said she"what do you know about themysteriesof ladies' dress?  This is a divided skirt."

Then hesaw that it was indeed so arrangedand thathisdaughter was clad in a sort of looseextremely longknickerbockers.

"Itwill be so convenient for my sea-boots" sheexplained.

Her fathershook his head sadly.  "Your dear motherwould nothave liked itClara" said he.

For amoment the conspiracy was upon the point ofcollapsing. There was something in the gentleness of hisrebukeand in his appeal to her motherwhich broughtthe tearsto her eyesand in another instant she wouldhave beenkneeling beside him with everythingconfessedwhen the door flew open and her sister Idacamebounding into the room.  She wore a short greyskirtlike that of Mrs. Westmacottand she held it upin eachhand and danced about among the furniture.

"Ifeel quite the Gaiety girl!" she cried.  "Howdeliciousit must be to be upon the stage!  You can'tthink hownice this dress ispapa.  One feels so free init. And isn't Clara charming?"

"Goto your room this instant and take it off!"thunderedthe Doctor.  "I call it highly improperand nodaughterof mine shall wear it."

"Papa! Improper!  Whyit is the exact model of Mrs.Westmacott's."

"Isay it is improper.  And yours alsoClara!  Yourconduct isreally outrageous.  You drive me out of thehouse. I am going to my club in town.  I have no comfortor peaceof mind in my own house.  I will stand it nolonger. I may be late to-night--I shall go to theBritishMedical meeting.  But when I return I shall hopeto findthat you have reconsidered your conductand thatyou haveshaken yourself clear of the perniciousinfluenceswhich have recently made such an alteration inyourconduct."  He seized his hatslammed thedining-roomdoorand a few minutes later they heard thecrash ofthe big front gate.

"VictoryClaravictory!" cried Idastillpirouettingaround the furniture.  "Did you hear what hesaid? Pernicious influences!  Don't you understandClara? Why do you sit there so pale and glum?  Why don'tyou get upand dance?"

"OhI shall be so glad when it is overIda.  I dohate togive him pain.  Surely he has learned now that itis veryunpleasant to spend one's life with reformers."

"Hehas almost learned itClara.  Just one morelittlelesson.  We must not risk all at this lastmoment."

"Whatwould you doIda?  Ohdon't do anything toodreadful. I feel that we have gone too far already."

"Ohwe can do it very nicely.  You see we are bothengagedand that makes it very easy.  Harold will do whatyou askhimespecially as you have told him the reasonwhyandmy Charles will do it without even wanting toknow thereason.  Now you know what Mrs. Westmacottthinksabout the reserve of young ladies.  Mere pruderyaffectationand a relic of the dark ages of the Zenana.Those wereher wordswere they not?"

"Whatthen?"

"Wellnow we must put it in practice.  We arereducingall her other views to practiceand we must notshirk thisone.

"Butwhat would you do?  Ohdon't look so wickedIda! You look like some evil little fairywith yourgoldenhair and dancingmischievous eyes.  I know thatyou aregoing to propose something dreadful!"

"Wemust give a little supper to-night."

"We? A supper!"

"Whynot?  Young gentlemen give suppers. Why notyoungladies?"

"Butwhom shall we invite?"

"WhyHarold and Charles of course."

"Andthe Admiral and Mrs. Hay Denver?"

"Ohno.  That would be very old-fashioned. We mustkeep upwith the timesClara."

"Butwhat can we give them for supper?"

"Ohsomething with a nicefastrollickinglate-at-night-kindof flavor to it.   Let me see!Champagneof course--and oysters.  Oysters will do.  Inthenovelsall the naughty people take champagne andoysters. Besidesthey won't need any cooking.  How isyourpocket-moneyClara?"

"Ihave three pounds."

"AndI have one.  Four pounds.  I have no idea howmuchchampagne costs.  Have you?"

"Notthe slightest."

"Howmany oysters does a man eat?"

"Ican't imagine."

"I'llwrite and ask Charles.  NoI won't.  I'll askJane. Ring for herClara.  She has been a cookand issure toknow.

Janeonbeing cross-questionedrefused to commitherselfbeyond the statement that it depended upon thegentlemanand also upon the oysters.  The unitedexperienceof the kitchenhowevertestified that threedozen wasa fair provision.

"Thenwe shall have eight dozen altogethersaid Idajottingdown all her requirements upon a sheet of paper."Andtwo pints of champagne.  And some brown breadandvinegarand pepper.  That's allI think.  It is not soverydifficult to give a supper after allis itClara?"

"Idon't like itIda.  It seems to me to be so veryindelicate."

"Butit is needed to clinch the matter.  Nonothere isno drawing back nowClaraor we shall ruineverything. Papa is sure to come back by the 9:45.  Hewill reachthe door at 10.  We must have everything readyfor him. Nowjust sit down at onceand ask Harold tocome atnine o'clockand I shall do the same toCharles."

The twoinvitations were dispatchedreceived andaccepted. Harold was already a confidantand heunderstoodthat this was some further development of theplot. As to Charleshe was so accustomed to feminineeccentricityin the person of his auntthat the onlythingwhich could surprise him would be a rigidobservanceof etiquette.   At nine o'clock theyenteredthe dining-room of Number 2to find the masterof thehouse absenta red-shaded lampa snowy clothapleasantlittle feastand the two whom they would havechosenastheir companions.  A merrier party never metand thehouse rang with their laughter and their chatter.

"Itis three minutes to ten" cried Clarasuddenlyglancingat the clock.

"Goodgracious!  So it is!  Now for our littletableau!" Ida pushed the champagne bottles obtrusivelyforwardin the direction of the doorand scatteredoystershells over the cloth.

"Haveyou your pipeCharles?"

"Mypipe!  Yes."

"Thenplease smoke it.  Now don't argue about itbutdo itforyou will ruin the effect otherwise."

The largeman drew out a red caseand extracted agreatyellow meerschaumout of whicha moment laterhewaspuffing thick wreaths of smoke.  Harold had lit acigarandboth the girls had cigarettes.

"Thatlooks very nice and emancipated" said Idaglancinground.  "Now I shall lie on this sofa.  So!NowCharlesjust sit hereand throw your armcarelesslyover the back of the sofa.  Nodon't stopsmoking. I like it.  Claradearput your feet upon thecoal-scuttleand  do try to look a littledissipated. I wish we could crown ourselves withflowers. There are some lettuces on the sideboard.  Ohdearherehe is!  I hear his key."  She began to sing inher highfresh voice a little snatch from a French songwith aswinging tra la-la chorus.

The Doctorhad walked home from the station in apeaceableand relenting frame of mindfeeling thatperhapshe had said too much in the morningthat hisdaughtershad for years been models in every wayandthatifthere had been any change of lateit wasasthey saidthemselveson account of their anxiety tofollow hisadvice and to imitate Mrs. Westmacott.  Hecould seeclearly enough now that that advice was unwiseand that aworld peopled with Mrs. Westmacotts would notbe a happyor a soothing one.  It was he who washimselfto blameand he was grieved by the thought thatperhapshis hot words had troubled and saddened his twogirls.

This fearhoweverwas soon dissipated.  As heenteredhis hall he heard the voice of Ida uplifted in arollickingdittyand a very strong smell of tobacco wasborne tohis nostrils.  He threw open the dining-roomdoorandstood aghast at the scene which met his eyes.

The roomwas full of the blue wreaths of smokeandthelamp-light shone through the thin haze upongold-toppedbottlesplatesnapkinsand a litterof oystershells and cigarettes.  Idaflushed andexcitedwas reclining upon the setteea wine-glass ather elbowand a cigarette between her fingerswhileCharlesWestmacott sat beside herwith his arm thrownover thehead of the sofawith the suggestion of acaress. On the other side of the roomClara wasloungingin an arm-chairwith Harold beside herbothsmokingand both with wine-glasses beside them.  TheDoctorstood speechless in the doorwaystaring at theBacchanalianscene.

"Comeinpapa!  Do!" cried Ida.  "Won't you have aglass ofchampagne?"

"Prayexcuse me" said her fathercoldly"I feelthat I amintruding.  I did not know that you wereentertaining.Perhaps you will kindly let me knowwhen youhave finished.  You will find me in my study."He ignoredthe two young men completelyandclosing thedoorretireddeeply hurt and mortifiedto his room.A quarterof an hour afterwards he heard the door slamand histwo daughters came to announce that the guestswere gone.

"Guests! Whose guests?" he cried angrily.  "What isthemeaning of this exhibition?"

"Wehave been giving a little supperpapa.  Theywere ourguests."

"Ohindeed!"  The Doctor laughed sarcastically."Youthink it rightthento entertain youngbachelorslate at nighttosmoke and drink with themto---- Ohthat I should ever have lived to blush for myowndaughters!  I thank God that your dear mother neversaw theday."

"Dearestpapa" cried Clarathrowing her arms abouthim. "Do not be angry with us.  If you understood allyou wouldsee that there is no harm in it."

"Noharmmiss!  Who is the best judge of that?"

"Mrs.Westmacott" suggested Idaslyly.

The Doctorsprang from his chair.  "Confound Mrs.Westmacott!"he criedstriking frenziedly into the airwith hishands.  "Am I to hear of nothing but this woman?Is she toconfront me at every turn?  I will endure it nolonger."

"Butit was your wishpapa."

"ThenI will tell you now what my second and wiserwish isand we shall see if you will obey it as you havethefirst."

"Ofcourse we willpapa."

"Thenmy wish isthat you should forget these odiousnotionswhich you have imbibedthat you should dress andact as youused to dobefore ever you saw this womanand thatin futureyou confine your intercourse withher tosuch civilities as are necessary betweenneighbors."

"Weare to give up Mrs. Westmacott?"

"Orgive up me."

"Ohdear dadhow can you say anything so cruel?"cried Idaburrowing her towsy golden hair into herfather'sshirt frontwhile Clara pressed her cheekagainsthis whisker.  "Of course we shall give her upifyou preferit."

"Ofcourse we shallpapa."

The Doctorpatted the two caressing heads.  "Theseare my owntwo girls again" he cried.  "It has been myfault asmuch as yours.  I have been astrayand you havefollowedme in my error.  It was only by seeing yourmistakethat I have become conscious of my own.  Let usset itasideand neither say nor think anything moreabout it."

 

----

 

CHAPTERXI.

A BLOTFROM THE BLUE.

 

So by thecleverness of two girls a dark cloud wasthinnedaway and turned into sunshine.  Over one of themalasanother cloud was gatheringwhich could not be soeasilydispersed.  Of these three households which fatehad throwntogethertwo had already been united by tiesof love. It was destinedhoweverthat a bond ofanothersort should connect the Westmacotts with the HayDenvers.

Betweenthe Admiral and the widow a very cordialfeelinghad existed since the day when the old seaman hadhauleddown his flag and changed his opinions; grantingto theyachts-woman all that he had refused to thereformer. His own frank and downright nature respectedthe samequalities in his neighborand a friendshipsprang upbetween them which was more like that whichexistsbetween two menfounded upon esteem and acommunityof tastes.

"Bythe wayAdmiral" said Mrs. Westmacott onemorningas they walked together down to the station"Iunderstandthat this boy of yours in the intervals ofpaying hisdevotions to Miss Walker is doing somethingupon'Change."

"Yesma'amand there is no man of his age who isdoing sowell.  He's drawing aheadI can tell youma'am. Some of those that started with him are hull downastarnnow.  He touched his five hundred last yearandbeforehe's thirty he'll be making the four figures."

"Thereason I asked is that I have small investmentsto makemyself from time to timeand my present brokeris arascal.  I should be very glad to do it through yourson."

"Itis very kind of youma'am.  His partner is awayon aholidayand Harold would like to push on a bit andshow whathe can do.  You know the poop isn't bigenough tohold the lieutenant when the skipper's onshore."

"Isuppose he charges the usual half per cent?"

"Don'tknowI'm surema'am.  I'll swear that hedoes whatis right and proper."

"Thatis what I usually pay--ten shillings in thehundredpounds.  If you see him before I do just ask himto get mefive thousand in New Zealands.  It is at fourjust nowand I fancy it may rise."

"Fivethousand!" exclaimed the Admiralreckoning itin his ownmind.  "Lemme see!  That's twenty-five poundscommission. A nice day's workupon my word.  It is averyhandsome orderma'am."

"WellI must pay some oneand why not him?"

"I'lltell himand I'm sure he'll lose no time."

"Ohthere is no great hurry.  By the wayIunderstandfrom what you said just now that he has apartner."

"Yesmy boy is the junior partner.  Pearson is thesenior. I was introduced to him years agoand heofferedHarold the opening.  Of course we had a prettystiffpremium to pay."

Mrs.Westmacott had stoppedand was standing verystifflywith her Red Indian face even grimmer than usual.

"Pearson?"said she.  "Jeremiah Pearson?"

"Thesame."

"Thenit's all off" she cried.  "You need not carryout thatinvestment."

"Verywellma'am."

Theywalked on together side by sideshe broodingover somethought of her ownand he a little crossed anddisappointedat her caprice and the lost commission forHarold.

"Itell you whatAdmiral" she exclaimed suddenly"if Iwere you I should get your boy out of thispartnership."

"Butwhymadam?"

"Becausehe is tied to one of the deepestslyestfoxes inthe whole city of London."

"JeremiahPearsonma'am?  What can you know of him?He bears agood name."

"Noone in this world knows Jeremiah Pearson as Iknow himAdmiral.  I warn you because I have a friendlyfeelingboth for you and for your son.  The man is arogue andyou had best avoid him."

"Butthese are only wordsma'am.  Do you tell methat youknow him better than the brokers and jobbers inthe City?"

"Man"cried Mrs. Westmacott"will you allow that Iknow himwhen I tell you that my maiden name was AdaPearsonand that Jeremiah is my only brother?"

TheAdmiral whistled.  "Whew! " cried he.  "NowthatI think ofitthere is a likeness."

"Heis a man of ironAdmiral--a man without aheart. I should shock you if I were to tell you what Ihaveendured from my brother.  My father's wealth wasdividedequally between us.  His own share he ran throughin fiveyearsand he has tried since then by every trickof acunninglow-minded manby base cajoleryby legalquibblesby brutal intimidationto juggle me out of myshare aswell.  There is no villainy of which the man isnotcapable.  OhI know my brother Jeremiah.  I know himand I amprepared for him."

"Thisis all new to mema'am.  'Pon my wordIhardlyknow what to say to it.  I thank you for havingspoken soplainly.  From what you saythis is a poorsort ofconsort for a man to sail with.  Perhaps Haroldwould dowell to cut himself adrift."

"Withoutlosing a day."

"Wellwe shall talk it over.  You may be sure ofthat. But here we are at the stationso I will just seeyou intoyour carriage and then home to see what my wifesays tothe matter."

As hetrudged homewardsthoughtful and perplexedhewassurprised to hear a shout behind himand to seeHaroldrunning down the road after him.

"Whydad" he cried"I have just come from townand thefirst thing I saw was your back as you marchedaway. But you are such a quick walker that I had torun tocatch you."

TheAdmiral's smile of pleasure had broken his sternface intoa thousand wrinkles.  "You are early to-day"said he.

"YesI wanted to consult you."

"Nothingwrong?"

"Ohnoonly an inconvenience."

"Whatis itthen?"

"Howmuch have we in our private account?"

"Prettyfair.  Some eight hundredI think."

"Ohhalf that will be ample.  It was ratherthoughtlessof Pearson."

"Whatthen?"

"Wellyou seedadwhen he went away upon thislittleholiday to Havre he left me to pay accounts and soon. He told me that there was enough at the bank for allclaims. I had occasion on Tuesday to pay away twochequesone for L80and the other for L120and herethey arereturned with a bank notice that we have alreadyoverdrawnto the extent of some hundreds."

TheAdmiral looked very grave.  "What's the meaningof thatthen?" he asked.

"Ohit can easily be set right.  You see Pearsoninvestsall the spare capital and keeps as small a marginaspossible at the bank.  Still it was too bad for him toallow meeven to run a risk of having a cheque returned.I havewritten to him and demanded his authority tosell outsome stockand I have written an explanation tothesepeople.  In the meantimehoweverI have had toissueseveral cheques; so I had better transfer part ofourprivate account to meet them."

"Quitesomy boy.  All that's mine is yours.  Butwho do youthink this Pearson is?  He is Mrs.Westmacott'sbrother."

"Really. What a singular thing!  WellI can see alikenessnow that you mention it.  They have both thesame hardtype of face."

"Shehas been warning me against him--says he is therankestpirate in London.  I hope that it is all rightboyandthat we may not find ourselves in broken water."

Harold hadturned a little pale as he heard Mrs.Westmacott'sopinion of his senior partner.  It gaveshape andsubstance to certain vague fears and suspicionsof his ownwhich had been pushed back as often as theyobtrudedthemselves as being too monstrous and fantasticforbelief.

"Heis a well-known man in the Citydad" said he.

"Ofcourse he is--of course he is.  That is what Itold her. They would have found him out there ifanythinghad been amiss with him.  Bless youthere'snothing sobitter as a family quarrel.  Still it is justas wellthat you have written about this affairforwe may aswell have all fair and aboveboard."

ButHarold's letter to his partner was crossed by aletterfrom his partner to Harold.  It lay awaiting himupon thebreakfast table next morningand it sent theheart intohis mouth as he read itand caused him tospring upfrom his chair with a white face and staringeyes.

"Myboy!  My boy!"

"I amruinedmother--ruined!"  He stood gazingwildly infront of himwhile the sheet of paperfluttereddown on the carpet.  Then he dropped back intothe chairand sank his face into his hands.  His motherhad herarms round him in an instantwhile the Admiralwithshaking fingerspicked up the letter from the floorandadjusted his glasses to read it.

 

"MyDEAR DENVER" it ran.  "By the time that thisreachesyou I shall be out of the reach of yourself or ofany oneelse who may desire an interview.  You need notsearch formefor I assure you that this letter isposted bya friendand that you will have your troublein vain ifyou try to find me.  I am sorry to leave youin such atight placebut one or other of us must besqueezedand on the whole I prefer that it should beyou. You'll find nothing in the bankand about L13000unaccountedfor.  I'm not sure that the best thing youcan do isnot to realize what you canand imitateyoursenior's example.  If you act at once you may getcleanaway.  If notit's not only that you must put upyourshuttersbut I am afraid that this missing moneycouldhardly be included as an ordinary debtand ofcourse youare legally responsible for it just as much asI am. Take a friend's advice and get to America.  Ayoung manwith brains can always do something out thereand youcan live down this little mischance.  It will bea cheaplesson if it teaches you to take nothing upontrust inbusinessand to insist upon knowing exactlywhat yourpartner is doinghowever senior he may be toyou.

"Yoursfaithfully

"JEREMIAHPEARSON."

 

"GreatHeavens!" groaned the Admiral"he hasabsconded."

"Andleft me both a bankrupt and a thief."

"NonoHarold" sobbed his mother.  "All will beright. What matter about money!"

"Moneymother!  It is my honor."

"Theboy is right.  It is his honorand my honorfor his ismine.  This is a sore troublemotherwhen wethoughtour life's troubles were all behind usbut wewill bearit as we have borne others."  He held out hisstringyhandand the two old folk sat with bowedgreyheadstheir fingers intertwinedstrong ineachother's love and sympathy.

"Wewere too happy" she sighed.

"Butit is God's willmother."

"YesJohnit is God's will."

"Andyet it is bitter to bear.  I could have lostallthehousemoneyrank--I could have borne it.  Butat myage--my honor--the honor of an admiral of thefleet."

"Nohonor can be lostJohnwhere no dishonor hasbeendone.  What have you done?  What has Harold done?There isno question of honor."

The oldman shook his headbut Harold had alreadycalledtogether his clear practical sensewhich for aninstant inthe presence of this frightful blow haddesertedhim.

"Themater is rightdad" said he.  "It is badenoughHeaven knowsbut we must not take too dark aview ofit.  After allthis insolent letter is in itselfevidencethat I had nothing to do with the schemes of thebasevillain who wrote it."

"Theymay think it prearranged."

"Theycould not.  My whole life cries out against thethought. They could not look me in the face andentertainit."

"Noboynot if they have eyes in their heads"cried theAdmiralplucking up courage at the sight oftheflashing eyes and bravedefiant face.  "We havetheletterand we have your character.  We'll weather ityetbetween them.  It's my fault from the beginning forchoosingsuch a land-shark for your consort.  God helpmeIthought I was finding such an opening for you."

"Deardad!  How could you possibly know?  As he saysin hisletterit has given me a lesson.  But he was somuch olderand so much more experiencedthat it was hardfor me toask to examine his books.  But we must waste notime. I must go to the City."

"Whatwill you do?"

"Whatan honest man should do.  I will write to allourclients and creditorsassemble themlay the wholematterbefore themread them the letter and put myselfabsolutelyin their hands."

"That'sitboy--yard-arm to yard-armand have itover."

"Imust go at once."  He put on his top-coat and hishat. "But I have ten minutes yet before I can catch atrain.  There is one little thing which I must do beforeI start."

He hadcaught sight through the long glass foldingdoor ofthe gleam of a white blouse and a straw hat inthe tennisground.  Clara used often to meet him there ofa morningto say a few words before he hurried away intothe City. He walked out now with the quickfirmstep of aman who has taken a momentous resolutionbuthis facewas haggard and his lips pale.

"Clara"said heas she came towards him with wordsofgreeting"I am sorry to bring ill news to youbutthingshave gone wrong in the Cityand--and I think thatI ought torelease you from your engagement."

Clarastared at him with her great questioning darkeyesandher face became as pale as his.

"Howcan the City affect you and meHarold?"

"Itis dishonor.  I cannot ask you to share it."

"Dishonor! The loss of some miserable gold andsilvercoins!"

"OhClaraif it were only that!  We could be farhappiertogether in a little cottage in the country thanwith allthe riches of the City.  Poverty could not cutme to theheartas I have been cut this morning.  Whyit is buttwenty minutes since I had the letterClaraand itseems to me to be some oldold thing whichhappenedfar away in my past lifesome horrid blackcloudwhich shut out all the freshness and the peace fromit."

"Butwhat is itthen?  What do you fear worse thanpoverty?"

"Tohave debts that I cannot meet.  To behammeredupon 'Change and declared a bankrupt.  Toknow thatothers have a just claim upon me and to feelthat Idare not meet their eyes.  Is not that worse thanpoverty?"

"YesHarolda thousand fold worse!  But all thismay be gotover.  Is there nothing more?"

"Mypartner has fled and left me responsible forheavydebtsand in such a position that I may berequiredby the law to produce some at least of thismissingmoney.  It has been confided to him to investand he hasembezzled it.  Ias his partneram liablefor it. I have brought misery on all whom I love--myfathermymother.  But you at least shall not be undertheshadow.  You are freeClara.  There is no tiebetweenus."

"Ittakes two to make such a tieHarold" said shesmilingand putting her hand inside his arm.  "It takestwo tomake itdearand also two to break it.  Is thatthe waythey do business in the Citysirthat a man canalways athis own sweet will tear up his engagement?"

"Youhold me to itClara?"

"Nocreditor so remorseless as IHarold.  Nevernevershall you get from that bond."

"ButI am ruined.  My whole life is blasted."

"Andso you wish to ruin meand blast my life also.No indeedsiryou shall not get away so lightly.  ButseriouslynowHaroldyou would hurt me if it werenot soabsurd.  Do you think that a woman's love is likethissunshade which I carry in my handa thing onlyfitted forthe sunshineand of no use when the windsblow andthe clouds gather?"

"Iwould not drag you downClara."

"ShouldI not be dragged down indeed if I left yourside atsuch a time?  It is only now that I can be of useto youhelp yousustain you.  You have always been sostrongsoabove me.  You are strong stillbut then twowill bestronger.  Besidessiryou have no idea what awoman ofbusiness I am.  Papa says soand he knows."

Haroldtried to speakbut his heart was too full.He couldonly press the white hand which curled round hissleeve. She walked up and down by his sideprattlingmerrilyand sending little gleams of cheeriness throughthe gloomwhich girt him in.  To listen to her he mighthavethought that it was Idaand not her staid anddemuresisterwho was chatting to him.

"Itwill soon be cleared up" she said"and then weshall feelquite dull.  Of course all business men havetheselittle ups and downs.  WhyI suppose of all themen youmeet upon 'Changethere is not one who has notsome suchstory to tell.  If everything was alwayssmoothyou knowthen of course every one wouldturnstockbrokerand you would have to hold yourmeetingsin Hyde Park.  How much is it that you need?"

"Morethan I can ever get.  Not less than thirteenthousandpounds."

Clara'sface fell as she heard the amount.  "What doyoupurpose doing?"

"Ishall go to the City nowand I shall ask all ourcreditorsto meet me to-morrow.  I shall read themPearson'sletterand put myself into their hands."

"Andtheywhat will they do?"

"Whatcan they do?  They will serve writs for theirmoneyandthe firm will be declared bankrupt."

"Andthe meeting will be to-morrowyou say.  Willyou takemy advice?"

"Whatis itClara?"

"Toask them for a few days of delay.  Who knows whatnew turnmatters may take?"

"Whatturn can they take?  I have no means of raisingthemoney."

"Letus have a few days."

"Ohwe should have that in the ordinary course ofbusiness. The legal formalities would take them somelittletime.  But I must goClaraI must not seem toshirk. My place now must be at my offices."

"Yesdearyou are right.  God bless you and guardyou! I shall be here in The Wildernessbut all dayI shall beby your office table at Throgmorton Street inspiritand if ever you should be sad you will hear mylittlewhisper in your earand know that there is oneclientwhom you will never be able to get rid of--neveras long aswe both livedear."

 

----

 

CHAPTERXII.

FRIENDS INNEED.

 

"Nowpapa" said Clara that morningwrinkling herbrows andputting her finger-tips together with the airof anexperienced person of business"I want to have atalk toyou about money matters."

"Yesmy dear."  He laid down his paperand lookedaquestion.

"Kindlytell me againpapahow much money I have inmy veryown right.  You have often told me beforebut Ialwaysforget figures."

"Youhave two hundred and fifty pounds a year of yourownunderyour aunt's will.

"AndIda?"

"Idahas one hundred and fifty."

"NowI think I can live very well on fifty pounds ayearpapa.  I am not very extravagantand I couldmake myown dresses if I had a sewing-machine."

"Verylikelydear."

"Inthat case I have two hundred a year which I coulddowithout."

"Ifit were necessary."

"Butit is necessary.  Ohdo help melike a gooddearkindpapain this matterfor my whole heart isset uponit.  Harold is in sore need of moneyandthrough nofault of his own."  With a woman's tact andeloquenceshe told the whole story.  "Put yourself in myplacepapa.  What is the money to me?  I never think ofit fromyear's end to year's end.  But now I know howpreciousit is.  I could not have thought that moneycould beso valuable.  See what I can do with it.  It mayhelp tosave him.  I must have it by to-morrow.  Ohdodo adviseme as to what I should doand how I should getthemoney."

The Doctorsmiled at her eagerness.  "You are asanxious toget rid of money as others are to gain it"said he. "In another case I might think it rashbut Ibelieve inyour Haroldand I can see that he has hadvillainoustreatment.  You will let me deal with thematter."

"Youpapa?"

"Itcan be done best between men.  Your capitalClaraissome five thousand poundsbut it is outon amortgageand you could not call it in."

"Ohdear! ohdear!"

"Butwe can still manage.  I have as much at my bank.I willadvance it to the Denvers as coming from youandyou canrepay it to meor the interest of itwhen yourmoneybecomes due."

"Ohthat is beautiful!  How sweet and kind of you!"

"Butthere is one obstacle:  I do not think that youwould everinduce Harold to take this money."

Clara'sface fell.  "Don't you think soreally?"

"I amsure that he would not."

"Thenwhat are you to do?  What horrid things moneymattersare to arrange!"

"Ishall see his father.  We can manage it allbetweenus."

"Ohdodopapa!  And you will do it soon?"

"Thereis no time like the present.  I will go in atonce." He scribbled a chequeput it in an envelopeputon hisbroad straw hatand strolled in through thegarden topay his morning call.

It was asingular sight which met his eyes as heenteredthe sitting-room of the Admiral.  A great seacheststood open in the centerand allround uponthe carpetwere little piles of jerseysoil-skinsbookssextant boxesinstrumentsand sea-boots.  Theold seamansat gravely amidst this lumberturning itoverandexamining it intently; while his wifewith thetearsrunning silently down her ruddy cheekssat uponthe sofaher elbows upon her knees and her chin upon herhandsrocking herself slowly backwards and forwards.

"HulloDoctor" said the Admiralholding out hishand"there's foul weather set in upon usas you mayhaveheardbut I have ridden out many a worse squallandplease Godwe shall all three of us weather thisone alsothough two of us are a little more cranky thanwe were."

"Mydear friendsI came in to tell you how deeply wesympathizewith you all.  My girl has only just told meabout it."

"Ithas come so suddenly upon usDoctor" sobbedMrs. HayDenver.  "I thought that I had John to myselffor therest of our lives--Heaven knows that we have notseen verymuch of each other--but now he talks of goingto seaagain.

"AyeayeWalkerthat's the only way out of it.When Ifirst heard of it I was thrown up in the wind withallaback.  I give you my word that I lost my bearingsmorecompletely than ever since I strapped a middy's dirkto mybelt.  You seefriendI know something ofshipwreckor battle or whatever may come upon the watersbut theshoals in the City of London on which my poor boyhas struckare clean beyond me.  Pearson had been mypilotthereand now I know him to be a rogue.  But I'vetaken mybearings nowand I see my course right beforeme."

"WhatthenAdmiral?"

"OhI have one or two little plans.  I'll have somenews forthe boy.  Whyhang itWalker manI may be abit stiffin the jointsbut you'll be my witness that Ican do mytwelve miles under the three hours.  What then?My eyesare as good as ever except just for thenewspaper. My head is clear.  I'm three-and-sixtybutI'm asgood a man as ever I was--too good a man to lie upforanother ten years.  I'd be the better for a smack ofthe saltwater againand a whiff of the breeze.  Tutmotherit's not a four years' cruise this time.  I'll beback everymonth or two.  It's no more than if I went fora visit inthe country."  He was talking boisterouslyandheaping his sea-boots and sextants back into hischest.

"Andyou really thinkmy dear friendof hoistingyourpennant again?"

"MypennantWalker?  Nono.  Her MajestyGod blessherhastoo many young men to need an old hulk like me.I shouldbe plain Mr. Hay Denverof the merchantservice. I daresay that I might find some owner whowould giveme a chance as second or third officer.  Itwill bestrange to me to feel the rails of the bridgeunder myfingers once more."

"Tut!tut! this will never dothis will never doAdmiral!" The Doctor sat down by Mrs. Hay Denver andpatted herhand in token of friendly sympathy.  "We mustwait untilyour son has had it out with all these peopleand thenwe shall know what damage is doneand how bestto set itright.  It will be time enough then to begin tomuster ourresources to meet it."

"Ourresources!"  The Admiral laughed.  "There's thepension. I'm afraidWalkerthat our resources won'tneed muchmustering."

"Ohcomethere are some which you may not havethoughtof.  For exampleAdmiralI had always intendedthat mygirl should have five thousand from me when shemarried. Of course your boy's trouble is her troubleand themoney cannot be spent better than in helping toset itright.  She has a little of her own which shewished tocontributebut I thought it best to work itthis way. Will you take the chequeMrs. Denverand Ithink itwould be best if you said nothing to Haroldabout itand just used it as the occasion served?"

"Godbless youWalkeryou are a true friend.  Iwon'tforget thisWalker.  "The Admiral sat down on hissea chestand mopped his brow with his red handkerchief.

"Whatis it to me whether you have it now or then?It may bemore useful now.  There's only one stipulation.If thingsshould come to the worstand if the businessshouldprove so bad that nothing can set it rightthenhold backthis chequefor there is no use in pouringwater intoa broken basinand if the lad should fallhewill wantsomething to pick himself up again with."

"Heshall not fallWalkerand you shall not haveoccasionto be ashamed of the family into which yourdaughteris about to marry.  I have my own plan.  But weshall holdyour moneymy friendand it will strengthenus to feelthat it is there."

"Wellthat is all right" said Doctor Walkerrising. "And if a little more should be neededwe mustnot lethim go wrong for the want of a thousand or two.And nowAdmiralI'm off for my morning walk.  Won't youcome too?"

"NoI am going into town."

"Wellgood-bye.  I hope to have better newsandthat allwill come right.  Good-byeMrs. Denver.  Ifeel as ifthe boy were my ownand I shall not be easyuntil allis right with him."

 

----

 

CHAPTERXIII.

IN STRANGEWATERS.

 

WhenDoctor Walker had departedthe Admiral packedall hispossessions back into his sea chest with theexceptionof one little brass-bound desk.  This heunlockedand took from it a dozen or so blue sheets ofpaper allmottled over with stamps and sealswith verylarge V. R.'s printed upon the heads of them.  He tiedthesecarefully into a small bundleand placing them inthe innerpocket of his coathe seized his stick andhat.

"OhJohndon't do this rash thing" cried Mrs.Denverlaying her hands upon his sleeve.  "I have seenso littleof youJohn.  Only three years since you lefttheservice.  Don't leave me again.  I know it is weak ofmebut Icannot bear it."

"There'smy own brave lass" said hesmoothing downthegrey-shot hair.  "We've lived in honor togethermotherand please God in honor we'll die.  No matter howdebts aremadethey have got to be metand what the boyowes weowe.  He has not the moneyand how is he to findit? He can't find it.  What then?  It becomes mybusinessand there's only one way for it."

"Butit may not be so very badJohn.  Had we notbest waituntil after he sees these people to-morrow?"

"Theymay give him little timelass.  But I'll havea carethat I don't go so far that I can't put backagain. Nowmotherthere's no use holding me.  It's gotto bedoneand there's no sense in shirking it."  Hedetachedher fingers from his sleevepushed her gentlyback intoan arm-chairand hurried from the house.

In lessthan half an hour the Admiral was whirledintoVictoria Station and found himself amid a densebustlingthrongwho jostled and pushed in the crowdedterminus. His errandwhich had seemed feasible enoughin his ownroombegan now to present difficulties in thecarryingoutand he puzzled over how he should take thefirststeps.  Amid the stream of business meneachhurryingon his definite waythe old seaman in his greytweed suitand black soft hat strode slowly alonghishead sunkand his brow wrinkled in perplexity.  Suddenlyan ideaoccurred to him.  He walked back to the railwaystall andbought a daily paper.  This he turned andturneduntil a certain column met his eyewhen hesmoothedit outand carrying it over to a seatproceededto read it at his leisure.

Andindeedas a man read that columnitseemedstrange to him that there should still remainany one inthis world of ours who should be in straitsfor wantof money.  Here were whole lines of gentlemenwho wereburdened with a surplus in their incomesandwho wereloudly calling to the poor and needy to come andtake itoff their hands.  Here was the guileless personwho wasnot a professional moneylenderbut who would beglad tocorrespondetc.  Here too was the accommodatingindividualwho advanced sums from ten to ten thousandpoundswithout expensesecurityor delay.  "The moneyactuallypaid over within a few hours" ran thisfascinatingadvertisementconjuring up a vision of swiftmessengersrushing with bags of gold to the aid of thepoorstruggler.  A third gentleman did all business bypersonalapplicationadvanced money on anything ornothing;the lightest and airiest promise was enough tocontenthim according to his circularand finally heneverasked for more than five per cent.  This struck theAdmiral asfar the most promisingand his wrinklesrelaxedand his frown softened away as he gazed at it.He foldedup the paper rose from the seatand foundhimselfface to face with Charles Westmacott.

"HulloAdmiral!"

"HulloWestmacott!" Charles had always been afavoriteof the seaman's.  "What are you doing here?"

"OhI have been doing a little business for my aunt.But I havenever seen you in London before."

"Ihate the place.  It smothers me.  There's not abreath ofclean air on this side of Greenwich.  But maybeyou knowyour way about pretty well in the City?"

"WellI know something about it.  You see I've neverlived veryfar from itand I do a good deal of my aunt'sbusiness."

"Maybeyou know Bread Street?"

"Itis out of Cheapside."

"Wellthenhow do you steer for it from here?  Youmake meout a course and I'll keep to it."

"WhyAdmiralI have nothing to do.  I'll take youthere withpleasure."

"Willyouthough?  WellI'd take it very kindly ifyouwould.  I have business there.  Smith and HanburyfinancialagentsBread Street."

The pairmade their way to the river-sideand sodown theThames to St. Paul's landing--a mode of travelwhich wasmuch more to the Admiral's taste than 'bus orcab. On the wayhe told his companion his mission andthe causeswhich had led to it.  Charles Westmacott knewlittleenough of City life and the ways of businessbutat leasthe had more experience in both than the Admiraland hemade up his mind not to leave him until thematter wassettled.

"Theseare the people" said the Admiraltwistinground hispaperand pointing to the advertisement whichhad seemedto him the most promising.  "It sounds honestandabove-boarddoes it not?  The personal interviewlooks asif there were no trickeryand then no one couldobject tofive per cent."

"Noit seems fair enough."

"Itis not pleasant to have to go hat in handborrowingmoneybut there are timesas you may findbefore youare my ageWestmacottwhen a man must stowaway hispride.  But here's their numberand their plateis on thecorner of the door."

A narrowentrance was flanked on either side by a rowofbrassesranging upwards from the shipbrokers and thesolicitorswho occupied the ground floorsthrough a longsuccessionof West Indian agentsarchitectssurveyorsandbrokersto the firm of which they were in quest.  Awindingstone stairwell carpeted and railed at firstbutgrowing shabbier with every landingbrought thempastinnumerable doors untilat lastjust under theground-glassroofingthe names of Smith and Hanbury wereto be seenpainted in large white letters across a panelwith alaconic invitation to push beneath it.  Followingout thesuggestionthe Admiral and his companionfoundthemselves in a dingy apartmentill lit from acouple ofglazed windows.  An ink-stained tablelitteredwith penspapersand almanacsan American cloth sofathreechairs of varying patternsand a much-worn carpetconstitutedall the furnituresave only a very large andobtrusiveporcelain spittoonand a gaudily framed andverysomber picture which hung above the fireplace.Sitting infront of this pictureand staring gloomily atitasbeing the only thing which he could stare atwasa smallsallow-faced boy with a large headwho in theintervalsof his art studies munched sedately at anapple.

"IsMr. Smith or Mr. Hanbury in?" asked the Admiral.

"Thereain't no such people" said the small boy.

"Butyou have the names on the door."

"Ahthat is the name of the firmyou see.  It'sonly aname.  It's Mr. Reuben Metaxa that you wants."

"Wellthenis he in?"

"Nohe's not."

"Whenwill he be back?"

"Can'ttellI'm sure.  He's gone to lunch.Sometimeshe takes one hourand sometimes two.  It'll betwoto-dayI 'spectfor he said he was hungry afore hewent."

"ThenI suppose that we had better call again" saidtheAdmiral.

"Nota bit" cried Charles.  "I know how to managetheselittle imps.  See hereyou young varminthere'sa shillingfor you.  Run off and fetch your master.  Ifyou don'tbring him here in five minutes I'll clump youon theside of the head when you get back.  Shoo!  Scat!"He chargedat the youthwho bolted from the room andclatteredmadly down-stairs.

"He'llfetch him" said Charles.  "Let us makeourselvesat home.  This sofa does not feel over andabovesafe.  It was not meant for fifteen-stone men.But thisdoesn't look quite the sort of place where onewouldexpect to pick up money."

"Justwhat I was thinking" said the Admirallookingruefullyabout him.

"Ahwell!  I have heard that the best furnishedofficesgenerally belong to the poorest firms.   Let ushope it'sthe opposite here.  They can't spend much onthemanagement anyhow.  That pumpkin-headed boy was thestaffIsuppose.  Haby Jovethat's his voiceandhe's gotour manI think!"

As hespoke the youth appeared in the doorway with asmallbrowndried-up little chip of a man at his heels.He wasclean-shaven and blue-chinnedwith bristlingblackhairand keen brown eyes which shone out verybrightlyfrom between pouched under-lids and droopingupperones.  He advancedglancing keenly from oneto theother of his visitorsand slowly rubbing togetherhis thinblue-veined hands.  The small boy closed thedoorbehind himand discreetly vanished.

"I amMr. Reuben Metaxa" said the moneylender.  "Wasit aboutan advance you wished to see me?"

"Yes."

"ForyouI presume?" turning to Charles Westmacott.

"Nofor this gentleman."

Themoneylender looked surprised.  "How much did youdesire?"

"Ithought of five thousand pounds" said theAdmiral.

"Andon what security?"

"I ama retired admiral of the British navy.  Youwill findmy name in the Navy List.  There is my card.I havehere my pension papers.  I get L850 a year.  Ithoughtthat perhaps if you were to hold these papers itwould besecurity enough that I should pay you.  Youcould drawmy pensionand repay yourselves at the ratesayofL500 a yeartaking your five per cent interestas well."

"Whatinterest?"

"Fiveper cent per annum.

Mr. Metaxalaughed.  "Per annum!" he said.  "Five percent amonth."

"Amonth!  That would be sixty per cent a year."

"Precisely."

"Butthat is monstrous."

"Idon't ask gentlemen to come to me.  They come oftheir ownfree will.  Those are my termsand they cantake it orleave it."

"ThenI shall leave it."  The Admiral rose angrilyfrom hischair.

"Butone momentsir.  Just sit down and we shallchat thematter over.  Yours is a rather unusual case andwe mayfind some other way of doing what you wish.  Ofcourse thesecurity which you offer is no security atallandno sane man would advance five thousand pennieson it."

"Nosecurity?  Why notsir?"

"Youmight die to-morrow.  You are not a young man.What ageare you?"

"Sixty-three."

Mr. Metaxaturned over a long column of figures."Hereis an actuary's table" said he.  "At your time oflife theaverage expectancy of life is only a few yearseven in awell-preserved man."

"Doyou mean to insinuate that I am not awell-preservedman?"

"WellAdmiralit is a trying life at sea.  Sailorsin theiryounger days are gay dogsand take it out ofthemselves. Then when they grow older thy are still hardat itandhave no chance of rest or peace.  I do notthink asailor's life a good one."

"I'lltell you whatsir" said the Admiral hotly."Ifyou have two pairs of gloves I'll undertake to knockyou outunder three rounds.  Or I'll race you from hereto St.Paul'sand my friend here will see fair.  I'lllet yousee whether I am an old man or not."

"Thisis beside the question" said the moneylenderwith adeprecatory shrug.  "The point is that if you diedto-morrowwhere would be the security then?"

"Icould insure my lifeand make the policy over toyou."

"Yourpremiums for such a sumif any office wouldhave youwhich I very much doubtwould come to close onfivehundred a year.  That would hardly suit your book."

"Wellsirwhat do you intend to propose?" asked theAdmiral.

"Imightto accommodate youwork it in another way.I shouldsend for a medical manand have an opinion uponyourlife.  Then I might see what could be done."

"Thatis quite fair.  I have no objection to that."

"Thereis a very clever doctor in the street here.Proudie ishis name.  Johngo and fetch Doctor Proudie."The youthwas dispatched upon his errandwhile Mr.Metaxa satat his desktrimming his nailsand shootingout littlecomments upon the weather.  Presently feetwere heardupon the stairsthe moneylender hurriedouttherewas a sound of whisperingand he returnedwith alargefatgreasy-looking manclad in a muchwornfrock-coatand a very dilapidated top hat.

"DoctorProudiegentlemen" said Mr. Metaxa.

The doctorbowedsmiledwhipped off his hatandproducedhis stethoscope from its interior with the airof aconjurer upon the stage.  "Which of these gentlemenam I toexamine?" he askedblinking from one to theother ofthem.  "Ahit is you!  Only your waistcoat!You neednot undo your collar.  Thank you!  A fullbreath! Thank you!  Ninety-nine!  Thank you!  Now holdyourbreath for a moment.  Ohdeardearwhat is thisI hear?"

"Whatis it then?" asked the Admiral coolly.

"Tut!tut!  This is a great pity.  Have you hadrheumaticfever?"

"Never."

"Youhave had some serious illness?"

"Never."

"Ahyou are an admiral.  You have been abroadtropicsmalariaague--I know."

"Ihave never had a day's illness."

"Notto your knowledge; but you have inhaledunhealthyairand it has left its effect.  You have anorganicmurmur--slight but distinct."

"Isit dangerous?"

"Itmight at anytime become so.  You should not takeviolentexercise."

"Ohindeed.  It would hurt me to run a half mile?"

"Itwould be very dangerous."

"Anda mile?"

"Wouldbe almost certainly fatal."

"Thenthere is nothing else the matter?"

"No. But if the heart is weakthen everything isweakandthe life is not a sound one."

"YouseeAdmiral" remarked Mr. Metaxaas thedoctorsecreted his stethoscope once more in his hat"myremarkswere not entirely uncalled for.  I am sorry thatthedoctor's opinion is not more favorablebut this isa matterof businessand certain obvious precautionsmust betaken."

"Ofcourse.  Then the matter is at an end."

"Wellwe might even now do business.  I am mostanxious tobe of use to you.  How long do you thinkdoctorthat this gentleman will in all probabilitylive?"

"Wellwellit's rather a delicate question toanswer"said Dr. Proudiewith a show of embarrassment.

"Nota bitsir.  Out with it!  I have faced deathtoo oftento flinch from it nowthough I saw it as nearme as youare."

"Wellwellwe must go by averages of course.  Shallwe say twoyears?  I should think that you have a fulltwo yearsbefore you."

"Intwo years your pension would bring you in L1600.Now I willdo my very best for youAdmiral!  I willadvanceyou L2000and you can make over to me yourpensionfor your life.  It is pure speculation on mypart. If you die to-morrow I lose my money.  If thedoctor'sprophecy is correct I shall still be out ofpocket. If you live a little longerthen I may see mymoneyagain.  It is the very best I can do for you."

"Thenyou wish to buy my pension?"

"Yesfor two thousand down."

"Andif I live for twenty years?"

"Ohin that case of course my speculation would bemoresuccessful.  But you have heard the doctor'sopinion."

"Wouldyou advance the money instantly?"

"Youshould have a thousand at once.  The otherthousand Ishould expect you to take in furniture."

"Infurniture?"

"YesAdmiral.  We shall do you a beautiful housefulat thatsum.  It is the custom of my clients to take halfinfurniture."

TheAdmiral sat in dire perplexity.  He had come outto getmoneyand to go back without anyto be powerlessto helpwhen his boy needed every shilling to save himfromdisasterthat would be very bitter to him.  On theotherhandit was so much that he surrenderedandso littlethat he received.  Littleand yetsomething. Would it not be better than going backempty-handed? He saw the yellow backed cheque-book uponthetable.  The moneylender opened it and dipped his peninto theink.

"ShallI fill it up?" said he.

"IthinkAdmiral" remarked Westmacott"that we hadbetterhave a little walk and some luncheon before wesettlethis matter."

"Ohwe may as well do it at once.  It would beabsurd topostpone it now" Metaxa spoke with some heatand hiseyes glinted angrily from between his narrow lidsat theimperturbable Charles.  The Admiral was simple inmoneymattersbut he had seen much of men and hadlearned toread them.  He saw that venomous glanceandsaw toothat intense eagerness was peeping out frombeneaththe careless air which the agent had assumed.

"You'requite rightWestmacott" said he.  "We'llhave alittle walk before we settle it."

"ButI may not be here this afternoon."

"Thenwe must choose another day."

"Butwhy not settle it now?"

"BecauseI prefer not" said the Admiral shortly.

"Verywell.  But remember that my offer is only forto-day. It is off unless you take it at once."

"Letit be offthen.

"There'smy fee" cried the doctor.

"Howmuch?"

"Aguinea."

TheAdmiral threw a pound and a shilling upon thetable. "ComeWestmacott" said heand they walkedtogetherfrom the room.

"Idon't like it" said Charleswhen they foundthemselvesin the street once more; "I don't profess tobe a verysharp chapbut this is a trifle too thin.What didhe want to go out and speak to the doctor for?And howvery convenient this tale of a weak heart was!I believethey are a couple of roguesand in league witheachother."

"Ashark and a pilot fish" said the Admiral.

"I'lltell you what I proposesir.  There's a lawyernamedMcAdam who does my aunt's business.  He is a veryhonestfellowand lives at the other side of Poultry.We'll goover to him together and have his opinion aboutthe wholematter."

"Howfar is it to his place?"

"Oha mile at least.  We can have a cab."

"Amile?  Then we shall see if there is any truth inwhat thatswab of a doctor said.  Comemy boyand clapon allsailand see who can stay the longest."

Then thesober denizens of the heart of businessLondon sawa singular sight as they returned from theirluncheons. Down the roadwaydodging among cabs andcartsrana weather-stained elderly manwith wideflappingblack hatand homely suit of tweeds.  Withelbowsbraced backhands clenched near his armpitsandchestprotrudedhe scudded alongwhile close at hisheelslumbered a large-limbedheavyyellow mustachedyoung manwho seemed to feel the exercise a good dealmore thanhis senior.  On they dashedhelter-skelteruntil theypulled up panting at the office where thelawyer ofthe Westmacotts was to be found.

"Therenow!" cried the Admiral in triumph.  "Whatd'ye thinkof that?  Nothing wrong in the engine-roomeh?"

"Youseem fit enoughsir.

"Blessedif I believe the swab was a certificateddoctor atall.  He was flying false colorsor I ammistaken."

"Theykeep the directories and registers in thiseating-house"said Westmacott.  "We'll go and look himout."

They didsobut the medical rolls contained no suchname asthat of Dr. Proudieof Bread Street.

"Prettyvillainy this!" cried the Admiralthumpinghischest.  "A dummy doctor and a vamped up disease.Wellwe've tried the roguesWestmacott!  Let us seewhat wecan do with your honest man."

 

----

 

CHAPTERXIV.

EASTWARDHO!

 

Mr.McAdamof the firm of McAdam and Squirewas ahighlypolished man who dwelt behind a highly polishedtable inthe neatest and snuggest of offices.  He waswhite-hairedand amiablewith a deep-lined aquilinefacewasaddicted to low bowsand indeedalways seemedto carryhimself at half-cockas though just descendinginto oneor just recovering himself.  He wore ahigh-buckledstocktook snuffand adorned hisconversationwith little scraps from the classics.

"Mydear Sir" said hewhen he had listened to theirstory"any friend of Mrs. Westmacott's is a friend ofmine. Try a pinch.  I wonder that you should have goneto thisman Metaxa.  His advertisement is enough tocondemnhim.  Habet foenum in cornu.  They are allrogues."

"Thedoctor was a rogue too.  I didn't like the lookof him atthe time."

"Arcadesambo.  But now we must see what we can dofor you. Of course what Metaxa said was perfectly right.Thepension is in itself no security at allunless itwereaccompanied by a life assurance which would bean incomein itself.  It is no good whatever."

Hisclients' faces fell.

"Butthere is the second alternative.  You might sellthepension right out.  Speculative investorsoccasionallydeal in such things.  I have one clientasportingmanwho would be very likely to take it up ifwe couldagree upon terms.  Of courseI must followMetaxa'sexample by sending for a doctor."

For thesecond time was the Admiral punched andtapped andlistened to.  This timehoweverthere couldbe noquestion of the qualifications of the doctorawell-knownFellow of the College of Surgeonsand hisreport wasas favorable as the other's had been adverse.

"Hehas the heart and chest of a man of forty" saidhe. "I can recommend his life as one of the best of hisage that Ihave ever examined."

"That'swell" said Mr. McAdammaking a note of thedoctor'sremarkswhile the Admiral disbursed a secondguinea. "Your priceI understandis five thousandpounds. I can communicate with Mr. Elberrymy clientand letyou know whether he cares to touch the matter.Meanwhileyou can leave your pension papers hereand Iwill giveyou a receipt for them."

"Verywell.  I should like the money soon."

"Thatis why I am retaining the papers.  If Ican seeMr. Elberry to-day we may let you have a chequeto-morrow. Try another pinch.  No?  Wellgood-bye.  Iam veryhappy to have been of service."  Mr. McAdam bowedthem outfor he was a very busy manand they foundthemselvesin the street once more with lighter heartsthan whenthey bad left it.

"WellWestmacottI am sure I am very much obligedto you"said the Admiral.  "You have stood by me when Iwas thebetter for a little helpfor I'm clean out of mysoundingsamong these city sharks.  But I've something todo nowwhich is more in my own lineand I need nottroubleyou any more."

"Ohit is no trouble.  I have nothing to do.  Inever haveanything to do.  I don't suppose I could do itif I had. I should be delighted to come with yousirif I canbe of any use."

"Nonomy lad.  You go home again.  It would bekind ofyouthoughif you would look in at number onewhen youget back and tell my wife that all's well withmeandthat I'll be back in an hour or so."

"Allrightsir.  I'll tell her."  Westmacott raisedhis hatand strode away to the westwardwhile theAdmiralafter a hurried lunchbent his steps towardsthe east.

It was along walkbut the old seaman swung along ata rousingpaceleaving street after street behind him.The greatbusiness places dwindled down intocommonplaceshops and dwellingswhich decreased andbecamemore stuntedeven as the folk who filled themdiduntilhe was deep in the evil places of the easternend. It was a land of hugedark houses and of garishgin-shopsa landtoowhere life moves irregularly andwhereadventures are to be gained--as the Admiral was tolearn tohis cost.

He washurrying down one of the longnarrowstone-flaggedlanes between the double lines ofcrouchingdisheveled women and of dirty children who saton thehollowed steps of the housesand basked in theautumnsun.  At one side was a barrowman with a load ofwalnutsand beside the barrow a bedraggled woman with ablackfringe and a chequered shawl thrown over her head.She wascracking walnuts and picking them out of theshellsthrowing out a remark occasionally to a rough manin arabbit-skin capwith straps under the knees of hiscorduroytrouserswho stood puffing a black clay pipewith hisback against the wall.  What the cause of thequarrelwasor what sharp sarcasm from the woman's lipsprickedsuddenly through that thick skin may never beknownbutsuddenly the man took his pipe in his lefthandleaned forwardand deliberately struck her acrossthe facewith his right.  It was a slap rather than ablowbutthe woman gave a sharp cry and cowered upagainstthe barrow with her hand to her cheek.

"Youinfernal villain!" cried the Admiralraisinghisstick.  "You brute and blackguard!"

"Garn!"growled the roughwith the deep raspingintonationof a savage.  "Garn out o' this or I'll----"He took astep forward with uplifted handbut in aninstantdown came cut number three upon his wristandcut numberfive across his thighand cut number onefull inthe center of his rabbit-skin cap.  It was not aheavystickbut it was strong enough to leave a good redwealwherever it fell.  The rough yelled with painandrushed inhitting with both handsand kicking with hisiron-shodbootsbut the Admiral had still a quick footand a trueeyeso that he bounded backwards andsidewaysstill raining a showerof blows upon hissavageantagonist.  Suddenlyhowevera pair of armsclosedround his neckand glancing backwards he caughta glimpseof the black coarse fringe of the woman whom hehadbefriended"I've got him!" she shrieked.  "I'll'old'im. NowBillknock the tripe out of him!"  Her gripwas asstrong as a man'sand her wrist pressed like aniron barupon the Admiral's throat.  He made adesperateeffort to disengage himselfbut the most thathe coulddo was to swing her roundso as to place herbetweenhis adversary and himself.  As it proveditwas thevery best thing that he could have done.  Theroughhalf-blinded and maddened by the blows which hehadreceivedstruck out with all his ungainly strengthjust ashis partner's head swung round in front of him.There wasa noise like that of a stone hitting a walladeepgroanher grasp relaxedand she dropped a deadweightupon the pavementwhile the Admiral sprang backand raisedhis stick once moreready either for attackordefense.  Neither were neededhoweverfor at thatmomentthere was a scattering of the crowdand twopoliceconstablesburly and helmetedpushed their waythroughthe rabble.  At the sight of them the rough tookto hisheelsand was instantly screened from view by aveil ofhis friends and neighbors.

"Ihave been assaulted" panted the Admiral.  "Thiswoman wasattacked and I had to defend her."

"Thisis Bermondsey Sal" said one police officerbendingover the bedraggled heap of tattered shawl anddirtyskirt.  "She's got it hot this time."

"Hewas a shortish manthickwith a beard."

"Ahthat's Black Davie.  He's been up four times forbeatingher.  He's about done the job now.  If I were youI wouldlet that sort settle their own little affairssir."

"Doyou think that a man who holds the Queen'scommissionwill stand by and see a woman struck?" criedtheAdmiral indignantly.

"Welljust as you likesir.  But you've lost yourwatchIsee."

"Mywatch!"  He clapped his hand to his waistcoat.The chainwas hanging down in frontand the watch gone.

He passedhis hand over his forehead.  "I would nothave lostthat watch for anything" said he.  "No moneycouldreplace it.  It was given me by the ship's companyafter ourAfrican cruise.  It has an inscription."

Thepoliceman shrugged his shoulders.  "It comes frommeddling"said he.

"What'llyou give me if I tell yer where it is?" saidasharp-faced boy among the crowd.  "Will you gimme aquid?"

"Certainly."

"Wellwhere's the quid?"

TheAdmiral took a sovereign from his pocket.  "Hereit is."

"Then'ere's the ticker!"  The boy pointed to theclenchedhand of the senseless woman.  A glimmer of goldshone outfrom between the fingersand on opening themuptherewas the Admiral's chronometer.  Thisinterestingvictim had throttled her protector with onehandwhile she had robbed him with the other.

TheAdmiral left his address with the policemansatisfiedthat the woman was only stunnednot deadand thenset off upon his way once morethe poorerperhaps inhis faith in human naturebut in very goodspiritsnone the less.  He walked with dilated nostrilsandclenched handsall glowing and tingling with theexcitementof the combatand warmed with the thoughtthat hecould stillwhen there was needtake his ownpart in astreet brawl in spite of his three-score andodd years.

His waynow led towards the river-side regionsandacleansing whiff of tar was to be detected in thestagnantautumn air.  Men with the blue jersey and peakedcap of theboatmanor the white ducks of the dockersbegan toreplace the cardurys and fustian of thelaborers. Shops with nautical instruments in thewindowsrope and paint sellersand slop shops with longrows ofoilskins dangling from hooksall proclaimed theneighborhoodof the docks.  The Admiral quickened hispace andstraightened his figure as his surroundingsbecamemore nauticaluntil at lastpeeping between twohighdingy wharfshe caught a glimpse of themud-coloredwaters of the Thamesand of the bristle ofmasts andfunnels which rose from its broad bosom.  Tothe rightlay a quiet streetwith many brass plates uponeithersideand wire blinds in all of the windows.  TheAdmiralwalked slowly down it until "The Saint LawrenceShippingCompany" caught his eye.  He crossed theroadpushed open the doorand found himself in alow-ceilingedofficewith a long counter at one end anda greatnumber of wooden sections of ships stuck uponboards andplastered all over the walls.

"IsMr. Henry in?" asked the Admiral.

"Nosir" answered an elderly man from a high seatin thecorner.  "He has not come into town to-day.  I canmanage anybusiness you may wish seen to."

"Youdon't happen to have a first or second officer'splacevacantdo you?"

Themanager looked with a dubious eye at his singularapplicant.

"Doyou hold certificates?" he asked.

"Ihold every nautical certificate there is."

"Thenyou won't do for us."

"Whynot?"

"Youragesir.

"Igive you my word that I can see as well as everand am asgood a man in every way."

"Idon't doubt it."

"Whyshould my age be a barthen?"

"WellI must put it plainly.  If a man of your ageholdingcertificateshas not got past a second officer'sberththere must be a black mark against him somewhere.I don'tknow what it isdrink or temperor want ofjudgmentbut something there must be."

"Iassure you there is nothingbut I find myselfstrandedand so have to turn to the old business again."

"Ohthat's it" said the managerwith suspicion inhis eye. "How long were you in your last billet?"

"Fifty-oneyears."

"What!"

"Yessirone-and-fifty years."

"Inthe same employ?"

"Yes."

"Whyyou must have begun as a child."

"Iwas twelve when I joined."

"Itmust be a strangely managed business" said themanager"which allows men to leave it who have servedfor fiftyyearsand who are still as good as ever.  Whodid youserve?"

"TheQueen.  Heaven bless her!"

"Ohyou were in the Royal Navy.  What rating did youhold?"

"I amAdmiral of the Fleet."

Themanager startedand sprang down from his highstool.

"Myname is Admiral Hay Denver.  There is my card.And hereare the records of my service.  I don'tyouunderstandwant to push another man from his billet; butif youshould chance to have a berth openI should bevery gladof it.  I know the navigation from the CodBanksright up to Montreal a great deal better than Iknow thestreets of London."

Theastonished manager glanced over the blue paperswhich hisvisitor had handed him.  "Won't you take achairAdmiral?" said he.

"Thankyou!  But I should be obliged if you woulddrop mytitle now.  I told you because you asked mebutI've leftthe quarter-deckand I am plain Mr. Hay Denvernow."

"MayI ask" said the manager"are you the sameDenver whocommanded at one time on the North Americanstation?"

"Idid."

"Thenit was you who got one of our boatstheComusoffthe rocks in the Bay of Fundy?  Thedirectorsvoted you three hundred guineas as salvageandyourefused them."

"Itwas an offer which should not have been made"said theAdmiral sternly.

"Wellit reflects credit upon you that you shouldthink so. If Mr. Henry were here I am sure that he wouldarrangethis matter for you at once.  As it isI shalllay itbefore the directors to-dayand I am sure thatthey willbe proud to have you in our employmentandIhopeinsome more suitable position than that which yousuggest."

"I amvery much obliged to yousir" said theAdmiraland started off againwell pleasedupon hishomewardjourney.

 

 

CHAPTERXV.

STILLAMONG SHOALS.

 

Next daybrought the Admiral a cheque for L5000 fromMr.McAdamand a stamped agreement by which he made overhispension papers to the speculative investor.  Itwas notuntil he had signed and sent it off that the fullsignificanceof all that he had done broke upon him.  Hehadsacrificed everything.  His pension was gone.  He hadnothingsave only what he could earn.  But the stout oldheartnever quailed.  He waited eagerly for a letter fromthe SaintLawrence Shipping Companyand in the meanwhilehe gavehis landlord a quarter's notice.  Hundred pounda yearhouses would in future be a luxury which he couldnot aspireto.  A small lodging in some inexpensive partof Londonmust be the substitute for his breezy Norwoodvilla. So be itthen!  Better that a thousand fold thanthat hisname should be associated with failure anddisgrace.

On thatmorning Harold Denver was to meet thecreditorsof the firmand to explain the situation tothem. It was a hateful taska degrading taskbut hesethimself to do it with quiet resolution.  At home theywaited inintense anxiety to learn the result of themeeting. It was late before he returnedhaggardpalelike a man who has done and suffered much.

"What'sthis board in front of the house? he asked.

"Weare going to try a little change of scene" saidtheAdmiral.  "This place is neither town norcountry. But never mind thatboy.  Tell us whathappenedin the City."

"Godhelp me!  My wretched business driving you outof houseand home!" cried Haroldbroken down by thisfreshevidence of the effects of his misfortunes.  "It iseasier forme to meet my creditors than to see you twosufferingso patiently for my sake."

"Tuttut!" cried the Admiral.  "There's no sufferingin thematter.  Mother would rather be near the theaters.That's atthe bottom of itisn't itmother?  You comeand sitdown here between us and tell us all about it."

Harold satdown with a loving hand in each of his.

"It'snot so bad as we thought" said he"and yet itis badenough. I have about ten days to find the moneybut Idon't know which way to turn for it.  Pearsonhoweverliedas usualwhen he spoke of L13000.  Theamount isnot quite L7000."

TheAdmiral claped his hands.  "I knew we shouldweather itafter all!  Hurrah my boy!  Hiphiphiphurrah!"

Haroldgazed at him in surprisewhile the old seamanwaved hisarm above his head and bellowed out threestentoriancheers.  "Where am I to get seven thousandpoundsfromdad?" he asked.

"Nevermind.  You spin your yarn."

"Wellthey were very good and very kindbut ofcoursethey must have either their money or their money'sworth. They passed a vote of sympathy with meandagreed towait ten days before they took any proceedings.Three ofthemwhose claim came to L3500told me thatif I wouldgive them my personal I.O.U.and pay interestat therate of five per centtheir amounts might standover aslong as I wished.  That would be a charge of L175upon myincomebut with economy I could meet itand itdiminishesthe debt by one-half."

Again theAdmiral burst out cheering.

"Thereremainsthereforeabout L3200 which has tobe foundwithin ten days.  No man shall lose by me.  Igave themmy word in the room that if I worked my soulout of mybody every one of them should be paid.  I shallnot spenda penny upon myself until it is done.  But someof themcan't wait.  They are poor men themselvesandmust havetheir money.  They have issued a warrant forPearson'sarrest.  But they think that he has got awaytheStates."

"Thesemen shall have their money" said theAdmiral.

"Dad!"

"Yesmy boyyou don't know the resources of thefamily. One never does know until one tries.  What haveyouyourself now?"

"Ihave about a thousand pounds invested."

"Allright.  And I have about as much more.  There'sa goodstart.  Nowmotherit is your turn.  What isthatlittle bit of paper of yours?"

Mrs.Denver unfolded itand placed it upon Harold'sknee.

"Fivethousand pounds!" he gasped.

"Ahbut mother is not the only rich one.  Look atthis!" And the Admiral unfolded his chequeand placedit uponthe other knee.

Haroldgazed from one to the other in bewilderment."Tenthousand pounds!" he cried.  "Good heavens! wheredid thesecome from?"

"Youwill not worry any longerdear" murmured hismotherslipping her arm round him.

But hisquick eye had caught the signature upon oneof thecheques.  "Doctor Walker!" he criedflushing."Thisis Clara's doing.  Ohdadwe cannot take thismoney. It would not be right nor honorable."

"NoboyI am glad you think so.  It is somethinghoweverto have proved one's friendfor a real goodfriend heis.  It was he who brought it inthoughClara senthim.  But this other money will be enough tocovereverythingand it is all my own."

"Yourown?  Where did you get itdad?"

"Tuttut!  See what it is to have a City man to dealwith. It is my ownand fairly earnedand that isenough."

"Dearold dad!"  Harold squeezed his gnarled hand."Andyoumother!  You have lifted the trouble from myheart. I feel another man.  You have saved my honormygood nameeverything.  I cannot owe you morefor I oweyoueverything already."

So whilethe autumn sunset shone ruddily through thebroadwindow these three sat together hand in handwithheartswhich were too full to speak.  Suddenly the softthuddingof tennis balls was heardand Mrs. Westmacottboundedinto view upon the lawn with brandished racketand shortskirts fluttering in the breeze.  The sightcame as arelief to their strained nervesand they burstall threeinto a hearty fit of laughter.

"Sheis playing with her nephew" said Harold atlast. "The Walkers have not come out yet.  I think thatit wouldbe well if you were to give me that chequemotherand I were to return it in person."

"CertainlyHarold.  I think it would be very nice.

He went inthrough the garden.  Clara and the Doctorweresitting together in the dining-room.  She sprang toher feetat the sight of him.

"OhHaroldI have been waiting for you soimpatiently"she cried; "I saw you pass the frontwindowshalf an hour ago.  I would have come in if Idared. Do tell us what has happened."

"Ihave come in to thank you both.  How can I repayyou foryour kindness?  Here is your chequeDoctor.  Ihave notneeded it.  I find that I can lay my hands onenough topay my creditors."

"ThankGod!" said Clara fervently.

"Thesum is less than I thoughtand our resourcesconsiderablymore.  We have been able to do it withease."

"Withease!"  The Doctor's brow clouded and hismannergrew cold.  "I thinkHaroldthat you would dobetter totake this money of minethan to use that whichseems toyou to be gained with ease."

"Thankyousir.  If I borrowed from any one it wouldbe fromyou.  But my father has this very sumfivethousandpoundsandas I tell himI owe him so muchthat Ihave no compunction about owing him more."

"Nocompunction!  Surely there are some sacrificeswhich ason should not allow his parents to make."

"Sacrifices! What do you mean?"

"Isit possible that you do not know how this moneyhas beenobtained?"

"Igive you my wordDoctor Walkerthat I have noidea. I asked my fatherbut he refused to tell me."

"Ithought not" said the Doctorthe gloom clearingfrom hisbrow.  "I was sure that you were not a man whoto clearyourself from a little money difficultywouldsacrificethe happiness of your mother and the health ofyourfather."

"Goodgracious! what do you mean?"

"Itis only right that you should know.  That moneyrepresentsthe commutation of your father's pension.  Hehasreduced himself to povertyand intends to go to seaagain toearn a living."

"Tosea again!  Impossible!"

"Itis the truth.  Charles Westmacott has told Ida.He waswith him in the City when he took his poor pensionabout fromdealer to dealer trying to sell it.  Hesucceededat lastand hence the money."

"Hehas sold his pension!" cried Haroldwith hishands tohis face.  "My dear old dad has sold hispension!" He rushed from the roomand burst wildly intothepresence of his parents once more.  "I cannot takeitfather" he cried.  "Better bankruptcy than that.Ohif Ihad only known your plan!  We must haveback thepension.  Ohmothermotherhow could youthink mecapable of such selfishness?  Give me thechequedadand I will see this man to-nightfor Iwouldsooner die like a dog in the ditch than touch apenny ofthis money."

 

----

 

CHAPTERXVI.

A MIDNIGHTVISITOR.

 

Now allthis timewhile the tragi-comedy of life wasbeingplayed in these three suburban villaswhile on acommonplacestage love and humor and fears and lights andshadowswere so swiftly succeeding each otherand whilethesethree familiesdrifted together by fatewereshapingeach other's destinies and working out in theirownfashion the strangeintricate ends of human lifethere werehuman eyes which watched over every stage oftheperformanceand which were keenly critical of everyactor onit.  Across the road beyond the green palingsand theclose-cropped lawnbehind the curtains of theircreeper-framedwindowssat the two old ladiesMissBertha andMiss Monica Williamslooking out as from aprivatebox at all that was being enacted beforethem. The growing friendship of the three familiestheengagementof Harold Denver with Clara Walkertheengagementof Charles Westmacott with her sisterthedangerousfascination which the widow exercised over theDoctorthe preposterous behavior of the Walker girls andtheunhappiness which they had caused their fathernotone ofthese incidents escaped the notice of the twomaidenladies.  Bertha the younger had a smile or a sighfor theloversMonica the elder a frown or a shrug fortheelders.  Every night they talked over what they hadseenandtheir own dulluneventful life took a warmthand acoloring from their neighbors as a blank wallreflects abeacon fire.

And now itwas destined that they should experiencethe onekeen sensation of their later yearsthe onememorableincident from which all future incidents shouldbe dated.

It was onthe very night which succeeded the eventswhich havejust been narratedwhen suddenly into MonicaWilliam'sheadas she tossed upon her sleepless bedthere shota thought which made her sit up with a thrilland agasp.

"Bertha"said sheplucking at the shoulder of hersister"Ihave left the front window open."

"NoMonicasurely not."  Bertha sat up alsoandthrilledin sympathy.

"I amsure of it.  You remember I had forgotten towater thepotsand then I opened the windowand Janecalled meabout the jamand I have never been in theroomsince."

"GoodgraciousMonicait is a mercy that we havenot beenmurdered in our beds.  There was a house brokeninto atForest Hill last week.  Shall we go down and shutit?"

"Idare not go down alonedearbut if you will comewith me. Put on your slippers and dressing-gown.  We donot need acandle.  NowBerthawe will go downtogether."

Two littlewhite patches moved vaguely through thedarknessthe stairs creakedthe door whinedand theywere atthe front room window.  Monica closed it gentlydownandfastened the snib.

"Whata beautiful moon!" said shelooking out.  "Wecan see asclearly as if it were day.  How peaceful andquiet thethree houses are over yonder!  It seems quitesad to seethat `To Let' card upon number one.  I wonderhow numbertwo will like their going.  For my part Icouldbetter spare that dreadful woman at number threewith hershort skirts and her snake.  ButohBerthalook!look!! look!!!"  Her voice had fallen suddenly toaquivering whisper and she was pointing to theWestmacotts'house.  Her sister gave a gasp of horrorand stoodwith a clutch at Monica's armstaring in thesamedirection.

There wasa light in the front rooma slightwaveringlight such as would be given by a small candleor taper. The blind was downbut the light shone dimlythrough. Outside in the gardenwith his figure outlinedagainstthe luminous squarethere stood a manhis backto theroadhis two hands upon the window ledgeand hisbodyrather bent as though he were trying to peep in pasttheblind.  So absolutely still and motionless was hethat inspite of the moon they might well have overlookedhim wereit not for that tell-tale light behind.

"Goodheaven!" gasped Bertha"it is a burglar."

But hersister set her mouth grimly and shook herhead. "We shall see" she whispered.  "It may besomethingworse."

Swiftlyand furtively the man stood suddenly erectand beganto push the window slowly up.  Then he put oneknee uponthe sashglanced round to see that all wassafeandclimbed over into the room.  As he did so hehad topush the blind aside.  Then the two spectators sawwhere thelight came from.  Mrs. Westmacott was standingas rigidas a statuein the center of the roomwith alightedtaper in her right hand.  For an instant theycaught aglimpse of her stern face and her white collar.Then theblind fell back into positionand the twofiguresdisappeared from their view.

"Ohthat dreadful woman!" cried Monica.  "Thatdreadfuldreadful woman!  She was waiting for him.  Yousaw itwith your own eyessister Bertha!"

"Hushdearhush and listen!" said her morecharitablecompanion.  They pushed their own window uponce moreand watched from behind the curtains.

For a longtime all was silent within the house.  Thelightstill stood motionless as though Mrs. Westmacottremainedrigidly in the one positionwhile from time totime ashadow passed in front of it to show that hermidnightvisitor was pacing up and down in front of her.Once theysaw his outline clearlywith his handsoutstretchedas if in appeal or entreaty.  Then suddenlythere wasa dull sounda crythe noise of a fallthetaper wasextinguishedand a dark figure fled in themoonlightrushed across the gardenand vanished amidthe shrubsat the farther side.

Then onlydid the two old ladies understand that theyhad lookedon whilst a tragedy had been enacted.  "Help!"theycriedand "Help!" in their highthin voicestimidly atfirstbut gathering volume as they went onuntil theWilderness rang with their shrieks.  Lightsshone inall the windows oppositechains rattledbars wereunshotdoors openedand out rushed friends totherescue.  Haroldwith a stick; the Admiralwith hisswordhisgrey head and bare feet protruding from eitherend of along brown ulster; finallyDoctor Walkerwitha pokerall ran to the help of the Westmacotts.  Theirdoor hadbeen already openedand they crowdedtumultuouslyinto the front room.

CharlesWestmacottwhite to his lipswas kneelingan thefloorsupporting his aunt's head upon his knee.She layoutstretcheddressed in her ordinary clothestheextinguished taper still grasped in her handno markor woundupon her--paleplacidand senseless.

"ThankGod you are comeDoctor" said Charleslookingup.  "Do tell me how she isand what I shoulddo."

DoctorWalker kneeled beside herand passed his lefthand overher headwhile he grasped her pulse with theright.

"Shehas had a terrible blow" said he.  "It musthave beenwith some blunt weapon.  Here is the placebehind theear.  But she is a woman of extraordinaryphysicalpowers.  Her pulse is full and slow.  There isnostertor.  It is my belief that she is merely stunnedand thatshe is in no danger at all."

"ThankGod for that!"

"Wemust get her to bed.  We shall carry herupstairsand then I shall send my girls in to her.  Butwho hasdone this?"

"Somerobber" said Charles.  "You see that the windowis open. She must have heard him and come downfor shewas alwaysperfectly fearless.  I wish to goodness shehad calledme.

"Butshe was dressed."

"Sometimesshe sits up very late."

"Idid sit up very late" said a voice.  She hadopened hereyesand was blinking at them in thelamplight. "A villain came in through the window andstruck mewith a life-preserver.  You can tell the policeso whenthey come.  Also that it was a little fat man.NowCharlesgive me your arm and I shall go upstairs."

But herspirit was greater than her strengthforasshestaggered to her feether head swam roundand shewould havefallen again had her nephew not thrown hisarms roundher.  They carried her upstairs among them andlaid herupon the bedwhere the Doctor watched besideherwhileCharles went off to the police-stationandtheDenvers mounted guard over the frightened maids.

 

 

CHAPTERXVII.

IN PORT ATLAST.

 

Day hadbroken before the several denizens of theWildernesshad all returned to their homesthe policefinishedtheir inquiriesand all come back to its normalquiet. Mrs. Westmacott had been left sleeping peacefullywith asmall chloral draught to steady her nerves and ahandkerchiefsoaked in arnica bound round her head.  Itwas withsome surprisethereforethat the Admiralreceived anote from her about ten o'clockasking him tobe goodenough to step in to her.  He hurried infearingthat shemight have taken some turn for the worsebut hewasreassured to find her sitting up in her bedwithClara andIda Walker in attendance upon her.  She hadremovedthe handkerchiefand had put on a little capwith pinkribbonsand a maroon dressing-jacketdaintilyfulled atthe neck and sleeves.

"Mydear friend" said she as he entered"I wish tomake alast few remarks to you.  Nono" she continuedlaughingas she saw a look of dismay upon his face.  "Ishall notdream of dying for at least another thirtyyears. A woman should be ashamed to die before she isseventy. I wishClarathat you would askyourfather to step up.  And youIdajust pass memycigarettesand open me a bottle of stout."

"Nowthen" she continuedas the doctor joined theirparty. "I don't quite know what I ought to say to youAdmiral. You want some very plain speaking to."

"'Ponmy wordma'amI don't know what you aretalkingabout."

"Theidea of you at your age talking of going to seaandleaving that dearpatient little wife of yours athomewhohas seen nothing of you all her life!  It's allvery wellfor you.  You have the lifeand the changeand theexcitementbut you don't think of her eating herheart outin a dreary London lodging.  You men are allthe same."

"Wellma'amsince you know so muchyou probablyknow alsothat I have sold my pension.  How am I to liveif I donot turn my hand to work?"

Mrs.Westmacott produced a large registered envelopefrombeneath the sheets and tossed it over to the oldseaman.

"Thatexcuse won't do.  There are your pensionpapers. Just see if they are right."

He brokethe sealand out tumbled the very paperswhich hehad made over to McAdam two days before.

"Butwhat am I to do with these now?" he cried inbewilderment.

"Youwill put them in a safe placeor get a friendto do soandif you do your dutyyou will go to yourwife andbeg her pardon for having even for an instantthought ofleaving her."

TheAdmiral passed his hand over his rugged forehead."Thisis very good of youma'am" said he"very good andkindandI know that you are a staunch friendbut forall thatthese papers mean moneyand though we may havebeen inbroken water latelywe are not quite in suchstraits asto have to signal to our friends.  When we doma'amthere's no one we would look to sooner than toyou."

"Don'tbe ridiculous!" said the widow.  "You knownothingwhatever about itand yet you stand there layingdown thelaw.  I'll have my way in the matterand youshall takethe papersfor it is no favor that I am doingyoubutsimply a restoration of stolen property."

"Howthatma'am?"

"I amjust going to explainthough you might take alady'sword for it without asking any questions.  Nowwhat I amgoing to say is just between you fourand mustgo nofarther.  I have my own reasons for wishing to keepit fromthe police.  Who do you think it was who struckme lastnightAdmiral?"

"Somevillainma'am.  I don't know his name."

"ButI do.  It was the same man who ruined or triedto ruinyour son.  It was my only brotherJeremiah."

"Ah!"

"Iwill tell you about him--or a little about himfor he hasdone much which I would not care to talk ofnor you tolisten to.  He was always a villainsmooth-spokenand plausiblebut a dangeroussubtlevillainall the same.  If I have some hard thoughts aboutmankind Ican trace them back to the childhood which Ispent withmy brother.  He is my only living relativefor myother brotherCharles's fatherwas killed in theIndianmutiny.

"Ourfather was richand when he died he made a goodprovisionboth for Jeremiah and for me.  He knew Jeremiahand hemistrusted himhowever; so instead of giving himall thathe meant him to have he handed me over a part ofittelling mewith what was almost his dying breathtohold it intrust for my brotherand to use it in hisbehalfwhen he should have squandered or lost all that hehad. This arrangement was meant to be a secret betweenmy fatherand myselfbut unfortunately his words wereoverheardby the nurseand she repeated them afterwardsto mybrotherso that he came to know that I held somemoney intrust for him.  I suppose tobacco will not harmmy headDoctor?  Thank youthen I shall troubleyou forthe matchesIda."  She lit a cigaretteandleanedback upon the pillowwith the blue wreathscurlingfrom her lips.

"Icannot tell you how often he has attempted to getthat moneyfrom me.  He has bulliedcajoledthreatenedcoaxeddone all that a man could do.  I still held itwith thepresentiment that a need for it would come.When Iheard of this villainous businesshis flightandhisleaving his partner to face the stormabove all thatmy oldfriend had been driven to surrender his income inorder tomake up for my brother's defalcationsI feltthat nowindeed I had a need for it.  I sent in Charlesyesterdayto Mr. McAdamand his clientupon hearing thefacts ofthe casevery graciously consented to give backthepapersand to take the money which he had advanced.Not a wordof thanks to meAdmiral.  I tell you that itwas verycheap benevolencefor it was all done with hisown moneyand how could I use it better?

"Ithought that I should probably hear from him soonand Idid.  Last evening there was handed in a note ofthe usualwhiningcringing tone.  He had come back fromabroad atthe risk of his life and libertyjust in orderthat hemight say good-bye to the only sister he everhadandto entreat my forgiveness for any painwhich hehad caused me.  He would never trouble me againand hebegged only that I would hand over to him the sumwhich Iheld in trust for him.  Thatwith what he hadalreadywould be enough to start him as an honest man inthe newworldwhen he would ever remember and pray forthe dearsister who had been his savior.  That was thestyle ofthe letterand it ended by imploring me toleave thewindow-latch openand to be in the front roomat threein the morningwhen he would come to receive mylast kissand to bid me farewell.

"Badas he wasI could notwhen he trusted mebetrayhim.  I said nothingbut I was there at the hour.He enteredthrough the windowand implored me to givehim themoney.  He was terribly changed; gauntwolfishand spokelike a madman.  I told him that I had spent themoney. He gnashed his teeth at meand swore it was hismoney. I told him that I had spent it on him.  He askedme how. I said in trying to make him an honest manandinrepairing the results of his villainy.  He shriekedout acurseand pulling something out of the breast ofhiscoat--a loaded stickI think--he struck me with itand Iremembered nothing more."

"Theblackguard!" cried the Doctor"but the policemust behot upon his track."

"Ifancy not" Mrs. Westmacott answered calmly.  "Asmy brotheris a particularly tallthin manand as thepolice arelooking for a shortfat oneI do not thinkthat it isvery probable that they will catch him.  It isbestIthinkthat these little family matters should beadjustedin private."

"Mydear ma'am" said the Admiral"if it is indeedthis man'smoney that has bought back my pensionthen Ican haveno scruples about taking it.  You have broughtsunshineupon usma'amwhen the clouds were at theirdarkestfor here is my boy who insists upon returningthe moneywhich I got.  He can keep it now to pay hisdebts. For what you have done I can only ask God tobless youma'amand as to thanking you I can't even----"

"Thenpray don't try" said the widow.  "Now runawayAdmiraland make your peace with Mrs. Denver.  Iam sure ifI were she it would be a long time before Ishouldforgive you.  As for meI am going to AmericawhenCharles goes.  You'll take me so farwon't youIda? There is a college being built in Denver which isto equipthe woman of the future for the struggle oflifeandespecially for her battle against man.  Somemonths agothe committee offered me a responsiblesituationupon the staffand I have decided now toaccept itfor Charles's marriage removes the last tiewhichbinds me to England.  You will write to mesometimesmy friendsand you will address your letterstoProfessor WestmacottEmancipation CollegeDenver.From thereI shall watch how the glorious struggle goesinconservative old Englandand if I am needed you willfind mehere again fighting in the forefront of the fray.Good-bye--butnot yougirls; I have still a word I wishto say toyou.

"Giveme your handIdaand yoursClara" said shewhen theywere alone.  "Ohyou naughty little pussesaren't youashamed to look me in the face?  Did youthink--didyou really think that I was so very blindandcould notsee your little plot?  You did it very wellImust saythatand really I think that I like you betteras youare.  But you had all your pains for nothingyoulittleconspiratorsfor I give you my word that I hadquite madeup my mind not to have him."

And sowithin a few weeks our little ladies fromtheirobservatory saw a mighty bustle in the Wildernesswhentwo-horse carriages cameand coachmen with favorsto bearaway the twos who were destined to come back one.And theythemselves in their crackling silk dresses wentacrossasinvitedto the big double wedding breakfastwhich washeld in the house of Doctor Walker.  Then therewashealth-drinkingand laughterand changing ofdressesand rice-throwing when the carriages droveup againand two more couples started on that journeywhich endsonly with life itself.

CharlesWestmacott is now a flourishing ranchman inthewestern part of Texaswhere he and his sweet littlewife arethe two most popular persons in all that county.Of theiraunt they see littlebut from time to time theyseenotices in the papers that there is a focus of lightin Denverwhere mighty thunderbolts are being forgedwhich willone day bring the dominant sex upon theirknees. The Admiral and his wife still live at numberonewhileHarold and Clara have taken number twowhereDoctorWalker continues to reside.  As to the businessit hadbeen reconstructedand the energy and ability ofthe juniorpartner had soon made up for all the ill thathad beendone by his senior.  Yet with his sweet andrefinedhome atmosphere he is able to realize his wishand tokeep himself free from the sordid aims and baseambitionswhich drag down the man whose business lies tooexclusivelyin the money market of the vast Babylon.  Ashe goesback every evening from the crowds of ThrogmortonStreet tothe tree-lined peaceful avenues of Norwoodsohe hasfound it possible in spirit also to do one'sdutiesamidst the babel of the Cityand yet to livebeyond it.

 




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