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Chapter 1 - The New-Comers

 


 

 

"If you pleasemum" said the voice of a domestic from somewhereround the angle of the door"number three is moving in.

Two little old ladieswho were sitting at either side of a tablesprang totheir feet with ejaculations of interestand rushed to the window of thesitting-room.

"Take careMonica dear" said oneshrouding herself in the lacecurtain; "don't let them see us.

"NonoBertha. We must not give them reason to say that theirneighbors are inquisitive. But I think that we are safe if we stand like this."

The open window looked out upon a sloping lawnwell trimmed and pleasantwith fuzzy rosebushes and a star-shaped bed of sweet-william. It was bounded bya low wooden fencewhich screened it off from a broadmodernnew metaledroad. At the other side of this road were three large detached deep-bodiedvillas with peaky eaves and small wooden balconieseach standing in its ownlittle square of grass and of flowers. All three were equally newbut numbersone and two were curtained and sedatewith a humansociable look to them;while number threewith yawning door and unkempt gardenhad apparently onlyjust received its furniture and made itself ready for its occupants. Afour-wheeler had driven up to the gateand it was at this that the old ladiespeeping out bird-like from behind their curtainsdirected an eager andquestioning gaze.

The cabman had descendedand the passengers within were handing out thearticles which they desired him to carry up to the house. He stood red-faced andblinkingwith his crooked arms outstretchedwhile a male handprotruding fromthe windowkept piling up upon him a series of articles the sight of whichfilled the curious old ladies with bewilderment.

"My goodness me!" cried Monicathe smallerthe drierand themore wizened of the pair. "What do you call thatBertha? It looks to melike four batter puddings."

"Those are what young men box each other with" said Berthawith aconscious air of superior worldly knowledge.

"And those?"

Two great bottle-shaped pieces of yellow shining wood had been heaped uponthe cabman.

"OhI don't know what those are" confessed Bertha. Indian clubshad never before obtruded themselves upon her peaceful and very feminineexistence.

These mysterious articles were followedhoweverby others which were morewithin theirrange of comprehension--by a pair of dumb-bellsa purplecricket-baga set of golf clubsand a tennis racket. Finallywhen the cabmanall top-heavy and bristlinghad staggered off up the garden paththere emergedin a very leisurely way from the cab a bigpowerfully built young manwith abull pup under one arm and a pink sporting paper in his hand. The paper hecrammed into the pocket of his light yellow dust-coatand extended his hand asif to assist some one else from the vehicle. To the surprise of the two oldladieshoweverthe only thing which his open palm received was a violent slapand a tall lady bounded unassisted out of the cab. With a regal wave shemotioned the young man towards the doorand then with one hand upon her hip shestood in a carelesslounging attitude by the gatekicking her toe against thewall and listlessly awaiting the return of the driver.

As she turned slowly roundand the sunshine struck upon her facethe twowatchers were amazed to see that this very active and energetic lady was farfrom being in her first youthso far that she had certainly come of age againsince she first passed that landmark in life's journey. Her finely chiseledclean-cut facewith something red Indian about the firm mouth and stronglymarked cheek bonesshowed even at that distance traces of the friction of thepassing years. And yet she was very handsome. Her features were as firm inrepose as those of a Greek bustand her great dark eyes were arched over by twobrows so blackso thickand so delicately curvedthat the eye turned awayfrom the harsher details of the face to marvel at their grace and strength. Herfiguretoowas straight as a darta little portlyperhapsbut curving intomagnificent outlineswhich were half accentuated by the strange costume whichshe wore. Her hairblack but plentifully shot with greywas brushed plainlyback from her high foreheadand was gathered under a small round felt hatlikethat of a manwith one sprig of feather in the band as a concession to her sex.A double-breasted jacket of some dark frieze-like material fitted closely to herfigurewhile her straight blue skirtuntrimmed and ungatheredwas cut soshort that the lower curve of her finely-turned legs was plainly visible beneathitterminating in a pair of broadflatlow-heeled and square-toed shoes. Suchwas the lady who lounged at the gate of number threeunder the curious eyes ofher two opposite neighbors.

But if her conduct and appearance had already somewhat jarred upon theirlimited and precise sense of the fitness of thingswhat were they to think ofthe next little act in this tableau vivant? The cabmanred and heavy-jowledhad come back from his laborsand held out his hand for his fare. The ladypassed him a cointhere was a moment of mumbling and gesticulatingandsuddenly she had him with both hands by the red cravat which girt his neckandwas shaking him as a terrier would a rat. Right across the pavement she thrusthimandpushing him up against the wheelshe banged his head three severaltimes against the side of his own vehicle.

"Can I be of any use to youaunt?" asked the large youthframinghimself in the open doorway.

"Not the slightest" panted the enraged lady. "Thereyou lowblackguardthat will teach you to be impertinent to a lady."

The cabman looked helplessly about him with a bewilderedquestioning gazeas one to whom alone of all men this unheard-of and extraordinary thing hadhappened. Thenrubbing his headhe mounted slowly on to the box and drove awaywith an uptossed hand appealing to the universe. The lady smoothed down herdresspushed back her hair under her little felt hatand strode in through thehall-doorwhich was closed behind her. As with a whisk her short skirtsvanished into the darknessthe two spectators--Miss Bertha and Miss MonicaWilliams--sat looking at each other in speechless amazement. For fifty yearsthey had peeped through that little window and across that trim gardenbutnever yet had such a sight as this come to confound them.

"I wish" said Monica at last"that we had kept the field."

"I am sure I wish we had" answered her sister.

Chapter 2 - Breaking The Ice

 


 

 

The cottage from the window of which the Misses Williams had looked outstandsand has stood for many a yearin that pleasant suburban district whichlies between NorwoodAnerleyand Forest Hill. Long before there had been athought of a township therewhen the Metropolis was still quite a distant thingold Mr. Williams had inhabited "The Brambles" as the little house wascalledand had owned all the fields about it. Six or eight such cottagesscattered over a rolling country-side were all the houses to be found there inthe days when the century was young. From afarwhen the breeze came from thenorththe dulllow roar of the great city might be heardlike the breaking ofthe tide of lifewhile along the horizon might be seen the dim curtain of smokethe grim spray which that tide threw up. Graduallyhoweveras the years passedthe City had thrown out a long brick-feeler here and therecurvingextendingand coalescinguntil at last the little cottages had been gripped round bythese red tentaclesand had been absorbed to make room for the modern villa.Field by field the estate of old Mr. Williams had been sold to the speculativebuilderand had borne rich crops of snug suburban dwellingsarranged incurving crescents and tree-lined avenues. The father had passed away before hiscottage was entirely bricked roundbut his two daughtersto whom the propertyhad descendedlived to see the last vestige of country taken from them. Foryears they had clung to the one field which faced their windowsand it was onlyafter much argument and many heartburningsthat they had at last consented thatit should share the fate of the others. A broad road was driven through theirquiet domainthe quarter was re-named "The Wilderness" and threesquarestaringuncompromising villas began to sprout up on the other side.With sore heartsthe two shy little old maids watched their steady progressand speculated as to what fashion of neighbors chance would bring into thelittle nook which had always been their own.

And at last they were all three finished. Wooden balconies and overhangingeaves had been added to themso thatin the language of the advertisementthere were vacant three eligible Swiss-built villaswith sixteen roomsnobasementelectric bellshot and cold waterand every modern convenienceincluding a common tennis lawnto be let at L100 a yearor L1500 purchase. Sotempting an offer did not long remain open. Within a few weeks the card hadvanished from number oneand it was known that Admiral Hay DenverV. C.C.B.with Mrs. Hay Denver and their only sonwere about to move into it. Thenews brought peace to the hearts of the Williams sisters. They had lived with asettled conviction that some wild impossible colonysome shoutingsingingfamily of madcapswould break in upon their peace. This establishment at leastwas irreproachable. A reference to "Men of the Time" showed them thatAdmiral Hay Denver was a most distinguished officerwho had begun his activecareer at Bomarsundand had ended it at Alexandriahaving managed betweenthese two episodes to see as much service as any man of his years. From the TakuForts and the _Shannon_ brigadeto dhow-harrying off Zanzibarthere was novariety of naval work which did not appear in his record; while the VictoriaCrossand the Albert Medal for saving lifevouched for it that in peace as inwar his courage was still of the same true temper. Clearly a very eligibleneighbor thisthe more so as they had been confidentially assured by the estateagent that Mr. Harold Denverthe sonwas a most quiet young gentlemanandthat he was busy from morning to night on the Stock Exchange.

The Hay Denvers had hardly moved in before number two also struck its placardand again the ladies found that they had no reason to be discontented with theirneighbors. Doctor Balthazar Walker was a very well-known name in the medicalworld. Did not his qualificationshis membershipand the record of hiswritings fill a long half-column in the "Medical Directory" from hisfirst little paper on the "Gouty Diathesis" in 1859 to his exhaustivetreatise upon "Affections of the Vaso-Motor System" in 1884? Asuccessful medical career which promised to end in a presidentship of a collegeand a baronetcyhad been cut short by his sudden inheritance of a considerablesum from a grateful patientwhich had rendered him independent for lifeandhad enabled him to turn his attention to the more scientific part of hisprofessionwhich had always had a greater charm for him than its more practicaland commercial aspect. To this end he had given up his house in Weymouth Streetand had taken this opportunity of moving himselfhis scientific instrumentsand his two charming daughters (he had been a widower for some years) into themore peaceful atmosphere of Norwood.

There was thus but one villa unoccupiedand it was no wonder that the twomaiden ladies watched with a keen interestwhich deepened into a direapprehensionthe curious incidents which heralded the coming of the new tenants.They had already learned from the agent that the family consisted of two onlyMrs. Westmacotta widowand her nephewCharles Westmacott. How simple and howselect it had sounded! Who could have foreseen from it these fearful portentswhich seemed to threaten violence and discord among the dwellers in TheWilderness? Again the two old maids cried in heartfelt chorus that they wishedthey had not sold their field.

"Wellat leastMonica" remarked Berthaas they sat over theirteacups that afternoon"however strange these people may beit is ourduty to be as polite to them as to the others."

"Most certainly" acquiesced her sister.

"Since we have called upon Mrs. Hay Denver and upon the Misses Walkerwe must call upon this Mrs. Westmacott also."

"Certainlydear. As long as they are living upon our land I feel as ifthey were in a sense our guestsand that it is our duty to welcome them."

"Then we shall call to-morrow" said Berthawith decision.

"Yesdearwe shall. ButohI wish it was over!"

At four o'clock on the next daythe two maiden ladies set off upon theirhospitable errand. In their stiffcrackling dresses of black silkwithjet-bespangled jacketsand little rows of cylindrical grey curls drooping downon either side of their black bonnetsthey looked like two old fashion plateswhich had wandered off into the wrong decade. Half curious and half fearfulthey knocked at the door of number threewhich was instantly opened by ared-headed page-boy.

YesMrs. Westmacott was at home. He ushered them into the front roomfurnished as a drawing-roomwhere in spite of the fine spring weather a largefire was burning in the grate. The boy took their cardsand thenas they satdown together upon a setteehe set their nerves in a thrill by darting behind acurtain with a shrill cryand prodding at something with his foot. The bull pupwhich they had seen upon the day before bolted from its hiding-placeandscuttled snarling from the room.

"It wants to get at Eliza" said the youthin a confidentialwhisper. "Master says she would give him more'n he brought." He smiledaffably at the two little stiff black figuresand departed in search of hismistress.

"What--what did he say?" gasped Bertha.

"Something about a---- Ohgoodness gracious! Ohhelphelphelphelphelp!" The two sisters had bounded on to the setteeand stood therewith staring eyes and skirts gathered inwhile they filled the whole house withtheir yells. Out of a high wicker-work basket which stood by the fire there hadrisen a flat diamond-shaped head with wicked green eyes which came flickeringupwardswaving gently from side to sideuntil a foot or more of glossy scalyneck was visible. Slowly the vicious head came floating upwhile at everyoscillation a fresh burst of shrieks came from the settee.

 

"What in the name of mischief!" cried a voiceand there was themistress of the house standing in the doorway. Her gaze at first had merelytaken in the fact that two strangers were standing screaming upon her red plushsofa. A glance at the fireplacehowevershowed her the cause of the terrorand she burst into a hearty fit of laughter.

"Charley" she shouted"here's Eliza misbehaving again."

"I'll settle her" answered a masculine voiceand the young mandashed into the room. He had a brown horse-cloth in his handwhich he threwover the basketmaking it fast with a piece of twine so as to effectuallyimprison its inmatewhile his aunt ran across to reassure her visitors.

"It is only a rock snake" she explained.

"OhBertha!" "OhMonica!" gasped the poor exhaustedgentlewomen.

"She's hatching out some eggs. That is why we have the fire. Elizaalways does better when she is warm. She is a sweetgentle creaturebut nodoubt she thought that you had designs upon her eggs. I suppose that you did nottouch any of them?"

"Ohlet us get awayBertha!' cried Monicawith her thinblack-glovedhands thrown forwards in abhorrence.

"Not awaybut into the next room" said Mrs. Westmacottwith theair of one whose word was law. "This wayif you please! It is less warmhere." She led the way into a very handsomely appointed librarywith threegreat cases of booksand upon the fourth side a long yellow table littered overwith papers and scientific instruments. "Sit hereand youthere"she continued. "That is right. Now let me seewhich of you is MissWilliamsand which Miss Bertha Williams?"

"I am Miss Williams" said Monicastill palpitatingand glancingfurtively about in dread of some new horror.

"And you liveas I understandover at the pretty little cottage. It isvery nice of you to call so early. I don't suppose that we shall get onbutstill the intention is equally good." She crossed her legs and leaned herback against the marble mantelpiece.

"We thought that perhaps we might be of some assistance" saidBerthatimidly. "If there is anything which we could do to make you feelmore at home----"

"Ohthank youI am too old a traveler to feel anything but at homewherever I go. I've just come back from a few months in the Marquesas Islandswhere I had a very pleasant visit. That was where I got Eliza. In many respectsthe Marquesas Islands now lead the world."

"Dear me!" ejaculated Miss Williams. "In what respect?"

"In the relation of the sexes. They have worked out the great problemupon their own linesand their isolated geographical position has helped themto come to a conclusion of their own. The woman there isas she should beinevery way the absolute equal of the male. Come inCharlesand sit down. IsEliza all right?"

"All rightaunt."

"These are our neighborsthe Misses Williams. Perhaps they will havesome stout. You might bring in a couple of bottlesCharles."

"Nonothank you! None for us!" cried her two visitorsearnestly.

"No? I am sorry that I have no tea to offer you. I look upon thesubserviency of woman as largely due to her abandoning nutritious drinks andinvigorating exercises to the male. I do neither." She picked up a pair offifteen-pound dumb-bells from beside the fireplace and swung them lightly abouther head. "You see what may be done on stout" said she.

"But don't you think" the elder Miss Williams suggested timidly"don't you thinkMrs. Westmascottthat woman has a mission of her own?"

The lady of the house dropped her dumb-bells with a crash upon the floor.

"The old cant!" she cried. "The old shibboleth! What is thismission which is reserved for woman? All that is humblethat is meanthat issoul-killingthat is so contemptible and so ill-paid that none other will touchit. All that is woman's mission. And who imposed these limitations upon her? Whocooped her up within this narrow sphere? Was it Providence? Was it nature? Noit was the arch enemy. It was man."

"OhI sayauntie!" drawled her nephew.

"It was manCharles. It was you and your fellows I say that woman is acolossal monument to the selfishness of man. What is all this boastedchivalry--these fine words and vague phrases? Where is it when we wish to put itto the test? Man in the abstract will do anything to help a woman. Of course.How does it work when his pocket is touched? Where is his chivalry then? Willthe doctors help her to qualify? will the lawyers help her to be called to thebar? will the clergy tolerate her in the Church? Ohit is close your ranks thenand refer poor woman to her mission! Her mission! To be thankful for coppers andnot to interfere with the men while they grabble for goldlike swine round atroughthat is man's reading of the mission of women. You may sit there andsneerCharleswhile you look upon your victimbut you know that it is truthevery word of it.

Terrified as they were by this sudden torrent of wordsthe two gentlewomencould not but smile at the sight of the fierydomineering victim and the bigapologetic representative of mankind who sat meekly bearing all the sins of hissex. The lady struck a matchwhipped a cigarette from a case upon themantelpieceand began to draw the smoke into her lungs.

"I find it very soothing when my nerves are at all ruffled" sheexplained. "You don't smoke? Ahyou miss one of the purest ofpleasures--one of the few pleasures which are without a reaction."

Miss Williams smoothed out her silken lap.

"It is a pleasure" she saidwith some approach to self-assertion"which Bertha and I are rather too old-fashioned to enjoy."

"No doubtIt would probably make you very ill if you attempted it. Bythe wayI hope that you will come to some of our Guild meetings. I shall seethat tickets are sent you."

"Your Guild?"

"It is not yet formedbut I shall lose no time in forming a committee.It is my habit to establish a branch of the Emancipation Guild wherever I go.There is a Mrs. Sanderson in Anerley who is already one of the emancipatedsothat I have a nucleus. It is only by organized resistanceMiss Williamsthatwe can hope to hold our own against the selfish sex. Must you gothen?"

"Yeswe have one or two other visits to pay" said the eldersister. "You willI am sureexcuse us. I hope that you will find Norwooda pleasant residence."

"All places are to me simply a battle-field" she answeredgripping first one and then the other with a grip which crumpled up their littlethin fingers. "The days for work and healthful exercisethe evenings toBrowning and high discourseehCharles? Good-bye!" She came to the doorwith themand as they glanced back they saw her still standing there with theyellow bull pup cuddled up under one forearmand the thin blue reek of hercigarette ascending from her lips.

"Ohwhat a dreadfuldreadful woman!" whispered sister Berthaasthey hurried down the street. "Thank goodness that it is over."

"But she'll return the visit" answered the other. "I thinkthat we had better tell Mary that we are not at home

Chapter 3 - Dwellers In The Wilderness

 


 

 

How deeply are our destinies influenced by the most trifling causes! Had theunknown builder who erected and owned these new villas contented himself bysimply building each within its own groundsit is probable that these threesmall groups of people would have remained hardly conscious of each other'sexistenceand that there would have been no opportunity for that action andreaction which is here set forth. But there was a common link to bind themtogether. To single himself out from all other Norwood builders the landlord haddevised and laid out a common lawn tennis groundwhich stretched behind thehouses with taut-stretched netgreen close-cropped swardand widespreadwhitewashed lines. Hither in search of that hard exercise which is as necessaryas air or food to the English temperamentcame young Hay Denver when releasedfrom the toil of the City; hithertoocame Dr. Walker and his two fairdaughtersClara and Idaand hither alsochampions of the lawncame theshort-skirtedmuscular widow and her athletic nephew. Ere the summer was gonethey knew each other in this quiet nook as they might not have done after yearsof a stiffer and more formal acquaintance.

And especially to the Admiral and the Doctor were this closer intimacy andcompanionship of value. Each had a void in his lifeas every man must have whowith unexhausted strength steps out of the great racebut each by his societymight help to fill up that of his neighbor. It is true that they had not much incommonbut that is sometimes an aid rather than a bar to friendship. Each hadbeen an enthusiast in his professionand had retained all his interest in it.The Doctor still read from cover to cover his Lancet and his Medical Journalattended all professional gatheringsworked himself into an alternate state ofexaltation and depression over the results of the election of officersandreserved for himself a den of his ownin which before rows of little roundbottles full of glycerineCanadian balsamand staining agentshe still cutsections with a microtomeand peeped through his longbrassold-fashionedmicroscope at the arcana of nature. With his typical faceclean shaven on lipand chinwith a firm moutha strong jawa steady eyeand two little whitefluffs of whiskershe could never be taken for anything but what he wasahigh-class British medical consultant of the age of fiftyor perhaps just ayear or two older.

The Doctorin his hey-dayhad been cool over great thingsbut nowin hisretirementhe was fussy over trifles. The man who had operated without thequiver of a fingerwhen not only his patient's life but his own reputation andfuture were at stakewas now shaken to the soul by a mislaid book or a carelessmaid. He remarked it himselfand knew the reason. "When Mary was alive"he would say"she stood between me and the little troubles. I could bracemyself for the big ones. My girls are as good as girls can bebut who can knowa man as his wife knows him?" Then his memory would conjure up a tuft ofbrown hair and a single whitethin hand over a coverletand he would feelaswe have all feltthat if we do not live and know each other after deaththenindeed we are tricked and betrayed by all the highest hopes and subtlestintuitions of our nature.

The Doctor had his compensations to make up for his loss. The great scales ofFate had been held on a level for him; for where in all great London could onefind two sweeter girlsmore lovingmore intelligentand more sympathetic thanClara and Ida Walker? So bright were theyso quickso interested in all whichinterested himthat if it were possible for a man to be compensated for theloss of a good wife then Balthazar Walker might claim to be so.

Clara was tall and thin and supplewith a gracefulwomanly figure. Therewas something stately and distinguished in her carriage"queenly" herfriends called herwhile her critics described her as reserved and distant.

Such as it washoweverit was part and parcel of herselffor she wasandhad always from her childhood beendifferent from any one around her. There wasnothing gregarious in her nature. She thought with her own mindsaw with herown eyesacted from her own impulse. Her face was palestriking rather thanprettybut with two great dark eyesso earnestly questioningso quick intheir transitions from joy to pathosso swift in their comment upon every wordand deed around herthat those eyes alone were to many more attractive than allthe beauty of her younger sister. Hers was a strongquiet souland it was herfirm hand which had taken over the duties of her motherhad ordered the houserestrained the servantscomforted her fatherand upheld her weaker sisterfrom the day of that great misfortune.

Ida Walker was a hand's breadth smaller than Clarabut was a little fullerin the face and plumper in the figure. She had light yellow hairmischievousblue eyes with the light of humor ever twinkling in their depthsand a largeperfectly formed mouthwith that slight upward curve of the corners which goeswith a keen appreciation of funsuggesting even in repose that a latent smileis ever lurking at the edges of the lips. She was modern to the soles of herdainty little high-heeled shoesfrankly fond of dress and of pleasuredevotedto tennis and to comic operadelighted with a dancewhich came her way onlytoo seldomlonging ever for some new excitementand yet behind all thislighter side of her character a thoroughly goodhealthy-minded English girlthe life and soul of the houseand the idol of her sister and her father. Suchwas the family at number two. A peep into the remaining villa and ourintroductions are complete.

Admiral Hay Denver did not belong to the floridwhite-hairedhearty schoolof sea-dogs which is more common in works of fiction than in the Navy List. Onthe contraryhe was the representative of a much more common type which is theantithesis of the conventional sailor. He was a thinhard-featured manwith anasceticacquiline cast of facegrizzled and hollow-cheekedclean-shaven withthe exception of the tiniest curved promontory of ash-colored whisker. Anobserveraccustomed to classify menmight have put him down as a canon of thechurch with a taste for lay costume and a country lifeor as the master of alarge public schoolwho joined his scholars in their outdoor sports. His lipswere firmhis chin prominenthe had a harddry eyeand his manner wasprecise and formal. Forty years of stern discipline had made him reserved andsilent. Yetwhen at his ease with an equalhe could readily assume a lessquarter-deck styleand he had a fund of littledry stories of the world andits ways which were of interest from one who had seen so many phases of life.Dry and spareas lean as a jockey and as tough as whipcordhe might be seenany day swinging his silver-headed Malacca caneand pacing along the suburbanroads with the same measured gait with which he had been wont to tread the poopof his flagship. He wore a good service stripe upon his cheekfor on one sideit was pitted and scarred where a spurt of gravel knocked up by a round-shot hadstruck him thirty years beforewhen he served in the Lancaster gun-battery. Yethe was hale and soundand though he was fifteen years senior to his friend theDoctorhe might have passed as the younger man.

Mrs. Hay Denver's life had been a very broken oneand her record upon landrepresented a greater amount of endurance and self-sacrifice than his upon thesea. They had been together for four months after their marriageand then hadcome a hiatus of four yearsduring which he was flitting about between St.Helena and the Oil Rivers in a gunboat. Then came a blessed year of peace anddomesticityto be followed by nine yearswith only a three months' breakfiveupon the Pacific stationand four on the East Indian. After that was a respitein the shape of five years in the Channel squadronwith periodical runs homeand then again he was off to the Mediterranean for three years and to Halifaxfor four. Nowat lasthoweverthis old married couplewho were still almoststrangers to one anotherhad come together in Norwoodwhereif their shortday had been chequered and brokenthe evening at least promised to be sweet andmellow. In person Mrs. Hay Denver was tall and stoutwith a brightroundruddy-cheeked face still prettywith a graciousmatronly comeliness. Her wholelife was a round of devotion and of lovewhich was divided between her husbandand her only sonHarold.

This son it was who kept them in the neighborhood of Londonfor the Admiralwas as fond of ships and of salt water as everand was as happy in the sheetsof a two-ton yacht as on the bridge of his sixteen-knot monitor. Had he beenuntiedthe Devonshire or Hampshire coast would certainly have been his choice.There was Haroldhoweverand Harold's interests were their chief care. Haroldwas four-and-twenty now. Three years before he had been taken in hand by anacquaintance of his father'sthe head of a considerable firm of stock-brokersand fairly launched upon 'Change. His three hundred guinea entrance fee paidhis three sureties of five hundred pounds each foundhis name approved by theCommitteeand all other formalities complied withhe found himself whirlingroundan insignificant unitin the vortex of the money market of the world.Thereunder the guidance of his father's friendhe was instructed in themysteries of bulling and of bearingin the strange usages of 'Change in theintricacies of carrying over and of transferring. He learned to know where toplace his clients' moneywhich of the jobbers would make a price in NewZealandsand which would touch nothing but American railswhich might betrusted and which shunned. All thisand much morehe masteredand to suchpurpose that he soon began to prosperto retain the clients who had beenrecommened to himand to attract fresh ones. But the work was never congenial.He had inherited from his father his love of the air of heavenhis affectionfor a manly and natural existence. To act as middleman between the pursuer ofwealthand the wealth which he pursuedor to stand as a human barometerregistering the rise and fall of the great mammon pressure in the marketswasnot the work for which Providence had placed those broad shoulders and stronglimbs upon his well knit frame. His dark open facetoowith his straightGrecian nosewell opened brown eyesand round black-curled headwere allthose of a man who was fashioned for active physical work. Meanwhile he waspopular with his fellow brokersrespected by his clientsand beloved at homebut his spirit was restless within him and his mind chafed unceasingly againsthis surroundings.

"Do you knowWilly" said Mrs. Hay Denver one evening as she stoodbehind her husband's chairwith her hand upon his shoulder"I thinksometimes that Harold is not quite happy."

"He looks happythe young rascal" answered the Admiralpointingwith his cigar. It was after dinnerand through the open French window of thedining-room a clear view was to be had of the tennis court and the players. Aset had just been finishedand young Charles Westmacott was hitting up theballs as high as he could send them in the middle of the ground. Doctor Walkerand Mrs. Westmacott were pacing up and down the lawnthe lady waving her racketas she emphasized her remarksand the Doctor listening with slanting head andlittle nods of agreement. Against the rails at the near end Harold was leaningin his flannels talking to the two sisterswho stood listening to him withtheir long dark shadows streaming down the lawn behind them. The girls weredressed alike in dark skirtswith light pink tennis blouses and pink bands ontheir straw hatsso that as they stood with the soft red of the setting suntinging their facesClarademure and quietIdamischievous and daringitwas a group which might have pleased the eye of a more exacting critic than theold sailor.

"Yeshe looks happymother" he repeatedwith a chuckle. "Itis not so long ago since it was you and I who were standing like thatand Idon't remember that we were very unhappy either. It was croquet in our timeandthe ladies had not reefed in their skirts quite so taut. What year would it be?Just before the commission of the Penelope."

Mrs. Hay Denver ran her fingers through his grizzled hair. "It was whenyou came back in the Antelopejust before you got your step."

"Ahthe old Antelope! What a clipper she was! She could sail two pointsnearer the wind than anything of her tonnage in the service. You remember hermother. You saw her come into Plymouth Bay. Wasn't she a beauty?"

"She was indeeddear. But when I say that I think that Harold is nothappy I mean in his daily life. Has it never struck you how thoughtfulhe is attimesand how absent-minded?"

"In love perhapsthe young dog. He seems to have found snug mooringsnow at any rate."

"I think that it is very likely that you are rightWilly"answered the mother seriously. "But with which of them?"

"I cannot tell."

"Wellthey are very charming girlsboth of them. But as long as hehangs in the wind between the two it cannot be serious. After allthe boy isfour-and-twentyand he made five hundred pounds last year. He is better able tomarry than I was when I was lieutenant."

"I think that we can see which it is now" remarked the observantmother. Charles Westmacott had ceased to knock the tennis balls aboutand waschatting with Clara Walkerwhile Ida and Harold Denver were still talking bythe railing with little outbursts of laughter. Presently a fresh set was formedand Doctor Walkerthe odd man outcame through the wicket gate and strolled upthe garden walk.

"Good eveningMrs. Hay Denver" said heraising his broad strawhat. "May I come in?"

"Good eveningDoctor! Pray do!"

"Try one of these" said the Admiralholding out his cigar-case."They are not bad. I got them on the Mosquito Coast. I was thinking ofsignaling to youbut you seemed so very happy out there."

"Mrs. Westmacott is a very clever woman" said the Doctorlightingthe cigar. "By the wayyou spoke about the Mosquito Coast just now. Didyou see much of the Hyla when you were out there?"

"No such name on the list" answered the seamanwith decision."There's the Hydraa harbor defense turret-shipbut she never leaves thehome waters."

The Doctor laughed. "We live in two separate worlds" said he."The Hyla is the little green tree frogand Beale has founded some of hisviews on protoplasm upon the appearancerof its nerve cells. It is a subject inwhich I take an interest."

"There were vermin of all sorts in the woods. When I have been on riverservice I have heard it at night like the engine-room when you are on themeasured mile. You can't sleep for the pipingand croakingand chirping. GreatScott! what a woman that is! She was across the lawn in three jumps. She wouldhave made a captain of the foretop in the old days."

"She is a very remarkable woman.

"A very cranky one."

"A very sensible one in some things" remarked Mrs. Hay Denver.

"Look at that now!" cried the Admiralwith a lunge of hisforefinger at the Doctor. "You mark my wordsWalkerif we don't look outthat woman will raise a mutiny with her preaching. Here's my wife disaffectedalreadyand your girls will be no better. We must combinemanor there's anend of all discipline."

"No doubt she is a little excessive in her views." said the Doctor"but in the main I think as she does."

"BravoDoctor!" cried the lady.

"Whatturned traitor to your sex! We'll court-martial you as a deserter."

"She is quite right. The professions are not sufficiently open to women.They are still far too much circumscribed in their employments. They are afeeble folkthe women who have to work for their bread--poorunorganizedtimidtaking as a favor what they might demand as a right. That is why theircase is not more constantly before the publicfor if their cry for redress wasas great as their grievance it would fill the world to the exclusion of allothers. It is all very well for us to be courteous to the richthe refinedthose to whom life is already made easy. It is a mere forma trick of manner.If we are truly courteouswe shall stoop to lift up struggling womanhood whenshe really needs our help--when it is life and death to her whether she has itor not. And then to cant about it being unwomanly to work in the higherprofessions. It is womanly enough to starvebut unwomanly to use the brainswhich God has given them. Is it not a monstrous contention?"

The Admiral chuckled. "You are like one of these phonographsWalker"said he; "you have had all this talked into youand now you are reeling itoff again. It's rank mutinyevery word of itfor man has his duties and womanhas hersbut they are as separate as their natures are. I suppose that we shallhave a woman hoisting her pennant on the flagship presentlyand taking commandof the Channel Squadron."

"Wellyou have a woman on the throne taking command of the whole nation"remarked his wife; "and everybody is agreed that she does it better thanany of the men."

The Admiral was somewhat staggered by this home-thrust. "That's quiteanother thing" said he.

"You should come to their next meeting. I am to take the chair. I havejust promised Mrs. Westmacott that I will do so. But it has turned chillyandit is time that the girls were indoors. Good night! I shall look out for youafter breakfast for our constitutionalAdmiral."

The old sailor looked after his friend with a twinkle in his eyes.

"How old is hemother?"

"About fiftyI think."

"And Mrs. Westmacott?"

"I heard that she was forty-three."

The Admiral rubbed his handsand shook with amusement. "We'll find oneof these days that three and two make one" said he. I'll bet you a newbonnet on itmother.

Chapter 4 - A Sister'S Secret

 


 

 

"Tell meMiss Walker! You know how things should be. What would you saywas a good profession for a young man of twenty-six who has had no educationworth speaking aboutand who is not very quick by nature?" The speaker wasCharles Westmacottand the time this same summer evening in the tennis groundthough the shadows had fallen now and the game been abandoned.

The girl glanced up at himamused and surprised.

"Do you mean yourself?"

"Precisely."

"But how could I tell?"

"I have no one to advise me. I believe that you could do it better thanany one. I feel confidence in your opinion."

"It is very flattering." She glanced up again at his earnestquestioning facewith its Saxon eyes and drooping flaxen mustachein somedoubt as to whether he might be joking. On the contraryall his attentionseemed to be concentrated upon her answer.

"It depends so much upon what you can doyou know. I do not know yousufficiently to be able to say what natural gifts you have." They werewalking slowly across the lawn in the direction of the house.

"I have none. That is to say none worth mentioning. I have no memory andI am very slow."

"But you are very strong."

"Ohif that goes for anything. I can put up a hundred-pound bar tillfurther orders; but what sort of a calling is that?"

Some little joke about being called to the bar flickered up in Miss Walker'smindbut her companion was in such obvious earnest that she stifled down herinclination to laugh.

"I can do a mile on the cinder-track in 4:50 and across-country in 5:20but how is that to help me? I might be a cricket professionalbut it is not avery dignified position. Not that I care a straw about dignityyou knowbut Ishould not like to hurt the old lady's feelings.

"Your aunt's?"

"Yesmy aunt's. My parents were killed in the Mutinyyou knowwhen Iwas a babyand she has looked after me ever since. She has been very good tome. I'm sorry to leave her."

"But why should you leave her?" They had reached the garden gateand the girl leaned her racket upon the top of itlooking up with graveinterest at her big white-flanneled companion.

"It'sBrowning" said he.

"What!"

"Don't tell my aunt that I said it"--he sank his voice to awhisper--"I hate Browning."

Clara Walker rippled off into such a merry peal of laughter that he forgotthe evil things which he had suffered from the poetand burst out laughing too.

"I can't make him out" said he. "I trybut he is one toomany. No doubt it is very stupid of me; I don't deny it. But as long as I cannotthere is no use pretending that I can. And then of course she feels hurtforshe is very fond of himand likes to read him aloud in the evenings. She isreading a piece now `Pippa Passes' and I assure youMiss Walkerthat I don'teven know what the title means. You must think me a dreadful fool."

"But surely he is not so incomprehensible as all that?" she saidas an attempt at encouragement.

"He is very bad. There are some thingsyou knowwhich are fine. Thatride of the three Dutchmenand Herve Riel and othersthey are all right. Butthere was a piece we read last week. The first line stumped my auntand ittakes a good deal to do thatfor she rides very straight. `Setebos and Setebosand Setebos.' That was the line."

"It sounds like a charm."

"Noit is a gentleman's name. Three gentlemenI thoughtat firstbutmy aunt says one. Then he goes on`Thinketh he dwelleth in the light of themoon.' It was a very trying piece."

Clara Walker laughed again.

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

"WellyesI have thought of that. But you must remember that my auntis to all intents hardly middle-agedand a very eligible person. I don't thinkthat her dislike to mankind extends to individuals. She might form new tiesandthen I should be a third wheel in the coach. It was all very well as long as Iwas only a boywhen her first husband was alive."

"Butgood graciousyou don't mean that Mrs. Westmacott is going tomarry again?" gasped Clara.

The young man glanced down at her with a question in his eyes "Ohit isonly a remotepossibilityyou know" said he. "Stillof courseitmight happenand I should like to know what I ought to turn my hand to."

"I wish I could help you" said Clara. "But I really know verylittle about such things. HoweverI could talk to my fatherwho knows a verygreat deal of the world."

"I wish you would. I should be so glad if you would."

"Then I certainly will. And now I must say good-nightMr. Westmacottfor papa will be wondering where I am."

"Good nightMiss Walker." He pulled off his flannel capandstalked away through the gathering darkness.

Clara had imagined that they had been the last on the lawnbutlooking backfrom the steps which led up to the French windowsshe saw two dark figuresmoving across towards the house. As they came nearer she could distinguish thatthey were Harold Denver and her sister Ida. The murmur of their voices rose upto her earsand then the musical little child-like laugh which she knew so well."I am so delighted" she heard her sister say. "So pleased andproud. I had no idea of it. Your words were such a surprise and a joy to me. OhI am so glad."

"Is that youIda?"

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

There were a few whispered wordsa laugh from Idaand a "Good-nightMiss Walker" out of the darkness. Clara took her sister's handand theypassed together through the long folding window. The Doctor had gone into hisstudyand the dining-room was empty. A single small red lamp upon the sideboardwas reflected tenfold by the plate about it and the mahogany beneath itthoughits single wick cast but a feeble light into the largedimly shadowed room. Idadanced off to the big central lampbut Clara put her hand upon her arm. "Irather like this quiet light" said she. "Why should we not have achat?" She sat in the Doctor's large red plush chairand her sistercuddled down upon the footstool at her feetglancing up at her elder with asmile upon her lips and a mischievous gleam in her eyes. There was a shade ofanxiety in Clara's facewhich cleared away as she gazed into her sister's frankblue eyes.

"Have you anything to tell medear?" she asked.

Ida gave a little pout and shrug to her shoulder. "The Solicitor-Generalthen opened the case for the prosecution" said she. "You are going tocross-examine meClaraso don't deny it. I do wish you would have that greysatin foulard of yours done up. With a little trimming and a new white vest itwould look as good as newand it is really very dowdy."

"You were quite late upon the lawn" said the inexorable Clara.

"YesI was rather. So were you. Have you anything to tell me?" Shebroke away into her merry musical laugh.

"I was chatting with Mr. Westmacott."

"And I was chatting with Mr. Denver. By the wayClaranow tell metrulywhat do you think of Mr. Denver? Do you like him? Honestly now!"

"I like him very much indeed. I think that he is one of the mostgentlemanlymodestmanly young men that I have ever known. So nowdearhaveyou nothing to tell me?" Clara smoothed down her sister's golden hair witha motherly gestureand stooped her face to catch the expected confidence. Shecould wish nothing better than that Ida should be the wife of Harold Denverandfrom the words which she had overheard as they left the lawn that eveningshecould not doubt that there was some understanding between them.

But there came no confession from Ida. Only the same mischievous smile andamused gleam in her deep blue eyes.

"That grey foulard dress----" she began.

"Ohyou little tease! Come nowI will ask you what you have just askedme. Do you like Harold Denver?"

"Ohhe's a darling!"

"Ida!"

"Wellyou asked me. That's what I think of him. And nowyou dear oldinquisitiveyou will get nothing more out of me; so you must wait and not betoo curious. I'm going off to see what papa is doing." She sprang to herfeetthrew her arms round her sister's neckgave her a final squeezeand wasgone. A chorus from Olivettesung in her clear contraltogrew fainter andfainter until it ended in the slam of a distant door.

But Clara Walker still sat in the dim-lit room with her chin upon her handsand her dreamy eyes looking out into the gathering gloom. It was the duty of hera maidento play the part of a mother--to guide another in paths which her ownsteps had not yet trodden. Since her mother died not a thought had been given toherselfall was for her father and her sister. In her own eyes she was herselfvery plainand she knew that her manner was often ungracious when she wouldmost wish to be gracious. She saw her face as the glass reflected itbut shedid not see the changing play of expression which gave it its charm--theinfinite pitythe sympathythe sweet womanliness which drew towards her allwho were in doubt and in troubleeven as poor slow-moving Charles Westmacotthad been drawn to her that night. She was herselfshe thoughtoutside the paleof love. But it was very different with Idamerrylittlequick-wittedbright-faced Ida. She was born for love. It was her inheritance. But she wasyoung and innocent. She must not be allowed to venture too far without help inthose dangerous waters. Some understanding there was between her and HaroldDenver. In her heart of hearts Claralike every good womanwas a match-makerand already she had chosen Denver of all men as the one to whom she could mostsafely confide Ida. He had talked to her more than once on the serious topics oflifeon his aspirationson what a man could do to leave the world better forhis presence. She knew that he was a man of a noble naturehigh-minded andearnest. And yet she did not like this secrecythis disinclination upon thepart of one so frank and honest as Ida to tell her what was passing. She wouldwaitand if she got the opportunity next day she would lead Harold Denverhimself on to this topic. It was possible that she might learn from him what hersister had refused to tell her.

Chapter 5 - Chapter V. A Naval Conquest

 


 

 

It was the habit of the Doctor and the Admiral to accompany each other upon amorning ramble between breakfast and lunch. The dwellers in those quiettree-lined roads were accustomed to see the two figuresthe longthinaustereseamanand the shortbustlingtweed-clad physicianpass and repass with suchregularity that a stopped clock has been reset by them. The Admiral took twosteps to his companion's threebut the younger man was the quickerand bothwere equal to a good four and a half miles an hour.

It was a lovely summer day which followed the events which have beendescribed. The sky was of the deepest bluewith a few whitefleecy cloudsdrifting lazily across itand the air was filled with the low drone of insectsor with a sudden sharper note as bee or bluefly shot past with its quiveringlong-drawn humlike an insect tuning-fork. As the friends topped each risewhich leads up to the Crystal Palacethey could see the dun clouds of Londonstretching along the northern sky-linewith spire or dome breaking through thelow-lying haze. The Admiral was in high spiritsfor the morning post hadbrought good news to his son.

"It is wonderfulWalker" he was saying"positivelywonderfulthe way that boy of mine has gone ahead during the last three years.We heard from Pearson to-day. Pearson is the senior partneryou knowand myboy the junior--Pearson and Denver the firm. Cunning old dog is Pearsonas cuteand as greedy as a Rio shark. Yet he goes off for a fortnight's leaveand putsmy boy in full chargewith all that immense business in his handsand afreehand to do what he likes with it. How's that for confidenceand he onlythree years upon 'Change?"

"Any one would confide in him. His face is a surety" said theDoctor.

"Go onWalker!" The Admiral dug his elbow at him. "You knowmy weak side. Still it's truth all the same. I've been blessed with a good wifeand a good sonand maybe I relish them the more for having been cut off fromthem so long. I have much to be thankful for!"

"And so have I. The best two girls that ever stepped. There's Clarawhohas learned up as much medicine as would give her the L.S.A.simply in orderthat she may sympathize with me in my work. But hullowhat is this coming along?"

"All drawing and the wind astern!" cried the Admiral. "Fourteenknots if it's one. Whyby Georgeit is that woman!"

A rolling cloud of yellow dust had streamed round the curve of the roadandfrom the heart of it had emerged a high tandem tricycle flying along at abreakneck pace. In front sat Mrs. Westmacott clad in a heather tweed pea-jacketa skirt which just{?} passed her knees and a pair of thick gaiters of the samematerial. She had a great bundle of red papers under her armwhile Charleswhosat behind her clad in Norfolk jacket and knickerbockersbore a similar rollprotruding from either pocket. Even as they watchedthe pair eased upthe ladysprang offimpaled one of her bills upon the garden railing of an empty houseand then jumping on to her seat again was about to hurry onwards when her nephewdrew her attention to the two gentlemen upon the footpath.

"Ohnowreally I didn't notice you" said shetaking a few turnsof the treadle and steering the machine across to them. "Is it not abeautiful morning?"

"Lovely" answered the Doctor. "You seem to be very busy."

"I am very busy." She pointed to the colored paper which stillfluttered from the railing. "We have been pushing our propagandayou see.Charles and I have been at it since seven o'clock. It is about our meeting. Iwish it to be a great success. See!" She smoothed out one of the billsandthe Doctor read his own name in great black letters across the bottom.

"We don't forget our chairmanyou see. Everybody is coming. Those twodear little old maids oppositethe Williamsesheld out for some time; but Ihave their promise now. AdmiralI am sure that you wish us well."

"Hum! I wish you no harmma'am."

"You will come on the platform?"

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

"To our meetingthen?"

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

"Oh yesyou will come. I will call in if I mayand chat it over withyou when you come home. We have not breakfasted yet. Goodbye!" There was awhir of wheelsand the yellow cloud rolled away down the road again. By somelegerdemain the Admiral found that he was clutching in his right hand one of theobnoxious bills. He crumpled it upand threw it into the roadway.

"I'll be hanged if I goWalker" said heas be resumed his walk."I've never been hustled into doing a thing yetwhether by woman or man."

"I am not a betting man" answered the Doctor"but I ratherthink that the odds are in favor of your going."

The Admiral had hardly got homeand had just seated himself in hisdining-roomwhen the attack upon him was renewed. He was slowly and lovinglyunfolding the Times preparatory to the long read which led up to luncheonandhad even got so far as to fasten his golden pince-nez on to his thinhigh-bridged nosewhen he heard a crunching of gravelandlooking over thetop of his papersaw Mrs. Westmacott coming up the garden walk. She was stilldressed in the singular costume which offended the sailor's old-fashionednotions of proprietybut he could not denyas he looked at herthat she was avery fine woman. In many climes he had looked upon women of all shades and agesbut never upon a more clearcuthandsome facenor a more erectsuppleandwomanly figure. He ceased to glower as he gazed upon herand the frown smoothedaway from his rugged brow.

"May I come in?" said sheframing herself in the open windowwitha background of green sward and blue sky. "I feel like an invader deep inan enemy's country."

"It is a very welcome invasionma'am" said heclearing histhroat and pulling at his high collar. "Try this garden chair. What isthere that I can do for you? Shall I ring and let Mrs. Denver know that you arehere?"

"Pray do not troubleAdmiral. I only looked in with reference to ourlittle chat this morning. I wish that you would give us your powerful support atour coming meeting for the improvement of the condition of woman."

"Noma'amI can't do that." He pursed up his lips and shook hisgrizzled head.

"And why not?"

"Against my principlesma'am."

"But why?"

"Because woman has her duties and man has his. I may be old-fashionedbut that is my view. Whywhat is the world coming to? I was saying to Dr.Walker only last night that we shall have a woman wanting to command the ChannelFleet next."

"That is one of the few professions which cannot be improved" saidMrs. Westmacottwith her sweetest smile. "Poor woman must still look toman for protection."

"I don't like these new-fangled ideasma'am. I tell you honestly that Idon't. I like disciplineand I think every one is the better for it. Women havegot a great deal which they had not in the days of our fathers. They haveuniversities all for themselvesI am toldand there are women doctorsI hear.Surely they should rest contented. What more can they want?"

"You are a sailorand sailors are always chivalrous. If you could seehow things really areyou would change your opinion. What are the poor thingsto do? There are so many of them and so few things to which they can turn theirhands. Governesses? But there are hardly any situations. Music and drawing?There is not one in fifty who has any special talent in that direction.Medicine? It is still surrounded with difficulties for womenand it takes manyyears and a small fortune to qualify. Nursing? It is hard work ill paidandnone but the strongest can stand it. What would you have them do thenAdmiral?Sit down and starve?"

"Tuttut! It is not so bad as that."

"The pressure is terrible. Advertise for a lady companion at tenshillings a weekwhich is less than a cook's wageand see how many answers youget. There is no hopeno outlookfor these struggling thousands. Life is adullsordid struggleleading down to a cheerless old age. Yet when we try tobring some little ray of hopesome chancehowever distantof something betterwe are told by chivalrous gentlemen that it is against their principles tohelp."

The Admiral wincedbut shook his head in dissent.

"There is bankingthe lawveterinary surgerygovernment officesthecivil serviceall these at least should be thrown freely open to womenif theyhave brains enough to compete successfully for them. Then if woman wereunsuccessful it would be her own faultand the majority of the population ofthis country could no longer complain that they live under a different law tothe minorityand that they are held down in poverty and serfdomwith everyroad to independence sealed to them."

"What would you propose to doma'am?"

"To set the more obvious injustices rightand so to pave the way for areform. Now look at that man digging in the field. I know him. He can neitherread nor writehe is steeped in whiskyand he has as much intelligence as thepotatoes that he is digging. Yet the man has a votecan possibly turn the scaleof an electionand may help to decide the policy of this empire. Nowto takethe nearest examplehere am Ia woman who have had some educationwho havetraveledand who have seen and studied the institutions of many countries. Ihold considerable propertyand I pay more in imperial taxes than that manspends in whiskywhich is saying a great dealand yet I have no more directinfluence upon the disposal of the money which I pay than that fly which creepsalong the wall. Is that right? Is it fair?"

The Admiral moved uneasily in his chair. "Yours is an exceptionalcase" said he.

"But no woman has a voice. Consider that the women are a majority in thenation. Yet if there was a question of legislation upon which all women wereagreed upon one side and all the men upon the otherit would appear that thematter was settled unanimously when more than half the population were opposedto it. Is that right?"

Again the Admiral wriggled. It was very awkward for the gallant seaman tohave a handsome woman opposite to himbombarding him with questions to none ofwhich he could find an answer. "Couldn't even get the tompions out of hisguns" as he explained the matter to the Doctor that evening.

"Now those are really the points that we shall lay stress upon at themeeting. The free and complete opening of the professionsthe final abolitionof the zenana I call itand the franchise to all women who pay Queen's taxesabove a certain sum. Surely there is nothing unreasonable in that. Nothing whichcould offend your principles. We shall have medicinelawand the church allrallying that night for the protection of woman. Is the navy to be the oneprofession absent?"

The Admiral jumped out of his chair with an evil word in his throat. "Theretherema'am" he cried. "Drop it for a time. I have heard enough.You've turned me a point or two. I won't deny it. But let it stand at that. Iwill think it over."

"CertainlyAdmiral. We would not hurry you in your decision. But westill hope to see you on our platform." She rose and moved about in herlounging masculine fashion from one picture to anotherfor the walls werethickly covered with reminiscences of the Admiral's voyages.

"Hullo!" said she. "Surely this ship would have furled all herlower canvas and reefed her topsails if she found herself on a lee shore withthe wind on her quarter."

"Of course she would. The artist was never past GravesendI swear. It'sthe Penelope as she was on the 14th of June1857in the throat of the Straitsof Bancawith the Island of Banca on the starboard bowand Sumatra on the port.He painted it from descriptionbut of courseas you very sensibly sayall wassnug below and she carried storm sails and double-reefed topsailsfor it wasblowing a cyclone from the sou'east. I compliment youma'amI do indeed!"

"OhI have done a little sailoring myself--as much as a woman canaspire toyou know. This is the Bay of Funchal. What a lovely frigate!"

"Lovelyyou say! Ahshe was lovely! That is the Andromeda. I was amate aboard of her--sub-lieutenant they call it nowthough I like the old namebest."

"What a lovely rake her masts haveand what a curve to her bows! Shemust have been a clipper."

The old sailor rubbed his hands and his eyes glistened. His old shipsbordered close upon his wife and his son in his affections.

"I know Funchal" said the lady carelessly. "A couple of yearsago I had a seven-ton cutter-rigged yachtthe Bansheeand we ran over toMadeira from Falmouth."

"You ma'amin a seven-tonner?"

"With a couple of Cornish lads for a crew. Ohit was glorious! Afortnight right out in the openwith no worriesno lettersno callersnopetty thoughtsnothing but the grand works of Godthe tossing sea and thegreat silent sky. They talk of ridingindeedI am fond of horsestoobutwhat is there to compare with the swoop of a little craft as she pitches downthe long steep side of a waveand then the quiver and spring as she is tossedupwards again? Ohif our souls could transmigrate I'd be a seamew above allbirds that fly! But I keep youAdmiral. Adieu!"

The old sailor was too transported with sympathy to say a word. He could onlyshake her broad muscular hand. She was half-way down the garden path before sheheard him calling herand saw his grizzled head and weather-stained facelooking out from behind the curtains.

"You may put me down for the platform" he criedand vanishedabashed behind the I curtain of his Timeswhere his wife found him at lunchtime.

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

"Yesand I think that she is one of the most sensible women that I everknew.

"Except on the woman's rights questionof course."

"OhI don't know. She had a good deal to say for herself on that also.In factmotherI have taken a platfom ticket for her meeting."

Chapter 6 - An Old Story

 


 

 

But this was not to be the only eventful conversation which Mrs. Westmacottheld that daynor was the Admiral the only person in the Wilderness who wasdestined to find his opinions considerably changed. Two neighboring familiesthe Winslows from Anerleyand the Cumberbatches from Gipsy Hillhad beeninvited to tennis by Mrs. Westmacottand the lawn was gay in the evening withthe blazers of the young men and the bright dresses of the girls. To the olderpeoplesitting round in their wicker-work garden chairsthe dartingstoopingspringing white figuresthe sweep of skirtsand twinkle of canvas shoestheclick of the rackets and sharp whiz of the ballswith the continual "fifteenlove--fifteen all!" of the markermade up a merry and exhilarating scene.To see their sons and daughters so flushed and healthy and happygave them alsoa reflected glowand it was hard to say who had most pleasure from the gamethose who played or those who watched.

Mrs. Westmacott had just finished a set when she caught a glimpse of ClaraWalker sitting alone at the farther end of the ground. She ran down the courtcleared the net to the amazement of the visitorsand seated herself beside her.Clara's reserved and refined nature shrank somewhat from the boisterousfrankness and strange manners of the widowand yet her feminine instinct toldher that beneath all her peculiarities there lay much that was good and noble.She smiled up at herthereforeand nodded a greeting.

"Why aren't you playingthen? Don'tfor goodness' sakebegin to belanguid and young ladyish! When you give up active sports you give up youth."

"I have played a setMrs. Westmacott."

"That's rightmy dear." She sat down beside herand tapped herupon the arm with her tennis racket. "I like youmy dearand I am goingto call you Clara. You are not as aggressive as I should wishClarabut stillI like you very much. Self-sacrifice is all very wellyou knowbut we have hadrather too much of it on our sideand should like to see a little on the other.What do you think of my nephew Charles?"

The question was so sudden and unexpected that Clara gave quite a jump in herchair. "I--I--I hardly ever have thought of your nephew Charles."

"No? Ohyou must think him well overfor I want to speak to you abouthim."

"To me? But why?"

"It seemed to me most delicate. You seeClarathe matter stands inthis way. It is quite possible that I may soon find myself in a completely newsphere of lifewhich will involve fresh duties and make it impossible for me tokeep up a household which Charles can share."

Clara stared. Did this mean that she was about to marry again? What elsecould it point to?

"Therefore Charles must have a household of his own. That is obvious.NowI don't approve of bachelor establishments. Do you?"

"ReallyMrs. WestmacottI have never thought of the matter."

"Ohyou little sly puss! Was there ever a girl who never thought of thematter? I think that a young man of six-and-twenty ought to be married."

Clara felt very uncomfortable. The awful thought had come upon her that thisambassadress had come to her as a proxy with a proposal of marriage. But howcould that be? She had not spoken more than three or four times with her nephewand knew nothing more of him than he had told her on the evening before. It wasimpossiblethen. And yet what could his aunt mean by this discussion of hisprivate affairs?

"Do you not think yourself" she persisted"that a young manof six-and-twenty is better married?"

"I should think that he is old enough to decide for himself."

"Yesyes. He has done so. But Charles is just a little shyjust alittle slow in expressing himself. I thought that I would pave the way for him.Two women can arrange these things so much better. Men sometimes have adifficulty in making themselves clear."

"I really hardly follow youMrs. Westmacott" cried Clara indespair.

"He has no profession. But he has nice tastes. He reads Browning everynight. And he is most amazingly strong. When he was younger we used to put onthe gloves togetherbut I cannot persuade him to nowfor he says he cannotplay light enough. I should allow him five hundredwhich should be enough atfirst."

"My dear Mrs. Westmacott" cried Clara"I assure you that Ihave not the least idea what it is that you are talking of."

"Do you think your sister Ida would have my nephew Charles?"

Her sister Ida? Quite a little thrill of relief and of pleasure ran throughher at the thought. Ida and Charles Westmacott. She had never thought of it. Andyet they had been a good deal together. They had played tennis. They had sharedthe tandem tricycle. Again came the thrill of joyand close at its heels thecold questionings of conscience. Why this joy? What was the real source of it?Was it that deep downsomewhere pushed back in the black recesses of the soulthere was the thought lurking that if Charles prospered in his wooing thenHarold Denver would still be free? How meanhow unmaidenlyhow unsisterly thethought! She crushed it down and thrust it asidebut still it would push up itswicked little head. She crimsoned with shame at her own basenessas she turnedonce more to her companion.

"I really do not know" she said.

"She is not engaged?"

"Not that I know of."

"You speak hesitatingly."

"Because I am not sure. But he may ask. She cannot but be flattered."

"Quite so. I tell him that it is the most practical compliment which aman can pay to a woman. He is a little shybut when he sets himself to do it hewill do it. He is very much in love with herI assure you. These little livelypeople always do attract the slow and heavy oneswhich is nature's device forthe neutralizing of bores. But they are all going in. I think if you will allowme that I will just take the opportunity to tell him thatas far as you knowthere is no positive obstacle in the way."

"As far as I know"Clara repeatedas the widow moved away towhere the players were grouped round the netor sauntering slowly towards thehouse. She rose to follow herbut her head was in a whirl with new thoughtsand she sat down again. Which would be best for IdaHarold or Charles? Shethought it over with as much solicitude as a mother who plans for her only child.Harold had seemed to her to be in many ways the noblest and the best young manwhom she had known. If ever she was to love a man it would be such a man as that.But she must not think of herself. She had reason to believe that both these menloved her sister. Which would be the best for her? But perhaps the matter wasalready decided. She could not forget the scrap of conversation which she hadheard the night beforenor the secret which her sister had refused to confideto her. If Ida would not tell herthere was but one person who could. Sheraised her eyes and there was Harold Denver standing before her.

"You were lost in your thoughts" said hesmiling. "I hopethat they were pleasant ones."

"OhI was planning" said sherising. "It seems rather awaste of time as a rulefor things have a way of working themselves out just asyou least expect."

"What were you planningthen?"

"The future."

"Whose?"

"Ohmy own and Ida's."

"And was I included in your joint futures?

"I hope all our friends were included."

"Don't go in" said heas she began to move slowly towards thehouse. "I wanted to have a word. Let us stroll up and down the lawn.Perhaps you are cold. If you areI could bring you out a shawl."

"OhnoI am not cold."

"I was speaking to your sister Ida last night." She noticed thatthere was a slight quiver in his voiceandglancing up at his darkclear-cutfaceshe saw that he was very grave. She felt that it was settledthat he hadcome to ask her for her sister's hand.

"She is a charming girl" said heafter a pause.

"Indeed she is" cried Clara warmly. "And no one who has notlived with her and known her intimately can tell how charming and good she is.She is like a sunbeam in the house."

"No one who was not good could be so absolutely happy as she seems to be.Heaven's last giftI thinkis a mind so pure and a spirit so high that it isunable even to see what is impure and evil in the world around us. For as longas we can see ithow can we be truly happy?"

"She has a deeper side also. She does not turn it to the worldand itis not natural that she shouldfor she is very young. But she thinksand hasaspirations of her own."

"You cannot admire her more than I do. IndeedMiss WalkerI only askto be brought into nearer relationship with herand to feel that there is apermanent bond between us."

It had come at last. For a moment her heart was numbed within herand then aflood of sisterly love carried all before it. Down with that dark thought whichwould still try to raise its unhallowed head! She turned to Harold withsparkling eyes and words of pleasure upon her lips.

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

She said nothing. She only stood looking at him with parted lips and greatdarkquestioning eyes. The lawn had vanished awaythe sloping gardensthebrick villasthe darkening sky with half a pale moon beginning to show over thechimney-tops. All was goneand she was only conscious of a darkearnestpleading faceand of a voicefar awaydisconnected from herselfthe voice ofa man telling a woman how he loved her. He was unhappysaid the voicehis lifewas a void; there was but one thing that could save him; he had come to theparting of the wayshere lay happiness and honorand all that was high andnoble; there lay the soul-killing roundthe lonely lifethe base pursuit ofmoneythe sordidselfish aims. He needed but the hand of the woman that heloved to lead him into the better path. And how he loved her his life wouldshow. He loved her for her sweetnessfor her womanlinessfor her strength. Hehad need of her. Would she not come to him? And then of a sudden as she listenedit came home to her that the man was Harold Denverand that she was the womanand that all God's work was very beautiful--the green sward beneath her feetthe rustling leavesthe long orange slashes in the western sky. She spoke; shescarce knew what the broken words werebut she saw the light of joy shine outon his faceand her hand was still in his as they wandered amid the twilight.They said no more nowbut only wandered and felt each other's presence. All wasfresh around themfamiliar and yet newtinged with the beauty of theirnew-found happiness.

"Did you not know it before?" he asked. "I did not dare tothink it."

"What a mask of ice I must wear! How could a man feel as I have donewithout showing it? Your sister at least knew."

"Ida!"

"It was last night. She began to praise youI said what I feltandthen in an instant it was all out."

"But what could you--what could you see in me? OhI do pray that youmay not repent it!" The gentle heart was ruffled amid its joy by thethought of its own unworthiness.

"Repent it! I feel that I am a saved man. You do not know how degradingthis city life ishow debasingand yet how absorbing. Money for ever clinks inyour ear. You can think of nothing else. From the bottom of my heart I hate itand yet how can I draw back without bringing grief to my dear old father? Therewas but one way in which I could defy the taintand that was by having a homeinfluence so pure and so high that it may brace me up against all that draws medown. I have felt that influence already. I know that when I am talking to you Iam a better man. It is you whomust go with me through lifeor I must walk forever alone."

"OhHaroldI am so happy!" Still they wandered amid the darkeningshadowswhile one by one the stars peeped out in the blue black sky above them.At last a chill night wind blew up from the eastand brought them back to therealities of life.

"You must go in. You will be cold."

"My father will wonder where I am. Shall I say anything to him?"

"If you likemy darling. Or I will in the morning. I must tell mymother to-night. I know how delighted she will be."

"I do hope so."

"Let me take you up the garden path. It is so dark. Your lamp is not lityet. There is the window. Till to-morrowthendearest."

"Till to-morrowHarold."

"My own darling!" He stoopedand their lips met for the firsttime. Thenas she pushed open the folding windows she heard his quickfirmstep as it passed down the graveled path. A lamp was lit as she entered theroomand there was Idadancing about like a mischievous little fairy in frontof her.

"And have you anything to tell me?" she askedwith a solemn face.Thensuddenly throwing her arms round her sister's neck"Ohyou deardear old Clara! I am so pleased. I am so pleased."

Chapter 7 - Venit Tandem Felicitas

 


 

 

It was just three days after the Doctor and the Admiral had congratulatedeach other upon the closer tie which was to unite their two familiesand toturn their friendship into something even dearer and more intimatethat MissIda Walker received a letter which caused her some surprise and considerableamusement. It was dated from next doorand was handed in by the red-headed pageafter breakfast.

"Dear Miss Ida" began this curious documentand then relapsedsuddenly into the third person. "Mr. Charles Westmacott hopes that he mayhave the extreme pleasure of a ride with Miss Ida Walker upon his tandemtricycle. Mr. Charles Westmacott will bring it round in half an hour. You infront. Yours very trulyCharles Westmacott." The whole was written in alargeloose-jointedand school-boyish handvery thin on the up strokes andthick on the downas though care and pains had gone to the fashioning of it.

Strange as was the formthe meaning was clear enough; so Ida hastened to herroomand had hardly slipped on her light grey cycling dress when she saw thetandem with its large occupant at the door. He handed her up to her saddle witha more solemn and thoughtful face than was usual with himand a few momentslater they were flying along the beautifulsmooth suburban roads in thedirection of Forest Hill. The great limbs of the athlete made the heavy machinespring and quiver with every stroke; while the mignon grey figure with thelaughing faceand the golden curls blowing from under the little pink-bandedstraw hatsimply held firmly to her perchand let the treadles whirl roundbeneath her feet. Mile after mile they flewthe wind beating in her facethetrees dancing past in two long ranks on either sideuntil they had passed roundCroydon and were approaching Norwood once more from the further side.

"Aren't you tired?" she askedglancing over her shoulder andturning towards him a little pink eara fluffy golden curland one blue eyetwinkling from the very corner of its lid.

"Not a bit. I am just getting my swing."

"Isn't it wonderful to be strong? You always remind me of a steamengine."

"Why a steamengine?"

"Wellbecause it is so powerfuland reliableand unreasoning. WellIdidn't mean that lastyou knowbut--but--you know what I mean. What is thematter with you?"

"Why?"

"Because you have something on your mind. You have not laughedonce."

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

"Ohnoyou are not. And why did you write me such a dreadfully stiffletter?"

"There now" he cried"I was sure it was stiff. I said it wasabsurdly stiff."

"Then why write it?"

"It wasn't my own composition."

"Whose then? Your aunt's?"

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

"Goodness! Who is he?"

"I knew it would come outI felt that it would. You've heard ofSlattery the author?"

"Never."

"He is wonderful at expressing himself. He wrote a book called `TheSecret Solved; orLetter-writing Made Easy.' It gives you models of all sortsof letters."

Ida burst out laughing. "So you actually copied one."

"It was to invite a young lady to a picnicbut I set to work and soongot it changed so that it would do very well. Slattery seems never to have askedany one to ride a tandem. But when I had written itit seemed so dreadfullystiff that I had to put a little beginning and end of my ownwhich seemed tobrighten it up a good deal."

 

"I thought there was something funny about the beginning and end."

"Did you? Fancy your noticing the difference in style. How quick youare! I am very slow at things like that. I ought to have been a woodmanorgame-keeperor something. I was made on those lines. But I have found somethingnow."

"What is thatthen?"

"Ranching. I have a chum in Texasand he says it is a rare life. I amto buy a share in his business. It is all in the open air--shootingand ridingand sport. Would it--would it inconvenience you muchIdato come out therewith me?"

Ida nearly fell off her perch in her amazement. The only words of which shecould think were "My goodness me!" so she said them.

"If it would not upset your plansor change your arrangements in anyway." He had slowed down and let go of the steering handleso that thegreat machine crawled aimlessly about from one side of the road to the other."I know very well that I am not clever or anything of that sortbut stillI would do all I can to make you very happy. Don't you think that in time youmight come to like me a little bit?"

Ida gave a cry of fright. "I won't like you if you run me against abrick wall" she saidas the machine rasped up against the curb "Doattend to the steering."

"YesI will. But tell meIdawhether you will come with me."

"OhI don't know. It's too absurd! How can we talk about such thingswhen I cannot see you? You speak to the nape of my neckand then I have totwist my head round to answer."

"I know. That was why I put `You in front' upon my letter. I thoughtthat it would make it easier. But if you would prefer it I will stop the machineand then you can sit round and talk about it."

"Good gracious!" cried Ida. "Fancy our sitting face to face ona motionless tricycle in the middle of the roadand all the people looking outof their windows at us!"

"It would look rather funnywouldn't it? Wellthensuppose that weboth get off and push the tandem along in front of us?"

"Ohnothis is better than that."

"Or I could carry the thing."

Ida burst out laughing. "That would be more absurd still."

"Then we will go quietlyand I will look out for the steering. I won'ttalk about it at all if you would rather not. But I really do love you very muchand you would make me happy if you came to Texas with meand I think thatperhaps after a time I could make you happy too."

"But your aunt?"

"Ohshe would like it very much. I can understand that your fathermight not like to lose you. I'm sure I wouldn't eitherif I were he. But afterallAmerica is not very far off nowadaysand is not so very wild. We wouldtake a grand pianoand--and--a copy of Browning. And Denver and his wife wouldcome over to see us. We should be quite a family party. It would be jolly."

Ida sat listening to the stumbling words and awkward phrases which werewhispered from the back of herbut there was something in Charles Westmacott'sclumsiness of speech which was more moving than the words of the most eloquentof pleaders. He pausedhe stammeredhe caught his breath between the wordsand he blurted out in little blunt phrases all the hopes of his heart. If lovehad not come to her yetthere was at least pity and sympathywhich are nearlyakin to it. Wonder there was also that one so weak and frail as she should shakethis strong man soshould have the whole course of his life waiting for herdecision. Her left hand was on the cushion at her side. He leaned forward andtook it gently in his own. She did not try to draw it back from him.

"May I have it" said he"for life?"

"Ohdo attend to your steering" said shesmiling round at him;"and don't say any more about this to-day. Please don't!"

"When shall I knowthen?"

"Ohto-nightto-morrowI don't know. I must ask Clara. Talk aboutsomething else."

And they did talk about something else; but her left hand was still enclosedin hisand he knewwithout asking againthat all was well.

Chapter 8 - Shadows Before

 


 

 

Mrs. Westmacott's great meeting for the enfranchisement of woman had passedoverand it had been a triumphant success. All the maids and matrons of thesouthern suburbs had rallied at her summonsthere was an influential platformwith Dr. Balthazar Walker in the chairand Admiral Hay Denver among his moreprominent supporters. One benighted male had come in from the outside darknessand had jeered from the further end of the hallbut he had been called to orderby the chairpetrified by indignant glances from the unenfranchised around himand finally escorted to the door by Charles Westmacott. Fiery resolutions werepassedto be forwarded to a large number of leading statesmenand the meetingbroke up with the conviction that a shrewd blow had been struck for the cause ofwoman.

But there was one woman at least to whom the meeting and all that wasconnected with it had brought anything but pleasure. Clara Walker watched with aheavy heart the friendship and close intimacy which had sprung up between herfather and the widow. From week to week it had increased until no day everpassed without their being together. The coming meeting had been the excuse forthese continual interviewsbut now the meeting was overand still the Doctorwould refer every point which rose to the judgment of his neighbor. He wouldtalktooto his two daughters of her strength of characterher decisive mindand of the necessity of their cultivating her acquaintance and following herexampleuntil at last it had become his most common topic of conversation.

All this might have passed as merely the natural pleasure which an elderlyman might take in the society of an intelligent and handsome womanbut therewere other points which seemed to Clara to give it a deeper meaning. She couldnot forget that when Charles Westmacott had spoken to her one night he hadalluded to the possibility of his aunt marrying again. He must have known ornoticed something before he would speak upon such a subject. And then again Mrs.Westmacott had herself said that she hoped to change her style of living shortlyand take over completely new duties. What could that mean except that sheexpected to marry? And whom? She seemed to see few friends outside their ownlittle circle. She must have alluded to her father. It was a hateful thoughtand yet it must be faced.

One evening the Doctor had been rather late at his neighbor's. He used to gointo the Admiral's after dinnerbut now he turned more frequently in the otherdirection. When he returned Clara was sitting alone in the drawing-room readinga magazine. She sprang up as he enteredpushed forward his chairand ran tofetch his slippers.

"You are looking a little paledear" he remarked.

"OhnopapaI am very well."

"All well with Harold?"

"Yes. His partnerMr. Pearsonis still awayand he is doing all thework."

"Well done. He is sure to succeed. Where is Ida?"

"In her roomI think."

"She was with Charles Westmacott on the lawn not very long ago. He seemsvery fond of her. He is not very brightbut I think he will make her a goodhusband."

"I am sure of itpapa. He is very manly and reliable."

"YesI should think that he is not the sort of man who goes wrong.There is nothing hidden about him. As to his brightnessit really does notmatterfor his auntMrs. Westmacottis very richmuch richer than you wouldthink from her style of livingand she has made him a handsome provision."

"I am glad of that."

"It is between ourselves. I am her trusteeand so I know something ofher arrangements. And when are you going to marryClara?"

"Ohpapanot for some time yet. We have not thought of a date.

"WellreallyI don't know that there is any reason for delay. He has acompetence and it increases yearly. As long as you are quite certain that yourmind is made up----"

"Ohpapa!"

"WellthenI really do not know why there should be any delay. AndIdatoomust be married within the next few months. Nowwhat I want to knowis what I am to do when my two little companions run away from me." Hespoke lightlybut his eyes were grave as he looked questioningly at hisdaughter.

"Dear papayou shall not be alone. It will be years before Harold and Ithink of marryingand when we do you must come and live with us."

"Nonodear. I know that you mean what you saybut I have seensomething of the worldand I know that such arrangements never answer. Therecannot be two masters in a houseand yet at my age my freedom is very necessaryto me."

"But you would be completely free."

"Nodearyou cannot be that if you are a guest in another man's house.Can you suggest no other alternative?"

"That we remain with you."

"Nono. That is out of the question. Mrs. Westmacott herself says thata woman's first duty is to marry. Marriagehowevershould be an equalpartnershipas she points out. I should wish you both to marrybut still Ishould like a suggestion from youClaraas to what I should do."

"But there is no hurrypapa. Let us wait. I do not intend to marry yet."

Doctor Walker looked disappointed. "WellClaraif you can suggestnothingI suppose that I must take the initiative myself" said he.

"Then what do you proposepapa?" She braced herself as one whosees the blow which is about to fall.

He looked at her and hesitated. "How like your poor dear mother you areClara!" he cried. "As I looked at you then it was as if she had comeback from the grave." He stooped towards her and kissed her. "Thererun away to your sistermy dearand do not trouble yourself about me. Nothingis settled yetbut you will find that all will come right."

Clara went upstairs sad at heartfor she was sure now that what she hadfeared was indeed about to come to passand that her father was going to takeMrs. Westmacott to be his wife. In her pure and earnest mind her mother's memorywas enshrined as that of a saintand the thought that any one should take herplace seemed a terrible desecration. Even worsehoweverdid this marriageappear when looked at from the point of view of her father's future. The widowmight fascinate him by her knowledge of the worldher dashher strengthherunconventionality--all these qualities Clara was willing to allow her--but shewas convinced that she would be unendurable as a life companion. She had come toan age when habits are not lightly to be changednor was she a woman who was atall likely to attempt to change them. How would a sensitive man like her fatherstand the constant strain of such a wifea woman who was all decisionwith nosoftnessand nothing soothing in her nature? It passed as a mere eccentricitywhen they heard of her stout drinkingher cigarette smokingher occasionalwhiffs at a long clay pipeher horsewhipping of a drunken servantand hercompanionship with the snake Elizawhom she was in the habit of bearing aboutin her pocket. All this would become unendurable to her father when his firstinfatuation was past. For his own sakethenas well as for her mother's memorythis match must be prevented. And yet how powerless she was to prevent it! Whatcould she do? Could Harold aid her? Perhaps. Or Ida? At least she would tell hersister and see what she could suggest.

Ida was in her boudoira tiny little tapestried roomas neat and dainty asherselfwith low walls hung with Imari plaques and with pretty little Swissbrackets bearing blue Kaga wareor the pure white Coalport china. In a lowchair beneath a red shaded standing lamp sat Idain a diaphanous evening dressof mousseline de soiethe ruddy light tinging her sweet childlike faceandglowing on her golden curls. She sprang up as her sister enteredand threw herarms around her.

"Dear old Clara! Come and sit down here beside me. I have not had a chatfor days. Butohwhat a troubled face! What is it then?" She put up herforefinger and smoothed her sister's brow with it.

Clara pulled up a stooland sitting down beside her sisterpassed her armround her waist. "I am so sorry to trouble youdear Ida" she said."But I do not know what to do.

"There's nothing the matter with Harold?"

"OhnoIda."

"Nor with my Charles?"

"Nono."

Ida gave a sigh of relief. "You quite frightened medear" saidshe. "You can't think how solemn you look. What is itthen?"

"I believe that papa intends to ask Mrs. Westmacott to marry him."

Ida burst out laughing. "What can have put such a notion into your headClara?"

"It is only too trueIda. I suspected it beforeand he himself almosttold me as much with his own lips to-night. I don't think that it is a laughingmatter."

"ReallyI could not help it. If you had told me that those two dear oldladies oppositethe Misses Williamswere both engagedyou would not havesurprised me more. It is really too funny."

"FunnyIda! Think of any one taking the place of dear mother.

But her sister was of a more practical and less sentimental nature. "Iam sure" said she"that dear mother would like papa to do whateverwould make him most happy. We shall both be awayand why should papa not pleasehimself?"

"But think how unhappy he will be. You know how quiet he is in his waysand how even a little thing will upset him. How could he live with a wife whowould make his whole life a series of surprises? Fancy what a whirlwind she mustbe in a house. A man at his age cannot change his ways. I am sure he would bemiserable."

Ida's face grew graverand she pondered over the matter for a few minutes."I really think that you are right as usual" said she at last."I admire Charlie's aunt very muchyou knowand I think that she is avery useful and good personbut I don't think she would do as a wife for poorquiet papa."

"But he will certainly ask herand I really think that she intends toaccept him. Then it would be too late to interfere. We have only a few days atthe most. And what can we do? How can we hope to make him change his mind?"

Again Ida pondered. "He has never tried what it is to live with astrong-minded woman" said she. "If we could only get him to realizeit in time. OhClaraI have it; I have it! Such a lovely plan!" Sheleaned back in her chair and burst into a fit of laughter so natural and sohearty that Clara had to forget her troubles and to join in it.

"Ohit is beautiful!" she gasped at last. "Poor papa! What atime he will have! But it's all for his own goodas he used to say when we hadto be punished when we were little. OhClaraI do hope your heart won't failyou.

"I would do anything to save himdear."

"That's it. You must steel yourself by that thought."

"But what is your plan?"

"OhI am so proud of it. We will tire him for ever of the widowand ofall emancipated women. Let me seewhat are Mrs. Westmacott's main ideas? Youhave listened to her more than I. Women should attend less to household duties.That is oneis it not?"

"Yesif they feel they have capabilities for higher things. Then shethinks that every woman who has leisure should take up the study of some branchof scienceand thatas far as possibleevery woman should qualify herself forsome trade or professionchoosing for preference those which have been hithertomonopolized by men. To enter the others would only be to intensify the presentcompetition."

" Quite so. That is glorious!" Her blue eyes were dancing withmischiefand she clapped her hands in her delight. "What else? She thinksthat whatever a man can do a woman should be allowed to do also--does she not?"

"She says so."

"And about dress? The short skirtand the divided skirt are what shebelieves in?"

"Yes."

"We must get in some cloth."

"Why?"

"We must make ourselves a dress each. A brand-newenfranchisedemancipated dressdear. Don't you see my plan? We shall act up to all Mrs.Westmacott's views in every respectand improve them when we can. Then papawill know what it is to live with a woman who claims all her rights. OhClarait will be splendid."

Her milder sister sat speechless before so daring a scheme. "But itwould be wrongIda!" she cried at last.

"Not a bit. It is to save him."

"I should not dare."

"Ohyesyou would. Harold will help. Besideswhat other plan have you?"

"I have none."

"Then you must take mine."

"Yes. Perhaps you are right. Wellwe do it for a good motive.

"You will do it?"

"I do not see any other way."

"You dear good Clara! Now I will show you what you are to do. We mustnot begin too suddenly. It might excite suspicion."

"What would you dothen?"

"To-morrow we must go to Mrs. Westmacottand sit at her feet and learnall her views."

"What hypocrites we shall feel!"

"We shall be her newest and most enthusiastic converts. Ohit will besuch funClara! Then we shall make our plans and send for what we wantandbegin our new life."

"I do hope that we shall not have to keep it up long. It seems so cruelto dear papa.

"Cruel! To save him!"

"I wish I was sure that we were doing right. And yet what else can wedo? WellthenIdathe die is castand we will call upon Mrs. Westmacotttomorrow.

Chapter 9 - A Family Plot

 


 

 

Little did poor Doctor Walker imagine as he sat at his breakfast-table nextmorning that the two sweet girls who sat on either side of him were deep in aconspiracyand that hemunching innocently at his muffinswas the victimagainst whom their wiles were planned. Patiently they waited until at last theiropening came.

"It is a beautiful day" he remarked. "It will do for Mrs.Westmacott. She was thinking of having a spin upon the tricycle."

"Then we must call early. We both intended to see her afterbreakfast."

"Ohindeed!" The Doctor looked pleased.

"You knowpa" said Ida"it seems to us that we really havea very great advantage in having Mrs. Westmacott living so near."

"Why sodear?"

"Wellbecause she is so advancedyou know. If we only study her wayswe may advance ourselves also."

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

"I am very pleased to hear you speak so sensiblymy dears. I certainlythink that she is a woman whom you may very well take as your model. The moreintimate you are with her the better pleased I shall be."

"Then that is settled" said Clara demurelyand the talk driftedto other matters.

All the morning the two girls sat extracting from Mrs. Westmacott her mostextreme view as to the duty of the one sex and the tyranny of the other.Absolute equalityeven in detailswas her ideal. Enough of the parrot cry ofunwomanly and unmaidenly. It had been invented by man to scare woman away whenshe poached too nearly upon his precious preserves. Every woman should beindependent. Every woman should learn a trade. It was their duty to push inwhere they were least welcome. Then they were martyrs to the causeand pioneersto their weaker sisters. Why should the wash-tubthe needleand thehousekeeper's book be eternally theirs? Might they not reach higherto theconsulting-roomto the benchand even to the pulpit? Mrs. Westmacottsacrificed her tricycle ride in her eagerness over her pet subjectand her twofair disciples drank in every wordand noted every suggestion for future use.That afternoon they went shopping in Londonand before evening strange packagesbegan to be handed in at the Doctor's door. The plot was ripe for executionandone of the conspirators was merry and jubilantwhile the other was very nervousand troubled.

When the Doctor came down to the dining-room next morninghe was surprisedto find that his daughters had already been up some time. Ida was installed atone end of the table with a spirit-lampa curved glass flaskand severalbottles in front of her. The contents of the flask were boiling furiouslywhilea villainous smell filled the room. Clara lounged in an arm-chair with her feetupon a second onea blue-covered book in her handand a huge map of theBritish Islands spread across her lap. "Hullo!" cried the Doctorblinking and sniffing"where's the breakfast?"

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

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

"If you pleasesirMiss Ida was a workin' at the table."

"Ohof courseJane" said the young lady calmly. "I am sosorry. I shall be ready to move in a few minutes."

"But what on earth are you doingIda?" asked the Doctor. "Thesmell is most offensive. Andgood graciouslook at the mess which you havemade upon the cloth! Whyyou have burned a hole right through."

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

"You might have taken her word for it without trying" said herfather dryly.

"But look herepa! See what the book says: `The scientific mind takesnothing upon trust. Prove all things!' I have proved that."

"You certainly have. Welluntil breakfast is ready I'll glance over theTimes. Have you seen it?"

"The Times? Ohdear methis is it which I have under my spirit-lamp. Iam afraid there is some acid upon that tooand it is rather damp and torn. Hereit is."

The Doctor took the bedraggled paper with a rueful face. "Everythingseems to be wrong to-day" he remarked. "What is this suddenenthusiasm about chemistryIda?"

"OhI am trying to live up to Mrs. Westmacott's teaching."

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

But nothing was comfortable that morning. There were eggs without egg-spoonstoast which was leathery from being keptdried-up rashersand grounds in thecoffee. Above allthere was that dreadful smell which pervaded everything andgave a horrible twang to every mouthful.

"I don't wish to put a damper upon your studiesIda" said theDoctoras he pushed back his chair. "But I do think it would be better ifyou did your chemical experiments a little later in the day."

"But Mrs. Westmacott says that women should rise earlyand do theirwork before breakfast."

"Then they should choose some other room besides thebreakfast-room." The Doctor was becoming just a little ruffled. A turn inthe open air would soothe himhe thought. "Where are my boots?" heasked.

But they were not in their accustomed corner by his chair. Up and down hesearchedwhile the three servants took up the queststooping and peeping underbook-cases and drawers. Ida had returned to her studiesand Clara to herblue-covered volumesitting absorbed and disinterested amid the bustle and theracket. At last a general buzz of congratulation announced that the cook haddiscovered the boots hung up among the hats in the hall. The Doctorvery redand flustereddrew them onand stamped off to join the Admiral in his morningwalk.

As the door slammed Ida burst into a shout of laughter. "You seeClara" she cried"the charm works already. He has gone to number oneinstead of to number three. Ohwe shall win a great victory. You've been verygooddear; I could see that you were on thorns to help him when he was lookingfor his boots."

"Poor papa! It is so cruel. And yet what are we to do?"

"Ohhe will enjoy being comfortable all the more if we give him alittle discomfort now. What horrible work this chemistry is! Look at my frock!It is ruined. And this dreadful smell!" She threw open the windowandthrust her little golden-curled head out of it. Charles Westmacott was hoeing atthe other side of the garden fence.

"Good morningsir" said Ida.

"Good morning!" The big man leaned upon his hoe and looked up ather.

"Have you any cigarettesCharles?"

"Yescertainly."

"Throw me up two."

"Here is my case. Can you catch!"

A seal-skin case came with a soft thud on to the floor. Ida opened it. It wasfull.

"What are these?" she asked.

"Egyptians."

"What are some other brands?"

"OhRichmond Gemsand Turkishand Cambridge. But why?"

"Never mind!" She nodded to him and closed the window. "Wemust remember all thoseClara" said she. "We must learn to talkabout such things. Mrs. Westmacott knows all about the brands of cigarettes. Hasyour rum come?"

"Yesdear. It is here."

"And I have my stout. Come along up to my room now. This smell is tooabominable. But we must be ready for him when he comes back. If we sit at thewindow we shall see him coming down the road."

The fresh morning airand the genial company of the Admiral had caused theDoctor to forget his troublesand he came back about midday in an excellenthumor. As he opened the hall door the vile smell of chemicals which had spoilthis breakfast met him with a redoubled virulence. He threw open the hall windowentered the dining-roomand stood aghast at the sight which met his eyes.

Ida was still sitting among her bottleswith a lit cigarette in her lefthand and a glass of stout on the table beside her. Clarawith another cigarettewas lounging in the easy chair with several maps spread out upon the flooraround. Her feet were stuck up on the coal scuttleand she had a tumblerful ofsome reddish-brown composition on the smoking table close at her elbow. TheDoctor gazed from one to the other of them through the thin grey haze of smokebut his eyes rested finally in a settled stare of astonishment upon his elderand more serious daughter.

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

"What is itpapa?"

"You are smoking!"

"Trying topapa. I find it a little difficultfor I have not been usedto it."

"But whyin the name of goodness--"

"Mrs. Westmacott recommends it."

"Oha lady of mature years may do many things which a young girl mustavoid."

"Ohno" cried Ida"Mrs. Westmacott says that there shouldbe one law for all. Have a cigarettepa?"

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

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

"Egyptians."

"Ahwe must have some Richmond Gems or Turkish. I wishpawhen you gointo townyou would get me some Turkish."

"I will do nothing of the kind. I do not at all think that it is afitting habit for young ladies. I do not agree with Mrs. Westmacott upon thepoint."

"Reallypa! It was you who advised us to imitate her."

"But with discrimination. What is it that you are drinkingClara?"

"Rumpapa."

"Rum? In the morning?" He sat down and rubbed his eyes as one whotries to shake off some evil dream. "Did you say rum?"

"Yespa. They all drink it in the profession which I am going to takeup."

"ProfessionClara?"

"Mrs. Westmacott says that every woman should follow a callingand thatwe ought to choose those which women have always avoided."

"Quite so."

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

"My dear Clara! A pilot! This is too much."

"This is a beautiful bookpapa. `The LightsBeaconsBuoysChannelsand Landmarks of Great Britain.' Here is another`The Master Mariner's Handbook.'You can't imagine how interesting it is."

"You are jokingClara. You must be joking!"

"Not at allpa. You can't think what a lot I have learned already. I'mto carry a green light to starboard and a red to portwith a white light at themast-headand a flare-up every fifteen minutes."

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

"And I know the fog-signals. One blast means that a ship steers tostarboardtwo to portthree asternfour that it is unmanageable. But this manasks such dreadful questions at the end of each chapter. Listen to this: `Yousee a red light. The ship is on the port tack and the wind at north; what courseis that ship steering to a point?'"

The Doctor rose with a gesture of despair. "I can't imagine what hascome over you both" said he.

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

"WellI must say that I do not admire the result. Your chemistryIdamay perhaps do no harm; but your schemeClarais out of the question. How agirl of your sense could ever entertain such a notion is more than I can imagine.But I must absolutely forbid you to go further with it."

"Butpa" asked Idawith an air of innocent inquiry in her bigblue eyes"what are we to do when your commands and Mrs. Westmacott'sadvice are opposed? You told us to obey her. She says that when women try tothrow off their shacklestheir fathersbrothers and husbands are the veryfirst to try to rivet them on againand that in such a matter no man has anyauthority."

"Does Mrs. Westmacott teach you that I am not the head of my ownhouse?" The Doctor flushedand his grizzled hair bristled in his anger.

"Certainly. She says that all heads of houses are relics of the darkages."

The Doctor muttered something and stamped his foot upon the carpet. Thenwithout a word he passed out into the garden and his daughters could see himstriding furiously up and downcutting off the heads of the flowers with aswitch.

"Ohyou darling! You played your part so splendidly!" cried Ida.

"But how cruel it is! When I saw the sorrow and surprise in his eyes Ivery nearly put my arms about him and told him all. Don't you think we have doneenough?"

"Nonono. Not nearly enough. You must not turn weak nowClara. It isso funny that I should be leading you. It is quite a new experience. But I knowI am right. If we go an as we are doingwe shall be able to say all our livesthat we have saved him. And if we don'tohClarawe should never forgiveourselves."

Chapter 9 - A Family Plot

 


 

 

Little did poor Doctor Walker imagine as he sat at his breakfast-table nextmorning that the two sweet girls who sat on either side of him were deep in aconspiracyand that hemunching innocently at his muffinswas the victimagainst whom their wiles were planned. Patiently they waited until at last theiropening came.

"It is a beautiful day" he remarked. "It will do for Mrs.Westmacott. She was thinking of having a spin upon the tricycle."

"Then we must call early. We both intended to see her afterbreakfast."

"Ohindeed!" The Doctor looked pleased.

"You knowpa" said Ida"it seems to us that we really havea very great advantage in having Mrs. Westmacott living so near."

"Why sodear?"

"Wellbecause she is so advancedyou know. If we only study her wayswe may advance ourselves also."

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

"I am very pleased to hear you speak so sensiblymy dears. I certainlythink that she is a woman whom you may very well take as your model. The moreintimate you are with her the better pleased I shall be."

"Then that is settled" said Clara demurelyand the talk driftedto other matters.

All the morning the two girls sat extracting from Mrs. Westmacott her mostextreme view as to the duty of the one sex and the tyranny of the other.Absolute equalityeven in detailswas her ideal. Enough of the parrot cry ofunwomanly and unmaidenly. It had been invented by man to scare woman away whenshe poached too nearly upon his precious preserves. Every woman should beindependent. Every woman should learn a trade. It was their duty to push inwhere they were least welcome. Then they were martyrs to the causeand pioneersto their weaker sisters. Why should the wash-tubthe needleand thehousekeeper's book be eternally theirs? Might they not reach higherto theconsulting-roomto the benchand even to the pulpit? Mrs. Westmacottsacrificed her tricycle ride in her eagerness over her pet subjectand her twofair disciples drank in every wordand noted every suggestion for future use.That afternoon they went shopping in Londonand before evening strange packagesbegan to be handed in at the Doctor's door. The plot was ripe for executionandone of the conspirators was merry and jubilantwhile the other was very nervousand troubled.

When the Doctor came down to the dining-room next morninghe was surprisedto find that his daughters had already been up some time. Ida was installed atone end of the table with a spirit-lampa curved glass flaskand severalbottles in front of her. The contents of the flask were boiling furiouslywhilea villainous smell filled the room. Clara lounged in an arm-chair with her feetupon a second onea blue-covered book in her handand a huge map of theBritish Islands spread across her lap. "Hullo!" cried the Doctorblinking and sniffing"where's the breakfast?"

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

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

"If you pleasesirMiss Ida was a workin' at the table."

"Ohof courseJane" said the young lady calmly. "I am sosorry. I shall be ready to move in a few minutes."

"But what on earth are you doingIda?" asked the Doctor. "Thesmell is most offensive. Andgood graciouslook at the mess which you havemade upon the cloth! Whyyou have burned a hole right through."

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

"You might have taken her word for it without trying" said herfather dryly.

"But look herepa! See what the book says: `The scientific mind takesnothing upon trust. Prove all things!' I have proved that."

"You certainly have. Welluntil breakfast is ready I'll glance over theTimes. Have you seen it?"

"The Times? Ohdear methis is it which I have under my spirit-lamp. Iam afraid there is some acid upon that tooand it is rather damp and torn. Hereit is."

The Doctor took the bedraggled paper with a rueful face. "Everythingseems to be wrong to-day" he remarked. "What is this suddenenthusiasm about chemistryIda?"

"OhI am trying to live up to Mrs. Westmacott's teaching."

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

But nothing was comfortable that morning. There were eggs without egg-spoonstoast which was leathery from being keptdried-up rashersand grounds in thecoffee. Above allthere was that dreadful smell which pervaded everything andgave a horrible twang to every mouthful.

"I don't wish to put a damper upon your studiesIda" said theDoctoras he pushed back his chair. "But I do think it would be better ifyou did your chemical experiments a little later in the day."

"But Mrs. Westmacott says that women should rise earlyand do theirwork before breakfast."

"Then they should choose some other room besides thebreakfast-room." The Doctor was becoming just a little ruffled. A turn inthe open air would soothe himhe thought. "Where are my boots?" heasked.

But they were not in their accustomed corner by his chair. Up and down hesearchedwhile the three servants took up the queststooping and peeping underbook-cases and drawers. Ida had returned to her studiesand Clara to herblue-covered volumesitting absorbed and disinterested amid the bustle and theracket. At last a general buzz of congratulation announced that the cook haddiscovered the boots hung up among the hats in the hall. The Doctorvery redand flustereddrew them onand stamped off to join the Admiral in his morningwalk.

As the door slammed Ida burst into a shout of laughter. "You seeClara" she cried"the charm works already. He has gone to number oneinstead of to number three. Ohwe shall win a great victory. You've been verygooddear; I could see that you were on thorns to help him when he was lookingfor his boots."

"Poor papa! It is so cruel. And yet what are we to do?"

"Ohhe will enjoy being comfortable all the more if we give him alittle discomfort now. What horrible work this chemistry is! Look at my frock!It is ruined. And this dreadful smell!" She threw open the windowandthrust her little golden-curled head out of it. Charles Westmacott was hoeing atthe other side of the garden fence.

"Good morningsir" said Ida.

"Good morning!" The big man leaned upon his hoe and looked up ather.

"Have you any cigarettesCharles?"

"Yescertainly."

"Throw me up two."

"Here is my case. Can you catch!"

A seal-skin case came with a soft thud on to the floor. Ida opened it. It wasfull.

"What are these?" she asked.

"Egyptians."

"What are some other brands?"

"OhRichmond Gemsand Turkishand Cambridge. But why?"

"Never mind!" She nodded to him and closed the window. "Wemust remember all thoseClara" said she. "We must learn to talkabout such things. Mrs. Westmacott knows all about the brands of cigarettes. Hasyour rum come?"

"Yesdear. It is here."

"And I have my stout. Come along up to my room now. This smell is tooabominable. But we must be ready for him when he comes back. If we sit at thewindow we shall see him coming down the road."

The fresh morning airand the genial company of the Admiral had caused theDoctor to forget his troublesand he came back about midday in an excellenthumor. As he opened the hall door the vile smell of chemicals which had spoilthis breakfast met him with a redoubled virulence. He threw open the hall windowentered the dining-roomand stood aghast at the sight which met his eyes.

Ida was still sitting among her bottleswith a lit cigarette in her lefthand and a glass of stout on the table beside her. Clarawith another cigarettewas lounging in the easy chair with several maps spread out upon the flooraround. Her feet were stuck up on the coal scuttleand she had a tumblerful ofsome reddish-brown composition on the smoking table close at her elbow. TheDoctor gazed from one to the other of them through the thin grey haze of smokebut his eyes rested finally in a settled stare of astonishment upon his elderand more serious daughter.

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

"What is itpapa?"

"You are smoking!"

"Trying topapa. I find it a little difficultfor I have not been usedto it."

"But whyin the name of goodness--"

"Mrs. Westmacott recommends it."

"Oha lady of mature years may do many things which a young girl mustavoid."

"Ohno" cried Ida"Mrs. Westmacott says that there shouldbe one law for all. Have a cigarettepa?"

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

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

"Egyptians."

"Ahwe must have some Richmond Gems or Turkish. I wishpawhen you gointo townyou would get me some Turkish."

"I will do nothing of the kind. I do not at all think that it is afitting habit for young ladies. I do not agree with Mrs. Westmacott upon thepoint."

"Reallypa! It was you who advised us to imitate her."

"But with discrimination. What is it that you are drinkingClara?"

"Rumpapa."

"Rum? In the morning?" He sat down and rubbed his eyes as one whotries to shake off some evil dream. "Did you say rum?"

"Yespa. They all drink it in the profession which I am going to takeup."

"ProfessionClara?"

"Mrs. Westmacott says that every woman should follow a callingand thatwe ought to choose those which women have always avoided."

"Quite so."

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

"My dear Clara! A pilot! This is too much."

"This is a beautiful bookpapa. `The LightsBeaconsBuoysChannelsand Landmarks of Great Britain.' Here is another`The Master Mariner's Handbook.'You can't imagine how interesting it is."

"You are jokingClara. You must be joking!"

"Not at allpa. You can't think what a lot I have learned already. I'mto carry a green light to starboard and a red to portwith a white light at themast-headand a flare-up every fifteen minutes."

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

"And I know the fog-signals. One blast means that a ship steers tostarboardtwo to portthree asternfour that it is unmanageable. But this manasks such dreadful questions at the end of each chapter. Listen to this: `Yousee a red light. The ship is on the port tack and the wind at north; what courseis that ship steering to a point?'"

The Doctor rose with a gesture of despair. "I can't imagine what hascome over you both" said he.

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

"WellI must say that I do not admire the result. Your chemistryIdamay perhaps do no harm; but your schemeClarais out of the question. How agirl of your sense could ever entertain such a notion is more than I can imagine.But I must absolutely forbid you to go further with it."

"Butpa" asked Idawith an air of innocent inquiry in her bigblue eyes"what are we to do when your commands and Mrs. Westmacott'sadvice are opposed? You told us to obey her. She says that when women try tothrow off their shacklestheir fathersbrothers and husbands are the veryfirst to try to rivet them on againand that in such a matter no man has anyauthority."

"Does Mrs. Westmacott teach you that I am not the head of my ownhouse?" The Doctor flushedand his grizzled hair bristled in his anger.

"Certainly. She says that all heads of houses are relics of the darkages."

The Doctor muttered something and stamped his foot upon the carpet. Thenwithout a word he passed out into the garden and his daughters could see himstriding furiously up and downcutting off the heads of the flowers with aswitch.

"Ohyou darling! You played your part so splendidly!" cried Ida.

"But how cruel it is! When I saw the sorrow and surprise in his eyes Ivery nearly put my arms about him and told him all. Don't you think we have doneenough?"

"Nonono. Not nearly enough. You must not turn weak nowClara. It isso funny that I should be leading you. It is quite a new experience. But I knowI am right. If we go an as we are doingwe shall be able to say all our livesthat we have saved him. And if we don'tohClarawe should never forgiveourselves."

Chapter 10 - Women Of The Future

 


 

 

From that day the Doctor's peace was gone. Never was a quiet and orderlyhousehold transformed so suddenly into a bear gardenor a happy man turned intosuch a completely miserable one. He had never realized before how entirely hisdaughters had shielded him from all the friction of life. Now that they had notonly ceased to protect himbut had themselves become a source of trouble to himhe began to understand how great the blessing was which he had enjoyedand tosigh for the happy days before his girls had come under the influence of hisneighbor.

"You don't look happy" Mrs. Westmacott had remarked to him onemorning. "You are pale and a little off color. You should come with me fora ten mile spin upon the tandem."

"I am troubled about my girls." They were walking up and down inthe garden. From time to time there sounded from the house behind them the longsad wail of a French horn.

"That is Ida" said he. "She has taken to practicing on thatdreadful instrument in the intervals of her chemistry. And Clara is quite asbad. I declare it is getting quite unendurable."

"AhDoctorDoctor!" she criedshaking her forefingerwith agleam of her white teeth. "You must live up to your principles--you mustgive your daughters the same liberty as you advocate for other women."

"Libertymadamcertainly! But this approaches to license."

"The same law for allmy friend." She tapped him reprovingly onthe arm with her sunshade. "When you were twenty your father did notIpresumeobject to your learning chemistry or playing a musical instrument. Youwould have thought it tyranny if he had."

"But there is such a sudden change in them both."

"YesI have noticed that they have been very enthusiastic lately in thecause of liberty. Of all my disciples I think that they promise to be the mostdevoted and consistentwhich is the more natural since their father is one ofour most trusted champions."

The Doctor gave a twitch of impatience. "I seem to have lost allauthority" he cried.

"Nonomy dear friend. They are a little exuberant at having brokenthe trammels of custom. That is all."

"You cannot think what I have had to put up withmadam. It has been adreadful experience. Last nightafter I had extinguished the candle in mybedroomI placed my foot upon something smooth and hardwhich scuttled fromunder me. Imagine my horror! I lit the gasand came upon a well-grown tortoisewhich Clara has thought fit to introduce into the house. I call it a filthycustom to have such pets."

Mrs. Westmacott dropped him a little courtesy. "Thank yousir"said she. "That is a nice little side hit at my poor Eliza."

"I give you my word that I had forgotten about her" cried theDoctorflushing. "One such pet may no doubt be enduredbut two are morethan I can bear. Ida has a monkey which lives on the curtain rod. It is a mostdreadful creature. It will remain absolutely motionless until it sees that youhave forgotten its presenceand then it will suddenly bound from picture topicture all round the wallsand end by swinging down on the bell-rope andjumping on to the top of your head. At breakfast it stole a poached egg anddaubed it all over the door handle. Ida calls these outrages amusing tricks."

"Ohall will come right" said the widow reassuringly.

"And Clara is as badClara who used to be so good and sweetthe veryimage of her poor mother. She insists upon this preposterous scheme of being apilotand will talk of nothing but revolving lights and hidden rocksand codesof signalsand nonsense of the kind."

"But why preposterous?" asked his companion. "What nobleroccupation can there be than that of stimulating commerceand aiding themariner to steer safely into port? I should think your daughter admirablyadapted for such duties."

"Then I must beg to differ from youmadam."

"Stillyou are inconsistent."

"Excuse memadamI do not see the matter in the same light. And Ishould be obliged to you if you would use your influence with my daughter todissuade her."

"You wish to make me inconsistent too."

"Then you refuse?"

"I am afraid that I cannot interfere."

The Doctor was very angry. "Very wellmadam" said he. "Inthat case I can only say that I have the honor to wish you a very good morning."He raised his broad straw hat and strode away up the gravel pathwhile thewidow looked after him with twinkling eyes. She was surprised herself to findthat she liked the Doctor better the more masculine and aggressive he became. Itwas unreasonable and against all principleand yet so it was and no argumentcould mend the matter.

Very hot and angrythe Doctor retired into his room and sat down to read hispaper. Ida had retiredand the distant wails of the bugle showed that she wasupstairs in her boudoir. Clara sat opposite to him with her exasperating chartsand her blue book. The Doctor glanced at her and his eyes remained fixed inastonishment upon the front of her skirt.

"My dear Clara" he cried"you have torn your skirt!"

His daughter laughed and smoothed out her frock. To his horror he saw the redplush of the chair where the dress ought to have been. "It is all torn!"he cried. "What have you done?"

"My dear papa!" said she"what do you know about themysteries of ladies' dress? This is a divided skirt."

Then he saw that it was indeed so arrangedand that his daughter was clad ina sort of looseextremely long knickerbockers.

"It will be so convenient for my sea-boots" she explained.

Her father shook his head sadly. "Your dear mother would not have likeditClara" said he.

For a moment the conspiracy was upon the point of collapsing. There wassomething in the gentleness of his rebukeand in his appeal to her motherwhich brought the tears to her eyesand in another instant she would have beenkneeling beside him with everything confessedwhen the door flew open and hersister Ida came bounding into the room. She wore a short grey skirtlike thatof Mrs. Westmacottand she held it up in each hand and danced about among thefurniture.

"I feel quite the Gaiety girl!" she cried. "How delicious itmust be to be upon the stage! You can't think how nice this dress ispapa. Onefeels so free in it. And isn't Clara charming?"

"Go to your room this instant and take it off!" thundered theDoctor. "I call it highly improperand no daughter of mine shall wear it."

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

"I say it is improper. And yours alsoClara! Your conduct is reallyoutrageous. You drive me out of the house. I am going to my club in town. I haveno comfort or peace of mind in my own house. I will stand it no longer. I may belate to-night--I shall go to the British Medical meeting. But when I return Ishall hope to find that you have reconsidered your conductand that you haveshaken yourself clear of the pernicious influences which have recently made suchan alteration in your conduct." He seized his hatslammed the dining-roomdoorand a few minutes later they heard the crash of the big front gate.

"VictoryClaravictory!" cried Idastill pirouetting around thefurniture. "Did you hear what he said? Pernicious influences! Don't youunderstandClara? Why do you sit there so pale and glum? Why don't you get upand dance?"

"OhI shall be so glad when it is overIda. I do hate to give him pain.Surely he has learned now that it is very unpleasant to spend one's life withreformers."

"He has almost learned itClara. Just one more little lesson. We mustnot risk all at this last moment."

"What would you doIda? Ohdon't do anything too dreadful. I feel thatwe have gone too far already."

"Ohwe can do it very nicely. You see we are both engaged and thatmakes it very easy. Harold will do what you ask himespecially as you have toldhim the reason whyand my Charles will do it without even wanting to know thereason. Now you know what Mrs. Westmacott thinks about the reserve of youngladies. Mere pruderyaffectationand a relic of the dark ages of the Zenana.Those were her wordswere they not?"

"What then?"

"Wellnow we must put it in practice. We are reducing all her otherviews to practiceand we must not shirk this one.

"But what would you do? Ohdon't look so wickedIda! You look likesome evil little fairywith your golden hair and dancingmischievous eyes. Iknow that you are going to propose something dreadful!"

"We must give a little supper to-night."

"We? A supper!"

"Why not? Young gentlemen give suppers. Why not young ladies?"

"But whom shall we invite?"

"WhyHarold and Charles of course."

"And the Admiral and Mrs. Hay Denver?"

"Ohno. That would be very old-fashioned. We must keep up with thetimesClara."

"But what can we give them for supper?"

"Ohsomething with a nicefastrollickinglate-at-night-kind offlavor to it. Let me see! Champagneof course--and oysters. Oysters will do. Inthe novelsall the naughty people take champagne and oysters. Besidestheywon't need any cooking. How is your pocket-moneyClara?"

"I have three pounds."

"And I have one. Four pounds. I have no idea how much champagne costs.Have you?"

"Not the slightest."

"How many oysters does a man eat?"

"I can't imagine."

"I'll write and ask Charles. NoI won't. I'll ask Jane. Ring for herClara. She has been a cookand is sure to know.

Janeon being cross-questionedrefused to commit herself beyond thestatement that it depended upon the gentlemanand also upon the oysters. Theunited experience of the kitchenhowevertestified that three dozen was a fairprovision.

"Then we shall have eight dozen altogethersaid Idajotting down allher requirements upon a sheet of paper. "And two pints of champagne. Andsome brown breadand vinegarand pepper. That's allI think. It is not sovery difficult to give a supper after allis itClara?"

"I don't like itIda. It seems to me to be so very indelicate."

"But it is needed to clinch the matter. Nonothere is no drawing backnowClaraor we shall ruin everything. Papa is sure to come back by the 9:45.He will reach the door at 10. We must have everything ready for him. Nowjustsit down at onceand ask Harold to come at nine o'clockand I shall do thesame to Charles."

The two invitations were dispatchedreceived and accepted. Harold wasalready a confidantand he understood that this was some further development ofthe plot. As to Charleshe was so accustomed to feminine eccentricityin theperson of his auntthat the only thing which could surprise him would be arigid observance of etiquette. At nine o'clock they entered the dining-room ofNumber 2to find the master of the house absenta red-shaded lampa snowyclotha pleasant little feastand the two whom they would have chosenastheir companions. A merrier party never metand the house rang with theirlaughter and their chatter.

"It is three minutes to ten" cried Clarasuddenlyglancing atthe clock.

"Good gracious! So it is! Now for our little tableau!" Ida pushedthe champagne bottles obtrusively forwardin the direction of the doorandscattered oyster shells over the cloth.

"Have you your pipeCharles?"

"My pipe! Yes."

"Then please smoke it. Now don't argue about itbut do itfor you willruin the effect otherwise."

The large man drew out a red caseand extracted a great yellow meerschaumout of whicha moment laterhe was puffing thick wreaths of smoke. Harold hadlit a cigarand both the girls had cigarettes.

"That looks very nice and emancipated" said Idaglancing round."Now I shall lie on this sofa. So! NowCharlesjust sit hereand throwyour arm carelessly over the back of the sofa. Nodon't stop smoking. I likeit. Claradearput your feet upon the coal-scuttleand do try to look alittle dissipated. I wish we could crown ourselves with flowers. There are somelettuces on the sideboard. Oh dearhere he is! I hear his key." She beganto sing in her highfresh voice a little snatch from a French songwith aswinging tra la-la chorus.

The Doctor had walked home from the station in a peaceable and relentingframe of mindfeeling thatperhapshe had said too much in the morningthathis daughters had for years been models in every wayand thatif there hadbeen any change of lateit wasas they said themselveson account of theiranxiety to follow his advice and to imitate Mrs. Westmacott. He could seeclearly enough now that that advice was unwiseand that a world peopled withMrs. Westmacotts would not be a happy or a soothing one. It was he who washimselfto blameand he was grieved by the thought that perhaps his hot wordshad troubled and saddened his two girls.

This fearhoweverwas soon dissipated. As he entered his hall he heard thevoice of Ida uplifted in a rollicking dittyand a very strong smell of tobaccowas borne to his nostrils. He threw open the dining-room doorand stood aghastat the scene which met his eyes.

The room was full of the blue wreaths of smokeand the lamp-light shonethrough the thin haze upon gold-topped bottlesplatesnapkinsand a litter ofoyster shells and cigarettes. Idaflushed and excitedwas reclining upon thesetteea wine-glass at her elbowand a cigarette between her fingerswhileCharles Westmacott sat beside herwith his arm thrown over the head of the sofawith the suggestion of a caress. On the other side of the roomClara waslounging in an arm-chairwith Harold beside herboth smokingand both withwine-glasses beside them. The Doctor stood speechless in the doorwaystaring atthe Bacchanalian scene.

"Come inpapa! Do!" cried Ida. "Won't you have a glass ofchampagne?"

"Pray excuse me" said her fathercoldly"I feel that I amintruding. I did not know that you were entertaining. Perhaps you will kindlylet me know when you have finished. You will find me in my study." Heignored the two young men completelyandclosing the doorretireddeeplyhurt and mortifiedto his room. A quarter of an hour afterwards he heard thedoor slamand his two daughters came to announce that the guests were gone.

"Guests! Whose guests?" he cried angrily. "What is the meaningof this exhibition?"

"We have been giving a little supperpapa. They were our guests."

"Ohindeed!" The Doctor laughed sarcastically. "You think itrightthento entertain young bachelors late at nighttosmoke and drinkwith themto---- Ohthat I should ever have lived to blush for my owndaughters! I thank God that your dear mother never saw the day."

"Dearest papa" cried Clarathrowing her arms about him. "Donot be angry with us. If you understood allyou would see that there is no harmin it."

"No harmmiss! Who is the best judge of that?"

"Mrs. Westmacott" suggested Idaslyly.

The Doctor sprang from his chair. "Confound Mrs. Westmacott!" hecriedstriking frenziedly into the air with his hands. "Am I to hear ofnothing but this woman? Is she to confront me at every turn? I will endure it nolonger."

"But it was your wishpapa."

"Then I will tell you now what my second and wiser wish isand we shallsee if you will obey it as you have the first."

"Of course we willpapa."

"Then my wish isthat you should forget these odious notions which youhave imbibedthat you should dress and act as you used to dobefore ever yousaw this womanand thatin futureyou confine your intercourse with her tosuch civilities as are necessary between neighbors."

"We are to give up Mrs. Westmacott?"

"Or give up me."

"Ohdear dadhow can you say anything so cruel?" cried Idaburrowing her towsy golden hair into her father's shirt frontwhile Clarapressed her cheek against his whisker. "Of course we shall give her upifyou prefer it."

"Of course we shallpapa."

The Doctor patted the two caressing heads. "These are my own two girlsagain" he cried. "It has been my fault as much as yours. I have beenastrayand you have followed me in my error. It was only by seeing your mistakethat I have become conscious of my own. Let us set it asideand neither say northink anything more about it."

Chapter 11 - A Blot From The Blue

 


 

 

So by the cleverness of two girls a dark cloud was thinned away and turnedinto sunshine. Over one of themalasanother cloud was gatheringwhich couldnot be so easily dispersed. Of these three households which fate had throwntogethertwo had already been united by ties of love. It was destinedhoweverthat a bond of another sort should connect the Westmacotts with the Hay Denvers.

Between the Admiral and the widow a very cordial feeling had existed sincethe day when the old seaman had hauled down his flag and changed his opinions;granting to the yachts-woman all that he had refused to the reformer. His ownfrank and downright nature respected the same qualities in his neighborand afriendship sprang up between them which was more like that which exists betweentwo menfounded upon esteem and a community of tastes.

"By the wayAdmiral" said Mrs. Westmacott one morningas theywalked together down to the station"I understand that this boy of yoursin the intervals of paying his devotions to Miss Walker is doing something upon'Change."

"Yesma'amand there is no man of his age who is doing so well. He'sdrawing aheadI can tell youma'am. Some of those that started with him arehull down astarn now. He touched his five hundred last yearand before he'sthirty he'll be making the four figures."

"The reason I asked is that I have small investments to make myself fromtime to timeand my present broker is a rascal. I should be very glad to do itthrough your son."

"It is very kind of youma'am. His partner is away on a holidayandHarold would like to push on a bit and show what he can do. You know the poopisn't big enough to hold the lieutenant when the skipper's on shore."

"I suppose he charges the usual half per cent?"

"Don't knowI'm surema'am. I'll swear that he does what is right andproper."

"That is what I usually pay--ten shillings in the hundred pounds. If yousee him before I do just ask him to get me five thousand in New Zealands. It isat four just nowand I fancy it may rise."

"Five thousand!" exclaimed the Admiralreckoning it in his ownmind. "Lemme see! That's twenty-five pounds commission. A nice day's workupon my word. It is a very handsome orderma'am."

"WellI must pay some oneand why not him?"

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

"Ohthere is no great hurry. By the wayI understand from what yousaid just now that he has a partner."

"Yesmy boy is the junior partner. Pearson is the senior. I wasintroduced to him years agoand he offered Harold the opening. Of course we hada pretty stiff premium to pay."

Mrs. Westmacott had stoppedand was standing very stiffly with her RedIndian face even grimmer than usual.

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

"The same."

"Then it's all off" she cried. "You need not carry out thatinvestment."

"Very wellma'am."

They walked on together side by sideshe brooding over some thought of herownand he a little crossed and disappointed at her caprice and the lostcommission for Harold.

"I tell you whatAdmiral" she exclaimed suddenly"if I wereyou I should get your boy out of this partnership."

"But whymadam?"

"Because he is tied to one of the deepestslyest foxes in the wholecity of London."

"Jeremiah Pearsonma'am? What can you know of him? He bears a good name."

"No one in this world knows Jeremiah Pearson as I know himAdmiral. Iwarn you because I have a friendly feeling both for you and for your son. Theman is a rogue and you had best avoid him."

"But these are only wordsma'am. Do you tell me that you know himbetter than the brokers and jobbers in the City?"

"Man" cried Mrs. Westmacott"will you allow that I know himwhen I tell you that my maiden name was Ada Pearsonand that Jeremiah is myonly brother?"

The Admiral whistled. "Whew! " cried he. "Now that I think ofitthere is a likeness."

"He is a man of ironAdmiral--a man without a heart. I should shock youif I were to tell you what I have endured from my brother. My father's wealthwas divided equally between us. His own share he ran through in five yearsandhe has tried since then by every trick of a cunninglow-minded manby basecajoleryby legal quibblesby brutal intimidationto juggle me out of myshare as well. There is no villainy of which the man is not capable. OhI knowmy brother Jeremiah. I know him and I am prepared for him."

"This is all new to mema'am. 'Pon my wordI hardly know what to sayto it. I thank you for having spoken so plainly. From what you saythis is apoor sort of consort for a man to sail with. Perhaps Harold would do well to cuthimself adrift."

"Without losing a day."

"Wellwe shall talk it over. You may be sure of that. But here we areat the stationso I will just see you into your carriage and then home to seewhat my wife says to the matter."

As he trudged homewardsthoughtful and perplexedhe was surprised to hear ashout behind himand to see Harold running down the road after him.

"Whydad" he cried"I have just come from townand thefirst thing I saw was your back as you marched away. But you are such a quickwalker that I had to run to catch you."

The Admiral's smile of pleasure had broken his stern face into a thousandwrinkles. "You are early to-day" said he.

"YesI wanted to consult you."

"Nothing wrong?"

"Oh noonly an inconvenience."

"What is itthen?"

"How much have we in our private account?"

"Pretty fair. Some eight hundredI think."

"Ohhalf that will be ample. It was rather thoughtless of Pearson."

"What then?"

"Wellyou seedadwhen he went away upon this little holiday to Havrehe left me to pay accounts and so on. He told me that there was enough at thebank for all claims. I had occasion on Tuesday to pay away two chequesone forL80and the other for L120and here they are returned with a bank notice thatwe have already overdrawn to the extent of some hundreds."

The Admiral looked very grave. "What's the meaning of thatthen?"he asked.

"Ohit can easily be set right. You see Pearson invests all the sparecapital and keeps as small a margin as possible at the bank. Still it was toobad for him to allow me even to run a risk of having a cheque returned. I havewritten to him and demanded his authority to sell out some stockand I havewritten an explanation to these people. In the meantimehoweverI have had toissue several cheques; so I had better transfer part of our private account tomeet them."

"Quite somy boy. All that's mine is yours. But who do you think thisPearson is? He is Mrs. Westmacott's brother."

"Really. What a singular thing! WellI can see a likeness now that youmention it. They have both the same hard type of face."

"She has been warning me against him--says he is the rankest pirate inLondon. I hope that it is all rightboyand that we may not find ourselves inbroken water."

Harold had turned a little pale as he heard Mrs. Westmacott's opinion of hissenior partner. It gave shape and substance to certain vague fears andsuspicions of his own which had been pushed back as often as they obtrudedthemselves as being too monstrous and fantastic for belief.

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

"Of course he is--of course he is. That is what I told her. They wouldhave found him out there if anything had been amiss with him. Bless youthere'snothing so bitter as a family quarrel. Still it is just as well that you havewritten about this affairfor we may as well have all fair and aboveboard."

But Harold's letter to his partner was crossed by a letter from his partnerto Harold. It lay awaiting him upon the breakfast table next morningand itsent the heart into his mouth as he read itand caused him to spring up fromhis chair with a white face and staring eyes.

"My boy! My boy!"

"I am ruinedmother--ruined!" He stood gazing wildly in front ofhimwhile the sheet of paper fluttered down on the carpet. Then he dropped backinto the chairand sank his face into his hands. His mother had her arms roundhim in an instantwhile the Admiralwith shaking fingerspicked up the letterfrom the floor and adjusted his glasses to read it.

 

"My DEAR DENVER" it ran. "By the time that this reaches you Ishall be out of the reach of yourself or of any one else who may desire aninterview. You need not search for mefor I assure you that this letter isposted by a friendand that you will have your trouble in vain if you try tofind me. I am sorry to leave you in such a tight placebut one or other of usmust be squeezedand on the whole I prefer that it should be you. You'll findnothing in the bankand about L13000 unaccounted for. I'm not sure that thebest thing you can do is not to realize what you canand imitate your senior'sexample. If you act at once you may get clean away. If notit's not only thatyou must put up your shuttersbut I am afraid that this missing money couldhardly be included as an ordinary debtand of course you are legallyresponsible for it just as much as I am. Take a friend's advice and get toAmerica. A young man with brains can always do something out thereand you canlive down this little mischance. It will be a cheap lesson if it teaches you totake nothing upon trust in businessand to insist upon knowing exactly whatyour partner is doinghowever senior he may be to you.

"Yours faithfully

"JEREMIAH PEARSON."

 

"Great Heavens!" groaned the Admiral"he has absconded."

"And left me both a bankrupt and a thief."

"NonoHarold" sobbed his mother. "All will be right. Whatmatter about money!"

"Moneymother! It is my honor."

"The boy is right. It is his honorand my honorfor his is mine. Thisis a sore troublemotherwhen we thought our life's troubles were all behindusbut we will bear it as we have borne others." He held out his stringyhandand the two old folk sat with bowed grey headstheir fingers intertwinedstrong in each other's love and sympathy.

"We were too happy" she sighed.

"But it is God's willmother."

"YesJohnit is God's will."

"And yet it is bitter to bear. I could have lost allthe housemoneyrank--I could have borne it. But at my age--my honor--the honor of an admiral ofthe fleet."

"No honor can be lostJohnwhere no dishonor has been done. What haveyou done? What has Harold done? There is no question of honor."

The old man shook his headbut Harold had already called together his clearpractical sensewhich for an instant in the presence of this frightful blow haddeserted him.

"The mater is rightdad" said he. "It is bad enoughHeavenknowsbut we must not take too dark a view of it. After allthis insolentletter is in itself evidence that I had nothing to do with the schemes of thebase villain who wrote it."

"They may think it prearranged."

"They could not. My whole life cries out against the thought. They couldnot look me in the face and entertain it."

"Noboynot if they have eyes in their heads" cried the Admiralplucking up courage at the sight of the flashing eyes and bravedefiant face."We have the letterand we have your character. We'll weather it yetbetween them. It's my fault from the beginning for choosing such a land-sharkfor your consort. God help meI thought I was finding such an opening for you."

"Dear dad! How could you possibly know? As he says in his letterit hasgiven me a lesson. But he was so much older and so much more experiencedthatit was hard for me to ask to examine his books. But we must waste no time. Imust go to the City."

"What will you do?"

"What an honest man should do. I will write to all our clients andcreditorsassemble themlay the whole matter before themread them the letterand put myself absolutely in their hands."

"That's itboy--yard-arm to yard-armand have it over."

"I must go at once." He put on his top-coat and his hat. "ButI have ten minutes yet before I can catch a train. There is one little thingwhich I must do before I start."

He had caught sight through the long glass folding door of the gleam of awhite blouse and a straw hat in the tennis ground. Clara used often to meet himthere of a morning to say a few words before he hurried away into the City. Hewalked out now with the quickfirm step of a man who has taken a momentousresolutionbut his face was haggard and his lips pale.

"Clara" said heas she came towards him with words of greeting"I am sorry to bring ill news to youbut things have gone wrong in theCityand--and I think that I ought to release you from your engagement."

Clara stared at him with her great questioning dark eyesand her face becameas pale as his.

"How can the City affect you and meHarold?"

"It is dishonor. I cannot ask you to share it."

"Dishonor! The loss of some miserable gold and silver coins!"

"OhClaraif it were only that! We could be far happier together in alittle cottage in the country than with all the riches of the City. Povertycould not cut me to the heartas I have been cut this morning. Whyit is buttwenty minutes since I had the letterClaraand it seems to me to be some oldold thing which happened far away in my past lifesome horrid black cloud whichshut out all the freshness and the peace from it."

"But what is itthen? What do you fear worse than poverty?"

"To have debts that I cannot meet. To be hammered upon 'Change anddeclared a bankrupt. To know that others have a just claim upon me and to feelthat I dare not meet their eyes. Is not that worse than poverty?"

"YesHarolda thousand fold worse! But all this may be got over. Isthere nothing more?"

"My partner has fled and left me responsible for heavy debtsand insuch a position that I may be required by the law to produce some at least ofthis missing money. It has been confided to him to investand he has embezzledit. Ias his partneram liable for it. I have brought misery on all whom Ilove--my fathermy mother. But you at least shall not be under the shadow. Youare freeClara. There is no tie between us."

"It takes two to make such a tieHarold" said shesmiling andputting her hand inside his arm. "It takes two to make itdearand alsotwo to break it. Is that the way they do business in the Citysirthat a mancan always at his own sweet will tear up his engagement?"

"You hold me to itClara?"

"No creditor so remorseless as IHarold. Nevernever shall you getfrom that bond."

"But I am ruined. My whole life is blasted."

"And so you wish to ruin meand blast my life also. No indeedsiryoushall not get away so lightly. But seriously nowHaroldyou would hurt me ifit were not so absurd. Do you think that a woman's love is like this sunshadewhich I carry in my handa thing only fitted for the sunshineand of no usewhen the winds blow and the clouds gather?"

"I would not drag you downClara."

"Should I not be dragged down indeed if I left your side at such a time?It is only now that I can be of use to youhelp yousustain you. You havealways been so strongso above me. You are strong stillbut then two will bestronger. Besidessiryou have no idea what a woman of business I am. Papasays soand he knows."

Harold tried to speakbut his heart was too full. He could only press thewhite hand which curled round his sleeve. She walked up and down by his sideprattling merrilyand sending little gleams of cheeriness through the gloomwhich girt him in. To listen to her he might have thought that it was Idaandnot her staid and demure sisterwho was chatting to him.

"It will soon be cleared up" she said"and then we shallfeel quite dull. Of course all business men have these little ups and downs. WhyI suppose of all the men you meet upon 'Changethere is not one who has notsome such story to tell. If everything was always smoothyou knowthen ofcourse every one would turn stockbrokerand you would have to hold yourmeetings in Hyde Park. How much is it that you need?"

"More than I can ever get. Not less than thirteen thousand pounds."

Clara's face fell as she heard the amount. "What do you purpose doing?"

"I shall go to the City nowand I shall ask all our creditors to meetme to-morrow. I shall read them Pearson's letterand put myself into theirhands."

"And theywhat will they do?"

"What can they do? They will serve writs for their moneyand the firmwill be declared bankrupt."

"And the meeting will be to-morrowyou say. Will you take my advice?"

"What is itClara?"

"To ask them for a few days of delay. Who knows what new turn mattersmay take?"

"What turn can they take? I have no means of raising the money."

"Let us have a few days."

"Ohwe should have that in the ordinary course of business. The legalformalities would take them some little time. But I must goClaraI must notseem to shirk. My place now must be at my offices."

"Yesdearyou are right. God bless you and guard you! I shall be herein The Wildernessbut all day I shall be by your office table at ThrogmortonStreet in spiritand if ever you should be sad you will hear my little whisperin your earand know that there is one client whom you will never be able toget rid of--never as long as we both livedear."

Chapter 12 - Friends In Need

 


 

 

"Nowpapa" said Clara that morningwrinkling her brows andputting her finger-tips together with the air of an experienced person ofbusiness"I want to have a talk to you about money matters."

"Yesmy dear." He laid down his paperand looked a question.

"Kindly tell me againpapahow much money I have in my very own right.You have often told me beforebut I always forget figures."

"You have two hundred and fifty pounds a year of your ownunder youraunt's will.

"And Ida?"

"Ida has one hundred and fifty."

"NowI think I can live very well on fifty pounds a yearpapa. I amnot very extravagantand I could make my own dresses if I had a sewing-machine."

"Very likelydear."

"In that case I have two hundred a year which I could do without."

"If it were necessary."

"But it is necessary. Ohdo help melike a gooddearkind papainthis matterfor my whole heart is set upon it. Harold is in sore need of moneyand through no fault of his own." With a woman's tact and eloquenceshetold the whole story. "Put yourself in my placepapa. What is the money tome? I never think of it from year's end to year's end. But now I know howprecious it is. I could not have thought that money could be so valuable. Seewhat I can do with it. It may help to save him. I must have it by to-morrow. Ohdodo advise me as to what I should doand how I should get the money."

The Doctor smiled at her eagerness. "You are as anxious to get rid ofmoney as others are to gain it" said he. "In another case I mightthink it rashbut I believe in your Haroldand I can see that he has hadvillainous treatment. You will let me deal with the matter."

"Youpapa?"

"It can be done best between men. Your capitalClarais some fivethousand poundsbut it is out on a mortgageand you could not call itin."

"Ohdear! ohdear!"

"But we can still manage. I have as much at my bank. I will advance itto the Denvers as coming from youand you can repay it to meor the interestof itwhen your money becomes due."

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

"But there is one obstacle: I do not think that you would ever induceHarold to take this money."

Clara's face fell. "Don't you think soreally?"

"I am sure that he would not."

"Then what are you to do? What horrid things money matters are toarrange!"

"I shall see his father. We can manage it all between us."

"Ohdodopapa! And you will do it soon?"

"There is no time like the present. I will go in at once." Hescribbled a chequeput it in an envelopeput on his broad straw hatandstrolled in through the garden to pay his morning call.

It was a singular sight which met his eyes as he entered the sitting-room ofthe Admiral. A great sea chest stood open in the centerand allround upon thecarpet were little piles of jerseysoil-skinsbookssextant boxesinstrumentsand sea-boots. The old seaman sat gravely amidst this lumberturning it overand examining it intently; while his wifewith the tearsrunning silently down her ruddy cheekssat upon the sofaher elbows upon herknees and her chin upon her handsrocking herself slowly backwards and forwards.

"HulloDoctor" said the Admiralholding out his hand"there'sfoul weather set in upon usas you may have heardbut I have ridden out many aworse squallandplease Godwe shall all three of us weather this one alsothough two of us are a little more cranky than we were."

"My dear friendsI came in to tell you how deeply we sympathize withyou all. My girl has only just told me about it."

"It has come so suddenly upon usDoctor" sobbed Mrs. Hay Denver."I thought that I had John to myself for the rest of our lives--Heavenknows that we have not seen very much of each other--but now he talks of goingto sea again.

"AyeayeWalkerthat's the only way out of it. When I first heard ofit I was thrown up in the wind with all aback. I give you my word that I lost mybearings more completely than ever since I strapped a middy's dirk to my belt.You seefriendI know something of shipwreck or battle or whatever may comeupon the watersbut the shoals in the City of London on which my poor boy hasstruck are clean beyond me. Pearson had been my pilot thereand now I know himto be a rogue. But I've taken my bearings nowand I see my course right beforeme."

"What thenAdmiral?"

"OhI have one or two little plans. I'll have some news for the boy.Whyhang itWalker manI may be a bit stiff in the jointsbut you'll be mywitness that I can do my twelve miles under the three hours. What then? My eyesare as good as ever except just for the newspaper. My head is clear. I'mthree-and-sixtybut I'm as good a man as ever I was--too good a man to lie upfor another ten years. I'd be the better for a smack of the salt water againand a whiff of the breeze. Tutmotherit's not a four years' cruise this time.I'll be back every month or two. It's no more than if I went for a visit in thecountry." He was talking boisterouslyand heaping his sea-boots andsextants back into his chest.

"And you really thinkmy dear friendof hoisting your pennant again?"

"My pennantWalker? Nono. Her MajestyGod bless herhas too manyyoung men to need an old hulk like me. I should be plain Mr. Hay Denverof themerchant service. I daresay that I might find some owner who would give me achance as second or third officer. It will be strange to me to feel the rails ofthe bridge under my fingers once more."

"Tut! tut! this will never dothis will never doAdmiral!" TheDoctor sat down by Mrs. Hay Denver and patted her hand in token of friendlysympathy. "We must wait until your son has had it out with all thesepeopleand then we shall know what damage is doneand how best to set it right.It will be time enough then to begin to muster our resources to meet it."

"Our resources!" The Admiral laughed. "There's the pension.I'm afraidWalkerthat our resources won't need much mustering."

"Ohcomethere are some which you may not have thought of. For exampleAdmiralI had always intended that my girl should have five thousand from mewhen she married. Of course your boy's trouble is her troubleand the moneycannot be spent better than in helping to set it right. She has a little of herown which she wished to contributebut I thought it best to work it this way.Will you take the chequeMrs. Denverand I think it would be best if you saidnothing to Harold about itand just used it as the occasion served?"

"God bless youWalkeryou are a true friend. I won't forget thisWalker. "The Admiral sat down on his sea chest and mopped his brow with hisred handkerchief.

"What is it to me whether you have it now or then? It may be more usefulnow. There's only one stipulation. If things should come to the worstand ifthe business should prove so bad that nothing can set it rightthen hold backthis chequefor there is no use in pouring water into a broken basinand ifthe lad should fallhe will want something to pick himself up again with."

"He shall not fallWalkerand you shall not have occasion to beashamed of the family into which your daughter is about to marry. I have my ownplan. But we shall hold your moneymy friendand it will strengthen us to feelthat it is there."

"Wellthat is all right" said Doctor Walkerrising. "And ifa little more should be neededwe must not let him go wrong for the want of athousand or two. And nowAdmiralI'm off for my morning walk. Won't you cometoo?"

"NoI am going into town."

"Wellgood-bye. I hope to have better newsand that all will comeright. Good-byeMrs. Denver. I feel as if the boy were my ownand I shall notbe easy until all is right with him."

Chapter 13 - In Strange Waters

 


 

 

When Doctor Walker had departedthe Admiral packed all his possessions backinto his sea chest with the exception of one little brass-bound desk. This heunlockedand took from it a dozen or so blue sheets of paper all mottled overwith stamps and sealswith very large V. R.'s printed upon the heads of them.He tied these carefully into a small bundleand placing them in the innerpocket of his coathe seized his stick and hat.

"OhJohndon't do this rash thing" cried Mrs. Denverlaying herhands upon his sleeve. "I have seen so little of youJohn. Only threeyears since you left the service. Don't leave me again. I know it is weak of mebut I cannot bear it."

"There's my own brave lass" said hesmoothing down the grey-shothair. "We've lived in honor togethermotherand please God in honor we'lldie. No matter how debts are madethey have got to be metand what the boyowes we owe. He has not the moneyand how is he to find it? He can't find it.What then? It becomes my businessand there's only one way for it."

"But it may not be so very badJohn. Had we not best wait until afterhe sees these people to-morrow?"

"They may give him little timelass. But I'll have a care that I don'tgo so far that I can't put back again. Nowmotherthere's no use holding me.It's got to be doneand there's no sense in shirking it." He detached herfingers from his sleevepushed her gently back into an arm-chairand hurriedfrom the house.

In less than half an hour the Admiral was whirled into Victoria Station andfound himself amid a dense bustling throngwho jostled and pushed in thecrowded terminus. His errandwhich had seemed feasible enough in his own roombegan now to present difficulties in the carrying outand he puzzled over howhe should take the first steps. Amid the stream of business meneach hurryingon his definite waythe old seaman in his grey tweed suit and black soft hatstrode slowly alonghis head sunk and his brow wrinkled in perplexity. Suddenlyan idea occurred to him. He walked back to the railway stall and bought a dailypaper. This he turned and turned until a certain column met his eyewhen hesmoothed it outand carrying it over to a seatproceeded to read it at hisleisure.

Andindeedas a man read that columnit seemed strange to him that thereshould still remain any one in this world of ours who should be in straits forwant of money. Here were whole lines of gentlemen who were burdened with asurplus in their incomesand who were loudly calling to the poor and needy tocome and take it off their hands. Here was the guileless person who was not aprofessional moneylenderbut who would be glad to correspondetc. Here too wasthe accommodating individual who advanced sums from ten to ten thousand poundswithout expensesecurityor delay. "The money actually paid over within afew hours" ran this fascinating advertisementconjuring up a vision ofswift messengers rushing with bags of gold to the aid of the poor struggler. Athird gentleman did all business by personal applicationadvanced money onanything or nothing; the lightest and airiest promise was enough to content himaccording to his circularand finally he never asked for more than five percent. This struck the Admiral as far the most promisingand his wrinklesrelaxedand his frown softened away as he gazed at it. He folded up the paperrose from the seatand found himself face to face with Charles Westmacott.

"HulloAdmiral!"

"HulloWestmacott!" Charles had always been a favorite of theseaman's. "What are you doing here?"

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

"I hate the place. It smothers me. There's not a breath of clean air onthis side of Greenwich. But maybe you know your way about pretty well in theCity?"

"WellI know something about it. You see I've never lived very far fromitand I do a good deal of my aunt's business."

"Maybe you know Bread Street?"

"It is out of Cheapside."

"Well thenhow do you steer for it from here? You make me out a courseand I'll keep to it."

"WhyAdmiralI have nothing to do. I'll take you there with pleasure."

"Will youthough? WellI'd take it very kindly if you would. I havebusiness there. Smith and Hanburyfinancial agentsBread Street."

The pair made their way to the river-sideand so down the Thames to St.Paul's landing--a mode of travel which was much more to the Admiral's taste than'bus or cab. On the wayhe told his companion his mission and the causes whichhad led to it. Charles Westmacott knew little enough of City life and the waysof businessbut at least he had more experience in both than the Admiralandhe made up his mind not to leave him until the matter was settled.

"These are the people" said the Admiraltwisting round his paperand pointing to the advertisement which had seemed to him the most promising."It sounds honest and above-boarddoes it not? The personal interviewlooks as if there were no trickeryand then no one could object to five percent."

"Noit seems fair enough."

"It is not pleasant to have to go hat in hand borrowing moneybut thereare timesas you may find before you are my ageWestmacottwhen a man muststow away his pride. But here's their numberand their plate is on the cornerof the door."

A narrow entrance was flanked on either side by a row of brassesrangingupwards from the shipbrokers and the solicitors who occupied the ground floorsthrough a long succession of West Indian agentsarchitectssurveyorsandbrokersto the firm of which they were in quest. A winding stone stairwellcarpeted and railed at first but growing shabbier with every landingbroughtthem past innumerable doors untilat lastjust under the ground-glass roofingthe names of Smith and Hanbury were to be seen painted in large white lettersacross a panelwith a laconic invitation to push beneath it. Following out thesuggestionthe Admiral and his companion found themselves in a dingy apartmentill lit from a couple of glazed windows. An ink-stained tablelittered withpenspapersand almanacsan American cloth sofathree chairs of varyingpatternsand a much-worn carpetconstituted all the furnituresave only avery large and obtrusive porcelain spittoonand a gaudily framed and verysomber picture which hung above the fireplace. Sitting in front of this pictureand staring gloomily at itas being the only thing which he could stare atwasa small sallow-faced boy with a large headwho in the intervals of his artstudies munched sedately at an apple.

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

"There ain't no such people" said the small boy.

"But you have the names on the door."

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

"Well thenis he in?"

"Nohe's not."

"When will he be back?"

"Can't tellI'm sure. He's gone to lunch. Sometimes he takes one hourand sometimes two. It'll be two to-dayI 'spectfor he said he was hungryafore he went."

"Then I suppose that we had better call again" said the Admiral.

"Not a bit" cried Charles. "I know how to manage these littleimps. See hereyou young varminthere's a shilling for you. Run off and fetchyour master. If you don't bring him here in five minutes I'll clump you on theside of the head when you get back. Shoo! Scat!" He charged at the youthwho bolted from the room and clattered madly down-stairs.

"He'll fetch him" said Charles. "Let us make ourselves athome. This sofa does not feel over and above safe. It was not meant forfifteen-stone men. But this doesn't look quite the sort of place where one wouldexpect to pick up money."

"Just what I was thinking" said the Admirallooking ruefullyabout him.

"Ahwell! I have heard that the best furnished offices generally belongto the poorest firms. Let us hope it's the opposite here. They can't spend muchon the management anyhow. That pumpkin-headed boy was the staffI suppose. Haby Jovethat's his voiceand he's got our manI think!"

As he spoke the youth appeared in the doorway with a smallbrowndried-uplittle chip of a man at his heels. He was clean-shaven and blue-chinnedwithbristling black hairand keen brown eyes which shone out very brightly frombetween pouched under-lids and drooping upper ones. He advancedglancing keenlyfrom one to the other of his visitorsand slowly rubbing together his thinblue-veined hands. The small boy closed the door behind himand discreetlyvanished.

"I am Mr. Reuben Metaxa" said the moneylender. "Was it aboutan advance you wished to see me?"

"Yes."

"For youI presume?" turning to Charles Westmacott.

"Nofor this gentleman."

The moneylender looked surprised. "How much did you desire?"

"I thought of five thousand pounds" said the Admiral.

"And on what security?"

"I am a retired admiral of the British navy. You will find my name inthe Navy List. There is my card. I have here my pension papers. I get L850 ayear. I thought that perhaps if you were to hold these papers it would besecurity enough that I should pay you. You could draw my pensionand repayyourselves at the ratesayof L500 a yeartaking your five per cent interestas well."

"What interest?"

"Five per cent per annum.

Mr. Metaxa laughed. "Per annum!" he said. "Five per cent amonth."

"A month! That would be sixty per cent a year."

"Precisely."

"But that is monstrous."

"I don't ask gentlemen to come to me. They come of their own free will.Those are my termsand they can take it or leave it."

"Then I shall leave it." The Admiral rose angrily from his chair.

"But one momentsir. Just sit down and we shall chat the matter over.Yours is a rather unusual case and we may find some other way of doing what youwish. Of course the security which you offer is no security at alland no saneman would advance five thousand pennies on it."

"No security? Why notsir?"

"You might die to-morrow. You are not a young man. What age are you?"

"Sixty-three."

Mr. Metaxa turned over a long column of figures. "Here is an actuary'stable" said he. "At your time of life the average expectancy of lifeis only a few years even in a well-preserved man."

"Do you mean to insinuate that I am not a well-preserved man?"

"WellAdmiralit is a trying life at sea. Sailors in their youngerdays are gay dogsand take it out of themselves. Then when they grow older thyare still hard at itand have no chance of rest or peace. I do not think asailor's life a good one."

"I'll tell you whatsir" said the Admiral hotly. "If youhave two pairs of gloves I'll undertake to knock you out under three rounds. OrI'll race you from here to St. Paul'sand my friend here will see fair. I'lllet you see whether I am an old man or not."

"This is beside the question" said the moneylender with adeprecatory shrug. "The point is that if you died to-morrow where would bethe security then?"

"I could insure my lifeand make the policy over to you."

"Your premiums for such a sumif any office would have youwhich Ivery much doubtwould come to close on five hundred a year. That would hardlysuit your book."

"Wellsirwhat do you intend to propose?" asked the Admiral.

"I mightto accommodate youwork it in another way. I should send fora medical manand have an opinion upon your life. Then I might see what couldbe done."

"That is quite fair. I have no objection to that."

"There is a very clever doctor in the street here. Proudie is his name.Johngo and fetch Doctor Proudie." The youth was dispatched upon hiserrandwhile Mr. Metaxa sat at his desktrimming his nailsand shooting outlittle comments upon the weather. Presently feet were heard upon the stairsthemoneylender hurried outthere was a sound of whisperingand he returned with alargefatgreasy-looking manclad in a much worn frock-coatand a verydilapidated top hat.

"Doctor Proudiegentlemen" said Mr. Metaxa.

The doctor bowedsmiledwhipped off his hatand produced his stethoscopefrom its interior with the air of a conjurer upon the stage. "Which ofthese gentlemen am I to examine?" he askedblinking from one to the otherof them. "Ahit is you! Only your waistcoat! You need not undo your collar.Thank you! A full breath! Thank you! Ninety-nine! Thank you! Now hold yourbreath for a moment. Ohdeardearwhat is this I hear?"

"What is it then?" asked the Admiral coolly.

"Tut! tut! This is a great pity. Have you had rheumatic fever?"

"Never."

"You have had some serious illness?"

"Never."

"Ahyou are an admiral. You have been abroadtropicsmalariaague--Iknow."

"I have never had a day's illness."

"Not to your knowledge; but you have inhaled unhealthy airand it hasleft its effect. You have an organic murmur--slight but distinct."

"Is it dangerous?"

"It might at anytime become so. You should not take violent exercise."

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

"It would be very dangerous."

"And a mile?"

"Would be almost certainly fatal."

"Then there is nothing else the matter?"

"No. But if the heart is weakthen everything is weakand the life isnot a sound one."

"You seeAdmiral" remarked Mr. Metaxaas the doctor secreted hisstethoscope once more in his hat"my remarks were not entirely uncalledfor. I am sorry that the doctor's opinion is not more favorablebut this is amatter of businessand certain obvious precautions must be taken."

"Of course. Then the matter is at an end."

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

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

"Not a bitsir. Out with it! I have faced death too often to flinchfrom it nowthough I saw it as near me as you are."

"Wellwellwe must go by averages of course. Shall we say two years? Ishould think that you have a full two years before you."

"In two years your pension would bring you in L1600. Now I will do myvery best for youAdmiral! I will advance you L2000and you can make over tome your pension for your life. It is pure speculation on my part. If you dieto-morrow I lose my money. If the doctor's prophecy is correct I shall still beout of pocket. If you live a little longerthen I may see my money again. It isthe very best I can do for you."

"Then you wish to buy my pension?"

"Yesfor two thousand down."

"And if I live for twenty years?"

"Ohin that case of course my speculation would be more successful. Butyou have heard the doctor's opinion."

"Would you advance the money instantly?"

"You should have a thousand at once. The other thousand I should expectyou to take in furniture."

"In furniture?"

"YesAdmiral. We shall do you a beautiful houseful at that sum. It isthe custom of my clients to take half in furniture."

The Admiral sat in dire perplexity. He had come out to get moneyand to goback without anyto be powerless to help when his boy needed every shilling tosave him from disasterthat would be very bitter to him. On the other handitwas so much that he surrenderedand so little that he received. Littleand yetsomething. Would it not be better than going back empty-handed? He saw theyellow backed cheque-book upon the table. The moneylender opened it and dippedhis pen into the ink.

"Shall I fill it up?" said he.

"I thinkAdmiral" remarked Westmacott"that we had betterhave a little walk and some luncheon before we settle this matter."

"Ohwe may as well do it at once. It would be absurd to postpone it now"Metaxa spoke with some heatand his eyes glinted angrily from between hisnarrow lids at the imperturbable Charles. The Admiral was simple in moneymattersbut he had seen much of men and had learned to read them. He saw thatvenomous glanceand saw too that intense eagerness was peeping out from beneaththe careless air which the agent had assumed.

"You're quite rightWestmacott" said he. "We'll have alittle walk before we settle it."

"But I may not be here this afternoon."

"Then we must choose another day."

"But why not settle it now?"

"Because I prefer not" said the Admiral shortly.

"Very well. But remember that my offer is only for to-day. It is offunless you take it at once."

"Let it be offthen.

"There's my fee" cried the doctor.

"How much?"

"A guinea."

The Admiral threw a pound and a shilling upon the table. "ComeWestmacott" said heand they walked together from the room.

"I don't like it" said Charleswhen they found themselves in thestreet once more; "I don't profess to be a very sharp chapbut this is atrifle too thin. What did he want to go out and speak to the doctor for? And howvery convenient this tale of a weak heart was! I believe they are a couple ofroguesand in league with each other."

"A shark and a pilot fish" said the Admiral.

"I'll tell you what I proposesir. There's a lawyer named McAdam whodoes my aunt's business. He is a very honest fellowand lives at the other sideof Poultry. We'll go over to him together and have his opinion about the wholematter."

"How far is it to his place?"

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

"A mile? Then we shall see if there is any truth in what that swab of adoctor said. Comemy boyand clap on all sailand see who can stay thelongest."

Then the sober denizens of the heart of business London saw a singular sightas they returned from their luncheons. Down the roadwaydodging among cabs andcartsran a weather-stained elderly manwith wide flapping black hatandhomely suit of tweeds. With elbows braced backhands clenched near his armpitsand chest protrudedhe scudded alongwhile close at his heels lumbered alarge-limbedheavyyellow mustached young manwho seemed to feel the exercisea good deal more than his senior. On they dashedhelter-skelteruntil theypulled up panting at the office where the lawyer of the Westmacotts was to befound.

"There now!" cried the Admiral in triumph. "What d'ye think ofthat? Nothing wrong in the engine-roomeh?"

"You seem fit enoughsir.

"Blessed if I believe the swab was a certificated doctor at all. He wasflying false colorsor I am mistaken."

"They keep the directories and registers in this eating-house"said Westmacott. "We'll go and look him out."

They did sobut the medical rolls contained no such name as that of Dr.Proudieof Bread Street.

"Pretty villainy this!" cried the Admiralthumping his chest."A dummy doctor and a vamped up disease. Wellwe've tried the roguesWestmacott! Let us see what we can do with your honest man."

Chapter 14 - Eastward Ho

 


 

 

Mr. McAdamof the firm of McAdam and Squirewas a highly polished man whodwelt behind a highly polished table in the neatest and snuggest of offices. Hewas white-haired and amiablewith a deep-lined aquiline facewas addicted tolow bowsand indeedalways seemed to carry himself at half-cockas thoughjust descending into oneor just recovering himself. He wore a high-buckledstocktook snuffand adorned his conversation with little scraps from theclassics.

"My dear Sir" said hewhen he had listened to their story"anyfriend of Mrs. Westmacott's is a friend of mine. Try a pinch. I wonder that youshould have gone to this man Metaxa. His advertisement is enough to condemn him.Habet foenum in cornu. They are all rogues."

"The doctor was a rogue too. I didn't like the look of him at thetime."

"Arcades ambo. But now we must see what we can do for you. Of coursewhat Metaxa said was perfectly right. The pension is in itself no security atallunless it were accompanied by a life assurance which would be an income initself. It is no good whatever."

His clients' faces fell.

"But there is the second alternative. You might sell the pension rightout. Speculative investors occasionally deal in such things. I have one clienta sporting manwho would be very likely to take it up if we could agree uponterms. Of courseI must follow Metaxa's example by sending for a doctor."

For the second time was the Admiral punched and tapped and listened to. Thistimehoweverthere could be no question of the qualifications of the doctorawell-known Fellow of the College of Surgeonsand his report was as favorable asthe other's had been adverse.

"He has the heart and chest of a man of forty" said he. "Ican recommend his life as one of the best of his age that I have ever examined."

"That's well" said Mr. McAdammaking a note of the doctor'sremarkswhile the Admiral disbursed a second guinea. "Your priceIunderstandis five thousand pounds. I can communicate with Mr. Elberrymyclientand let you know whether he cares to touch the matter. Meanwhile you canleave your pension papers hereand I will give you a receipt for them."

"Very well. I should like the money soon."

"That is why I am retaining the papers. If I can see Mr. Elberry to-daywe may let you have a cheque to-morrow. Try another pinch. No? Wellgood-bye. Iam very happy to have been of service." Mr. McAdam bowed them outfor hewas a very busy manand they found themselves in the street once more withlighter hearts than when they bad left it.

"WellWestmacottI am sure I am very much obliged to you" saidthe Admiral. "You have stood by me when I was the better for a little helpfor I'm clean out of my soundings among these city sharks. But I've something todo now which is more in my own lineand I need not trouble you any more."

"Ohit is no trouble. I have nothing to do. I never have anything todo. I don't suppose I could do it if I had. I should be delighted to come withyousirif I can be of any use."

"Nonomy lad. You go home again. It would be kind of youthoughifyou would look in at number one when you get back and tell my wife that all'swell with meand that I'll be back in an hour or so."

"All rightsir. I'll tell her." Westmacott raised his hat andstrode away to the westwardwhile the Admiralafter a hurried lunchbent hissteps towards the east.

It was a long walkbut the old seaman swung along at a rousing paceleavingstreet after street behind him. The great business places dwindled down intocommonplace shops and dwellingswhich decreased and became more stuntedevenas the folk who filled them diduntil he was deep in the evil places of theeastern end. It was a land of hugedark houses and of garish gin-shopsa landtoowhere life moves irregularly and where adventures are to be gained--as theAdmiral was to learn to his cost.

He was hurrying down one of the longnarrowstone-flagged lanes between thedouble lines of crouchingdisheveled women and of dirty children who sat on thehollowed steps of the housesand basked in the autumn sun. At one side was abarrowman with a load of walnutsand beside the barrow a bedraggled woman witha black fringe and a chequered shawl thrown over her head. She was crackingwalnuts and picking them out of the shellsthrowing out a remark occasionallyto a rough man in a rabbit-skin capwith straps under the knees of his corduroytrouserswho stood puffing a black clay pipe with his back against the wall.What the cause of the quarrel wasor what sharp sarcasm from the woman's lipspricked suddenly through that thick skin may never be knownbut suddenly theman took his pipe in his left handleaned forwardand deliberately struck heracross the face with his right. It was a slap rather than a blowbut the womangave a sharp cry and cowered up against the barrow with her hand to her cheek.

"You infernal villain!" cried the Admiralraising his stick."You brute and blackguard!"

"Garn!" growled the roughwith the deep rasping intonation of asavage. "Garn out o' this or I'll----" He took a step forward withuplifted handbut in an instant down came cut number three upon his wristandcut number five across his thighand cut number one full in the center of hisrabbit-skin cap. It was not a heavy stickbut it was strong enough to leave agood red weal wherever it fell. The rough yelled with painand rushed inhitting with both handsand kicking with his iron-shod bootsbut the Admiralhad still a quick foot and a true eyeso that he bounded backwards and sidewaysstill raining a showerof blows upon his savage antagonist. Suddenlyhowevera pair of arms closed round his neckand glancing backwards he caught a glimpseof the black coarse fringe of the woman whom he had befriended"I've gothim!" she shrieked. "I'll 'old 'im. NowBillknock the tripe out ofhim!" Her grip was as strong as a man'sand her wrist pressed like an ironbar upon the Admiral's throat. He made a desperate effort to disengage himselfbut the most that he could do was to swing her roundso as to place her betweenhis adversary and himself. As it provedit was the very best thing that hecould have done. The roughhalf-blinded and maddened by the blows which he hadreceivedstruck out with all his ungainly strengthjust as his partner's headswung round in front of him. There was a noise like that of a stone hitting awalla deep groanher grasp relaxedand she dropped a dead weight upon thepavementwhile the Admiral sprang back and raised his stick once morereadyeither for attack or defense. Neither were neededhoweverfor at that momentthere was a scattering of the crowdand two police constablesburly andhelmetedpushed their way through the rabble. At the sight of them the roughtook to his heelsand was instantly screened from view by a veil of his friendsand neighbors.

"I have been assaulted" panted the Admiral. "This woman wasattacked and I had to defend her."

"This is Bermondsey Sal" said one police officerbending over thebedraggled heap of tattered shawl and dirty skirt. "She's got it hot thistime."

"He was a shortish manthickwith a beard."

"Ahthat's Black Davie. He's been up four times for beating her. He'sabout done the job now. If I were you I would let that sort settle their ownlittle affairssir."

"Do you think that a man who holds the Queen's commission will stand byand see a woman struck?" cried the Admiral indignantly.

"Welljust as you likesir. But you've lost your watchI see."

"My watch!" He clapped his hand to his waistcoat. The chain washanging down in frontand the watch gone.

He passed his hand over his forehead. "I would not have lost that watchfor anything" said he. "No money could replace it. It was given me bythe ship's company after our African cruise. It has an inscription."

The policeman shrugged his shoulders. "It comes from meddling"said he.

"What'll you give me if I tell yer where it is?" said a sharp-facedboy among the crowd. "Will you gimme a quid?"

"Certainly."

"Wellwhere's the quid?"

The Admiral took a sovereign from his pocket. "Here it is."

"Then 'ere's the ticker!" The boy pointed to the clenched hand ofthe senseless woman. A glimmer of gold shone out from between the fingersandon opening them upthere was the Admiral's chronometer. This interesting victimhad throttled her protector with one handwhile she had robbed him with theother.

The Admiral left his address with the policemansatisfied that the woman wasonly stunnednot deadand then set off upon his way once morethe poorerperhaps in his faith in human naturebut in very good spirits none the less. Hewalked with dilated nostrils and clenched handsall glowing and tingling withthe excitement of the combatand warmed with the thought that he could stillwhen there was needtake his own part in a street brawl in spite of histhree-score and odd years.

His way now led towards the river-side regionsand a cleansing whiff of tarwas to be detected in the stagnant autumn air. Men with the blue jersey andpeaked cap of the boatmanor the white ducks of the dockersbegan to replacethe cardurys and fustian of the laborers. Shops with nautical instruments in thewindowsrope and paint sellersand slop shops with long rows of oilskinsdangling from hooksall proclaimed the neighborhood of the docks. The Admiralquickened his pace and straightened his figure as his surroundings became morenauticaluntil at lastpeeping between two highdingy wharfshe caught aglimpse of the mud-colored waters of the Thamesand of the bristle of masts andfunnels which rose from its broad bosom. To the right lay a quiet streetwithmany brass plates upon either sideand wire blinds in all of the windows. TheAdmiral walked slowly down it until "The Saint Lawrence ShippingCompany" caught his eye. He crossed the roadpushed open the doorandfound himself in a low-ceilinged officewith a long counter at one end and agreat number of wooden sections of ships stuck upon boards and plastered allover the walls.

"Is Mr. Henry in?" asked the Admiral.

"Nosir" answered an elderly man from a high seat in the corner."He has not come into town to-day. I can manage any business you may wishseen to."

"You don't happen to have a first or second officer's place vacantdoyou?"

The manager looked with a dubious eye at his singular applicant.

"Do you hold certificates?" he asked.

"I hold every nautical certificate there is."

"Then you won't do for us."

"Why not?"

"Your agesir.

"I give you my word that I can see as well as everand am as good a manin every way."

"I don't doubt it."

"Why should my age be a barthen?"

"WellI must put it plainly. If a man of your ageholding certificateshas not got past a second officer's berththere must be a black mark againsthim somewhere. I don't know what it isdrink or temperor want of judgmentbut something there must be."

"I assure you there is nothingbut I find myself strandedand so haveto turn to the old business again."

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

"Fifty-one years."

"What!"

"Yessirone-and-fifty years."

"In the same employ?"

"Yes."

"Whyyou must have begun as a child."

"I was twelve when I joined."

"It must be a strangely managed business" said the manager"whichallows men to leave it who have served for fifty yearsand who are still asgood as ever. Who did you serve?"

"The Queen. Heaven bless her!"

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

"I am Admiral of the Fleet."

The manager startedand sprang down from his high stool.

"My name is Admiral Hay Denver. There is my card. And here are therecords of my service. I don'tyou understandwant to push another man fromhis billet; but if you should chance to have a berth openI should be very gladof it. I know the navigation from the Cod Banks right up to Montreal a greatdeal better than I know the streets of London."

The astonished manager glanced over the blue papers which his visitor hadhanded him. "Won't you take a chairAdmiral?" said he.

"Thank you! But I should be obliged if you would drop my title now. Itold you because you asked mebut I've left the quarter-deckand I am plainMr. Hay Denver now."

"May I ask" said the manager"are you the same Denver whocommanded at one time on the North American station?"

"I did."

"Then it was you who got one of our boatsthe Comusoff the rocks inthe Bay of Fundy? The directors voted you three hundred guineas as salvageandyou refused them."

"It was an offer which should not have been made" said the Admiralsternly.

"Wellit reflects credit upon you that you should think so. If Mr.Henry were here I am sure that he would arrange this matter for you at once. Asit isI shall lay it before the directors to-dayand I am sure that they willbe proud to have you in our employmentandI hopein some more suitableposition than that which you suggest."

"I am very much obliged to yousir" said the Admiraland startedoff againwell pleasedupon his homeward journey

Chapter 15 - Still Among Shoals

 


 

 

Next day brought the Admiral a cheque for L5000 from Mr. McAdamand astamped agreement by which he made over his pension papers to the speculativeinvestor. It was not until he had signed and sent it off that the fullsignificance of all that he had done broke upon him. He had sacrificedeverything. His pension was gone. He had nothing save only what he could earn.But the stout old heart never quailed. He waited eagerly for a letter from theSaint Lawrence Shipping Companyand in the meanwhile he gave his landlord aquarter's notice. Hundred pound a year houses would in future be a luxury whichhe could not aspire to. A small lodging in some inexpensive part of London mustbe the substitute for his breezy Norwood villa. So be itthen! Better that athousand fold than that his name should be associated with failure and disgrace.

On that morning Harold Denver was to meet the creditors of the firmand toexplain the situation to them. It was a hateful taska degrading taskbut heset himself to do it with quiet resolution. At home they waited in intenseanxiety to learn the result of the meeting. It was late before he returnedhaggard palelike a man who has done and suffered much.

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

"We are going to try a little change of scene" said the Admiral."This place is neither town nor country. But never mind thatboy. Tell uswhat happened in the City."

"God help me! My wretched business driving you out of house andhome!" cried Haroldbroken down by this fresh evidence of the effects ofhis misfortunes. "It is easier for me to meet my creditors than to see youtwo suffering so patiently for my sake."

"Tuttut!" cried the Admiral. "There's no suffering in thematter. Mother would rather be near the theaters. That's at the bottom of itisn't itmother? You come and sit down here between us and tell us all aboutit."

Harold sat down with a loving hand in each of his.

"It's not so bad as we thought" said he"and yet it is badenough. I have about ten days to find the moneybut I don't know which way toturn for it. Pearsonhoweverliedas usualwhen he spoke of L13000. Theamount is not quite L7000."

The Admiral claped his hands. "I knew we should weather it after all!Hurrah my boy! Hiphiphiphurrah!"

Harold gazed at him in surprisewhile the old seaman waved his arm above hishead and bellowed out three stentorian cheers. "Where am I to get seventhousand pounds fromdad?" he asked.

"Never mind. You spin your yarn."

"Wellthey were very good and very kindbut of course they must haveeither their money or their money's worth. They passed a vote of sympathy withmeand agreed to wait ten days before they took any proceedings. Three of themwhose claim came to L3500told me that if I would give them my personal I.O.U.and pay interest at the rate of five per centtheir amounts might stand over aslong as I wished. That would be a charge of L175 upon my incomebut witheconomy I could meet itand it diminishes the debt by one-half."

Again the Admiral burst out cheering.

"There remainsthereforeabout L3200 which has to be found within tendays. No man shall lose by me. I gave them my word in the room that if I workedmy soul out of my body every one of them should be paid. I shall not spend apenny upon myself until it is done. But some of them can't wait. They are poormen themselvesand must have their money. They have issued a warrant forPearson's arrest. But they think that he has got away the States."

"These men shall have their money" said the Admiral.

"Dad!"

"Yesmy boyyou don't know the resources of the family. One never doesknow until one tries. What have you yourself now?"

"I have about a thousand pounds invested."

"All right. And I have about as much more. There's a good start. Nowmotherit is your turn. What is that little bit of paper of yours?"

Mrs. Denver unfolded itand placed it upon Harold's knee.

"Five thousand pounds!" he gasped.

"Ahbut mother is not the only rich one. Look at this!" And theAdmiral unfolded his chequeand placed it upon the other knee.

Harold gazed from one to the other in bewilderment. "Ten thousand pounds!"he cried. "Good heavens! where did these come from?"

"You will not worry any longerdear" murmured his motherslipping her arm round him.

But his quick eye had caught the signature upon one of the cheques. "DoctorWalker!" he criedflushing. "This is Clara's doing. Ohdadwecannot take this money. It would not be right nor honorable."

"NoboyI am glad you think so. It is somethinghoweverto haveproved one's friendfor a real good friend he is. It was he who brought it inthough Clara sent him. But this other money will be enough to cover everythingand it is all my own."

"Your own? Where did you get itdad?"

"Tuttut! See what it is to have a City man to deal with. It is my ownand fairly earnedand that is enough."

"Dear old dad!" Harold squeezed his gnarled hand. "And youmother! You have lifted the trouble from my heart. I feel another man. You havesaved my honormy good nameeverything. I cannot owe you morefor I owe youeverything already."

So while the autumn sunset shone ruddily through the broad window these threesat together hand in handwith hearts which were too full to speak. Suddenlythe soft thudding of tennis balls was heardand Mrs. Westmacott bounded intoview upon the lawn with brandished racket and short skirts fluttering in thebreeze. The sight came as a relief to their strained nervesand they burst allthree into a hearty fit of laughter.

"She is playing with her nephew" said Harold at last. "TheWalkers have not come out yet. I think that it would be well if you were to giveme that chequemotherand I were to return it in person."

"CertainlyHarold. I think it would be very nice.

He went in through the garden. Clara and the Doctor were sitting together inthe dining-room. She sprang to her feet at the sight of him.

"OhHaroldI have been waiting for you so impatiently" she cried;"I saw you pass the front windows half an hour ago. I would have come in ifI dared. Do tell us what has happened."

"I have come in to thank you both. How can I repay you for your kindness?Here is your chequeDoctor. I have not needed it. I find that I can lay myhands on enough to pay my creditors."

"Thank God!" said Clara fervently.

"The sum is less than I thoughtand our resources considerably more. Wehave been able to do it with ease."

"With ease!" The Doctor's brow clouded and his manner grew cold."I thinkHaroldthat you would do better to take this money of minethanto use that which seems to you to be gained with ease."

"Thank yousir. If I borrowed from any one it would be from you. But myfather has this very sumfive thousand poundsandas I tell himI owe him somuch that I have no compunction about owing him more."

"No compunction! Surely there are some sacrifices which a son should notallow his parents to make."

"Sacrifices! What do you mean?"

"Is it possible that you do not know how this money has been obtained?"

"I give you my wordDoctor Walkerthat I have no idea. I asked myfatherbut he refused to tell me."

"I thought not" said the Doctorthe gloom clearing from his brow."I was sure that you were not a man whoto clear yourself from a littlemoney difficultywould sacrifice the happiness of your mother and the health ofyour father."

"Good gracious! what do you mean?"

"It is only right that you should know. That money represents thecommutation of your father's pension. He has reduced himself to povertyandintends to go to sea again to earn a living."

"To sea again! Impossible!"

"It is the truth. Charles Westmacott has told Ida. He was with him inthe City when he took his poor pension about from dealer to dealer trying tosell it. He succeeded at lastand hence the money."

"He has sold his pension!" cried Haroldwith his hands to hisface. "My dear old dad has sold his pension!" He rushed from the roomand burst wildly into the presence of his parents once more. "I cannot takeitfather" he cried. "Better bankruptcy than that. Ohif I had onlyknown your plan! We must have back the pension. Ohmothermotherhow couldyou think me capable of such selfishness? Give me the chequedadand I willsee this man to-nightfor I would sooner die like a dog in the ditch than toucha penny of this money."

Chapter 16 - A Midnight Visitor

 


 

 

Now all this timewhile the tragi-comedy of life was being played in thesethree suburban villaswhile on a commonplace stage love and humor and fears andlights and shadows were so swiftly succeeding each otherand while these threefamiliesdrifted together by fatewere shaping each other's destinies andworking out in their own fashion the strangeintricate ends of human lifethere were human eyes which watched over every stage of the performanceandwhich were keenly critical of every actor on it. Across the road beyond thegreen palings and the close-cropped lawnbehind the curtains of theircreeper-framed windowssat the two old ladiesMiss Bertha and Miss MonicaWilliamslooking out as from a private box at all that was being enacted beforethem. The growing friendship of the three familiesthe engagement of HaroldDenver with Clara Walkerthe engagement of Charles Westmacott with her sisterthe dangerous fascination which the widow exercised over the Doctorthepreposterous behavior of the Walker girls and the unhappiness which they hadcaused their fathernot one of these incidents escaped the notice of the twomaiden ladies. Bertha the younger had a smile or a sigh for the loversMonicathe elder a frown or a shrug for the elders. Every night they talked over whatthey had seenand their own dulluneventful life took a warmth and a coloringfrom their neighbors as a blank wall reflects a beacon fire.

And now it was destined that they should experience the one keen sensation oftheir later yearsthe one memorable incident from which all future incidentsshould be dated.

It was on the very night which succeeded the events which have just beennarratedwhen suddenly into Monica William's headas she tossed upon hersleepless bedthere shot a thought which made her sit up with a thrill and agasp.

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

"NoMonicasurely not." Bertha sat up alsoand thrilled insympathy.

"I am sure of it. You remember I had forgotten to water the potsandthen I opened the windowand Jane called me about the jamand I have neverbeen in the room since."

"Good graciousMonicait is a mercy that we have not been murdered inour beds. There was a house broken into at Forest Hill last week. Shall we godown and shut it?"

"I dare not go down alonedearbut if you will come with me. Put onyour slippers and dressing-gown. We do not need a candle. NowBerthawe willgo down together."

Two little white patches moved vaguely through the darknessthe stairscreakedthe door whinedand they were at the front room window. Monica closedit gently downand fastened the snib.

"What a beautiful moon!" said shelooking out. "We can see asclearly as if it were day. How peaceful and quiet the three houses are overyonder! It seems quite sad to see that `To Let' card upon number one. I wonderhow number two will like their going. For my part I could better spare thatdreadful woman at number three with her short skirts and her snake. ButohBerthalook! look!! look!!!" Her voice had fallen suddenly to a quiveringwhisper and she was pointing to the Westmacotts' house. Her sister gave a gaspof horrorand stood with a clutch at Monica's armstaring in the samedirection.

There was a light in the front rooma slightwavering light such as wouldbe given by a small candle or taper. The blind was downbut the light shonedimly through. Outside in the gardenwith his figure outlined against theluminous squarethere stood a manhis back to the roadhis two hands upon thewindow ledgeand his body rather bent as though he were trying to peep in pastthe blind. So absolutely still and motionless was he that in spite of the moonthey might well have overlooked him were it not for that tell-tale light behind.

"Good heaven!" gasped Bertha"it is a burglar."

But her sister set her mouth grimly and shook her head. "We shall see"she whispered. "It may be something worse."

Swiftly and furtively the man stood suddenly erectand began to push thewindow slowly up. Then he put one knee upon the sashglanced round to see thatall was safeand climbed over into the room. As he did so he had to push theblind aside. Then the two spectators saw where the light came from. Mrs.Westmacott was standingas rigid as a statuein the center of the roomwith alighted taper in her right hand. For an instant they caught a glimpse of herstern face and her white collar. Then the blind fell back into positionand thetwo figures disappeared from their view.

"Ohthat dreadful woman!" cried Monica. "That dreadfuldreadful woman! She was waiting for him. You saw it with your own eyessisterBertha!"

"Hushdearhush and listen!" said her more charitable companion.They pushed their own window up once moreand watched from behind the curtains.

For a long time all was silent within the house. The light still stoodmotionless as though Mrs. Westmacott remained rigidly in the one positionwhilefrom time to time a shadow passed in front of it to show that her midnightvisitor was pacing up and down in front of her. Once they saw his outlineclearlywith his hands outstretched as if in appeal or entreaty. Then suddenlythere was a dull sounda crythe noise of a fallthe taper was extinguishedand a dark figure fled in the moonlightrushed across the gardenand vanishedamid the shrubs at the farther side.

Then only did the two old ladies understand that they had looked on whilst atragedy had been enacted. "Help!" they criedand "Help!" intheir highthin voicestimidly at firstbut gathering volume as they went onuntil the Wilderness rang with their shrieks. Lights shone in all the windowsoppositechains rattledbars were unshotdoors openedand out rushed friendsto the rescue. Haroldwith a stick; the Admiralwith his swordhis grey headand bare feet protruding from either end of a long brown ulster; finallyDoctorWalkerwith a pokerall ran to the help of the Westmacotts. Their door hadbeen already openedand they crowded tumultuously into the front room.

Charles Westmacottwhite to his lipswas kneeling an the floorsupportinghis aunt's head upon his knee. She lay outstretcheddressed in her ordinaryclothesthe extinguished taper still grasped in her handno mark or wound uponher--paleplacidand senseless.

"Thank God you are comeDoctor" said Charleslooking up."Do tell me how she isand what I should do."

Doctor Walker kneeled beside herand passed his left hand over her headwhile he grasped her pulse with the right.

"She has had a terrible blow" said he. "It must have beenwith some blunt weapon. Here is the place behind the ear. But she is a woman ofextraordinary physical powers. Her pulse is full and slow. There is no stertor.It is my belief that she is merely stunnedand that she is in no danger at all."

"Thank God for that!"

"We must get her to bed. We shall carry her upstairsand then I shallsend my girls in to her. But who has done this?"

"Some robber" said Charles. "You see that the window is open.She must have heard him and come downfor she was always perfectly fearless. Iwish to goodness she had called me.

"But she was dressed."

"Sometimes she sits up very late."

"I did sit up very late" said a voice. She had opened her eyesand was blinking at them in the lamplight. "A villain came in through thewindow and struck me with a life-preserver. You can tell the police so when theycome. Also that it was a little fat man. NowCharlesgive me your arm and Ishall go upstairs."

But her spirit was greater than her strengthforas she staggered to herfeether head swam roundand she would have fallen again had her nephew notthrown his arms round her. They carried her upstairs among them and laid herupon the bedwhere the Doctor watched beside herwhile Charles went off to thepolice-stationand the Denvers mounted guard over the frightened maids.

Chapter 17 - In Port At Last

 


 

 

Day had broken before the several denizens of the Wilderness had all returnedto their homesthe police finished their inquiriesand all come back to itsnormal quiet. Mrs. Westmacott had been left sleeping peacefully with a smallchloral draught to steady her nerves and a handkerchief soaked in arnica boundround her head. It was with some surprisethereforethat the Admiral receiveda note from her about ten o'clockasking him to be good enough to step in toher. He hurried infearing that she might have taken some turn for the worsebut he was reassured to find her sitting up in her bedwith Clara and IdaWalker in attendance upon her. She had removed the handkerchiefand had put ona little cap with pink ribbonsand a maroon dressing-jacketdaintily fulled atthe neck and sleeves.

"My dear friend" said she as he entered"I wish to make alast few remarks to you. Nono" she continuedlaughingas she saw alook of dismay upon his face. "I shall not dream of dying for at leastanother thirty years. A woman should be ashamed to die before she is seventy. IwishClarathat you would ask your father to step up. And youIdajust passme my cigarettesand open me a bottle of stout."

"Now then" she continuedas the doctor joined their party."I don't quite know what I ought to say to youAdmiral. You want some veryplain speaking to."

"'Pon my wordma'amI don't know what you are talking about."

"The idea of you at your age talking of going to seaand leaving thatdearpatient little wife of yours at homewho has seen nothing of you all herlife! It's all very well for you. You have the lifeand the changeand theexcitementbut you don't think of her eating her heart out in a dreary Londonlodging. You men are all the same."

"Wellma'amsince you know so muchyou probably know also that I havesold my pension. How am I to live if I do not turn my hand to work?"

Mrs. Westmacott produced a large registered envelope from beneath the sheetsand tossed it over to the old seaman.

"That excuse won't do. There are your pension papers. Just see if theyare right."

He broke the sealand out tumbled the very papers which he had made over toMcAdam two days before.

"But what am I to do with these now?" he cried in bewilderment.

"You will put them in a safe placeor get a friend to do soandifyou do your dutyyou will go to your wife and beg her pardon for having evenfor an instant thought of leaving her."

The Admiral passed his hand over his rugged forehead. "This is very goodof youma'am" said he"very good and kindand I know that you are astaunch friendbut for all that these papers mean moneyand though we may havebeen in broken water latelywe are not quite in such straits as to have tosignal to our friends. When we doma'amthere's no one we would look to soonerthan to you."

"Don't be ridiculous!" said the widow. "You know nothingwhatever about itand yet you stand there laying down the law. I'll have my wayin the matterand you shall take the papersfor it is no favor that I am doingyoubut simply a restoration of stolen property."

"How thatma'am?"

"I am just going to explainthough you might take a lady's word for itwithout asking any questions. Nowwhat I am going to say is just between youfourand must go no farther. I have my own reasons for wishing to keep it fromthe police. Who do you think it was who struck me last nightAdmiral?"

"Some villainma'am. I don't know his name."

"But I do. It was the same man who ruined or tried to ruin your son. Itwas my only brotherJeremiah."

"Ah!"

"I will tell you about him--or a little about himfor he has done muchwhich I would not care to talk ofnor you to listen to. He was always a villainsmooth-spoken and plausiblebut a dangeroussubtle villain all the same. If Ihave some hard thoughts about mankind I can trace them back to the childhoodwhich I spent with my brother. He is my only living relativefor my otherbrotherCharles's fatherwas killed in the Indian mutiny.

"Our father was richand when he died he made a good provision both forJeremiah and for me. He knew Jeremiah and he mistrusted himhowever; so insteadof giving him all that he meant him to have he handed me over a part of ittelling mewith what was almost his dying breathto hold it in trust for mybrotherand to use it in his behalf when he should have squandered or lost allthat he had. This arrangement was meant to be a secret between my father andmyselfbut unfortunately his words were overheard by the nurseand sherepeated them afterwards to my brotherso that he came to know that I held somemoney in trust for him. I suppose tobacco will not harm my headDoctor? Thankyouthen I shall trouble you for the matchesIda." She lit a cigaretteand leaned back upon the pillowwith the blue wreaths curling from her lips.

"I cannot tell you how often he has attempted to get that money from me.He has bulliedcajoledthreatenedcoaxeddone all that a man could do. Istill held it with the presentiment that a need for it would come. When I heardof this villainous businesshis flightand his leaving his partner to face thestormabove all that my old friend had been driven to surrender his income inorder to make up for my brother's defalcationsI felt that now indeed I had aneed for it. I sent in Charles yesterday to Mr. McAdamand his clientuponhearing the facts of the casevery graciously consented to give back the papersand to take the money which he had advanced. Not a word of thanks to meAdmiral.I tell you that it was very cheap benevolencefor it was all done with his ownmoneyand how could I use it better?

"I thought that I should probably hear from him soonand I did. Lastevening there was handed in a note of the usual whiningcringing tone. He hadcome back from abroad at the risk of his life and libertyjust in order that hemight say good-bye to the only sister he ever hadand to entreat my forgivenessfor any pain which he had caused me. He would never trouble me againand hebegged only that I would hand over to him the sum which I held in trust for him.Thatwith what he had alreadywould be enough to start him as an honest man inthe new worldwhen he would ever remember and pray for the dear sister who hadbeen his savior. That was the style of the letterand it ended by imploring meto leave the window-latch openand to be in the front room at three in themorningwhen he would come to receive my last kiss and to bid me farewell.

"Bad as he wasI could notwhen he trusted mebetray him. I saidnothingbut I was there at the hour. He entered through the windowandimplored me to give him the money. He was terribly changed; gauntwolfishandspoke like a madman. I told him that I had spent the money. He gnashed his teethat meand swore it was his money. I told him that I had spent it on him. Heasked me how. I said in trying to make him an honest manand in repairing theresults of his villainy. He shrieked out a curseand pulling something out ofthe breast of his coat--a loaded stickI think--he struck me with itand Iremembered nothing more."

"The blackguard!" cried the Doctor"but the police must behot upon his track."

"I fancy not" Mrs. Westmacott answered calmly. "As my brotheris a particularly tallthin manand as the police are looking for a shortfatoneI do not think that it is very probable that they will catch him. It isbestI thinkthat these little family matters should be adjusted inprivate."

"My dear ma'am" said the Admiral"if it is indeed this man'smoney that has bought back my pensionthen I can have no scruples about takingit. You have brought sunshine upon usma'amwhen the clouds were at theirdarkestfor here is my boy who insists upon returning the money which I got. Hecan keep it now to pay his debts. For what you have done I can only ask God tobless youma'amand as to thanking you I can't even----"

"Then pray don't try" said the widow. "Now run awayAdmiraland make your peace with Mrs. Denver. I am sure if I were she it would be a longtime before I should forgive you. As for meI am going to America when Charlesgoes. You'll take me so farwon't youIda? There is a college being built inDenver which is to equip the woman of the future for the struggle of lifeandespecially for her battle against man. Some months ago the committee offered mea responsible situation upon the staffand I have decided now to accept itforCharles's marriage removes the last tie which binds me to England. You willwrite to me sometimesmy friendsand you will address your letters toProfessor WestmacottEmancipation CollegeDenver. From there I shall watch howthe glorious struggle goes in conservative old Englandand if I am needed youwill find me here again fighting in the forefront of the fray. Good-bye--but notyougirls; I have still a word I wish to say to you.

"Give me your handIdaand yoursClara" said she when they werealone. "Ohyou naughty little pussesaren't you ashamed to look me in theface? Did you think--did you really think that I was so very blindand couldnot see your little plot? You did it very wellI must say thatand really Ithink that I like you better as you are. But you had all your pains for nothingyou little conspiratorsfor I give you my word that I had quite made up my mindnot to have him."

And so within a few weeks our little ladies from their observatory saw amighty bustle in the Wildernesswhen two-horse carriages cameand coachmenwith favorsto bear away the twos who were destined to come back one. And theythemselves in their crackling silk dresses went acrossas invitedto the bigdouble wedding breakfast which was held in the house of Doctor Walker. Thenthere was health-drinkingand laughterand changing of dressesandrice-throwing when the carriages drove up againand two more couples started onthat journey which ends only with life itself.

Charles Westmacott is now a flourishing ranchman in the western part ofTexaswhere he and his sweet little wife are the two most popular persons inall that county. Of their aunt they see littlebut from time to time they seenotices in the papers that there is a focus of light in Denverwhere mightythunderbolts are being forged which will one day bring the dominant sex upontheir knees. The Admiral and his wife still live at number onewhile Harold andClara have taken number twowhere Doctor Walker continues to reside. As to thebusinessit had been reconstructedand the energy and ability of the juniorpartner had soon made up for all the ill that had been done by his senior. Yetwith his sweet and refined home atmosphere he is able to realize his wishandto keep himself free from the sordid aims and base ambitions which drag down theman whose business lies too exclusively in the money market of the vast Babylon.As he goes back every evening from the crowds of Throgmorton Street to thetree-lined peaceful avenues of Norwoodso he has found it possible in spiritalso to do one's duties amidst the babel of the Cityand yet to live beyond it.




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