Warburton had never seen Godfrey Sherwood so restless and excitable as during these weeks when the business in Little Ailie Street was being brought to an end, and the details of the transfer to Bristol were being settled. Had it not been inconsistent with all the hopeful facts of the situation, as well as with the man's temper, one would have thought that Godfrey suffered from extreme nervousness; that he lived under some oppressive anxiety, which it was his constant endeavour to combat with resolute high spirits. It seemed an odd thing that a man who had gone through the very real cares and perils of the last few years without a sign of perturbation, nay, with the cheeriest equanimity, should let himself be thrown into disorder by the mere change to a more promising state of things. Now and then Warburton asked himself whether his partner could be concealing some troublesome fact with regard to Applegarth's concern; but he dismissed the idea as too improbable; Sherwood was far too good a fellow, far too conscientious a man of business, to involve his friend in obvious risk -- especially since it had been decided that Mrs. Warburton's and her money should go into the affair. The inquiries made by Mr. Turnbull had results so satisfactory that even the resolute pessimist could not but grudgingly admit his inability to discover storm-signals. Though a sense of responsibility made a new element in his life, which would not let him sleep quite so soundly as hitherto, Will persuaded himself that he had but to get to work, and all would be right.
The impression made upon him by Applegarth himself was very favourable. The fact that the jam manufacturer was a university man, an astronomer, and a musician, had touched Warburton's weak point, and he went down to Bristol the first time with an undeniable prejudice at the back of his mind; but this did not survive a day or two's intercourse. Applegarth recommended himself by an easy and humorous geniality of bearing which Warburton would have been the last man to resist; he talked of his affairs with the utmost frankness.
"The astonishing thing to me is," he said, "that I've made this business pay. I went into it on abstract principle. I knew nothing of business. At school, I rather think, I learnt something about 'single and double entry,' but I had forgotten it all -- just as I find myself forgetting how to multiply and divide, now that I am accustomed to the higher mathematics. However, I had to earn a little money, somehow, and I thought I'd try jam. And it went by itself, I really don't understand it, mere good luck, I suppose. I hear of fellows who have tried business, and come shocking croppers. Perhaps they were classical men nothing so hopeless as your classic. I beg your pardon; before saying that, I ought to have found out whether either of you is a classic."
The listeners both shook their heads, and laughed.
"So much the better. An astronomer, it is. plain, may manufacture jam; a fellow brought up on Greek and Latin verses couldn't possibly."
They were together at Bristol for a week, then Sherwood received a telegram, and told Warburton that he must return to London immediately.
"Something that bothers you?" said Will, noting a peculiar tremor on his friend's countenance.
"No, no; a private affair; nothing to do with us. You stay on till Saturday? I might be back in twenty-four hours."
"Good. Yes; I want to have some more talk with Applegarth about that advertising proposal. I don't like to start with quite such a heavy outlay"
"Nor I either," replied Godfrey, his eyes wandering. He paused, bit the end of his moustache, and added. "By the bye, the St. Neots money will be paid on Saturday, you said?"
"I believe so. Or early next week."
"That's right. I want to get done. Queer how these details fidget me. Nerves! I ought to have had a holiday this summer. You were wiser."
The next day Warburton went out with Applegarth to his house some ten miles south of Bristol, and dined there, and stayed over night. It had not yet been settled where he and Sherwood should have their permanent abode; there was a suggestion that they should share a house which was to let not far from Applegarth's, but Will felt uneasy at the thought of a joint tenancy, doubting whether he could live in comfort with any man. He was vexed at having to leave his flat in Chelsea, which so thoroughly suited his habits and his tastes.
Warburton and his host talked much of Sherwood.
"When I first met him," said the jam-manufacturer, "he struck me as the queerest man of business -- except myself -- that I had ever seen. He talked about Norse sagas, witchcraft, and so on, and when he began about business, I felt uneasy. Of course I know him better now."
"There are not many steadier and shrewder men than Sherwood," remarked Will.
"I feel sure of that," replied the other. And he added, as if to fortify himself in the opinion: "Yes, I feel sure of it."
"In spite of all his energy, never rash."
"No, no; I can see that. Yet," added Applegarth, again as if for self-confirmation, "he has energy of an uncommon kind."
"That will soon show itself," replied Warburton, smiling. "He's surveying the field like a general before battle."
"Yes. No end of bright ideas. Some of them -- perhaps -- not immediately practicable."
"Oh, Sherwood looks far ahead."
Applegarth nodded, and for a minute or two each was occupied with his own reflections.
Godfrey having telegraphed that he must remain in town, Warburton soon joined him. His partner was more cheerful and sanguine than ever; he had cleared off numberless odds and ends of business; there remained little to be done before the day, a week hence, appointed for the signature of the new deed, for which purpose Applegarth would come to London. Mr. Turnbull, acting with his wonted caution, had at length concluded the sale of Mrs. Warburton's property, and on the day after his return, Will received from St. Neots a letter containing a cheque for four thousand pounds! All his own available capital was already in the hands of Sherwood; a sum not much greater in amount than that invested by his mother and sister. Sherwood, for his part, put in sixteen thousand, with regrets that it was all he had at command just now; before long, he might see his way greatly to increase their capital, but they had enough for moderate enterprise in the meanwhile.
Not half an hour after the post which brought him the cheque, Warburton was surprised by a visit from his friend.
"I thought you wouldn't have left home yet," said Godfrey, with a nervous laugh. "I had a letter from Applegarth last night, which I wanted you to see at once."
He handed it, and Will, glancing over the sheet, found only an unimportant discussion of a small detail.
"Well, that's all right," he said, "but I don't see that it need have brought you from Wimbledon to Chelsea before nine o'clock in the morning. Aren't you getting a little overstrung, old man?"
Godfrey looked it. His face was noticeably thinner than a month ago, and his eyes had a troubled fixity such as comes of intense preoccupation.
"Daresay I am," he admitted with a show of careless good-humour. "Can't get much sleep lately."
"But why? What the deuce is there to fuss about? Sit down and smoke a cigar. I suppose you've had breakfast?"
"No -- yes, I mean, yes, of course, long ago."
Will did not believe the corrected statement. He gazed at his friend curiously and with some anxiety.
"It's an unaccountable thing that you should fret your gizzard out about this new affair, which seems all so smooth, when you took the Ailie Street worries without turning a hair."
"Stupid -- nerves out of order," muttered Godfrey, as he crossed, uncrossed, recrossed his legs, and bit at a cigar, as if he meant to breakfast on it. "I must get away for a week or two as soon as we've signed."
"Yes, but look here." Warburton stood before him, hands on hips, regarding him gravely, and speaking with decision. "I don't quite understand you. You're not like yourself. Is there anything you're keeping from me?"
"Nothing -- nothing whatever, I assure you, Warburton."
But Will was only half satisfied.
"You have no doubts of Applegarth?"
"Doubts!" cried the other. "Not a shadow of doubt of any sort, I declare and protest. No, no; it's entirely my own idiotic excitability. I can't account for it. Just don't notice it, there's a good fellow."
"There was a pause. Will glanced again at Applegarth's note, whilst Sherwood went, as usual, to stand before the bookcase, and run his eye along the shelves.
"Anything new in my way?" he asked. "I want a good long quiet read. -- Palgrave's Arabia! Where did you pick up that? One of the most glorious books I know. That and Layard's Early Travels sent me to heaven for a month, once upon a time. You don't know Layard? I must give it to you. The essence of romance! As good in its way as the Arabian Nights."
Thus he talked on for a quarter of an hour, and it seemed to relieve him. Returning to matters of the day, he asked, half abruptly:
"Have you the St. Neots cheque yet?"
"Came this morning."
"Payable to Sherwood Brothers, I suppose?" said Godfrey. "Right. It's most convenient so."
Will handed him the cheque, and he gazed at it as if with peculiar satisfaction. He sat smiling, cheque in one hand, cigar in the other, until Warburton asked what he was thinking over.
"Nothing -- nothing. Well, I suppose I'd better take it with me; I'm on my way to the bank."
As Will watched the little slip of paper disappear into his friend's pocket-book, he had an unaccountable feeling of disquiet. Nothing could be more unworthy than distrust of Godfrey Sherwood; nothing less consonant with all his experience of the man; and, had the money been his, he would have handed it over as confidently as when, in fact, dealing with his own capital the other day. But the sense of responsibility to others was a new thing to which he could not yet accustom himself. It occurred to him for the first time that there was no necessity for accumulating these funds in the hands of Sherwood; he might just as well have retained his own money and this cheque until the day of the signing of the new deed. To be sure, he had only to reflect a moment to see the foolishness of his misgiving; yet, had he thought of it before----
He, too, was perhaps a little overstrung in the nerves. Not for the first time, he mentally threw a malediction at business, and all its sordid appurtenances.
A change came over Sherwood. His smile grew more natural; his eye lost its fixity; he puffed at his cigar with enjoyment.
"What news of Franks?" were his next words.
"Nothing very good," answered Will, frowning. "He seems to be still playing the fool. I've seen him only once in the last fortnight, and then it was evident he'd been drinking. I couldn't help saying a plain word or two, and he turned sullen. I called at his place last night, but he wasn't there; his landlady tells me he's been out of town several times lately, and he's done no work."
"Has the girl gone?"
"A week ago. I have a letter from Ralph Pomfret. The good old chap worries about this affair; so does Mrs. Pomfret. He doesn't say it plainly, but I suspect Franks has been behaving theatrically down at Ashstead; it's possible he went there in the same state in which I saw him last. Pomfret would have done well to punch his head, but I've no doubt they've stroked and patted and poor-fellow'd him -- the very worst thing for Franks."
"Or for any man," remarked Sherwood.
"Worse for him than for most. I wish I had more of the gift of brutality; I see a way in which I might do him good; but it goes against the grain with me."
"That I can believe," said Godfrey, with his pleasantest look and nod.
"I was afraid he might somehow scrape together money enough to pursue her to Egypt. Perhaps he's trying for that. The Pomfrets want me to go down to Ashstead and have a talk with them about him. Whether he managed to see the girl before she left England, I don't know."
"After all, he has been badly treated," said Sherwood sympathetically.
"Well, yes, he has. But a fellow must have common sense, most of all with regard to women. I'm rather afraid Franks might think it a fine thing to go to the devil because he's been jilted. It isn't fashionable nowadays; there might seem to be a sort of originality about it."
They talked for a few minutes of business matters, and Sherwood briskly went his way.
Four days passed. Warburton paid a visit to the Pomfrets, and had from them a confirmation of all he suspected regarding Norbert Franks. The artist's behaviour at Ashstead had been very theatrical indeed; he talked much of suicide, preferably by the way of drink, and, when dissuaded from this, with a burst of tears -- veritable tears -- begged Ralph Pomfret to lend him money enough to go to Cairo; on which point, also, he met with kindliest opposition. Thereupon, he had raged for half an hour against some treacherous friend, unnamed. Who this could be, the Pomfrets had no idea. Warburton, though he affected equal ignorance, could not doubt but that it was himself, and he grew inwardly angry. Franks had been to Bath, and had obtained a private interview with Winifred Elvan, in which (Winifred wrote to her aunt) he had demeaned himself very humbly and pathetically, first of all imploring the sister's help with Rosamund, and, when she declared she could do nothing, entreating to be told whether or not he was ousted by a rival. Rather impatient with the artist's follies than troubled about his sufferings, Will came home again. He wrote a brief, not unfriendly letter to Franks, urging him to return to his better mind -- the half-disdainful, half-philosophical resignation which he seemed to have attained a month ago. The answer to this was a couple of lines; "Thanks. Your advice, no doubt, is well meant, but I had rather not have it just now. Don't let us meet for the present." Will shrugged his shoulders, and tried to forget all about the affair.
He did not see Sherwood, but had a note from him written in high spirits. Applegarth would be in town two days hence, and all three were to dine at his hotel. Having no occupation, Warburton spent most of his time in walking about London; but these rambles did not give him the wonted pleasure, and though at night he was very tired, he did not sleep well. An inexplicable nervousness interfered with all his habits of mind and body He was on the point of running down to St. Neots, to get through the last day of intolerable idleness, when the morning post again brought a letter from Sherwood.
"Confound the fellow!" he muttered, as he tore open the envelope. "What else can he have to say? No infernal postponement, I hope----"
He read the first line and drew himself up like a man pierced with pain.
"My dear Warburton" -- thus wrote his partner, in a hand less legible than of wont -- "I have such bad news for you that I hardly know how to tell it. If I dared, I would come to you at once, but I simply have not the courage to face you until you know the worst, and have had time to get accustomed to it. It is seven o'clock; an hour ago I learnt that all our money is lost -- all yours, all that from St. Neots, all mine -- every penny I have. I have been guilty of unpardonable folly -- how explain my behaviour? The truth is, after the settlement in Little Ailie Street; I found myself much worse off than I had expected. I went into the money market, and made a successful deal. Counting on being able to repeat this, I guaranteed the sixteen thousand for Bristol; but the second time I lost. So it has gone on; all these last weeks I have been speculating, winning and losing. Last Tuesday, when I came to see you, I had about twelve thousand, and hoped somehow to make up the deficiency. As the devil would have it, that same morning I met a City acquaintance, who spoke of a great coup to be made by any one who had some fifteen thousand at command. It meant an immediate profit of 25 per cent. Like a fool, I was persuaded -- as you will see when I go into details, the thing looked horribly tempting. I put it all -- every penny that lay at our bank in the name of Sherwood Bros. And now I learn that the house I trusted has smashed. It's in the papers this evening -- Biggles, Thorpe and Biggles -- you'll see it. I dare not ask you to forgive me. Of course I shall at once take steps to raise the money owing to you, and hope to be able to do that soon, but it's all over with the Bristol affair. I shall come to see you at twelve to-morrow.
"G. F. SHERWOOD."
"After all, there's something in presentiment."
This was the first thought that took shape in Will's whirling mind. The second was, that he might rationally have foreseen disaster. All the points of strangeness which had struck him in Sherwood's behaviour came back now with such glaring significance that he accused himself of inconceivable limpness in having allowed things to go their way -- above all in trusting Godfrey with the St. Neots cheque. On this moment of painful lucidity followed blind rage. Why, what a grovelling imbecile was this fellow! To plunge into wild speculation, on the word of some City shark, with money not his own! But could one credit the story? Was it not more likely that Sherwood had got involved in some cunning thievery which he durst not avow? Perhaps he was a mere liar and hypocrite. That story of the ten thousand pounds he had lent to somebody -- how improbable it sounded; why might he not have invented it, to strengthen confidence at a critical moment? The incredible baseness of the man! He, who knew well all that depended upon the safe investment of the St. Neots money -- to risk it in this furiously reckless way. In all the records of City scoundrelism, was there a blacker case?
Raging thus, Warburton became aware that Mrs. Hopper spoke to him. She had just laid breakfast, and, as usual when she wished to begin a conversation, had drawn back to the door, where she paused.
"That Boxon, the grocer, has had a bad accident, sir."
"Boxon? -- grocer?"
"In the Fulham Road, sir; him as Allchin was with."
Heedless of her master's gloomy abstraction, Mrs. Hopper continued. She related that Boxon had been at certain races where he had lost money and got drunk; driving away in a trap, he had run into something, and been thrown out, with serious injuries, which might prove fatal.
"So much the worse for him," muttered Warburton. "I've no pity to spare for fools and blackguards."
"I should think not, indeed sir. I just mentioned it, sir, because Allchin was telling us about it last night. He and his wife looked in to see my sister, Liza, and they both said they never see such a change in anybody. And they said how grateful we ought to be to you, sir, and that I'm sure we are, for Liza'd never have been able to go away without your kindness."
Listening as if this talk sounded from a vague distance, Warburton was suddenly reminded of what had befallen himself; for as yet he had thought only of his mother and sister. He was ruined. Some two or three hundred pounds, his private bank account, represented all he had in the world, and all prospect of making money had been taken away from him. Henceforth, small must be his charities. If he gained his own living, he must count himself lucky; nothing more difficult than for a man of his age and position, unexpectedly cut adrift, to find work and payment. By good fortune, his lease of this flat came to an end at Michaelmas, and already he had given notice that he did not mean to renew. Mrs. Hopper knew that he was on the point of leaving London, and mot a little lamented it, for to her the loss would be serious indeed. Warburton's habitual generosity led her to hope for some signal benefaction ere his departure; perhaps on that account she was specially emphatic in gratitude for her sister's restoration to health.
"We was wondering, sir," she added, now having wedged herself between door and jamb, "whether you'd be so kind as to let my sister Liza see you just for a minute or two, to thank you herself as I'm sure she ought? She could come any time as wouldn't be ill-convenient to you."
"I'm extremely busy, Mrs. Hopper," Will replied. "Please tell your sister I'm delighted to hear she's done so well at Southend, and I hope to see her some day; but not just now. By the bye, I'm not going out this morning, so don't wait, when you've finished."
By force of habit he ate and drank. Sherwood's letter lay open before him; he read it through again and again. But he could not fix his thoughts upon it. He found himself occupied with the story of Boxon, wondering whether Boxon would live or die. Boxon, the grocer -- why, what an ass a man must be, a man with a good grocery business, to come to grief over drink and betting! Shopkeeping -- what a sound and safe life it was; independent, as far as any money-earning life can be so. There must be a pleasure in counting the contents of one's till every night. Boxon! Of course, a mere brute. There came into Will's memory the picture of Boxon landed on the pavement one night, by Allchin's fist or toe -- and of a sudden he laughed.
When he had half-smoked his pipe, comparative calmness fell upon him. Sherwood spoke of at once raising the money he owed, and, if he succeeded in doing so, much of the mischief would be undone. The four thousand pounds might be safely invested somewhere, and life at The Haws would go on as usual. But was it certain that Sherwood could "raise" such sums, being himself, as he declared, penniless? This disclosure showed him in an unpleasantly new light, as anything but the cautious man of business, the loyal friend, he had seemed to be. Who could put faith in a money-market gambler? Why, there was no difference to speak of between him and Boxon. And if his promise proved futile -- what was to be done?
For a couple of hours, Will stared at this question. When the clock on his mantelpiece struck eleven, he happened to notice it, and was surprised to find how quickly time had passed. By the bye, he had never thought of looking at his newspaper, though Sherwood referred him to that source of information on the subject of Biggles, Thorpe and Biggles. Yes, here it was. A firm of brokers; unfortunate speculations; failure of another house -- all the old story. As likely as not, the financial trick of a cluster of thieves. Will threw the paper aside. He had always scorned that cunning of the Stock Exchange, now he thought of it with fiery hatred.
Another hour passed in feverish waiting; then, just at mid-day, a knock sounded at the outer door. Anything but a loud knock; anything but the confident summons of a friend. Will went to open. There stood Godfrey Sherwood, shrunk together like a man suffering from cold; he scarcely raised his eyes.
Will's purpose, on finding Sherwood at his door, was to admit him without a word, or any form of greeting; but the sight of that changed face and pitiful attitude overcame him; he offered a hand, and felt it warmly pressed.
They were together in the room; neither had spoken. Will pointed to a chair, but did not himself sit down.
"I suppose it's all true, Warburton," began the other in a low voice, "but I can't believe it yet. I seem to be walking in a nightmare; and when you gave me your hand at the door, I thought for a second that I'd just woke up."
"Sit down," said Will, "and let's have it out. Give me the details."
"That's exactly what I wish to do. Of course I haven't been to bed, and I've spent the night in writing out a statement of all my dealings for the past fifteen months. Here it is -- and here are my pass-books."
Will took the paper, a half-sheet of foolscap, one side almost covered with figures. At a glance he saw that the statement was perfectly intelligible. The perusal of a few lines caused him to look up in astonishment.
"You mean to say that between last September and the end of the year you lost twenty-five thousand pounds?"
"And you mean to say that you still went on with your gambling?"
"Things were getting bad in Ailie Street, you know."
"And you did your best to make them desperate." Sherwood's head seemed trying to bury itself between his shoulders; his feet hid themselves under the chair, he held his hat in a way suggestive of the man who comes to beg.
"The devil of the City got hold of me," he replied, with a miserable attempt to look Warburton in the face.
"Yes," said Will, "that's clear. Then, a month ago, you really possessed only nine thousand pounds?"
"That was all I had left, out of nearly forty thousand."
"What astonishes me is, that you won from time to time."
"I did!" exclaimed Godfrey, with sudden animation. "Look at the fifth of February -- that was a great day! It's that kind of thing that tempts a man on. Afterwards I lost steadily but I might have won any day. And I had to make a good deal, if we were to come to terms with Applegarth. I nearly did it. I was as cautious as a man could be -- content with small things. If only I hadn't been pressed for time! It was only the want of time that made me use your money. Of course, it was criminal. Don't think I wish to excuse myself for one moment. Absolutely criminal. I knew what was at stake. But I thought the thing was sure. It promised at the least twenty-five per cent. We should have started brilliantly at Bristol -- several thousands for advertisement, beyond our estimate. I don't think the Biggles people were dishonest----"
"You don't think so!" interrupted Will, contemptuously. "If there's any doubt we know on which side it weighs. Just tell me the facts. What was the security?"
Sherwood replied with a brief, clear, and obviously honest account of the speculation into which he had been drawn. To the listener it seemed astounding that any responsible man should be lured by such gambler's chance; he could hardly find patience to point out the manifest risks so desperately incurred. And Sherwood admitted the full extent of his folly; he could only repeat that he had acted on an irresistible impulse, to be explained, though not defended, by the embarrassment in which he found himself.
"Thank Heaven, this is over!" he exclaimed at last, passing his handkerchief over a moist forehead. "I don't know how I got through last night. More than once, I thought it would be easier to kill myself than to come and face you. But there was the certainty that I could make good your loss. I may be able to do so very soon. I've written to----"
He checked himself on the point of uttering a name; then with eyes down, reflected for a moment.
"No; I haven't the right to tell you, though I should like to, to give you confidence. It's the story of the ten thousand pounds, you remember? When I lent that money, I promised never to let any one know. Even if I can't realise your capital at once, I can pay you good interest until the money's forthcoming. That would be the same thing to you?"
Warburton gave him a keen look, and said gravely --
"Let's understand each other, Sherwood. Have you any income at all?"
"None whatever now, except the interest on the ten thousand; and that -- well, I'm sorry to say it hasn't been paid very regularly. But in future it must be -- it shall be. Between two and three thousand are owing to me for arrears."
"It's a queer story."
"I know it is," admitted Godfrey. "But I hope you don't doubt my word?"
"No, I don't -- What's to be done about Applegarth?"
"I must see him," replied Sherwood with a groan. "Of course you have no part in the miserable business. I must write at once, and then go and face him."
"Of course I shall go with you."
"You will? That's kind of you. Luckily he's a civilised man, not one of the City brutes one might have had to deal with."
"We must hope he'll live up to his reputation," said Warburton, with the first smile, and that no cheery one, which had risen to his lips during this interview.
From that point the talk became easier. All the aspects of their position were considered, without stress of feeling, for Will had recovered his self-control; and Sherwood, soothed by the sense of having discharged an appalling task, tended once more to sanguine thoughts. To be sure, neither of them could see any immediate way out of the gulf in which they found themselves; all hope of resuming business was at an end; the only practical question was, how to earn a living; but both were young men, and neither had ever known privation; it was difficult for them to believe all at once that they were really face to face with that grim necessity which they had thought of as conquering others, but never them. Certain unpleasant steps, however, had at once to be taken. Sherwood must give up his house at Wimbledon; Warburton must look about for a cheap lodging into which to remove at Michaelmas. Worse still, and more urgent, was the duty of making known to Mrs. Warburton what had happened.
"I suppose I must go down at once," said Will gloomily.
"I see no hurry," urged the other. "As a matter of fact, your mother and sister will lose nothing. You undertook to pay them a minimum of three per cent. on their money, and that you can do; I guarantee you that, in any case."
Will mused. If indeed it were possible to avoid the disclosure----? But that would involve much lying, a thing, even in a good cause, little to his taste. Still, when he thought of his mother's weak health, and how she might be affected by the news of this catastrophe, he began seriously to ponder the practicability of well-meaning deception. That, of course, must depend upon their difficulties with Applegarth remaining strictly private; and even so, could Mr. Turnbull's scent for disaster be successfully reckoned with?
"Don't do anything hastily, Warburton, I beg of you," continued the other. "Things are never so bad as they look at first sight. Wait till I have seen -- you know who. I might even be able to -- but it's better not to promise. Wait a day or two, at all events."
And this Warburton resolved to do; for, if the worst came to the worst, he had some three hundred pounds of his own still in the bank, and so could assure, for two years at all events, the income of which his mother and Jane had absolute need. For himself, he should find some way of earning bread and cheese; he could no longer stand on his dignity, and talk of independence, that was plain.
When at length his calamitous partner had gone, he made an indifferent lunch on the cold meat he found in Mrs. Hopper's precincts, and then decided that he had better take a walk; to sit still and brood was the worst possible way of facing such a crisis. There was no friend with whom he could discuss the situation; none whose companionship would just now do him any particular good. Better to walk twenty miles, and tire himself out, and see how things looked after a good night's sleep, So he put on his soft hat, and took his walking-stick, and slammed the door behind him. Some one was coming up the stairs; sunk in his own thoughts he paid no heed, even when the other man stood in front of him. Then a familiar voice claimed his attention.
"Do you want to cut me, Warburton?"
Warburton stopped, and looked into the speaker's face, as if he hardly recognised him.
"You're going out," added Franks, turning round. "I won't keep you."
And he seemed about to descend the stairs quickly. But Will at length found voice.
"Come in. I was thinking of something, and didn't see you."
They entered, and passed as usual into the sitting-room, but not with the wonted exchange of friendly words. The interval since their last meeting seemed to have alienated them more than the events which preceded it. Warburton was trying to smile, but each glance he took at the other's face made his lips less inclined to relax from a certain severity rarely seen in them; and Franks succeeded but ill in his attempt to lounge familiarly, with careless casting of the eye this way and that. It was he who broke silence.
"I've found a new drink -- gin and laudanum. First rate for the nerves."
"Ah!" replied Warburton gravely. "My latest tipple is oil of vitriol with a dash of strychnine. Splendid pick-me-up."
Franks laughed loudly, but unmirthfully.
"No, but I'm quite serious," he continued. "It's the only thing that keeps me going. If I hadn't found the use of laudanum in small doses, I should have tried a very large one before now."
His language had a note of bravado, and his attitude betrayed the self-conscious actor, but there was that in his countenance which could only have come of real misery. The thin cheeks, heavy-lidded and bloodshot eyes, ill-coloured lips, made a picture anything but agreeable to look upon; and quite in keeping with it was the shabbiness of his garb. After an intent and stern gaze at him, Will asked bluntly:
"When did you last have a bath?"
"Bath? Good God -- how do I know?"
And again Franks laughed in the key of stage recklessness.
"I should advise a Turkish," said Will, "followed by rhubarb of the same country. You'd feel vastly better next day."
"The remedies," answered Franks, smiling disdainfully, "of one who has never been through moral suffering."
"Yet efficacious, even morally, I can assure you. And, by the bye, I want to know when you're going to finish 'The Slummer.'"
"Finish it? Why, never! I could as soon turn to and build a bridge over the Thames."
"What do you mean? I suppose you have to earn your living?"
"I see no necessity for it. What do I care, whether I live or not?"
"Well, then, I am obliged to ask whether you feel it incumbent upon you -- to pay your debts?"
The last words came out with a jerk, after a little pause which proved what it cost Warburton to speak them. To save his countenance, he assumed an unnatural grimness of feature, staring Franks resolutely in the face. And the result was the artist's utter subjugation; he shuffled, dropped his head, made confused efforts to reply.
"Of course I shall do so -- somehow," he muttered at length.
"Have you any other way -- honest way -- except by working?"
"Very well, then, I'll find work. Real work. Not that cursed daubing, which it turns my stomach to think of."
Warburton paused a moment, then said kindly:
"That's the talk of a very sore and dazed man. Before long, you'll be yourself again, and you'll go back to your painting with an appetite And the sooner you try the better. I don't particularly like dunning people for money, as I think you know, but, when you can pay that debt of yours, I shall be glad. I've had a bit of bad luck since last we saw each other."
Franks gazed in heavy-eyed wonder, uncertain whether to take this as a joke or not.
"Bad luck? What sort of bad luck?"
"Why, neither on the turf nor at Monte Carlo. But a speculation has gone wrong, and I'm adrift. I shall have to leave this flat. How I'm going to keep myself alive, I don't know yet. The Bristol affair is of course off. I'm as good as penniless, and a hundred pounds or so will come very conveniently, whenever you can manage it."
"Are you serious, Warburton?"
"You've really lost everything? You've got to leave this flat because you can't afford it?"
"That, my boy, is the state of the case."
"By Jove! No wonder you didn't see me as I came upstairs. What the deuce! You in Queer Street! I never dreamt of such a thing as a possibility. I've always thought of you as a flourishing capitalist -- sound as the Mansion House. Why didn't you begin by telling me this? I'm about as miserable as a fellow can be, but I should never have bothered you with my miseries. -- Warburton in want of money? Why, the idea is grotesque; I can't get hold of it. I came to you as men go to a bank. Of course, I meant to pay it all, some day, but you were so generous and so rich, I never thought there would be any hurry. I'm astounded -- I'm floored!"
With infinite satisfaction, Warburton saw the better man rising again in his friend, noted the change of countenance, of bearing, of tone.
"You see," he said, with a nod and a smile, "that you've no choice but to finish 'The Slummer!'"
Franks looked about him uneasily, fretfully.
"Either that -- or something else," he muttered.
"No -- that! It'll bring you two or three hundred pounds without much delay."
"I daresay it would. But if you knew how I loathe and curse the very sight of the thing -- Why I haven't burnt it I don't know."
"Probably," said Will, "because in summer weather you take your gin and laudanum cold."
This time the artist's laugh was more genuine.
"The hideous time I have been going through!" he continued. "It's no use trying to give you an idea of it. Of course you'd say it was all damned foolery. Well, I shan't go through it again, that's one satisfaction. I've done with women. One reason why I loathe the thought of going on with that picture is because I still have the girl's head to put in. But I'll do it. I'll go back and get to work at once. If I can't find a model, I'll fake the head -- get it out of some woman's paper where the fashions are illustrated; that'll do very well. I'll go and see how the beastly thing looks. It's turned against the wall, and I wonder I haven't put my boot through it."
Warburton waited for a quarter of an hour after the artist had gone, then set out for his walk. The result of this unexpected conversation with Franks was excellent; the foolish fellow seemed to have recovered his common sense. But Will felt ashamed of himself. Of course he had acted solely with a view to the other's good, seeing no hope but this of rescuing Franks from the slough in which he wallowed; nevertheless, he was stung with shame. For the first time in his life he had asked repayment of money lent to a friend. And he had done the thing blunderingly, without tact. For the purpose in view, it would have been enough to speak of his own calamity; just the same effect would have been produced on Franks. He saw this now, and writhed under the sense of his grossness. The only excuse he could urge for himself was that Franks' behaviour provoked and merited rough handling. Still, he might have had perspicacity enough to understand that the artist was not so sunk in squalor as he pretended.
"Just like me," he growled to himself, with a nervous twitching of the face. "I've no presence of mind. I see the right thing when it's too late, and when I've made myself appear a bounder. How many thousand times have I blundered in this way! A man like me ought to live alone -- as I've a very fair chance of doing in future."
His walk did him no good, and on his return he passed a black evening. With Mrs. Hopper, who came as usual to get dinner for him, he held little conversation; in a few days he would have to tell her what had befallen him, or invent some lie to account for the change in his arrangements, and this again tortured Will's nerves. In one sense of the word, no man was less pretentious; but his liberality of thought and behaviour consisted with a personal pride which was very much at the mercy of circumstance. Even as he could not endure subjection, so did he shrink from the thought of losing dignity in the eyes of his social inferiors. Mere poverty and lack of ease did not frighten him at all; he had hardly given a thought as yet to that aspect of misfortune. What most of all distressed his imagination (putting aside thought of his mother and sister) was the sudden fall from a position of genial authority, of beneficent command, with all the respect and gratitude and consideration attaching thereto. He could do without personal comforts, if need were, but it pained him horribly to think of being no longer a patron and a master. With a good deal more philosophy than the average man, and vastly more benevolence, he could not attain to the humility which would have seen in this change of fortune a mere surrender of privileges perhaps quite unjustifiable. Social grades were an inseparable part of his view of life; he recognised the existence of his superiors -- though resolved to have as little to do with them as possible, and took it as a matter of course that multitudes of men should stand below his level. To imagine himself an object of pity for Mrs. Hopper and Allchin and the rest of them wrought upon his bile, disordered his digestion.
He who had regarded so impatiently the trials of Norbert Franks now had to go through an evil time, with worse results upon his temper, his health, and whole being, than he would have thought conceivable. For a whole fortnight he lived in a state of suspense and forced idleness, which helped him to understand the artist's recourse to gin and laudanum. The weather was magnificent, but for him no sun rose in the sky. If he walked about London, he saw only ugliness and wretchedness, his eyes seeming to have lost the power of perceiving other things. Every two or three days he heard from Sherwood, who wrote that he was doing his utmost, and continued to hold out hope that he would soon have money: but these letters were not reassuring. The disagreeable interview with Applegarth had passed off better than might have been expected. Though greatly astonished, and obviously in some doubt as to the facts of the matter, Applegarth behaved as a gentleman, resigned all claims upon the defaulters, and brought the affair to a decent close as quickly as possible. But Warburton came away with a face so yellow that he seemed on the point of an attack of jaundice. For him to be the object of another man's generous forbearance was something new and intolerable. Before parting with Sherwood, he spoke to him bitterly, all but savagely. A few hours later, of course, repentance came upon him, and he wrote to ask pardon. An evil time.
At length Sherwood came to Chelsea, having written to ask for a meeting. Will's forebodings were but too well justified. The disastrous man came only to say that all his efforts had failed. His debtor for ten thousand pounds was himself in such straits that he could only live by desperate expedients, and probably would not be able to pay a penny of interest this year.
"Happily," said Sherwood, "his father's health is breaking. One is obliged to talk in this brutal way, you know. At the father's death it will be all right; I shall then have my legal remedy, if there's need of it. To take any step of that sort now would be ruinous; my friend would be cut off with a shilling, if the affair came to his father's ears."
"So this is how we stand," said Warburton, grimly. "It's all over."
Sherwood laid on the table a number of bank-notes, saying simply:
"There's two hundred and sixty pounds -- the result of the sale of my furniture and things. Will you use that and trust me a little longer?"
Warburton writhed in his chair.
"What have you to live upon?" he asked with eyes downcast.
"Oh, I shall get on all right. I've one or two ideas."
"But this is all the money you have?"
"I've kept about fifty pounds," answered the other, "out of which I can pay my debts -- they're small -- and the rent of my house for this quarter."
Warburton pushed back the notes.
"I can't take it -- you know I can't."
"How the devil are you going to live?" cried Will, in exasperation.
"I shall find a way," replied Sherwood with an echo of his old confident tone. "I need a little time to look about me, that's all, There's a relative of mine, an old fellow who lives comfortably in North Wales, and who invites me down every two or three years. The best thing will be for me to go and spend a short time with him, and get my nerves into order -- I'm shaky, there's no disguising it. I haven't exhausted all the possibilities of raising money; there's hope still in one or two directions; if I get a little quietness and rest I shall be able to think things out more clearly Don't you think this justifiable?"
As to the money he remained inflexible. Very reluctantly Warburton consented to keep this sum, giving a receipt in form.
"You haven't said anything to Mrs. Warburton yet?" asked Sherwood nervously.
"Not yet," muttered Will.
"I wish you could postpone it a little longer. Could you -- do you think -- without too much strain of conscience? Doesn't it seem a pity -- when any day may enable me to put things right?"
Will muttered again that he would think of it; that assuredly he preferred not to disclose the matter if it could decently be kept secret. And on this Sherwood took his leave, going away with a brighter face than he had brought to the interview; whilst Will remained brooding gloomily, his eyes fixed on the bank-notes, in an unconscious stare.
Little of a man of business as he was, Warburton knew very well that things at the office were passing in a flagrantly irregular way: he knew that any one else in his position would have put this serious affair into legal hands, if only out of justice to Sherwood himself. More than once he had thought of communicating with Mr. Turnbull, but shame withheld him. It seemed improbable, too, that the solicitor would connive at keeping his friends at The Haws ignorant of what had befallen them, and with every day that passed Will felt more disposed to hide that catastrophe, if by any means that were possible. Already he had half committed himself to this deception, having written to his mother (without mention of any other detail) that he might, after all, continue to live in London, where Applegarth's were about to establish a warehouse. The question was how; if he put aside all the money he had for payment of pretended dividend to his mother and sister, how, in that case, was he himself to live? At the thought of going about applying for clerk's work, or anything of that kind, cold water flowed down his back; rather than that, he would follow Allchin's example, and turn porter -- an independent position compared with bent-backed slavery on an office-stool. Some means of earning money he must find without delay. To live on what he had, one day longer than could be helped, would be sheer dishonesty. Sherwood might succeed in bringing him a few hundreds -- of the ten thousand Will thought not at all, so fantastic did the whole story sound -- but that would be merely another small instalment of the sum due to the unsuspecting victims at St. Neots. Strictly speaking, he owned not a penny; his very meals to-day were at the expense of his mother and Jane. This thought goaded him. His sleep became a mere nightmare; his waking, a dry-throated misery.
In spite of loathing and dread, he began to read the thick-serried columns of newspaper advertisement, Wanted! Wanted! Wanted! Wants by the thousand; but many more those of the would-be employed than those of the would-be employers, and under the second heading not one in a hundred that offered him the slightest hint or hope. Wanted! Wanted. To glance over these columns is like listening to the clamour of a hunger-driven multitude; the ears sing, the head turns giddy. After a quarter of an hour of such search, Will flung the paper aside, and stamped like a madman about his room. A horror of life seized him; he understood, with fearful sympathy, the impulse of those who, rather than be any longer hustled in this how] mg mob dash themselves to destruction.
He thought over the list of his friends. Friends -- what man has more than two or three? At this moment he knew of no one who wished him well who could be of the slightest service. His acquaintances were of course more numerous. There lay on his table two invitations just received -- the kind of invitation received by every man who does not live the life of a hermit. But what human significance had they? Not a name rose in his mind which symbolised helpfulness. True, that might be to some extent his own fault; the people of whom he saw most were such as needed, not such as could offer, aid. He thought of Ralph Pomfret. There, certainly, a kindly will would not be lacking, but how could he worry with his foolish affairs a man on whom he had no shadow of claim? No: he stood alone. It was a lesson in social science such as reading could never have afforded him. His insight into the order of a man's world had all at once been marvellously quickened, the scope of his reflections incredibly extended. Some vague consciousness of this now and then arrested him in his long purposeless walks; he began to be aware of seeing common things with new eyes. But the perception was akin to fear; he started and looked nervously about, as if suddenly aware of some peril.
One afternoon he was on his way home from a westward trudge, plodding along the remoter part of Fulham Road, when words spoken by a woman whom he passed caught his ears.
"See 'ere! The shutters is up. Boxon must be dead."
Boxon? How did he come to know that name? He slackened his pace, reflecting. Why, Boxon was the name of the betting and drinking grocer, with whom Allchin used to be. He stopped, and saw a group of three or four women staring at the closed shop. Didn't Mrs. Hopper say that Boxon had been nearly killed in a carriage accident? Doubtless he was dead.
He walked on, but before he had gone a dozen yards, stopped abruptly, turned, crossed to the other side of the road, and went back till he stood opposite the closed shop. The name of the tradesman in great gilt letters proved that there was no mistake. He examined the building; there were two storys above the shop; the first seemed to be used for storage; white blinds at the windows of the second showed it to be inhabited. For some five minutes Will stood gazing and reflecting; then, with head bent as before, he pursued his way.
When he reached home, Mrs. Hopper regarded him compassionately; the good woman was much disturbed by the strangeness of his demeanour lately, and feared he was going to be ill.
"You look dre'ful tired, sir," she said. "I'll make you a cup of tea at once. It'll do you good."
"Yes, get me some tea," answered Warburton, absently. Then, as she was leaving the room, he asked, "Is it true that the grocer Boxon is dead?"
"I was going to speak of it this morning, sir," replied Mrs. Hopper, "but you seemed so busy. Yes, sir, he's died -- died the day before yesterday, they say, and it'd be surprising to hear as anybody's sorry."
"Who'll take his business?" asked Warburton.
"We was talking about that last night, sir, me and my sister Liza, and the Allchins. It's fallen off a great deal lately, what else could you expect? since Boxon got into his bad ways. But anybody as had a little money might do well there. Allchin was saying he wished he had a few 'undreds."
"A few hundred would be enough?" interrupted the listener, without noticing the look of peculiar eagerness on Mrs. Hopper's face.
"Allchin thinks the goodwill can be had for about a 'undred, sir; and the rent, it's only eighty pounds----"
"Shop and house?"
"Yes, sir; so Allchin says. It isn't much of a 'ouse, of course."
"What profits could be made, do you suppose, by an energetic man?"
"When Boxon began, sir," replied Mrs. Hopper, with growing animation, "he used to make -- so Allchin says -- a good five or six 'undred a year. There's a good deal of profit in the grocery business, and Boxon's situation is good; there's no other grocer near him. But of course -- as Allchin says -- you want to lay out a good deal at starting----"
"Yes, yes, of course, you must have stock." said Will carelessly. "Bring me some tea at once, Mrs. Hopper."
It had suddenly occurred to him that Allchin might think of trying to borrow the capital wherewith to start this business, and that Mrs. Hopper might advise her brother-in-law to apply to him for the loan.
But this was not at all the idea which had prompted Will's inquiries.
Another week went by. Warburton was still living in the same restless way, but did not wear quite so gloomy a countenance; now and then he looked almost cheerful. That was the case when one morning he received a letter from Sherwood. Godfrey wrote that, no sooner had he arrived at his relative's in North Wales than he was seized with a violent liver-attack, which for some days prostrated him; he was now recovering, and better news still, had succeeded in borrowing a couple of hundred pounds. Half of this sum he sent to Warburton; the other half he begged to be allowed to retain, as he had what might prove a very fruitful idea for the use of the money -- details presently. To this letter Will immediately replied at some length. The cheque he paid into his account, which thus reached a total of more than six hundred pounds.
A few days later, after breakfast as usual, he let his servant clear the table, then said with a peculiar smile.
"I want to have a little talk with you, Mrs. Hopper. Please sit down."
To seat herself in her master's presence went against all Mrs. Hopper's ideas of propriety. Seeing her hesitate, Will pointed steadily to a chair, and the good woman, much flurried, placed herself on the edge of it.
"You have noticed," Warburton resumed, "that I haven't been quite myself lately. There was a good reason for it. I've had a misfortune in business; all my plans are changed; I shall have to begin quite a new life -- a different life altogether from that I have led till now."
Mrs. Hopper seemed to have a sudden pain in the side. She groaned under her breath, staring at the speaker pitifully.
"There's no need to talk about it, you know," Will went on with a friendly nod. "I tell you, because I'm thinking of going into a business in which your brother-in-law could help me, if he cares to."
He paused. Mrs. Hopper kept her wide eyes on him.
"Allchin'll be very glad to hear of that, sir. What am I saying? Of course I don't mean he'll be glad you've had misfortune, sir, and I'm that sorry to hear it, I can't tell you. But it does just happen as he's out of work, through that nasty temper of his. Not," she corrected herself hastily, "as I ought to call him nasty-tempered. With a good employer, I'm sure he'd never get into no trouble at all."
"Does he still wish to get back into the grocery business?"
"He'd be only too glad, sir, But, of course, any place as you offered him----"
"Well, it happens," said Warburton, "that it is the grocery business I'm thinking about."
"You, sir?" gasped Mrs. Hopper.
"I think I shall take Boxon's shop."
"You, sir? Take a grocer's shop? -- You mean, you'd put Allchin in to manage it?"
"No, I don't, Mrs. Hopper," replied Will, smiling mechanically. "I have more than my own living to earn; other people are dependent upon me , so I must make as much money as possible. I can t afford to pay a manager. I shall go behind the counter myself, and Allchin, if he cares for the place, shall be my assistant."
The good woman could find no words to express her astonishment.
"Suppose you have a word with Allchin, and send him to see me this evening? I say again, there's no need to talk about the thing to anybody else. We'll just keep it quiet between us."
"You can depend upon me, sir," declared Mrs. Hopper. "But did you hever! It's come upon me so sudden like. And what'll Allchin say! Why, he'll think I'm having a game with him."
To this point had Will Warburton brought himself, urged by conscience and fear. Little by little, since the afternoon when he gazed at Boxon's closed shop, had this purpose grown in his mind, until he saw it as a possibility -- a desirability -- a fact. By shopkeeping, he might hope to earn sufficient for supply of the guaranteed income to his mother and sister, and at the same time be no man's servant. His acquaintance with Allchin enabled him to disregard his lack of grocery experience; with Allchin for an assistant, he would soon overcome initial difficulties. Only to Godfrey Sherwood had he communicated his project. "What difference is there," he wrote, "between selling sugar from an office in Whitechapel, and selling it from behind a counter in Fulham Road?" And Sherwood -- who was still reposing in North Wales -- wrote a long, affectionate, admiring reply. "You are splendid! What energy! What courage! I could almost say that I don't regret my criminal recklessness, seeing that it has given the occasion for such a magnificent display of character." He added, "Of course it will be only for a short time. Even if the plans I am now working out -- details shortly -- come to nothing (a very unlikely thing), I am sure to recover my ten thousand pounds in a year or so." -- "Of course," he wrote in a postscript, "I breathe no word of it to any mortal."
This letter -- so are we made -- did Warburton good. It strengthened him in carrying through the deception of his relatives and of Mr. Turnbull, for he saw himself as splendide mendax. In Sherwood's plans and assurances he had no shadow of faith, but Sherwood's admiration was worth having, and it threw a gilding upon the name of grocer. Should he impart the secret to Norbert Franks? That question he could not decide just yet. In any case, he should tell no one else; all other acquaintances must be content -- if they cared to inquire -- with vague references to an "agency," or something of the sort. Neither his mother nor Jane ever came to London for them, his change of address to a poorer district would have no significance. In short, London, being London, it seemed perfectly feasible to pass his life in a grocer's shop without the fact becoming known to any one from whom he wished to conceal it.
The rent of the shop and house was eighty-five pounds -- an increase upon that paid by Boxon. "Plant" was estimated at a hundred and twenty-five; the stock at one hundred and fifty, and the goodwill at a round hundred. This made a total of four hundred and sixty pounds, leaving Warburton some couple of hundred for all the expenses of his start. The landlord had consented to do certain repairs, including a repainting of the shop, and this work had already begun. Not a day must be lost. Will knew that the first half-year would decide his fate as a tradesman. Did he come out at the end of six months with sufficient profit to pay a bare three per cent. on the St. Neots money, all would be safe and well. If the balance went against him, why then the whole battle of life was lost, and he might go hide his head in some corner even more obscure.
Of course he counted largely on the help of Allchin. Allchin, though pig-headed and pugnacious, had a fair knowledge of the business, to which he had been bred, and of business matters in general always talked shrewdly. Unable, whatever his own straits, to deal penuriously with my one, Will had thought out a liberal arrangement, whereby all the dwelling part of the house should be given over, rent free, to Allchin and his wife, with permission to take one lodger; the assistant to be paid a small salary, and a percentage on shop takings when they reached a certain sum per month. This proposal, then, he set before the muscular man on his presenting himself this afternoon. Allchin's astonishment at the story he had heard from Mrs. Hopper was not less than that of the woman herself. With difficulty persuaded to sit down, he showed a countenance in which the gloom he thought decorous struggled against jubilation on his own account: and Warburton had not talked long before his listener's features irresistibly expanded in a happy grin.
"How would something of this kind suit you?" asked Will.
"Me, sir?" Allchin slapped his leg. "You ask how it suits me?"
His feelings were too much for him. He grew very red, and could say no more.
"Then suppose we settle it so. I've written out the terms of your engagement. Read and sign."
Allchin pretended to read the paper, but obviously paid no attention to it. He seemed to be struggling with some mental obstacle.
"Something you want to alter?" asked Warburton.
"Why, sir, you've altogether forgot as I'm in your debt. It stands to reason as you must take that money out before you begin to pay me anything."
"Oh, we won't say anything more about that trifle. We're making a new beginning. But look here, Allchin, I don't want you to quarrel with me, as you do with every one else----"
"With you, sir ? Ho, ho!"
Allchin guffawed, and at once looked ashamed of himself.
"I quarrel," he added, "with people as are insulting, or as try to best me. It goes against my nature, sir, to be insulted and to be bested."
They talked about the details of the business, and presently Allchin asked what name was to be put up over the shop.
"I've thought of that," answered Will. "What do you say to -- Jollyman?"
The assistant was delighted; he repeated the name a dozen times, snorting and choking with appreciation of the joke. Next morning, they met again, and went together to look at the shop. Here Allchin made great play with his valuable qualities. He pointed out the errors and negligencies of the late Boxon, declared it a scandal that a business such as this should have been allowed to fall off, and was full of ingenious ideas for a brilliant opening. Among other forms of inexpensive advertisement, he suggested that, for the first day, a band should be engaged to play in the front room over the shop, with the windows open; and he undertook to find amateur bandsmen who would undertake the job on very moderate terms.
Not many days elapsed before the old name had disappeared from the house front, giving place to that of Jollyman. Whilst this was being painted up, Allchin stood on the opposite side of the way, watching delightedly.
"When I think as the name used to be Boxon," he exclaimed to his employer, "why, I can't believe as any money was ever made here. Boxon! Why, it was enough to drive customers away! If you ever heard a worse name, sir, for a shopkeeper, I should be glad to be told of it. But Jollyman! Why, it'll bring people from Putney, from Battersea, from who knows how far. Jollyman's Teas, Jollyman's sugar -- can't you hear 'em saying it, already? It's a fortune in itself, that name. Why, sir, if a grocer called Boxon came at this moment, and offered to take me into partnership on half profits, I wouldn't listen to him -- there!"
Naturally, all this did not pass without many a pang in Warburton's sensitive spots. He had set his face like brass, or tried to do so; but in the night season he could all but have shed tears of humiliation, as he tossed on his comfortless pillow. The day was spent in visits to wholesale grocery establishments, in study of trade journals, m calculating innumerable petty questions of profit and loss. When nausea threatened him: when an all but horror of what lay before him assailed his mind; he thought fixedly of The Haws, and made a picture to himself of that peaceful little home devastated by his own fault. And to think that all this sweat and misery arose from the need of gaining less than a couple of hundred pounds a year! Life at The Haws, a life of refinement and goodness and tranquillity such as can seldom be found, demanded only that -- a sum which the wealthy vulgar throw away upon the foolish amusement of an hour. Warburton had a tumultuous mind in reflecting on these things; but the disturbance was salutary, bearing him through trials of nerve and patience and self-respect which he could not otherwise have endured.
Warburton had now to find cheap lodgings for himself, unfurnished rooms in some poor quarter not too far from the shop.
At length, in a new little street of very red brick, not far from Fulham Palace Road at the Hammersmith end, he came upon a small house which exhibited in its parlour window a card inscribed: "Two unfurnished rooms to be let to single gentlemen only." The precision of this notice made him hopeful, and a certain cleanliness of aspect in the woman who opened to him was an added encouragement; but he found negotiations not altogether easy. The landlady, a middle-aged widow, seemed to regard him with some peculiar suspicion; before even admitting him to the house, she questioned him closely as to his business, his present place of abode, and so on, and Warburton was all but turning away in impatience, when at last she drew aside, and cautiously invited him to enter. Further acquaintance with Mrs. Wick led him to understand that the cold, misgiving in her eye, the sour rigidity of her lips, and her generally repellant manner, were characteristics which meant nothing in particular -- save as they resulted from a more or less hard life amid London's crowd; at present, the woman annoyed him, and only the clean freshness of her vacant rooms induced him to take the trouble of coming to terms with her.
"There's one thing I must say to you quite plain, to begin with," remarked Mrs. Wick, whose language, though not disrespectful, had a certain bluntness. "I can't admit female visitors -- not on any excuse."
Speaking thus, she set her face at its rigidest and sourest, and stared past Warburton at the wall. He, unable to repress a smile, declared his perfect readiness to accept this condition of tenancy.
"Another thing," pursued the landlady, "is that I don't like late hours." And she eyed him as one might a person caught in flagrant crapulence at one o'clock a.m.
"Why, neither do I," Will replied. "But for all that, I may be obliged to come home late now and then."
"From the theatre, I suppose?"
"I very seldom go to the theatre." (Mrs. Wick looked sanguine for an instant, but at once relapsed into darker suspicion than ever.) "But as to my hour of returning home, I must have entire liberty."
The woman meditated, profound gloom on her brows.
"You haven't told me," she resumed, shooting a glance of keen distrust, "exactly what your business may be."
"I am in the sugar line," responded Will.
"Sugar? You wouldn't mind giving me the name of your employers?"
The word so rasped on Warburton's sensitive temper that he seemed about to speak angrily. This the woman observed, and added at once:
"I don't doubt but that you're quite respectable, sir, but you can understand as I have to be careful who I take into my house."
"I understand that, but I must ask you to be satisfied with a reference to my present landlord. That, and a month's payment in advance, ought to suffice."
Evidently it did, for Mrs. Wick, after shooting one or two more of her sharpest looks, declared herself willing to enter into discussion of details. He required attendance, did he? Well it all depended upon what sort of attendance he expected; if he wanted cooking at late hours. -- Warburton cut short these anticipatory objections, and made known that his wants were few and simple: plain breakfast at eight o'clock, cold supper on the table when he came home, a mid-day meal on Sundays, and the keeping of his rooms in order; that was all. After morose reflection, Mrs. Wick put her demand for rooms and service at a pound a week, but to this Warburton demurred. It cost him agonies to debate such a matter; but, as he knew very well, the price was excessive for unfurnished lodgings, and need constrained him. He offered fifteen shillings, and said he would call for Mrs. Wick's decision on the morrow. The landlady allowed him to go to the foot of the stairs, then stopped him.
"I wouldn't mind taking fifteen shillings," she said, "if I knew it was for a permanency."
"I can't bind myself more than by the month."
"Would you be willing to leave a deposit?"
So the matter was settled, and Warburton arranged to enter into possession that day week.
Without delay the shop repairs were finished, inside and out; orders for stock were completed; in two days -- as a great bill on the shutters announced -- "Jollyman's Grocery Stores" would be open to the public. Allchin pleaded strongly for the engagement of the brass band; it wouldn't cost much, and the effect would be immense. Warburton shrugged, hesitated, gave way, and the band was engaged.
Rosamund Elvan was what ladies call a good correspondent. She wrote often, she wrote at length, and was satisfied with few or brief letters in reply. Scarcely had she been a week at Cairo, when some half dozen sheets of thin paper, covered with her small swift writing, were dispatched to Bertha Cross, and, thence onwards, about once a fortnight such a letter arrived at Walham Green. Sitting by a fire kept, for economical reasons, as low as possible, with her mother's voice sounding querulously somewhere in the house, and too often a clammy fog at the window, Bertha read of Egyptian delights and wonders, set glowingly before her in Rosamund's fluent style. She was glad of the letters, for they manifested a true affection, and were in every way more interesting than any others that she received; but at times they made the cheerless little house seem more cheerless still, and the pang of contrast between her life and Rosamund's called at such moments for all Bertha's sense of humour to make it endurable.
Not that Miss Elvan represented herself as happy. In her very first letter she besought Bertha not to suppose that her appreciation of strange and beautiful things meant forgetfulness of what must be a lifelong sorrow. "I am often worse than depressed. I sleep very badly, and in the night I often shed wretched tears. Though I did only what conscience compelled me to do, I suffer all the miseries of remorse. And how can I wish that it should be otherwise? It is better, surely, to be capable of such suffering, than to go one's way in light-hearted egoism. I'm not sure that I don't sometimes encourage despondency. You can understand that? I know you can, dear Bertha, for many a time I have detected the deep feeling which lies beneath your joking way." Passages such as this Bertha was careful to omit when reading from the letters to her mother. Mrs. Cross took very little interest in her daughter's friend, and regarded the broken engagement with no less disapproval than surprise; but it would have gravely offended her if Bertha had kept this correspondence altogether to herself.
"I suppose," she remarked, on one such occasion, "we shall never again see Mr. Franks."
"He would find it rather awkward to call, no doubt," replied Bertha.
"I shall never understand it!" Mrs. Cross exclaimed, in a vexed tone, after thinking awhile. "No doubt there's something you keep from me."
"About Rosamund? Nothing whatever, I assure you, mother."
"Then you yourself don't know all, that's quite certain."
Mrs. Cross had made the remark many times, and always with the same satisfaction. Her daughter was content that the discussion should remain at this point; for the feeling that she had said something at once unpleasant and unanswerable made Mrs. Cross almost good humoured for at least an hour.
Few were the distressful lady's sources of comfort, but one sure way of soothing her mind and temper, was to suggest some method of saving money, no matter how little. One day in the winter, Bertha passing along the further part of Fulham Road, noticed a new-looking grocer's, the window full of price tickets, some of them very attractive to a housekeeper's eye; on returning home she spoke of this, mentioning figures which moved her mother to a sour effervescence of delight. The shop was rather too far away for convenience, but that same evening Mrs. Cross went to inspect it, and came back quite flurried with what she had seen.
"I shall most certainly deal at Jollyman's," she exclaimed. "What a pity we didn't know of him before! Such a gentlemanly man -- indeed, quite a gentleman. I never saw a shopkeeper who behaved so nicely. So different from Billings -- a man I have always thoroughly disliked, and his coffee has been getting worse and worse. Mr. Jollyman is quite willing to send even the smallest orders. Isn't that nice of him -- such a distance! Billings was quite insolent to me the day before yesterday, when I asked him to send; yet it was nearly a two-shilling order. Never go into that shop again, Bertha. It's really quite a pleasure to buy of Mr. Jollyman; he knows how to behave; I really almost felt as if I was talking to some one of our own class. Without his apron, he must be a thorough gentleman."
Bertha could not restrain a laugh.
"How thoughtless of him to wear an apron at all!" she exclaimed merrily. "Couldn't one suggest to him discreetly, that but for the apron----"
"Don't be ridiculous, Bertha!" interrupted her mother. "You always make nonsense of what one says. Mr. Jollyman is a shopkeeper, and it's just because he doesn't forget that, after all, that his behaviour is so good. Do you remember that horrid Stokes, in King's Road? There was a man who thought himself too good for his business, and in reality was nothing but an underbred, impertinent creature. I can hear his 'Yes, Mrs. Cross -- no, Mrs. Cross -- thank you, Mrs. Cross' -- and once, when I protested against an overcharge, he cried out, 'Oh, my dear Mrs. Cross!' The insolence of that man! Now, Mr. Jollyman----"
It was not long before Bertha had an opportunity of seeing this remarkable shopkeeper, and for once she was able to agree with her mother. Mr. Jollyman bore very little resemblance to the typical grocer, and each visit to his shop strengthened Bertha's suspicion that he had not grown up in this way of life. It cost her some constraint to make a very small purchase of him, paying a few coppers, and still more when she asked him if he had nothing cheaper than this or that; all the more so that Mr. Jollyman seemed to share her embarrassment, lowering his voice as if involuntarily, and being careful not to meet her eye. One thing Bertha noticed was that, though the grocer invariable addressed her mother as "madam," in speaking to her he never used the grocerly "miss" and when, by chance, she heard him bestow this objectionable title upon a servant girl who was making purchases at the same time, Bertha not only felt grateful for the distinction, but saw in it a fresh proof of Mr. Jollyman's good breeding.
The winter passed, and with the spring came events in which Bertha was interested. Mr. Elvan, who for his health's sake spent the winter in the south-west of France, fell so ill early in the year that Rosamund was summoned from Egypt. With all speed she travelled to St. Jean de Luz. When she arrived, her father was no longer in danger; but there seemed no hope of his being able to return to England for some months, so Rosamund remained with him and her sister, and was soon writing to her friend at Walham Green in a strain of revived enthusiasm for the country of the Basques. A postscript to one of these letters, written in the middle of May, ran as follows: "I hear that N. F. has a picture in the Academy called 'A Ministering Angel,' and that it promises to be one of the most popular of the year. Have you seen it? " To this, Rosamund's correspondent was able to reply that she had seen "N.F's" picture, and that it certainly was a good deal talked about; she added no opinion as to the merits of the painting, and, in her next letter, Miss Elvan left the subject untouched. Bertha was glad of this. "A Ministering Angel" seemed to her by no means a very remarkable production, and she liked much better to say nothing about it than to depreciate the painter; for to do this would have been like seeking to confirm Rosamund in her attitude towards Norbert Franks, which was not at all Bertha's wish.
A few weeks later, Rosamund returned to the topic. "N. F's picture," she wrote, "is evidently a great success -- and you can imagine how I feel about it. I saw it, you remember, at an early stage, when he called it 'The Slummer,' and you remember too, the effect it had upon me. Oh, Bertha, this is nothing less than a soul's tragedy! When I think what he used to be, what I hoped of him, what he hoped for himself! Is it not dreadful that he should have fallen so low, and in so short a time! A popular success! Oh, the shame of it, the bitter shame!"
At this point, the reader's smile threatened laughter. But, feeling sure that her friend, if guilty of affectation, was quite unconscious of it, she composed her face to read gravely on.
"A soul's tragedy, Bertha, and I the cause of it One can see now, but too well, what is before him. All his hardships are over, and all his struggles. He will become a popular painter -- one of those whose name is familiar to the crowd, like --" instances were cited. "I can say, with all earnestness, that I had rather have seen him starved to death. Poor, poor N. F.! Something whispers to me that perhaps I was always under an illusion about him. Could he so rapidly sink to this, if he were indeed the man I thought him? Would he not rather have -- oh, have done anything? -- Yet this may be only a temptation of my lower self, a way of giving ease to my conscience. Despair may account for his degradation. And when I remember that a word, one word, from me, the right moment, would have checked him on the dangerous path! When I saw 'Sanctuary,' why had I not the courage to tell him what I thought? No, I became the accomplice of his suicide, and I, alone, am the cause of this wretched disaster. -- Before long he will be rich. Can you imagine N. F. rich? I shudder at the thought."
The paper rustled in Bertha's hand; her shoulders shook; she could no longer restrain the merry laugh. When she sat down to answer Rosamund, a roguish smile played about her lips.
"I grieve with you" -- thus she began -- "over the shocking prospect of N. F.'s becoming rich. Alas! I fear the thing is past praying for; I can all but see the poor young man in a shiny silk hat and an overcoat trimmed with the most expensive fur. His Academy picture is everywhere produced; a large photogravure will soon be published; all day long a crowd stands before it at Burlington House, and his name -- shall we ever again dare to speak it? -- is on the lips of casual people in train and 'bus and tram. How shall I write on such a painful subject? You see that my hand is unsteady. Don't blame yourself too much. The man capable of becoming rich will become so, whatever the noble influences which endeavour to restrain him. I suspect -- I feel all but convinced -- that N. F. could not help himself; the misfortune is that his fatal turn for moneymaking did not show itself earlier, and so warn you away. I don't know whether I dare send you a paragraph I have cut from yesterday's Echo. Yet I will -- it will serve to show you that -- as you used to write from Egypt -- all this is Kismet."
The newspaper cutting showed an item of news interesting alike to the fashionable and the artistic world. Mr. Norbert Franks, the young painter whose Academy picture had been so much discussed, was about to paint the portrait of Lady Rockett, recently espoused wife of Sir Samuel Rockett, the Australian millionaire. As every one knew, Lady Rockett had made a brilliant figure in the now closing Season, and her image had been in all the society journals. Mr. Franks might be congratulated on this excellent opportunity for the display of his admirable talent as an exponent of female beauty. -- "Exponent" was the word.
In these summer days, whilst Norbert Franks was achieving popularity, success in humbler guise came to the humorous and much-enduring artist at Walham Green. For a year or two, Bertha Cross had spent what time she could spare upon the illustration of a quaint old story-book, a book which had amused her own childhood, and still held its place in her affection. The work was now finished; she showed it to a publisher of her acquaintance, who at once offered to purchase it on what seemed to Bertha excellent terms. Of her own abilities she thought very modestly in deed, and had always been surprised when any one consented to pay -- oftener in shillings than in pounds -- for work which had cost her an infinity of conscientious trouble; now, however, she suspected that she had done something not altogether bad, and she spoke of it in a letter to Rosamund Elvan, still in the country of the Basques.
"As you know," Rosamund replied, "I have never doubted that you would make a success one day, for you are wonderfully clever, and only need a little more self-confidence in making yourself known. I wish I could feel anything like so sure of earning money. For I shall have to, that is now certain. Poor father, who gets weaker and weaker, talked to us the other day about what we could expect after his death; and it will be only just a little sum for each of us, nothing like enough to invest and live upon. I am working at my water-colours, and I have been trying pastel -- there's no end of good material here. When the end comes -- and it can't be long -- I must go to London, and see whether my things have any market value. I don't like the prospect of life in a garret on bread and water -- by myself, that is. You know how joyfully, gladly, proudly, I would have accepted it, under other circumstances. If I had real talent myself -- but I feel more than doubtful about that. I pray that I may not fall too low. Can I trust you to overwhelm me with scorn, if I seem in danger of doing vulgar work?"
Bertha yielded to the temptations of a later summer rich in warmth and hue, and made little excursions by herself into the country, leaving home before her mother was up in the morning, and coming back after sunset. Her sketching materials and a packet of sandwiches were but a light burden; she was a good walker; and the shilling or two spent on the railway, which formerly she could not have spared, no longer frightened her.
In this way, one morning of September, she went by early train as far as Epsom, walked through the streets, and came into that high-banked lane which leads up to the downs. Blackberries shone thick upon the brambles, and above, even to the very tops of the hedge-row trees, climbed the hoary clematis. Glad in this leafy solitude, Bertha rambled slowly on. She made no unpleasing figure against the rural background, for she was straight and slim, graceful in her movements, and had a face from which no one would have turned indifferently, so bright was it with youthful enjoyment and with older thought.
Whilst thus she lingered, a footstep approached, that of a man who was walking in the same direction. When close to her, this pedestrian stopped, and his voice startled Bertha with unexpected greeting. The speaker was Norbert Franks.
"How glad I am to see you!" he exclaimed, in a tone and with a look which vouched for his sincerity. "I ought to have been to Walham Green long ago. Again and again I meant to come. But this is jolly; I like chance meetings. Are you often down here in Surrey?"
With amusement Bertha remarked the evidence of prosperity in Franks' dress and bearing; he had changed notably since the days when he used to come to their little house to talk of Rosamund, and was glad of an indifferent cup of tea. He seemed to be in very fair health, his countenance giving no hint of sentimental sorrows.
Franks noticed a bunch of tinted leafage which she was carrying, and spoke of its beauty.
"Going to make use of them, no doubt. What are you working at just now?"
Bertha told of her recent success with the illustrated story-book, and Franks declared himself delighted. Clearly, he was in the mood to be delighted with everything. Between his remarks, which were uttered in the sprightliest tone, he hummed phrases of melody.
"Your Academy picture was a great success," said Bertha, discreetly watching him as she spoke.
"Yes, I suppose it was," he answered, with a light-hearted laugh. "Did you see it? -- And what did you think of it? -- No, seriously; I should like your real opinion. I know you have opinions."
"You meant it to be successful," was Bertha's reply.
"Well, yes, I did. At the same time I think some of the critics -- the high and mighty ones, you know -- were altogether wrong about it. Perhaps, on the whole, you take their view?"
"Oh no, I don't," answered his companion, cheerfully. "I thought the picture very clever, and very true."
"I'm delighted! I've always maintained that it was perfectly true. A friend of mine -- why, you remember me speaking of Warburton -- Warburton wanted me to make the Slummer ugly. But why? It's just the prettiest girls -- of that kind -- who go slumming nowadays. Still, you are quite right. I did mean it to be 'successful.' I had to make a success, that's the fact of the matter. You know what bad times I was having. I got sick of it, that's the truth. Then, I owed money, and money that had to be paid back, one way or another. Now I'm out of debt, and see my way to live and work in decent comfort. And I maintain that I've done nothing to be ashamed of."
Bertha smiled approvingly.
"I've just finished a portrait -- a millionaire's wife, Lady Rockett," went on Franks. "Of course it was my Slummer that got me the job. Women have been raving about that girl's head; and it isn't bad, though I say it. I had to take a studio at a couple of days' notice -- couldn't ask Lady Rockett to come and sit at that place of mine in Battersea; a shabby hole. She isn't really anything out of the way, as a pretty woman; but I've made her -- well, you'll see it at some exhibition this winter, if you care to. Pleased? Isn't she pleased! And her husband, the podgy old millionaire baronet, used to come every day and stare in delight. To tell you the truth, I think it's rather a remarkable bit of painting. I didn't quite know I could turn out anything so chic. I shouldn't be surprised if I make a specialty of women's portraits. How many men can flatter, and still keep a good likeness? That's what I've done. But wait till you see the thing."
Bertha was bubbling over with amusement; for, whilst the artist talked, she thought of Rosamund's farewell entreaty, that she would do her best, if occasion offered, to strengthen Norbert Franks under his affliction, even by depreciatory comment on the faithless girl; there came into her mind, too, those many passages of Rosamund's letters where Franks was spoken of in terms of profoundest compassion mingled with dark remorse. Perhaps her smile, which quivered on the verge of laughter, betrayed the nature of her thought. Of a sudden, Franks ceased to talk; his countenance changed, overcast with melancholy; and when, after some moments' silence, Bertha again spoke of the landscape, he gave only a dull assent to her words.
"And it all comes too late," fell from him, presently. "Too late."
"What's the good of it to me?" He smote his leg with the rattan he was swinging. "A couple of years ago, money would have meant everything. Now -- what do I care about it!"
Bertha's surprise obliged her to keep an unnaturally solemn visage.
"Don't you think it'll grow upon you," she said, "if you give it time?"
"Grow upon me? Why, I'm only afraid it may. That's just the danger. To pursue success -- vulgar success -- when all the better part has gone out of life----"
He ended on a sigh and again whacked his leg with the stick.
"But" urged his companion, as though gravely, "isn't it easy not to pursue success? I mean if it really makes you uncomfortable. There are so many kinds of work in art which would protect you against the perils of riches."
Franks was watching her as she spoke.
"Miss Cross" he said, "I suspect you are satirical. I remember you used to have a turn that way. Well, well, never mind; I don't expect you to understand me."
They had passed out of Ashtead Park and were now ascending by the lane which leads up to Epsom Common.
"I suppose we are both going the same way," said Franks, who had recovered all his cheerfulness. "There's a train at something after five, if we can catch it. Splendid idea of yours to have a whole day's walking. I don't walk enough. Are you likely to be going again before long?"
Bertha replied that she never made plans beforehand. Her mood and the weather decided an excursion
"Of course. That's the only way. Well, if you'll let me, I must come to Walham Green, one of these days. How's Mrs. Cross? I ought to have asked before, but I never do the right thing. -- Have you any particular day for being at home? -- All right. If you had had, I should have asked you to let me come on some other. I don't care much, you know, for general society; and ten to one, when I do come I shall be rather gloomy. Old memories, you know. -- Really very jolly, this meeting with you. I should have done the walk to Epsom just as a constitutional, without enjoying it a bit. As it is----"
It was a week or two after the day in Surrey, that Bertha Cross, needing a small wooden box in which to pack a present for her brothers in British Columbia, bethought herself of Mr. Jollyman. The amiable grocer could probably supply her want, and she went off to the shop. There the assistant and an errand boy were unloading goods just arrived by cart, and behind the counter, reading a newspaper -- for it was early in the morning stood Mr. Jollyman himself. Seeing the young lady enter, he smiled and bowed; not at all with tradesmanlike emphasis, but rather, it seemed to Bertha, like a man tired and absent-minded, performing a civility in the well-bred way. The newspaper thrown aside, he stood with head bent and eyes cast down, listening to her request.
"I think I have something that will do very well," he replied. "Excuse me for a moment."
From regions behind the shop, he produced a serviceable box just of the right dimensions.
"It will do? Then you shall have it in about half an hour."
"I'm ashamed to trouble you," said Bertha "I could carry it----"
"On no account. The boy will be free in a few minutes."
"And I owe you--?" asked Bertha, purse in hand.
"The box has no value," replied Mr. Jollyman, with that smile, suggestive of latent humour, which always caused her to smile responsively. "And at the same time," he continued, a peculiar twinkle in his eyes, "I will ask you to accept one of these packets of chocolate. I am giving one to-day to every customer -- to celebrate the anniversary of my opening shop."
"Thank you very much," said Bertha. And, on an impulse, she added: "I will put it with what I am sending in the box -- a present for two brothers of mine who are a long way off. in Canada."
His hands upon the counter, his body bent forward, Mr. Jollyman looked her for a moment in the face. A crease appeared on his forehead, as he said slowly and dreamily
"Canada? Do they like their life out there?"
"They seem to enjoy it, on the whole. But it evidently isn't an easy life."
"Not many kinds of life are." rejoined the grocer. "But the open air -- the liberty-----"
"Oh yes, that must be the good side of it," assented Bertha.
"On a morning like this----"
Mr. Jollyman's eyes wandered to a gleam of sunny sky visible through the shop window. The girl's glance passed quickly over his features, and she was on the point of saying something; but discretion interposed. Instead of the too personal remark, she repeated her thanks, bent her head with perhaps a little more than the wonted graciousness, and left the shop. The grocer stood looking toward the doorway. His countenance had fallen. Something of bitterness showed in the hardness of his lips.
Just a year since the day when Allchin's band played at the first floor windows above Jollyman's new grocery stores.
From the very beginning, business promised well. He and his assistant had plenty of work; there was little time for meditation; when not serving customers, he was busy with practical details of grocerdom, often such as he had not foreseen, matters which called for all his energy and ingenuity. A gratifying aspect of the life was that, day by day, he handled his returns in solid cash. Jollyman's gave no credit; all goods had to be paid for on purchase or delivery; and to turn out the till when the shop had closed -- to make piles of silver and mountains of copper, with a few pieces of gold beside them -- put a cheering end to the day's labour. Warburton found himself clinking handfuls of coin, pleased with the sound. Only at the end of the first three months, the close of the year, did he perceive that much less than he had hoped of the cash taken could be reckoned as clear profit. He had much to learn in the cunning of retail trade, and it was a kind of study that went sorely against the grain with him. Happily, at Christmas time came Norbert Franks (whom Will had decided not to take into his confidence) and paid his debt of a hundred and twenty pounds. This set things right for the moment. Will was able to pay a three-and-a-half per cent. dividend to his mother and sister, and to fare ahead hopefully.
He would rather not have gone down to The Haws that Christmastide, but feared that his failure to do so might seem strange. The needful prevarication cost him so many pangs that he came very near to confessing the truth; he probably would have done so, had not his mother been ailing, and, it seemed to him, little able to bear the shock of such a disclosure. So the honest deception went on. Will was supposed to be managing a London branch of the Applegarth business. Great expenditure on advertising had to account for the smallness of the dividend at first. No one less likely than the ladies at The Haws to make trouble in such a matter. They had what sufficed to them, and were content with it. Thinking over this in shame-faced solitude, Warburton felt a glow of proud thankfulness that his mother and sister were so unlike the vulgar average of mankind -- that rapacious multitude, whom nothing animates but a chance of gain, with whom nothing weighs but a commercial argument. A new tenderness stirred within him, and resolutely he stamped under foot the impulses of self-esteem, of self-indulgence, which made his life hard to bear.
It was with a hard satisfaction that he returned to the shop, and found all going on in the usual way, Allchin grinning a hearty welcome as he weighed out sugar. Will's sister talked of the scents of her garden, how they refreshed and inspirited her to him, the odour of the shop -- new-roasted coffee predominated to-day -- had its invigorating effect; it meant money, and money meant life, the peaceful, fruitful life of those dear to him. He scarcely gave himself time to eat dinner, laid for him, as usual, by Mrs. Allchin, in the sitting-room behind the shop; so eager was he to get on his apron, and return to profitable labour.
At first, he had endured a good deal of physical fatigue. Standing for so many hours a day wearied him much more than walking would have done, and with bodily exhaustion came at times a lowness of spirits such as he had never felt. His resource against this misery was conversation with Allchin. In Allchin he had a henchman whose sturdy optimism and gross common sense were of the utmost value. The brawny assistant, having speedily found a lodger according to the agreement, saw himself in clover, and determined that, if he could help it, his fortunes should never again suffer eclipse. He and his wife felt a reasonable gratitude to the founder of their prosperity -- whom, by the bye, they invariably spoke of as "Mr. Jollyman" -- and did their best to smooth for him the unfamiliar path he was treading.
The success with which Warburton kept his secret, merely proved how solitary most men are amid the crowds of London, and how easy it is for a Londoner to disappear from among his acquaintances whilst continuing to live openly amid the city's roar. No one of those who cared enough about him to learn that he had fallen on ill-luck harboured the slightest suspicion of what he was doing; he simply dropped out of sight, except for the two or three who, in a real sense of the word, could be called his friends. The Pomfrets, whom he went to see at very long intervals, supposed him to have some sort of office employment, and saw nothing in his demeanour to make them anxious about him. As for Norbert Franks, why, he was very busy, and came not oftener than once a month to his friend's obscure lodgings; he asked no intrusive questions, and, like the Pomfrets, could only suppose that Warburton had found a clerkship somewhere. They were not quite on the old terms, for each had gone through a crisis of life, and was not altogether the same as before; but their mutual liking subsisted. Obliged to retrench his hospitality, Warburton never seemed altogether at his ease when Franks was in his room; nor could he overcome what seemed to him the shame of having asked payment of a debt from a needy friend, notwithstanding the fact, loudly declared by Franks himself, that nothing could have been more beneficial to the debtor's moral health. So Will listened rather than talked, and was sometimes too obviously in no mood for any sort of converse.
Sherwood he had not seen since the disastrous optimist's flight into Wales; nor had there come any remittance from him since the cheque for a hundred pounds. Two or three times, however, Godfrey had written -- thoroughly characteristic letters -- warm, sanguine, self-reproachful. From Wales he had crossed over to Ireland, where he was working at a scheme for making a fortune out of Irish eggs and poultry. In what the "work" consisted, was not clear, for he had no money, beyond a small loan from his relative which enabled him to live; but he sent a sheet of foolscap covered with computations whereby his project was proved to be thoroughly practical and vastly lucrative.
Meanwhile, he had made one new acquaintance, which was at first merely a source of amusement to him, but little by little became something more. In the winter days, when his business was new, there one day came into the shop a rather sour-lipped and querulous-voiced lady, who after much discussion of prices, made a modest purchase and asked that the goods might be sent for her. On hearing her name -- Mrs. Cross -- the grocer smiled, for he remembered that the Crosses of whom he knew from Norbert Franks, lived at Walham Green, and the artist's description of Mrs. Cross tallied very well with the aspect and manner of this customer. Once or twice the lady returned; then, on a day of very bad weather, there came in her place a much younger and decidedly more pleasing person, whom Will took to be Mrs. Cross's daughter. Facial resemblance there was none discoverable; in bearing, in look, in tone, the two were different as women could be; but at the younger lady's second visit, his surmise was confirmed, for she begged him to change a five-pound note, and, as the custom is in London shops, endorsed it with her name -- "Bertha Cross." Franks had never spoken much of Miss Cross; "rather a nice sort of girl," was as far as his appreciation went. And with this judgment Will at once agreed; before long, he would have inclined to be more express in his good opinion. Before summer came, he found himself looking forward to the girl's appearance in the shop, with a sense of disappointment when -- as generally happened -- Mrs. Cross came in person. The charm of the young face lay for him in its ever-present suggestion of a roguishly winsome smile, which made it difficult not to watch too intently the play of her eyes and lips. Then, her way of speaking, which was altogether her own. It infused with a humorous possibility the driest, most matter-of-fact remarks, and Will had to guard himself against the temptation to reply in a corresponding note.
"I suppose you see no more of those people -- what's their name -- the Crosses?" he let fall, as if casually, one evening when Franks had come to see him."
"Lost sight of them altogether," was the reply. "Why do you ask?"
"I happened to think of them," said Will; and turned to another subject.
Was he to be a grocer for the rest of his life? -- This question, which at first scarcely occurred to him, absorbed as he was in the problem of money-earning for immediate needs, at length began to press and worry. Of course he had meant nothing of the kind; his imagination had seen in the shop a temporary expedient; he had not troubled to pursue the ultimate probabilities of the life that lay before him, but contented himself with the vague assurance of his hopeful temper. Yet where was the way out? To save money, to accumulate sufficient capital for his release, was an impossibility, at all events within any reasonable time. And for what windfall could he look? Sherwood's ten thousand pounds hovered in his memory, but no more substantial than any fairy-tale. No man living, it seemed to him, had less chance of being signally favoured by fortune. He had donned his apron and aproned he must remain.
Suppose, then, he so far succeeded in his business as to make a little more than the household at St. Neots required; suppose it became practicable to -- well, say, to think of marriage, of course on the most modest basis; could he quite see himself offering to the girl he chose the hand and heart of a grocer? He laughed. It was well to laugh; merriment is the great digestive, and an unspeakable boon to the man capable of it in all but every situation; but what if she also laughed, and not in the sympathetic way? Worse still, what if she could not laugh, but looked wretchedly embarrassed, confused, shamed? That would be a crisis it needed some philosophy to contemplate.
For the present, common sense made it rigorously plain to him that the less he thought of these things, the better. He had not a penny to spare. Only by exercising an economy which in the old days would have appalled him, could he send his mother and sister an annual sum just sufficient to their needs. He who scorned and loathed all kinds of parsimony had learnt to cut down his expenditure at every possible point. He still smoked his pipe; he bought newspapers; he granted himself an excursion, of the cheapest, on fine Sundays; but these surely were necessities of life. In food and clothing and the common expenses of a civilised man, he pinched remorselessly; there was no choice. His lodgings cost him very little; but Mrs. Wick, whose profound suspiciousness was allied with unperfect honesty, now and then made paltry overcharges in her bill, and he was angry with himself for his want of courage to resist them. It meant only a shilling or two, but retail trade had taught him the importance of shillings. He had to remind himself that, if he was poor, his landlady was poorer still, and that in cheating him she did but follow the traditions of her class. To debate an excess of sixpence for paraffin, of ninepence for bacon, would have made him flush and grind his teeth for hours afterwards; but he noticed the effect upon himself of the new habit of niggardliness -- how it disposed him to acerbity of temper. No matter how pure the motive, a man cannot devote his days to squeezing out pecuniary profits without some moral detriment. Formerly this woman, Mrs. Wick, with her gimlet eyes, and her leech lips, with her spyings and eavesdroppings, with her sour civility, her stinted discharge of obligations, her pilferings and mendacities, would have rather amused than annoyed him. "Poor creature, isn't it a miserable as well as a sordid life. Let her have her pickings, however illegitimate, and much good may they do her." Now he too often found himself regarding her with something like animosity, whereby, to be sure, he brought himself to the woman's level. Was it not a struggle between him and her for a share of life's poorest comforts? When he looked at it in that light, his cheeks were hot.
A tradesman must harden himself. Why, in the early months, it cost him a wrench somewhere to take coppers at the counter from very poor folk who perhaps made up the odd halfpenny in farthings, and looked at the coins reluctantly as they laid them down. More than once, he said, "Oh never mind the ha'penny," and was met with a look -- not of gratitude but of blank amazement. Allchin happened to be a witness of one such incident, and, in the first moment of privacy, ventured a respectful yet a most energetic, protest. "It's the kindness of your 'eart, sir, and if anybody knows how much of that you have, I'm sure it's me, and I ought to be the last to find fault with it. But that'll never do behind the counter, sir, never! Why, just think. The profit on what that woman bought was just three farthings." He detailed the computation. "And there you've been and given her a whole ha'penny, so that you've only one blessed farthing over on the whole transaction! That ain't business, sir; that's charity; and Jollyman's ain't a charitable institution. You really must not, sir. It's unjust to yourself." And Will, with an uneasy shrug, admitted his folly. But he was ashamed to the core. Only in the second half-year did he really accustom himself to disregard a customer's poverty. He had thought the thing out, faced all its most sordid aspects. Yes, he was fighting with these people for daily bread; he and his could live only if his three farthings of profit were plucked out of that toil worn hand of charwoman or sempstress. Accept the necessity, and think no more of it. He was a man behind the counter; he saw face to face the people who supported him. With this exception had not things been just the same when he sat in the counting-house at the sugar refinery? It was an unpleasant truth, which appearances had formerly veiled from him.
With the beginning of his second winter came a new anxiety, a new source of bitter and degrading reflections. At not more than five minutes' walk away, another grocer started business; happily no great capitalist, but to all appearances a man of enterprise who knew what he was about. Morning and evening, Warburton passed the new shop and felt his very soul turn sour in the thought that he must do what in him lay to prevent that man from gaining custom; if he could make his business a failure, destroy all his hopes, so much the better. With Allchin, he held long and eager conferences. The robust assistant was of course troubled by no scruples; he warmed to the combat, chuckled over each good idea for the enemy's defeat; every nerve must be strained for the great Christmas engagement; as much money as possible must be spent in making a brave show. And it was only by pausing every now and then to remember why he stood here, in what cause he was so debasing the manner of his life, that Warburton could find strength to go through such a trial of body and of spirit. When, the Christmas fight well over, with manifest triumph on his side he went down for a couple of days to St. Neots, once more he had his reward. But the struggle was telling upon his health; it showed in his face, in his bearing. Mother and sister spoke uneasily of a change they noticed; surely he was working too hard; what did he mean by taking no summer holiday? Will laughed.
"Business, business! A good deal to do at first, you know. Things'll be smoother next year."
And the comfort, the quiet, the simple contentment of that little house by the Ouse, sent him back to Fulham Road, once more resigned, courageous.
Naturally, he sometimes contrasted his own sordid existence with the unforeseen success which had made such changes in the life of Norbert Franks. It was more than three months since he and Franks had met, when, one day early in January, he received a note from the artist. "What has become of you? I haven't had a chance of getting your way -- work and social foolery. Could you come and lunch with me here, on Sunday, alone, like the old days? I have a portrait to show you." So on Sunday, Warburton went to his friend's new studio, which was in the Holland Park region. Formerly it was always he who played the host, and he did not like this change of positions; but Franks, however sensible of his good luck, and inclined at times to take himself rather seriously, had no touch of the snob in his temper; when with him, Will generally lost sight of unpleasant things in good-natured amusement. To-day, however, grocerdom lay heavily on his soul. On the return journey from St. Neots he had caught a cold, and a week of sore throat behind the counter -- a week too, of quarrel with a wholesale house which had been cheating him -- left his nerves in a bad state. For reply to the artist's cordial greeting he could only growl inarticulately.
"Out of sorts?" asked the other, as they entered the large well-warmed studio "You look rather bad."
"Leave me alone," muttered Warburton.
"All right. Sit down here and thaw yourself."
But Will's eye had fallen on a great canvas, showing the portrait of a brilliant lady who reclined at ease and caressed the head of a great deer-hound. He went and stood before it.
"Lady Caroline -- I told you about her -- don't you think it's rather good?"
"Yes. And for that very reason I'm afraid it's bad."
The artist laughed.
"That's good satire on the critics. When anything strikes them as good -- by a new man, that is -- they're ashamed to say so, just because they never dare trust their own judgment. -- But it is good, Warburton; uncommonly good. If there's a weak point, it's doggy; I can't come the Landseer. Still, you can see it's meant for a doggy, eh?"
"I guessed it," replied Will, warming his hands.
"Lady Caroline is superb," went on Franks, standing before the canvas, head aside and hands m his pocket. "This is my specialty, old boy -- lovely woman made yet lovelier, without loss of likeness. She'll be the fury of the next Academy. -- See that something in the eyes, Warburton? Don't know how to call it. My enemies call it claptrap. But they can't do the trick, my boy, they can't do it. They'd give the end of their noses if they could."
He laughed gaily, boyishly. How well he was looking! Warburton, having glanced at him, smiled with a surly kindness.
"All your doing, you know," pursued Franks, who had caught the look and the smile. "You've made me. But for you I should have gone to the devil. I was saying so yesterday to the Crosses."
Will had sharply turned his head, with a curious surprise.
"Don't you remember the Crosses?" said Franks, smiling with a certain embarrassment, "Rosamund's friends at Walham Green. I met them by chance not long ago, and they wanted me to go and see them. The old lady's a bore, but she can be agreeable when she likes; the girl's rather clever -- does pictures for children's books, you know. She seems to be getting on better lately. But they are wretchedly poor. I was saying to them -- oh, but that reminds me of something else. You haven't seen the Pomfrets lately?"
"Then you don't know that Mr. Elvan's dead?"
"He died a month ago, over there in the South of France. Rosamund has gone back to Egypt, to stay with that friend of hers at Cairo. Mrs. Pomfret hints to me that the girls will have to find a way of earning their living; Elvan has left practically nothing. I wonder whether----"
He smiled and broke off.
"Whether what?" asked the listener.
"Oh, nothing. What's the time?"
"Whether what?" repeated Warburton, savagely.
"Well -- whether Rosamund doesn't a little regret?"
"Do you?" asked Will, without looking round.
"I? Not for a moment, my dear boy! She did me the greatest possible kindness -- only you even did me a greater. At this moment I should have been cursing and smoking cheap tobacco in Battersea -- unless I had got sick of it all and done the hic jacet business, a strong probability. Never did a girl behave more sensibly. Some day I hope to tell her so; of course when she has married somebody else. Then I'll paint her portrait, and make her the envy of a season -- by Jove, I will! Splendid subject, she'd be. . . . When I think of that beastly so-called portrait that I put my foot through, the day I was in hell! Queer how one develops all at a jump. Two years ago I could no more paint a woman's portrait than I could build a cathedral. I caught the trick in the Slummer, but didn't see all it meant till Blackstaffe asked me to paint Lady Rockett. -- Rosamund ought to have given me the sack when she saw that daub, meant for her. Good little girl; she held as long as she could. Oh) I'll paint her divinely, one of these days."
The soft humming of a gong summoned them to another room, where lunch was ready. Never had Warburton showed such lack of genial humour at his friend's table. He ate mechanically, and spoke hardly at all. Little by little, Franks felt the depressing effect of this companionship. When they returned to the studio, to smoke by the fireside, only a casual word broke the cheerless silence.
"I oughtn't to have come to-day," said Will, at length, half apologetically. "I feel like a bear with a sore head. I think I'm going."
"Shall I come and see you some evening?" asked the other in his friendliest tone.
"No -- I mean not just yet. -- I'll write and ask you."
And Will went out into the frosty gloom.
By way of Allchin, who knew all the gossip of the neighbourhood, Warburton learnt that his new competitor in trade was a man with five children and a wife given to drink; he had been in business in another part of London, and was suspected to have removed with the hope that new surroundings might help his wife to overcome her disastrous failing. A very respectable man, people said; kind husband, good father, honest dealer. But Allchin reported, with a twinkle of the eye, that all his capital had gone in the new start, and it was already clear that his business did not thrive.
"We shall starve him out!" cried the assistant, snapping his thumb and finger.
"And what'll become of him then?" asked Will.
"Oh, that's for him to think about," replied Allchin. "Wouldn't he starve us, if he could, sir?"
And Warburton, brooding on this matter, stood appalled at the ferocity of the struggle amid which he lived, in which he had his part. Gone was all his old enjoyment of the streets of London. In looking back upon his mood of that earlier day, he saw himself as an incredibly ignorant and careless man; marvelled at the lightness of heart which had enabled him to find amusement in rambling over this vast slaughter-strewn field of battle. Picturesque, forsooth! Where was its picturesqueness for that struggling, soon-to-be-defeated tradesman, with his tipsy wife, and band of children who looked to him for bread? "And I myself am crushing the man -- as surely as if I had my hand on his gullet and my knee on his chest! Crush him I must; otherwise, what becomes of that little home down at St. Neots -- dear to me as his children are to him. There's no room for both of us; he has come too near; he must pay the penalty of his miscalculation. Is there not the workhouse for such people?" And Will went about repeating to himself. "There's the workhouse -- don't I pay poor-rates? -- the workhouse is an admirable institution."
He lay awake many an hour of these winter nights, seeing in vision his own life and the life of man. He remembered the office in Little Ailie Street; saw himself and Godfrey Sherwood sitting together, talking, laughing, making a jest of their effort to support a doomed house. Godfrey used to repeat legends, sagas, stories of travel) as though existence had not a care, or the possibility of one; and he, in turn, talked about some bit of London he had been exploring, showed an old map he had picked up, an old volume of London topography. The while, world-wide forces, the hunger-struggle of nations, were shaking the roof above their heads. Theoretically they knew it. But they could escape in time; they had a cosy little corner preserved for themselves, safe from these pestilent worries. Fate has a grudge against the foolishly secure. If he laughed now, it was in self-mockery.
The night of London, always rife with mysterious sounds, spoke dreadfully to his straining ear. He heard voices near and far, cries of pain or of misery, shouts savage or bestial; over and through all, that low, far-off rumble or roar, which never for a moment ceases, the groan, as it seemed, of suffering multitudes. There tripped before his dreaming eyes a procession from the world of wealth and pleasure, and the amazement with which he viewed it changed of a sudden to fiery wrath; he tossed upon the bed, uttered his rage in a loud exclamation, felt his heart pierced with misery which brought him all but to tears. Close upon astonishment and indignation followed dread. Given health and strength, he might perhaps continue to hold his own in this merciless conflict; perhaps, only; but what if some accident, such as befalls this man or that in every moment of time, threw him among the weaklings? He saw his mother, in her age and ill-health, reduced to the pittance of the poorest; his sister going forth to earn her living; himself, a helpless burden upon both. -- Nay, was there not rat-poison to be purchased?
How -- he cried within himself -- how, in the name of sense and mercy, is mankind content to live on in such a world as this? By what devil are they hunted, that, not only do they neglect the means of solace suggested to every humane and rational mind, but, the vast majority of them spend all their strength and ingenuity in embittering the common lot? Overwhelmed by the hateful unreason of it all, he felt as though his brain reeled on the verge of madness.
Every day, and all the day long, the shop, the counter. Had he chosen, he might have taken a half-holiday, now and then; on certain days Allchin was quite able, and abundantly willing, to manage alone; but what was the use? To go to a distance was merely to see with more distinctness the squalor of his position. Never for a moment was he tempted to abandon this work; he saw no hope whatever of earning money in any other way, and money he must needs earn, as long as he lived. But the life weighed upon him with a burden such as he had never imagined. Never had he understood before what was meant by the sickening weariness of routine; his fretfulness as a youth in the West Indies seemed to him now inconceivable. His own master? Why, he was the slave of every kitchen wench who came into the shop to spend a penny; he trembled at the thought of failing to please her, and so losing her custom. The grocery odours, once pleasant to him, had grown nauseating. And the ever repeated tasks, the weighing, parcel making, string cutting; the parrot phrases a thousand times repeated; the idiot bowing and smiling -- how these things gnawed at his nerves, till he quivered like a beaten horse. He tried to console himself by thinking that things were now at the worst; that he was subduing himself, and would soon reach a happy, dull indifference; but in truth it was with fear that he looked forward -- fear of unknown possibilities in himself; fear that he might sink yet more wretchedly in his own esteem.
For the worst part of his suffering was self-scorn. When he embarked upon this strange enterprise, he knew, or thought he knew, all the trials to which he would be exposed, and not slight would have been his indignation had any one ventured to hint that his character might prove unequal to the test. Sherwood's letter had pleased him so much, precisely because it praised his resolve as courageous, manly. On manliness of spirit, Will had always piqued himself; it was his pride that he carried a heart equal to any lot imposed upon him by duty. Yet little more than a twelvemonth of shopkeeping had so undermined his pluck, enfeebled his temper, that he could not regard himself in the glass without shame. He tried to explain it by failure of health. Assuredly his physical state had for months been declining and the bad cold from which he had recently suffered seemed to complete his moral downfall. In this piercing and gloom-wrapped month of February, coward thoughts continually beset him. In his cold lodgings, in the cold streets, in the draughts of the shop, he felt soul and body shrink together, till he became as the meanest of starveling hucksters.
Then something happened, which rescued him for awhile from this haunting self. One night, just at closing time -- a night of wild wind and driven rain -- Mrs. Hopper came rushing into the shop, her face a tale of woe. Warburton learnt that her sister "Liza," the ailing girl whom he had befriended in his comfortable days, had been seized with lung hemorrhage, and lay in a lamentable state; the help of Mrs. Allchin was called for, and any other that might be forthcoming. Two years ago Will would have responded to such an appeal as this with lavish generosity; now, though the impulse of compassion blinded him for a moment to his changed circumstances, he soon remembered that his charity must be that of a poor man, of a debtor. He paid for a cab, that the two women might speed to their sister through the stormy night as quickly as possible, and he promised to think of what could be done for the invalid -- with the result that he lost a night's sleep in calculating what sum he might spare. On the morrow came the news he had expected; the doctor suggested Brompton Hospital, if admission could be obtained; home treatment at this time of the year, and in the patient's circumstances, was not likely to be of any good. Warburton took the matter in hand, went about making inquiries, found that there must necessarily be delay. Right or wrong, he put his hand in his pocket, and Mrs. Hopper was enabled to nurse her sister in a way otherwise impossible. He visited the sick-room, and for half an hour managed to talk as of old, in the note of gallant sympathy and encouragement. Let there be no stint of fire, of food, of anything the doctor might advise. Meanwhile, he would ask about other hospitals -- do everything in his power. As indeed he did, with the result that in a fortnight's time, the sufferer was admitted to an institution to which, for the nonce, Warburton had become a subscriber.
He saw her doctor. "Not much chance, I'm afraid. Of course, if she were able to change climate -- that kind of thing. But, under the circumstances----"
And through a whole Sunday morning Will paced about his little sitting-room, not caring to go forth, nor caring to read, caring for nothing at all in a world so full of needless misery. "Of course, if she were able to change climate --" Yes, the accident of possessing money; a life to depend upon that! In another station -- though, as likely as not, with no moral superiority to justify the privilege -- the sick woman would be guarded, soothed, fortified by every expedient of science, every resource of humanity. Chance to be poor, and not only must you die when you need not, but must die with the minimum of comfort, the extreme of bodily and mental distress. This commonplace struck so forcibly upon Will's imagination, that it was as a new discovery to him. He stood amazed, bewildered -- as men of any thinking power are wont to do when experience makes real to them the truisms of life. A few coins, or pieces of printed paper to signify all that! An explosion of angry laughter broke the mood.
Pacing, pacing, back and fro in the little room, for hour after hour, till his head whirled, and his legs ached. Out of doors there was fitfully glinting sunshine upon the wet roofs; a pale blue now and then revealed amid the grey rack. Two years ago he would have walked twenty miles on a day like this, with eyes for nothing but the beauty and joy of earth. Was he not -- he suddenly asked himself -- a wiser man now than then? Did he not see into the truth of things; whereas, formerly, he had seen only the deceptive surface? There should be some solace in this reflection, if he took it well to heart.
Then his mind wandered away to Norbert Franks, who at this moment was somewhere enjoying himself. This afternoon he might be calling upon the Crosses. Why should that thought be disagreeable? It was, as he perceived, not for the first time. If he pictured the artist chatting side by side with Bertha Cross, something turned cold within him. By the bye, it was rather a long time since he had seen Miss Cross; her mother had been doing the shopping lately. She might come, perhaps, one day this week; the chance gave him something to look forward to.
How often had he called himself a fool for paying heed to Bertha Cross's visits?
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