Beyond the City
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 2 out of 3
"But think how unhappy he will be. You know how quiet he is in his
ways, and how even a little thing will upset him. How could he live
with a wife who would make his whole life a series of surprises? Fancy
what a whirlwind she must be in a house. A man at his age cannot change
his ways. I am sure he would be miserable."
Ida's face grew graver, and she pondered over the matter for a few
minutes. "I really think that you are right as usual," said she at
last. "I admire Charlie's aunt very much, you know, and I think that
she is a very useful and good person, but I don't think she would do as
a wife for poor quiet papa."
"But he will certainly ask her, and I really think that she intends to
accept him. Then it would be too late to interfere. We have only a few
days at the most. And what can we do? How can we hope to make him
change his mind?"
Again Ida pondered. "He has never tried what it is to live with a
strong-minded woman," said she. "If we could only get him to realize it
in time. Oh, Clara, I have it; I have it! Such a lovely plan!" She
leaned back in her chair and burst into a fit of laughter so natural and
so hearty that Clara had to forget her troubles and to join in it.
"Oh, it is beautiful!" she gasped at last. "Poor papa! What a time he
will have! But it's all for his own good, as he used to say when we had
to be punished when we were little. Oh, Clara, I do hope your heart
won't fail you."
"I would do anything to save him, dear."
"That's it. You must steel yourself by that thought."
"But what is your plan?"
"Oh, I am so proud of it. We will tire him for ever of the widow, and
of all emancipated women. Let me see, what are Mrs. Westmacott's main
ideas? You have listened to her more than I. Women should attend less
to household duties. That is one, is it not?"
"Yes, if they feel they have capabilities for higher things. Then she
thinks that every woman who has leisure should take up the study of some
branch of science, and that, as far as possible, every woman should
qualify herself for some trade or profession, choosing for preference
those which have been hitherto monopolized by men. To enter the others
would only be to intensify the present competition."
"Quite so. That is glorious!" Her blue eyes were dancing with
mischief, and she clapped her hands in her delight. "What else? She
thinks that whatever a man can do a woman should be allowed to do also--
does she not?"
"She says so."
"And about dress? The short skirt, and the divided skirt are what she
"We must get in some cloth."
"We must make ourselves a dress each. A brand-new, enfranchised,
emancipated dress, dear. Don't you see my plan? We shall act up to all
Mrs. Westmacott's views in every respect, and improve them when we can.
Then papa will know what it is to live with a woman who claims all her
rights. Oh, Clara, it will be splendid."
Her milder sister sat speechless before so daring a scheme. "But it
would be wrong, Ida!" she cried at last.
"Not a bit. It is to save him."
"I should not dare."
"Oh, yes, you would. Harold will help. Besides, what other plan have
"I have none."
"Then you must take mine."
"Yes. Perhaps you are right. Well, we do it for a good motive."
"You will do it?"
"I do not see any other way."
"You dear good Clara! Now I will show you what you are to do. We must
not begin too suddenly. It might excite suspicion."
"What would you do, then?"
"To-morrow we must go to Mrs. Westmacott, and sit at her feet and learn
all her views."
"What hypocrites we shall feel!"
"We shall be her newest and most enthusiastic converts. Oh, it will be
such fun, Clara! Then we shall make our plans and send for what we
want, and begin our new life."
"I do hope that we shall not have to keep it up long. It seems so cruel
to dear papa."
"Cruel! To save him!"
"I wish I was sure that we were doing right. And yet what else can we
do? Well, then, Ida, the die is cast, and we will call upon Mrs.
A FAMILY PLOT.
Little did poor Doctor Walker imagine as he sat at his breakfast-table
next morning that the two sweet girls who sat on either side of him were
deep in a conspiracy, and that he, munching innocently at his muffins,
was the victim against whom their wiles were planned. Patiently they
waited until at last their opening came.
"It is a beautiful day," he remarked. "It will do for Mrs. Westmacott.
She was thinking of having a spin upon the tricycle."
"Then we must call early. We both intended to see her after breakfast."
"Oh, indeed!" The Doctor looked pleased.
"You know, pa," said Ida, "it seems to us that we really have a very
great advantage in having Mrs. Westmacott living so near."
"Why so, dear?"
"Well, because she is so advanced, you know. If we only study her ways
we may advance ourselves also."
"I think I have heard you say, papa," Clara remarked, "that she is the
type of the woman of the future."
"I am very pleased to hear you speak so sensibly, my dears. I certainly
think that she is a woman whom you may very well take as your model.
The more intimate you are with her the better pleased I shall be."
"Then that is settled," said Clara demurely, and the talk drifted to
All the morning the two girls sat extracting from Mrs. Westmacott her
most extreme view as to the duty of the one sex and the tyranny of the
other. Absolute equality, even in details, was her ideal. Enough of
the parrot cry of unwomanly and unmaidenly. It had been invented by man
to scare woman away when she poached too nearly upon his precious
preserves. Every woman should be independent. Every woman should learn
a trade. It was their duty to push in where they were least welcome.
Then they were martyrs to the cause, and pioneers to their weaker
sisters. Why should the wash-tub, the needle, and the housekeeper's
book be eternally theirs? Might they not reach higher, to the
consulting-room, to the bench, and even to the pulpit? Mrs. Westmacott
sacrificed her tricycle ride in her eagerness over her pet subject, and
her two fair disciples drank in every word, and noted every suggestion
for future use. That afternoon they went shopping in London, and before
evening strange packages began to be handed in at the Doctor's door.
The plot was ripe for execution, and one of the conspirators was merry
and jubilant, while the other was very nervous and troubled.
When the Doctor came down to the dining-room next morning, he was
surprised to find that his daughters had already been up some time. Ida
was installed at one end of the table with a spirit-lamp, a curved glass
flask, and several bottles in front of her. The contents of the flask
were boiling furiously, while a villainous smell filled the room. Clara
lounged in an arm-chair with her feet upon a second one, a blue-covered
book in her hand, and a huge map of the British Islands spread across
her lap. "Hullo!" cried the Doctor, blinking and sniffing, "where's the
"Oh, didn't you order it?" asked Ida.
"I! No; why should I?" He rang the bell. "Why have you not laid the
"If you please, sir, Miss Ida was a workin' at the table."
"Oh, of course, Jane," said the young lady calmly. "I am so sorry. I
shall be ready to move in a few minutes."
"But what on earth are you doing, Ida?" asked the Doctor. "The smell is
most offensive. And, good gracious, look at the mess which you have
made upon the cloth! Why, you have burned a hole right through."
"Oh, that is the acid," Ida answered contentedly. "Mrs. Westmacott said
that it would burn holes."
"You might have taken her word for it without trying," said her father
"But look here, pa! See what the book says: `The scientific mind takes
nothing upon trust. Prove all things!' I have proved that."
"You certainly have. Well, until breakfast is ready I'll glance over
the Times. Have you seen it?"
"The Times? Oh, dear me, this is it which I have under my spirit-lamp.
I am afraid there is some acid upon that too, and it is rather damp and
torn. Here it is."
The Doctor took the bedraggled paper with a rueful face. "Everything
seems to be wrong to-day," he remarked. "What is this sudden enthusiasm
about chemistry, Ida?"
"Oh, I am trying to live up to Mrs. Westmacott's teaching."
"Quite right! quite right!" said he, though perhaps with less heartiness
than he had shown the day before. "Ah, here is breakfast at last!"
But nothing was comfortable that morning. There were eggs without egg-
spoons, toast which was leathery from being kept, dried-up rashers, and
grounds in the coffee. Above all, there was that dreadful smell which
pervaded everything and gave a horrible twang to every mouthful.
"I don't wish to put a damper upon your studies, Ida," said the Doctor,
as he pushed back his chair. "But I do think it would be better if you
did your chemical experiments a little later in the day."
"But Mrs. Westmacott says that women should rise early, and do their
work before breakfast."
"Then they should choose some other room besides the breakfast-room."
The Doctor was becoming just a little ruffled. A turn in the open air
would soothe him, he thought. "Where are my boots?" he asked.
But they were not in their accustomed corner by his chair. Up and down
he searched, while the three servants took up the quest, stooping and
peeping under book-cases and drawers. Ida had returned to her studies,
and Clara to her blue-covered volume, sitting absorbed and disinterested
amid the bustle and the racket. At last a general buzz of
congratulation announced that the cook had discovered the boots hung up
among the hats in the hall. The Doctor, very red and flustered, drew
them on, and stamped off to join the Admiral in his morning walk.
As the door slammed Ida burst into a shout of laughter. "You see,
Clara," she cried, "the charm works already. He has gone to number one
instead of to number three. Oh, we shall win a great victory. You've
been very good, dear; I could see that you were on thorns to help him
when he was looking for his boots."
"Poor papa! It is so cruel. And yet what are we to do?"
"Oh, he will enjoy being comfortable all the more if we give him a
little discomfort now. What horrible work this chemistry is! Look at
my frock! It is ruined. And this dreadful smell!" She threw open the
window, and thrust her little golden-curled head out of it. Charles
Westmacott was hoeing at the other side of the garden fence.
"Good morning, sir," said Ida.
"Good morning!" The big man leaned upon his hoe and looked up at her.
"Have you any cigarettes, Charles?"
"Throw me up two."
"Here is my case. Can you catch!"
A seal-skin case came with a soft thud on to the floor. Ida opened it.
It was full.
"What are these?" she asked.
"What are some other brands?"
"Oh, Richmond Gems, and Turkish, and Cambridge. But why?"
"Never mind!" She nodded to him and closed the window. "We must
remember all those, Clara," said she. "We must learn to talk about such
things. Mrs. Westmacott knows all about the brands of cigarettes. Has
your rum come?"
"Yes, dear. It is here."
"And I have my stout. Come along up to my room now. This smell is too
abominable. But we must be ready for him when he comes back. If we sit
at the window we shall see him coming down the road."
The fresh morning air, and the genial company of the Admiral had caused
the Doctor to forget his troubles, and he came back about midday in an
excellent humor. As he opened the hall door the vile smell of chemicals
which had spoilt his breakfast met him with a redoubled virulence. He
threw open the hall window, entered the dining-room, and stood aghast at
the sight which met his eyes.
Ida was still sitting among her bottles, with a lit cigarette in her
left hand and a glass of stout on the table beside her. Clara, with
another cigarette, was lounging in the easy chair with several maps
spread out upon the floor around. Her feet were stuck up on the coal
scuttle, and she had a tumblerful of some reddish-brown composition on
the smoking table close at her elbow. The Doctor gazed from one to the
other of them through the thin grey haze of smoke, but his eyes rested
finally in a settled stare of astonishment upon his elder and more
"Clara!" he gasped, "I could not have believed it!"
"What is it, papa?"
"You are smoking!"
"Trying to, papa. I find it a little difficult, for I have not been
used to it."
"But why, in the name of goodness--"
"Mrs. Westmacott recommends it."
"Oh, a lady of mature years may do many things which a young girl must
"Oh, no," cried Ida, "Mrs. Westmacott says that there should be one law
for all. Have a cigarette, pa?"
"No, thank you. I never smoke in the morning."
"No? Perhaps you don't care for the brand. What are these, Clara?"
"Ah, we must have some Richmond Gems or Turkish. I wish, pa, when you
go into town, you would get me some Turkish."
"I will do nothing of the kind. I do not at all think that it is a
fitting habit for young ladies. I do not agree with Mrs. Westmacott
upon the point."
"Really, pa! It was you who advised us to imitate her."
"But with discrimination. What is it that you are drinking, Clara?"
"Rum? In the morning?" He sat down and rubbed his eyes as one who
tries to shake off some evil dream. "Did you say rum?"
"Yes, pa. They all drink it in the profession which I am going to take
"Mrs. Westmacott says that every woman should follow a calling, and that
we ought to choose those which women have always avoided."
"Well, I am going to act upon her advice. I am going to be a pilot."
"My dear Clara! A pilot! This is too much."
"This is a beautiful book, papa. `The Lights, Beacons, Buoys, Channels,
and Landmarks of Great Britain.' Here is another, `The Master Mariner's
Handbook.' You can't imagine how interesting it is."
"You are joking, Clara. You must be joking!"
"Not at all, pa. You can't think what a lot I have learned already.
I'm to carry a green light to starboard and a red to port, with a white
light at the mast-head, and a flare-up every fifteen minutes."
"Oh, won't it look pretty at night!" cried her sister.
"And I know the fog-signals. One blast means that a ship steers to
starboard, two to port, three astern, four that it is unmanageable. But
this man asks such dreadful questions at the end of each chapter.
Listen to this: `You see a red light. The ship is on the port tack and
the wind at north; what course is that ship steering to a point?'"
The Doctor rose with a gesture of despair. "I can't imagine what has
come over you both," said he.
"My dear papa, we are trying hard to live up to Mrs. Westmacott's
"Well, I must say that I do not admire the result. Your chemistry, Ida,
may perhaps do no harm; but your scheme, Clara, is out of the question.
How a girl of your sense could ever entertain such a notion is more than
I can imagine. But I must absolutely forbid you to go further with it."
"But, pa," asked Ida, with an air of innocent inquiry in her big blue
eyes, "what are we to do when your commands and Mrs. Westmacott's advice
are opposed? You told us to obey her. She says that when women try to
throw off their shackles, their fathers, brothers and husbands are the
very first to try to rivet them on again, and that in such a matter no
man has any authority."
"Does Mrs. Westmacott teach you that I am not the head of my own house?"
The Doctor flushed, and his grizzled hair bristled in his anger.
"Certainly. She says that all heads of houses are relics of the dark
The Doctor muttered something and stamped his foot upon the carpet.
Then without a word he passed out into the garden and his daughters
could see him striding furiously up and down, cutting off the heads of
the flowers with a switch.
"Oh, you darling! You played your part so splendidly!" cried Ida.
"But how cruel it is! When I saw the sorrow and surprise in his eyes I
very nearly put my arms about him and told him all. Don't you think we
have done enough?"
"No, no, no. Not nearly enough. You must not turn weak now, Clara. It
is so funny that I should be leading you. It is quite a new experience.
But I know I am right. If we go on as we are doing, we shall be able to
say all our lives that we have saved him. And if we don't, oh, Clara,
we should never forgive ourselves."
WOMEN OF THE FUTURE.
From that day the Doctor's peace was gone. Never was a quiet and
orderly household transformed so suddenly into a bear garden, or a happy
man turned into such a completely miserable one. He had never realized
before how entirely his daughters had shielded him from all the friction
of life. Now that they had not only ceased to protect him, but had
themselves become a source of trouble to him, he began to understand how
great the blessing was which he had enjoyed, and to sigh for the happy
days before his girls had come under the influence of his neighbor.
"You don't look happy," Mrs. Westmacott had remarked to him one morning.
"You are pale and a little off color. You should come with me for a ten
mile spin upon the tandem."
"I am troubled about my girls." They were walking up and down in the
garden. From time to time there sounded from the house behind them the
long, sad wail of a French horn.
"That is Ida," said he. "She has taken to practicing on that dreadful
instrument in the intervals of her chemistry. And Clara is quite as
bad. I declare it is getting quite unendurable."
"Ah, Doctor, Doctor!" she cried, shaking her forefinger, with a gleam of
her white teeth. "You must live up to your principles--you must give
your daughters the same liberty as you advocate for other women."
"Liberty, madam, certainly! But this approaches to license."
"The same law for all, my friend." She tapped him reprovingly on the
arm with her sunshade. "When you were twenty your father did not, I
presume, object to your learning chemistry or playing a musical
instrument. You would have thought it tyranny if he had."
"But there is such a sudden change in them both."
"Yes, I have noticed that they have been very enthusiastic lately in the
cause of liberty. Of all my disciples I think that they promise to be
the most devoted and consistent, which is the more natural since their
father is one of our most trusted champions."
The Doctor gave a twitch of impatience. "I seem to have lost all
authority," he cried.
"No, no, my dear friend. They are a little exuberant at having broken
the trammels of custom. That is all."
"You cannot think what I have had to put up with, madam. It has been a
dreadful experience. Last night, after I had extinguished the candle in
my bedroom, I placed my foot upon something smooth and hard, which
scuttled from under me. Imagine my horror! I lit the gas, and came
upon a well-grown tortoise which Clara has thought fit to introduce into
the house. I call it a filthy custom to have such pets."
Mrs. Westmacott dropped him a little courtesy. "Thank you, sir," said
she. "That is a nice little side hit at my poor Eliza."
"I give you my word that I had forgotten about her," cried the Doctor,
flushing. "One such pet may no doubt be endured, but two are more than
I can bear. Ida has a monkey which lives on the curtain rod. It is a
most dreadful creature. It will remain absolutely motionless until it
sees that you have forgotten its presence, and then it will suddenly
bound from picture to picture all round the walls, and end by swinging
down on the bell-rope and jumping on to the top of your head. At
breakfast it stole a poached egg and daubed it all over the door handle.
Ida calls these outrages amusing tricks."
"Oh, all will come right," said the widow reassuringly.
"And Clara is as bad, Clara who used to be so good and sweet, the very
image of her poor mother. She insists upon this preposterous scheme of
being a pilot, and will talk of nothing but revolving lights and hidden
rocks, and codes of signals, and nonsense of the kind."
"But why preposterous?" asked his companion. "What nobler occupation
can there be than that of stimulating commerce, and aiding the mariner
to steer safely into port? I should think your daughter admirably
adapted for such duties."
"Then I must beg to differ from you, madam."
"Still, you are inconsistent."
"Excuse me, madam, I do not see the matter in the same light. And I
should be obliged to you if you would use your influence with my
daughter to dissuade her."
"You wish to make me inconsistent too."
"Then you refuse?"
"I am afraid that I cannot interfere."
The Doctor was very angry. "Very well, madam," said he. "In that case
I can only say that I have the honor to wish you a very good morning."
He raised his broad straw hat and strode away up the gravel path, while
the widow looked after him with twinkling eyes. She was surprised
herself to find that she liked the Doctor better the more masculine and
aggressive he became. It was unreasonable and against all principle,
and yet so it was and no argument could mend the matter.
Very hot and angry, the Doctor retired into his room and sat down to
read his paper. Ida had retired, and the distant wails of the bugle
showed that she was upstairs in her boudoir. Clara sat opposite to him
with her exasperating charts and her blue book. The Doctor glanced at
her and his eyes remained fixed in astonishment upon the front of her
"My dear Clara," he cried, "you have torn your skirt!"
His daughter laughed and smoothed out her frock. To his horror he saw
the red plush of the chair where the dress ought to have been. "It is
all torn!" he cried. "What have you done?"
"My dear papa!" said she, "what do you know about the mysteries of
ladies' dress? This is a divided skirt."
Then he saw that it was indeed so arranged, and that his daughter was
clad in a sort of loose, extremely long knickerbockers.
"It will be so convenient for my sea-boots," she explained.
Her father shook his head sadly. "Your dear mother would not have liked
it, Clara," said he.
For a moment the conspiracy was upon the point of collapsing. There was
something in the gentleness of his rebuke, and in his appeal to her
mother, which brought the tears to her eyes, and in another instant she
would have been kneeling beside him with everything confessed, when the
door flew open and her sister Ida came bounding into the room. She wore
a short grey skirt, like that of Mrs. Westmacott, and she held it up in
each hand and danced about among the furniture.
"I feel quite the Gaiety girl!" she cried. "How delicious it must be to
be upon the stage! You can't think how nice this dress is, papa. One
feels so free in it. And isn't Clara charming?"
"Go to your room this instant and take it off!" thundered the Doctor.
"I call it highly improper, and no daughter of mine shall wear it."
"Papa! Improper! Why, it is the exact model of Mrs. Westmacott's."
"I say it is improper. And yours also, Clara! Your conduct is really
outrageous. You drive me out of the house. I am going to my club in
town. I have no comfort or peace of mind in my own house. I will stand
it no longer. I may be late to-night--I shall go to the British Medical
meeting. But when I return I shall hope to find that you have
reconsidered your conduct, and that you have shaken yourself clear of
the pernicious influences which have recently made such an alteration in
your conduct." He seized his hat, slammed the dining-room door, and a
few minutes later they heard the crash of the big front gate.
"Victory, Clara, victory!" cried Ida, still pirouetting around the
furniture. "Did you hear what he said? Pernicious influences! Don't
you understand, Clara? Why do you sit there so pale and glum? Why
don't you get up and dance?"
"Oh, I shall be so glad when it is over, Ida. I do hate to give him
pain. Surely he has learned now that it is very unpleasant to spend
one's life with reformers."
"He has almost learned it, Clara. Just one more little lesson. We must
not risk all at this last moment."
"What would you do, Ida? Oh, don't do anything too dreadful. I feel
that we have gone too far already."
"Oh, we can do it very nicely. You see we are both engaged and that
makes it very easy. Harold will do what you ask him, especially as you
have told him the reason why, and my Charles will do it without even
wanting to know the reason. Now you know what Mrs. Westmacott thinks
about the reserve of young ladies. Mere prudery, affectation, and a
relic of the dark ages of the Zenana. Those were her words, were they
"Well, now we must put it in practice. We are reducing all her other
views to practice, and we must not shirk this one.
"But what would you do? Oh, don't look so wicked, Ida! You look like
some evil little fairy, with your golden hair and dancing, mischievous
eyes. I know that you are going to propose something dreadful!"
"We must give a little supper to-night."
"We? A supper!"
"Why not? Young gentlemen give suppers. Why not young ladies?"
"But whom shall we invite?"
"Why, Harold and Charles of course."
"And the Admiral and Mrs. Hay Denver?"
"Oh, no. That would be very old-fashioned. We must keep up with the
"But what can we give them for supper?"
"Oh, something with a nice, fast, rollicking, late-at-night-kind of
flavor to it. Let me see! Champagne, of course--and oysters. Oysters
will do. In the novels, all the naughty people take champagne and
oysters. Besides, they won't need any cooking. How is your pocket-
"I have three pounds."
"And I have one. Four pounds. I have no idea how much champagne costs.
"Not the slightest."
"How many oysters does a man eat?"
"I can't imagine."
"I'll write and ask Charles. No, I won't. I'll ask Jane. Ring for
her, Clara. She has been a cook, and is sure to know."
Jane, on being cross-questioned, refused to commit herself beyond the
statement that it depended upon the gentleman, and also upon the
oysters. The united experience of the kitchen, however, testified that
three dozen was a fair provision.
"Then we shall have eight dozen altogether," said Ida, jotting down all
her requirements upon a sheet of paper. "And two pints of champagne.
And some brown bread, and vinegar, and pepper. That's all, I think. It
is not so very difficult to give a supper after all, is it, Clara?"
"I don't like it, Ida. It seems to me to be so very indelicate."
"But it is needed to clinch the matter. No, no, there is no drawing
back now, Clara, or we shall ruin everything. Papa is sure to come back
by the 9:45. He will reach the door at 10. We must have everything
ready for him. Now, just sit down at once, and ask Harold to come at
nine o'clock, and I shall do the same to Charles."
The two invitations were dispatched, received and accepted. Harold was
already a confidant, and he understood that this was some further
development of the plot. As to Charles, he was so accustomed to
feminine eccentricity, in the person of his aunt, that the only thing
which could surprise him would be a rigid observance of etiquette. At
nine o'clock they entered the dining-room of Number 2, to find the
master of the house absent, a red-shaded lamp, a snowy cloth, a pleasant
little feast, and the two whom they would have chosen, as their
companions. A merrier party never met, and the house rang with their
laughter and their chatter.
"It is three minutes to ten," cried Clara, suddenly, glancing at the
"Good gracious! So it is! Now for our little tableau!" Ida pushed the
champagne bottles obtrusively forward, in the direction of the door, and
scattered oyster shells over the cloth.
"Have you your pipe, Charles?"
"My pipe! Yes."
"Then please smoke it. Now don't argue about it, but do it, for you
will ruin the effect otherwise."
The large man drew out a red case, and extracted a great yellow
meerschaum, out of which, a moment later, he was puffing thick wreaths
of smoke. Harold had lit a cigar, and both the girls had cigarettes.
"That looks very nice and emancipated," said Ida, glancing round. "Now
I shall lie on this sofa. So! Now, Charles, just sit here, and throw
your arm carelessly over the back of the sofa. No, don't stop smoking.
I like it. Clara, dear, put your feet upon the coal-scuttle, and do
try to look a little dissipated. I wish we could crown ourselves with
flowers. There are some lettuces on the sideboard. Oh dear, here he
is! I hear his key." She began to sing in her high, fresh voice a
little snatch from a French song, with a swinging tra la-la chorus.
The Doctor had walked home from the station in a peaceable and relenting
frame of mind, feeling that, perhaps, he had said too much in the
morning, that his daughters had for years been models in every way, and
that, if there had been any change of late, it was, as they said
themselves, on account of their anxiety to follow his advice and to
imitate Mrs. Westmacott. He could see clearly enough now that that
advice was unwise, and that a world peopled with Mrs. Westmacotts would
not be a happy or a soothing one. It was he who was, himself, to blame,
and he was grieved by the thought that perhaps his hot words had
troubled and saddened his two girls.
This fear, however, was soon dissipated. As he entered his hall he
heard the voice of Ida uplifted in a rollicking ditty, and a very strong
smell of tobacco was borne to his nostrils. He threw open the dining-
room door, and stood aghast at the scene which met his eyes.
The room was full of the blue wreaths of smoke, and the lamp-light shone
through the thin haze upon gold-topped bottles, plates, napkins, and a
litter of oyster shells and cigarettes. Ida, flushed and excited, was
reclining upon the settee, a wine-glass at her elbow, and a cigarette
between her fingers, while Charles Westmacott sat beside her, with his
arm thrown over the head of the sofa, with the suggestion of a caress.
On the other side of the room, Clara was lounging in an arm-chair, with
Harold beside her, both smoking, and both with wine-glasses beside them.
The Doctor stood speechless in the doorway, staring at the Bacchanalian
"Come in, papa! Do!" cried Ida. "Won't you have a glass of champagne?"
"Pray excuse me," said her father, coldly, "I feel that I am intruding.
I did not know that you were entertaining. Perhaps you will kindly let
me know when you have finished. You will find me in my study." He
ignored the two young men completely, and, closing the door, retired,
deeply hurt and mortified, to his room. A quarter of an hour afterwards
he heard the door slam, and his two daughters came to announce that the
guests were gone.
"Guests! Whose guests?" he cried angrily. "What is the meaning of this
"We have been giving a little supper, papa. They were our guests."
"Oh, indeed!" The Doctor laughed sarcastically. "You think it right,
then, to entertain young bachelors late at night, to, smoke and drink
with them, to---- Oh, that I should ever have lived to blush for my own
daughters! I thank God that your dear mother never saw the day."
"Dearest papa," cried Clara, throwing her arms about him. "Do not be
angry with us. If you understood all, you would see that there is no
harm in it."
"No harm, miss! Who is the best judge of that?"
"Mrs. Westmacott," suggested Ida, slyly.
The Doctor sprang from his chair. "Confound Mrs. Westmacott!" he cried,
striking frenziedly into the air with his hands. "Am I to hear of
nothing but this woman? Is she to confront me at every turn? I will
endure it no longer."
"But it was your wish, papa."
"Then I will tell you now what my second and wiser wish is, and we shall
see if you will obey it as you have the first."
"Of course we will, papa."
"Then my wish is, that you should forget these odious notions which you
have imbibed, that you should dress and act as you used to do, before
ever you saw this woman, and that, in future, you confine your
intercourse with her to such civilities as are necessary between
"We are to give up Mrs. Westmacott?"
"Or give up me."
"Oh, dear dad, how can you say anything so cruel?" cried Ida, burrowing
her towsy golden hair into her father's shirt front, while Clara pressed
her cheek against his whisker. "Of course we shall give her up, if you
"Of course we shall, papa."
The Doctor patted the two caressing heads. "These are my own two girls
again," he cried. "It has been my fault as much as yours. I have been
astray, and you have followed me in my error. It was only by seeing
your mistake that I have become conscious of my own. Let us set it
aside, and neither say nor think anything more about it."
A BLOT FROM THE BLUE.
So by the cleverness of two girls a dark cloud was thinned away and
turned into sunshine. Over one of them, alas, another cloud was
gathering, which could not be so easily dispersed. Of these three
households which fate had thrown together, two had already been united
by ties of love. It was destined, however, that a bond of another sort
should connect the Westmacotts with the Hay Denvers.
Between the Admiral and the widow a very cordial feeling had existed
since the day when the old seaman had hauled down his flag and changed
his opinions; granting to the yachts-woman all that he had refused to
the reformer. His own frank and downright nature respected the same
qualities in his neighbor, and a friendship sprang up between them which
was more like that which exists between two men, founded upon esteem and
a community of tastes.
"By the way, Admiral," said Mrs. Westmacott one morning, as they walked
together down to the station, "I understand that this boy of yours in
the intervals of paying his devotions to Miss Walker is doing something
"Yes, ma'am, and there is no man of his age who is doing so well. He's
drawing ahead, I can tell you, ma'am. Some of those that started with
him are hull down astarn now. He touched his five hundred last year,
and before he's thirty he'll be making the four figures."
"The reason I asked is that I have small investments to make myself from
time to time, and my present broker is a rascal. I should be very glad
to do it through your son."
"It is very kind of you, ma'am. His partner is away on a holiday, and
Harold would like to push on a bit and show what he can do. You know
the poop isn't big enough to hold the lieutenant when the skipper's on
"I suppose he charges the usual half per cent?"
"Don't know, I'm sure, ma'am. I'll swear that he does what is right and
"That is what I usually pay--ten shillings in the hundred pounds. If
you see him before I do just ask him to get me five thousand in New
Zealands. It is at four just now, and I fancy it may rise."
"Five thousand!" exclaimed the Admiral, reckoning it in his own mind.
"Lemme see! That's twenty-five pounds commission. A nice day's work,
upon my word. It is a very handsome order, ma'am."
"Well, I must pay some one, and why not him?"
"I'll tell him, and I'm sure he'll lose no time."
"Oh, there is no great hurry. By the way, I understand from what you
said just now that he has a partner."
"Yes, my boy is the junior partner. Pearson is the senior. I was
introduced to him years ago, and he offered Harold the opening. Of
course we had a pretty stiff premium to pay."
Mrs. Westmacott had stopped, and was standing very stiffly with her Red
Indian face even grimmer than usual.
"Pearson?" said she. "Jeremiah Pearson?"
"Then it's all off," she cried. "You need not carry out that
"Very well, ma'am."
They walked on together side by side, she brooding over some thought of
her own, and he a little crossed and disappointed at her caprice and the
lost commission for Harold.
"I tell you what, Admiral," she exclaimed suddenly, "if I were you I
should get your boy out of this partnership."
"But why, madam?"
"Because he is tied to one of the deepest, slyest foxes in the whole
city of London."
"Jeremiah Pearson, ma'am? What can you know of him? He bears a good
"No one in this world knows Jeremiah Pearson as I know him, Admiral. I
warn you because I have a friendly feeling both for you and for your
son. The man is a rogue and you had best avoid him."
"But these are only words, ma'am. Do you tell me that you know him
better than the brokers and jobbers in the City?"
"Man," cried Mrs. Westmacott, "will you allow that I know him when I
tell you that my maiden name was Ada Pearson, and that Jeremiah is my
The Admiral whistled. "Whew!" cried he. "Now that I think of it, there
is a likeness."
"He is a man of iron, Admiral--a man without a heart. I should shock
you if I were to tell you what I have endured from my brother. My
father's wealth was divided equally between us. His own share he ran
through in five years, and he has tried since then by every trick of a
cunning, low-minded man, by base cajolery, by legal quibbles, by brutal
intimidation, to juggle me out of my share as well. There is no
villainy of which the man is not capable. Oh, I know my brother
Jeremiah. I know him and I am prepared for him."
"This is all new to me, ma'am. 'Pon my word, I hardly know what to say
to it. I thank you for having spoken so plainly. From what you say,
this is a poor sort of consort for a man to sail with. Perhaps Harold
would do well to cut himself adrift."
"Without losing a day."
"Well, we shall talk it over. You may be sure of that. But here we are
at the station, so I will just see you into your carriage and then home
to see what my wife says to the matter."
As he trudged homewards, thoughtful and perplexed, he was surprised to
hear a shout behind him, and to see Harold running down the road after
"Why, dad," he cried, "I have just come from town, and the first thing I
saw was your back as you marched away. But you are such a quick walker
that I had to run to catch you."
The Admiral's smile of pleasure had broken his stern face into a
thousand wrinkles. "You are early to-day," said he.
"Yes, I wanted to consult you."
"Oh no, only an inconvenience."
"What is it, then?"
"How much have we in our private account?"
"Pretty fair. Some eight hundred, I think."
"Oh, half that will be ample. It was rather thoughtless of Pearson."
"Well, you see, dad, when he went away upon this little holiday to Havre
he left me to pay accounts and so on. He told me that there was enough
at the bank for all claims. I had occasion on Tuesday to pay away two
cheques, one for L80, and the other for L120, and here they are returned
with a bank notice that we have already overdrawn to the extent of some
The Admiral looked very grave. "What's the meaning of that, then?" he
"Oh, it can easily be set right. You see Pearson invests all the spare
capital and keeps as small a margin as possible at the bank. Still it
was too bad for him to allow me even to run a risk of having a cheque
returned. I have written to him and demanded his authority to sell out
some stock, and I have written an explanation to these people. In the
meantime, however, I have had to issue several cheques; so I had better
transfer part of our private account to meet them."
"Quite so, my boy. All that's mine is yours. But who do you think this
Pearson is? He is Mrs. Westmacott's brother."
"Really. What a singular thing! Well, I can see a likeness now that
you mention it. They have both the same hard type of face."
"She has been warning me against him--says he is the rankest pirate in
London. I hope that it is all right, boy, and that we may not find
ourselves in broken water."
Harold had turned a little pale as he heard Mrs. Westmacott's opinion of
his senior partner. It gave shape and substance to certain vague fears
and suspicions of his own which had been pushed back as often as they
obtruded themselves as being too monstrous and fantastic for belief.
"He is a well-known man in the City, dad," said he.
"Of course he is--of course he is. That is what I told her. They would
have found him out there if anything had been amiss with him. Bless
you, there's nothing so bitter as a family quarrel. Still it is just as
well that you have written about this affair, for we may as well have
all fair and aboveboard."
But Harold's letter to his partner was crossed by a letter from his
partner to Harold. It lay awaiting him upon the breakfast table next
morning, and it sent the heart into his mouth as he read it, and caused
him to spring up from his chair with a white face and staring eyes.
"My boy! My boy!"
"I am ruined, mother--ruined!" He stood gazing wildly in front of him,
while the sheet of paper fluttered down on the carpet. Then he dropped
back into the chair, and sank his face into his hands. His mother had
her arms round him in an instant, while the Admiral, with shaking
fingers, picked up the letter from the floor and adjusted his glasses to
"My DEAR DENVER," it ran. "By the time that this reaches you I shall be
out of the reach of yourself or of any one else who may desire an
interview. You need not search for me, for I assure you that this
letter is posted by a friend, and that you will have your trouble in
vain if you try to find me. I am sorry to leave you in such a tight
place, but one or other of us must be squeezed, and on the whole I
prefer that it should be you. You'll find nothing in the bank, and
about L13,000 unaccounted for. I'm not sure that the best thing you can
do is not to realize what you can, and imitate your senior's example.
If you act at once you may get clean away. If not, it's not only that
you must put up your shutters, but I am afraid that this missing money
could hardly be included as an ordinary debt, and of course you are
legally responsible for it just as much as I am. Take a friend's advice
and get to America. A young man with brains can always do something out
there, and you can live down this little mischance. It will be a cheap
lesson if it teaches you to take nothing upon trust in business, and to
insist upon knowing exactly what your partner is doing, however senior
he may be to you.
"Great Heavens!" groaned the Admiral, "he has absconded."
"And left me both a bankrupt and a thief."
"No, no, Harold," sobbed his mother. "All will be right. What matter
"Money, mother! It is my honor."
"The boy is right. It is his honor, and my honor, for his is mine.
This is a sore trouble, mother, when we thought our life's troubles were
all behind us, but we will bear it as we have borne others." He held
out his stringy hand, and the two old folk sat with bowed grey heads,
their fingers intertwined, strong in each other's love and sympathy.
"We were too happy," she sighed.
"But it is God's will, mother."
"Yes, John, it is God's will."
"And yet it is bitter to bear. I could have lost all, the house, money,
rank--I could have borne it. But at my age--my honor--the honor of an
admiral of the fleet."
"No honor can be lost, John, where no dishonor has been done. What have
you done? What has Harold done? There is no question of honor."
The old man shook his head, but Harold had already called together his
clear practical sense, which for an instant in the presence of this
frightful blow had deserted him.
"The mater is right, dad," said he. "It is bad enough, Heaven knows,
but we must not take too dark a view of it. After all, this insolent
letter is in itself evidence that I had nothing to do with the schemes
of the base villain who wrote it."
"They may think it prearranged."
"They could not. My whole life cries out against the thought. They
could not look me in the face and entertain it."
"No, boy, not if they have eyes in their heads," cried the Admiral,
plucking up courage at the sight of the flashing eyes and brave, defiant
face. "We have the letter, and we have your character. We'll weather
it yet between them. It's my fault from the beginning for choosing such
a land-shark for your consort. God help me, I thought I was finding
such an opening for you."
"Dear dad! How could you possibly know? As he says in his letter, it
has given me a lesson. But he was so much older and so much more
experienced, that it was hard for me to ask to examine his books. But
we must waste no time. I must go to the City."
"What will you do?"
"What an honest man should do. I will write to all our clients and
creditors, assemble them, lay the whole matter before them, read them
the letter and put myself absolutely in their hands."
"That's it, boy--yard-arm to yard-arm, and have it over."
"I must go at once." He put on his top-coat and his hat. "But I have
ten minutes yet before I can catch a train. There is one little thing
which I must do before I start."
He had caught sight through the long glass folding door of the gleam of
a white blouse and a straw hat in the tennis ground. Clara used often
to meet him there of a morning to say a few words before he hurried away
into the City. He walked out now with the quick, firm step of a man who
has taken a momentous resolution, but his face was haggard and his lips
"Clara," said he, as she came towards him with words of greeting, "I am
sorry to bring ill news to you, but things have gone wrong in the City,
and--and I think that I ought to release you from your engagement."
Clara stared at him with her great questioning dark eyes, and her face
became as pale as his.
"How can the City affect you and me, Harold?"
"It is dishonor. I cannot ask you to share it."
"Dishonor! The loss of some miserable gold and silver coins!"
"Oh, Clara, if it were only that! We could be far happier together in a
little cottage in the country than with all the riches of the City.
Poverty could not cut me to the heart, as I have been cut this morning.
Why, it is but twenty minutes since I had the letter, Clara, and it
seems to me to be some old, old thing which happened far away in my past
life, some horrid black cloud which shut out all the freshness and the
peace from it."
"But what is it, then? What do you fear worse than poverty?"
"To have debts that I cannot meet. To be hammered upon 'Change and
declared a bankrupt. To know that others have a just claim upon me and
to feel that I dare not meet their eyes. Is not that worse than
"Yes, Harold, a thousand fold worse! But all this may be got over. Is
there nothing more?"
"My partner has fled and left me responsible for heavy debts, and in
such a position that I may be required by the law to produce some at
least of this missing money. It has been confided to him to invest, and
he has embezzled it. I, as his partner, am liable for it. I have
brought misery on all whom I love--my father, my mother. But you at
least shall not be under the shadow. You are free, Clara. There is no
tie between us."
"It takes two to make such a tie, Harold," said she, smiling and putting
her hand inside his arm. "It takes two to make it, dear, and also two
to break it. Is that the way they do business in the City, sir, that a
man can always at his own sweet will tear up his engagement?"
"You hold me to it, Clara?"
"No creditor so remorseless as I, Harold. Never, never shall you get
from that bond."
"But I am ruined. My whole life is blasted."
"And so you wish to ruin me, and blast my life also. No indeed, sir, you
shall not get away so lightly. But seriously now, Harold, you would
hurt me if it were not so absurd. Do you think that a woman's love is
like this sunshade which I carry in my hand, a thing only fitted for the
sunshine, and of no use when the winds blow and the clouds gather?"
"I would not drag you down, Clara."
"Should I not be dragged down indeed if I left your side at such a time?
It is only now that I can be of use to you, help you, sustain you. You
have always been so strong, so above me. You are strong still, but then
two will be stronger. Besides, sir, you have no idea what a woman of
business I am. Papa says so, and he knows."
Harold tried to speak, but his heart was too full. He could only press
the white hand which curled round his sleeve. She walked up and down by
his side, prattling merrily, and sending little gleams of cheeriness
through the gloom which girt him in. To listen to her he might have
thought that it was Ida, and not her staid and demure sister, who was
chatting to him.
"It will soon be cleared up," she said, "and then we shall feel quite
dull. Of course all business men have these little ups and downs. Why,
I suppose of all the men you meet upon 'Change, there is not one who has
not some such story to tell. If everything was always smooth, you know,
then of course every one would turn stockbroker, and you would have to
hold your meetings in Hyde Park. How much is it that you need?"
"More than I can ever get. Not less than thirteen thousand pounds."
Clara's face fell as she heard the amount. "What do you purpose doing?"
"I shall go to the City now, and I shall ask all our creditors to meet
me to-morrow. I shall read them Pearson's letter, and put myself into
"And they, what will they do?"
"What can they do? They will serve writs for their money, and the firm
will be declared bankrupt."
"And the meeting will be to-morrow, you say. Will you take my advice?"
"What is it, Clara?"
"To ask them for a few days of delay. Who knows what new turn matters
"What turn can they take? I have no means of raising the money."
"Let us have a few days."
"Oh, we should have that in the ordinary course of business. The legal
formalities would take them some little time. But I must go, Clara, I
must not seem to shirk. My place now must be at my offices."
"Yes, dear, you are right. God bless you and guard you! I shall be
here in The Wilderness, but all day I shall be by your office table at
Throgmorton Street in spirit, and if ever you should be sad you will
hear my little whisper in your ear, and know that there is one client
whom you will never be able to get rid of--never as long as we both
FRIENDS IN NEED.
"Now, papa," said Clara that morning, wrinkling her brows and putting
her finger-tips together with the air of an experienced person of
business, "I want to have a talk to you about money matters."
"Yes, my dear." He laid down his paper, and looked a question.
"Kindly tell me again, papa, how much money I have in my very own right.
You have often told me before, but I always forget figures."
"You have two hundred and fifty pounds a year of your own, under your
"Ida has one hundred and fifty."
"Now, I think I can live very well on fifty pounds a year, papa. I am
not very extravagant, and I could make my own dresses if I had a sewing-
"Very likely, dear."
"In that case I have two hundred a year which I could do without."
"If it were necessary."
"But it is necessary. Oh, do help me, like a good, dear, kind papa, in
this matter, for my whole heart is set upon it. Harold is in sore need
of money, and through no fault of his own." With a woman's tact and
eloquence, she told the whole story. "Put yourself in my place, papa.
What is the money to me? I never think of it from year's end to year's
end. But now I know how precious it is. I could not have thought that
money could be so valuable. See what I can do with it. It may help to
save him. I must have it by to-morrow. Oh, do, do advise me as to what
I should do, and how I should get the money."
The Doctor smiled at her eagerness. "You are as anxious to get rid of
money as others are to gain it," said he. "In another case I might
think it rash, but I believe in your Harold, and I can see that he has
had villainous treatment. You will let me deal with the matter."
"It can be done best between men. Your capital, Clara, is some five
thousand pounds, but it is out on a mortgage, and you could not call it
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!"
"But we can still manage. I have as much at my bank. I will advance it
to the Denvers as coming from you, and you can repay it to me, or the
interest of it, when your money becomes due."
"Oh, that is beautiful! How sweet and kind of you!"
"But there is one obstacle: I do not think that you would ever induce
Harold to take this money."
Clara's face fell. "Don't you think so, really?"
"I am sure that he would not."
"Then what are you to do? What horrid things money matters are to
"I shall see his father. We can manage it all between us."
"Oh, do, do, papa! And you will do it soon?"
"There is no time like the present. I will go in at once." He
scribbled a cheque, put it in an envelope, put on his broad straw hat,
and strolled in through the garden to pay his morning call.
It was a singular sight which met his eyes as he entered the sitting-
room of the Admiral. A great sea chest stood open in the center, and
allround upon the carpet were little piles of jerseys, oil-skins, books,
sextant boxes, instruments, and sea-boots. The old seaman sat gravely
amidst this lumber, turning it over, and examining it intently; while
his wife, with the tears running silently down her ruddy cheeks, sat
upon the sofa, her elbows upon her knees and her chin upon her hands,
rocking herself slowly backwards and forwards.
"Hullo, Doctor," said the Admiral, holding out his hand, "there's foul
weather set in upon us, as you may have heard, but I have ridden out
many a worse squall, and, please God, we shall all three of us weather
this one also, though two of us are a little more cranky than we were."
"My dear friends, I came in to tell you how deeply we sympathize with
you all. My girl has only just told me about it."
"It has come so suddenly upon us, Doctor," sobbed Mrs. Hay Denver. "I
thought that I had John to myself for the rest of our lives--Heaven
knows that we have not seen very much of each other--but now he talks of
going to sea again.
"Aye, aye, Walker, that's the only way out of it. When I first heard of
it I was thrown up in the wind with all aback. I give you my word that
I lost my bearings more completely than ever since I strapped a middy's
dirk to my belt. You see, friend, I know something of shipwreck or
battle or whatever may come upon the waters, but the shoals in the City
of London on which my poor boy has struck are clean beyond me. Pearson
had been my pilot there, and now I know him to be a rogue. But I've
taken my bearings now, and I see my course right before me."
"What then, Admiral?"
"Oh, I have one or two little plans. I'll have some news for the boy.
Why, hang it, Walker man, I may be a bit stiff in the joints, but you'll
be my witness that I can do my twelve miles under the three hours. What
then? My eyes are as good as ever except just for the newspaper. My
head is clear. I'm three-and-sixty, but I'm as good a man as ever I
was--too good a man to lie up for another ten years. I'd be the better
for a smack of the salt water again, and a whiff of the breeze. Tut,
mother, it's not a four years' cruise this time. I'll be back every
month or two. It's no more than if I went for a visit in the country."
He was talking boisterously, and heaping his sea-boots and sextants back
into his chest.
"And you really think, my dear friend, of hoisting your pennant again?"
"My pennant, Walker? No, no. Her Majesty, God bless her, has too many
young men to need an old hulk like me. I should be plain Mr. Hay Denver,
of the merchant service. I daresay that I might find some owner who
would give me a chance as second or third officer. It will be strange
to me to feel the rails of the bridge under my fingers once more."
"Tut! tut! this will never do, this will never do, Admiral!" The Doctor
sat down by Mrs. Hay Denver and patted her hand in token of friendly
sympathy. "We must wait until your son has had it out with all these
people, and then we shall know what damage is done, and how best to set
it right. It will be time enough then to begin to muster our resources
to meet it."
"Our resources!" The Admiral laughed. "There's the pension. I'm
afraid, Walker, that our resources won't need much mustering."
"Oh, come, there are some which you may not have thought of. For
example, Admiral, I had always intended that my girl should have five
thousand from me when she married. Of course your boy's trouble is her
trouble, and the money cannot be spent better than in helping to set it
right. She has a little of her own which she wished to contribute, but
I thought it best to work it this way. Will you take the cheque, Mrs.
Denver, and I think it would be best if you said nothing to Harold about
it, and just used it as the occasion served?"
"God bless you, Walker, you are a true friend. I won't forget this,
Walker." The Admiral sat down on his sea chest and mopped his brow with
his red handkerchief.
"What is it to me whether you have it now or then? It may be more useful
now. There's only one stipulation. If things should come to the worst,
and if the business should prove so bad that nothing can set it right,
then hold back this cheque, for there is no use in pouring water into a
broken basin, and if the lad should fall, he will want something to pick
himself up again with."
"He shall not fall, Walker, and you shall not have occasion to be
ashamed of the family into which your daughter is about to marry. I
have my own plan. But we shall hold your money, my friend, and it will
strengthen us to feel that it is there."
"Well, that is all right," said Doctor Walker, rising. "And if a little
more should be needed, we must not let him go wrong for the want of a
thousand or two. And now, Admiral, I'm off for my morning walk. Won't
you come too?"
"No, I am going into town."
"Well, good-bye. I hope to have better news, and that all will come
right. Good-bye, Mrs. Denver. I feel as if the boy were my own, and I
shall not be easy until all is right with him."
IN STRANGE WATERS.
When Doctor Walker had departed, the Admiral packed all his possessions
back into his sea chest with the exception of one little brass-bound
desk. This he unlocked, and took from it a dozen or so blue sheets of
paper all mottled over with stamps and seals, with very large V. R.'s
printed upon the heads of them. He tied these carefully into a small
bundle, and placing them in the inner pocket of his coat, he seized his
stick and hat.
"Oh, John, don't do this rash thing," cried Mrs. Denver, laying her
hands upon his sleeve. "I have seen so little of you, John. Only three
years since you left the service. Don't leave me again. I know it is
weak of me, but I cannot bear it."
"There's my own brave lass," said he, smoothing down the grey-shot hair.
"We've lived in honor together, mother, and please God in honor we'll
die. No matter how debts are made, they have got to be met, and what
the boy owes we owe. He has not the money, and how is he to find it?
He can't find it. What then? It becomes my business, and there's only
one way for it."
"But it may not be so very bad, John. Had we not best wait until after
he sees these people to-morrow?"
"They may give him little time, lass. But I'll have a care that I don't
go so far that I can't put back again. Now, mother, there's no use
holding me. It's got to be done, and there's no sense in shirking it."
He detached her fingers from his sleeve, pushed her gently back into an
arm-chair, and hurried from the house.
In less than half an hour the Admiral was whirled into Victoria Station
and found himself amid a dense bustling throng, who jostled and pushed
in the crowded terminus. His errand, which had seemed feasible enough
in his own room, began now to present difficulties in the carrying out,
and he puzzled over how he should take the first steps. Amid the stream
of business men, each hurrying on his definite way, the old seaman in
his grey tweed suit and black soft hat strode slowly along, his head
sunk and his brow wrinkled in perplexity. Suddenly an idea occurred to
him. He walked back to the railway stall and bought a daily paper.
This he turned and turned until a certain column met his eye, when he
smoothed it out, and carrying it over to a seat, proceeded to read it at
And, indeed, as a man read that column, it seemed strange to him that
there should still remain any one in this world of ours who should be in
straits for want of money. Here were whole lines of gentlemen who were
burdened with a surplus in their incomes, and who were loudly calling to
the poor and needy to come and take it off their hands. Here was the
guileless person who was not a professional moneylender, but who would
be glad to correspond, etc. Here too was the accommodating individual
who advanced sums from ten to ten thousand pounds without expense,
security, or delay. "The money actually paid over within a few hours,"
ran this fascinating advertisement, conjuring up a vision of swift
messengers rushing with bags of gold to the aid of the poor struggler.
A third gentleman did all business by personal application, advanced
money on anything or nothing; the lightest and airiest promise was
enough to content him according to his circular, and finally he never
asked for more than five per cent. This struck the Admiral as far the
most promising, and his wrinkles relaxed, and his frown softened away as
he gazed at it. He folded up the paper rose from the seat, and found
himself face to face with Charles Westmacott.
"Hullo, Westmacott!" Charles had always been a favorite of the seaman's.
"What are you doing here?"
"Oh, I have been doing a little business for my aunt. But I have never
seen you in London before."
"I hate the place. It smothers me. There's not a breath of clean air
on this side of Greenwich. But maybe you know your way about pretty
well in the City?"
"Well, I know something about it. You see I've never lived very far
from it, and I do a good deal of my aunt's business."
"Maybe you know Bread Street?"
"It is out of Cheapside."
"Well then, how do you steer for it from here? You make me out a course
and I'll keep to it."
"Why, Admiral, I have nothing to do. I'll take you there with
"Will you, though? Well, I'd take it very kindly if you would. I have
business there. Smith and Hanbury, financial agents, Bread Street."
The pair made their way to the river-side, and so down the Thames to St.
Paul's landing--a mode of travel which was much more to the Admiral's
taste than 'bus or cab. On the way, he told his companion his mission
and the causes which had led to it. Charles Westmacott knew little
enough of City life and the ways of business, but at least he had more
experience in both than the Admiral, and he made up his mind not to
leave him until the matter was settled.
"These are the people," said the Admiral, twisting round his paper, and
pointing to the advertisement which had seemed to him the most
promising. "It sounds honest and above-board, does it not? The
personal interview looks as if there were no trickery, and then no one
could object to five per cent."
"No, it seems fair enough."
"It is not pleasant to have to go hat in hand borrowing money, but there
are times, as you may find before you are my age, Westmacott, when a man
must stow away his pride. But here's their number, and their plate is
on the corner of the door."
A narrow entrance was flanked on either side by a row of brasses,
ranging upwards from the shipbrokers and the solicitors who occupied the
ground floors, through a long succession of West Indian agents,
architects, surveyors, and brokers, to the firm of which they were in
quest. A winding stone stair, well carpeted and railed at first but
growing shabbier with every landing, brought them past innumerable doors
until, at last, just under the ground-glass roofing, the names of Smith
and Hanbury were to be seen painted in large white letters across a
panel, with a laconic invitation to push beneath it. Following out the
suggestion, the Admiral and his companion found themselves in a dingy
apartment, ill lit from a couple of glazed windows. An ink-stained
table, littered with pens, papers, and almanacs, an American cloth sofa,
three chairs of varying patterns, and a much-worn carpet, constituted
all the furniture, save only a very large and obtrusive porcelain
spittoon, and a gaudily framed and very somber picture which hung above
the fireplace. Sitting in front of this picture, and staring gloomily at
it, as being the only thing which he could stare at, was a small sallow-
faced boy with a large head, who in the intervals of his art studies
munched sedately at an apple.
"Is Mr. Smith or Mr. Hanbury in?" asked the Admiral.
"There ain't no such people," said the small boy.
"But you have the names on the door."
"Ah, that is the name of the firm, you see. It's only a name. It's Mr.
Reuben Metaxa that you wants."
"Well then, is he in?"
"No, he's not."
"When will he be back?"
"Can't tell, I'm sure. He's gone to lunch. Sometimes he takes one hour,
and sometimes two. It'll be two to-day, I 'spect, for he said he was
hungry afore he went."
"Then I suppose that we had better call again," said the Admiral.
"Not a bit," cried Charles. "I know how to manage these little imps.
See here, you young varmint, here's a shilling for you. Run off and
fetch your master. If you don't bring him here in five minutes I'll
clump you on the side of the head when you get back. Shoo! Scat!" He
charged at the youth, who bolted from the room and clattered madly down-
"He'll fetch him," said Charles. "Let us make ourselves at home. This
sofa does not feel over and above safe. It was not meant for fifteen-
stone men. But this doesn't look quite the sort of place where one would
expect to pick up money."
"Just what I was thinking," said the Admiral, looking ruefully about
"Ah, well! I have heard that the best furnished offices generally
belong to the poorest firms. Let us hope it's the opposite here. They
can't spend much on the management anyhow. That pumpkin-headed boy was
the staff, I suppose. Ha, by Jove, that's his voice, and he's got our
man, I think!"
As he spoke the youth appeared in the doorway with a small, brown,
dried-up little chip of a man at his heels. He was clean-shaven and
blue-chinned, with bristling black hair, and keen brown eyes which shone
out very brightly from between pouched under-lids and drooping upper
ones. He advanced, glancing keenly from one to the other of his
visitors, and slowly rubbing together his thin, blue-veined hands. The
small boy closed the door behind him, and discreetly vanished.
"I am Mr. Reuben Metaxa," said the moneylender. "Was it about an
advance you wished to see me?"
"For you, I presume?" turning to Charles Westmacott.
"No, for this gentleman."
The moneylender looked surprised. "How much did you desire?"
"I thought of five thousand pounds," said the Admiral.
"And on what security?"
"I am a retired admiral of the British navy. You will find my name in
the Navy List. There is my card. I have here my pension papers. I get
L850 a year. I thought that perhaps if you were to hold these papers it
would be security enough that I should pay you. You could draw my
pension, and repay yourselves at the rate, say, of L500 a year, taking
your five per cent interest as well."
"Five per cent per annum."
Mr. Metaxa laughed. "Per annum!" he said. "Five per cent a month."
"A month! That would be sixty per cent a year."
"But that is monstrous."
"I don't ask gentlemen to come to me. They come of their own free will.
Those are my terms, and they can take it or leave it."
"Then I shall leave it." The Admiral rose angrily from his chair.
"But one moment, sir. Just sit down and we shall chat the matter over.
Yours is a rather unusual case and we may find some other way of doing
what you wish. Of course the security which you offer is no security at
all, and no sane man would advance five thousand pennies on it."
"No security? Why not, sir?"
"You might die to-morrow. You are not a young man. What age are you?"
Mr. Metaxa turned over a long column of figures. "Here is an actuary's
table," said he. "At your time of life the average expectancy of life
is only a few years even in a well-preserved man."
"Do you mean to insinuate that I am not a well-preserved man?"
"Well, Admiral, it is a trying life at sea. Sailors in their younger
days are gay dogs, and take it out of themselves. Then when they grow
older thy are still hard at it, and have no chance of rest or peace. I
do not think a sailor's life a good one."
"I'll tell you what, sir," said the Admiral hotly. "If you have two
pairs of gloves I'll undertake to knock you out under three rounds. Or
I'll race you from here to St. Paul's, and my friend here will see fair.
I'll let you see whether I am an old man or not."
"This is beside the question," said the moneylender with a deprecatory
shrug. "The point is that if you died to-morrow where would be the
"I could insure my life, and make the policy over to you."
"Your premiums for such a sum, if any office would have you, which I
very much doubt, would come to close on five hundred a year. That would
hardly suit your book."
"Well, sir, what do you intend to propose?" asked the Admiral.
"I might, to accommodate you, work it in another way. I should send for
a medical man, and have an opinion upon your life. Then I might see
what could be done."
"That is quite fair. I have no objection to that."
"There is a very clever doctor in the street here. Proudie is his name.
John, go and fetch Doctor Proudie." The youth was dispatched upon his
errand, while Mr. Metaxa sat at his desk, trimming his nails, and
shooting out little comments upon the weather. Presently feet were
heard upon the stairs, the moneylender hurried out, there was a sound of
whispering, and he returned with a large, fat, greasy-looking man, clad
in a much worn frock-coat, and a very dilapidated top hat.
"Doctor Proudie, gentlemen," said Mr. Metaxa.
The doctor bowed, smiled, whipped off his hat, and produced his
stethoscope from its interior with the air of a conjurer upon the stage.
"Which of these gentlemen am I to examine?" he asked, blinking from one
to the other of them. "Ah, it is you! Only your waistcoat! You need
not undo your collar. Thank you! A full breath! Thank you! Ninety-
nine! Thank you! Now hold your breath for a moment. Oh, dear, dear,
what is this I hear?"
"What is it then?" asked the Admiral coolly.
"Tut! tut! This is a great pity. Have you had rheumatic fever?"
"You have had some serious illness?"
"Ah, you are an admiral. You have been abroad, tropics, malaria, ague--
"I have never had a day's illness."
"Not to your knowledge; but you have inhaled unhealthy air, and it has
left its effect. You have an organic murmur--slight but distinct."
"Is it dangerous?"
"It might at anytime become so. You should not take violent exercise."
"Oh, indeed. It would hurt me to run a half mile?"
"It would be very dangerous."
"And a mile?"
"Would be almost certainly fatal."
"Then there is nothing else the matter?"
"No. But if the heart is weak, then everything is weak, and the life is
not a sound one."
"You see, Admiral," remarked Mr. Metaxa, as the doctor secreted his
stethoscope once more in his hat, "my remarks were not entirely uncalled
for. I am sorry that the doctor's opinion is not more favorable, but
this is a matter of business, and certain obvious precautions must be
"Of course. Then the matter is at an end."
"Well, we might even now do business. I am most anxious to be of use to
you. How long do you think, doctor, that this gentleman will in all
"Well, well, it's rather a delicate question to answer," said Dr.
Proudie, with a show of embarrassment.
"Not a bit, sir. Out with it! I have faced death too often to flinch
from it now, though I saw it as near me as you are."
"Well, well, we must go by averages of course. Shall we say two years?
I should think that you have a full two years before you."
"In two years your pension would bring you in L1,600. Now I will do my
very best for you, Admiral! I will advance you L2,000, and you can make
over to me your pension for your life. It is pure speculation on my
part. If you die to-morrow I lose my money. If the doctor's prophecy
is correct I shall still be out of pocket. If you live a little longer,
then I may see my money again. It is the very best I can do for you."
"Then you wish to buy my pension?"
"Yes, for two thousand down."
"And if I live for twenty years?"
"Oh, in that case of course my speculation would be more successful.
But you have heard the doctor's opinion."
"Would you advance the money instantly?"
"You should have a thousand at once. The other thousand I should expect
you to take in furniture."
"Yes, Admiral. We shall do you a beautiful houseful at that sum. It is
the custom of my clients to take half in furniture."
The Admiral sat in dire perplexity. He had come out to get money, and
to go back without any, to be powerless to help when his boy needed
every shilling to save him from disaster, that would be very bitter to
him. On the other hand, it was so much that he surrendered, and so
little that he received. Little, and yet something. Would it not be
better than going back empty-handed? He saw the yellow backed chequebook
upon the table. The moneylender opened it and dipped his pen into
"Shall I fill it up?" said he.
"I think, Admiral," remarked Westmacott, "that we had better have a
little walk and some luncheon before we settle this matter."
"Oh, we may as well do it at once. It would be absurd to postpone it
now," Metaxa spoke with some heat, and his eyes glinted angrily from
between his narrow lids at the imperturbable Charles. The Admiral was
simple in money matters, but he had seen much of men and had learned to
read them. He saw that venomous glance, and saw too that intense
eagerness was peeping out from beneath the careless air which the agent
"You're quite right, Westmacott," said he. "We'll have a little walk
before we settle it."
"But I may not be here this afternoon."
"Then we must choose another day."
"But why not settle it now?"
"Because I prefer not," said the Admiral shortly.
"Very well. But remember that my offer is only for to-day. It is off
unless you take it at once."
"Let it be off, then.
"There's my fee," cried the doctor.
The Admiral threw a pound and a shilling upon the table. "Come,
Westmacott," said he, and they walked together from the room.
"I don't like it," said Charles, when they found themselves in the
street once more; "I don't profess to be a very sharp chap, but this is
a trifle too thin. What did he want to go out and speak to the doctor
for? And how very convenient this tale of a weak heart was! I believe
they are a couple of rogues, and in league with each other."
"A shark and a pilot fish," said the Admiral.
"I'll tell you what I propose, sir. There's a lawyer named McAdam who
does my aunt's business. He is a very honest fellow, and lives at the
other side of Poultry. We'll go over to him together and have his
opinion about the whole matter."
"How far is it to his place?"
"Oh, a mile at least. We can have a cab."
"A mile? Then we shall see if there is any truth in what that swab of a
doctor said. Come, my boy, and clap on all sail, and see who can stay
Then the sober denizens of the heart of business London saw a singular
sight as they returned from their luncheons. Down the roadway, dodging
among cabs and carts, ran a weather-stained elderly man, with wide
flapping black hat, and homely suit of tweeds. With elbows braced back,
hands clenched near his armpits, and chest protruded, he scudded along,
while close at his heels lumbered a large-limbed, heavy, yellow
mustached young man, who seemed to feel the exercise a good deal more
than his senior. On they dashed, helter-skelter, until they pulled up
panting at the office where the lawyer of the Westmacotts was to be
"There now!" cried the Admiral in triumph. "What d'ye think of that?
Nothing wrong in the engine-room, eh?"
"You seem fit enough, sir.
"Blessed if I believe the swab was a certificated doctor at all. He was
flying false colors, or I am mistaken."
"They keep the directories and registers in this eating-house," said
Westmacott. "We'll go and look him out."
They did so, but the medical rolls contained no such name as that of Dr.
Proudie, of Bread Street.
"Pretty villainy this!" cried the Admiral, thumping his chest. "A dummy
doctor and a vamped up disease. Well, we've tried the rogues,
Westmacott! Let us see what we can do with your honest man."
Mr. McAdam, of the firm of McAdam and Squire, was a highly polished man
who dwelt behind a highly polished table in the neatest and snuggest of
offices. He was white-haired and amiable, with a deep-lined aquiline
face, was addicted to low bows, and indeed, always seemed to carry
himself at half-cock, as though just descending into one, or just
recovering himself. He wore a high-buckled stock, took snuff, and
adorned his conversation with little scraps from the classics.
"My dear Sir," said he, when he had listened to their story, "any friend
of Mrs. Westmacott's is a friend of mine. Try a pinch. I wonder that
you should have gone to this man Metaxa. His advertisement is enough to
condemn him. Habet foenum in cornu. They are all rogues."
"The doctor was a rogue too. I didn't like the look of him at the
"Arcades ambo. But now we must see what we can do for you. Of course
what Metaxa said was perfectly right. The pension is in itself no
security at all, unless it were accompanied by a life assurance which
would be an income in itself. It is no good whatever."
His clients' faces fell.
"But there is the second alternative. You might sell the pension right
out. Speculative investors occasionally deal in such things. I have
one client, a sporting man, who would be very likely to take it up if we
could agree upon terms. Of course, I must follow Metaxa's example by
sending for a doctor."
For the second time was the Admiral punched and tapped and listened to.
This time, however, there could be no question of the qualifications of
the doctor, a well-known Fellow of the College of Surgeons, and his
report was as favorable as the other's had been adverse.
"He has the heart and chest of a man of forty," said he. "I can
recommend his life as one of the best of his age that I have ever
"That's well," said Mr. McAdam, making a note of the doctor's remarks,
while the Admiral disbursed a second guinea. "Your price, I understand,
is five thousand pounds. I can communicate with Mr. Elberry, my client,
and let you know whether he cares to touch the matter. Meanwhile you can
leave your pension papers here, and I will give you a receipt for them."
"Very well. I should like the money soon."
"That is why I am retaining the papers. If I can see Mr. Elberry to-day
we may let you have a cheque to-morrow. Try another pinch. No? Well,
good-bye. I am very happy to have been of service." Mr. McAdam bowed
them out, for he was a very busy man, and they found themselves in the
street once more with lighter hearts than when they bad left it.
"Well, Westmacott, I am sure I am very much obliged to you," said the
Admiral. "You have stood by me when I was the better for a little help,
for I'm clean out of my soundings among these city sharks. But I've
something to do now which is more in my own line, and I need not trouble
you any more."
"Oh, it is no trouble. I have nothing to do. I never have anything to
do. I don't suppose I could do it if I had. I should be delighted to
come with you, sir, if I can be of any use."
"No, no, my lad. You go home again. It would be kind of you, though,
if you would look in at number one when you get back and tell my wife
that all's well with me, and that I'll be back in an hour or so."
"All right, sir. I'll tell her." Westmacott raised his hat and strode
away to the westward, while the Admiral, after a hurried lunch, bent his
steps towards the east.
It was a long walk, but the old seaman swung along at a rousing pace,
leaving street after street behind him. The great business places
dwindled down into commonplace shops and dwellings, which decreased and
became more stunted, even as the folk who filled them did, until he was
deep in the evil places of the eastern end. It was a land of huge, dark
houses and of garish gin-shops, a land, too, where life moves
irregularly and where adventures are to be gained--as the Admiral was to
learn to his cost.
He was hurrying down one of the long, narrow, stone-flagged lanes
between the double lines of crouching, disheveled women and of dirty
children who sat on the hollowed steps of the houses, and basked in the
autumn sun. At one side was a barrowman with a load of walnuts, and
beside the barrow a bedraggled woman with a black fringe and a chequered
shawl thrown over her head. She was cracking walnuts and picking them
out of the shells, throwing out a remark occasionally to a rough man in
a rabbit-skin cap, with straps under the knees of his corduroy trousers,
who stood puffing a black clay pipe with his back against the wall.
What the cause of the quarrel was, or what sharp sarcasm from the
woman's lips pricked suddenly through that thick skin may never be
known, but suddenly the man took his pipe in his left hand, leaned
forward, and deliberately struck her across the face with his right. It
was a slap rather than a blow, but the woman gave a sharp cry and
cowered up against the barrow with her hand to her cheek.
"You infernal villain!" cried the Admiral, raising his stick. "You
brute and blackguard!"
"Garn!" growled the rough, with the deep rasping intonation of a savage.
"Garn out o' this or I'll----" He took a step forward with uplifted
hand, but in an instant down came cut number three upon his wrist, and
cut number five across his thigh, and cut number one full in the center
of his rabbit-skin cap. It was not a heavy stick, but it was strong
enough to leave a good red weal wherever it fell. The rough yelled with
pain, and rushed in, hitting with both hands, and kicking with his ironshod
boots, but the Admiral had still a quick foot and a true eye, so
that he bounded backwards and sideways, still raining a shower, of blows
upon his savage antagonist. Suddenly, however, a pair of arms closed
round his neck, and glancing backwards he caught a glimpse of the black
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