Life in London
Part 2 out of 3
the time, but led you to suppose that I had been at the institution."
Mrs. Weston was indeed sorry to hear George's account of what had
passed; but Mr. Brunton felt all his old confidence in George restored
by the open, genuine statement he made.
"George," said Mr. Brunton, "I know you are old enough to manage your
affairs for yourself, without an uncle's interference, but do take from
me one word of caution. I fear you may be led unwittingly into error by
your associates. Do be on your guard--'if sinners entice thee, consent
thou not.' If you feel it right, and can conscientiously go with them
and adopt their habits, I have no right, nor should I wish to advise
you; but if you feel that you are wrong in what you do, listen to the
voice of your better self, and pause to consider. Do not turn a deaf
ear to its entreaties, but be admonished by its counsel, and rather
sacrifice friends and pleasure than that best of all enjoyments--the
satisfaction of acting a part of duty to God and yourself."
George did not argue the point with his uncle; he felt himself in the
wrong, but could not see his way clear to get right again.
"I have made so many resolves in my short life," he said, "and have
broken them so often, that I will not pledge myself to making fresh ones
My error, in this instance, has not been the fault of my companionships,
but entirely my own; and, as far as I can see, the chief blame lies in
having concealed the matter from my mother, which I did principally out
of kindness to her. But I will endeavour to take your counsel, uncle."
Weeks passed away, and with them the vivid memories of that time. George
had at length reasoned himself into the idea that a great deal of
unnecessary fuss had been made about nothing, and instead of weaning
himself from the society of Ashton, they became more than ever thrown
into each other's company. George was a constant attendant at the
institution, where he was surrounded by a large circle of intimate
acquaintances, with whom much of his time was spent. In the office he
had risen in the estimation of the clerks. Williams and Lawson, finding
that opposition was unavailing, altered their conduct towards him, and
became as civil and obliging as they had before been insulting and
disagreeable. George began to think he had belied their characters from
not having known sufficient of them; and instead of shunning them, as he
had hitherto done, sometimes took a stroll with them in the evening
after office hours, and once or twice had dined with them at the King's
Imperceptibly, George began to alter. Sooner or later, evil
communications must corrupt good manners; and from continually beholding
the lives of his companions, without possessing that one thing needful
to have kept him free from the entanglement of their devices, he became
changed into the same image, by the dangerous power of their influence
A month or two after the theatre adventure, Mrs. Weston received an
invitation to spend a week or two in the country with some relatives,
whom she had not seen for several years. Mr. Brunton persuaded her to
accept it, as the change would be beneficial; and George, knowing how
seldom his mother had an opportunity for recreation, added all his
powers of argument to induce her to go. The only obstacle presenting
itself was the management of the house during her absence. Mr. Brunton
invited George to stay with him while Mrs. Weston would be away; and she
did not like to leave her servant alone in the house with the boarders.
It was at last arranged that George should decline Mr. Brunton's
invitation, and have the oversight of the house during his mother's
The first night after her departure, George brought Hardy home with him
to spend the evening, and a pleasant, quiet time they had together.
"It will be rather dull for you, George," said Hardy, "if Mrs. Weston is
going to remain away for a few weeks. What shall you do on Sunday? You
had better come and spend the day with us."
"No, I cannot do that, because I promised I would be here, to let the
servant have an opportunity of going to church. But I mean to ask Ashton
to come and spend the day here, and you will come too; and there's
Dixon, he is a nice fellow, I'll ask him to come as well."
"What is to be the programme for the day?" said Hardy. "Of course it
will be a quiet one."
"We will all go to church or chapel in the morning, spend the afternoon
together at home, and take a stroll in the evening after the service.
Are you agreed?"
"I think we shall have a very nice day of it. Let the other chaps know
of it early, and we will meet here in good time in the morning."
Sunday came, and George's friends arrived as he expected. They were
early, and had time for a chat before starting out.
"Where shall we go this morning?" asked George. "There is a very good
minister close by at the church, and another equally good at the chapel.
My principles are unsectarian, and I do not mind where it is we go."
"Don't you think," said Dixon, "we might do ourselves more good by
taking a stroll a few miles out of town, and talking out a sermon for
"I am inclined to the belief that nature is the best preacher," Ashton
remarked. "We hear good sermons from the pulpit, it is true; but words
are poor things to teach us of the Creator, in comparison with
"I do not agree with you in your religious sentiments, Ashton, as you
know," said George. "Creation tells us nothing about our Saviour, and,
as I read the Scriptures, no man can know God, the Father and Great
Creator, but through Him."
"And yet, if I remember rightly, the Saviour said that He made the
world, and without Him was not anything made that was made--so that He
was the Creator; and when we look from nature up to nature's God we see
Him, and connecting His history with the world around us, we have in
creation, as I said before, the best sermon; aye, and what the parsons
call a 'gospel' sermon, too."
"I agree with you," said Dixon; "preaching is all very well in its way,
and I like a good sermon; but the words of man can never excel the works
"A proper sermon," replied George, "is not uttered in the words of man;
they are God's words applied and expounded. Nature may speak to the
senses, but the Scriptures alone speak to the heart; and that is the
object of preaching. But you are my visitors, and you shall decide the
"Then I say a stroll," said Ashton.
"And so do I," chimed in Dixon.
"I am for going to a place of worship," said Hardy.
"And so am I," Ashton replied; "is not all God's universe a place of
"Perhaps so," answered Hardy; "but I mean the appointed and proper
place, where those who try to keep holy the Sabbath day are accustomed
to meet--a church or chapel."
"I side with Hardy," said George. "But I am willing to meet you halfway.
If I go with you this morning, you must all promise to go with me in the
evening. But bear in mind I am making a concession, and I go for a
stroll under protest, because it is contrary to my custom."
"All right, old chap," said Ashton. "I never knew anybody's conscience
fit them so uneasily as yours does. But it always did; at school, you
were a martyr to it, and I believe the blame lies at the door of dear
old Dr. Seaward, who persisted in training us up in the way we should
go, just as if we were all designed to be parsons."
"Poor old Dr. Seaward!" said George. "If he only knew two of his old
scholars were going out for a stroll on Sunday morning to hear nature
preach, I believe his body would hardly contain his troubled spirit."
"And he would appear before us to stop us on our way--"
"Like the spirit before Balaam and his ass, seems the most appropriate
simile," said Dixon, "for, if I recollect rightly, Balaam was going
where he should not have gone, and his conscience gave him as much
trouble as Weston's does."
George did not think and say, as Balaam did, "I have sinned;" but he
felt the sting of ridicule, and determined he would allow no
conscientious scruple to bring it upon him again during that day.
"After all," he argued with himself, "what is the use of my being
conscientious, for I am so wretchedly inconsistent? I had better go all
one way, or all the other, instead of wavering between the two, and
perpetually showing my weakness."
It would have puzzled any one to have told what sermon nature preached
to that merry party, as they wandered through green fields and quiet
lanes, talking upon a hundred different subjects, and making the calm
Sabbath morn ring with the strains of their laughter.
"Your idea of creation's voice is better in theory than in practice,"
George said, when they returned home. "Can any of you tell me what the
text was which nature took to preach from, for I have no distinct
remembrance of it?"
"The text seemed to me to be this," said Dixon, "that 'to everything
there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens--a time
to weep and a time to laugh--a time to keep silence and a time to
speak;' and the application was, that we had chosen the right time for
enjoying much speaking and much laughing."
The afternoon was not spent as George had been accustomed to spend it.
Light, frivolous conversation, and still more dangerous debate upon
religious subjects, without religious feeling, occupied the time, and
George felt glad when the evening came, and they started off together to
hear a popular preacher, whose merits they had been discussing during
On their way thither they passed a large building, into which several
people were entering, and as the outside of the place was ornamented
with handbills, they paused to read them. They ran thus:--
"HALL OF SCIENCE.--A Lecture will be delivered in this Hall on
Sunday evening, at half past six, by Professor Martin, on 'The Uses
of Reason.' Young men are cordially invited to attend.
"What is truth? Search and see."
"Do you know anything of this Professor Martin?" asked Dixon. "Is he
"A friend of mine told me he had heard him, a little while ago, and was
never better pleased with any lecture," Ashton answered. "Shall we put
up here for the evening?"
"Is he a preacher, or a mere lecturer?" asked George. The question
attracted the attention of a person entering the Hall; and, turning to
George, he answered:--
"Professor Martin is one of those best of all preachers. He can interest
without sending you to sleep, and his discourses are full of sound
wisdom. He is a lover of truth, and advocates the only way to arrive at
it, which is by unfettered thought. In his lectures he puts his theory
into practice by freely expressing his unfettered thoughts. I have seats
in the front of the lecture-room; if you will favour me by accepting
them, they are at your service."
The plausible and polite manner of the stranger was effectual with
"I don't think we can do better than go in and hear what the lecturer
has to say," he said to the others. And, assent being given, they
followed the stranger, and were conducted to the proffered seats.
The audience consisted principally of men, the majority of whom were
young and of an inferior class, such as shopmen and mechanics. There was
a large platform, with chairs upon it, but no pulpit or reading-desk.
When the lecturer, accompanied by a chairman and some friends, entered,
George and his companions were surprised to hear a clapping of hands and
stamping of feet, similar to the plan adopted at public amusements.
"This does not seem much like a Sunday evening service," said George.
"We have time to leave, if you like; or shall we stay and see it out?"
"Oh! let us stay," replied the others.
No hymn was sung, no prayer was offered at the commencement, but the
lecturer, with a pocket Bible in his hands, quoted a few passages of
Scripture, as follows:--
"Come now, and let us reason together,"--Isa. i. 18; "I applied mine
heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and to know the
reason of things,"--Eccles. vii. 25; "And Paul, as his manner was, went
in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the
Scriptures,"--Acts xvii. 2; "Be ready alway to give an answer to every
man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you,"--1 Peter iii.
The object of the lecturer was to show that no intelligent being could
receive truth unless that truth commended itself to reason, because the
two were never in opposition one with the other. Conscience, he said,
was the soul's safeguard, and reason the safeguard of the heart and
intellect. It was irrational to condemn any course of conduct which
conscience approved, and it was equally irrational to believe anything
that could not be understood. The Word of God might be useful in its
way, but only as studied with unfettered thought. If that Word exalted
reason and then taught inconsistencies and absurdities, reason must
discriminate between the right and the wrong. "For example," he
continued, "if that book tells me that there are three Gods, and yet
those three are one, I reason by analogy and say, here are three
fingers; each one has its particular office; but I cannot make these
three fingers one finger, neither can I make three Gods one God."
So the lecturer continued, but he did not put his case in so many plain
words as these; every argument he clothed with doubtful words, so as to
make falsehood look like truth, and blasphemy like worship. He was an
educated and intelligent man, gifted with that dangerous power of
preaching the doctrine of devils in the guise of an angel of light, and
handling deadly sophistry with as firm a grasp as if it were the sword
of the Spirit.
At the conclusion of the lecture he announced his intention to speak
from that platform again on the following Sunday, and invited all who
were inquiring the way of truth to be present, and judge what he said,
"whether it be right, or whether it be wrong."
As George and his friends were leaving the hall, the stranger, who had
accosted them before, came up, and bowing politely said--
"Will you allow me to offer you the same seats, for next Sunday evening?
If you will say yes, I will reserve them for you; otherwise you may have
difficulty in obtaining admission, for the room will, in all
probability, be more crowded than to-night, as Professor Martin was not
announced to lecture until late in the week, and the friends who
frequent the Hall had no notice of his being here."
"I will certainly come," said Ashton. "I never heard a speaker I liked
better. What say you?" he asked, turning to the others.
"I am anxious to hear the conclusion of the argument," said George; "so
we will accept your invitation," he added to the stranger, "and thank
you for your kindness and courtesy."
It was a long conversation the friends had as they strolled along that
evening. To George every argument the lecturer had brought forward was
new; and bearing, as they did, the apparent stamp of truth, he was
utterly confounded. Although he was a good biblical scholar, as regarded
the historical and narrative parts of the Scriptures, he was but ill
informed on those more subtle points which the lecturer handled. He had
never heard the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, disputed, and had
always implicitly believed it; now, when the lecturer quoted Scripture
to prove that truth was to be analysed by reason, and reason rejected
the idea of a Trinity, he was as unable to reconcile the two as if he
had never received any religious instruction at all.
"If what he advances be true," said George, "how irrational many things
in the Christian religion are! And how singular that men like him, who
'search into the reason of things' for wisdom, and hold opinions
contrary to the orthodox notions of those whom we call Christians,
should be looked upon with suspicion and distrust."
"No," replied Ashton; "he met that idea by saying that it was not more
than singular, in the early stages of science, for people to be burnt as
witches and magicians, because they made discoveries which are now
developed and brought into daily use, than it is now for men to be
scouted as infidel and profane, because they teach opinions which only
require investigation to make them universally admitted."
An unhappy day was that Sunday for George Weston. He had violated
principle, made concessions against the dictates of conscience (how poor
a safeguard for him!) and had learnt lessons which taught him to despise
those instructions which had hitherto been as a lamp unto his feet and a
light unto his path.
"Blessed is the man that _walketh_ not in the counsel of the ungodly,
nor _standeth_ in the way of sinners, nor _sitteth_ in the seat of the
scornful." George little thought how rapidly he was passing through
those different stages on the downward road. Had he never listened to
the council of the ungodly, he would not have walked in the way of evil,
but would have avoided even its very appearance; he would not have stood
in the way of sinners, parleying with temptations, as he had done on so
many occasions; nor would he have occupied that most dangerous of all
positions, the fatal ease of sitting in the seat of the scornful.
GETTING ON IN THE WORLD.
"Mr. Compton wishes to speak with you, Weston," said Mr. Sanders, the
manager, to George one morning, during the visit of Mrs. Weston in the
"Good morning, Weston," said Mr. Compton; "I want to have a few minutes'
conversation with you: sit down. You have been in my office now more
than a twelvemonth, and I promised that you should have an increased
salary at the expiration of that time. Your services have been very
valuable to me during the past year, and I am in every way satisfied
with you. As a tangible proof of this, I beg your acceptance of this
little present," (handing him a ten-pound note,) "and during this year
on which you have entered, I shall have much pleasure in giving you a
salary of two guineas a week."
"I am exceedingly obliged to you sir," George stammered out, for he was
flabbergasted at the kindness of his employer; "I hope I may always
continue to do my duty in your office, and deserve your approbation."
"I hope so, too;" said Mr. Compton, "both for your sake and for my own.
If you continue as you have begun, there is a fair field before you, and
I will advance you as opportunity occurs. Now, apart from business, I
want one word with you. I kept you purposely last year upon a low
salary, because I have found that sometimes it is beneficial to young
men to have only a small income. With your increased salary, you will
have increased means for entering that style of life which is,
unfortunately, too universal with young men--I mean the gaieties and
dissipations of a London life are now more open to you than they were
before. But what is termed a 'fast' young man never makes a good clerk,
and I do hope you will not allow yourself to fail into habits which will
be obstacles to your future promotion."
"I will endeavour, sir, always to maintain my position in your office,"
said George; "and I feel very grateful to you for the interest you take
in my personal welfare."
George was in high spirits with his good fortune. He had not expected
more than a guinea, or at the utmost thirty shillings a week increase
for his second year, and had never dreamt of receiving so handsome a
present as £10. By that night's post he sent off a long letter to his
mother, giving her an account of the interview, and of his future
But George had different ideas about his future now, to those he
cherished a twelvemonth back. Then he thought only of himself and his
mother; how happy they would be together, and how much he would
endeavour to contribute to her enjoyment. Now he congratulated himself
that he would be upon a footing with his friends, that he could do as
they did, and that he had the means to follow up those recreations which
were becoming habitual to him. For since Mrs. Weston had been away,
George had gone step by step further on unhallowed ground. Even Ashton
said, "Weston, you are coming it pretty strong, old fellow!" and Hardy
had declared that he could not keep pace with him. Night after night, as
he had no one at home to claim his presence there, he had been to
theatres and other places of amusement. Sunday after Sunday he had
attended the lectures at the Hall of Science, and abandoning himself to
the tide which was hurrying him along, he floated down the dangerous
The principles of infidelity which had been inculcated, appealed to him
with a voice so loud as to drown the appeals from a higher source. The
one approved his conduct, the other condemned it--the one pointed to the
world as a scene of enjoyment, the other as at enmity with God. George
felt that if he would hold one he must resign the other. He had not that
moral courage, or rather he had not the deep-rooted conviction of sin,
or the earnest love and fear of God, to enable him to burst through the
entanglements of the world and the world's god, and choosing whom he
would serve: he loved darkness rather than light.
When Mrs. Weston returned, after a month's absence, she could not but
observe an alteration in George. Although he never told her of his
attendance at the lectures on Sunday, or the arguments he had had with
friends who held infidel opinions, she soon perceived that George's
feelings were undergoing a rapid and dangerous change. Those subjects on
which he was once in the habit of conversing with her, he now carefully
shunned. He was affectionate and kind to his mother still, and loved her
with all his old intense love, but that ingenuous confidence which he
had always reposed in her was gone. Things that were dear to him now he
could not discuss with her; instead of telling her how he spent his
time, and what were his amusements, he avoided any mention of them. The
deception which he first practised on that night when he yielded to
Ashton's persuasion, was now a system. He reasoned the matter over with
himself: there could be no good in telling her; their opinions were
different; he would take his course, independently of hers.
Uncle Brunton noticed the change; for to those who saw him seldom the
change was sudden. But to George, every day there seemed an epoch, and
he was unconscious of the rapidity with which old associations and ideas
cherished from childhood were thrown down and trampled upon by the new
feelings which had taken possession of him.
"George," said Mr. Brunton to him one day, "I am growing uneasy about
you. I feel that I am not the same to you, nor you to me, we used to be,
only a few months back. I cannot tell the reason--cannot tell when the
difference commenced or how--but for some months past--ever since your
mother's visit to the country--there has been a want of that old
confidential, affectionate intercourse between us there used to be."
"I was younger then," said George, "and the freshness of youthful
feeling and attachment may die away as we advance in years; but I am not
aware that I have ever given you occasion to say I do not love you
sincerely still, uncle. Your kindness to me never can, and never will be
"Well, George, I cannot explain what I mean. I have a kind of feeling
about you that something is wrong which I cannot put into words. I fancy
that if I offer you a word of counsel, you do not receive it as you once
did; if I talk seriously with you, it does not make the same impression,
or touch the spring of the same feelings. You do not talk to me with the
old frankness and candour which made my heart leap, when I thanked God I
had got some one in the world to love, and who loved me. But perhaps I
wrong you, and expect too much from you."
"No, not that, uncle. Frankness, candour, and love are due to you, and
while I have them they shall always be yours; and to prove it, I will
tell what I have never told any one before, what I have hardly spoken to
my own heart. I think of the George Weston you brought away from Dr.
Seaward's, who stood with you beside a father's deathbed, and who,
eighteen months ago, went into Mr. Compton's office; then I think of
George Weston of to-day, and I feel amazed at the change a few years has
made. I have asked myself a hundred times, am I really the same? Oh,
uncle! you do not know what I would give to be that boy again--to live
once more in that old world of sunshine."
Tears started to George's eyes as he spoke, and Mr. Brunton could only
squeeze his hand, and say, "God bless you, my boy! God bless you!"
A few days later Mr. Brunton and Mrs. Weston were one whole evening
together talking about George. Both hearts were heavy, but Mr. Brunton's
was the lighter of the two.
"I tell you what I think will be the very best thing for you and for
George," he said, "It is now the early spring, and the country is
beginning to look fresh and green. Leave this house and take one in the
country. I think George can easily be made to accede to this
proposition--he was always fond of country life and recreations. He can
have a season ticket on the railway, and come down every night. This
will wean him from his associates, and induce him to keep earlier hours,
and give us, too, a better opportunity to lure him back to his old
habits of life."
The arrangements were made. Mrs. Weston, with that loving self-denial
which only a mother can exercise, gave up the house, and her circle of
friends, and took up her residence in the country, about twenty miles
from London. George was pleased with the change, and acquiesced in all
the plans which were made.
About this time, an event happened of considerable importance in the
family history. An old relative of Mrs. Weston's, from whom she had
monetary expectations, died; and upon examination of the will, it was
found that a legacy had been left her of about three thousand pounds,
which was safely invested, and would bring to her an income of nearly a
hundred and fifty pounds a year.
This was a cause of fear and rejoicing to Mrs. Weston--fear, lest it
should be a snare to George, as he would now have the whole of his
salary at his own disposal, there being no longer any necessity for her
to share it; rejoicing, that she should be able to give him that start
in life which had always been the desire and ambition of Mr. Weston.
A few months' trial of Mr. Brunton's plan for weaning George from the
allurements of society in London, by taking a house in the country,
proved it to be a failure. For the first month, George went down almost
immediately after leaving business, but it was only for the first month.
Gradually it became later and later, until the last train was generally
the one by which he travelled. Then it sometimes occurred that he lost
the last train, and was obliged to stay at an hotel in town for the
night. At length, this occurred so frequently, that sometimes for three
nights out of the week he never went home at all. On one of these
occasions, a party of gentlemen in the commercial room of the hotel
where he was staying proposed a game of cards, and asked George to make
one at a rubber of whist. George had often played with his own friends,
but never before with total strangers. However, without any hesitation,
he accepted the invitation, and yielded to the proposition that they
should play sixpenny points. The game proceeded, rubber after rubber was
lost and won, and when George rose from the card-table at a late hour he
was loser to the amount of thirty shillings.
"There is no playing against good cards," said George; "and the run of
luck has been in your favour to-night; but I will challenge you to
another game to-morrow evening, if you will be here?"
The next night George played again, and won back a pound of the money
he had lost on the preceding evening. This was encouraging. "One more
trial," said George to himself, "and nobody will catch me card-playing
for money again with strangers." But that one more trial was the worst
of all. George lost three pounds! He could ill afford it; as it was he
was living at the very extent of his income, and three pounds was a
large sum. He was obliged to give an I O U for the amount, and in the
meantime borrow the sum from one of his friends.
"Hardy, have you got three pounds to lend me?" he asked, next morning;
"you shall have it again to-morrow."
"I have not got that sum with me," said Hardy, "but I can get it for
you. Is it pressing?"
"Yes; I had a hand at cards last night, and lost."
"What! with Ashton?"
"No; with some strangers at the hotel where I have hung out for the last
night or two."
"You shall have that sum early this evening, George; and twice that
amount, if you will make me one promise. I ask it as an old friend, who
has a right to beg a favour. Give up card-playing, don't try to win back
what you have lost; no good can possibly come of it"
"Is Saul among the prophets?" asked George, with something like a
"No, George Weston: but a looker-on at chess sees more of the game than
the player; and I have been looking at your last few moves in the game
of life, without taking part with you, and I see you will be checkmated
soon, if you do not alter your tactics. I can't blame you, nor do I wish
to, if I could; but when I first heard you had taken to card playing, I
did feel myself among the prophets then, and prophesied no good would
come of it."
"When you first heard of my card playing?" asked George. "When did you
hear of it?"
"A few days since. My father came up from the country by a late train
one night, and stayed at the hotel you patronize. There he saw you, and
told me about it."
"Confound it! a fellow can't do a thing, even in this great city,
without somebody ferretting it out. But I don't mean to play again. I
have made a fool of myself too many times already; and it serves me
right that I have lost money."
That evening, while George was making his way to the hotel, a lady was
journeying towards the railway station. An hour later, she was at the
house of Mrs. Weston, and was shown into the drawing-room.
"I must apologise," said Mrs. Hardy, for it was she, "in calling upon
you at this hour: but I am very anxious to have some conversation with
"It is strange," said Mrs. Weston, "that as our sons have been intimate
so long, we should have continued strangers; but I am very delighted to
see you, Mrs. Hardy, for I have heard much of you."
"It is with regard to the intercourse between your son and mine that I
have called. I do not wish to alarm you; but I feel it right that you
should be in possession of information I have of your son."
Mrs. Hardy then narrated the circumstances connected with her husband's
visit to the hotel on the evening when he found George there card
"This evening," she continued, "my son returned home earlier than usual,
and went to his drawer, where I saw him take out some money--two or
three sovereigns. I asked him what he was going to do with it, and after
some difficulty I ascertained he intended lending it to your son. It
occurred to me at once that George Weston was in trouble with those men;
and I thought it only right that you should know."
It was kind of Mrs. Hardy to shew this interest, and Mrs. Weston
esteemed her for it. But had they stood beside the table at which George
was seated while they were talking, or could they have seen the flush of
excitement as he threw down the cards, exclaiming, "By Jove! I've lost
again!" and have watched the flashing eye and heaving breast, they would
have felt, even more keenly than they did, how futile were words or
sympathies to check the evil.
A TEST OF FRIENDSHIP.
We pass over two years of George Weston's life--years full of strange
experiences--and look into the office in Falcon-court one morning in the
summer of 18--.
Mr. Compton is away on the Continent for a holiday tour, Mr. Sanders is
still the manager, and nearly all the same old faces are in the office.
George, who is now verging on the legal age of manhood, has risen to a
good position in the establishment, and is regarded as second only to
Mr. Sanders. He is wonderfully altered from when we saw him first in
that office. He is still handsome; but the old sparkling lustre of his
eye has gone, and no trace of boyishness is left.
Hardy is still there. Two years have not made so much difference in him
as George. He looks older than he really is; but there is no mistaking
him for the quiet, gentlemanly Charles Hardy of former days. Lawson and
Williams are there, coarse and bloated young men, whose faces tell the
history of their lives. Hardy rarely exchanges a word with them. George
does more frequently, but not with the air of superiority he once did.
A close observer would have noticed in George that morning a careworn
anxious look; would have heard an occasional sigh, and have seen him at
one time turning pale, and again flushing with a crimson red.
"You are not well," said Hardy. "You have not done a stroke of work all
this morning; quite an unusual thing for you, George."
"I am not well," he replied; "but it is nothing of importance. I shall
get Mr. Sanders to let me off for an hour's stroll when he comes in from
Mr. Sanders came in from the Bank, but he was later than usual. His
round generally occupied an hour; this morning he had been gone between
two and three. George watched him anxiously as he took off his hat,
rubbed his nose violently with his pocket handkerchief, and stood gazing
into the fire, ejaculating every now and then, as was his custom if
anything extraordinary or disagreeable had happened, "Ah! umph!"
"The old boy has found out that the wind has veered to the northeast,
or has stepped upon some orange peel," whispered Lawson to Williams, who
saw that something had gone wrong with the manager.
"Your proposed stroll will be knocked on the head," said Hardy to
George. "Mr. Sanders is evidently in an ill humour."
"I shall not trouble him about it," said George; "shirking work always
worries him, and he seems to be worried enough as it is."
When Mr. Sanders had gazed in the fire for half an hour, and had walked
once or twice up and down the office, as his manner was on such
occasions, he turned to George and said, "I want to speak with you in
the next room."
"I wish you a benefit, Weston," said Williams as he passed. "Recommend
him a day or two in the country, for the good of his health and our
"Mr. Weston," said the manager, when George had shut the door and seated
himself, "I am in great difficulties. This event has happened at a most
unfortunate time, Mr. Compton is away, and I don't know how to act for
the best. Will you give me your assistance in the matter?"
"Cannot you make the accounts right, sir?" asked George. "I thought you
had satisfactorily arranged them last night."
"No, Weston; I have been through them over and over again, but I cannot
get any nearer to a balance. I have been round to the Bank this morning
again, and have seen Mr. Smith about it, but he cannot assist me.
However, inquiries will be made this afternoon, and all our accounts
carefully checked and examined; in the meantime, I wish you would have
out the books and go through them for me. Hardy can assist you, if you
"I will do all I can for you, to make this matter right," said George;
"but I can do it better alone. If you will give Hardy the job I was
about, I will check the books here by myself."
All that afternoon George sat alone in Mr. Compton's room surrounded
with books and papers. But he did not examine them. Resting his head
upon his hands, he looked upon them and sighed. Now the perspiration
stood in big drops upon his forehead and his hands trembled. Then he
would walk up and down the room, halting to take deep draughts of water
from a bottle on the table.
Mr. Sanders occasionally looked in to ask how he was going on, and if he
had discovered the error.
"No," said George; "the accounts seem right; but I cannot make them
agree with the cash-book. There is still a hundred pounds short; but I
will go through them again if you like."
"Perhaps you had better. I expect Mr. Smith here by six o'clock; will
you remain with me and see him? He may assist us."
"Certainly," said George; "I feel as anxious as you do about the matter,
for all the bills and cheques have passed through my hands as well as
yours; and I shall not rest easy until the missing amount is
Mr. Smith arrived just as the clerks were leaving the office, and Mr.
Sanders and George were alone with him.
"Well," said Mr. Smith, "we have gone carefully over every item to-day,
and at last the defalcation is seen. This cheque," he continued,
producing the document, "is forged. The signature is unquestionably Mr.
Compton's, but the rest of the writing is counterfeit."
"A forged cheque!" exclaimed Mr. Sanders, aghast; "impossible!"
"There must be some mistake here," said George, "the accounts in our
books, if I recollect rightly, correspond with the cheques; but--"
"It is a clumsily arranged affair, although the forgery is a
masterpiece of penmanship," said Mr. Smith; "and if it passes first
through your office, and is entered in your books with the false amount,
it is clear that some one in your employ has committed the offence. I
leave the matter now with you for the present," he added, to Mr.
Sanders; "of course you will put the case at once into the proper medium
and find out the offender."
When Mr. Smith had gone, George sat down again in the seat he had
occupied during that long afternoon, pale and exhausted.
"This is a lamentable business," said Mr. Sanders, pacing the room, "a
lamentable business, indeed! I confess I am completely baffled. Mr.
Weston, I look to you for assistance. Can you form any idea how this
matter has come about? Have you suspicion of any of the clerks?"
"I am equally at a loss with you how to manage in this case. I have no
reason to doubt the integrity of any one in this office. Except one,"
said George, as if a sudden idea had come to his mind. "Yes, I have a
suspicion of one; but I cannot tell even you who it is, until I have
made inquiries sufficient to warrant the suspicion. Can you let the
affair rest over to-night, and in the meantime I will do what I can, and
confer with you in the morning."
"That seems the only plan," answered Mr. Sanders. "If I can render any
assistance in making these inquiries, I will."
"No, thank you, you will have trouble enough in the matter as it is; and
I can do what I have to do better alone."
Half an hour after this conversation, a cab was travelling at the utmost
speed along the Clapham road. It stopped at the house of Harry Ashton,
and George alighted.
"Ashton," said he, "I want to speak to you for two minutes. I have got
into trouble; don't ask me how, or in what way. Unless I can borrow a
hundred pounds to-night, I am ruined. Can you get it for me?"
"My dear George, sit down and calm yourself, and we will talk the matter
over," said Ashton. "It strikes me you are up to some joke, or you would
never suppose that I, an assistant surveyor with a present limited
income, could fork out a hundred pounds down as a hammer.
"I am not joking. I dare not explain more. I require your confidence for
what I have already said; but I know you have money, and moneyed
friends. Can you get it for me anyhow, from anywhere?"
"No, I cannot, and that's plump," answered Ashton; "it is the end of the
quarter, and I have not more than ten pounds in my pocket You are
welcome to that, if it is any good; but I cannot go into the country to
my father's to-night, that is very certain; and if I could, he would not
advance so much without knowing exactly what it was for; nor should I
care to lend that sum, even to you, George, unless I knew what you were
going to do with it, and when I should see it back. If it is so
pressing, you might have my ten, ten more from Dixon, and I could get a
pound or two from other sources."
"No, that would take too long, and I have but an hour or two to make the
arrangements." As he spoke, George fell into a chair, and buried his
face in his hands.
"What, George, my old pippin, what is the matter?" said Ashton, going to
him. "You have lost at cards again, I suppose: but take heart, man,
never get out of pluck for such a thing as that. But you are ill, I know
you are, you are as white as a sheet. Here, take tins glass of brandy."
"I only feel faint." said George, rising. "I shall be all right when I
get out into the open air. Good-bye, Ashton, my old school-chum, we
shall never meet again after to-night; but I shan't forget our happy
days together--I mean the days at Dr. Seaward's--they were the happy
ones, after all."
"George, you are ill, and your brain is touched. Not meet again after
to-night? Nonsense, we don't part so easily, if that is the case;" and
Ashton locked the door, and put the key in his pocket.
"Unfasten that door!" almost shouted George; "you do not know my
strength at this moment, and I might do you some harm; but I should not
like to part with my oldest friend like that. Open the door!"
"Not a bit of it," answered Ashton. "Tell me more particulars, and I
will try what I can do in getting the money."
"No; you have told me you cannot. I have one more chance elsewhere; let
me try that. Ashton, do not be a fool; open that door, and let me go."
"Then I will go with you," answered Ashton; and he unlocked the door.
But while he turned to get his hat, George rushed from the room, opened
the hall-door, and, closing it again upon Ashton, jumped into the cab
awaiting him, and giving the word, "Islington, quick!" drove off,
leaving his friend in the road, running after the vehicle, and calling
upon the driver to stop.
"Don't mind him," George called to the man; "an extra five shillings for
Ashton was at his wit's end. He ran on, till he could run no longer.
Just then, an empty cab passing, he hailed the driver.
"Drive after that cab in front," said Ashton, as he got in; "follow it
wherever it goes. Sharp's the word, man!"
It was a long time before the traffic in the roads allowed Ashton's cab
to overtake the one ahead; but both came up nearly abreast in the
Waterloo road, and then the one he was pursuing turned abruptly towards
the railway station.
"Ah! George, my old fellow," said Ashton to himself, "you little think I
have been so closely on your scent; but I knew I had not seen the last
Both cabs drew up at the station steps together. Ashton jumped out, and
ran to meet George; but blank was his astonishment to see an oldish lady
and her attendant alight from the vehicle, which he had imagined
contained his friend!
We will leave Ashton at the Waterloo station in a mortified and
disconsolate state, quarrelling with the driver for having pursued the
wrong cab, and follow George Weston to Islington.
"Hardy," he said, as soon as he found himself alone with his friend,
"are you willing to help me, to save me, perhaps, from ruin? I want to
raise a hundred pounds to-night. I must have it. Do you think you can get
it for me?"
"Me get a hundred pounds? Why, George, my friend, you know the thing is
a clear impossibility. I could not get it, if it were to save my own
life. But why is it so urgent?" he asked.
"You will know in a day or two. I have now one resource left, and only
one. Will you go to-night to my uncle, Mr. Brunton. Tell him that I want
to save a friend from ruin, and want to borrow a hundred and fifty
pounds, which shall be faithfully repaid. Do not give him to understand
I want it for myself, but that it is for a friend dear to him and to me.
Use every argument you can, and above everything persuade him not to
make any inquiries about it at present. Say I shall have to take part of
it into the country to-morrow morning, and I will see him or write to him
in the evening. Say anything you like, so that you can get the money
for me, and prevent him coming to the office to-morrow morning."
"George, I am afraid you have got into some bad business again," said
Hardy. "You know I am willing to help you; but I cannot do so, if it is
to encourage you in getting yourself into still greater trouble."
"This is the last time, Hardy, I shall ever ask a favour of you. Do
assist me; you cannot guess the consequences if you do not."
"Then tell me, George, what it is that is upsetting you. I never saw you
look so wild and excited before. You can confide in me, old fellow; we
have always kept each other's counsel."
"To-morrow you shall know all. Now, do start off at once, and see what
you can do. If you cannot bring all the money, bring what you can. Put
the case urgently to my uncle; he cannot refuse me. I will be here again
in about three hours' time; it will not take you longer than that."
Hardy took a cab, and drove off at once. George remained in the street;
he paced up and down, and took no rest--he was far too excited and
nervous for that. He had got a dangerous game to play, and his plans
were vague and shadowy. He had promised Mr. Sanders he would make
inquiries about the person he suspected had forged the cheque, and let
him know in the morning. His plan was to try and raise the money, pay it
to Mr. Sanders on account of the transgressor, and induce him to take no
further steps until Mr. Compton returned home. On no other ground would
he refund the money on behalf of the forger; and unless Mr. Sanders
would agree to these terms, George was determined the matter might take
its own way, and be placed in the hands of the magistrates or police.
The hours seemed like days to George while Hardy was on his mission. At
length he returned.
"What success?" asked George running to meet him as soon as he came in
"Your uncle is in a terrible state of alarm on your account," replied
Hardy, "and I fear he will be at the office some time to-morrow, although
I tried to persuade him not to do so, because it was no matter in which
you were so deeply interested as he supposed. But he cannot lend you the
money, nor can he get the amount you want until to-morrow afternoon.
However he had fifty pounds with him, and he has sent that."
George took it eagerly. "My plan must fail," he said to Hardy; "but it
would only have been a question of time after all. Hardy, you will hear
strange reports of me after to-morrow; do not believe them all; remember
your old friend as you once knew him, not as report speaks of him.
Good-night, old fellow, you have been a good friend to me. I wish we
could have parted differently."
"Parted!" ejaculated Hardy; "what do you mean? where are you going?"
"I cannot tell, but I shall see you at the office to-morrow morning as
usual; I will tell you more then. Do not say a word to anybody about
what has occurred to-night. I know I may trust you; may I not?"
"Yes, always," answered Hardy; "but I wish you would trust me a little
more, and let me share this trouble with you. We have been old friends
now for years, George; shared ups and downs, and joys and sorrows
together; been brothers in everything which concerned each other's
welfare: and now you are distressed, why not relieve yourself by letting
me bear part of it with you? Recollect our old and earliest days of
friendship, and show that they are still dear to you, as they are to me,
by telling me what has gone wrong with you, and how I can serve or
soothe you in the emergency."
George could not bear this last touch of kindness. Had Hardy reproached
him for having acted foolishly, or warned him from getting into future
trouble; had he even accused him of having sought to lead others astray,
besides wandering in downward paths himself, George could have listened
calmly and unmoved! but this out-going of his friend's heart overcame
him, and he burst into tears.
"Good night, Hardy," he said, wringing his friend's hand. "If a prayer
may come from my lips, so long unused to prayer, I say God bless you,
and preserve you from such a lot as mine." George could not utter
another word; he could only shake hands again, and then hurried away to
the hotel where he sometimes slept.
It was past midnight when he arrived there. Calling for some spirits and
water, and writing materials, he seated himself dejectedly at a table
and wrote. The first letter ran as follows:--
"MY DEAREST MOTHER,
"I have some painful news to tell you--so painful that I would rather
you should have received intelligence of my death, than that which
this letter contains. I know you will not judge me harshly, dear
mother; I know you will stretch out to me your forgiveness, and
still pray for me that I may receive pardon from _your_ heavenly
Father--would I could say _mine_.
"Step by step I have been going wrong, as you know--as I might have
known--and now I have sunk to the lowest depths, from which I shall
never rise again. Mother, I know the sorrow you will feel when you
hear what has happened. I grieve more for you than I do for myself;
I would give all the world, if I had it, to save your heart the
misery which awaits it, from the conduct of a worthless, rebellious
"I cannot bear to see that sorrow. My heart seems nearly broken as
it is, and it would quite break if I were to see you suffering as
you will suffer.
"I could not bear to see again any whom I have known under other
circumstances. I could not bear to be taunted with all the
remembrances of the past. Dear mother, I have resolved to leave
you--leave London--perhaps leave England. I _may_ never see you
again; it is better for you that I never should.
"My tears blind me as I write; if tears could cleanse the past, my
guilt would be soon removed. God bless you, dearest mother! I will
write to you again; and some day, after I have been into new scenes,
started anew in life, and won back again the character I have
lost--then, perhaps, I may once more see you again.
"Uncle Brunton will tell you more. He will comfort you; he must be
husband, brother, and son to you now.
"God bless you, my dearest mother! I have so wronged you, have been
such a continual trouble to you, instead of the comfort poor father
thought I should have been, and so unworthy of your love, that I
hardly dare hope you will forgive and forget the past, and still
"Your erring Son--
George then wrote two letters to Mr. Brunton. In one of them he thanked
him for all his care and kindness, passionately regretted the causes of
anxiety he had given him, and the disgrace which now attached to his
name. In the other, he begged the loan of the £50 sent to him through
Hardy, which, he said, he hoped to pay back in a few years. He also
requested that Mr. Brunton would arrange all his accounts, and pay them
either from his mother's income, or by advancing the money as a loan.
When the morning dawned, it found George still writing. As the clock
struck seven, he packed up what few things he had with him, paid his
hotel bill, and drove off to Falcon-court. He was there by eight
o'clock, before any of the clerks had arrived.
"Have the letters come?" he asked the housekeeper.
"Yes, sir, they are in Mr. Compton's room," was the answer.
George hastened into the room, looked through the packet, and alighting
upon a letter with a foreign post-mark addressed to Mr. Sanders in Mr.
Compton's handwriting, he broke the seal. The note was short, merely
saying that he had arrived in Paris, on his way home, and expected to be
back in a day or two; therefore any communications must be forwarded at
once, or he would have left Paris.
George went direct to the Electric Telegraph Office. A form was handed
to him, on which the message he desired to send must be written, and he
filled it up thus:--
"_From Mr. Sanders to Mr. Compton_.
"Come back at once. A cheque has been forged in your name for
_£100._ George Weston is the forger. It is a clear and aggravated
case. Shall he be arrested? Will you prosecute? Answer at once."
In an incredibly short space of time an answer was returned. George was
at the Telegraph Office to receive it.
"_From Mr. Compton to Mr. Sanders._
"I will return to-morrow. Take no steps in the matter; let it be
kept silent, I am deeply grieved, but I will not prosecute under any
"Well, Mr. Weston," said Mr. Sanders, when George entered the office,"
I expected you would have been here before; but I suppose you have had
some difficulty in your investigations?"
"I have had difficulty," George answered. "I have been endeavouring to
borrow a hundred pounds to pay the deficiency, and then I would have
screened the forger; but my plan has failed, and it is better that it
should, because the innocent would have been sure to have suffered for
the guilty. I am now bound to tell you the name of the criminal upon his
"Who is it? who is it?" asked Mr. Sanders, eagerly.
"I--George Weston," he answered. "No matter how I did it, or why; I
alone am guilty."
Mr. Sanders caught hold of the back of a chair for support. His hands
trembled, and his voice failed him.
"It is a shock to you, sir," said George; "and it will be a shock to Mr.
Compton. Give him this letter when he comes home, it will explain the
circumstances to him. I deeply regret that I should have caused you so
much anxiety as I have during the past week, while this inquiry has been
pending. I knew the truth must come out sooner or later--but I would
rather you should know it from me; crushed and ruined as I am, I have no
hope that you will look with any other feelings than those of abhorrence
on me, but you do not know the heavy punishment I have already suffered,
or you would feel for me."
"Are you aware, George Weston, that there is a yet heavier punishment,
and that, as Mr. Compton's representative, I shall feel it my painful
"No, sir; here is Mr. Compton's opinion upon the case," said George,
handing the telegraphic message to Mr. Sanders, who listened with
astonishment as he explained the circumstances. "But should Mr. Compton,
upon a careful examination into the case, wish to prosecute," he
continued, "I will appear whenever and wherever he pleases. And now, Mr.
Sanders, I leave this office, ruined and disgraced, the result of my own
folly and sin."
George spoke hoarsely, and his face was pale as Death. Mr. Sanders was
moved; and put out his hand to shake hands with him, and say good-bye,
but George held his back.
"Remember, sir, you are an honest man; you cannot shake hands with me,"
"Weston, I am not your judge; there is One who will judge not only this
act, but all the acts that have led to it," said Mr. Sanders, solemnly.
"I have had more interest and greater hopes in you than in any young man
who ever came into this office; and I feel more sorrow now, on your
account, than I can put into words. Do not let this great and disastrous
fall sink you into lower depths of sin. If you have forfeited man's
respect and esteem, there is a God with whom there is mercy and
forgiveness. Seek Him, and may He bless you! Good-bye, George Weston,"
and the manager, with tears in his eyes, wrung the cold, trembling hand
that was stretched out to his.
George took up his carpet-bag, which he had brought from the hotel, and
was about to leave, but he paused a moment.
"Will you send Hardy in here?" he asked Mr. Sanders. "I must have a word
with him before I go."
Hardy had been expecting all the morning to have some explanation from
George, and had been uneasy at his absence. When he went into Mr.
Compton's room he was surprised to see George, with his bag in his hand,
ready to make a departure.
"Hardy," said George, "I told you last night I should soon have to bid
you good-bye, and now the time has arrived. I am going away from the
office, and perhaps from England, but I cannot tell you where I am
going. I leave in disgrace; my once good name is now blighted and
withered; my old friends will look upon me with abhorrence."
"No, George, I am one of your old friends; I never shall," interrupted
Hardy. "I do not know what you have done, nor do I wish to know, but I
cannot believe your heart and disposition are changed, or will ever
change so much as to make me regard you in any other light than that of
a dear and valued friend. But where are you going, George? Do tell me
"No, Hardy, I cannot. I am going away, God only knows where; it may be
abroad, it may not. I am going somewhere where I shall not be known, and
where I can try to work back for myself a character and a good name,
which I can never redeem in London. Some day I may let you know where I
"But, George, does your mother know where you are going?"
"No," said George, and his voice was tremulous as he spoke. "No; I have
no mother now. I am too fallen to claim relationship with one so good
and noble and holy as my mother is."
"Oh, George, give up this wild scheme! Have you thought that you are
going the most direct way to break your mother's heart, and to make her
life, as well as your own, blank, solitary, and miserable? Whatever
wrong you have done, do not add to it by breaking that commandment which
bids us honour our parents. Your mother has claims upon you which you
have no right to disregard in this way."
"I have thought it all well over, Hardy. I believe it is for her good
as well as for mine that our paths should run differently, but I cannot
explain all now. I am in dread lest my uncle should call here before I
get away. Hardy, good-bye, old fellow."
"No, I cannot say good-bye yet. George, give me your address; promise to
let me see you again, and I will promise to keep your secret sacredly."
"I do not know where I am going; I have no fixed plan; but I do promise
to write to you, Hardy."
"And now, George, make me one other promise. If you are in difficulties,
and I can assist you, or do anything for you in any way, at any time,
you will let me know--remember I shall always be Charles Hardy to you,
and you will always be George Weston to me. Do you agree?"
"Yes, Hardy, I agree. I cannot thank you. I cannot say what I would, or
tell you what I feel. May you be blessed and be happy, and never know
what it is to have a heavy, broken heart like mine. And now one promise
from you. Go and see my mother; try and comfort her; tell her how I
grieve to part from her."
George could not continue; the nervous twitching of his face showed the
struggle within, and it was a relief when the hot tears broke through
and coursed down his cheek. Hardy was greatly affected. He loved George
with an intensity of love like that which knit together the soul of
Jonathan and David; he had been to him more than a brother ever since
they had been acquainted; in hours of business and recreation, in joys
and sorrows, in plans and aims, they had been one; and now the tie was
to be severed, and severed under such sad circumstances.
There is a solemnity about sorrow which speech desecrates. Not another
word was spoken by either--both hearts were too full for that; but as
the tears ran thickly down their cheeks, they grasped each other's hand,
and then, fairly sobbing, George hurried from the office.
George went direct from the office to the railway station, and took a
ticket to Plymouth. He had but a short time to wait before the train
left, and bore him away. The green fields and smiling country were
nothing to him; he felt no pleasure in seeing the merry, happy children
playing in the lanes, as the train whizzed past. The greetings of
friends on the platforms at the different stations only made him sigh.
Who would greet him on his journeys? Tired and worn out with sleepless
nights and anxious days, he tried to doze, but the attempt was vain. He
feared lest some one might have tracked his steps to the station, and
have telegraphed for him to be stopped at the terminus. Then, when he
had thought and pondered over such probabilities as these, and
endeavoured to dismiss them, he tried to form some plans for the future;
but all the future was dark--no ray of light, however faint or distant,
could be seen, and every plan he would make must be left to
circumstances. When the passengers alighted at one of the stations to
take refreshments, George got out too, for the purpose of breaking his
long fast. He tried to eat a biscuit, but he could not get it down,--all
appetite was gone; so, drinking a glass of ale, he wandered to the book
stall, and purchased a newspaper to read during the remainder of the
journey. The train started off again, and George settled himself to
read. The first thing that met his eye was an account of the assizes,
and the first case was headed, "Forgery by a Banker's Clerk." This
brought back to remembrance, more vividly than ever, the sad scenes of
the past few days; he threw the paper out of the window, and abandoned
himself to thought.
At last the train arrived at Plymouth. George hastened on to the
platform, and walked rapidly into the town, fearing lest any one should
recognize him, or lest any official should wish to detain him. With his
bag in hand, he wandered through the streets, uncertain what to do or
where to go. Presently he came to a small house, in an obscure street,
with a placard in the window stating that apartments were to let. He
knocked, and was answered by the landlady, a respectable looking woman,
who told him that she had a bedroom and sitting-room to let, and would
accommodate him on reasonable terms. George said he should not require
the room more than a few days, or a week, as he was about to leave by
one of the vessels in the port. The terms were arranged, and he at once
took possession. As it was very late, he thought he would go to bed
"Will you not have some supper first?" asked the landlady.
"No, thank you," said George: "I am tired with my journey, and shall be
glad to get to sleep as soon as I can."
"But, sir, you really look ill," persisted the landlady, who was a kind,
motherly woman; "will you let me make you a little spirits and water?"
"I will not refuse that," said George, "for I do feel ill. Parting with
friends and relatives is at all times a disagreeable matter, and I have
bidden good-bye to them in London to-day, rather than bring them down
"Ah, sir! parting is a sad thing," answered the woman. "It is two years
since my son went to sea; he was much about your age, sir, and he went
away against my wish, and I have never seen or heard from him since. He
has nearly broken my heart, poor boy, and left me all alone in this
wide, hard world."
George was glad to have some one to talk to, but he was distressed by
this narration of his landlady. If she mourned for her son, who had been
absent for two years, how would his mother mourn?
George passed a restless, anxious night; when he dozed off to sleep, it
was only to be tormented with harrowing dreams, in which he fancied
himself at one time standing before a judge in a court of justice,
answering to the crime of forgery. At another, gazing upon a funeral
procession moving slowly and solemnly along, with his Uncle Brunton
following as sole mourner. Then he would start up, half with joy and
half with sorrow, as he fancied he heard voices like those of his mother
and uncle calling to him from the street. His head ached, and his heart
was heavy. He felt thankful when the morning dawned, and it was time to
rise. He bathed his hot, feverish head in water, and dressed; but as he
passed by the looking-glass and caught a glance at his pale, haggard
countenance, so changed within a few short hours, he started.
"Oh, God! give me strength! give me strength!" he said. "If I should be
ill, if anything should happen to me, what should I do? I am all alone;
there is no one to care for me now!" And he sank down in a chair,
burying his face in his hands as if to hide the picture his mind had
After breakfast, he strolled to the docks, looked over some of the
vessels, and made inquiries about the shipping offices. He learned that
a ship was about to sail immediately to Port Natal, and that all
information could be obtained of the agents. Thither George repaired;
the agent gave him an exaggerated account of the signal prosperity which
all enterprising young men met with in Natal, praised Pietermaritzburg,
the capital of the colony, and offered to give him letters of
introduction to residents there, who would advise him as to the best
ways of making a comfortable living. The agent then took him down to the
vessel, told him that he must take a passage at once, if he wished to
leave by her, as she would sail in two or three days at the latest. It
was a matter of comparative indifference to George where he went--the
large, lonely world was before him, and Port Natal might make him as
good a home as anywhere else. George went back with the agent to the
office, and paid a deposit of fifteen pounds on the passage money.
"What is your name, sir?" asked the agent, with pen in hand, ready to
make the entry.
George coloured as he answered, "Frederick Vincent."
"Then, Mr. Vincent, you will be on board not later than nine o'clock on
Tuesday morning; the vessel will go out of harbour by twelve. You can
come on board as much earlier as you like, but I have named the latest
time. You had better send your luggage down on Monday."
"Luggage?" said George. "Oh, yes! that shall be sent in time."
As George returned to his lodgings, he felt even more wretched than when
he started out It was Wednesday morning, and the vessel would not leave
till the following Tuesday. The excitement of choosing a vessel was
over; there was now only the anxiety and suspense of waiting its
departure. True, he had his outfit to purchase, but this would have to
be done furtively; he could not bear to be walking in the streets in
broad daylight, noticed by passers-by, every one of whom he fancied knew
his whole history, and was plotting either to prevent his departure, or
to reveal his secret.
Mrs. Murdoch (that was the name of his landlady) endeavoured to make him
as comfortable as possible in his apartments; but external comfort was
nothing to George--he wanted some word of love, some one to talk to, as
in days of old. He avoided conversation as much as possible with Mrs.
Murdoch, for she would talk of her absent son, and every word went as an
arrow to George's heart.
That first day seemed a week. Hour after hour dragged wearily along, and
when six o'clock in the evening came, George thought all time must have
received some disarrangement, for it seemed as if days had elapsed since
the morning. He went out after dark to a neighbouring shop and made some
purchases of outfit; but he was thankful when he had completed his task,
for he had noticed a man walking backwards and forwards in front of the
shop, and he felt a nervous dread lest it should be some spy upon him.
He resolved that he would remain in his rooms, and not go out again
until he left for the voyage on Tuesday, but would ask Mrs. Murdoch to
make the remainder of the necessary purchases for him.
How lonely and desolate George felt that night! More than once he half
determined rather to bear shame and reproach, and have the society of
those he loved, than continue in that dreadful isolation. He was
thoroughly unmanned. "Oh, that Hardy or Ashton were here, or any friend,
just to say, 'George Weston, old fellow,' once more; what a weight of
dreariness it would remove!" Then he would wonder what was going on at
home, whether his mother was plunged in grief, or whether she was
saying, "He has brought it all on himself, let him bear it." But George
could not reconcile this last thought; he tried hard to cherish it; he
felt he would infinitely rather know his mother was filled with anger
and abhorrence at his crime, than that she mourned for him, and longed
to press him to her bosom and bind up the wounded heart. But he could
not shake off this last idea. It haunted him every moment, and added to
the weight of sorrow which seemed crushing him.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday passed, and George was still the victim
to anxiety and corroding care. He had paced his room each day, and
tossed restlessly in his bed each night; had tried reading and writing,
to while away the time, and had found every attempt futile.
Mrs. Murdoch was anxious on his account.
"Mr. Vincent," she said to him, "you eat nothing, you take no exercise;
you don't sleep at night, for I can hear you, from my room, tossing
about; and I am doctor enough to know that you are ill, and will be
worse, if you do not make some alteration. Do be persuaded by me, and
take some little recreation, or else you will not be in a fit state to
go on board on Tuesday."
"You are very kind, Mrs. Murdoch," replied George, "but I have no bodily
ailment. If I could get a change of thought, that is the best physic for
a mind diseased."
"It is, sir," replied the landlady; "and now will you think me rude if I
tell you how you may have that change of thought? You are about to start
on a very dangerous voyage; for long months you will have the sky above
and the sea below, and only a few planks between you and death. Have
you, sir, committed your way to the Lord, and placed your life in His
hands? I know it is a strange thing to ask you, but I hope you will not
be offended. You have seemed so sad for the past day or two, that I
could not help feeling you wanted comfort, and none can give it but the
"I do want comfort and support, Mrs. Murdoch, but--"
"No, sir, there is no _but_ in the case. 'Come onto Me, all ye that are
weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest'--is said to all; and
we only have to go to Him to find all we want."
"Well, Mrs. Murdoch, I will see if I cannot combine both your
suggestions; and as to-morrow will be Sunday, it will be a recreation to
go to some church or chapel. Can you recommend me a good preacher?"
"Yes, sir, that I can. If you will go to my pew at chapel to-morrow
morning, I am sure you will like the gentleman who preaches there."
"Then I will go," said George.
When he went up to his room again, those few words of Mrs. Murdoch were
still speaking to him.
"'Weary and heavy laden!' he thought; surely that is my lot. I so young,
once so happy, to feel weary and heavy laden; how strange! But no, it is
not strange--it is natural. Sin brings its punishment, and it is hard
work, bearing its burden! oh! that I could find some spot where I could
There was a spot, not far from George, where he could have rested, but
he did not know it. He was oppressed with his weariness, and he longed
for peace and ease of mind to come to him. He did not consider the
words, "Come unto ME."
There was an old Family Bible on the book-case in his room, and George
took it down. It was a long time since he had read the Word of God: and
when he had it was only to compare it with the dangerous opinions he had
received, and find out what he imagined to be its discrepancies and
contradictions. A feeling of remorse came over him as he put the book on
"What right have I to open this book, or attempt to find anything here
for encouragement?" he asked himself. "I have mocked and ridiculed it in
days of prosperity, and yet I am willing to take it up in trouble, as if
it were an old friend. Ah! it was an old friend once, but that has all
gone by now."
He sat a long time looking at the book. Perhaps there is nothing that
brings back the memories of the past more vividly than the sight of a
Family Bible to one who has long ceased to read and love it. There are
old scenes of childhood associated with it which time can never erase.
Who cannot remember sitting on his mother's knee, or with chair drawn up
beside his father, hearing its sweet music sounded in the home circle on
the Sabbath night? Who can forget the last evening of the holidays
before going back to school, when the old book was brought out, and some
useful text was selected as a monitor and remembrancer? Who can forget
the time when some loved one was ill, and as friends and relatives sat
round the bed of the invalid, the Book was laid upon the table, and
words of comfort were proclaimed to all.
Many and many a scene moved past George in the mental panorama which the
sight of Mrs. Murdoch's book created. He seemed not to be remembering,
but to be living in the former days. There was his father seated in the
old arm-chair, with Carlo, the faithful dog at his feet, and his elbows
rented upon the table, and his head upon his hand--a favourite
attitude--as he read the Sacred Word. There was dear old Dr. Seaward,
with his spectacles stuck up on his forehead, in his study at
Folkestone, and a party of boys round him, listening eagerly to the
words of instruction and advice which fell from his lips.
And then the past merged into the present, and George started to find
himself alone in a strange room, in a strange town, with a strange Bible
He opened the Book and read. The fifty-first Psalm was the portion of
Scripture to which he inadvertently turned, commencing, "Have mercy upon
me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness; according unto the
multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions."
He read the Psalm through in amazement. Again he read it, with
increased wonder and astonishment, that any one should have made a
prayer so exactly like that which he felt in his heart he wanted to
pray; and at last he went to the door and locked it, for fear of
interruption, took the Bible from the table and placed it on a chair,
and kneeling down read the prayer again; and repeating it aloud,
sentence by sentence, offered it up as his petition to the throne of
* * * * *
On Sunday morning, when the bells were ringing their glad peals, and the
people were already in the streets, on their way to the different places
of worship, George started off, directed by Mrs. Murdoch, to the chapel
of which she had spoken to him.
He felt very sad as he walked along; it was the last Sunday, perhaps, he
should ever spend in England, and he must spend it alone, an alien from
all whom he loved. The temporary calm which he had experienced on the
previous evening had gone; no prayer for assistance through the day had
issued from his lips that morning, but there was the old feeling of
shame, and chagrin, and disgrace, which had haunted him for the past
week, and with it the dogged determination to bear up against it until
it should be lost in forgetfulness. But George had resolved to go to
chapel that morning, because he felt he wanted a change of some sort,
and there was a melancholy pleasure in spending a part of his last
Sunday in England after his once customary manner.
The preacher was an old gentleman, of a mild, benevolent countenance,
and with a winning, persuasive manner. When he gave out the first hymn,
reading it solemnly and impressively, George felt he should have
pleasure in listening to the sermon. The congregation joined in the hymn
of praise, with heart and voice lifted up to the God of the Sabbath in
thanksgiving. The singing was rich and good, and George, who was a
passionate lover of music, was touched by its sweet harmony. He did not
join in the hymn, his heart was too full for that; but the strains were
soothing, and produced a natural, reverential emotion which he had been
long unaccustomed to feel.
The minister took for his text the words, "'Lord, if thou wilt, thou
canst make me clean.' And Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him,
saying, 'I will, be thou clean.'"
A rush of joy thrilled through George as he heard the words. His
attention was rivetted as he listened to the simple story of the leper
being restored to health; and when the preacher drew the comparison
between leprosy and sin, and revealed Jesus as the Great Physician to
the sick soul, who, in reply to the heartfelt wish, could say, "Thy
sins, which are many, are all forgiven thee," George felt the whole
strength of his soul concentrated in that one desire, "Lord, if thou
wilt, thou canst make _me_ clean." He looked into his own heart--he was
almost afraid to look--and saw the ravages of disease there. He thought
of his past life; there was not one thing to recommend him to God.
NEVER before had he seen his sin in the light in which it was now
revealed by God's Word. He had viewed it in relation to man's opinion,
and his own consciousness; but now the Holy Spirit was striving within
him, and showing him his position in the sight of God.
The preacher went on to unfold the sweet story of the Cross, to tell of
the simple plan of salvation, and to point to Jesus, the Lamb of God,
"who taketh away the sins of the world." It seemed to George as if he
had never heard the glad tidings before; it had never made the hot tear
run down his cheek, as he thought of the Saviour suffering for sins not
His own, until now; it had never before torn the agonised sigh from his
heart, as the truth flashed before him that it was he who had helped to
nail the Holy One to the accursed tree; he had never realised before
that earth was but the portal to the heavenly mansions--that time was
but the herald of eternity. Now, all these things came crowding upon his
mind, and when the sermon concluded he was in a bewilderment of joy and
A parting hymn was sung--that glorious old hymn--
"There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Emmanuel's veins."
When it came to those lines--
"The dying _thief_ rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away:"
he could bear it no longer: he could not restrain the torrent of tears
which was struggling to get free; he could not stay in that assembly of
people; he must be alone, alone with God, alone with his own heart.
When he reached his apartments, he went immediately to his room, and
there, beside his bed, he knelt and poured out his soul to God. Words
could not tell his wants, words could not express his contrition; but
there he knelt, a silent pleader, presenting himself with all the dark
catalogue of a life's sin before his dishonoured God.
George thought he had experienced the extremity of sorrow during the few
days he had been in Plymouth, but it was as nothing compared with that
he now felt. He had grieved over name and reputation lost, prospects
blighted, and self-respect forfeited, but now he mourned over a God
dishonoured, a Saviour slighted, a life mis-spent. Is there any sorrow
like unto that sorrow which is felt by a soul crushed beneath the sense
How that day passed, George hardly knew. He felt his whole life
epitomised in those few hours spent in solemn confession. Oh, how he
longed to realise a sense of pardon--to know and feel, as the leper knew
and felt, that he was made clean. But he could not do so: he only felt
himself lost and ruined, and found expression but in one cry, "Unclean!
He was aroused in the evening by the ringing of church bells again; and,
taking a hasty cup of tea, at Mrs. Murdoch's solicitation, he once more
bent his steps to the place of worship he had visited in the morning,
with the earnest desire and prayer that he might hear such truths
taught as would enable him to see Jesus.
How often does God "_devise means_ that His banished be not expelled
from Him," and in His providential mercy order those events and
circumstances to occur, which are instrumental in preparing the mind for
the reception of His truth! It was no chance, no mere coincidence, that
the preacher took for his text those words which were associated with so
many recollections of George, "_for me to live is Christ_."
Simply, but earnestly, he drew pictures of life, in its many phases, and
contrasted them with the one object worth living for. Upon all else was
written, vanity of vanities--living for pleasure was but another name
for living for future woe: living for wealth was losing all; living for
honour was but heaping condemnation for the last day: while living for
Christ gave not only pleasure, and riches, and honour here, but
hereafter. Then he spoke of the preciousness of Jesus to those who
believe, as the sympathising Friend, and the loving Brother; of the
honour and joy of living for Him who had died to bring life and
immortality to light; and of that "peace which passeth understanding."
That night there was joy in the presence of the angels of God over a
new-born soul. As George listened to the voice of the preacher, there
fell from his eyes as it had been scales, and he saw the Father running
to embrace the returning prodigal, and felt the kiss of His forgiving
love. The words which his earthly father had last spoken to him, were
those chosen by his heavenly Father to show him his new blissful
relationship as a son. And at what a gracious time! George was a
wanderer, an outcast, without father or friend, without object or aim in
life, and the doors of heaven were thrown open to him; the sympathy of
Divine love was poured into that aching heart, and the words of
rejoicing were uttered, "This, MY SON, was dead, and is alive again; was
lost, and is found."
The weary one was at rest, the heart of stone palpitated with a living
breath, "The dead one heard the voice of the Son of God, and lived."
Who can sympathise with George as he sat in his room that night,
overwhelmed with joy unspeakable? He was a new creature in a new world;
old things had passed away, behold all things had become new. He looked
up to heaven as his home, to God as his Father, to Jesus as his great
elder Brother; and he realised his life as hidden with Christ in God,
redeemed and reconciled, henceforth not his own, but given to Him who
had washed him, and made him clean in His own blood.
* * * * *
Great joy is harder to bear than great sorrow. George had suddenly gone
from one to the other extreme, and at a time when he was suffering from
physical prostration, the result of such strong mental struggles.
"Mr. Vincent, it is nine o'clock," Mrs. Murdoch called out, as she
knocked at his door next morning. No answer was returned.
"Mr. Vincent, will you come down to breakfast, sir?" she repeated more
loudly, but with no greater success.
Again she knocked, wondering that George should sleep so soundly, and be
so difficult to arouse, as he was accustomed to answer at the first
"Mr. Vincent, breakfast is waiting!"
No answer coming, Mrs. Murdoch was anxious; she knew George had been
really ill for several days past, and had noticed his strange manner on
the previous evening. Without further hesitation, she opened the door,
and there on the floor lay George Weston, insensible, having apparently
fallen while in the act of dressing.
Calling for assistance, she at once laid him upon the bed, applied all
the restoratives at hand, and without a moment's delay despatched a
messenger to the chemist in the next street, with instructions for him
to attend immediately.
"Will you grant me leave of absence for to-day?" Charles Hardy asked Mr.
Sanders, a few minutes after George had left the office, on the gloomy
and eventful morning when he disclosed the secret of his guilt.
"I hardly know what to say--what to do," answered Mr. Sanders, puffing
and blowing; "business will come to a stand-still--the shutters had
better go up at once. But if you want particularly to be off to-day, I
suppose I must manage to spare you."
"I may want several days, sir; but if that should be the case, I will
return to the office to-morrow in time to see Mr. Compton immediately he
It was but the work of five minutes for Charles to write a short note,
change his office coat, and prepare to start The note was addressed to
Mr. Brunton, care of Mr. Sanders till called for, and ran as follows:--
"MY DEAR SIR,
"Do not be more uneasy than necessary about George. I think I have a
clue by which his address may be ascertained. If so, I will report
progress to you to-night; but I leave this note for you, in order to
allay the distress you will feel in learning he is not here. Rest
assured of my earnest desire to serve my dear friend, and to relieve
him if possible. My time and services you may command in this cause.
"Yours very faithfully,
Hardy had a clue, it is true; but it was a very faint one. He had
noticed, upon the table of Mr. Compton's room, a "Bradshaw's Railway
Guide;" and as he had not seen one there previously, he imagined it must
have been brought in by George, with his carpet-bag and other things,
and there left. One page of the book was turned down; Hardy had eagerly
opened it, and found it referred to the departures from the Great
"I'll go on at once to that station," he thought. "He told me he might
be leaving England; perhaps he has gone to Liverpool, Plymouth, or Cork,
or some shipping place that can be reached by this line. At all events,
I have no other chance but this."
With all speed Charles drove off to Paddington. Diligently he conned
over the intricate mysteries of "Bradshaw" as he journeyed along,
endeavouring to ascertain when trains would be leaving for any of the
places to which he had imagined his friend might be going. It is hardly
necessary to say he could not find what he wanted; but his anxiety and
suspense were relieved by the search.
Before alighting at the station, Hardy carefully glanced all around to
ascertain that George was not in sight; for it was not his intention to
speak to him or endeavour to turn him from his purpose, knowing that, in
his present excited state he would stand no chance whatever of
frustrating his friend's plans, but would rather be adopting the most
certain means of destroying his own. Hardy's present object was only to
try and find out to what part George would travel, and then communicate
with Mr. Brunton and get his advice how to proceed.
Cautiously he walked along the platform, looking into every
waiting-room, and making inquiries of the porters it they had seen any
one answering to the description he gave of George. This course proving
futile, he went to the ticket-office, and consulted a time-table, to
find whether any train had recently left for any of the places which, he
felt convinced, were the most probable for George to choose. An hour or
two had elapsed since the last train left, and George had not had more
than twenty minutes' start ahead of him. He took down in his pocket-book
the time for the departure of the next train; and then choosing a
secluded spot in the office, where he would be out of observation, and
yet able to see all who came up for tickets, he waited patiently until
the slow, dawdling hand of the clock neared the hour.
Hardy felt the chances were fifty to one that while he was waiting there
George might be at some other station, leaving London without a trace to
his whereabouts; he thought whether, after all, George might not have
purposely, instead of accidentally, left the "Bradshaw" with that
particular page turned down, in order that, should he be sought, a wrong
scent might be given; and even if he intended to travel by this line and
to one of these particular places, might he not choose nighttime as the
most desirable for his object? But Hardy had _purpose_ in him; he would
not throw away the strongest clue he had, although that was faint, and
he resolved to stay there until midnight, it need be, rather than
abandon his design,
His patience was not put to such a test as this. While he was standing,
with palpitating heart, behind that door in the booking office, George
was in the porters' room, not a hundred yards off, waiting with deeper
anxiety for the clock to point to the hour when the train should start.
Presently, the first bell rang. A number of people, with bags and
packages in hand, came crowding up to the ticket office, but George was
not there. Hardy could scarcely refrain from rushing out to look around.
What if he should get into a train without a ticket, or send a guard to
procure one for him? A hundred doubts and fears were pressing upon him,
and--the second bell rang. Two or three minutes more, and the train
would be off. At the moment he was consulting his pocket-book to see how
long a time must elapse before the next train would leave, he started
with joyful surprise to see George walk hurriedly up to the office and
obtain a ticket. As hurriedly he disappeared. "Now is my chance,"
"Where did that young man take his ticket for?" he asked the clerk, as
soon as he had elbowed his way past the few remaining persons who were
before the window.
"Which one?" said he; "two or three young men have just taken tickets."
"I mean the last ticket but one you issued?"
"Hurrah!" cried Hardy, to the astonishment of the clerk, who probably
would not have given the information, had he not thought the inquirer
wanted a ticket for the same place.
Hardy was too cautious, even in the moment of his surprise, to let his
object be lost by over-haste; he knew it would not be wise to let
himself be seen, and though he longed to rush after George and say,
"Good-bye, cheer up, old chap!" he only allowed himself the painful
pleasure of looking through the window of a waiting-room, and seeing his
old friend and chum, sad and solitary, get into the carriage. Shriek
went the whistle, and away went the train. Whether it whizzed along so
rapidly, or the smoke and steam enveloped it, or from whatever cause it
was, Charles Hardy found his sight growing dimmer, until a mist shut out
From the station Hardy went home. He wanted to tell his parents some of
the occurrences of the day, and let them know of his expected absence.
He knew that he had difficulties to meet. George had always been kindly
received by Mr. and Mrs. Hardy; they both liked him, and were glad when
he came to spend an evening at their house. But latterly they had been
rather anxious about the growing intimacy between him and their son, and
often had a word of caution been given that Charles should be very
careful how far he allowed his friend to influence him.
Now Hardy could only tell his parents that George had got into worse
trouble than ever--such trouble that he was obliged to leave his
situation, and had decamped, no one except himself knew where. Of course
Mr. and Mrs. Hardy would not put a good construction upon the affair. He
anticipated they would say, "Well, I always feared he would come to
this;" and would try to dissuade Charles from having anything more to do
with him. It was not to be expected they would look with such leniency
upon the matter as he would. Therefore, it was with no small difficulty
he proceeded, immediately upon reaching home, to tell them of what had
occurred. It was a short story, and soon told.
"Now, father," said Hardy, before allowing him time to bring objections
to the part he had performed that day, "I have promised Mr. Brunton to
assist in finding George, and I have told Mr. Sanders I may be away some
days from the office. I know Mr. Compton will not object to this; if
that is all, I can have this leave of absence instead of the holiday he
promised me next mouth. George must be found; if I can help it, he shall
not leave England--at all events, not in this way. I know it will kill
Mrs. Weston, if he does."
"Well, Charles, I know your kindheartedness, and I appreciate it; but I
cannot give my consent to the plan. Recollect, by associating yourself
with your former friend now, you do injury to yourself; he has got
himself into disgrace--he must bear the burden of it. What will Mr.
Compton think, when he hears that you--you who have always maintained
such strict integrity--have gone off after a dishonest, runaway clerk?"
"I never wish to run counter to your opinions, father, if I can help it;
but I must do so now, George Weston is my friend--not _was_ my friend,
as you said just now--and I would not act such a cowardly part as to
desert him. Don't be vexed at what I say; I know you advise for my good;
but you do not know how I feel in this matter. Suppose our positions
were changed, and I had done as George has done--there is no
impossibility in such a case--I am too weak against temptation to doubt
that had I been placed in the circumstances similar to his, I might have
done the same, Suppose I had, what would you have thought of me? Should
I have been your dishonest, runaway son, to whom all friendship must be
denied, and who might be left to bear any burden alone, because I had
brought it upon myself? No, father; you would be the first to seek and
comfort me, and the first to cry 'Shame!' upon any of my friends who
turned and kicked me the moment I had fallen."
Mr. Hardy could not resist the force of his son's argument, nor could he
refrain from admiring the genuineness of his friendship for George, and
the manly determination he had formed to assist him.
"Well, Charles," he said, "I do not blame you for taking this course. I
hope it may be serviceable to your friend, and without any injury to
"Do not fear, father. And now I must pack up a few necessaries in my
bag, and be off to Mr. Brunton's. If I do not return home to-morrow, do
not be uneasy about me, and I will write to you every day to say how
things are going on."
When Hardy arrived at the house of Mr. Brunton, he found him, as he
anticipated, in a high state of nervous anxiety.
"I am so thankful you have arrived, Mr. Hardy," he said, shaking him
warmly by the hand: "and I need not tell you Mrs. Weston has been
waiting with great impatience to see you."
"Mrs. Weston! is she here?"
"Yes; not many minutes after you had left the office I called there, and
received the sad news about--about George. I at once telegraphed to Mrs.
Weston to come up to town, and it needed no urging to hasten her, for
she had only a short time before received a letter from him, which had
filled her with alarm. But let us go to her at once," said Mr. Brunton,
leading the way to the drawing-room; "she entreated I would bring you to
her the moment you arrived."
As Hardy entered, Mrs. Weston sprang to meet him.
"Have you found George?--where is he?" she asked, and the look of
struggling hope and despair was touching to witness.
"I have not found him, Mrs. Weston, but I know the place of his present
destination. He has gone to Plymouth;" and then Hardy briefly explained
the incidents of the morning.
"I cannot tell you how thankful I am to you, Mr. Hardy," said Mrs.
Weston, as he concluded. "May God bless you for your kindness to my pool
"George would have done more for me, Mrs. Weston," Hardy replied; "but,
at present, little or nothing has been done. Have you any plans, and can
I help you in them?"
"We must go on as soon as possible to Plymouth, and find out where he
is. He may perhaps be on the eve of starting away by some of the vessels
in the port. Not a minute should be lost."
"Then, sir, I will go down to Plymouth by the mail train which leaves in
about a couple of hours, if you will let me; and I promise you that I
will do my best to find him," said Hardy.
This unexpected proposition removed an infinite burden from Mr.
Brunton's mind. He felt that it was his duty to see Mr. Compton at once,
and he had other engagements which made it impossible for him to leave
that night. He did not like Mrs. Weston travelling alone, in her present
anxious and desponding state, and had been at his wit's end all day to
know how to manage.
"But, Mr. Hardy, can you go? Have you consulted your friends at home?
Can you manage to get leave of absence from the office?--remember they
will be short of hands there," asked Mr. Brunton.
"I have made all arrangements at home, sir and my only difficulty is
about Mr. Compton. But if you will please see him as soon as he returns,
and explain why I have left, I am sure he will not be displeased. He was
so fond of George, I know he would have said 'Go, by all means,' had he
been at home."
"I will undertake to set the matter right with him about you," said Mr.
Brunton; "but I doubt whether he will ever allow me to mention poor
George's name. Oh! Hardy, this is a sad, sad business!"
"It is, sir; but it is sadder for George than for his friends," replied
Hardy. "I cannot bear to think of the trouble he is passing through at
this moment. It has cost him much to take the step he has taken, and
everything must be done to get him back from his voluntary banishment"
"And everything shall be done that can," said Mr. Brunton. "God grant he
is still in England! I feel sure the sight of his mother and his friends
sorrowing for him, instead of turning against him as he supposes, will
alter his determination."
"Mr. Hardy, may I place myself under your protection until my brother
joins us at Plymouth?" said Mrs. Weston, abruptly. "I will go down by
the mail train to-night; I cannot rest until he is found."
Arrangements were speedily made, and that night the train bore off Mrs.
Western and Charles Hardy to Plymouth.
On the following morning Mr. Brunton called at Falcon-court. Mr. Compton
had not yet arrived, but was expected hourly. Not wishing to lose time,
which that morning was particularly precious to him, he asked for some
writing materials, and seating himself in Mr. Compton's room, intended
to occupy himself until his arrival. After he had been there about
half-an-hour, his attention was arrested by hearing the door of the
clerk's office open, and an inquiry made.
"Is Mr. George Weston here?"
"Mr. Weston has left the office," answered Williams, who came forward to
answer the inquiry. "Left yesterday morning."
"Indeed! Where has he gone to? why did he leave?"
"I don't think anyone knows where he has gone to," answered Williams;
"and I am not disposed to say why he left."
Williams did not know why he had left, nor were the circumstances of the
case known to any of the clerks; but many surmises had been made which
were unfavourable to him, and it was with the exultant pleasure a mean
spirit feels in a mean triumph, that Williams had at last an opportunity
of speaking lightly of the once good name of George Weston, to whom he
had ever cherished feelings of animosity.
"Is Mr. Compton in, or the manager?" asked the visitor. "I am
exceedingly anxious to know what has become of my friend."
"Between ourselves," said Williams, "the less you say about your friend
the better. It strikes me--mind, I merely give you this confidentially
as my impression--that, when Weston turns up again, his friends will not
be over-anxious to renew their acquaintance."
"What do you mean? I do not understand you."
"What I mean is this. When a clerk is dismissed from an office during
the absence of the principal, leaves suddenly and has to hide
himself--more particularly when accounts at the banker's do not quite
balance--one cannot help thinking there is a screw loose somewhere."
Mr. Brunton overheard all this; he who had never before heard an
unfavourable sentence spoken against his nephew. He had not fully
realised until that moment the painful position in which George's crime
had placed him, nor the depth of his nephew's fall in position and
character. He longed to have been able to stand up in vindication of
George against the terrible insinuations of Williams; he would have been
intensely thankful if he could have accosted the stranger, and said,
"That man is guilty of falsehood who dares to speak against the good
name of my nephew." But there he stood, with blood boiling and lips
quivering, unable to contradict one sentence that had been uttered.
"If Weston _does_ turn up," continued Williams, "will you leave any
message or letter, or your name, and it shall be forwarded?"
"My name is Ashton," said the stranger; "but it is unnecessary to say
that I called. It does not do to be mixed up with matters like these. I
half feared something of the sort was brewing, but I had no idea tilings
would have taken so sudden a turn."
Mr. Brunton could restrain his impatience no longer.
"Mr. Ashton," he said, coming suddenly upon the speakers, "will you
favour me by stepping inside a minute or two? I shall be glad to speak
Ashton was taken by surprise at seeing Mr. Brunton where he least
expected to see him.
"I have been placed in the uncomfortable position of a listener to your
conversation in the next room," said Mr. Brunton, closing the door; "and
I cannot allow those remarks made by the clerk with whom you were
talking to pass unqualified."
"They need little explanation, sir," said Ashton. "George Weston has
been on the verge of a catastrophe for some months, and I believe I can
fill in the outline of information which you heard given me."
"I am in ignorance of the causes which have led to my nephew's
disgrace," answered Mr. Brunton; "nor am I desirous to hear them from
any lips but his. You were one of his most intimate friends, I believe,
"Yes; I think I may say his most intimate friend."
"And you knew he was on the 'verge of a catastrophe.' I have no doubt
you acted the part of a friend, and sought to turn his steps from the
"Well, as to that, he was fully competent to manage his own affairs
without my interference. I did tell him he would come to grief, if he
did not give up playing."
"And did you add to that advice that he should quit those associates
who had assisted to bring him to such a pass?"
"Certainly not; why should I meddle with him in his companionships? You
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