The House of Cobwebs and Other Stories
Part 4 out of 6
Rodney graciously consented to remain, on the understanding that Mr.
Rawcliffe left the house not later than Wednesday.
Enraged at the treatment he was receiving, Rawcliffe loudly declared that
he would not budge. Turpin warned him that if he had made no preparations
for departure on Wednesday he would be forcibly ejected, and the door
closed against him.
'You haven't the right to do it,' shouted the lodger. 'I'll sue you for
'And I,' retorted the carpenter, 'will sue you for the money you owe me!'
The end could not be doubtful. Rawcliffe, besides being a poor creature,
knew very well that it was dangerous for him to get involved in a scandal;
his stepfather, upon whom he depended, asked but a fair excuse for cutting
him adrift, and more than one grave warning had come from his mother during
the past few months. But he enjoyed a little blustering, and even at
breakfast-time on Wednesday his attitude was that of contemptuous defiance.
In vain had Mrs. Turpin tried to coax him with maternal suavity; in vain
had Mabel and Lily, when serving his meals, whispered abuse of Miss Rodney,
and promised to find some way of getting rid of her, so that Rawcliffe
might return. In a voice loud enough to be heard by his enemy in the
opposite parlour, he declared that no 'cat of a school teacher should get
the better of _him_.' As a matter of fact, however, he arranged on Tuesday
evening to take a couple of cheaper rooms just outside the town, and
ordered a cab to come for him at eleven next morning.
'You know what the understanding is, Mr. Rawcliffe,' said Turpin, putting
his head into the room as the lodger sat at breakfast. 'I'm a man of my
'Don't come bawling here!' cried the other, with a face of scorn.
And at noon the house knew him no more.
Miss Rodney, on that same day, was able to offer her landlady a new lodger.
She had not spoken of this before, being resolved to triumph by mere force
'The next thing,' she remarked to a friend, when telling the story, 'is to
pack off one of the girls into service. I shall manage it by Christmas,'
and she added with humorous complacency, 'it does one good to be making a
sort of order in one's own little corner of the world.'
A CHARMING FAMILY
'I must be firm,' said Miss Shepperson to herself, as she poured out her
morning tea with tremulous hand. 'I must really be very firm with them.'
Firmness was not the most legible characteristic of Miss Shepperson's
physiognomy. A plain woman of something more than thirty, she had gentle
eyes, a twitching forehead, and lips ever ready for a sympathetic smile.
Her attire, a little shabby, a little disorderly, well became the occupant
of furnished lodgings, at twelve and sixpence a week, in the unpretentious
suburb of Acton. She was the daughter of a Hammersmith draper, at whose
death, a few years ago, she had become possessed of a small house and an
income of forty pounds a year; her two elder sisters were comfortably
married to London tradesmen, but she did not see very much of them, for
their ways were not hers, and Miss Shepperson had always been one of those
singular persons who shrink into solitude the moment they feel ill at ease.
The house which was her property had, until of late, given her no trouble
at all; it stood in a quiet part of Hammersmith, and had long been occupied
by good tenants, who paid their rent (fifty pounds) with exemplary
punctuality; repairs, of course, would now and then be called for, and to
that end Miss Shepperson carefully put aside a few pounds every year.
Unhappily, the old tenants were at length obliged to change their abode.
The house stood empty for two months; it was then taken on a three years'
lease by a family named Rymer--really nice people, said Miss Shepperson to
herself after her first interview with them. Mr. Rymer was 'in the City';
Mrs. Rymer, who had two little girls, lived only for domestic peace--she
had been in better circumstances, but did not repine, and forgot all
worldly ambition in the happy discharge of her wifely and maternal duties.
'A charming family!' was Miss Shepperson's mental comment when, at their
invitation, she had called one Sunday afternoon soon after they were
settled in the house; and, on the way home to her lodgings, she sighed once
or twice, thinking of Mrs. Rymer's blissful smile and the two pretty
The first quarter's rent was duly paid, but the second quarter-day brought
no cheque; and, after the lapse of a fortnight, Miss Shepperson wrote to
make known her ingenuous fear that Mr. Rymer's letter might have
miscarried. At once there came the politest and friendliest reply. Mr.
Rymer (wrote his wife) was out of town, and had been so overwhelmed with
business that the matter of the rent must have altogether escaped his mind;
he would be back in a day or two, and the cheque should be sent at the
earliest possible moment; a thousand apologies for this unpardonable
neglect. Still the cheque did not come; another quarter-day arrived, and
again no rent was paid. It was now a month after Christmas, and Miss
Shepperson, for the first time in her life, found her accounts in serious
disorder. This morning she had a letter from Mrs. Rymer, the latest of a
dozen or so, all in the same strain--
'I really feel quite ashamed to take up the pen,' wrote the graceful lady,
in her delicate hand. 'What _must_ you think of us! I assure you that
never, never before did I find myself in such a situation. Indeed, I should
not have the courage to write at all, but that the end of our troubles is
already in view. It is _absolutely certain_ that, in a month's time, Mr.
Rymer will be able to send you a cheque in complete discharge of his debt.
Meanwhile, I _beg_ you to believe, dear Miss Shepperson, how very, _very_
grateful I am to you for your most kind forbearance.' Another page of
almost affectionate protests closed with the touching subscription, 'ever
yours, sincerely and gratefully, Adelaide Rymer.'
But Miss Shepperson had fallen into that state of nervous agitation which
impels to a decisive step. She foresaw the horrors of pecuniary
embarrassment. Her faith in the Rymers' promises was exhausted. This very
morning she would go to see Mrs. Rymer, lay before her the plain facts of
the case, and with all firmness--with unmistakable resolve--make known to
her that, if the arrears were not paid within a month, notice to quit would
be given, and the recovery of the debt be sought by legal process. Fear had
made Miss Shepperson indignant; it was wrong and cowardly for people such
as the Rymers to behave in this way to a poor woman who had only just
enough to live upon. She felt sure that they _could_ pay if they liked; but
because she had shown herself soft and patient, they took advantage of her.
She would be firm, very firm.
So, about ten o'clock, Miss Shepperson put on her best things, and set out
for Hammersmith. It was a foggy, drizzly, enervating day. When Miss
Shepperson found herself drawing near to the house, her courage sank, her
heart throbbed painfully, and for a moment she all but stopped and turned,
thinking that it would be much better to put her ultimatum into writing.
Yet there was the house in view, and to turn back would be deplorable
weakness. By word of mouth she could so much better depict the gravity of
her situation. She forced herself onwards. Trembling in every nerve, she
rang the bell, and in a scarce audible gasp she asked for Mrs. Rymer. A
brief delay, and the servant admitted her.
Mrs. Rymer was in the drawing-room, giving her elder child a piano-lesson,
while the younger, sitting in a baby-chair at the table, turned over a
picture-book. The room was comfortably and prettily furnished; the children
were very becomingly dressed; their mother, a tall woman, of fair
complexion and thin, refined face, with wandering eyes and a forehead
rather deeply lined, stepped forward as if in delight at the unexpected
visit, and took Miss Shepperson's ill-gloved hand in both her own, gazing
with tender interest into her eyes.
'How kind of you to have taken this trouble! You guessed that I really
wished to see you. I should have come to you, but just at present I find it
so difficult to get away from home. I am housekeeper, nursemaid, and
governess all in one! Some women would find it rather a strain, but the
dear tots are so good--so good! Cissy, you remember Miss Shepperson? Of
course you do. They look a little pale, I'm afraid; don't you think so?
After the life they were accustomed to--but we won't talk about _that_.
Tots, school-time is over for this morning. You can't go out, my poor
dears; look at the horrid, horrid weather. Go and sit by the nursery-fire,
and sing "Rain, rain, go away!"'
Miss Shepperson followed the children with her look as they silently left
the room. She knew not how to enter upon what she had to say. To talk of
the law and use threats in this atmosphere of serene domesticity seemed
impossibly harsh. But the necessity of broaching the disagreeable subject
was spared her.
'My husband and I were talking about you last night,' began Mrs. Rymer, as
soon as the door had closed, in a tone of the friendliest confidence. 'I
had an idea; it seems to me so good. I wonder whether it will to you? You
told me, did you not, that you live in lodgings, and quite alone?'
'Yes,' replied Miss Shepperson, struggling to command her nerves and
betraying uneasy wonder.
'Is it by choice?' asked the soft-voiced lady, with sympathetic bending of
the head. 'Have you no relations in London? I can't help thinking you must
feel very lonely.'
It was not difficult to lead Miss Shepperson to talk of her
circumstances--a natural introduction to the announcement which she was
still resolved to make with all firmness. She narrated in outline the
history of her family, made known exactly how she stood in pecuniary
matters, and ended by saying--
'You see, Mrs. Rymer, that I have to live as carefully as I can. This house
is really all I have to depend upon, and--and--'
Again she was spared the unpleasant utterance. With an irresistible smile,
and laying her soft hand on the visitor's ill-fitting glove, Mrs. Rymer
began to reveal the happy thought which had occurred to her. In the house
there was a spare room; why should not Miss Shepperson come and live
here--live, that is to say, as a member of the family? Nothing simpler than
to arrange the details of such a plan, which, of course, must be 'strictly
businesslike,' though carried out in a spirit of mutual goodwill. A certain
sum of money was due to her for rent; suppose this were repaid in the form
of board and lodging, which might be reckoned at--should one say, fifteen
shillings a week? At midsummer next an account would be drawn up, 'in a
thoroughly businesslike way,' and whatever then remained due to Miss
Shepperson would be paid at once; after which, if the arrangement proved
agreeable to both sides, it might be continued, cost of board and lodging
being deducted from the rent, and the remainder paid 'with regularity'
every quarter. Miss Shepperson would thus have a home--a real home--with
all family comforts, and Mrs. Rymer, who was too much occupied with house
and children to see much society, would have the advantage of a sympathetic
friend under her own roof. The good lady's voice trembled with joyous
eagerness as she unfolded the project, and her eyes grew large as she
waited for the response.
Miss Shepperson felt such astonishment that she could only reply with
incoherencies. An idea so novel and so strange threw her thoughts into
disorder. She was alarmed by the invitation to live with people who were
socially her superiors. On the other hand, the proposal made appeal to her
natural inclination for domestic life; it offered the possibility of
occupation, of usefulness. Moreover, from the pecuniary point of view, it
would be so very advantageous.
'But,' she stammered at length, when Mrs. Rymer had repeated the suggestion
in words even more gracious and alluring, 'but fifteen shillings is so very
little for board and lodging.'
'Oh, don't let _that_ trouble you, dear Miss Shepperson,' cried the other
gaily. 'In a family, so little difference is made by an extra person. I
assure you it is a perfectly businesslike arrangement; otherwise my
husband, who is prudence itself, would never have sanctioned it. As you
know, we are suffering a temporary embarrassment. I wrote to you yesterday
before my husband's return from business. When he came home, I learnt, to
my dismay, that it might be rather _more_ than a month before he was able
to send you a cheque. I said: "Oh, I must write again to Miss Shepperson. I
can't bear to think of misleading her." Then, as we talked, that idea came
to me. As I think you will believe, Miss Shepperson, I am not a scheming or
a selfish woman; never, never have I wronged any one in my life. This
proposal, I cannot help feeling, is as much for your benefit as for ours.
Doesn't it really seem so to you? Suppose you come up with me and look at
the room. It is not in perfect order, but you will see whether it pleases
Curiosity allying itself with the allurement which had begun to work upon
her feelings, Miss Shepperson timidly rose and followed her smiling guide
upstairs. The little spare room on the second floor was furnished simply
enough, but made such a contrast with the bedchamber in the Acton
lodging-house that the visitor could scarcely repress an exclamation. Mrs.
Rymer was voluble with promise of added comforts. She interested herself in
Miss Shepperson's health, and learnt with the utmost satisfaction that it
seldom gave trouble. She inquired as to Miss Shepperson's likings in the
matter of diet, and strongly approved her preference for a plain, nutritive
regimen. From the spare room the visitor was taken into all the others, and
before they went downstairs again Mrs. Rymer had begun to talk as though
the matter were decided.
'You will stay and have lunch with me,' she said. 'Oh yes, indeed you will;
I can't dream of your going out into this weather till after lunch. Suppose
we have the tots into the drawing-room again? I want them to make friends
with you at once. I _know_ you love children.--Oh, I have known that for a
Miss Shepperson stayed to lunch. She stayed to tea. When at length she took
her leave, about six o'clock, the arrangement was complete in every detail.
On this day week she would transfer herself to the Rymers' house, and enter
upon her new life.
She arrived on Saturday afternoon, and was received by the assembled family
like a very dear friend or relative. Mr. Rymer, a well-dressed man, polite,
good-natured, with a frequent falsetto laugh, talked over the teacups in
the pleasantest way imaginable, not only putting Miss Shepperson at ease,
but making her feel as if her position as a member of the household were
the most natural thing in the world. His mere pronunciation of her name
gave it a dignity, an importance quite new to Miss Shepperson's ears. He
had a way of shaping his remarks so as to make it appear that the homely,
timid woman was, if anything, rather the superior in rank and education,
and that their simple ways might now and then cause her amusement. Even the
children seemed to do their best to make the newcomer feel at home. Cissy,
whose age was nine, assiduously handed toast and cake with a most engaging
smile, and little Minnie, not quite six, deposited her kitten in Miss
Shepperson's lap, saying prettily, 'You may stroke it whenever you like.'
Miss Shepperson, to be sure, had personal qualities which could not but
appeal to people of discernment. Her plain features expressed a simplicity
and gentleness which more than compensated for the lack of conventional
grace in her manners; she spoke softly and with obvious frankness, nor was
there much fault to find with her phrasing and accent; dressed a little
more elegantly, she would in no way have jarred with the tone of average
middle-class society. If she had not much education, she was altogether
free from pretence, and the possession of property (which always works very
decidedly for good or for evil) saved her from that excess of deference
which would have accentuated her social shortcomings. Undistinguished as
she might seem at the first glance, Miss Shepperson could not altogether be
slighted by any one who had been in her presence for a few minutes. And
when, in the course of the evening, she found courage to converse more
freely, giving her views, for instance, on the great servant question, and
on other matters of domestic interest, it became clear to Mr. and Mrs.
Rymer that their landlady, though a soft-hearted and simple-minded woman,
was by no means to be regarded as a person of no account.
The servant question was to the front just now, as Mrs. Rymer explained in
detail. She, 'of course,' kept two domestics, but was temporarily making
shift with only one, it being so difficult to replace the cook, who had
left a week ago. Did Miss Shepperson know of a cook, a sensible,
trustworthy woman? For the present Mrs. Rymer--she confessed it with a
pleasant little laugh--had to give an eye to the dinner herself.
'I only hope you won't make yourself ill, dear,' said Mr. Rymer, bending
towards his wife with a look of well-bred solicitude. 'Miss Shepperson, I
beg you to insist that she lies down a little every afternoon. She has
great nervous energy, but isn't really very strong. You can't think what a
relief it will be to me all day to know that some one is with her.'
On Sunday morning all went to church together; for, to Mrs. Rymer's great
satisfaction, Miss Shepperson was a member of the orthodox community, and
particular about observances. Meals were reduced to the simplest terms; a
restful quiet prevailed in the little house; in the afternoon, while Mrs.
Rymer reposed, Miss Shepperson read to the children. She it was who--the
servant being out--prepared tea. After tea, Mr. and Mrs. Rymer, with many
apologies, left the home together for a couple of hours, being absolutely
obliged to pay a call at some distance, and Miss Shepperson again took care
of the children till the domestic returned.
After breakfast the next day--it was a very plain meal, merely a rasher and
dry toast--the lady of the house chatted with her friend more
confidentially than ever. Their servant, she said, a good girl but not very
robust, naturally could not do all the work of the house, and, by way of
helping, Mrs. Rymer was accustomed to 'see to' her own bedroom.
'It's really no hardship,' she said, in her graceful, sweet-tempered way,
'when once you're used to it; in fact, I think the exercise is good for my
health. But, of course, I couldn't think of asking _you_ to do the same. No
doubt you will like to have a breath of air, as the sky seems clearing.'
What could Miss Shepperson do but protest that to put her own room in order
was such a trifling matter that they need not speak of it another moment.
Mrs. Rymer was confused, vexed, and wished she had not said a word; but the
other made a joke of these scruples.
'When do the children go out?' asked Miss Shepperson. 'Do you take them
'Oh, always! almost always! I shall go out with them for an hour at eleven.
And yet'--she checked herself, with a look of worry--'oh, dear me! I must
absolutely go shopping, and I do so dislike to take the tots in that
direction. Never mind; the walk must be put off till the afternoon. It
_may_ rain; but--'
Miss Shepperson straightway offered her services; she would either shop or
go out with the children, whichever Mrs. Rymer preferred. The lady thought
she had better do the shopping--so her friend's morning was pleasantly
arranged. In a day or two things got into a happy routine. Miss Shepperson
practically became nursemaid, with the privilege of keeping her own bedroom
in order and of helping in a good many little ways throughout the domestic
day. A fortnight elapsed, and Mrs. Rymer was still unable to 'suit herself'
with a cook, though she had visited, or professed to visit, many
registry-offices and corresponded with many friends. A week after that the
subject of the cook had somehow fallen into forgetfulness; and, indeed, a
less charitably disposed observer than Miss Shepperson might have doubted
whether Mrs. Rymer had ever seriously meant to engage one at all. The food
served on the family table was of the plainest, and not always
superabundant in quantity; but the table itself was tastefully ordered,
and, indeed, no sort of carelessness appeared in any detail of the
household life. Mrs. Rymer was always busy, and without fuss, without
irritation. She had a large correspondence; but it was not often that
people called. No guest was ever invited to lunch or dinner. All this while
the master of the house kept regular hours, leaving home at nine and
returning at seven; if he went out after dinner, which happened rarely, he
was always back by eleven o'clock. No more respectable man than Mr. Rymer;
none more even-tempered, more easily pleased, more consistently polite and
amiable. That he and his wife were very fond of each other appeared in all
their talk and behaviour; both worshipped the children, and, in spite of
that, trained them with a considerable measure of good sense. In the
evenings Mr. Rymer sometimes read aloud, or he would talk instructively of
the affairs of the day. The more Miss Shepperson saw of her friends the
more she liked them. Never had she been the subject of so much kind
attention, and in no company had she ever felt so happily at ease.
Time went on, and it was near midsummer. Of late Mrs. Rymer had not been
very well, and once or twice Miss Shepperson fancied that her eyes showed
traces of tears; it was but natural that the guest, often preoccupied with
the thought of the promised settlement, should feel a little uneasy. On
June 23 Mrs. Rymer chose a suitable moment, and with her most confidential
air, invited Miss Shepperson to an intimate chat.
'I want to explain to you,' she said, rather cheerfully than otherwise,
'the exact state of our affairs. I'm sure it will interest you. We have
become such good friends--as I knew we should. I shall be much easier in
mind when you know exactly how we stand.'
Thereupon she spoke of a certain kinsman of her husband, an old and infirm
man, whose decease was expected, if not from day to day, at all events from
week to week. The event would have great importance for them, as Mr. Rymer
was entitled to the reversion of several thousands of pounds, held in use
by his lingering relative.
'Now let me ask you a question,' pursued the lady in friendship's
undertone. 'My husband is _quite_ prepared to settle with you to-morrow. He
wishes to do so, for he feels that your patience has been most exemplary.
But, as we spoke of it last night, an idea came to me. I can't help
thinking it was a happy idea, but I wish to know how it strikes you. On
receiving the sum due to you, you will no doubt place it in a bank, or in
some way invest it. Suppose, now, you leave the money in Mr. Rymer's hands,
receiving his acknowledgment, and allowing him to pay it, with four per
cent, interest, when he enters into possession of his capital? Mind, I only
suggest this; not for a moment would I put pressure upon you. If you have
need of the money, it shall be paid _at once._ But it struck me that,
knowing us so well now, you might even be glad of such an investment as
this. The event to which we are looking forward may happen very soon; but
it _may_ be delayed. How would you like to leave this money, and the sums
to which you will be entitled under our arrangements, from quarter to
quarter, to increase at compound interest? Let us make a little
Miss Shepperson listened nervously. She was on the point of saying that, on
the whole, she preferred immediate payment; but while she struggled with
her moral weakness Mrs. Rymer, anxiously reading her face, struck another
'I mustn't disguise from you that the money, though such a small sum, would
be useful to my husband. Poor fellow! he has been fighting against
adversity for the last year or two, and I'm sure no man ever struggled more
bravely. You would never think, would you? that he is often kept awake all
night by his anxieties. As I tell him, he need not really be anxious at
all, for his troubles will so soon come to an end. But there is no more
honourable man living, and he worries at the thought of owing money--you
can't imagine how he worries! Then, to tell you a great secret--'
A change came upon the speaker's face; her voice softened to a whisper as
she communicated a piece of delicate domestic news.
'My poor husband,' she added, 'cannot bear to think that, when it happens,
we may be in really straitened circumstances, and I may suffer for lack of
comforts. To tell you the whole truth, dear Miss Shepperson, I have no
doubt that, if you like my idea, he would at once put aside that money to
be ready for an emergency. So, you see, it is self-interest in me, after
all.' Her smile was very sweet. 'But don't judge me too severely. What I
propose is, as you see, really a very good investment--is it not?'
Miss Shepperson found it impossible to speak as she wished, and before the
conversation came to an end she saw the matter entirely from her friend's
point of view. She had, in truth, no immediate need of money, and the more
she thought of it, the more content she was to do a kindness to the Rymers,
while at the same time benefiting herself. That very evening Mr. Rymer
prepared a legal document, promising to pay on demand the sum which became
due to Miss Shepperson to-morrow, with compound interest at the rate of
four per cent. While signing this, he gravely expressed his conviction that
before Michaelmas the time for payment would have arrived.
'But if it were next week,' he added, with a polite movement towards his
creditor, 'I should be not a bit the less grateful to our most kind
'Oh, but it's purely a matter of business,' said Miss Shepperson, who was
always abashed by such expressions.
'To be sure,' murmured Mrs. Rymer. 'Let us look at it in that light. But it
shan't prevent us from calling Miss Shepperson our dearest friend.'
The homely woman blushed and felt happy.
Towards the end of autumn, when the domestic crisis was very near, the
servant declared herself ill, and at twenty-four hours' notice quitted the
house. As a matter of fact, she had received no wages for several months;
the kindness with which she was otherwise treated had kept her at her post
thus long, but she feared the increase of work impending, and preferred to
go off unpaid. Now for the first time did Mrs. Rymer's nerves give way.
Miss Shepperson found her sobbing by the fireside, the two children
lamenting at such an unwonted spectacle. Where was a new servant to be
found? In a day or two the monthly nurse would be here, and must, of
course, be waited upon. And what was to become of the children? Miss
Shepperson, moved by the calamitous situation, entreated her friend to
leave everything to her. She would find a servant somehow, and meanwhile
would keep the house going with her own hands. Mrs. Rymer sobbed that she
was ashamed to allow such a thing; but the other, braced by a crisis,
displayed wonderful activity and resource. For two days Miss Shepperson did
all the domestic labour; then a maid, of the species known as 'general,'
presented herself, and none too soon, for that same night there was born to
the Rymers a third daughter. But troubles were by no means over. While Mrs.
Rymer was ill--very ill indeed--the new handmaid exhibited a character so
eccentric that, after nearly setting fire to the house while in a state of
intoxication, she had to be got rid of as speedily as possible. Miss
Shepperson resolved that, for the present, there should be no repetition of
such disagreeable things. She quietly told Mr. Rymer that she felt quite
able to grapple with the situation herself.
'Impossible!' cried the master of the house, who, after many sleepless
nights and distracted days, had a haggard, unshorn face, scarcely to be
recognised. 'I cannot permit it! I will go myself'
Then, suddenly turning again to Miss Shepperson, he grasped her hand,
called her his dear friend and benefactress, and with breaking voice
whispered to her--
'I will help you. I can do the hard work. It's only for a day or two.'
Late that evening he and Miss Shepperson were in the kitchen together: the
one was washing crockery, the other, who had been filling coal-scuttles,
stood with dirty hands and melancholy visage, his eyes fixed on the floor.
Their looks met; Mr. Rymer took a step forward, smiling with confidential
'I feel that I ought to speak frankly,' he said, in a voice as polite and
well-tuned as ever. 'I should like to make known to you the exact state of
'Oh, but Mrs. Rymer has told me everything,' replied Miss Shepperson, as
she dried a tea-cup.
'No; not quite everything, I'm afraid.' He had a shovel in his hand, and
eyed it curiously. 'She has not told you that I am considerably in debt to
various people, and that, not long ago, I was obliged to raise money on our
Miss Shepperson laid down the tea-cup and gazed anxiously at him, whereupon
he began a detailed story of his misfortunes in business. Mr. Rymer was a
commission-agent--that is to say, he was everything and nothing. Struggle
with pecuniary embarrassment was his normal condition, but only during the
last twelvemonth had he fallen under persistent ill-luck and come to all
but the very end of his resources. It would still be possible for him, he
explained, to raise money on the reversion for which he was waiting, but of
such a step he could not dream.
'It would be dishonesty, Miss Shepperson, and, how unfortunate, I have
never yet lost my honour. People have trusted me, knowing that I am an
honest man. I belong to a good family--as, no doubt, Mrs. Rymer has told
you. A brother of mine holds a respected position in Birmingham, and, if
the worst comes to the worst, he will find me employment. But, as you can
well understand, I shrink from that extremity. For one thing, I am in debt
to my brother, and I am resolved to pay what I owe him before asking for
any more assistance. I do not lose courage. You know the proverb: "Lose
heart, lose all." I am blest with an admirable wife, who stands by me and
supports me under every trial. If my wife were to die, Miss Shepperson--'
He faltered; his eyes glistened in the gas 'But no, I won't encourage
gloomy fears. She is a little better to-day, they tell me. We shall come
out of our troubles, and laugh over them by our cheerful fireside--you with
us--you, our dearest and staunchest friend.'
'Yes, we must hope,' said Miss Shepperson, reassured once more as to her
own interests; for a moment her heart had sunk very low indeed. 'We are all
doing our best.'
'You above all,' said Mr. Rymer, pressing her hand with his coal-blackened
fingers. 'I felt obliged to speak frankly, because you must have thought it
strange that I allowed things to get so disorderly--our domestic
arrangements, I mean. The fact is, Miss Shepperson, I simply don't know how
I am going to meet the expenses of this illness, and I dread the thought of
engaging servants. I cannot--I will not--raise money on my expectations!
When the money comes to me, I must be able to pay all my debts, and have
enough left to recommence life with. Don't you approve this resolution,
'Oh yes, indeed I do,' replied the listener heartily.
'And yet, of course,' he pursued, his eyes wandering, 'we _must_ have a
Miss Shepperson reflected, she too with an uneasy look on her face. There
was a long silence, broken by a deep sigh from Mr. Rymer, a sigh which was
almost a sob. The other went on drying her plates and dishes, and said at
length that perhaps they might manage with quite a young girl, who would
come for small wages; she herself was willing to help as much as she
'Oh, you shame me, you shame me!' broke in Mr. Rymer, laying a hand on his
forehead, and leaving a black mark there. 'There is no end to your
kindness; but I feel it as a disgrace to us--to me--that you, a
lady of property, should be working here like a servant. It is
At the flattering description of herself Miss Shepperson smiled; her soft
eyes beamed with the light of contentment.
'Don't you give a thought to that, Mr. Rymer,' she exclaimed. 'Why, it's a
pleasure to me, and it gives me something to do--it's good for my health.
Don't you worry. Think about your business, and leave me to look after the
house. It'll be all right.'
A week later Mrs. Rymer was in the way of recovery, and her husband went to
the City as usual. A servant had been engaged--a girl of sixteen, who knew
as much of housework as London girls of sixteen generally do; at all
events, she could carry coals and wash steps. But the mistress of the
house, it was evident, would for a long time be unable to do anything
whatever; the real maid-of-all-work was Miss Shepperson, who rose every
morning at six o'clock, and toiled in one way or another till weary
bedtime. If she left the house, it was to do needful shopping or to take
the children for a walk. Her reward was the admiration and gratitude of the
family; even little Minnie had been taught to say, at frequent intervals:
'I love Miss Shepperson because she is good!' The invalid behaved to her as
to a sister, and kissed her cheek morning and evening. Miss Shepperson's
name being Dora, the baby was to be so called, and, as a matter of course,
the godmother drew a sovereign from her small savings to buy little Miss
Dora a christening present. It would not have been easy to find a house in
London in which there reigned so delightful a spirit of harmony and
'I was so glad,' said Mrs. Rymer one day to her friend, the day on which
she first rose from bed, 'that my husband took you into his confidence
about our affairs. Now you know everything, and it is much better. You know
that we are very unlucky, but that no one can breathe a word against our
honour. This was the thought that held me up through my illness. In a very
short time all our debts will be paid--every farthing, and it will be
delightful to remember how we struggled, and what we endured, to keep an
honest name. Though,' she added tenderly, 'how we should have done without
_you_, I really cannot imagine. We might have sunk--gone down!'
For months Mrs. Rymer led the life of a feeble convalescent. She ought to
have had change of air, but that was out of the question, for Mr. Rymer's
business was as unremunerative as ever, and with difficulty he provided the
household with food. One gleam of light kept up the courage of the family:
the aged relative was known to be so infirm that he could only leave the
house in a bath-chair; every day there might be news even yet more
promising. Meanwhile, the girl of sixteen exercised her incompetence in the
meaner departments of domestic life, and Miss Shepperson did all the work
that required care or common-sense, the duties of nursemaid alone taking a
great deal of her time. On the whole, this employment seemed to suit her;
she had a look of improved health, enjoyed more equable spirits, and in her
manner showed more self-confidence. Once a month she succeeded in getting a
few hours' holiday, and paid a visit to one or the other of her sisters;
but to neither of them did she tell the truth regarding her position in the
house at Hammersmith. Now and then, when every one else under the roof was
asleep, she took from a locked drawer in her bedroom a little account-book,
and busied herself with figures. This she found an enjoyable moment; it was
very pleasant indeed to make the computation of what the Rymers owed to
her, a daily-growing debt of which the payment could not now be long
delayed. She did not feel quite sure with regard to the interest, but the
principal of the debt was very easily reckoned, and it would make a nice
little sum to put by. Certainly Miss Shepperson was not unhappy.
Mrs. Rymer was just able to resume her normal habits, to write many
letters, teach her children, pay visits in distant parts of London--the
care of the baby being still chiefly left to Miss Shepperson--when, on a
pleasant day of spring, a little before lunch-time, Mr. Rymer rushed into
the house, calling in an agitated voice his wife's name. Miss Shepperson
was the only person at home, for Mrs. Rymer had gone out with the children,
the servant accompanying her to wheel baby's perambulator; she ran up from
the kitchen, aproned, with sleeves rolled to the elbow, and met the excited
man as he descended from a vain search in the bedrooms.
'Has it happened?' she cried--for it seemed to her that there could be only
one explanation of Mr. Rymer's behaviour.
'Yes! He died this morning--this morning!'
They clasped hands; then, as an afterthought, their eyes fell, and they
stood limply embarrassed.
'It seems shocking to take the news in this way,' murmured Mr. Rymer; 'but
the relief; oh, the relief! And then, I scarcely knew him; we haven't seen
each other for years. I can't help it! I feel as if I had thrown off a load
of tons! Where is Adelaide? Which way have they gone?'
He rushed out again, to meet his wife. For several minutes Miss Shepperson
stood motionless, in a happy daze, until she suddenly remembered that chops
were at the kitchen fire, and sped downstairs.
Throughout that day, and, indeed, for several days to come, Mrs. Rymer
behaved very properly indeed; her pleasant, refined face wore a becoming
gravity, and when she spoke of the deceased she called him _poor_ Mr.
So-and-so. She did not attend the funeral, for baby happened to be ailing,
but Mr. Rymer, of course, went. He, in spite of conscientious effort to
imitate his wife's decorum, frequently betrayed the joy which was in his
mind; Miss Shepperson heard him singing as he got up in the morning, and
noticed that he ate with unusual appetite. The house brightened. Before the
end of a week smiles and cheerful remarks ruled in the family; sorrows were
forgotten, and everybody looked forward to the great day of settlement.
It did not come quickly. In two months' time Mr. Rymer still waited upon
the pleasure of the executors. But he was not inactive. His brother at
Birmingham had suggested 'an opening' in that city (thus did Mrs. Rymer
phrase it), and the commission-agent had decided to leave London as soon as
his affairs were in order. Towards the end of the third month the family
was suffering from hope deferred. Mr. Rymer had once more a troubled face,
and his wife no longer talked to Miss Shepperson in happy strain of her
projects for the future. At length notice arrived that the executors were
prepared to settle with Mr. Rymer; yet, in announcing the fact, he
manifested only a sober contentment, while Mrs. Rymer was heard to sigh.
Miss Shepperson noted these things, and wondered a little, but Mrs. Rymer's
smiling assurance that now at last all was well revived her cheerful
With a certain solemnity she was summoned, a day or two later, to a morning
colloquy in the drawing-room. Mr. Rymer sat in an easy-chair, holding a
bundle of papers; Mrs. Rymer sat on the sofa, the dozing baby on her lap;
over against them their friend took her seat. With a little cough and a
rustle of his papers, the polite man began to speak--
'Miss Shepperson, the day has come when I am able to discharge my debt to
you. You will not misunderstand that expression--I speak of my debt in
money. What I owe to you--what we all owe to you--in another and a higher
sense, can never be repaid. That moral debt must still go on, and be
acknowledged by the unfailing gratitude of a lifetime.'
'Of a lifetime,' repeated Mrs. Rymer, sweetly murmuring, and casting
towards her friend an eloquent glance.
'Here, however,' resumed her husband, 'is the pecuniary account. Will you
do me the kindness, Miss Shepperson, to glance it over and see if you find
Miss Shepperson took the paper, which was covered with a very neat array of
figures. It was the same calculation which she herself had so often made,
but with interest on the money due to her correctly computed. The weekly
sum of fifteen shillings for board and lodging had been deducted,
throughout the whole time, from the rent due to her as landlady. Mr. Rymer
stood her debtor for not quite thirty pounds.
'It's _quite_ correct,' said Miss Shepperson, handing back the paper with a
Mr. Rymer turned to his wife.
'And what do _you_ say, dear? Do _you_ think it correct?'
Mrs. Rymer shook her head.
'No,' she answered gently, 'indeed I do not.'
Miss Shepperson was startled. She looked from one to the other, and saw on
their faces only the kindliest expression.
'I really thought it came to about that,' fell from her lips. 'I couldn't
quite reckon the interest--'
'Miss Shepperson,' said Mr. Rymer impressively, 'do you really think that
we should allow you to pay us for your board and lodging--you, our valued
friend--you, who have toiled for us, who have saved us from endless trouble
and embarrassment? That indeed would be a little too shameless. This
account is a mere joke--as I hope you really thought it. I insist on giving
you a cheque for the total amount of the rent due to you from the day when
you first entered this house.'
'Oh, Mr. Rymer!' panted the good woman, turning pale with astonishment.
'Why, of course!' exclaimed Mrs. Rymer. 'Do you think it would be
_possible_ for us to behave in any other way? Surely you know us too well,
dear Miss Shepperson!'
'How kind you are!' faltered their friend, unable to decide in herself
whether she should accept this generosity or not--sorely tempted by the
money, yet longing to show no less generous a spirit on her own side. 'I
really don't know--'
Mr. Rymer imposed silence with a wave of the hand, and began talking in a
slow, grave way.
'Miss Shepperson, to-day I may account myself a happy man. Listen to a very
singular story. You know that I was indebted to others besides you. I have
communicated with all those persons; I have drawn up a schedule of
everything I owe; and--extraordinary coincidence!--the sum-total of my
debts is exactly that of the reversion upon which I have entered, _minus_
three pounds fourteen shillings.'
'Strange!' murmured Mrs. Rymer, as if delightedly.
'I did not know, Miss Shepperson, that I owed so much. I had forgotten
items. And suppose, after all, the total had _exceeded_ my resources! That
indeed would have been a blow. As it is, I am a happy man; my wife is
happy. We pay our debts to the last farthing, and we begin the world
again--with three pounds to the good. Our furniture must go; I cannot
redeem it; no matter. I owe nothing; our honour is saved!'
Miss Shepperson was aghast.
'But, Mrs. Rymer,' she began, 'this is dreadful! What are you going to do?'
'Everything is arranged, dear friend,' Mrs. Rymer replied. 'My husband has
a little post in Birmingham, which will bring him in just enough to support
us in the most modest lodgings. We cannot hope to have a house of our own,
for we are determined never again to borrow--and, indeed, I do not know who
would lend to us. We are poor people, and must live as poor people do. Miss
Shepperson, I ask one favour of you. Will you permit us to leave your house
without the customary notice? We should feel very grateful. To-day I pay
Susan, and part with her; to-morrow we must travel to Birmingham. The
furniture will be removed by the people who take possession of it--'
Miss Shepperson was listening with a bewildered look. She saw Mr. Rymer
'I will now,' he said, 'pay you the rent from the day--'
'Oh, Mr. Rymer!' cried the agitated woman. 'How _can_ I take it? How can I
leave you penniless? I should feel it a downright robbery, that I should!'
'Miss Shepperson,' exclaimed Mrs. Rymer in soft reproach, 'don't you
understand how much better it is to pay all we owe, even though it does
leave us penniless? Why, even darling baby'--she kissed it--'would say so
if she could speak, poor little mite. Of course you will accept the money;
I insist upon it. You won't forget us. We will send you our address, and
you shall hear of your little godchild--'
Her voice broke; she sobbed, and rebuked herself for weakness, and sobbed
again. Meanwhile Mr. Rymer stood holding out banknotes and gold. The
distracted Miss Shepperson made a wild gesture.
'How _can_ I take it? How _can_ I? I should be ashamed the longest day I
'I must insist,' said Mr. Rymer firmly; and his wife, calm again, echoed
the words. In that moment Miss Shepperson clutched at the notes and gold,
and, with a quick step forward, took hold of the baby's hand, making the
little fingers close upon the money.
'There! I give it to little Dora--there!'
Mr. Rymer turned away to hide his emotion. Mrs. Rymer laid baby down on the
sofa, and clasped Miss Shepperson in her arms.
* * * * *
A few days later the house at Hammersmith was vacant. The Rymers wrote from
Birmingham that they had found sufficient, though humble, lodgings, and
were looking for a tiny house, which they would furnish very, very simply
with the money given to baby by their ever dear friend. It may be added
that they had told the truth regarding their position--save as to one
detail: Mr. Rymer thought it needless to acquaint Miss Shepperson with the
fact that his brother, a creditor for three hundred pounds, had generously
forgiven the debt.
Miss Shepperson, lodging in a little bedroom, with an approving conscience
to keep her company, hoped that her house would soon be let again.
A DAUGHTER OF THE LODGE
For a score of years the Rocketts had kept the lodge of Brent Hall. In the
beginning Rockett was head gardener; his wife, the daughter of a
shopkeeper, had never known domestic service, and performed her duties at
the Hall gates with a certain modest dignity not displeasing to the stately
persons upon whom she depended. During the lifetime of Sir Henry the best
possible understanding existed between Hall and lodge. Though Rockett's
health broke down, and at length he could work hardly at all, their
pleasant home was assured to the family; and at Sir Henry's death the
nephew who succeeded him left the Rocketts undisturbed. But, under this new
lordship, things were not quite as they had been. Sir Edwin Shale, a
middle-aged man, had in his youth made a foolish marriage; his lady ruled
him, not with the gentlest of tongues, nor always to the kindest purpose,
and their daughter, Hilda, asserted her rights as only child with a force
of character which Sir Edwin would perhaps have more sincerely admired had
it reminded him less of Lady Shale.
While the Hall, in Sir Henry's time, remained childless, the lodge prided
itself on a boy and two girls. Young Rockett, something of a scapegrace,
was by the baronet's advice sent to sea, and thenceforth gave his parents
no trouble. The second daughter, Betsy, grew up to be her mother's help.
But Betsy's elder sister showed from early years that the life of the lodge
would afford no adequate scope for _her_ ambitions. May Rockett had good
looks; what was more, she had an intellect which sharpened itself on
everything with which it came in contact. The village school could never
have been held responsible for May Rockett's acquirements and views at the
age of ten; nor could the High School in the neighbouring town altogether
account for her mental development at seventeen. Not without misgivings had
the health-broken gardener and his wife consented to May's pursuit of the
higher learning; but Sir Henry and the kind old Lady Shale seemed to think
it the safer course, and evidently there was little chance of the girl's
accepting any humble kind of employment: in one way or another she must
depend for a livelihood upon her brains. At the time of Sir Edwin's
succession Miss Rockett had already obtained a place as governess, giving
her parents to understand that this was only, of course, a temporary
expedient--a paving of the way to something vaguely, but superbly,
independent. Nor was promotion long in coming. At two-and-twenty May
accepted a secretaryship to a lady with a mission--concerning the rights of
womanhood. In letters to her father and mother she spoke much of the
importance of her work, but did not confess how very modest was her salary.
A couple of years went by without her visiting the old home; then, of a
sudden, she made known her intention of coming to stay at the lodge 'for a
week or ten days.' She explained that her purpose was rest; intellectual
strain had begun rather to tell upon her, and a few days of absolute
tranquillity, such as she might expect under the elms of Brent Hall, would
do her all the good in the world. 'Of course,' she added, 'it's unnecessary
to say anything about me to the Shale people. They and I have nothing in
common, and it will be better for us to ignore each other's existence.'
These characteristic phrases troubled Mr. and Mrs. Rockett. That the family
at the Hall should, if it seemed good to them, ignore the existence of May
was, in the Rocketts' view, reasonable enough; but for May to ignore Sir
Edwin and Lady Shale, who were just now in residence after six months spent
abroad, struck them as a very grave impropriety. Natural respect demanded
that, at some fitting moment, and in a suitable manner, their daughter
should present herself to her feudal superiors, to whom she was assuredly
indebted, though indirectly, for 'the blessings she enjoyed.' This was Mrs.
Rockett's phrase, and the rheumatic, wheezy old gardener uttered the same
opinion in less conventional language. They had no affection for Sir Edwin
or his lady, and Miss Hilda they decidedly disliked; their treatment at the
hands of these new people contrasted unpleasantly enough with the memory of
old times; but a spirit of loyal subordination ruled their blood, and, to
Sir Edwin at all events, they felt gratitude for their retention at the
lodge. Mrs. Rockett was a healthy and capable woman of not more than fifty,
but no less than her invalid husband would she have dreaded the thought of
turning her back on Brent Hall. Rockett had often consoled himself with the
thought that here he should die, here amid the fine old trees that he
loved, in the ivy-covered house which was his only idea of home. And was it
not a reasonable hope that Betsy, good steady girl, should some day marry
the promising young gardener whom Sir Edwin had recently taken into his
service, and so re-establish the old order of things at the lodge?
'I half wish May wasn't coming,' said Mrs. Rockett after long and anxious
thought. 'Last time she was here she quite upset me with her strange talk.'
'She's a funny girl, and that's the truth,' muttered Rockett from his old
leather chair, full in the sunshine of the kitchen window. They had a nice
little sitting-room; but this, of course, was only used on Sunday, and no
particular idea of comfort attached to it. May, to be sure, had always used
the sitting-room. It was one of the habits which emphasised most strongly
the moral distance between her and her parents.
The subject being full of perplexity, they put it aside, and with very
mixed feelings awaited their elder daughter's arrival. Two days later a cab
deposited at the lodge Miss May, and her dress-basket, and her
travelling-bag, and her holdall, together with certain loose periodicals
and a volume or two bearing the yellow label of Mudie. The young lady was
well dressed in a severely practical way; nothing unduly feminine marked
her appearance, and in the matter of collar and necktie she inclined to the
example of the other sex; for all that, her soft complexion and bright
eyes, her well-turned figure and light, quick movements, had a picturesque
value which Miss May certainly did not ignore. She manifested no excess of
feeling when her mother and sister came forth to welcome her; a nod, a
smile, an offer of her cheek, and the pleasant exclamation, 'Well, good
people!' carried her through this little scene with becoming dignity.
'You will bring these things inside, please,' she said to the driver, in
her agreeable head-voice, with the tone and gesture of one who habitually
Her father, bent with rheumatism, stood awaiting her just within. She
grasped his hand cordially, and cried on a cheery note, 'Well, father, how
are you getting on? No worse than usual, I hope?' Then she added, regarding
him with her head slightly aside, 'We must have a talk about your case.
I've been going in a little for medicine lately. No doubt your country
medico is a duffer. Sit down, sit down, and make yourself comfortable. I
don't want to disturb any one. About teatime, isn't it, mother? Tea very
weak for me, please, and a slice of lemon with it, if you have such a
thing, and just a mouthful of dry toast.'
So unwilling was May to disturb the habits of the family that, half an hour
after her arrival, the homely three had fallen into a state of nervous
agitation, and could neither say nor do anything natural to them. Of a
sudden there sounded a sharp rapping at the window. Mrs. Rockett and Betsy
started up, and Betsy ran to the door. In a moment or two she came back
with glowing cheeks.
'I'm sure I never heard the bell!' she exclaimed with compunction. 'Miss
Shale had to get off her bicycle!'
'Was it she who hammered at the window?' asked May coldly.
'Yes--and she was that annoyed.'
'It will do her good. A little anger now and then is excellent for the
health.' And Miss Rockett sipped her lemon-tinctured tea with a smile of
The others went to bed at ten o'clock, but May, having made herself at ease
in the sitting-room, sat there reading until after twelve. Nevertheless,
she was up very early next morning, and, before going out for a sharp
little walk (in a heavy shower), she gave precise directions about her
breakfast. She wanted only the simplest things, prepared in the simplest
way, but the tone of her instructions vexed and perturbed Mrs. Rockett
sorely. After breakfast the young lady made a searching inquiry into the
state of her father's health, and diagnosed his ailments in such learned
words that the old gardener began to feel worse than he had done for many a
year. May then occupied herself with correspondence, and before midday sent
her sister out to post nine letters.
'But I thought you were going to rest yourself?' said her mother, in an
irritable voice quite unusual with her.
'Why, so I am resting!' May exclaimed. 'If you saw my ordinary morning's
work! I suppose you have a London newspaper? No? How _do_ you live without
it? I must run into the town for one this afternoon.'
The town was three miles away, but could be reached by train from the
village station. On reflection, Miss Rockett announced that she would use
this opportunity for calling on a lady whose acquaintance she desired to
make, one Mrs. Lindley, who in social position stood on an equality with
the family at the Hall, and was often seen there. On her mother's
expressing surprise, May smiled indulgently.
'Why shouldn't I know Mrs. Lindley? I have heard she's interested in a
movement which occupies me a good deal just now. I know she will be
delighted to see me. I can give her a good deal of first-hand information,
for which she will be grateful. You _do_ amuse me, mother, she added in her
blandest tone. 'When will you come to understand what my position is?'
The Rocketts had put aside all thoughts of what they esteemed May's duty
towards the Hall; they earnestly hoped that her stay with them might pass
unobserved by Lady and Miss Shale, whom, they felt sure, it would be
positively dangerous for the girl to meet. Mrs. Rockett had not slept for
anxiety on this score. The father was also a good deal troubled; but his
wonder at May's bearing and talk had, on the whole, an agreeable
preponderance over the uneasy feeling. He and Betsy shared a secret
admiration for the brilliant qualities which were flashed before their
eyes; they privately agreed that May was more of a real lady than either
the baronet's hard-tongued wife or the disdainful Hilda Shale.
So Miss Rockett took the early afternoon train, and found her way to Mrs.
Lindley's, where she sent in her card. At once admitted to the
drawing-room, she gave a rapid account of herself, naming persons whose
acquaintance sufficiently recommended her. Mrs. Lindley was a
good-humoured, chatty woman, who had a lively interest in everything
'progressive'; a new religion or a new cycling-costume stirred her to just
the same kind of happy excitement; she had no prejudices, but a decided
preference for the society of healthy, high-spirited, well-to-do people.
Miss Rockett's talk was exactly what she liked, for it glanced at
innumerable topics of the 'advanced' sort, was much concerned with
personalities, and avoided all tiresome precision of argument.
'Are you making a stay here?' asked the hostess.
'Oh! I am with my people in the country--not far off,' May answered in an
offhand way. 'Only for a day or two.'
Other callers were admitted, but Miss Rockett kept the lead in talk; she
glowed with self-satisfaction, feeling that she was really showing to great
advantage, and that everybody admired her. When the door again opened the
name announced was 'Miss Shale.' Stopping in the middle of a swift
sentence, May looked at the newcomer, and saw that it was indeed Hilda
Shale, of Brent Hall; but this did not disconcert her. Without lowering her
voice she finished what she was saying, and ended in a mirthful key. The
baronet's daughter had come into town on her bicycle, as was declared by
the short skirt, easy jacket, and brown shoes, which well displayed her
athletic person. She was a tall, strongly built girl of six-and-twenty,
with a face of hard comeliness and magnificent tawny hair. All her
movements suggested vigour; she shook hands with a downward jerk, moved
about the room with something of a stride and, in sitting down, crossed her
From the first her look had turned with surprise to Miss Rockett. When,
after a minute or two, the hostess presented that young lady to her, Miss
Shale raised her eyebrows a little, smiled in another direction, and gave a
just perceptible nod. May's behaviour was as nearly as possible the same.
'Do you cycle, Miss Rockett?' asked Mrs. Lindley.
'No, I don't. The fact is, I have never found time to learn.'
A lady remarked that nowadays there was a certain distinction in not
cycling; whereupon Miss Shale's abrupt and rather metallic voice sounded
what was meant for gentle irony.
'It's a pity the machines can't be sold cheaper. A great many people who
would like to cycle don't feel able to afford it, you know. One often hears
of such cases out in the country, and it seems awfully hard lines, doesn't
Miss Rockett felt a warmth ascending to her ears, and made a violent effort
to look unconcerned. She wished to say something, but could not find the
right words, and did not feel altogether sure of her voice. The hostess,
who made no personal application of Miss Shale's remark, began to discuss
the prices of bicycles, and others chimed in. May fretted under this turn
of the conversation. Seeing that it was not likely to revert to subjects in
which she could shine, she rose and offered to take leave.
'Must you really go?' fell with conventional regret from the hostess's
'I'm afraid I must,' Miss Rockett replied, bracing herself under the
converging eyes and feeling not quite equal to the occasion. 'My time is so
short, and there are so many people I wish to see.'
As she left the house, anger burned in her. It was certain that Hilda Shale
would make known her circumstances. She had fancied this revelation a
matter of indifference; but, after all, the thought stung her intolerably.
The insolence of the creature, with her hint about the prohibitive cost of
bicycles! All the harder to bear because hitting the truth. May would have
long ago bought a bicycle had she been able to afford it. Straying about
the main streets of the town, she looked flushed and wrathful, and could
think of nothing but her humiliation.
To make things worse, she lost count of time, and presently found that she
had missed the only train by which she could return home. A cab would be
too much of an expense; she had no choice but to walk the three or four
miles. The evening was close; walking rapidly, and with the accompaniment
of vexatious thoughts, she reached the gates of the Hall tired perspiring,
irritated. Just as her hand was on the gate a bicycle-bell trilled
vigorously behind her, and, from a distance of twenty yards, a voice cried
'Open the gate, please!'
Miss Rockett looked round, and saw Hilda Shale slowly wheeling forward, in
expectation that way would be made for her. Deliberately May passed through
the side entrance, and let the little gate fall to.
Miss Shale dismounted, admitted herself, and spoke to May (now at the lodge
door) with angry emphasis.
'Didn't you hear me ask you to open?'
'I couldn't imagine you were speaking to _me_,' answered Miss Rockett, with
brisk dignity. 'I supposed some servant of yours was in sight.'
A peculiar smile distorted Miss Shale's full red lips. Without another word
she mounted her machine and rode away up the elm avenue.
Now Mrs. Rockett had seen this encounter, and heard the words exchanged:
she was lost in consternation.
'What _do_ you mean by behaving like that, May? Why, I was running out
myself to open, and then I saw you were there, and, of course, I thought
you'd do it. There's the second time in two days Miss Shale has had to
complain about us. How _could_ you forget yourself, to behave and speak
like that! Why, you must be crazy, my girl!'
'I don't seem to get on very well here, mother,' was May's reply. 'The fact
is, I'm in a false position. I shall go to-morrow morning, and there won't
be any more trouble.'
Thus spoke Miss Rockett, as one who shakes off a petty annoyance--she knew
not that the serious trouble was just beginning. A few minutes later Mrs.
Rockett went up to the Hall, bent on humbly apologising for her daughter's
impertinence. After being kept waiting for a quarter of an hour she was
admitted to the presence of the housekeeper, who had a rather grave
announcement to make.
'Mrs. Rockett, I'm sorry to tell you that you will have to leave the lodge.
My lady allows you two months, though, as your wages have always been paid
monthly, only a month's notice is really called for. I believe some
allowance will be made you, but you will hear about that. The lodge must be
ready for its new occupants on the last day of October.'
The poor woman all but sank. She had no voice for protest or entreaty--a
sob choked her; and blindly she made her way to the door of the room, then
to the exit from the Hall.
'What in the world is the matter?' cried May, hearing from the
sitting-room, whither she had retired, a clamour of distressful tongues.
She came into the kitchen, and learnt what had happened.
'And now I hope you're satisfied!' exclaimed her mother, with tearful
wrath. 'You've got us turned out of our home--you've lost us the best place
a family ever had--and I hope it's a satisfaction to your conceited,
overbearing mind! If you'd _tried_ for it you couldn't have gone to work
better. And much _you_ care! We're below you, we are; we're like dirt under
your feet! And your father'll go and end his life who knows where miserable
as miserable can be; and your sister'll have to go into service; and as for
'Listen, mother!' shouted the girl, her eyes flashing and every nerve of
her body strung. 'If the Shales are such contemptible wretches as to turn
you out just because they're offended with _me_, I should have thought
you'd have spirit enough to tell them what you think of such behaviour, and
be glad never more to serve such brutes! Father, what do _you_ say? I'll
tell you how it was.'
She narrated the events of the afternoon, amid sobs and ejaculations from
her mother and Betsy. Rockett, who was just now in anguish of lumbago,
tried to straighten himself in his chair before replying, but sank
helplessly together with a groan.
'You can't help yourself, May,' he said at length. 'It's your nature, my
girl. Don't worry. I'll see Sir Edwin, and perhaps he'll listen to me. It's
the women who make all the mischief. I must try to see Sir Edwin--'
A pang across the loins made him end abruptly, groaning, moaning,
muttering. Before the renewed attack of her mother May retreated into the
sitting-room, and there passed an hour wretchedly enough. A knock at the
door without words called her to supper, but she had no appetite, and would
not join the family circle. Presently the door opened, and her father
'Don't worry, my girl,' he whispered. 'I'll see Sir Edwin in the morning.'
May uttered no reply. Vaguely repenting what she had done, she at the same
time rejoiced in the recollection of her passage of arms with Miss Shale,
and was inclined to despise her family for their pusillanimous attitude. It
seemed to her very improbable that the expulsion would really be carried
out. Lady Shale and Hilda meant, no doubt, to give the Rocketts a good
fright, and then contemptuously pardon them. She, in any case, would return
to London without delay, and make no more trouble. A pity she had come to
the lodge at all; it was no place for one of her spirit and her
In the morning she packed. The train which was to take her back to town
left at half-past ten, and after breakfast she walked into the village to
order a cab. Her mother would scarcely speak to her; Betsy was continually
in reproachful tears. On coming back to the lodge she saw her father
hobbling down the avenue, and walked towards him to ask the result of his
supplication. Rockett had seen Sir Edwin, but only to hear his sentence of
exile confirmed. The baronet said he was sorry, but could not interfere;
the matter lay in Lady Shale's hands, and Lady Shale absolutely refused to
hear any excuses or apologies for the insult which had been offered her
'It's all up with us,' said the old gardener, who was pale and trembling
after his great effort. 'We must go. But don't worry, my girl, don't
Then fright took hold upon May Rockett. She felt for the first time what
she had done. Her heart fluttered in an anguish of self-reproach, and her
eyes strayed as if seeking help. A minute's hesitation, then, with all the
speed she could make, she set off up the avenue towards the Hall.
Presenting herself at the servants' entrance, she begged to be allowed to
see the housekeeper. Of course her story was known to all the domestics,
half a dozen of whom quickly collected to stare at her, with more or less
malicious smiles. It was a bitter moment for Miss Rockett, but she subdued
herself, and at length obtained the interview she sought. With a cold air
of superiority and of disapproval the housekeeper listened to her quick,
broken sentences. Would it be possible, May asked, for her to see Lady
Shale? She desired to--to apologise for--for rudeness of which she had been
guilty, rudeness in which her family had no part, which they utterly
deplored, but for which they were to suffer severely.
'If you could help me, ma'am, I should be very grateful--indeed I should--'
Her voice all but broke into a sob. That 'ma'am' cost her a terrible
effort; the sound of it seemed to smack her on the ears.
'If you will go in-to the servants' hall and wait,' the housekeeper deigned
to say, after reflecting, 'I'll see what can be done.'
And Miss Rockett submitted. In the servants' hall she sat for a long, long
time, observed, but never addressed. The hour of her train went by. More
than once she was on the point of rising and fleeing; more than once her
smouldering wrath all but broke into flame. But she thought of her father's
pale, pain-stricken face, and sat on.
At something past eleven o'clock a footman approached her, and said curtly,
'You are to go up to my lady; follow me.' May followed, shaking with
weakness and apprehension, burning at the same time with pride all but in
revolt. Conscious of nothing on the way, she found herself in a large room,
where sat the two ladies, who for some moments spoke together about a topic
of the day placidly. Then the elder seemed to become aware of the girl who
stood before her.
'You are Rockett's elder daughter?'
Oh, the metallic voice of Lady Shale! How gratified she would have been
could she have known how it bruised the girl's pride!
'Yes, my lady--'
'And why do you want to see me?'
'I wish to apologise--most sincerely--to your ladyship--for my behaviour
of last evening--'
'Oh, indeed!' the listener interrupted contemptuously. 'I am glad you have
come to your senses. But your apology must be offered to Miss Shale--if my
daughter cares to listen to it.'
May had foreseen this. It was the bitterest moment of her ordeal. Flushing
scarlet, she turned towards the younger woman.
'Miss Shale, I beg your pardon for what I said yesterday--I beg you to
forgive my rudeness--my impertinence--'
Her voice would go no further; there came a choking sound. Miss Shale
allowed her eyes to rest triumphantly for an instant on the troubled face
and figure, then remarked to her mother--
'It's really nothing to me, as I told you. I suppose this person may leave
the room now?'
It was fated that May Rockett should go through with her purpose and gain
her end. But fate alone (which meant in this case the subtlest
preponderance of one impulse over another) checked her on the point of a
burst of passion which would have startled Lady Shale and Miss Hilda out of
their cold-blooded complacency. In the silence May's blood gurgled at her
ears, and she tottered with dizziness.
'You may go,' said Lady Shale.
But May could not move. There flashed across her the terrible thought that
perhaps she had humiliated herself for nothing.
'My lady--I hope--will your ladyship please to forgive my father and
mother? I entreat you not to send them away. We shall all be so grateful to
your ladyship if you will overlook--'
'That will do,' said Lady Shale decisively. 'I will merely say that the
sooner you leave the lodge the better; and that you will do well never
again to pass the gates of the Hall. You may go.'
Miss Rockett withdrew. Outside, the footman was awaiting her. He looked at
her with a grin, and asked in an undertone, 'Any good?' But May, to whom
this was the last blow, rushed past him, lost herself in corridors, ran
wildly hither and thither, tears streaming from her eyes, and was at length
guided by a maidservant into the outer air. Fleeing she cared not whither,
she came at length into a still corner of the park, and there, hidden amid
trees, watched only by birds and rabbits, she wept out the bitterness of
By an evening train she returned to London, not having confessed to her
family what she had done, and suffering still from some uncertainty as to
the result. A day or two later Betsy wrote to her the happy news that the
sentence of expulsion was withdrawn, and peace reigned once more in the
ivy-covered lodge. By that time Miss Rockett had all but recovered her
self-respect, and was so busy in her secretaryship that she could only
scribble a line of congratulation. She felt that she had done rather a
meritorious thing, but, for the first time in her life, did not care to
boast of it.
It was not easy for Mr. Daffy to leave his shop for the whole day, but an
urgent affair called him to London, and he breakfasted early in order to
catch the 8.30 train. On account of his asthma he had to allow himself
plenty of time for the walk to the station; and all would have been well,
but that, just as he was polishing his silk hat and giving final directions
to his assistant, in stepped a customer, who came to grumble about the fit
of a new coat. Ten good minutes were thus consumed, and with a painful
glance at his watch the breathless tailor at length started. The walk was
uphill; the sun was already powerful; Mr. Daffy reached the station with
dripping forehead and panting as if his sides would burst. There stood the
train; he had barely time to take his ticket and to rush across the
platform. As a porter slammed the carriage-door behind him, he sank upon
the seat in a lamentable condition, gasping, coughing, writhing; his eyes
all but started from his head, and his respectable top-hat tumbled to the
floor, where unconsciously he gave it a kick. A grotesque and distressing
Only one person beheld it, and this, as it happened, a friend of Mr.
Daffy's. In the far corner sat a large, ruddy-cheeked man, whose eye rested
upon the sufferer with a look of greeting disturbed by compassion. Mr.
Lott, a timber-merchant of this town, was in every sense of the word a more
flourishing man than the asthmatic tailor; his six-feet-something of sound
flesh and muscle, his ripe sunburnt complexion, his attitude of eupeptic
and broad-chested ease, left the other, by contrast, scarce his proverbial
fraction of manhood. At a year or two short of fifty, Mr. Daffy began to be
old; he was shoulder-bent, knee-shaky, and had a pallid, wrinkled visage,
with watery, pathetic eye. At fifty turned, Mr. Lott showed a vigour and a
toughness such as few men of any age could rival. For a score of years the
measure of Mr. Lott's robust person had been taken by Mr. Daffy's
professional tape, and, without intimacy, there existed kindly relations
between the two men. Neither had ever been in the other's house, but they
had long met, once a week or so, at the Liberal Club, where it was their
habit to play together a game of draughts. Occasionally they conversed; but
it was a rather one-sided dialogue, for whereas the tailor had a sprightly
intelligence and--so far as his breath allowed--a ready flow of words, the
timber-merchant found himself at a disadvantage when mental activity was
called for. The best-natured man in the world, Mr. Lott would sit smiling
and content so long as he had only to listen; asked his opinion (on
anything but timber), he betrayed by a knitting of the brows, a rolling of
the eyes, an inflation of the cheeks, and other signs of discomposure, the
serious effort it cost him to shape a thought and to utter it. At times Mr.
Daffy got on to the subject of social and political reform, and, after
copious exposition, would ask what Mr. Lott thought. He knew the
timber-merchant too well to expect an immediate reply. There came a long
pause, during which Mr. Lott snorted a little, shuffled in his chair, and
stared at vacancy, until at length, with a sudden smile of relief he
exclaimed, 'Do you know _my_ idea!' And the idea, often rather explosively
stated, was generally marked by common-sense of the bull-headed, British
'Bad this morning,' remarked Mr. Lott, abruptly but sympathetically, as
soon as the writhing tailor could hear him.
'Rather bad--ugh, ugh!--had to run--ugh!--doesn't suit me, Mr. Lott,'
gasped the other, as he took the silk hat which his friend had picked up
and stroked for him.
'Hot weather trying.'
'I vary so,' panted Mr. Daffy, wiping his face with a handkerchief.
'Sometimes one things seems to suit me--ugh, ugh--sometimes another. Going
to town, Mr. Lott?'
The blunt affirmative was accompanied by a singular grimace, such as might
have been caused by the swallowing of something very unpleasant; and
thereupon followed a silence which allowed Mr. Daffy to recover himself. He
sat with his eyes half closed and head bent, leaning back.
They had a general acquaintance with each other's domestic affairs. Both
were widowers; both lived alone. Mr. Daffy's son was married, and dwelt in
London; the same formula applied to Mr. Lott's daughter. And, as it
happened, the marriages had both been a subject of parental
dissatisfaction. Very rarely had Mr. Lott let fall a word with regard to
his daughter, Mrs. Bowles, but the townsfolk were well aware that he
thought his son-in-law a fool, if not worse; Mrs. Bowles, in the seven
years since her wedding, had only two or three times revisited her father's
house, and her husband never came. A like reticence was maintained by Mr.
Daffy concerning his son Charles Edward, once the hope of his life. At
school the lad had promised well; tailoring could not be thought of for
him; he went into a solicitor's office, and remained there just long enough
to assure himself that he had no turn for the law. From that day he was
nothing but an expense and an anxiety to his father, until--now a couple of
years ago--he announced his establishment in a prosperous business in
London, of which Mr. Daffy knew nothing more than that it was connected
with colonial enterprise. Since that date Charles Edward had made no report
of himself, and his father had ceased to write letters which received no
Presently, Mr. Lott moved so as to come nearer to his travelling companion,
and said in a muttering, shamefaced way--
'Have you heard any talk about my daughter lately?'
Mr. Daffy showed embarrassment.
'Well, Mr. Lott, I'm sorry to say I _have_ heard something--'
'Well--it was a friend of mine--perhaps I won't mention the name--who came
and told me something--something that quite upset me. That's what I'm going
to town about, Mr. Lott. I'm--well, the fact is, I was going to call upon
'Oh, you were!' exclaimed the timber-merchant, with gruffness, which
referred not to his friend but to his son-in-law. 'I don't particularly
want to see _him_, but I had thought of seeing my daughter. You wouldn't
mind saying whether it was John Roper--?'
'Yes, it was.'
'Then we've both heard the same story, no doubt.'
Mr. Lott leaned back and stared out of the window. He kept thrusting out
his lips and drawing them in again, at the same time wrinkling his forehead
into the frown which signified that he was trying to shape a thought.
'Mr. Lott,' resumed the tailor, with a gravely troubled look, 'may I ask if
John Roper made any mention of my son?'
The timber-merchant glared, and Mr. Daffy, interpreting the look as one of
anger, trembled under it.
'I feel ashamed and miserable!' burst from his lips.
'It's not your fault, Mr. Daffy,' interrupted the other in a good-natured
growl. 'You're not responsible, no more than for any stranger.'
'That's just what I can't feel,' exclaimed the tailor, nervously slapping
his knee. 'Anyway, it would be a disgrace to a man to have a son a
bookmaker--a blackguard bookmaker. That's bad enough. But when it comes to
robbing and ruining the friends of your own family--why, I never heard a
more disgraceful thing in my life. How I'm going to stand in my shop, and
hold up my head before my customers, I--do--not--know. Of course, it'll be
the talk of the town; we know what the Ropers are when they get hold of
anything. It'll drive me off my head, Mr. Lott, I'm sure it will.'
The timber-merchant stretched out a great hand, and laid it gently on the
excited man's shoulder.
'Don't worry; that never did any good yet. We've got to find out, first of
all, how much of Roper's story is true. What did he tell you?'
'He said that Mr. Bowles had been going down the hill for a year or
more--that his business was neglected, that he spent his time at
racecourses and in public-houses--and that the cause of it all was my son.
_My son?_ What had my son to do with it? Why, didn't I know that Charles
was a racing and betting man, and a notorious bookmaker? You can imagine
what sort of a feeling that gave me. Roper couldn't believe it was the
first I had heard of it; he said lots of people in the town knew how
Charles was living. Did _you_ know, Mr. Lott?'
'Not I; I'm not much in the way of gossip.'
'Well, there's what Roper said. It was last night, and what with that and
my cough, I didn't get a wink of sleep after it. About three o'clock this
morning I made up my mind to go to London at once and see Mr. Bowles. If
it's true that he's been robbed and ruined by Charles, I've only one thing
to do--my duty's plain enough. I shall ask him how much money Charles has
had of him, and, if my means are equal to it, I shall pay every penny
Mr. Lott's countenance waxed so grim that one would have thought him about
to break into wrath against the speaker. But it was merely his way of
disguising a pleasant emotion.
'I don't think most men would see it in that way,' he remarked gruffly.
'Whether they would or not,' exclaimed Mr. Daffy, panting and wriggling,
'it's as plain as plain could be that there's no other course for a man who
respects himself. I couldn't live a day with such a burden as that on my
mind. A bookmaker! A blackguard bookmaker! To think my son should come to
that! _You_ know very well, Mr. Lott, that there's nothing I hate and
despise more than horse-racing. We've often talked about it, and the harm
it does, and the sin and shame it is that such doings should be
'Course we have, course we have,' returned the other, with a nod. But he
was absorbed in his own reflections, and gave only half an ear to the
gasping vehemences which Mr. Daffy poured forth for the next ten minutes.
There followed a short silence, then the strong man shook himself and
opened his lips.
'Do you know _my_ idea?' he blurted out.
'What's that, Mr. Lott?'
'If I were you I wouldn't go to see Bowles. Better for me to do that. We've
only gossip to go upon, and we know what that often amounts to. Leave
Bowles to me, and go and see your son.'
'But I don't even know where he's living.'
'You don't? That's awkward. Well then, come along with me to Bowles's place
of business; as likely as not, if we find him, he'll be able to give you
your son's address. What do you say to my idea, Mr. Daffy?'
The tailor assented to this arrangement, on condition that, if things were
found to be as he had heard, he should be left free to obey his conscience.
The stopping of the train at an intermediate station, where new passengers
entered, put an end to the confidential talk. Mr. Daffy, breathing hard,
struggled with his painful thoughts; the timber-merchant, deeply
meditative, let his eyes wander about the carriage. As they drew near to
the London terminus, Mr. Lott bent forward to his friend.
'I want to buy a present for my eldest nephew,' he remarked, 'but I can't
for the life of me think what it had better be.'
'Perhaps you'll see something in a shop-window,' suggested Mr. Daffy.
'Maybe I shall.'
They alighted at Liverpool Street. Mr. Lott hailed a hansom, and they were
driven to a street in Southwark, where, at the entrance of a building
divided into offices, one perceived the name of Bowles and Perkins. This
firm was on the fifth floor, and Mr. Daffy eyed the staircase with
'No need for you to go up,' said his companion. 'Wait here, and I'll see if
I can get the address.'
Mr. Lott was absent for only a few minutes. He came down again with his
lips hard set, knocking each step sharply with his walking-stick.
'I've got it,' he said, and named a southern suburb.
'Have you seen Mr. Bowles?'
'No; he's out of town,' was the reply. 'Saw his partner.'
They walked side by side for a short way, then Mr. Lott stopped.
'Do you know _my_ idea? It's a little after eleven. I'm going to see my
daughter, and I dare say I shall catch the 3.49 home from Liverpool Street.
Suppose we take our chance of meeting there?'
Thus it was agreed. Mr. Daffy turned in the direction of his son's abode;
the timber-merchant went northward, and presently reached Finsbury Park,
where in a house of unpretentious but decent appearance, dwelt Mr. Bowles.
The servant who answered the door wore a strange look, as if something had
alarmed her; she professed not to know whether any one was at home, and, on
going to inquire, shut the door on the visitor's face. A few minutes
elapsed before Mr. Lott was admitted. The hall struck him as rather bare;
and at the entrance of the drawing-room he stopped in astonishment, for,
excepting the window-curtains and a few ornaments, the room was quite
unfurnished. At the far end stood a young woman, her hands behind her, and
her head bent--an attitude indicative of distress or shame.
'Are you moving, Jane?' inquired Mr. Lott, eyeing her curiously.
His daughter looked at him. She had a comely face, with no little of the
paternal character stamped upon it; her knitted brows and sullen eyes
bespoke a perturbed humour, and her voice was only just audible.
'Yes, we are moving, father.'
Mr. Lott's heavy footfall crossed the floor. He planted himself before her,
his hands resting on his stick.
'What's the matter, Jane? Where's Bowles?'
'He left town yesterday. He'll be back to-morrow, I think.'
'You've had the brokers in the house--isn't that it, eh?'
Mrs. Bowles made no answer, but her head sank again, and a trembling of her
shoulders betrayed the emotion with which she strove. Knowing that Jane
would tell of her misfortunes only when and how she chose, the father
turned away and stood for a minute or two at the window; then he asked
abruptly whether there was not such a thing as a chair in the house. Mrs.
Bowles, who had been on the point of speaking, bade him come to another
room. It was the dining-room, but all the appropriate furniture had
vanished: a couple of bedroom chairs and a deal table served for present
necessities. Here, when they had both sat down, Mrs. Bowles found courage
to break the silence.
'Arthur doesn't know of it. He went away yesterday morning, and the men
came in the afternoon. He had a promise--a distinct promise--that this
shouldn't be done before the end of the month. By then he hoped to have
'Who's the creditor?' inquired Mr. Lott, with a searching look at her face.
Mrs. Bowles was mute, her eyes cast down.
'Is it Charles Daffy?'
Still his daughter kept silence.
'I thought so,' said the timber-merchant, and clumped on the floor with his
stick. 'You'd better tell me all about it, Jane. I know something already.
Better let us talk it over, my girl, and see what can be done.'
He waited a moment. Then his daughter tried to speak, with difficulty
overcame a sob, and at length began her story. She would not blame her
husband. He had been unlucky in speculations, and was driven to a
money-lender--his acquaintance, Charles Daffy. This man, a heartless
rascal, had multiplied charges and interest on a small sum originally
borrowed, until it became a crushing debt. He held a bill of sale on most
of their furniture, and yesterday, as if he knew of Bowles's absence, had
made the seizure; he was within his legal rights, but had led the debtor to
suppose that he would not exercise them. Thus far did Jane relate, in a
hard matter-of-fact voice, but with many nervous movements. Her father
listened in grim silence, and, when she ceased, appeared to reflect.
'That's _your_ story!' he said of a sudden. 'Now, what about the
'I know nothing of horse-racing,' was the cold reply.
'Bowles keeps all that to himself, does he? We'd better have our talk out,
Jane, now that we've begun. Better tell me all you know, my girl.'
Again there was a long pause; but Mr. Lott had patience, and his dogged
persistency at length overcame the wife's pride. Yes, it was true that
Bowles had lost money at races; he had been guilty of much selfish folly;
but the ruin it had brought upon him would serve as a lesson. He was a
wretched and a penitent man; a few days ago he had confessed everything to
his wife, and besought her to pardon him; at present he was making
desperate efforts to recover an honest footing. The business might still be
carried on if some one could be induced to put a little capital into it;
with that in view, Bowles had gone to see certain relatives of his in the
north. If his hope failed, she did not know what was before them; they had
nothing left now but their clothing and the furniture of one or two rooms.
'Would you like to come back home for a while?' asked Mr. Lott abruptly.
'No, father,' was the not less abrupt reply. 'I couldn't do that.'
'I'll give no money to Bowles.'
'He has never asked you, and never will.'
Mr. Lott glared and glowered, but, with all that, had something in his face
which hinted softness. The dialogue did not continue much longer; it ended
with a promise from Mrs. Bowles to let her father know whether her husband
succeeded or not in re-establishing himself. Thereupon they shook hands
without a word, and Mr. Lott left the house. He returned to the City, and,
it being now nearly two o'clock, made a hearty meal. When he was in the
street again, he remembered the birthday present he wished to buy for his
nephew, and for half an hour he rambled vaguely, staring into shop-windows.
At length something caught his eye; it was a row of riding-whips, mounted
in silver; just the thing, he said to himself, to please a lad who would
perhaps ride to hounds next winter. He stepped in, chose carefully, and
made the purchase. Then, having nothing left to do, he walked at a
leisurely pace towards the railway station.
Mr. Daffy was there before him; they met at the entrance to the platform
from which their train would start.
'Must you go back by this?' asked the tailor. 'My son wasn't at home, and
won't be till about five o'clock. I should be terribly obliged, Mr. Lott,
if you could stay and go to Clapham with me. Is it asking too much?'
The timber-merchant gave a friendly nod, and said it was all the same to
him. Then, in reply to anxious questions, he made brief report of what he
had learnt at Finsbury Park. Mr. Daffy was beside himself with wrath and
shame. He would pay every farthing, if he had to sell all he possessed!
'I'm so glad and so thankful you will come with me Mr. Lott. He'd care
nothing for what _I_ said; but when he sees _you_, and hears your opinion
of him, it may have some effect. I beg you to tell him your mind plainly!
Let him know what a contemptible wretch, what a dirty blackguard, he is in
the eyes of all decent folk--let him know it, I entreat you! Perhaps even
yet it isn't too late to make him ashamed of himself.'
They stood amid a rush of people; the panting tailor clung to his big
companion's sleeve. Gruffly promising to do what he could, Mr. Lott led the
way into the street again, where they planned the rest of their day. By
five o'clock they were at Clapham. Charles Daffy occupied the kind of house
which is known as eminently respectable; it suggested an income of at least
a couple of thousand a year. As they waited for the door to open, Mr. Lott
smote gently on his leg with the new riding-whip. He had been silent and
meditative all the way hither.
A smart maidservant conducted them to the dining-room, and there, in a
minute or two, they were joined by Mr. Charles. No one could have surmised
from this gentleman's appearance that he was the son of the little
tradesman who stood before him; nature had given the younger Mr. Daffy a
tall and shapely person, and experience of life had refined his manners to
an easy assurance he would never have learnt from paternal example. His
smooth-shaven visage, so long as it remained grave, might have been that of
an acute and energetic lawyer; his smile, however, disturbed this
impression, for it had a twinkling insolence, a raffish facetiousness,
incompatible with any sober quality. He wore the morning dress of a City
man, with collar and necktie of the latest fashion; his watchguard was
rather demonstrative, and he had two very solid rings on his left hand.
'Ah, dad, how do you do!' he exclaimed, on entering, in an affected
head-voice. 'Why, what's the matter?'
Mr. Daffy had drawn back, refusing the offered hand. With an unpleasant
smile Charles turned to his other visitor.
'Mr. Lott, isn't it! You're looking well, Mr. Lott; but I suppose you
didn't come here just to give me the pleasure of seeing you. I'm rather a
busy man; perhaps one or the other of you will be good enough to break this
solemn silence, and let me know what your game is.'
He spoke with careless impertinence, and let himself drop on to a chair.
The others remained standing, and Mr. Daffy broke into vehement speech.
'I have come here, Charles, to ask what you mean by disgracing yourself and
dishonouring my name. Only yesterday, for the first time, I heard of the
life you are leading. Is this how you repay me for all the trouble I took
to have you well educated, and to make you an honest man? Here I find you
living in luxury and extravagance--and how? On stolen money--money as much
stolen as if you were a pickpocket or a burglar! A pleasant thing for me to
have all my friends talking about Charles Daffy, the bookmaker and the
moneylender! What _right_ have you to dishonour your father in this way? I
ask, what _right_ have you, Charles?'
Here the speaker, who had struggled to gasp his last sentence, was overcome
with a violent fit of coughing. He tottered back and sank on to a sofa.
'Are you here to look after him?' asked Charles of Mr. Lott, crossing his
legs and nodding towards the sufferer. 'If so, I advise you to take him
away before he does himself harm. You're a _lot_ bigger than he is and
perhaps have more sense.'
The timber-merchant stood with legs slightly apart, holding his stick and
the riding-whip horizontally with both hands. His eyes were fixed upon
young Mr. Daffy, and his lips moved in rather an ominous way; but he made
no reply to Charles's smiling remark.
'Mr. Lott,' said the tailor, in a voice still broken by pants and coughs,
'will you speak or me? Will you say what you think of him?'
'You'll have to be quick about it,' interposed Charles, with a glance at
his watch. 'I can give you five minutes; you can say a _lot_ in that time,
if you're sound of wind.'
The timber-merchant's eyes were very wide, and his cheeks unusually red.
Abruptly he turned to Mr. Daffy.
'Do you know _my_ idea?'
But just as he spoke there sounded a knock at the door, and the smart
maidservant cried out that a gentleman wished to see her master.
'Who is it?' asked Charles.
The answer came from the visitor himself, who, pushing the servant aside,
broke into the room. It was a young man of no very distinguished
appearance, thin, red-haired, with a pasty complexion and a scrubby
moustache; his clothes were approaching shabbiness, and he had an unwashed
look, due in part to hasty travel on this hot day. Streaming with sweat,
his features distorted with angry excitement, he shouted as he entered,
'You've got to see me, Daffy; I won't be refused!' In the same moment his
glance discovered the two visitors, and he stopped short. 'Mr. Lott, you
here? I'm glad of it--I'm awfully glad of it. I couldn't have wished
anything better. I don't know who this other gentleman is, but it doesn't
matter. I'm glad to have witnesses--I'm infernally glad! Mr. Lott, you've
been to my house this morning; you know what's happened there. I had to go
out of town yesterday, and this Daffy, this cursed liar and swindler, used
the opportunity to sell up my furniture. He'll tell you he had a legal
right. But he gave me his word not to do anything till the end of the
month. And, in any case, I don't really owe him half the sum he has down
against me. I've paid that black-hearted scoundrel hundreds of
pounds--honourably paid him--debts of honour, and now he has the face to
charge me sixty per cent, on money I was fool enough to borrow from him!
Sixty per cent.--what do you think of that, Mr. Lott? What do _you_ think
of it, sir?'
'I'm sorry to say it doesn't at all surprise me,' answered Mr. Daffy, who
perceived that the speaker was Mr. Lott's son-in-law. 'But I can't
sympathise with you very much. If you have dealings with a book-maker--'
'A blackleg, a blackleg!' shouted Bowles. 'Bookmakers are respectable men
in comparison with him. He's bled me, the brute! He tempted me on and on--
Look here, Mr. Lott, I know as well as you do that I've been an infernal
fool. I've had my eyes opened--now that it's too late. I hear my wife told
you that, and I'm glad she did. I've been a fool, yes; but I fell into the
hands of the greatest scoundrel unhung, and he's ruined me. You heard from
Jane what I was gone about. It's no good. I came back by the first train
this morning without a mouthful of breakfast. It's all up with me; I'm a
cursed beggar--and that thief is the cause of it. And he comes into my
house no better than a burglar--and lays his hands on everything that'll
bring money. Where's the account of that sale, you liar? I'll go to a
magistrate about this.'
Charles Daffy sat in a reposeful attitude. The scene amused him; he
chuckled inwardly from time to time. But of a sudden his aspect changed; he
started up, and spoke with a snarling emphasis.
'I've had just about enough. Look here, clear out, all of you! There's the
Mr. Daffy moved towards him.
'Is that how you speak to your father, Charles?' he exclaimed indignantly.
'Yes, it is. Take your hook with the others; I'm sick of your tommy-rot!'
'Then listen to me before I go,' cried Mr. Daffy, his short and awkward
figure straining in every muscle for the dignity of righteous wrath. 'I
don't know whether you are more a fool or a knave. Perhaps you really think
that there's as much to be said for your way of earning a living as for any
other. I hope you do, for it's a cruel thing to suppose that my son has
turned out a shameless scoundrel. Let me tell you, then, this business of
yours is one that moves every honest and sensible man to anger and disgust.
It matters nothing whether you keep the rules of the blackguard game, or
whether you cheat; the difference between bookmaker and blackleg is so
small that it isn't worth talking about. You live by the plunder of people
who are foolish and vicious enough to fall into your clutches. You're an
enemy of society--that's the plain truth of it; as much an enemy of society
as the forger or the burglar. You live--and live in luxury--by the worst
vice of our time, the vice which is rotting English life, the vice which
will be our national ruin if it goes on much longer. When you were a boy,
you've heard me many a time say all I thought about racing and betting;
you've heard me speak with scorn of the high-placed people who set so vile
an example to the classes below them. If I could have foreseen that _you_
would sink to such disgrace!'
Charles was standing in an attitude of contemptuous patience. He looked at
his watch and interjected a remark.
'I can only allow your eloquence one minute and a half more.'
'That will be enough,' replied his father sternly. 'The only thing I have
to add is, that all the money you have stolen from Mr. Bowles I, as a
simple duty, shall repay. You're no longer a boy. In the eye of the law I
am not responsible for you; but for very shame I must make good the wrong
you have done in this case. I couldn't stand in my shop day by day, and
know that every one was saying, "There's the man whose son ruined Mr.
Lott's son-in-law and sold up his home," unless I had done all I could to
repair the mischief. I shall ask Mr. Bowles for a full account of what he
has lost to you, and if it's in my power, every penny shall be made good.
He, thank goodness, seems to have learnt his lesson.'
'That I have, Mr. Daffy; that I have!' cried Bowles.
'There's not much fear that _he_'ll fall into your clutches again. And I
hope, I most earnestly hope, that before you can do much more harm, you'll
overreach yourself, and the law--stupid as it is--will get hold of you.
Remember the father I was, Charles, and think what it means that the best
wish I can now form for you is that you may come to public disgrace.'
'Does no one applaud?' asked Charles, looking round the room. 'That's
rather unkind, seeing how the speaker has blown himself. Be off, dad, and
don't fool any longer. Bowles, take your hook. Mr. Lott--'
Charles met the eye of the timber-merchant, and was unexpectedly mute.
'Well, sir,' said Mr. Lott, regarding him fixedly, 'and what have you to
say to _me_?'
'Only that my time is too valuable to be wasted,' continued the other, with
an impatient gesture. 'Be good enough to leave my house.'
'Mr. Lott,' said the tailor in an exhausted voice, 'I apologise to you for
my son's rudeness. I gave you the trouble of coming here hoping it might
shame him, but I'm afraid it's been no good. Let us go.'
Mr. Lott regarded him mildly.
'Mr. Daffy,' he said, 'if _you_ don't mind, I should like to have a word in
private with your son. Do you and Mr. Bowles go on to the station, and wait
for me; perhaps I shall catch you up before you get there.'
'I have told you already, Mr. Lott,' shouted Charles, 'that I can waste no
more time on you. I refuse to talk with you at all.'
'And I, Mr. Charles Daffy,' was the resolute answer, 'refuse to leave this
room till I have had a word with you.'
'What do you want to say?' asked Charles brutally.
'Just to let you know an idea of mine,' was the reply, 'an idea that's come
to me whilst I've stood here listening.'
The tailor and Mr. Bowles moved towards the door. Charles glanced at them
fiercely and insolently, then turned his look again upon the man who
remained. The other two passed out; the door closed. Mr. Lott, stick and
riding-whip still held horizontally, seemed to be lost in meditation.
'Now,' blurted Charles, 'what is it?'
Mr. Lott regarded him steadily, and spoke with his wonted deliberation.
'You heard what your father said about paying that money back?'
'Of course I heard. If he's idiot enough--'
'Do you know _my_ idea, young man? You'd better do the honest thing, and
repay it yourself.'
Charles stared for a moment, then sputtered a laugh.
'That's _your_ idea, is it, Mr. Lott? Well, it isn't mine. So, good
Again the timber-merchant seemed to meditate; his eyes wandered from
Charles to the dining-room table.
'Just a minute more,' he resumed; 'I have another idea--not a new one; an
idea that came to me long ago, when your father first began to have trouble
about you. I happened to be in the shop one day--it was when you were
living idle at your father's expense, young man--and I heard you speak to
him in what I call a confoundedly impertinent way. Thinking it over
afterwards, I said to myself: If I had a son who spoke to me like that, I'd
give him the soundest thrashing he'd be ever likely to get. That was my
idea, young man; and as I stood listening to you to-day, it came back into
my mind again. Your father can't thrash you; he hasn't the brawn for it.
But as it's nothing less than a public duty, somebody _must_, and so--'
Charles, who had been watching every movement of the speaker's face,
suddenly sprang forward, making for the door. But Mr. Lott had foreseen
this; with astonishing alertness and vigour he intercepted the fugitive
seized him by the scruff of the neck, and, after a moment's struggle,
pinned him face downwards across the end of the table. His stick he had
thrown aside; the riding-whip he held between his teeth. So brief was this
conflict that there sounded only a scuffling of feet on the floor, and a
growl of fury from Charles as he found himself handled like an infant;
then, during some two minutes, one might have thought that a couple of very
strenuous carpet-beaters were at work in the room. For the space of a dozen
switches Charles strove frantically with wild kicks, which wounded only the
air, but all in silence; gripped only the more tightly, he at length
uttered a yell of pain, followed by curses hot and swift. Still the
carpet-beaters seemed to be at work, and more vigorously than ever. Charles
began to roar. As it happened, there were only servants in the house. When
the clamour had lasted long enough to be really alarming, knocks sounded at
the door, which at length was thrown open, and the startled face of a
domestic appeared. At the same moment Mr. Lott, his right arm being weary,
brought the castigatory exercise to an end. Charles rolled to his feet, and
began to strike out furiously with both fists.
'Just as you like, young man,' said the timber-merchant, as he coolly
warded off the blows, 'if you wish to have it this way too. But, I warn
you, it isn't a fair match. Sally, shut the door and go about your
'Shall I fetch a p'liceman, sir?' shrilled the servant.
Her master, sufficiently restored to his senses to perceive that he had not
the least chance in a pugilistic encounter with Mr. Lott, drew back and
seemed to hesitate.
'Answer the girl,' said Mr. Lott, as he picked up his whip and examined its
condition. 'Shall we have a policeman in?'
'Shut the door!' Charles shouted fiercely.
The men gazed at each other. Daffy was pale and quivering; his hair in
disorder, his waistcoat torn open, collar and necktie twisted into rags, he
made a pitiful figure. The timber-merchant was slightly heated, but his
countenance wore an expression of calm contentment.
'For the present,' remarked Mr. Lott, as he took up his hat and stick, 'I
think our business is at an end. It isn't often that a fellow of your sort
gets his deserts, and I'm rather sorry we didn't have the policeman in; a
report of the case might do good. I bid you good day, young man. If I were
you I'd sit quiet for an hour or two, and just reflect--you've a _lot_ to
So, with a pleasant smile, the visitor took his leave.
As he walked away he again examined the riding-whip. 'It isn't often a
thing happens so luckily,' he said to himself. 'First-rate whip; hardly a
bit damaged. Harry'll like it none the worse for my having handselled it.'
At the station he found Mr. Daffy and Bowles, who regarded him with
'Nothing to be got out of him,' said Mr. Lott. 'Bowles, I want a talk with
you and Jane; it'll be best, perhaps, if I go back home with you. Mr.
Daffy, sorry we can't travel down together. You'll catch the eight
'I hope you told him plainly what you thought of him,' said Mr. Daffy, in a
voice of indignant shame.
'I did,' answered the timber-merchant, 'and I don't think he's very likely
to forget it.'
FATE AND THE APOTHECARY
'Farmiloe. Chemist by Examination.' So did the good man proclaim himself to
a suburb of a city in the West of England. It was one of those pretty,
clean, fresh-coloured suburbs only to be found in the west; a few dainty
little shops, everything about them bright or glistening, scattered among
pleasant little houses with gardens eternally green and all but perennially
in bloom; every vista ending in foliage, and in one direction a far glimpse
of the Cathedral towers, sending forth their music to fall dreamily upon
these quiet roads. The neighbourhood seemed to breathe a tranquil
prosperity. Red-cheeked emissaries of butcher, baker, and grocer,
order-book in hand, knocked cheerily at kitchen doors, and went smiling
away; the ponies they drove were well fed and frisky, their carts spick and
span. The church of the parish, an imposing edifice, dated only from a few
years ago, and had cost its noble founder a sum of money which any
church-going parishioner would have named to you with proper awe. The
population was largely female, and every shopkeeper who knew his business
had become proficient in bowing, smiling, and suave servility.
Mr. Farmiloe, it is to be feared, had no very profound acquaintance with
his business from any point of view. True, he was 'chemist by examination,'
but it had cost him repeated efforts to reach this unassailable ground and
more than one pharmaceutist with whom he abode as assistant had felt it a
measure of prudence to dispense with his services. Give him time, and he
was generally equal to the demands of suburban customers; hurry or
interrupt him, and he showed himself anything but the man for a crisis.
Face and demeanour were against him. He had exceedingly plain features, and
a persistently sour expression; even his smile suggested sarcasm. He could
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