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across the counter-if only he had sent a clerk or some other irresponsible person! But to go himself to forget that his name belonged to a great city House, and was sure to attract attention -he must have been mad.
To be sure it was not wise to forge the things at all. But then he was so hard up at the time: he had private expenses which he could not well explain to Anthony; he had lost his own money: he wanted everything he could lay his hands on; that hundred and fifty every year seemed like a little windfall, providentially sent. We need not imagine that Stephen was at all repentant about the crime; he was only sorry that it had been found out. Hardened persons, habitual criminals, go off in two directions: they are very sorry when things are discovered, and they are angry when they think of the necessities of the moment which made the crime absolutely unavoidable. But neither state of mind is at all akin to what the good chaplain of the prison means by a heartfelt repentance.
"As for that woman, Rachel Nethersole, she must be five-and-fifty. Perhaps she will go off suddenly: some of these old cats do when they are not too venomous. Then I could get back to England.
"Things might be worse. Considering what a tremendous pull they've got, things might be I suppose that fighting is out of the question. A man can't fight, unless he is obliged, with the prospect of a-a-suit of yellow and gray, and no tobacco, and no drink, and no companionship. Hang it all!
"Gad!" he brightened up a little; "there are plenty of fellows knocking about the Continent under a cloud: good fellows, too, who have got hard up, and done something which has been found out. One pull for me that I shall know their little histories and they won't know mine. I know them all already. I shall meet the Honorable Major Guy Blackborde, who cheated at Monaco when I was there, and was turned out of the army: and Captain de Blewdeville, who got into the little mess at the Burleigh Club when I was a member, and had to go. By Gad! I shall enjoy it. And, with two thousand a year,
one will be cock of the walk.
"Of course I shall not stay in Spain: the cookery is too disgusting. The old woman will forget all about me, or she will relent, or something, and then I shall go to Paris, and so back to London. And as to Alison, why-why-”
Here he stopped, then he went on to consider
what he should start with. Two thousand a year, say. That means more than a hundred and fifty a month, five thousand francs a month; a great deal may be done with that. Then there was still seven hundred or so left out of Jack Baker's thousand. Of course he was not going to pay that away. Then there was the furniture of his chambers, which was good, with the pictures and statuettes, which were not good, hav ing been taken chiefly with money advances: furniture and pictures could be sold by private contract; altogether, he would begin the new life, outre mer, with a thousand pounds of capital, in addition to two thousand a year income. That was better than in the old days. And, if things went wrong, there was always his daughter, he thought, to fall back upon.
Lastly, there was one thing more: he might marry. A man of his means was an eligible parti; there were plenty of widows with good incomes on the Continent; if their reputations were a little cracked, what matter? so was his.
It will be seen that this was the meditation of a perfectly selfish man. Stephen Hamblin rose to great heights of selfishness. He had divested himself as much, perhaps, as man can do so, who is not Cæsar, Kaiser, Czar, of any consideration for any other human being whatever. He was unto himself a god.
He laughed, thinking of matrimony. And then he remembered the manuscript which his cousin had placed in his hands. He opened it and read it.
"The Journal of a Deserted Wife."
We have read this tearful document. We have seen how it affected a man of middle age, and a very young man, both of whom carried their hearts ever in the right place. This man was not affected at all, although he was the person chiefly interested in it. He read it right through slowly and carefully, without betraying the slightest emotion. When he had quite finished it, he tossed the paper on the table.
"That's done with," he said. 'Hang it! it was done with twenty years ago. Rachel seems to have developed a fine thirst for revenge. Luckily, she thought it was Anthony; luckier still, that Anthony got drowned. I suppose it was this document that he was going to communicate to me when he made that appointment which he never kept. It would have been deucedly unpleasant. I should have had to get away at once, while he informed the magistrate that it was not he, but his brother, who had mar ried Dora Nethersole.
"So Anthony took the child; and I never knew there was a child at all. Just like Dora, not to tell me. A little mystery; something to
hide; something to make her important. How the reverses of fortune with anger, not with deshe did exasperate me! And what a relief it was to feel free! and what an almighty ass I was not to let Anthony marry her at the very beginning, when he wanted to! That was my infernal conceit. I wanted to cut out the model brother; and the end of it is that I've got a daughter who turns up, after twenty years, and cuts me out."
"She knew she was going to die, and she couldn't take the trouble to write and tell me so. Her husband wasn't to know it. Must needs write to Anthony. It's all of a piece. That is what she called wifely obedience. As for the letters she did write to me at that time, they were dismal enough, but not a word about dying.
He took up the manuscript again, and read ten them-ah! you the concluding paragraph.
"They hand me over this precious journal in order to soften the hardness of my heart, I suppose. Well, my heart is pretty tough by this time. The tears of a woman-especially if the tears are twenty years old—are not likely to trouble it. What does soften a man's heart is to be caught in a cleft stick, as I have been caught to have the ball in my hands, and be compelled to drop it. Good Heavens! here I am, the undoubted owner of a quarter of a million of money, besides all the land and houses, and I've got to go away for life on an annuity, or else—or else—why, it seems almost worth fighting for. One might get off; these things are not easy to prove; the evidence would rest entirely on the clerk who knew me. But then there are the papers, they are in my handwriting; and it would be a deuced uncomfortable thing to stand in the dock under such a charge, and, more uncomfortable still, to get quodded-hang it! one might be in for fourteen-no-no-I can't fight. I must submit. I will go to-morrow."
The idea of the convict garb made his hands to tremble. He sought and found consolation in a small glass of brandy neat.
"My last appearance to-night in the club, I suppose, or anywhere else. I feel as if I were going to die and be buried. Well, there are one or two places I know of in Paris, and Naples, and Vienna. A man with a couple of thousand a year may get along anywhere."
He was interrupted by a knock at the door. It was his friend Jack Baker.
'Did you get any notes?" asked Jack. "What notes ? "
Stephen's mind was full of more important things.
"My notes of last night and this morning." Oh! yes-yes." He searched among the letters on the table. "Excuse me, I had forgot
asked me to pay into the bank the thousand pounds you advanced me, do you?"
The honest Jack looked down on his luck. He showed it by a red cheek, a twitching lip, an anxious eye, an apparel slightly disordered. Stephen, on the contrary, showed few outward and visible signs of discomfiture. His cheek was paler than usual, his eyes were hard and glittering, but he was not dismayed nor cast down; he met
I did last night. This morning-Hamblin," breaking in with a sudden eagerness of manner, "you haven't paid it into my bank yet, have you ? " "No, certainly not; I have been busy all day." "Good-don't; pay it to me in notes and
"What is the matter, Jack?" For his voice and manner both betokened something disastrous.
Mr. Bunter Baker tried to laugh, but the effort was not successful.
"A check in the flow of prosperity," he said “just a slight check. As I said in my letter, there has been a most unprecedented and most sudden fall. All my calculations were upset, and I had the biggest thing on, too. Hamblin, if it had turned up trumps, I might have gone out of business to-day with a hundred thousand pounds. As it is-well-as it is-all the trade know already, and all the world will know to-morrow. I am-for the moment only-compelled to suspend—”
So here was another man come to grief. Stephen stared unsympathetically. It was as he thought. The thought crossed his mind that perhaps he might meet Mr. Bunter Baker on the Continent in an extreme condition of shabbiness.
"The Bank will have to meet the differences
this time," Jack went on. "Well! they have had a very pretty penny out of me, one way and another,"
"And what will you do?"
The man of self-reliance tossed his head. "A man like me," he said, "falls light. I shall lay by for a bit while the liquidators take hold of the estate and get what they can for themselves first, and the creditors next, out of it. When things have blown over, I shall come back again and carry on the same old game. That thousand will come in mighty handy. I saw the directors to-day, and had it out with them. They said nasty things, but, as I told them, they couldn't expect me to be a prophet. I wanted prices to go up. I always do. I did my little best to keep them up. And, after all, they've been paying sixteen per cent. for the last eight
years, and can afford a little loss. They take the risk and share the profits. I don't grumble, why should they?"
He sat down and hurled this question at Stephen as if he was personally concerned in the success of the Bank.
"I knew there would be a smash some day," he went on; "at least, I thought there might be. I went for big things, and they came off one after the other, beautiful; and for bigger, and they came off; and then I went for the very biggest thing possible, and it hasn't come off. Very well, then. You can let me have that thousand back, Hamblin, can you?”
He turned as he passed through the door, to look once more at the tall and graceful figure of the most splendid girl he had ever known.
Alison mounted the stairs, and found herself
"You remember, Jack, the conditions on for the first time knocking at Stephen Hamblin's which it was borrowed?"
"Hang the conditions!"
"By no means. You were to have three thousand when I came into the estate. Very good; I have come into the estate."
"Nonsense!" This was something like news. "It has been ascertained that my brother never married. Do not ask me any questions, because the rest is family business. My brother never married, as I always told you. Therefore-"
"Therefore, the three thousand are mine," cried Jack with great delight, clapping Stephen on the shoulder. "When shall you be ready to part?"
"That I can not say. But I suppose there will be no further opposition to my raising money on the estate. Meantime, my dear boy, I can not let you have your original thousand back, because it is all spent." Stephen looked quite youthful and expansive as he uttered this genial string of falsehoods. "However, as I suppose a little ready money would be handy just now—”
"It would," said Jack; “lend me what you
"I will give you,” replied Stephen, taking his check-book, "seventy-five. That will be something for you to go on with. Another hundred, if you want it, in a week or two. You can depend upon me, my dear fellow. Stephen Hamblin never forgets a friend.”
They shook hands warmly. That was the sort of sentiment which went home to the heart of Jack.
As he went out he passed, in the door, Miss Hamblin. He took off his hat as she passed up the stairs to her uncle's chambers. Her face was pale and anxious.
"Ah," thought Jack, "she has found out by this time, and she's going to make things square with her uncle. Well, she'll find him in good temper. And now I think she'll begin to be sorry that she didn't have me! Laughed at me, by Gad!"
"No more," he said, "does J. Double B., especially," pocketing the check, "when he's got some of the ready to remember him by."
Fully satisfied with the advance, and the assurance of further help, Jack took his leave. After all, he had done pretty well with his venture. Three thousand to come in after he had made his composition with creditors was not a bad sum to begin again upon. And he always had his reputation for luck to fall back upon.
He had lit a cigar, and was making a few calculations in pencil, when she opened the door and timidly stole in.
He put down the cigar, and rose with surprise, and a feeling of pain and shame, Before him, with crossed hands and down-dropped eyes, stood his daughter.
"You here, Alison, of all places in the world? I thought at least I should have been spared this."
"I have just now learned the truth," she said, with trembling voice; "my cousin Augustus told me what you know-what they have found out."
"Did they invite you to come here and see me?"
"No; I thought you would like to see me, and say something—if only that you may forgive me for the hard things I have said and thought about you."
"Oh, come, Alison!" cried the man, impatiently, "we do not want sentiment, you and I. Be reasonable. You don't suppose I jump for joy because you are my daughter. You don't suppose that I expect you to fly into my arms because they say I am your father. Don't let us be fools."
The tears came into the girl's eyes. She had been a fool; she had deluded herself into the belief, as she drove into town, that he would be touched by the discovery; she thought they would exchange words of regret and reconciliation; she looked for some words of endearment; and this was the way in which she was met.
"Sit down, then, and talk. But don't begin to cry, and don't talk sentiment. First of all, what did Augustus tell you?"
"That you are my father, and that you did not know that you had a child at all."
Good-that is true. What else did he tell
"He did not tell you why?" Stephen inter- that she was to blame. Let all the blame, if there rupted. is any, fall on me. Some, perhaps, on my broth"No." er, but not much. No doubt, poor Anthony acted for the best, and persuaded himself that the wisest thing for you was to bring you up in ignorance of your parentage; later on, he became fond of you, and grew more unwilling still to part with you. So he invented the fiction of your being his daughter. It was clever of him, but it has led us all into strange paths. Things would have been different with me, and with you, too, if we had known all along what we were to each other."
"And now," asked Alison, " can there never be anything between us but formal friendship?”
"Never," said Stephen, shaking his head and putting his hands into his pockets, as if he was afraid that his daughter might offer to fondle them. "Never. Do not let us pretend to try. Why, we could not begin all at once to bill and coo to each other. I could never endure, for instance, such endearments as you used to lavish on your supposed father."
“No,” said Alison, sadly, "that would be impossible. But kindness of thought—”
Rubbish, Alison ! You will marry some day, I suppose-"
"I am going to marry Gilbert Yorke." "Ah!" He started. Gilbert Yorke was the young man who had been present at the family council. "Ah! you will marry him! makes it doubly impossible for us ever to be friends. You are going to marry a man—well, never mind. No more sentiment, Alison. You have got a father, and I have got a daughter. It is a relationship which begins to-day. Let it end to-day."
It was harsh, but Alison, somehow, felt a little relieved. She would have liked a few words of sympathy, of hope, of kindness. She could not contemplate without a shudder the simple operation of kissing her "uncle," Stephen the Black. And she was humiliated to find that one whom she had always regarded as the Awful Example was actually her father.
"Since he did not, I shall not," he said, with the air of a man who had been doing good by stealth. "Sufficient that it is so. I am going to travel, and to forget in travel, if possible, all the annoyances I have had in this business. I hardly blame you, Alison. It would be absurd to blame you, altogether, for the attitude you as sumed. When I became quite certain that my brother had never married, I resolved to befriend you. I made two distinct offers to you, which you refused with scorn and contumely. You remember that I do not, I say, reproach you; that is all over. Now that I learn the truth, I recognize the fact that my brother desired that you should never find it out, and that he wished you to inherit his property. Therefore, I retire."
This was very grand, and Alison was greatly affected.
"But it is all yours," she said.
"It is all mine, until I have signed a deed of transfer to you," he replied, waving his hand as one who confers a kingdom.
She could not reply.
"I will tell you more," her father went on. "I believe the reason why my brother kept this thing a secret was, that I married the girl with whom he was in love. He spoke to her sister, Miss Nethersole, about her: I, meantime, spoke to the young lady herself. As Miss Nethersole refused to listen to the match proposed by the elder brother, on some religious ground, I believe, the younger brother thought it was no use for him to try that way. So he persuaded the girl into a secret marriage, and the day after they were married they eloped.
"Well "—he went on, carefully folding up the "Journal of a Deserted Wife," and putting it into his breast-pocket, to prevent the chance of her seeing it-"we were not suited to each other. Put it, if you please, that I was too young to be married-that I have never been what is called a marrying man: we were unhappy together. I said that it would be well to part for a time: I left her-it was by her own wish and choice-at the seaside: you were born: she told me nothing about it: she fell ill she wrote to my brother when she became worse: she died: he told me of the death, but not of the birth: I forgot all about my marriage: it was just exactly as if I had never been married at all."
This was a rendering of the history which had, somehow, a false ring about it; it was too smooth and specious. But Alison tried to believe it.
"Mind," he said, "I do not attach any blame to my wife; I should be unwilling for you to think
"By the way," he went on pleasantly, "I think I have got one or two things here which you might like to have." He opened a desk and began to rummage among the papers. "I know that Anthony sent the things to me when Dora died. I put them away, and I haven't looked at them since. Ah! here they are."
He handed to Alison a small packet containing a portrait of a sweet-faced girl, with light hair and blue eyes, very different from her own; and another containing one or two books of devotion: this was all that remained of Dora Hamblin.
You will not see me again for a very long time -perhaps never."
Alison took them tearfully.
'Now go, Alison," repeated Stephen, in his harshest voice-"go, I say; cry over them at home as much as you please. Have you anything more to tell me?"
"No," she replied. "Stay, I have a message from my aunt Rachel."
"From Rachel Nethersole?" Stephen became suddenly and deeply interested. "She is with you, is she? She knows? What does that excellent lady say? What did she tell you?"
"When I told her what I had learned, she cried, and said that she wanted nothing now but to ask pardon of my father—I mean, your brother. When I said I was coming here, she kissed me, and bade me tell you that for my sake she would forgive you all. All,' she told me to say."
"Did she?" cried Stephen, as a new light came into his eyes. "Did she? She will forgive all, will she? A brave old girl. That is right-and-and-Alison, I think I shall reconsider that question of the transfer." He looked his daughter in the face with a sudden change of manner which startled and terrified her. "Perhaps it will be best to arrange things differently. I shall see. I shall think things over. Go now." He almost pushed her out of his room. Then, left quite alone, he gave way to every external sign of joy. These signs were undignified, and we therefore pass them over.
"I've done them again!" he cried. "By Gad! I've done them again! And I shall have the handling, all to myself, of the whole big pile."
HOW YOUNG NICK FETCHED THE WRITINGMASTER.
THE boy remained behind the screen, as we have seen, until the footsteps in the passage were silent. Then he emerged from his hiding-place. His face was scared, though his movements, as we have seen, indicated joy. The occasion had come, then, at last. This was the day, the very day, for which he had so longed-the day of greatness. On no other occasion could Anthony Hamblin be so dramatically, so usefully restored to his own people; in no other way could the discomfiture of Stephen be so complete. He had been proved to be a forger; that would be a blow to Alison, should the fact be told her: by Anthony's intervention the thing might be hidden. He was to be the heir to the whole estate; he was to go away on a large annuity: very good, he would have to go on nothing.
He rapidly reviewed the arguments for immediate action, and then, resolved to lose no time, he slipped cautiously out of the room, passed with noiseless step by the doors of the two partners, and ran down the broad staircase.
In the doorway he found Gilbert Yorke, who was waiting for a cab to take him to Clapham.
"Well?" asked young Nick, with his usual twinkle, "have you found anything? Have you got the marriage?"
Gilbert laughed, and nodded.
"You shall hear all about it," he said, “in good time."
"Ah!" replied the boy, "now you think you've been mighty deep, I suppose. Mark my words, Gilbert Yorke. You'll own, before long, that there's one who has been deeper. Where are you going now?"
"I am going to Clapham, to tell Alison something."
“Oh, very good. Yes; your exertions have been creditable, I'm sure. But my turn will come later on, and then, if you find your nose out of joint, don't say I did not warn you." Gilbert laughed again.
"What did I say once?" the boy went on, folding his arms, and leaning against the doorpost; "Just when you think everything is cleared up, you turn to me and I will astonish you.' That is what I said. Now, is everything cleared up?"
"It is. I can tell you so much. Alison will learn all from me in half an hour. This evening there is going to be a sort of family council at the House."
"Ah! Please tell the partners, with my compliments-Mr. Nicolas Cridland's complimentsthat, if they think everything is cleared up, they are mightily mistaken. And as for Alison, remind her that the writing-master leads a happy life. Now don't botch that message, young man. Give it her in full, just as I have told you." He began to look positively demoniac, dancing on the pavement, and twinkling with his pink eyes under his white eyebrows. "Oh, ah! Yes; all cleared up. Ha! ha! ho! ho! what a jolly game it will be, to be sure!"
Gilbert began to think young Nick was off his head. There could be nothing more to know.
"I'm the man in the play who turns up at the last moment, and pardons the conspirator for love of the lady he wants to marry. I'm the man who comes home with a pocket full of money, and pays off the wicked lawyer. I'm the man who draws aside the curtain with a 'Houp-la! Hooray! There-you-are-and-who'da-thought-it?'"
Then the cab came up.
"If you want to see larks-if you want to be taken aback as you never were so taken aback in