Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

lence of aspect; and the eyes were kindly, so There were nine or ten of them at the tavern that young children and old ladies were encour- one afternoon in March ; they had the room enaged to ask him the way.

tirely to themselves, because it was Saturday, Alderney was a philanthropist whom fortune and the general public had gone away for their had made an enemy of mankind; he perpetually half-holiday. There was, therefore, a sense of schemed and planned methods by which his fel- freedom and enlargement: they need not whislow creatures were to be ruined, being himself per. the readiest dupe, the most willing victim in the They sat round the largest table, that under world. Men may despise dupes, but they like the middle window. Outside it was a charming the ready believer. It is delightful to find even and delicious day in .very early spring, a day among hawks the simplicity of the pigeon. The when the first promise comes of better times, quack doctor buys a plenary indulgence of Tet- when the air is soft and fragrant, and one reckzel, while he, in his turn, purchases a pill of the ons, like the one confiding swallow, that the quack. The vender of beef fat for butter gets

winter is gone. her fortune told by the gypsy; the gypsy buys In this tavern the atmosphere was always the the beef fat on the word of the immoral young same: no fragrance of spring ever got there, no person who sells it for butter.

sunshine could reach the room; if the windows About the beginning of every quarter, Al- were ever opened, they would let in nothing but derney Codd would be absent from his regular a heavy wave of air equally laden with the fumes haunts; the circle at the Birch-Tree would miss of tobacco, spirits, and roasted meats. The men him; it might be rumored that he had gone at the table, however, cared little for the breath down to Cambridge, where these honest specu- of meadows; they loved the city air, which allators supposed that his society was still greatly ways seems charged with the perfumes of silver in request, by reason of his being so massive a ingots and golden bars. scholar. The real reason of his absence was, Among them this afternoon was one whom that he drew his hundred a year quarterly, and all regarded with a feeling which had something lay in bed half the day for two or three weeks of awe in it; more of awe than of envy; because after it. That was Alderney's idea of enjoying he was one who had succeeded. He was still a life if you were rich—to lie in bed. While in comparatively young man, rather a handsome the first flush and pride of that five-and-twenty man of two or three and thirty, with strong feapounds, Alderney got up about one o'clock every tures, which were rather too coarse, a crop of day. Naturally, therefore, he dined late. Dur- curly, brown hair, a clear complexion, and bright ing this period he ceased to devise schemes; his eyes. He was dressed with more display than imagination rested; his busy brain had time to quiet men generally like, but his rings and chains turn to practical things, and such renovation in seemed to suit his confident, braggart air. He bis apparel as the money ran to was accom- spoke loudly, asserted himself, and in all compaplished during this period. When it was over, nies pushed himself at once to the front. He was he would cheerfully return to the stand-up din- that phenix among City men, the man who has ner, the half-pint of beer, and the Scotch whisky made everything out of nothing, the successful with pipes and conversation among his fellows. He has a little to do with this story, and

Every one of the circle had a history. To be we will presently tell how he rose to greatness. sure that is sadly true of all mankind. I mean His friends addressed him familiarly as Jack ; that these men were all out of the ordinary everybody spoke of him behind his back as Jack grooves of life. They were adventurers. For- Baker; on his cards was the name Mr. J. Bunter merly they would have joined a band of free Baker. “Not plain Baker,” he would say; "we lances, to fight and plunder under the flag of a are of the Bunter Bakers, formerly of Shropshire. gallant knight of broken fortunes; or they would The arms of the two families are, however, difhave gone a-buccaneering, and marooned many ferent.” a tall ship, without caring much whether she The other men were sitting over whisky-andcarried Spanish colors or no. Or they might water, with pipes. Jack Baker, half sitting, half have gone skulking among the woods and shady leaning on the top rail of the back of his chair, places of England, where Savernake, Sherwood, was smoking a cigar, and had called for a pint or the New Forest gives on to the high-road, of champagne. It was rumored among his adlying in wait for unarmed travelers, in guise, as mirers that he drank no other wine except chamthe famous dashing highwayman. Nowadays, pagne. for men of some education, no money, and small Alderney Codd, who was still attired in the principle, there are few careers more attractive, magnificent fur-lined coat, was laying down the though few less generally known, than that of law. small finance.

“ Capitalists tell me," he was saying, as if he

man.

[ocr errors]

was on intimate terms with a great many capi- “And a well-placed advertisement in the talists, " that if you have got a good thing—you Times,'” observed a little man, whose only will bear me out, Jack-you can't do better than known belief was in the form of such an adverbring it out. Nonsense about general depres- tisement. When he had one, of his own composion; there is plenty of money in the world that sition, it was a red-letter day; when he had a longs to change hands."

long one, it seemed like a fortune made: once he “Quite right,” said Mr. Bunter Baker. “Plenty was so happy as to make the acquaintance of a of money."

man who reported for the “ Times." He lent that “ And plenty of confidence,” said Alderney. man money in perfect confidence; and, though “ Now I've got in my pocket-here-at this ac- his advances were never repaid, his admiration tual table-a thing good enough to make the for the paper remained unbounded. fortune of a dozen companies."

“Cheap things for the people,” said another, Every project advanced at that table pos- with a sigh. “See what a run my sixpenny printsessed the merit of a great and certain success- ing-press had, though I was dished out of the on paper.

profits." He produced a small parcel wrapped in A curious point about these men was, that brown paper. All bent their heads eagerly while they were always dished out of the profits whenhe toyed with the string, willing to prolong the ever anything came off. suspense.

“But what is it?" asked another, taking out There is a certain public-house in Drury Lane a note-book. where you will find, on any Sunday evening that He was, among other things, connected with you like, an assemblage of professional conjurers. a certain a practical ” weekly, and was supposed They go there chiefly to try new tricks on each to give“ publicity" to the schemes whenever he other, and they judge from the first exhibition was allowed. I fear the circulation of the paper before their skilled brethren of the effect which was greatly exaggerated with the view of catchthey will produce on an uncritical public. So ing advertisers. with Alderney. He was about to propound a "It is," said Alderney, untying the parcel, new scheme to a critical circle, and he naturally “nothing less than the substitution of glass for hesitated. Then he turned to Mr. Bunter Baker silver spoons. Honest glass ! not pretended silbefore opening the parcel.

ver, not worthless plate. You drop one, it breaks ; " I ask you, Jack, what is the first rule for very good. A penny buys another.” him who wants to make money? Nobody ought All eyes turned on Mr. Baker. He took to know better than yourself-come.”

one of the glass spoons; he dropped it; it was “Find out where to make it,” said Jack. broken.

“No, not at all ; make it by means of the “Very true indeed,” he said. “It is broken.” millions. Go to the millions. Never mind the “ There are,” Alderney continued, “ seven upper ten thousand. Satisfy the wants of the million households in England; each household millions. One of those wants, one of the com- will require an average of fifty-five spoons: three monest, is appealed to by the contents of this hundred and eighty-five million spoons; original parcel. We seek to catch the mutabilis aura, demand, three hundred and eighty-five million the changeable breath of popular favor. The pence, a million and a half sterling. Not bad invention which I hold in my hand is so simple that, I think, for a company newly starting. Nothat the patent can not be infringed-flecti, non body can reckon the breakages—we may estifrangi; it will be as eagerly adopted by those mate them roughly at twelve million a year. who drink tea, the boon of those who, as Horace Think how maids bang spoons about ! says, love the Persicos apparatus, or Chinese The newspaper correspondent made further tea-tray, as by those who drink toddy; it will be notes in his pocket-book. A great hush of envy used as freely at the bar—I do not here allude to fell upon the audience. One of them seemed in the Inns of Court-as at the family breakfast- for a good thing. Their eyes turned to Mr. table."

Baker. He too was making a note. “ You need not quote your own prospectus,” “I have in my pocket," said another, a man said Mr. Baker. Get to the point, man. Let with a face so hard and practical-looking that us into your secret."

one wondered how he had failed in making an No one was really in a hurry to learn it, for, immense fortune—“ I have in my pocket a little like true artists, they were criticising the manner scheme which seems to promise well.” of putting the case.

Everybody listened. Mr. Baker looked up “There's nothing like a good prospectus," from his note-book with curiosity. This emboldsaid a keen and hungry-eyed man, who was lis- ened the speaker. tening attentively.

You all know," he said, “ that the highways of England are studded with iron pumps, set up He noticed, as they walked side by side in the by beneficent governments to provide for wagon- direction of Great St. Simon Apostle, that Steand cart-horses in the old days. I have made a phen's face looked thoughtful, and his eyes rested calculation that there are about a hundred thou- on the ground. In fact, he was mentally revolvsand of them; they pump no water, and they ing how to state the case most effectively. At are no longer wanted. I propose to buy up these present he only intended to follow up the slight pumps—they can be had for a mere song-and uneasiness produced by Alderney's artless pratsell them for scrap-iron, eh? There is money in tle. that, I think.”

“I have been intending to consult you for Nobody replied. Mr. Baker, to whom all some time,” he began, when they were in the eyes turned, finished his champagne and went office, " but things prevented.” away, with a nod to Alderney.

“Yes; pray sit down ; what is it? Alison “I must say,” said one of them angrily, " that continues quite well, I hope ?” when we do get a capitalist here it is a pity to “Quite well, poor girl, thank you. I wanted drive him away with a cock-and-a-bull scheme to confer with you on the subject of my brother's for rooting up old pumps."

marriage." “None of the dignity of legitimate financing Stephen looked straight in his cousin's faceabout it,” said Alderney grandly; "we do not a disconcerting thing to do if your friend wishes meet here to discuss trade; we do not stoop to to dissemble his thoughts. Augustus changed traffic in scrap-iron."

color. Alderney therefore had, as he expected, Then they all proceeded to sit upon the un- aroused a feeling of uneasiness. fortunate practical man who had driven away "My brother's marriage," he repeated. “Can the capitalist.

you tell me when and where it took place ?"

“I know nothing about it,” said Augustus;

no more than you know yourself. We none CHAPTER XII.

of us know anything about it.”

"Do you,” continued Stephen solemnly, as if HOW STEPHEN DECLARED HIS INTENTIONS. this was a very great point, “ do you remember

any time, from twenty to five-and-twenty years AFTER sowing the seeds of suspicion in the ago, when Anthony went away, say on a susmind of the private town-crier, Alderney Codd, picious holiday, or behaved like a man with a Stephen remained quiet for a time. Alderney secret, or departed in any way from his usual the talker would unconsciously help him. This, open way of life ?” indeed, happened ; in less than a fortnight the “N-no; I can not say that I do. He had a Hamblin enemies were, with one accord, whis- holiday every year in the summer or autumn. pering to each other that no one knew where and Sometimes he went away in the spring. Of when Anthony had been married, or, as the elder course, he must have managed his marriage in ladies added significantly, if at all. But for the one of those excursions.” moment none of these whispers reached the ears “ Yes; that is not what I mean. I know the of Alison.

history of all those holidays. I want to find a Meantime, Stephen was busy all day among time, if possible, when no one knew where he the diaries and letters. He read and re-read; he went. It must have been out of the usual holiexamined them all, not once or twice, but ten day-time." times over, in constant fear of lighting on some " I remember no such time," said Augustus. clew which might lead to the reversal of his own “But, of course, one did not watch over Anopinion. But he found nothing.

thony's movements. He might have been marOne day, in the middle of March, about a ried as often as Bluebeard without our suspectfortnight after his dinner with Alderney Codd, ing a word of it.” he met his cousin, Augustus Hamblin, in the City. “No,” said Stephen, shaking his head. All Since the appointment of Stephen as guardian it this time he was observing the greatest solemnity. had been tacitly understood that there was to be “I should have suspected it. You forget the ina show of friendliness on both sides. The past timacy between us. Anthony had no secrets was to be forgotten.

from me, poor fellow ! nor I any from Anthony." “I am glad to meet you,” said Stephen, shak- (This was a sentimental invention which pleased ing hands with a show of great respect for the Stephen and did not impose upon Augustus, senior partner of the house. “Are you so busy who knew that Stephen's life had many secrets.) that you can not give me a few minutes ?” “ Had Anthony hidden anything from me, his

“Surely,” replied Augustus, “ I can give you manner would have led to my suspecting. as many as you please."

Again, I have read through his private journal,

a

[ocr errors]

say then ?

and there is nothing, not one word, about any Augustus waited till the steps of this good marriage-no hint about any love-affair at all; guardian were heard at the foot of the stairs. nothing is altered or erased; he tells his own Then he sought William the silent, and repeated life hour by hour. This is very mysterious.” the conversation.

“Better let the mystery sleep,” said Augus- William shook his head. tus quietly. “No one will disturb it if you do not.” “Do you see the cloven foot, William? What

“What !” said Stephen, with a show of vir- a mistake we made in letting the man into the tuous indignation, “ when the legitimacy of Ali- house! Why did we leave him the diaries ? son is at stake? Do you not perceive how ex- Why did we let it be possible to raise the questremely awkward it would be if the judge, when tion ? After all these years we should have we come to ask for letters of administration, known our cousin better. What can we do?" were to ask a few simple questions? "

“ Wait," said William. • The judge is not likely to ask anything of “Do you know who would be the heir is—" the kind,” said Augustus.

“I know," said William. “But he might," Stephen persisted. “He might say that although the deceased brought In Alison's own interests. That was the way up this young lady as his daughter-a relation- to look at this question. Stephen felt that he ship proved besides by her great resemblance to had now completely cleared the ground for achim and other branches of the family—he left tion. Everybody was awakened to the fact that nothing behind him to prove that she is, in the Anthony's marriage was still an unsolved myseyes of the law, his daughter. What should we tery. Everybody would very shortly learn that

Stephen the benevolent, in his ward's interest, “I think we can afford to wait till the diffi- was at work upon the problem. No one but the culty arrives," replied Augustus quietly.

partners and the family lawyer would be likely “Nay, there I differ from you. It is not to guess what issues might spring of these reoften, Cousin Augustus, that a man like myself searches. can venture to differ from one of your business He began by questioning Mrs. Cridland. He experience and clear common sense; but in this invited her into the study one morning, placed case I do differ. None of us question Alison's her in a chair, frightened her by saying that he legitimacy, but we'would like to see it established. had some questions of the greatest importance Let me, for Alison's own sake, clear this mystery. to ask her, and then, standing over her, pocketBesides,” he smiled winningly, “ I own that I am book in hand, with knitted brows and judicial anxious to know something about this wife of forefinger, he began his queries. Anthony's, kept so cunningly in the back- Mrs. Cridland knew nothing. Anthony, when ground."

he brought Alison home, wanted a lady to take “For Alison's sake,” Augustus continued, charge of her. Mrs. Duncombe, he explained, “I think you had better let it alone. You do her previous guardian, was trustworthy, and not know what manner of unpleasantness you thoughtful as regards the little girl's material may rake up."

welfare, but she lacked refinement. What was “Why,” replied Stephen quickly, “ you would very well for a child of three or four, would no not surely insinuate that Alison—"

longer be sufficient for a great schoolgirl. So “ I insinuate nothing. All I say is that An- Anthony looked round, and chose—a cousin. thony had probably very good reasons of his own Mrs. Cridland was a Hamblin by birth; her husfor saying nothing of his marriage. He probably band was dead; she had no money, and was at married beneath him; he may have wished to the moment actually living on an allowance made keep his daughter from her mother's relations; her by the most generous of cousins. She was the marriage may have been unhappy; the delighted to accept the post of governess, duenna, memory of his wife's death may have weighed and companion to this girl, with a home for her. upon him. There are many possible reasons. self and her white-haired boy, and a reasonable Let us respect your brother's memory by inquir- salary. ing no further into them."

“Ah!" said Stephen at this point. “Yes, a “ If that were all," Stephen sighed, “I should reasonable salary. What, may I ask, Flora, did agree with you. I wish I could agree with you; my brother consider reasonable? He was not but, in the interests of Alison, I fear I must pur- always himself a reasonable lender." sue my researches. Why, what harm if we do This was unkind of Stephen. unearth a nest of vulgar relations ?

We can

“We agreed,” replied Mrs. Cridland, with a always keep them away from Alison. I will let little flutter of anxiety, “that the honorarium you know the result of my researches, Augustus. should be fixed at three hundred pounds a year.” And now good-by."

“Three hundred a year !” Stephen lifted his

66

a

eyes, and whistled.

And board and lodging, dislike was roused. She stared at him in horror of course. My poor brother was very, very easi- and astonishment. “ You? Then God help us ly cajoled. Even washing too, I dare say.' all !"

"If you mean that I cajoled him," cried the “ Thank you, Flora,” he returned coldly, lady, in great wrath, "you are quite wrong! It playing with a paper-knife ; "that was kindly was he who offered the sum. Cajoled, indeed!" and thoughtfully said. I shall remember that."

“ Three hundred a year for ten years means, “Remember it on my account as much as I should say, three thousand put by. You must you please, only do not visit my words on that have made a nice little pile by now, Flora. How- poor child." ever—to return. Then Anthony told you no- “I do not intend to do so. Had it not been thing about the girl's mother?”

for the resolute way in which all my cousins have “ Yes; he told me that she was long dead, continued to misunderstand me, I might have and that he wished no questions to be asked at expected some small credit for the pains I have all."

taken for these months in clearing up this mys“And did you allude then, or at any other tery." time, to the surprise felt by all his friends at such “Oh!” she cried, firing up, like the honest a discovery?"

little woman that she was, “ I understand it all “Of course at the time I told him how amazed now—why you came here, why you tried to coax we were to learn that he whom we regarded as a and flatter the poor girl, why you sat all day confirmed bachelor should actually turn out to be searching in papers—you wanted to test your a widower. He said, with a laugh, that people own abominable suspicions—you wanted to pervery often were mistaken, and that now, at any suade yourself that there are no proofs of Anrate, they would understand why he had not thony's marriage—you wanted to rob your niece married."

and get your brother's fortune into your own “ He used those words? He said, “People hands. And again I say, God help us all! But will understand now why I have not married there are your cousins, and there is Mr. Billiter, Take care, Flora ; your words may be very im- to stand by her.” portant."

Thank you, Flora. To such a speech there “Good gracious, Stephen, don't frighten me! is but one reply: I give you a day's notice to go. Of course he used those words. I remember You shall be paid your salary up to date, and them perfectly, though it is ten years ago." you shall leave the house at once."

Stephen made a careful note of the words, Here a sudden difficulty occurred. His acrepeating under his breath, “why he had not count at the bank was reduced to a few shillings married.” Then he looked as if he were grap- —how was he to pay this salary? pling with a great problem.

“I refuse to accept this notice. I will not “ Thank you, Flora,” he said at length, cold- go unless I am told to go by Mr. Billiter or by ly. “I believe you have done your best to con- Mr. Augustus Hamblin. You are a bad and a fess the whole truth in this extremely difficult dangerous man, Stephen Hamblin. We have matter."

done right to suspect you. O my poor Ali“What difficult matter? and what do you son!” mean by 'confessing '?”

" Very well, madam—very well, indeed. We “ Is it possible, Flora, for a sensible woman shall see. Now go away, and tell Alison I want like yourself to be blind to the probability that to say a few words to her.” Anthony was never married at all ?”

He looked blacker and more dangerous than “Stephen," she cried in sudden indignation, she had ever seen him, and he held the paper“it is impossible !"

knife as if it had been a dagger. “It is difficult, Flora, not impossible ; I am “Stephen, you are not going to tell Alison endeavoring to prove that Anthony was mar- what you suspect? You are not going to be so ried. But as yet I have failed. When did he cruel as that?” marry? Where did he marry? Whom did he I have a good mind to tell her, if it were marry? Find out that if you can, Flora." only to punish you for your confounded impu

“But then-there is no will either—and Ali- dence. But you always were a chattering magson would not be the heiress even.”

pie. Anthony was quite right when he used to “ Not of a single penny."

say that for downright idiotic gabble Flora Crid“And who would have all this money ?” land's conversation was the best specimen he

“I myself, Flora ; now you see why I am try- knew. Go, and send Alison to me.' ing to prove the marriage. It is in Alison's in- Anthony had never said anything of the sort. terests, not my own, that I take all this trouble.” But it was the way of this genial and warm

"You, Stephen, you?” All her instinctive hearted person to set people against each other

« AnkstesnisTęsti »